Bell Work Resources

I like to start classes with students analyzing or responding to a question, provocative quote, poem, piece of visual art, song, etc. Here are some of the resources I use to come up with engaging class activity hooks and writing prompts through the use of culturally and historically significant dynamic mediums.

Opinion Essays/Informational Articles



Library of Congress Collections



Cantaria Folk Song Archive

American Folklife Center

Poetry 180: A Poem A Day for American High Schools

The Full National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress


100 Years of Illustration

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Allusion A Day

The Doc, one of my favorite English teacher bloggers (see The Doc is In, blogroll on right), recently posted about how he addresses the declining cultural literacy of current high school students. He introduces his students to cultural literacy using E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know  and projects a daily comic, political cartoon, Internet meme, or other digital media piece intended to familiarize students with allusions and the cultural events, figures, or objects to which they refer. In a fun and low-stakes way, students see if they can understand and try to explain the allusion and its meaning.

Posted in Classroom Management, Community Building, Cultural Literacy, Differentiation, Education, English Education, Secondary Education, Viewing, Visual Arts | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Illustrations for Educational/Presentational Uses

Howard PyleWhenever creating a presentation, I  always spend too much time locating visuals I feel comfortable using to accompany my presentations’ main talking points. The central challenge here usually lies in finding something both high-quality enough and free. My current project, coding a CSS designed web site from the ground up, required I spend some time looking through fantastic nineteenth century (read copyright-free) illustrations. Even as I attempt to enhance my digital skills, I retain some partiality for art originally designed by hand in some material form. In my search, I became reacquainted with the works of the illustrious (heh) artist Howard Pyle, best known for retelling, with striking illustrations, many traditional fairy tales and legends, among them those concerning Robin Hood and King Arthur. Though Pyle’s art sometimes represented scenes from American history, the Middle Ages seem to have been a favorite time period of study (though he did not burden himself much with nailing historical accuracy). Howard Pyle - The Buccaneer was a Picaresque Fellow Pyle’s depictions of pirates also gave us the iconic Gypsy-like attire American pop culture now associates with the pirate.

This rediscovery led me to discover an invaluable treasury at ClipArt ETC, a free resource, hosted by the University of South Florida, of nearly 70,000 compelling copyright-free illustrations made available for educational use by teachers and students. Some of the illustration categories: Arts and Architecture, American History and Government, Ancient and Medieval History, Animals, … Literature …. and it goes on and on. I can’t imagine any educator who would have no use for such a resource. And, if illustrations aren’t your thing, USF’s Florida Center for Instructional Technology also offers ClipPixETC, a gallery of photographs, Presentations ETC, dedicated to presentational elements from styled letters and numerals to nineteenth century paper people, and Maps ETC, a database of scanned maps from around the world and many, many time periods.

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Teaching: Antigone

Nikiforos Lytras - Antigone in front of the dead Polynices (1865)Introduction to Greek Theatre & Antigone:

Tufts University’s Perseus Digital Library “The Development of Athenian Tragedy,” excerpted from Thomas R. Martin’s An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander.

Dr. Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Professor of Classics at Temple University’s Greek Theater and Society Course page.

Glossary of important terms, worksheet guides to Greek plays, including Sophocles’ Antigone, and useful links to other sites.

Emory University – Overview of Greek Drama

Contains maps of Greece, drawings of Greek theater layout, historical timelines, and other relevant pictures of Athenian Acropolis, artistic depictions of Athenian actors and Greek drama.

Unit Plans:

DrPezz’s Antigone Unit and Study Guide

WebEnglish Teacher links to study guides, units, and individual Antigone lessons.

Georgia Standards plan created by Cynde Snider for teaching 10th Grade Lit/Comp or World Literature Greek Tragedy Unit. Focus is on Oedipus Rex, but the vocabulary and some activities would work equally well in teaching Antigone.

Lesson Ideas:

EdSitement’s Sophocles’ Antigone: Ancient Greek Theatre, Live from Antiquity

Adapting Antigone for Modern Movie-going Audience assignment

Supplemental Readings:

Carson, Anne. “The ‘Ode to Man’ from Sophocles’ Antigone.The New Yorker.

Cartledge, Paul. “Greeks: The Democratic Experiment.” BBC History.

Yeats, William Butler, “From The ‘Antigone’

Posted in English Education, English Teachers, Lesson Ideas, Lesson Plans, Planning, Secondary Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teaching Organization: Notebook Checks

No doubt because of my perpetual struggles to remain organized, I believe we owe it to our students to teach organization skills. Long after they have left us and likely forgotten 90% of the particulars of our disciplinary subject matter, they will, hopefully, know how to organize their work materials.

