Afterwords Acquisitions

Much like I never tire of hearing how people meet one another, I could sit for hours and listen to how one comes across a good book to read.  A Brownie and Book Club Babe mom, Miss Toni, and I were discussing books via email.  She mentioned The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  I purchased this book last summer at Afterwords Bookstore for my teen neighbor with the understanding I could borrow said book, but as to date, I am still waiting.  So, I felt a visit to the local bookstore, Afterwords Bookstore, needed to be added to my to-do list (any excuse works for me).

Post-Its in Place after a Late Night of Reading
English 111 Student with the Highest Average Wins a Copy in My Class

Although I had a purchase in mind as well as a book to pick up, Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street (which I inquired about through e-mail and received a response the same day from LuAnn, the owner- customer service at its finest), I like to walk on the wooden floors and roam between the rooms of books.  

Some of my discoveries . . .

My Youngest Daughter’s Namesake 
Included Are Beautiful Illustrations and a Brief Background of the Reading                
Ideal Reference Book for the Emergent Reader

Shop local.  Visit Afterwords Books at 232 S. Buchanan St. in Edwardsville, IL.  You will be glad you did.

Exploring Hispanic Literature: Cisneros and Soto

In teaching English 111, I like to have the students analyze a variety of short stories exploring various genres and cultures.  For a sampling of Hispanic literature, I have chosen Sandra Cisneros’ “The Storyteller,” and Gary Soto’s “One Last Time,” both of which are found in our textbook, The Blair Reader.  I have students work in pairs in order to explore the following discussion questions:

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1. Evaluate the “hook” of this essay. Effective? Why, or why not?
2. Cisneros’ father is an opinionated man. Use the text to prove this point.
3. Cisneros makes use of the senses in her writing. Use the text to prove the use of the following senses.
4. Give an example of a metaphor in the reading. Significance?
5. Cisneros discusses the importance of a conclusion. Does her conclusion fill her own requirements of an effective conclusion? Why, or why not?
6. Although Cisneros is writing largely about past events in her own life, she often uses third person and present tense. Where does she use first person? Where does she use third person? Explain the significance of these shifts in her writing.
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One Last Time” by Gary Soto
1. Explain the “hook” Soto uses in his essay. Effective? Why, or why not?
2. What can you infer from, “Mother also found herself out there when she was separated from Father for three weeks” (P 2)? Significance? How do you know your inference is true? Use the text to prove your position.
3. Why does Mother drive in silence while Gary “rambled on . . .” (P 3)? Use the text to prove your position.
4. Explain the significance of the knife in this essay. Prove this significance with use of the text.
5. Find three similes in this essay. Significance?
6. How does Soto show respect for his mother? Explain.
7. Give some examples from the text where Soto judges others. Thoughts?

Teaching with the Talk Show

Currently teaching Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle to my English 111 students, I needed a method which would not only involve the students, but also place them in the role of teacher.  After my morning class was practically mute while slumped in their chairs and hidden in their hoodies, I knew drastic measures needed to be taken.   Even after I passed out Hershey bars to instigate discussion (or a  sugar rush in the least) of Walls’ mother, Rose Mary, a woman guilty of nibbling on chocolate in secret while her children were starving, silence filled the room.   So, in an attempt to tempt lively discussion, I recalled reading Ellie Kemper’s “The Talk Show Circuit” lesson in Don’t Forget to Write.

Kemper, who plays Erin Hannon on NBC’s The Office and a contributor to The Onion and McSweeney’s, writes how she was once assigned an essay to write about a topic on which she was an expert.  A self-proclaimed “agonizer” over English papers, she came up with the idea of pretending she was a guest on David Letterman.

Adapting this idea for The Glass Castle, I put the students in pairs, with one being the host asking open-ended questions and the other being a character from the memoir.  What ensued far exceeded my expectations listed below:
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  1. The host must introduce his/her guest in a brief, yet accurate depiction. This includes name, profession, family, hobbies, interests, aspirations.
  2. The host must ask intriguing open-ended questions, questions which allow the audience a well-rounded view of the guest in question. Consider the entire memoir.
  3. The guest must answer questions thoroughly and accurately in full character. Consider using dialogue from the memoir.
  4. The host and guest must be able to correctly answer questions from the audience.

Engaged interviewing techniques were employed:  eye contact, listening, and spontaneity.  Case in point, a host accidentally fell from her chair (the chair was seated on a plastic mat).  The guest, an alcoholic Rex Walls proclaimed, “I thought I was the one with the drinking problem!”  In addition, students utilized props without being prompted (i.e. a water bottle disguised as a whiskey bottle and a pen disguised as a cigarette) to do so and created names for their television segments such as, “Dysfunctional Dads.”  Heads were not lowered reading verbatim from lined paper;  instead, a true exemplification of critical reading flourished throughout the room.  Who knew I had two sections of thespians simply waiting to release their Krakens?  My only regret being I wish I had the video camera rolling to capture these teachable moments.  Next semester!

Fun with Thank You Cards

Repeatedly finding the repetition of the word “fun” minus any explanations, elaborations, and/or exemplifications in my English 111 student papers, I had no choice but to deduce that activities these young adults find “fun” may well be the same activities a forty-something, such as myself, finds “fun.”   Thus, some time spent making cards for the purpose of thanking others, a cherished pastime of mine,  was in store for our next class together.  At the very least, perhaps after a class spent creating cards, students may think twice about choosing the familiar “fun,” and, instead elevate their writing with more mature vocabulary choices.  

Instead of the anticipated moans and groans of disdain, what I found were more than willing participants for this card-making workshop.  Young men and women alike cared for the appearance of their cards by making use of the stickers, colored Sharpies, and paper puncher while their words were chosen with care and creativity.  Although a majority of cards were sent to the tutors at the Writing Center on campus, students were given autonomy over whom they would like to thank.

In truth, the results far exceeded my expectations.  Reviewing the cards for revisions, I could not help but smile at the depth of their thoughtfulness and sincerity.  A child of the original Star Wars era, a former high school English teacher, and a devoted fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, the letter below resulted in a rash of goosebumps on my skin: 
Mrs. Meyer,

I’m writing to you today to thank you for teaching me the ways of the Force, also known as English. Your teaching abilities have influenced me greatly, and I could not have asked for a better teacher. Though we had our differences at first, butting heads like a pair of male goats fighting for the position of alpha, you have brought me so far, not only maturing as a writer, but as a young lady as well. If it were not for you, I would not know what a well written paper should consist of, nor would I know how to go about writing it. Again I thank you for being the best influence a scrawny high school student could ask for. 

Best wishes, and “May the odds be ever in your favor,”

Carliann Huelsmann
So, have some “fun” today and every day by sending a thank you to an unsuspecting someone.  You will be thankful you did.