Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Speaking of Getting to Know Students #SOL17 Day 8

March marks the month-long Slice of Life Story Challenge.
Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers team for sponsoring
this month's challenge and for promoting the writing life.
Students in speech often tell me they struggle to find topics for their speeches. Many ask me to choose a topic for them, something I'm not comfortable doing because when something goes sideways, as it often does, the student doesn't want to take responsibility for the speech. Also, students tend to avoid buy-in when I assign topics. 

Over the years, I've devised a number of ways for students to introduce themselves to their classmates and to me. This helps me learn how to advise students in their speech topic selection. Here are some of the introductory speeches I have assigned: 

  • Philosophy Quote: Pick a quote from a philosopher and tell why it interests you (the student).
  • Paper Bag Speech: Put three school-appropriate items that represent you in a paper bag and present each to your classmates, telling how each is significant to your life.
  • Name Tags: Create a name tag using letters, symbols, phrases, etc. on a 6"x8" note card. Present the name tag to the class and tell why you decorated it as you did. 
  • Personal Pie-Chart: Create a pie chart showing your division of interests, hobbies, how you spend time, what's important to you and present it to the class, explaining your choices. 
  • Twitter Bio: I wrote about this one last week, and you can find the post here. 
  • "Where I'm From" Poems: Following George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From" poem pattern, write a "Where I'm From" poem and read it to the class. Here's a template for students who struggle to use; however, the template does feel contrived to some students. 
  • You Don't Know Me: This idea is modeled from David Klass. The student begins with "You don't know me" and proceeds to tell the class things about him/herself we don't know. Here's the original passage: 

You don't know me at all.
You don't know the first thing about me. You don't know where I'm writing this from. You don't know what I look like. You have no power over me.
What do you think I look like? Skinny? Freckles? Wire-rimmed glasses over brown eyes? No, I don't think so. Better look again. Deeper. It's like a kaleidoscope, isn't it? One minute I'm short, the next minute tall, one minute I'm geeky, one minute studly, my shape constantly changes, and the only thing that stays constant is my brown eyes. Watching you. 

Tuesday students presented their "Where I'm From" poems and I learned many fascinating things about them. 

But it's what happened in one of the classes that amazes me most. T., whom I wrote about a few days ago in my "Single: Ready to Mingle" post, still wasn't ready to present his speech. Remember, T is shy, but Tuesday he had plans to demonstrate a "move" at the end of the period. I've learned that this is a distractor T uses. 

Determined to get T to present his speech, after all the other students presented I quickly devised a plan. I asked the class to "mingle" around the room and do two things: 

1. Share their favorite lines from their poems with one another. 
2. Talk to T and ask him where he's from and something he likes. 

The kids are amazing, and all eagerly mingled among their classmates and talked to T. 

After the students finished, I asked T to stand. He did. In turn, students shared something they learned about T, followed by me asking T to tell me. One student shared, "T likes Snickers." T then told me, "I'm from Snickers." Occasionally, T elaborated on something he shared with a classmate, and in this way T delivered his "Where I'm From" speech standing beside his desk. 

Those who read the earlier post and who are reading about T's progress may have deduced that T is mainstreamed and has some challenges to learning in a traditional environment. 

T and his classmates have already moved to a special place in my heart and in my collective memory of important teaching moments. 

I am from T. I am from my students. I am from the love and compassion they show one another. I am from a public school that welcomes every student regardless of where each one of them is from. 


  1. You are so smart! I often struggle with certain kids who don't want to give speeches. This is such a great way to handle the situation. T doesn't have the pressure of speaking in front of class--well at least he doesn't think he about the pressure, and he does some speaking. Bravo!

    1. After class today T told me he worries about his speech. I told him his classmates want to hear him speak, and he told me he wants to try speaking in front of the class. Another student head me tell T how we all love him and are here for him, and she said, "That's right." It was a lovely moment.

  2. I am saving this resource - fabulous!

    1. I have a template I created for the Twitter bio and instructions for the other ideas if you want them. you know how to find me!

  3. It's not the many ways you traditionally have helped students announce themselves that catches me here. Although all of that is interesting. No, not that. Rather, it is the way you weave--compose actually a method to support T in the performance of self by having the others in the room say aloud what they have learned about T. There's such kindness in this act.

    This is what all those pundits who have so much to save about teaching and learning never seem to understand. Teaching is mostly about love.

    1. I think about the pundits all the time. They don't understand what we do. Their lives are barren because they don't know the joy, love, and pain of life with our students, especially the most vulnerable ones.

  4. all related to good writing prompts too -- basic rhetoric just keeps on adapting...

    twitter bio, 6-word story, more ideas for short #sol17 posts -- and then there is the Bart Simpson chalkboard meme generator (apparently the original meme generator)

    T could create an intro meme and send it...we could create #sixwordstory #silentsunday memes for March 12 #sol17 posts...

  5. I love love love "I am from" poems...we have done them as a staff, as we get ready for a new school year. I think I am in love with your "T", too!

    A writing prompt I personally enjoyed a whole lot was "If you really knew me, you'd know...." I thought of that when I read your "You don't know me at all."