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Ten Book Reports in a Year: the Package


books (Photo credit: brody4)

This is a book report package I have developed over nearly twenty years.  I started doing it with a regular grade seven class.  My object was to get the students reading both in quantity and quality.

As I learned more, I tweaked and modified both the unit and my goals.  I wanted my students to read better.  I also used this as an opportunity to teach them to write better and for different audiences.  It was an opportunity for them to learn to organise information on a page so visual and verbal were aesthetic and effective.  The short oral book report was practice in oral reports without notes.

Book Report - 57_Davi (1)

Book Report – 57_Davi (1) (Photo credit: CTJ Online)

The book list in the previous post was what I offered students a part of the package.  You may want to create your own lists.  I am sure you will want to modify the unit; I know I did every year!  I hope that the unit provides you with a some ideas you can work with.  If you are a new teacher, I sincerely hope that the unit will save you some time.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Included in this unit:

  1. Outline of the unit including purpose.
  2. Advice to students on how to choose a book.  Includes a crude but effective method of assessing reading levels appropriate to the student.
  3. Explanation of standard ways of doing a book report and what your expectations are.
  4. Advice to student on doing a good book report
  5. Short header to be written into Reading Journal
  6. Due dates (which you will undoubtedly change!)
  7. Chart to list books read and how they were reported (might be a good idea to give one to student and keep one for your records).
  8. Marking rubric based on Ontario curriculum and using 4 points: 3 being meets Ministry standards and 4 exceeds Ministry standards.  A copy for students clarifies your expectations and can be used for marking as well.  If you record the comments you circle, as well as marks, you will have detailed comments for reporting purposes.

The rubric looks complicated but it will save you time and give you a structured way of making sure you are covering the language curriculum.  It also gives children and parents something concrete to match to the marks.  It is too easy to become vague in comments on language.



Reading Assignment:  10 books in the school year


 i.     Exposure to a wide variety of writing

ii.     Training in metacognition during reading

iii.     Response to literature through opinion and art


Each of the first eight books must be from a different category, but you may read them in any order.  You cannot use your choice option until you do the other eight categories.  If you decide to do a book from which a movie has been made, you must see your teacher for instructions BEFORE you do your book report.  The smart folk see the teacher before they read the book.  You may not do a book report on a book written AFTER the movie was made.  Do not know what to read?  Check out the book list at the end of the package!


You will be expected to jot down your thoughts on what you have read each day in a reading log. You will be taught how to do the log.  When you finish the book, you will do a book report; you should use all four of the different reporting methods during the year.  Please see the explanations on the next page.  One of the first two book reports must be oral. Please record the title of your book and the date you reported it on the chart below after you have finished the book report.


You will have, usually, ten minutes a day to read in class and you must remember to have your book and reading log with you for every class in room 34.  The rest of the reading and preparation will be done as homework.

Book reports will be submitted or presented on or before the following dates:

October 5 

November 3

December 1

January 12

February 12

March 9 or 19

April 10

May 8

June 11

*****BONUS MARKS for one extra book report per term*****


1.  Written Report

  1. Say what the book was about.  This should take up no more than one third of your report and should not give away the end.
  2. Say what you thought of the book.  this should take up at least two thirds of the book and might include a discussion of:
    1. Plot
    2. Writing
    3. Character
    4. Setting
    5. Style
    6. Comparison with other books
    7. Why you liked the book OR
    8. Why you didn’t like the book
    9. If and why you would recommend it to someone else
    10. Why it would make a good Reading Club book
    11. Or any other opinion that crossed your mind as you read it.
  3. Your book report should be less than two full pages
  4. Headings are unnecessary; your clever use of topic sentences and transition sentences will make the report flow.

2.  Oral Report – much the same format as the written report but

  1. you will speak from short form notes, in other words, not a memorised report
  2. be prepared to answer questions.

Please let me know two weeks in advance if you want to do an oral report.

3.  Book Jacket – design a book jacket complete with:

  1. Illustrations
  2. Blurb.:  A blurb tells something  about the book in a way that will persuade people to buy it.
  3. Spine
  4. End papers:  The end papers might tell something about the author or other books by the author.  It might mention similar books by other authors.

HOT TIP: Do not attach the book jacket to the book. 

Do not copy the original jacket.

4.  Poster – design an attractive poster to persuade your classmates to read the book.

  1. Blurb a must! A blurb tells something about the book in a way that will persuade people to buy it.
  2. Use the principles of design.  Do not know what they are?   Talk to your art teacher!!!

5.  Your Own Idea  – let me know another way you would like to report on a book.

If you want to try something different please discuss it with me FIRST !!!

Reading Log

If you have not done this before, you may find it a bit frustrating; trust me, it will help you concentrate on the book and help you immensely with your book report. Follow the instructions carefully.

  1. Make sure you remember to write the title of the book & author.
  2. Each time you make an entry, write the date, the page and paragraph you are referring to.