I have seen teachers hand students a sheet detailing the specific notes and handouts they expected to find in their notebooks as well as how to organize these components. I have known some teachers to collect these heavy artifacts once or twice a semester. Well, that all seems like way too much work for the teacher with not enough responsibility falling to the student. Dana Huff, over at HuffEnglish, though, offers the best approach to notebook checks I’ve come across, thus far: creating short (10 questions based on notes/handouts/writing responses from a specific class date) notebook quizzes and allowing students to organize their notebooks using a system that works. It seems to have the added benefit of making students responsible for catching up on missed work and notes.

I would try to arrange a notebook quiz once a month.

Posted in Assessment, Classroom Management, Design, English Education, English Teachers, Planning, Secondary Education | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lesson Idea: Art and The Odyssey

Romare Bearden - PoseidonI could have put this in the “Teaching the Odyssey” post, but this delightful discovery (new to me!) warrants its own space. From reading Sophocles, I jumped to August Wilson these past couple days. From there I ran into his “four B’s” of inspiration: Jorge Luis Borges, Romare Bearden, Amiri Baraka, and the blues (apparently he later added James Baldwin and Ed Bullins). Then, investigating the work of Romare Bearden, a black American artist and writer, known especially for his collage work and engagement with themes dealing with African American culture and equal rights,  I became aware of his series of work on Homer’s Odyssey.

I would first and foremost recommend the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service’s great multimedia Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey exhibit containing works from Bearden’s Odyssey series as well as works inspired by The Illiad and depicting the Fall of Troy. The site features The National Gallery of Art offers a mini-lesson comparing Bearden’s The Return of Odysseus ( (1977), depicting Odysseus’ arrival at his palace disguised as an old man, with Pintoricchio’s Penelope with the Suitors (1509). Here are some additional question possibilities concerning Bearden’s painting and the Art Institute of Chicago’s introduction to the painting.

At DC Moore Gallery features a large thumbnail slideshow of the other mostly papered collage pieces from the series featuring other scenes from The Odyssey: Circe’s Domain, Realm of the Shades, Odysseus Leaves Nausicaa, Battle with Cicones, Circe Turns a Companion of Odysseus into a Swine, and Scylla and Charybdis.

Posted in Differentiation, English Education, Lesson Ideas, Lesson Plans, Reading Resources, Visual Arts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: To the Heart of the Storm by Will Eisner

Eisner, Will. To the Heart of the Storm. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008. I present another graphic memoir deservedly bound for the classroom shelf. The “grand old man of comics” and creator of such legendary comics as The Spirit and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, Will Eisner, himself, turns to his own life to tell a story of coming of age in New York, an American Jewish boy, in the period sandwiched between the two World Wars. Against the backdrop of his father’s memories of Europe and his parents’ continued struggles for financial stability in America, Eisner dramatizes his own struggles to fit into a world often hostile to his Jewish identity.

From his denial of Jewish prejudice in America to his determination to escape a cultural stereotype by choosing to fight in World War II, Eisner’s story feels familiar and overlooked. This book comes highly recommended for its high quality narrative and illustrations, as well as the reminder it serves about America’s own history and legacy of continued discrimination during a time period when history books still too often overemphasize the country’s blameless and heroic character.


Great for considering alongside Wiesel’s Night or Spiegelman’s Maus, in a unit on social discrimination or World War II/The Holocaust. Even outside the context of a teaching unit, this history-filled memoir, served up by the legendary graphic novel pioneer, merits a place on every teacher’s shelf. Especially, one serious about multi-disciplinary and visual learning.

Posted in Book Review, English Education, Graphic Literature, Visual Arts, YA Literature, YA Literature Resources | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada

Canada, Geoffrey, Illus. Jamar Nicholas. Fist Stick Knife Gun. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010. a personal quest through contemporary graphic novels exploring anti-heroic themes, I picked up this graphic memoir about social activist Geoffrey Canada’s growing up in the streets of the South Bronx during the late 1950s and 1960s. In 119 dynamically drawn pages, illustrator Jamar Nicholas skillfully renders the pain, fear, disappointment, and hope of Canada’s chilling, but hopeful, childhood story.

In the book’s opening scene, Canada, at age four, first becomes aware of violence. This first lesson comes when Canada’s mother orders his two older brothers to retrieve a jacket stolen from one of them at the playground, despite the thief’s threat of violence. While the occasion left young Geoff with many questions about how to act in the world, this proved the first of many lessons to come about showing no fear and escaping victimization.

The story follows Geoff and his brothers as they earn the right to sit on, much less walk down, their neighborhood block and learn the unspoken social rules of the street. And the first rule every boy and girl learns is that everyone fights. No one escapes the elaborate rituals involved in establishing a place in an ever shifting pecking order determined by age, fighting ability, and show of heart. From the block, to public school, and beyond, young children and adults engage in and model expectations for maintaining social order, often through various and increasingly violent means. At the beginning of the book, Canada learns to fight with his fists; by the early 1970s, more widespread gun ownership, alongside the spread of crack cocaine, began a greater escalation of violence and further deterioration of community life many poor urban communities continue to fight today.

