Monthly Archives: January 2015

Casual Sundays: Slash Game Review

It began as sort of a “I like board games. You like board games. Can we play a board game?” and has kind of become a thing. We call it “Casual Sundays.”

Each Sunday, a colleauge and I bring a new game for girls to play. Two Sundays ago, we brought Slash. Almost instantly, we started an obsession (at least for half of the 10 who played).

I’m way ahead of myself. I need a scale of measurement. Let’s say 1 is a “I’d like my _hours of playtime back,” a 3 is an “eh. Kinda cool,” and a 5 is a “I lost track of time this was so amazing ohmergawd can we keep playing.” At some point, I’ll include a rubric.

Slash is like Apples to Apples but with fictional characters. It’s completely unlike Apples to Apples in that you are the matchmaker; you’re not matching the best adjective with the best noun or even the best offensive category with the best proper noun (I heart you Cards Against Humanity). You’re playing Cupid with characters from classic fiction, cult fiction, television, movies, mythology, you name it. AND IT ROCKS.

My favorite part of this game (other than it generated at least three fan fiction stories) is the moments you have to explain a character to the current matchmaker. Example:

“You don’timage know who Captain Mal is? Ohmergod.”

“Nope. I also don’t know who The Kraken is.”

“One is a space captain. The other a giant octopus. Lots of tension could happen, but lets face it. The conversation about space vs ocean would be epic.”

The game combines two things well: romancey angst (which teenage girls love) and characters from all different kinds of verse. My favorite paring: Captain Jack Sparrow and The Golden Girls. All of them. I can totally see that too.

Rating: 5/5.


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Filed under Boarding school life, Casual sunday, Game review

“Outlining Sucks” or Why Students Hate the Hard Parts

I tell my students all the time that essays are my favorite part of teaching English.  It gets me a lot of eyerolling, but it’s true.  Well, partly: I love teaching essay construction more than I actually like to do essay construction.  The part of the essay planning that actually involves, well planning.  But I’ve also been one for picking something a part to see how it works.  Essay construction is very much like that- trying to pick apart a piece of literature and figure out how it works while simultanously constructing an essay that works.  Most students I know skip this step.  Instead of outlining, planning, gathering evidence, figuring out a thesis, they jump right in.  And it almost never turns out well.

I tell my students this but inevitably they by pass this stage anyway.  When it came time for the big out of class essay round two, I was determined not to get the same paper- brilliant in spots but lacking evidence, well said in a sentence but lacking any structure.  I was receiving 30 papers that had moments of clarity but lacked any overall organization.

When did we start skipping this step?  When did I start skipping this step?

This aggression will not stand, Donnie.

So the last module, I decided to spend a two days on essay organization.  Not only did my students enjoy and really understand the importance of this process, but their papers were infinitely better.

I had them start out with a series of different colored post it notes.  The first step in this process is to identify a controlling idea, or a thesis.  Most students just jotted down a fragment, an idea. Outlining oneHere, this student starts with the blue sticky note, “pilate vs macon/life of freedom/both children of the flying Solomon”.  We then talk about how to create good thesis statements- that the significance is really crucial.  One can talk all day about how Toni Morrison uses a certain symbol, but if you don’t explain why this is significant in your essay then I don’t care. Yellow sticky notes indicate further exploration; the thesis becomes “Society shops the idea of freedom into different forms for each of Solomon’s children”.  While not completely finished, I give them the go ahead for outlining.  I use red, yellow, and green page tabs.  Yellow indicates to proceed, but know the thesis will need more once the outlining is complete.  Red means “ahhh no stop!  Give me more on this idea!”  Green is easy- it means keep going.

And then the fun begins.  We talk about different ways to outline and organize information.  I tell them a story two ways: in a chronological order and then in order of importance.  Usually it’s StarWars.  For example, I ask my students when would you prefer to met Darth Vader, when he’s young and just starting out in the force or later as an opposition to our young hero, Luke Skywalker?

Allow me to digress. This is important.

You see, some students will argue that meeting Darth Vader as a child takes away the importance of Luke’s journey.  I would agree- if the main point of the story is to highlight Luke Skywalker’s struggle with the dark side, then chronological may not be the best form of organization.  Instead, I’d highlight the most important plot points- his discovery of Leia’s message, the self discovery on Tattooine, the fight with his father.  You can skip in and out of the timeline.  However, if you are arguing the spirituality (lack thereof or glimmer from within) of Darth Vader, then one may want to tell his entire story, in chronological order.

This works for just about anything- even The Hunger Games.

Organization and structure are important; they decided how the reader gets the information.  It’s the most persuasive tool a writer can master.  Once they understand and develop their outline, they have to justify WHY (not just how) they are organizing their essay.  And this two minute conversation has been the most crucial part of the process.  Thinking about structure and the reader is the most important thing students can do in the revision/creation part of an essay. Outlining 3

Once they have their outline on yellow sticky notes (and another tagged approval process happens), I ask them to write a personal objective for their paper. This is the light green strip.  Here, this student’s personal objective is to “be less obtrusively wordy”.  With objective in mind, they start the writing process.  They go back (and I encourage them to do so) many times to their outline (now in digital form) and add, subtract, move.  Some even use the sticky notes as placemarkers; ways to imagine what their essay might look like if organized differently.