After each reading session write one to three sentences that either complete one of the following:

I wonder …

            I am confused because …

            This reminds me of …

            I visualise …


Write those sentences on:

An interesting detail


What is important or interesting to me


         1.  By its cover

You can usually spot a book that you might find interesting because the picture on the cover or the blurb show something that interests you.  Are you a sports nut?  Look for book covers with picture of basketballs, football players or other sports figures.  Titles with the word tower in them almost guarantee adventure, fantasy or romance.

            2.  Ask a friend, a teacher or (especially) a librarian.

A friend might like, and dislike, the same things as you do.  A librarian knows what she has in the library and has heard many students’ comments on the books.

         3.  The five finger method. 

Some books are difficult to read; to find out if a book is going to be too difficult for you, open it to any full page.  Read the page.  Every time you hit a word you just do not understand put one finger down.  If you run out of fingers before you finish the page chances are that you might find the book a bit difficult to read.  If you do not have to put any fingers down, the book is probably too easy.  If you put down two fingers, the book is probably about right for you.

            4.  Stretch yourself once in a while.

Try a book that looks a bit more difficult than the ones you usually read.  Read about something that does not usually interest you.  Get stubborn and tough out a book you do not feel like finishing.  These are good ways to improve your reading and learn something new.

Tips for Good Book Reports

  1. Start early.

  2. When in doubt about the category or anything else, check with your teacher or the librarian.
  3. Make the entry in your reading journal daily and immediately.
  4. Read the rubric (below) before you start your book report.
  5. Always say what you think of the book and not what you think you should think.
  6. Use your own ideas whether for opinions or artwork.
  7. Support your opinions with examples from the book.
  8. Use the two-thirds, one third rule; at least two-thirds of your book report should be your opinion, no more than one-third should be summary.
  9. See # 4 before you do your final copy.








 (written & oral)

identify the main ideas in information

main ideas not identified; summary is more than half of report some of the main ideas identified or some of the ideas identified are relatively unimportant; summary is more than one-third of report most of the main ideas identified; summary is no more than one-third of the report all or the most important ideas identified; summary and comments are seamlessly integrated

Your comments

(written & oral)

make judgements and draw conclusions about ideas in written materials on the basis of evidence

comments vague; no use of evidence from the book; no use of judgement; no conclusions drawn; comments are less than a third of report; ideas disorganised some level one characteristics but comments are specific or there is some use of evidence from the book and judgement is exercised or conclusions are drawn; comments are less than half the report; ideas show weak organisation. Specific comments; clear use of evidence to support the comments; good exercise of evidence (fact and logic) in making judgements or drawing conclusions; comments are two-thirds of report; clear organisation of ideas. Level three characteristics but comments are insightful beyond grade level; comments are seamlessly integrated with summary.

Language conventions

(anything written)

Grammar, punctuation, spelling, room 34 style expectations.

grade level expectations for grammar, spelling or  punctuation not met;  little evidence of grade level vocabulary. approaching ministry standards for language conventions; several errors in use of vocabulary for grade level; using vocabulary that is not yet in his or her active vocabulary meets ministry standards for language conventions; generally accurate use of vocabulary for grade level exceeds ministry standard for language conventions; precise use of vocabulary

Presentation (oral)

Regularly incorporate new vocabulary into discussions and presentations; use words and phrases to signal that a new or important point is about to be made (eg. My central point is…, Note that…, First…, Second…, Third…); use analogies and comparisons to develop and clarify ideas; use repetition for emphasis

read from a written paper, no eye contact with audience; voice unclear or inaudible, words mispronounced; conventions unused. memorised, poor eye contact with audience, voice audible, occasional word mispronounced; conventions poorly used. spoken, referring occasionally to notes; eye contact with audience, expression, clear voice, good pronunciation; conventions used well. spoken without notes or with only one or two references to them; excellent eye contact with audience, natural and effective expression, clear voice, excellent pronunciation; conventions used appropriately and effectively.


(poster or book jacket)

Organise information and ideas creatively as well as logically

information and ideas organised with minimal creativity or logic; illustrations are not linked to book or are copied directly from book or related source; blurb is not integrated into design; messy, pen and pencil used inappropriately. information and ideas organised with evidence of either creativity or logic, but not both; blurb is poorly integrated into design; illustrations are weakly related to book or cut and pasted from related source; untidy or inappropriate use of pen and pencil; if a book jacket, no end papers or use of end papers or spine information and ideas organised with evidence of both creativity and logic; clear link between illustrations and book; if illustrations are cut and pasted then there is evidence of creative thought in their use; blurb is integrated into the design; if a book jacket, end papers and spine included and used appropriately evidence of exceptional creativity and logic in design; blurb is part of the design; illustrations are original; design reflects a good understanding of principles taught in art; if a book jacket, is well proportioned.


(poster or book jacket)

using appropriate language communicate ideas to specific audiences, for specific purposes

blurb makes no attempt to persuade the reader to buy blurb makes some attempt to persuade the reader to buy but is mainly a summary or shows no sense of the style appropriate to a blurb. blurb is clearly designed to persuade but is not entirely effective or is not entirely consistent with a style appropriate for a blurb blurb is an appropriate style, consistent and persuasive; if a book jacket, information on end papers is not copied but shows some research or original thought
Name: Class:

List of reports 






Animal Story        
Historical Fiction        
Science Fiction/Fantasy        
Non-fiction (poetry, history, science, opinion)        
Your choice     May 8, Term 3  
Your choice     June 11,  Term 3  
Bonus book report Term One        
Bonus book report Term Two        
Bonus book report Term Three        
English: Book Jacket for the novel Billy Budd

English: Book Jacket for the novel Billy Budd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Japanese book with a dust jacket

A Japanese book with a dust jacket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Posted in book list, book reports, logs, Reading, rubrics, UNITS | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Have You Read?

The students in my academically talented class varied greatly in what they enjoyed

Mind Mapping

Mind Mapping (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

reading and what they could read.  I compiled a list of these favourites to help them expand their tastes.  It gave the students a place to start if they were avid readers who just couldn’t find anything they liked.  Then I added a few for their parents.

 Have You Read?

Caveat: you may not be ready to read some of these books yet.  That’s fine.  They keep.

Map of Some of the Principal Lakes, River’s Le...

Map of Some of the Principal Lakes, River’s Leading from YF to Basquiaw (Samuel Hearne 1776) (Photo credit: Manitoba Historical Maps)

Do not read an abridged version; wait until you are ready to read the original!


Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo credit: Seamus Rainheart)

Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, Karen Armstrong (a former nun who now teaches at a college for the study of Judaism)

Buddha, Karen Armstrong

Christian Bible

Don Juan, Carlos Casteneda  (parental guidance may be necessary!)

Hebrew Bible

Screwtape Letters

Screwtape Letters (Photo credit: ckpicker)


Sophie’s World  (parental guidance may be necessary!)

The Screwtape Letters: letters from a senior devil to a younger devil, C.S. Lewis

Waiting for Godot

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

History & Biography

Anne Frank’s Diary

Anything by Antonia Fraser  (Warrior Queens, The Weaker Vessel, Mary Stuart)

Cover of "Notes from the Hyena's Belly: A...

Cover via Amazon

Karen, Marie Killilea (true story of author’s daughter w/ cerebral palsy)

Notes from the Hyena’s Belly: memories of my Ethiopian Boyhood, Nega Mezlekia

Stolen Continent, Ronald Wright  the best account I have read from the aboriginal perspective of the history of North America

The Concubine’s Children, Denise Chong

The Coppermine Journeys (Samuel Hearne’s journal) edited by Farley Mowat

The Kon-Tiki Expedition, Thor Heyerdal

West Viking, Farley Mowat

Historical Fiction

Cover of "Mr. Midshipman Easy (Signet Cla...

Cover of Mr. Midshipman Easy (Signet Classics)

Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood (parental guidance may be necessary!)

Any book from the Flashman series (parental guidance required!)

Any book from the Hornblower series

Cover of "The True Confessions of Charlot...

Cover of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

Mr. Midshipman Easy

Prester John, John Buchan (a former governor general)

The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey

The Three Musketeers

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

Classic Children’s

Alice in Wonderland & Alice through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll

Green Gables

Green Gables (Photo credit: josephleenovak)

Anne of Green Gables, L. M. Montgomery

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Tales of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling

The Wind in the Willows

Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne

Science Fiction

A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M. Miller

The Mule playing his Psycholyre on a paperback...

The Mule playing his Psycholyre on a paperback cover of Foundation and Empire from the 1960s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine D’Engle

Brave New World

Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson

Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey


Earthsea triology, Ursula K. LeGuin

Ender’s Game

Farenheit 451

Foundation, Isaac Asimov

I, Robot, Isaac Asimov

Invitation to the Game, Monica Hughes

a stranger in a strange land

a stranger in a strange land (Photo credit: jorgempf)

Out of the Silent Planet trilogy, C.S. Lewis

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein   (parental guidance may be necessary!)

The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury


Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation, Olivia Judson

Rick likes "The Island of the Colour-blin...

The Island of the Colour Blind, Oliver Sacks

The Seven Daughters of Eve, Bryan Sykes

The Wealthy Barber


1984, George Orwell

A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Catcher in the Rye

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Gormenghast trilogy, Mervyn Peake

Holes, Louis Sachar

Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

Cover of "Some of the Kinder Planets"

Cover of Some of the Kinder Planets

Silas Marner, George Elliot

Snow Falling on Cedars (parental guidance may be necessary!)

Some of the Kinder Planets, Tim Wynne-Jones

The Chosen, Chaim Potok

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper

The Diary of Adrian Mole, Age 13 ¾

The Dollhouse, Henrik Ibsen

The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck

The Hobbit, Tolkein

The Life of Pi

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

The Lysistrata, Aristophanes (parental guidance may be necessary!)