As the president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to rendering various services, from education and prevention programs, to children and adults in poor neighborhoods, Canada’s main message rings loud and clear. Through the authority of experience and without beating the reader over the heads with it, he insists that individuals do not inherit violence. People do not carry violent genes or naturally gravitate toward violent acts. Canada speaks to these arguments in a moving epilogue, asserting,

I remember clearly the time in my life when I knew nothing of violence and how hard I worked later to learn to become capable of it.

Violence, he contends, happens through a series of hard lessons about how to act in a hostile world. Violent situations cannot be changed through blame or incarceration or looking the other way. The hope of preventing and, perhaps, eliminating violence, can only be reached by taking an integrated approach to looking at the complex social forces which create threatening, unequal, and unsafe situations for certain individuals and groups of people.


As I said earlier, I would recommend this to any teacher trying to stock up on graphic reading materials that might be of especial interest to young men. My current interest also lies in collecting materials (for literature circles, maybe?) to present in a kind of anti-hero unit consisting about persecuted, misunderstood, or vilified groups or people or individuals (a Night unit and associated themes?). I think this book, exploring difficult and very contemporary issues, could easily fit right in.

Posted in American Literature, Book Review, English Education, Graphic Literature, Multicultural Literature, Public Education, YA Literature, YA Literature Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Non-Fiction in New English Language Arts Common Core

Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksIn addition to increased attention on incorporating digital media into the English Language Arts curriculum, the new Common Core Standards place special emphasis on non-fiction. In a recent New York Times editorial, English teacher Sara Mosle explores the resistance expressed by many colleagues, argues against the rigid fiction/non-fiction binary, and advocates for reading more narrative non-fiction as a necessary step for improving student writing.

While admitting that the quality of available adolescent non-fiction must improve (in general and in our cash-strapped school libraries), Mosle believes the new standards will create more diverse reading cultures in our ELA classrooms. In addition to quality non-fiction news/magazine articles and digital pieces (, “This American Life” program), secondary educators, she argues, ought to seize opportunities to steer students toward high-quality, contemporary non-fiction like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

What nonfiction titles have you successfully incorporated into your curriculum? Or, what nonfiction books are your students reading/recommending you read?

On a broader note, I’m interested in hearing about your perspectives on the new standards and how it has or will impact your teaching.

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Teaching: Homer’s Odyssey

Gustave Moreau - The Sirens 1872Introduction/Background to Ancient Greece & Homer:

Odyssey Online: Interactive Learning Experience (Emory University) – Easily adapted to webquest or other assignment.

Homer Homepage (Georgia Perimeter College) – Collection of very useful background links.

Odyssey Units:

Contains great Hero hook activity, graphic organizers for guiding reading and gathering notes for problem-solution, list, order of location, and chronological order paragraphs, Hero’s Journey Charts, Research assignment on hero of your choice, and Homeric tapestry group assignment

Day-by-day lesson plans, Gods and goddesses mini-slide presentation, Odyssey intro PowerPoint, Direct and Indirect Characterization chart with “I am Laertes son” and “Lotus Eaters” section, irony webquest, symbolism search with “Circe, Sirens, Scylla & Charybdis” sections, and tiered writing assignment (culminating assessment with rubric) with options to create a comic strip, write a ghost story episode Homer excluded from the Odyssey, or write news reports following Odysseus’s journey home.

Based on new Common Core Standards, the unit includes supplementary literary as well as non-informational texts and focuses on argumentative writing. Features a heroes vs. celebrities opening discussion, exploration of archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s monomythic Hero’s Journey in film assignment, analysis of Hero’s Journey and archetypes in non-fiction narratives, tons of writing prompt ideas, anticipation guide, Mini-research assignment on changing qualities of heroes through literary periods, and more.

Individual/Daily Lesson Plans & Assignments:

Web English Teacher – Homer-related readings, assignments, and lesson plans.

Web English Teacher’s Odysseus Needss a Job assignment (would fit an argumentative writing unit)

Supplemental Materials:

Victoria Allen Teaching Guide to Signet Classic Edition of Homer’s Odyssey

Includes key vocab, journal topics, plot summaries and study questions, after reading questions and essay questions for deeper understanding, dramatic, arts and crafts, writing, and media activities. Odyssey Teaching Materials

PowerPoints, worksheets, activities, and games.

Romare Bearden’s Odyssey collages

A post I wrote for this blog about African American artist, Romare Bearden, and his work pertaining to Homer’s Odyssey. Contains many links to Bearden resources, including lesson plans.

Posted in English Education, Lesson Ideas, Lesson Plans, Planning, Secondary Education | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments