Congratulations to Anna J. Small Roseboro, the California Association of Teachers of English 2009 Distinguished Service Award winner. In our profession, so much is required in order to be everything our students deserve. The demands are great; this is no career for the uncommitted. Teaching well takes diligence, knowledge, passion, energy, flexibility, and skill. More »
#1 – What’s a Mystery Novel?
First of all, there has to be a detective who is set apart from everybody else (including the reader) for eccentric habits/appearance (or by contrast total blandness), exceptional intelligence, the practice of making obscure statements instead of just revealing deductions and revelations as they occur. The detective is MEANT to frustrate you!
The official police (or if the detective is a policeman, his compatriates) must be bumblers – even when they discover useful evidence, they should always miss the point. It helps when your detective has a smart rival — cop, district attorney, etc. — who is also clever, but not as clever — to come up with alternate solutions. That increases tension and plot development, also amusement to the degree that that sub-detective usually ends up with the same solution the reader would have come up with.
Clues must be presented to the reader, even if they are cleverly disguised or phrased ambiguously. And the villain MUST be some character who has appeared or been mentioned fairly plainly in the story under some circumstance before the revelation. (Otherwise, how could that person ever be suspected? That would be cheating under these rules.)
The author must not tell a lie, either in the third person or through the mouth of a character who is pronounced unequivocally to be trustworthy or has no ulterior motive to lie. You can say something couldn’t have happened, but not that it DID NOT then say it did after all. Do not aver it was pitch dark, then reveal later: ‘except there was a full moon, forgot to mention that’. [i]
What about mystery sub-genres?
Mystery sub-genres have their own conventions, though writers are taking greater freedom and feeling less restricted these days by “rules” of the genres and sub-genres. Some of the more common mystery sub-genres are cozies (small town or confined settings, genteel in style);
hard-boiled (tough, sexy, gritty, violent); police procedural (with specific details of police detection the main feature);
- didactic (“academic” or “teaching” mysteries that educate the reader, such as archaeological mysteries loaded with facts and findings from that world); private eye (licensed private investigator as the main sleuth);
- forensic; amateur (the sleuth is not a professional investigator but is from another field, such as law, journalism, or psychiatry); and
- historical (the mystery is set during a specific period in history). Again, these sometimes overlap or become hybridized.[ii]
[i] From “What Is a Classic Mystery Story?” (4-20-08) http://www.mysterylist.com/whatis.htm
[ii] From “Tips on the Craft of Mystery Writing”(4-20-08) http://www.johnmorganwilson.com/writingcraft.htm
Click here for handout. What’s a Mystery?
National Day of Writing – October 20
Composing or Summarizing Briefly
I thought you’d be interested in an in-class activity to get students to think about the power of a few words as well as the structure of a story. I can see this an effective way to practice vocabulary, grammar and punctuation, too.
One could even assign this for students to practice summary writing by having them summarize a story, play, or book they’ve just studied together as a class or finished as independent reading.
You could project a picture/photo and invite students to write a story about that picture in 25 words or less. In science, math, or history, select an image that fits your discipline. This can be a useful, authentic, and revealing formative assessment, especially if students also are asked to include recently taught vocabulary!
Edit and then post the short shorts to class website. Parents probably would enjoy reading what the students are reading and writing.
Other resources at National Council of Teachers of English website.
More than HALLOWEEN
Learning about and celebrating the cultures of others is a wonderful reason to write. And, October is a great time to start. For many, October is time for Harvest Festivals, an ancient celebration revived in many church and community groups as an alternative to Halloween; or All Saints or All Hallows Day, celebrated in many Catholic and some Protestant communities, and then there’s Halloween. Do your students know how this holiday began? See videos on how that started. Choose one that fits your school setting. Of course, you could have your students write Halloween Acrostic Poems to describe a person, place or event in a piece of text you’re studying together, an observation or personal experience. Or, you could introduce to them unfamiliar with it, the celebration of Day of the Dead.
In some cultures, October is a time to honor family members who have died by remembering them on Dia de los Muertos. I learned the Day of the Dead when teaching in Southern California where many students are of Mexican heritage.. Rather than a scary time, it is a time for recalling and talking about fond memories of our ancestors, especially those recently deceased. I especially appreciated this celebration of remembrance the year my beloved grandmother died. Learning and writing about the recently departed may prove to be a worthwhile , even healing writing activity for you students, too.
Invite students to write about someone they know or about a character in a current or recently read literary work. (Note how these sentence stems guide students to writing a personal essay/memoir, a persuasive paragraph or essay à la CCSS?)
Learning to Lead with Other Leaders
I invite you to join me at the 2014 Conference on English Leadership. If you’re going and/or presenting, comment here and we’ll plan to support you with our attendance.
Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center
Washington D.C. November 23-25
Jim Burke, Sarah Brown Wessling, Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Kylene Beers, and Bob Probst
The 2014 CEL Annual Convention is an opportunity for leaders to gather, share ideas, and grow. A unique quality of the convention is that attendees have many opportunities to network over breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks, and social gatherings. Indeed, it is the perfect place to hone our collaborative leadership skills.
Can’t come this year? Consider CEL 2015 in Minneapolis. Theme will be A LEADER’S LEGACY.
Check the CEL website to remain up to date.
Follow the weekly CEL Blog at nctecel.wordpress.com
#litlead Twitter Chat
The CEL #litlead Twitter Chat is held at 8:30 p.m. ET on the second Thursday of each month.Discussion questions and a preview of the chat are posted on the CEL blog. “Launching Independent Reading” was the theme for the August chat; see the recent #litlead Twitter Chat archives and the archives for earlier 2014 chats.
One way to prepare our students to have more thoughtful conversations and to write more insightful compositions is to share with them sentence stems using the language we expect to see in their writing.
Enhance THINK, PAIR, SHARE time by encouraging students to incorporate into their conversation the jargon and specific terminology unique to your discipline.
For example, as students discuss stories, novels and drama, use literary terms related to those genres. As students talk about controversial essays, use the language of argumentation; as students discuss history, science or math add that language. The more they hear and use this higher order vocabulary, the more they’ll understand the content and concepts, and fewer students will be thwarted when they see content specific language on those standardized assessments most will face in their career and college lives.
Here are links to handouts to get you started.
After several weeks or a whole semester of modeling and student practicing, how about taking this concept a step farther. Invite students to monitor the talking and writing of their peers. You could adapt from this link a list of signal words students should listen for and look for in their own talking and writing and that of their peers.