The Maestro, Tim Wynne-Jones

The Mill on the Floss, George Elliot

Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor (Photo credit: ALA – The American Library Association)

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

The Thief of Always, Clive Barker

The Warden, Anthony Trollope

To Kill a Mockingbird

Watership Down, Richard Adams

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

For Parents:

Could Do Better: why children underachieve and what to do about it, Harvey Mandel & Sander Marcus

Descartes Error, Antonio Damasio (why I believe so strongly in the integration of intellect, emotion and character in the classroom)

How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren (I’m not joking – this was compulsory in my foundation course in my M. A. Ed. Program at OISE/UT and it is one of the best books I have found on reading!)

The Project Book, Hugh Robertson (almost everything your child should know about research projects from choosing a topic to presentations whether oral, written or visual.)

To Open Minds, Howard Gardner (the guru of multiple intelligences looks at art education in the USA and China – fascinating and a real eye opener – very helpful in understanding the differences between western and eastern approaches to education)

This is a sampler – I am sure you could add many more to these and have your own favourites from many of these authors.   Have fun and let me know what your favourite books are.

Isaac Asimov Quote

Isaac Asimov Quote (Photo credit: Psychology Pictures)

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Finding the Poetry

The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written i...

The Old English epic poem Beowulf is written in alliterative verse and paragraphs, not in lines or stanzas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many years I had wrestled with teaching poetry. I love poetry, especially reading it aloud and occasionally writing it but I hated teaching it. A wise teacher once told me not to teach poetry unless I enjoyed it; teaching poetry should be left to those who liked it so their students would catch their enthusiasm.

Teaching Metre

My first problem was that I have great difficulty with metre and stress. Even when I taught English as a Second Language, I struggled with that aspect of the oral lessons. I would teach the theory of a stress-timed language and find a student in the class who not only grasped the theory but could also easily practise it. She would then lead the class in identifying the stressed words and creating the rhythm for the sentences.

Marking Creative Work

The second problem and much the greater was that I have a horror of marking creative work; how could I presume to judge it? And how fair was it to judge students who lacked the talent? How could I give a mark that meant anything? How I hated the meaningless stuff forced into rhyme schemes; it was artificial and unlovely. The boys’ work was often the worst of the lot; they often seemed emotionally constipated and all their writing focussed on facts and action. The rare emotion in their work was anger, and that was expressed through violence.

Getting around My Problems

I had circumvented the problem by teaching my students how to read poetry aloud, reading my own favourites to them and restricting our study of poetry to playing with different forms. I excluded any form that I knew I couldn’t do myself so sonnets were out, but haiku and senryu were in. Students chose their best work and handed it in with all their drafts so I had a sense of the amount of thought that went into their work. It was acceptable but somehow I never felt that I had been able to give them sense of what poetry was about.

Depression as a Positive

Then I became severely depressed. I was unable to plan or mark work but I was encouraged by my administration to continue to come in to teach anyway.  They argued that I needed to be with my students and my students needed me; we would work out the issues of marking somehow. As I had taught that grade level before I had enough ideas on file to finesse my way through most days and my volunteer loyally did everything she could to help me out.

One day I found myself with a gap between units that needed to be filled. We had done quite a bit of work on writing fiction and non-fiction with a strong emphasis on the process of editing and revising work. I had been thinking about a course my mother, an administrator, had taken on good writing where the instructor had pushed the students to take out every unnecessary word. I was wondering about doing a similar exercise but I sensed that my students had had enough of editing for a while. They needed a change of pace.

What is poetry?


Poetry (Photo credit: Kimli)

I thought about poetry; I had been writing some myself for the first time in thirty years. It was a safety valve for the anguish I was feeling. I couldn’t face the meaningless junk the kids would write nor analysing other peoples’ work out of its beauty. Then I realised that my own poetry had arisen from my pain and that as I wrote I had worked to put on paper a precise and concise picture of my own emotions. I had an idea.

Feeling what another feels

I asked my students to clear their desks of all but paper and a pen. Then I reminded them of two dreadful instances that had been in the news recently, a mass killing in the local transit building and the circumstances in Bosnia. The papers had been full of details from the transit killings. We had heard about the long wait of families by their telephones before they knew if a member had been killed.  We knew about the man crouched in a closet hiding from the killer while a colleague lay dead nearby. We knew something of the pain that had driven the killer.

I talked about both episodes, drawing their attention to the different viewpoints of the people involved, such as the family waiting by the phone, a manager wondering if he could have handled things better or a police officer waiting for instructions and wondering what they would be. I asked them to choose one incident, one viewpoint and one point in time during or after the incident and write a paragraph about it from that viewpoint but only dealing with the emotions. “How is that person feeling at that point? What are his or her thoughts? Write them down, don’t worry about grammar or spelling or style much but focus on the best words and ways to express the emotions. Let your ideas flow. Don’t count sentences or lines or watch the clock. Don’t talk. Double-space your writing.”

