2014-15 Symbols Board

For many years, I’ve been asking my students to share themselves with me and their classmates through a collage activity that I make into a bulletin board. They make the card with at least one symbol that represents themselves, then present the card to the class as an introduction. A lot of them get very colorful and creative!

If you’d like to see older versions, here are a few:
2008-09 (and the most creative card winners that year)

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Symbols of Us: The 2009-10 Edition!

I’ve been using this activity for several years, and they just keep getting more and more creative!!

One reason for this is probably that, every year, I have more samples to share, both here on my website and inside my magical symbols-card box. The day that I assigned these I spread my previous students’ cards all across a table and let everyone take some time ooh-ing and aah-ing over them.

You can see the last couple of years’ boards here and here. (As you can see, I’ve recycled the letters and the border from room to room and year to year.)

And, without further ado, I present you C106’s Symbols of Us board:

Symbols Board overall
Symbols Board top left
Symbols Board top right
Symbols Board bottom left
Symbols Board bottom right

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A Wall of Intention

Okay, so I couldn’t wait.

Last week, I wrote about how I turned the word of intention idea into an assignment for my students. And this afternoon during our end-of-semester workday, I made it happen: our Wall of Intention, in the hallway right outside my classroom:

My room is right inside the school’s main entrance, on the way to the main office, so it definitely caught some attention, as other teachers walked by on their way to the lounge or to pick up W2s from the office. I was so proud to agree with their compliments on my students’ creativity!

My husband Kevin was with me during the first half of my adventure with masking tape and aligning cards on not-quite-aligned blocks of tile, and he had a great time encouraging everyone who strolled by to choose their own words of intention, create their own cards, and add them to our wall! A few said they’d do it, even!

Here are some closeup shots, so you can better see the details:

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Spreading Intention

Monday morning, I was in the shower, pretty much dreading the end of my winter break: having to be up so early, having too little time at home, having too little time to spend with my husband and boys, having to go back to school, back to the piles of work to be graded and papers to be created — you know, the grind of perpetual behind.

And then I thought, Wait a minute! My Word for 2009 is thankfulness! And that thought alone forced me out of that pout-whine-complain mode. It sharpened my focus a little, and I ended up inspired (and, I hope, inspiring, as well).

I’m thankful that I have a job, was my first turn-it-around thought. I said it out loud.

Then, that positive thought could expand:

— I’m thankful that I have a job that allows me to feed my family.

— I’m thankful that I have a job that allows me to keep my family in a nice house in which all three kids have their own rooms.

— I’m thankful that I have a job that is fairly recession-proof.

— I’m thankful that I have a job that doesn’t force me to work long hours outside (like my husband’s often does).

— I’m thankful that I have a job that enables me to have a couple of months off during the summertime (or to work and make extra money).

— I’m thankful that I have a job that lets me off when the weather’s bad (although it rarely is here in southern Virginia anymore — boohoo).

— I’m thankful that I have a job that allows me to have nights (if I choose not to work), weekends, and holidays off.

And then, the zinger: I’m thankful that I have a job that enables me to do more than my job.

Now, that I can run with. That is where my job-related inspiration lies.

No, I’m not referring to the hours and hours I spend on my job as a high-school English teacher outside school (when I would much rather be spending time playing with my kids, hanging out with my husband, singing, writing, reading, working on my websites, etc.), but to the what-I-teach that’s not exactly English: respect, tolerance, dignity, honor, inspiration, responsibility, motivation, and a whole metaphorical pile of other positive, potentially life-changing abstracts.

Don’t get me wrong. I love English, and I love the reading and writing and collaborating and researching and speaking that it incorporates. But it’s generally not the English that inspires me. What inspires me is how the English affects me — and how it affects my students, how they are positively impacted, changed in some (even slight) way for the good, seeing with eyes maybe just a tad more open. That inspires me.

So my focusing on being thankful helped me to realize that I need to focus more on what inspires me about my job. That doesn’t mean that I should wipe out all of the mandated objectives; it means that I should teach those mandated objectives in such a way that students learn more than just the subject matter. And it means that I should teach some other things that aren’t part of the mandated objectives simply because they have the potential to teach life lessons. Refusing to simply teach-to-the-test is not a new choice for me, but it has now been overwhelmingly reaffirmed.

That very day, our first day back from the holidays, I decided to add an extra element to my classes’ daily agendas. I had my students do what I had done, what has the potential to change all of our lives for the better: choose a Word of Intention for 2009. =)

In each of my five ninth- and tenth-grade classes that day, we talked about resolutions and intention, the latter being a new word for some students. Most of them had experience with failed resolutions, though, so we were able to talk about real ways of turning those DOs into BEs. And I told them about my experience that I wrote about above.

I copied the long list of possible words that Christine Kane posted and pasted them into a Word document, so I could enlarge them. I stapled them to the corkboard above my white board, so my students could have lots to choose from. My first-period class also added some others to the board (that I should’ve written down before I erased).

I handed out index cards and told my students that I wanted them to choose a word that represented what they want to BE in 2009 and write it any way they liked on one side of the card. Their cards, I told them, will be bricks in our Wall of Intention, the one that we are going to build in the hallway outside my classroom, and I encouraged them to write their name on the same side as their chosen word as a shout-out to the rest of the school.