When they are about halfway through the rough draft process (I did this activity on the day of peer review), I Outline 2ask them to identify three things about their paper: the strongest sentence, the strongest piece of evidence (quoted material from the text), and a list of four to five words that they really feel articulate the paper.  This go on post it notes for reflection later.

I have a nine panel window door that I used for each of my nine students to hang their process.  The important part is that this does go on display for the entire process.  It creates a community that holds each other accountable.

From there, they embark on their own. They might hate you at the start, but I can tell you from experience they will understand and appreciate that approaching finish line so much better.

Below is the first essay’s beginning digitalized outline after pre-planning; it turned into one of the best papers I’ve graded all year long.


FLIGHT/ Freedom

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon focuses on a

Thesis: Pilate and Macon’s determination and courage to pursue their ideal freedom are qualities that has been developed from their family roots; simultaneously society impacts the two characters which formed two different lives of freedom.

  1. Macon VS. Pilate( Beliefs+ physical appearances)


Macon-Tall, Strong, always carries keys around-pg. 55 “Own things=most important thing” quote, portrayed as “impregnable” the most feared and respected black man, willing to go to any extent for his money (power)(pg. 25 with Porter)

Pilate: Tall, strong->willing to go to any extent to protect her baby (Reba/Hagar/ Milkman?)-> Flexible: police scene, taller/ shorter in front of different people (pg. 206)

Isolated but regarded with respect, nobody bothers her (mentioned several times in the novel, people back off when they hear its related to Pilate)

Not well mannered (according to the people in the town in that time period in that society)

Beliefs: pg149->realizes how she wants to be seen in the world

Pg139->indifferent to money,

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Filed under Teaching Methods, The Write Stuff

Girls and Graphic Novels: More than Meets the Eye

sesame-Street-055I don’t know when I started reading comics.  I guess that really depends on how you define that term, ‘comic’.  By the age of five, I was addicted to the Sesame Street Treasury.  My favorite thing, it hosted lots of short stories, poems, infographics (long before they were even called that), and comics.  I remember clearly strips about Oscar the Grouch, Ernie, Big Bird, and the Letter O.  I was hooked.

Years later, in my teenage years, I would read my way through the Marvel/DC universe in a weekend.  By the time I reached my junior year of high school, graphic novels had invaded my library account.  Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series enthralled me; the school library had to make me return it at least four times.  Batman and I were first introduced around tenth grade (by Batman, I mean the Dark Knight via Frank Miller); by eleventh grade I had added most of the Marvel universe, Watchmen, and some of DC (Supergirl).  My graduation was truly that- I had graduated into the world of indie comics by way of Ghost World.  images

It wasn’t until my year-in-between that I really understood the attraction of reading visually or even began to think about comics as an alternative mode of thinking/reading.  It was  Blankets by Craig Thompson that really married me to the ideology that graphic novels aren’t just an art form but a visually representation of some very complicated contexts and philosophies.  In many ways, it’s much harder to analyze and understand a comic book than a novel (Don’t believe me? Read Watchmen.  Or Maus.)

But I’m not trying to make a case for reading or even teaching comics- you either will or you won’t- and I’ll make that argument in another post.  Rather I’m reflecting on something I’m hoping to see change in the world of graphic novels and in school libraries.  Reading comic books is a great way for anyone of any age discover new worlds.  However, if you’re female, those worlds are still very much dominated and populated by men.  Male characters, male authors, male illustrators- they by and large own the market.  Now, I’m not a hater; I don’t think that it’s because women are systematically refused entry (video gaming is an entirely different story).  I just think it doesn’t dawn on girls who are indoctrinated into this culture to think about their heroes as female.  The stereotypes of old are very much alive and well: damsel in distress, the temptress, the virgin.  And I’m won’t argue their significance or lack of to our culture.

I am, however, asking that they be recognized for what they are- sidekicks and plot device.  And I want more for the girls I teach and myself.

She_Hulk_and_Wolverine_by_MarvelGirlIVThat’s why I started compiling a list of comics that focus on female protagonists, superheros, illustrators, and writers.  Because every time I see a girl reading a comic book, because every time we catch each other’s eye, I know there will be a moment when she recognizes that women, that she, is missing in that world.  At that moment, I want to reach over and hand her something different, something else, something that declares “you are here.  Read this.  Then, perhaps, you can start working on your own.” I want her to giggle at the snarky SheHulk (not the fourth wall…again), understand exactly how the new Ms. Marvel feels, learn about a different culture with Persepolis.  Mostly, I want her to know that superheros don’t have to wear capes or even costumes, and they don’t even have to be male.

Here is my list.  If you want a review, a recommendation, a suggestion for where to start, don’t hesitate.  I’ll be happy to point you in a new direction.


Fray by Joss Whedon

She Hulk Volume 1: Law and Disorder by Charles Soule
Persepolis by Marijane Satrapi
Rapunzel”s Revenge by Dean Hale
A Wrinkle in Time by Hope Larson
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
Athena by George O”Conner
Delilah Dirk by Tony Cliff
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Marzi by Sylvain Savoia
Sita”s Ramayana by Moyna Chitraka
Alia”s Mission: Saving the books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty
Anya”s Ghost by Vern Brosgol
Foiled by Jane Yoden
Regifters by Mike Careym
The Girl Who Owned a City by Joelle Jones
A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return by Zeina Abirached
The Plain Janes by Cecil Castelluci
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
Ms. Marvel by C. Willow Wilson
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
Gray Horses by Hope Larson
Aya by Marguerite Abouet


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