I let them write for ten or fifteen minutes. They had listened seriously and followed my instructions carefully; I think they enjoyed the change and since evaluation hadn’t been mentioned, they worked without concern for marks or my opinion. When I could see that the flow was drying up, I stopped them.

Poetry by decimation

“Now, count the words on your page.” They looked at me as if I was crazy but we had been together long enough that they trusted me. They counted. “Divide by ten.” Now they were sure I was nuts but hey, it beat writing essays. “Go through the page and take out at least that many words; they must be the least necessary words for expressing the feelings you have written about.” Silently, they followed my instructions. “Now do it again.” Some protests. “Trust me. If you have to reorganise a sentence or phrase to do it, that’s ok.” The heads bent to the task, some of them shaking. I can’t remember if I repeated the instructions; I stopped when I sensed they had gone as far as they could go.

“Now organise what you have left so it looks like a poem. Hand it in.” It was the best poetry written by twelve-year-olds I had ever read. Even the boys who focussed on the violence or anger seemed to have got inside their person’s head and somehow expressed the fear or anguish or despair that underlay the violence. They all got A’s. When I returned them I asked for volunteers to read their work. The parent volunteer in my classroom was as moved as I was.

Why it worked

Odoh Diego Okenyodo reads from his collection ...

Odoh Diego Okenyodo reads from his collection of poetry FROM A POEM TO ITS CREATOR (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. the students were focussed on feelings in the moment; it helped that these were recent events that had an impact on them.
  2. the initial process was flow, uncritical process
  3. decimation allowed the student to determine what the useless words were and edit for syle and meaning
  4. it was only at the end that the students focussed on their work as poetry

Had I been well I would have used that as a jumping off point for a unit on poetry, but I wasn’t. I could only praise them and bask in the moment of discovery we had shared, discovering what poetry is about.

Shire Tiferet

Shire Tiferet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coming Soon:  A poetry unit I developed later, based on this.

Posted in Empathy, LESSONS, Perspective, poetry | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Learning to Love Teaching Poetry

National Poetry Month Display @ Forest Hills

National Poetry Month Display @ Forest Hills (Photo credit: mySAPL)

  Hands up those of you who LOVE teaching poetry.  Yes, that’s what I thought.  You didn’t see my hand up.

            It’s not that I dislike poetry or didn’t want my students to learn to love it; the problem was that I couldn’t think of a way to teach it well enough that the kids would learn what poetry really is and come away with some appreciation, if not some liking for it.

          I experimented. Continue reading

Posted in Art, poetry, primary grades, punctuation, UNITS | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons in Perspective (Art, Empathy, Math, Literature)

Image constructed using multiple vanishing points.

Image constructed using multiple vanishing points. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attached Blackline Masters:  I have made a number of blackline masters to go with this.  Since they are on Word, you can change them to work for you and your class.  I love the overhead projector and prepared work, as my drawing skills are weak.  It also means that I can teach facing the class and focus on them and the lesson.

This is a unit that can be used for almost any grade and level, so long as you adapt it.  I had intended it for a grade eight gifted class (with adaptations to fit with the class and the curriculum) but never got the chance to present it.  It would also work, properly adapted, with grade four or five classes or some high school classes.  The thing that looks like a cog is supposed to be a light source.

A cube and its perspective projection

A cube and its perspective projection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Lesson One:  How four identical circles can look different.

The lesson starts with these circles.  In fact, I often start with just circles and then add the inner circles.  Establish that they are the same.  Then add walls to create a viewer’s perspective.   I have added the smiley faces and arrows to indicate viewer perspective.  You might use just arrows or stick figures or whatever suits you and your class.  The first point is that the circles are all the same.

Start with one circle, draw the inner circle then the wall (the shaded bits) and get the class to tell you where the viewer is standing and then move on to the other three circles.  If you have magnetic smiley faces or people to put in the viewer’s position, so much the better

You can draw these circles on the board – and I think that helps the students to see that the concept is more important for now than accuracy  – or use the blackline masters below (x 4) to create overheads and do it on an overhead to save time.

Perhaps by the third or fourth circle, you could indicate the viewer’s position and get the students to draw the circle and its walls.   Pace depends on level of students and their fine motor skills.

Once viewpoint is established, you can turn this in to an art class by asking the students to try it with a triangle or square.  Experiment with shadows.  If the light were over here, where would the shadows fall?  (see black line masters)

Students can try making their initials three-dimensional if they are ready for it.

And there will always be a few dextrous souls who will use more elaborate letters: Midas touch

They may even try intertwining letters to create monograms.  As long as they grasp the concept of viewpoint changing perspective and complete the assignment you give them to reinforce it, then carrying it further is all good.

One-Point Perspective.

One-Point Perspective. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lesson Two (or three or four or even five, depending what you add, how you approach this, how much time you need to take and your students.):  how does perspective affect our understanding of what we see?

There are two ways to go now, depending on your students and your time.  The short way is to return to the original circle and its inside wall.

Divide the class into four.  Pretend that there is a mural painted on the

Two-Point Perspective.