Then, I got out the crayons, scissors, markers, construction paper, and highlighters and gave them a little while to work.

I’m really excited about the cards they turned in! Some students, as usual, went all out with design and color. A few simply wrote their word in pencil. Most chose to write their name on the front of the card for the world to see. But I gave the same completion grade, regardless. (Yes, I grade everything!)

I know the activity has not inspired everyone. Several times during the end-of-semester grade conferences, I asked failing students what their chosen words were, and they looked at me like I was stupid. No clue. Not surprising.

A few students, though, seemed to take heart in their focus words during our conference; one who hadn’t bothered to complete the assignment grabbed a card afterward, wrote his word, and showed it off to the class. And then, a few already motivated students have mentioned their word during class: “Look, Mrs. Hawke, I’m showing determination by doing my work!” :P

Now, I just have to decide if I want to wait until students return to class after exams to build the wall themselves, or if I want to go ahead and build it on our workday Friday. . . I’m so inspired that I don’t know if I want to wait!

And wait until you see the pictures!!

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Symbols of Us: The 2008-09 Edition!

I posted the symbols card contest winners’ pictures a while back, but I haven’t yet posted a picture of the finished product: N101’s student-generated bulletin board. As I said earlier, these are hands-down the BEST ever overall!!

The first picture shows the overall board, with pictures of the winners from each class; the other pictures show close-ups of the cards. Apologies in advance to any students whose cards aren’t visible.

Symbols Board overall
Symbols Board top left
Symbols Board bottom left
Symbols Board top center
Symbols Board bottom center
Symbols Board top right
Symbols Board bottom right

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The Most Creative Symbols Cards

At the beginning of every term for the last few years, I’ve had students create a “symbols card” using one or more images that represent who they are.

The cards are used to create a bulletin board for the classroom, and they also serve as a means of getting to know each other. I have students explain to the rest of the class why they chose the symbol(s) they did and use it also as a springboard into literary discussions later in the term.

This year, I did something new: I made the assignment into a contest! The most creative cards from each class were chosen by objective outsiders, and the winners were given an extra-credit coupon to use in English class any time this year. First-place winners received 20 points; second-place winners received 15 points; third-place winners received 10 points; and honorable mentions received five points.

There were so many creative cards this year that the judges had a difficult time deciding! So there ended up being a few ties and a lot of honorable mentions! :)

Congratulations to all the winners!!

Winners from 1st period (English 9) — first place, Jaqwoine; second place, SaTori; third place, Markeese; and honorable mention, Jalene:

1st Period's Symbols Cards Winners

Winners from 2nd period (English 10) — first place, Krystle K.; second place, Morgan; third place, Quantieria; and tied for honorable mention, Krystle R., Dalon, and Ramonda:

2nd Period's Symbols Cards Winners

Winners from 5th period (AD English 10) — tied for first place, Jaci and Rebecca; second place, Tearra; third place, Antonia; and tied for honorable mention, Preston, LaQuinta, and Nicole:

5th Period's Symbols Cards Winners

Winners from 6th period (AD English 10) — tied for first place, Ella and Kayle; second place, Acacia; third place, D.J.; and tied for honorable mention, Amanda, Kirie, and Noelle:

6th Period's Symbols Cards Winners

Winners from 7th period (English 10) — tied for first place, Christopher and TyResha; second place, Vanessa; third place, Selena; and honorable mention, Alanda (not pictured):

7th Period's Symbols Cards Winners

Once I get the bulletin board up (sometime this week is the plan), I’ll post pictures!

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Symbols of Us

Symbols of Us bulletin board

One of my beginning-of-the-term activities for the last few years has been a student-generated bulletin board that I call “Symbols of Us.”

This year, as you can see in the picture above, I blocked off a portion of my bulletin board with a vertical border. I printed extra-large letters (These are in the Rockwell font, I believe) and colored them in; then, I cut them out and laminated them.

Usually the first or second day of school, I start this activity by going over the definition of the term symbol and give a few examples of symbols. Usually, I draw (poor :/) representations of symbols on the board: the Golden Arches, a peace sign, the Chevrolet logo, etc. Then, I have students generate other examples.

Next, I give students an index card and assign them to draw, cut out and paste, or write at least one symbol of themselves on one side of the card. I allow some time in class and provide crayons, markers, magazines, scissors, glue, and tape.

Many of my students have created elaborate collages of cut-out pictures, pictures of themselves and their family and friends, puffy paint, and glitter. (Of course, there are always some who draw a dollar sign with a pencil in about a minute…)

Once I’ve stapled the cards up (somewhat haphazardly…), I direct my students’ attention to the board and ask them to view it with “soft eyes.”

“Which of the cards stand out more?” I ask. They always lean toward the ones with the most color. We talk about using “vivid” vocabulary in our writing, creating mental pictures with our words.

I’ve found this activity is a great way to draw on student interest, find out more about my new students, and allow a hands-on activity in a class that is mostly not hands-on.

Also, it enables students to apply the world they know to a literary element that is sometimes difficult to grasp. When we begin analyzing literature, we can make the connection between these visual symbols and the intangible ones created in literary works.

Oh, and it leaves less bulletin-board space for me to have to fill. :P

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