Monday, December 21, 2009

12 Blogs of Christmas Day 3: Three Ways I've Used Writing to Teach

For me, being an English teacher means bringing my own writing in to be creative or to help students. Over the years, I've written stories, essays, and projects to go along with what my students were doing. Here's my Top #3 "writerly" assignments.
Here's where we were in the Newspaper!
It was way cool!
War Crimes Trial

When I was getting my endorsement to teach gifted and Honors students, I was asked to come up with a tiered lesson plan—one that drew on writing, research, performance, history, etc. Since I love teaching the Holocaust, I decided I wanted to do something with it. I realized after several years of teaching, students had no concept past Hitler dying, Germany surrendering, and the war ending. They didn’t realize there were such things as war crimes trials where Nazi’s were held accountable for the unspeakable atrocities they committed. So, I decided to create my own trial like those at Nuremburg. Using a fictitious Camp X in Poland, I began shaping my cast of characters. I wanted everything to be accurate down to the names, ranks, etc. I knew I would take a little poetic license with my defense and prosecution teams. Then, I created three defendants a Nazi general like that of Hermann Goering, a doctor modeled after the notorious Dr. Mengele at Auschwitz, and a female guard like that of Isla Koch, known as the Bitch of Buchenwald. Then I went about forming my cast of victims and liberators. Not only did I have adults, fathers, mothers, children, but I had two teenage sisters who a German couple helped to hide. I had American liberators(outfitted in my dad’s dress green uniform and fatigues from Vietnam!).

I had some surreal moments when students said they couldn’t find anything on their person. They hadn’t fully realized these were made up characters, and they took their characters’ name and googled them. Some funny moments came when one my male students wanted to make his soldier part of the Rainbow Division, trying to be funny. The only way I’d let him was if he could historically find a Rainbow Unit. Low and behold, there was a 51st Rainbow Unit, so Hunter was thrilled to be the Major of it, lol, and he's the one in the picture above. The girl in the above picture isn't actually in a wheelchair. We came up with the wheelchair bound aspect of her story due to torture at the camps not for dramatic purposes. Nope, the skirt she was wearing was almost see through, so we decided we had to have her sitting down at all times. Thus, the story of her injuries was born. CRAZY!

I did the trials for three years, and now that I’m in high school, I really miss it. I might try to see if I can squeeze it in this year after our study of Night.

Boots of a Soldier

Part of my Tiered Lesson plan included the Boots of a Soldier story. I had students write from the perspective of a pair of soldiers boots. After they had read about liberation in Night, I also showed them the excerpt from Band of Brothers Why We Fight where the 101st Airborne Division liberates a concentration Camp. To help them visualize a soldier’s boots, I used the boots my father wore during his tour of Vietnam in 66 and 67. I held them up and asked the students to imagine what kind of stories these boots could tell if they could talk. Then my students were asked to write in the first person perspective the boots, and they choose to be an Allied soldier’s, an Axis’s powers, or they could have been put on the feet of someone during liberation.

Before they started writing, I read to them my own personal Memoir of a Soldier’s Boots. For some of them, it was the first time they had seen or heard my writing, and it never ceases to amaze me how impressed and complimentary they are. Here's a snip from it:

After storming through the locked gates, the world around us seemed to change. It felt as if we had entered the gates of hell. Fires raged and smoke blinded the soldiers’ eyes. Instead of winter snow blanketing the camp, an ashy film of human remains made the landscape gray. Blinking again and again, the soldiers tried to clear their eyes and minds of the horrors they were witnessing. Trudging and sloshing through the mud that was a sea of tears, blood, and broken lives and hearts. Time after time they would meet the hollow eyes of a prisoner. Their sunken eyes burned with a haunted look of those who had danced with death, but somehow managed to overcome.

Dr. Phil Show with The Odyssey

Teaching the Odyssey isn’t one of my favorite things. I guess you could say I’m not a big mythology person. So, the only thing that gets me through is comparing and contrasting it with O Brother Where Art Thou, and doing the Dr. Phil Show—a kinda of reunion for the characters after the Odyssey. It has the usual characters like Odysseus, Penelope, and gods and goddesses like Zeus and Athena, but it also has some new faces like Fortula whose husband was one of the men eaten by the Cyclops. She and her daughters, Cassandra and Daphne, are both part of the show coming to confront both Odysseus and the Cyclops. Since I hate to assign a “hideous” part, I wrote a twist for the Cyclops where his father, Poseidon, gives him an Extreme Makeover. The first year one of my girl students went way over the top and gave him a sex change as well. The students really enjoy it, and it usually helps them review for their test.

Of course, I, myself, have a part in all the craziness. I'm Dr. Philemena, the host of the show. Here's a picture of me in costume for the "show"! And yes, if you peek really hard, you will see a Twilight poster on my filing cabinet!! LOL


Karla Calalang said...

OMG this was so great! You must be an awesome teacher! *wishes I had you* :D

No joke, you're so cool!

The Twilight post was hilarious!! :D

Amanda said...

So creative!!! I wish I'd had lessons like this when I was in high school. :)

And I totally noticed the Twilight poster before I read about it.

Amna said...




Laura McMeeking said...

OMG, Krista. I wish I had you as an English teacher! I'll credit my Freshman English teacher, by saying your lessons remind me a lot of what she had us do. I can say that was the only non-science or math class I really enjoyed. :) You are an amazing teacher! Don't stop reaching the kids out there!!!

Chanelley said...

Right - I want to go back to school, fly you over here, and have you teach my class. That's how awesome you are.