Two-Point Perspective. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

inside wall of the circle and you are going to show them as much as can be seen from one of the four viewpoints.  If you have an extensive art background and know of a mural that has four very different segments, then use it.  I am not that knowledgeable.

Little vampire

Three-Point Perspective

Three-Point Perspective (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you can actually set up this experiment rather than do it as a thought experiment, so much the better.  You could also do it looking at the outside wall, but I think that psychologically, people looking in think they know what they are seeing.

Virgin and Child with an Angel

Virgin and Child with an Angel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Otto Show

Each group of four will be given a picture of what they see when they look into the circle.  Ideally you will have something constructed with miniatures pasted on the inside so that viewers from a certain vantage point would only see a quarter of the inner walls.

I would use a picture from the Simpsons, a picture of a vampire – ideally a movie poster from a film like Twilight, a Victorian style angel holding a blonde curly-haired moppet asleep in her arms and a junkyard.  It doesn’t matter what you use, so long as the four pictures are very different.

Before you show each group its picture, explain that they must say nothing but write down the feelings the portion of the mural they see evokes in them.   Stress that they may not say anything that physically describes their portion of the mural.  They can use jot notes, it is the ideas and feelings that are important.

When they have finished ask members from each group to share how they felt.  As it becomes clear that there is some discordance here, ask why that might be and lead the discussion eventually to the concept that we rarely see every part of what is happening.  Discussion of why that is – bias, distraction, time, partial view, something seen just before etc.

This is tricky and depends on a class that has learned that it is worth working with you on thought experiments like this.  You may think of other, better ways of doing this.  If you do, please let me know.

Foreshortening (perspective).

Foreshortening (perspective). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alternatively and I haven’t worked out how to do this. 

Use a scene or a movie that can be divided into for parts.  What is important is that each part throw a different light on the story.

One of the redcoat uniforms worn by British so...

One of the redcoat uniforms worn by British soldiers in the American Revolution at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, you might show a small group of British soldiers shooting at American boys in one panel and in the previous panel show the boys throwing rocks and snowballs at the British soldiers.  A third panel could show a couple of bleeding soldiers telling the story to their superior officers and the fourth, the boys carrying an injured comrade home.

This requires drawing or finding the appropriate art work.

This is a true story.  Canadian textbooks tell it one way and the Americans tell it another.

Do as above.  This is a far more effective lesson.

Lesson Three:  what are the life lessons on perspective and understanding

(or Lesson Two, part deux or homework)

Ask the students to jot down memories of situations where the look of what was happening had nothing to do with what really was happening.

Ask them to share.

Bring it back to the larger group.

What do they infer about how they should draw conclusions about people?

Lesson Four:  How art uses perspective (or hasn’t)

You could go straight to the art part.  Personally, I think the most important part falls in lessons two and three.  They also relate to art as well as being lessons in psychology.

Famously, early medieval artists hadn’t worked out how to use perspective or show three dimensions so they made things smaller or larger to show distance or didn’t try, making things flat.  Other civilisations also stuck to two-dimensional representations, especially

Medieval art. Dancers. Español: Bailarines. Ar...

Medieval art. Dancers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

if they were carving in stone.  I’m not an expert, so I suggest you start with your own research.  Ideally use the history of the period that the class is learning as a starting place.  If you can tie in Egyptian or Medieval art, so much the better.   It shouldn’t be difficult to find examples from books or the Internet from which to legitimately either photocopy or make an overhead.

Comparing the early two-dimensional, limited perspective art with something more sophisticated will help the kids understand the difference.  From there you can go on to remind them how the circles went from two-dimensional to three.  Math enthusiasts can ask students what the fourth dimension might be (time?).

c. 1500-1450 BCE

c. 1500-1450 BCE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now ask them how the three dimensions also showed perspective.  Ask them how they might draw a train track starting at the forefront of a picture and disappearing into the distance.

Depending on where they are with mathematics, you could remind them that parallel lines never meet, but they look like they might in a painting.  In other words, art uses illusion to represent reality successfully.  Mathematics represents reality using numbers and equations.

Railroad tracks "vanishing" into the...

Railroad tracks “vanishing” into the distance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Example of 3-point perspective. Model by "... 


I haven’t forgotten literature.  All the principles mentioned so far can be applied to teaching literature of writing.  Which books or stories or poems depend on your students.  It would be lovely to take Wuthering Heights and look at it from each character’s perspective but it would be great fun to read Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne’s version, not the yucky Disney one) and try on the perspectives of the different characters.  How does Owl view himself?  How is he viewed by Pooh or Christopher Robin?  What is going on with Eeyore and the pile of sticks?  How is that a story about perspective?

The point is that you as a teacher have to decide on the material you will use to teach reading and writing using perspective.

Italiano: Prospettiva accidentale di una scala...

