Monthly Archives: April 2012

War from the Soldier’s Perspective — A Common Core-Aligned Series of Lessons

The Things They CarriedRecently, Sarah Ross and Shanna Calvasina, who co-teach English 11 at Olympia, shared a series of lessons they developed to align with the NYS ELA Common Core Standards. These lessons were part of a unit they were teaching on war in which they used Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as their anchor text. In taking a multi-genre approach to the unit, they also included informational texts (e.g., John Steinbeck’s “Why Soldiers Won’t Talk” and Brian Mockenhaupt’s “I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War.”) and poetry selections (e.g., Stephen Crane’s “War Is Kind” and Wilfred Owen’s “Exposure”) as companion pieces to the novel. In this post, they’re sharing lessons from the end of the unit. When they were almost finished reading O’Brien’s novel, they had students do multiple close readings of Brian Mockenhaupt’s June 2007 essay in Esquire with a focus on writer’s craft. Students then developed a simile about war and composed a paragraph justifying their simile using evidence from Mockenhaupt’s essay. As their summative task, students responded to a critical lens task, drawing on their readings from the unit to develop their essays. Iraq

In this segment of the unit, Sarah and Shanna were targeting the following ELA Common Core Standards:

RI.11-12.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

RI.11-12.4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.

RI.11-12.6: Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.

W.11-12.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

W.11-12.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

W.11-12.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

W.11-12.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

L.11-12.4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11–12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

L.11-12.5: Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

In this video clip, Sarah and Shanna discuss their lessons and reflect on their effectiveness:

(In this video, we mistakenly say that the article came from GQ Gentlemen’s Quarterly when it actually appeared in Esquire: I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War.)

Thank you to Sarah and Shanna also for sharing these materials from their unit and some of their students’ work:

Mockenhaupt Article           Graphic Organizer First Read

TDQs for Mockenhaupt Article       Venn Diagram

Simile Scaffold       Student Simile Scaffolds

Writing Prompt    Student Critical Lens Essay

For more information about these lessons or this unit, please contact Sarah or Shanna.

As we are all transitioning to implementing the Common Core Standards, it is extremely helpful to see examples of lessons and units and to share with one another. We appreciate Sarah’s and Shanna’s willingness to share their work!

If you have a lesson or unit that you would like to share as well, please let me know.


Filed under Common Core Standards

National Poetry Month

As you probably already know, April is National Poetry Month. Inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, it is now an annual event to celebrate poetry and its vital role in American culture.

Poems are some of the richest and most complex texts we can read for they often convey universal truths–or some of the most nuanced ideas–through striking, moving, and innovative uses of language. Repeated close readings of poems help us to discover their richness and nuances, lead us to appreciate the poems as works of art, and guide us to insights about life and our humanity.

If you are planning to read poetry with your students this month and participate in the celebration, here are some resources you might want to tap:

The Academy of American Poets National Poetry Month Webpage presents ideas for celebrating poetry in April and throughout the school year.

By following 30 Days 30 Poets on Twitter, you and your students will be able to enjoy the insights of 30 different contemporary American poets throughout the month of April.

At, you can sign up to receive a poem each day free of charge from Knopf Doubleday, or you can follow their Tumblr site at

Scholastic has assembled teaching resources and lesson plans at

For more ideas and lesson plans, you may want to consult ReadWriteThink at

The Favorite Poem Project, initiated by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, also shares lesson plans–frequently with tie-ins to videos of everyday Americans reciting their favorite poems.

Another former poet laureate, Billy Collins, launched Poetry 180, which provides a poem appropriate for high school students for each day of the school year.

American Life in Poetry, a project of former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, provides a poem with a brief introduction by Kooser on a weekly basis.

For poems, podcasts, videos, and literary nonfiction about poetry,  the Poetry Foundation is an excellent resource.

In addition, Poetry Out Loud, which sponsors a national poetry recitation contest for high school students, has lesson plans and handouts to support close readings of poems.

Please share other resources you use to celebrate National Poetry Month or to teach poetry throughout the year.


Filed under Common Core Standards, Student Opportunities, Teacher Opportunities