Sunday, November 9, 2014

Harris Burdick… a real life mystery?

We continue to dig deeper into our study of the mystery genre by practicing another skill of critical thinkers and readers: inferencing. Do you know about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick? One day a mysterious author and illustrator showed up in the publishing office of Peter Wenders. He had fourteen pictures depicting scenes from various stories he had written and illustrated. He promised to return the next day with the full stories but was never heard from again. Over the years, the pictures and their captions have inspired the writing of many stories. On October 31st, our students had the chance to examine Harris Burdick’s pictures much like detectives solving a mystery. Students partnered up and inspected his images using flashlights in a darkened room. They recorded their observations, questions, and inferences on their detectives' logs. Harris Burdick's images will not only inspire mystery writing for some, we will deepen our discussion of story elements while reading stories (which were also inspired by the images) by published authors. Was Harris Burdick a real man? We may never know.

Critical Thinking Puzzles

We’ve activated our critical thinking skills while reading short mystery (puzzle) stories! Below is what students believe are the characteristics of critical thinkers. Finding solutions to the puzzles has also lead us to the study of key vocabulary for our mystery unit. Some of the words include relevant, irrelevant, and contradiction, which are perfect words for studying word parts (the prefixes ir- and contra-).

• try different solutions
• think below the surface • identify relevant and irrelevant information
• look passed the obvious
• identify everything you know
• think while you read/do
• read/reread
• think hard - really, really think
• come back - refresh
• perseverance - persistent
• take advantage of best thinking time
• be intentional/passionate/curious
• goal-oriented
• examine closely
• look for inconsistencies
• think creatively
• talk about information
• collaborate
• support/provide evidence

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Power of Setting

Setting is the time, place, and environment in which a story takes place. Here’s what our students say about why setting is important:

• Setting gives us a sense of place.
• We need it in order for the story to exist.
• Creating a setting with vivid descriptions keeps the reader interested.
• Setting influences (affects) the character.

Settings are crucial to what literary characters think and do as real-life environments are to our own thoughts and actions. We spent some time thinking about how our own settings (e.g. classroom, small town, rural Maine, adolescence, 21st century) affect our lives.

In good literature, settings are made real to us through the writer’s use of precise words and phrases that appeal to our senses. To practice with this important story element, our students highlighted words or phrases that help them envision the setting in the short story, Shadows, by Richard Peck. Not only did they search for clues and write constructed responses about the impact of setting on characters and readers, they also learned to make found poems that borrow an author’s words.

Learn more about the poetic form, found poem.

Tales of Terror

What fun we had leading up to Halloween! Students enjoyed creating two-sentence tales of terror. These tales came out of our conversation about mysteries and the power of language in even the briefest of passages. Each student created his or her own tale using specific details to create a feeling of fear or terror. We all enjoyed looking for setting pictures that enhance the message or hint at the story rather than "say" too much.