Italiano: Prospettiva accidentale di una scala a tre rampe, eseguita con il metodo dei punti misuratori. Il file è stato creato scandendo il disegno con uno scanner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Blackline masters below:


Posted in Art, Empathy, Kindergarten to Grade 12, Mathematics, Perspective, Reading, UNITS | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Using the Internet to teach and teaching students how to use the Internet

This is adapted from a post, Technology and Education, on my other blog, Teachers Outside the Box.  The other post expands on the whys and when of using technology.

Technology Good …

You hear the BUT coming.  Yes, here it is: technology can do a great deal for students and educators but sometimes we are dazzled by its magic.  Technology does not teach reading, writing or arithmetic.  For that we need only very simple tools such as paper, pencil, literature and counters of some sort such as stones, buttons or beans.  I have put paper bags over students’ heads to demonstrate unknown variables when teaching algebra and created a dance to demonstrate the relationship between high pressure, low pressure and rain.  Everything else is extra and not necessarily helpful.

Before we invest in tools for schools, especially expensive technology, we should ask why we are buying the tools.  What, exactly, will it help us teach and how will it help us teach it?  Will it be used frequently?  How flexible is it?  How will the kids respond to it?  Finally, is it truly good value as a teaching or learning tool for the money and time that will be spent on it?

When I was learning to teach ESL we were given the rule of thumb, teach new grammar using old vocabulary and new vocabulary using old grammar.  When we use technology are we using it to enhance what we are teaching or are we using skills the students already have to teach them how to use the technology?  Both are valid.

What are the School’s Computer Labs for?

For example, we have computer labs.  Why?  We have to teach children how to use the Internet.  What do they need to learn about the Internet?  How to find information is probably the first thing you think of.  The biggest problem with information on the Internet is the variability of the quality.

When children start visiting the computer lab in kindergarten what can they learn about assessing the quality of information?  You laugh; you know that kindergarten kids just play games on the computers.  The games are chosen to improve the children’s knowledge of letters and numbers, to acquaint them with the keyboard, to improve their manual dexterity and for a number of solid educational reasons.  The games would not be in the lab if they were not educational.  We hope.

By grades four and five they are doing research but the research is usually on sites handpicked (by their teacher) where the job is to find the information required and make notes or answer questions.  Taking notes and answering questions are important skills.  Doing them in a lab does create a stimulating change of pace from writing notes in the classroom.

However, the students do not have to determine how good the site is as their teacher has already done that.  They can not be allowed the freedom to roam the Internet and access what they find as some of it would be entirely inappropriate.  When my sister was concerned that my niece might have scarlet fever, I typed those two words into the search engine and the first site I found had nothing to do with medicine.  The difficulty is that by the time students are free to roam the Internet at will, they still have not learned to assess the sites they find.

One Way to Integrate Technology and a Number of Forms of Media:

Start in the Library Using Indexes, Chapter Headings, Catalogues and Key Words

So how could you teach children of that age to search for and assess the quality of the information they find?  You could take them to the library and teach them what they might find in an encyclopaedia, a dictionary, a book on the topic or a thesaurus.

Many students don’t realise that if they want to know something about cows, a book on farms might have something.  They don’t know that if they have five books in front of them, perhaps only two have a lot of information and the other three should be searched using the index or the chapter titles for a few salient facts.  What kind of words should they use to look up information in the index?  If they were studying cows, how about bull, calf, cattle, beef, milk, leather, ranches and so on.  This is often a new idea to them, but when they start using the Internet knowing how to come up with good keywords will be essential in their searches.  Maybe a thesaurus would be useful.

I like to give students an adult crossword to solve after pointing out the encyclopaedias of pop culture, space, writers, sports figures and other specialty references.  It becomes a bit of a competition to see who can figure out the answers, using only books. The crosswords are at their most effective if they are difficult.  It is a good start at training students to do research.

Assessing the Quality of Information

Once students know how to find information you can teach them to think about what things should make them sceptical about the quality of the knowledge.  Which might be more out of date: a book on cows or a book on rockets ships written in the 1950’s?  Would a book about farming written by an astronaut be as informative as one written by a farmer?  Would a farmer who had studied physics and math at university be able to write a good book on rockets?  What kind of books is most likely to provide information?  What would you find in a book labelled fiction? Biography? Non-fiction? A search on the online library catalogue has turned up:

It’s ONLY Rocket Science: An Introduction in Plain English Lucy Rogers

Cover of "It's ONLY Rocket Science: An In...

Rocket BoysHomer Hickam

Cover of "Rocket Boys (The Coalwood Serie...

Rocket Science: 50 Flying, Floating, Flipping, Spinning Gadgets Kids Create ThemselveJim Wiese &Tina Cash-Walsh

Cover of "Rocket Science: 50 Flying, Floa...

 Sesame Subjects: My First Book about Airplanes and Rockets (Sesame Street) by Kama Einhorn and Christopher Maroney

Cover of "Sesame Subjects: My First Book ...

The Rocket Mike Leonetti & Greg Banning

Now ask the students which books are not likely to help them learn about rockets.  What helpful information is missing that they should expect to find in a library catalogue? What other information will they find only by looking at the book? Of the books they think might help them learn, which do they think might have the most information?  Which one would they prefer to start with (not always the same one)?

Ready for the Internet, More Skills and Boolean Logic *

All of this thinking applies to searching the Internet.  Once students have learned how to search for information and having found information, examine the source with a critical eye, they are in a better position to make good use of electronic sources. They will now need to learn how to search effectively using Boolean logic* and how to navigate web sites.  Just because they can navigate their favourite web sites doesn’t mean they know how to navigate those which will provide useful information.  They might tell you and their parents might echo that they spend all their time on the computer and therefore know everything.  It ain’t necessarily so.

Students researching cows and rocket ships are just one example of how some of the skills needed on the Internet can be taught and honed elsewhere. Skills like these are transferable and not just from the library to the Internet.

From the Internet to Media Studies

From the Internet the skills transfer neatly to media studies.  Here the added value is learning how language, graphics and sound are used to influence consumers. This is an opportunity to integrate art and music if you are lucky enough to be teaching those subjects.  The use of light and shadow is effective in subtly setting up products in a positive way.  Music is an effective mood setter which is why few films operate without it. Even if you don’t teach those subjects, you can give those teachers a note of what you want to stress and ask them to reinforce it.  Children are never too young to appreciate this kind of information.

You can show this on Internet sites as well as magazine and television advertising. In fact, it is important to teach detecting bias on Internet sites.  In teaching your students you will bring them through the skills of searching for facts and analysing sources to looking for bias and observing how bias can subtly affect people.

Your students will be better equipped to look beyond the razzle-dazzle to the message. This is use of technology in education but not technology for its own sake.  This is examining how to use technology and how other peoples’ use of it affects us.  With luck you could leave your students with the most valuable lesson of all, the inclination not to take information at face value no matter where it comes from.

*Don’t know what Boolean Logic is?  I won’t tell.  See this site for a good explanation in how to use it in Internet searches:

Boolean Searching on the Internet: A Primer in Boolean Logic by Laura B. Cohen.  Part of Internet Tutorials: your basic guide to the Internet http://www.internettutorials.net/boolean.asp If you teach math, set theory and Venn diagrams, you will be able to do a two for one lesson or reinforce one concept in the other class.  Show your students how even the weirdest math has real life applications!  How cool is that?

Suggestions for Adaptations
Primary Grades:   Start with teaching them about the influence colour, lines, light and shadow have on the mood projected by a picture.  Use full-page magazine ads so they can look at them together.  Read short poems with them and ask them how they made them felt and what colours they would use and how they would use light and shadow to express the mood.  Encourage them to draw the feelings, not necessarily the objects involved.
Next, use music to elicit how different kinds of sounds express different moods.  Show commercials where music is a strong part of the message.  If you can find an interesting piece of video (u tube might be a good source), show it to them silently, ask them what music they would use to accompany it.
Find a cartoon that effectively uses light, shadow and sound to create atmosphere and let them tell you how these tools affect them.  If you can find something they haven’t seen that is also well done, their response will probably be better.   Some of the Japanese Anime, especially the ones that centre around ghosts, are excellent.  Our National Film Board has some excellent animations, too.
Don’t show the whole cartoon, just a small section that effectively demonstrates what you want to teach.  You can ask questions such as: “What kind of person do you think he is?”  What clues do you have?”  (light, shadow, colour, music).
You might have to show the clip several times, but that’s OK.  Later, when the unit is finished, show the whole movie as a treat and ask the class if things turned out in the way they had anticipated.
As for teaching your students how to do research, you will have to assess whether their reading skills are good enough.  Even then, at this age, it would probably be best to do it in small groups.  Without a teacher librarian, I leave that to your imagination.
Intermediate Students:  These students would probably benefit from a similar approach to the juniors, depending on their reading levels.  Obviously, you would have to find more age appropriate materials.  With this age group, I have found that sometimes it is easier to teach literary concepts using a short film.  I haven’t tried an episode from a serial, but I suspect a carefully selected one might be effective.  A Law and Order episode might be a good choice to demonstrating the use of music.  It might be worth considering using Anime or NFB shorts as well.  They would have the virtue of being new to the students and might intrigue them.
The temptation is to remain on a non-reading path, however many of these students are on the cusp of reading or not reading.  At this stage they need a lot of practice and instruction in how to read, so do not skip any reading components, especially those which require them to pay attention.  There are some great books out there; I’ll put them on my book list.
High School Students:  If you are reading this, you are probably a specialist who is teaching one aspect of this topic.  It’s worth giving the other aspects considerable attention so that you can draw your students’ attention to the others.
Computer teachers instructing in Boolean logic need to point out the wisdom of screening for bias.  Media teachers talking about bias should advise that an understanding of Boolean logic will save time.  You know what your students are doing so you will know what materials are available at their level to teach them.
Good luck and the best of fun to all of you.
Posted in Art, Bias, Boolean Logic, Internet, Kindergarten to Grade 12, Media Studies, Music, Reading, Research | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment