Freedom in the Classroom

February 28, 2007 at 5:04 am (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers)

Have you ever said or heard a teacher say the following? “My classroom is not a democracy! In here, there is only one rule – do what I tell you to do.” Don’t worry – it happens all the time. Freedom is one of the more difficult basic needs for students to meet in school; however, if we hope to help students become responsible members of a democratic society, then it is important that we allow them to experience freedom in their formative years. Freedom is NOT giving students carte blanche or letting them do whatever they want. In schools, as in society, each measure of freedom comes with an equal portion of responsibility. In schools, teachers can deal with two types of freedom: freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from refers to opportunities that allow us to experience a needed change or to avoid an unpleasant situation. Freedom to refers to opportunities that allow us to choose from a variety of options. Today we will look at classroom strategies promoting freedom from and freedom to.

1) Novelty

The brain needs ritual (procedures and rules) in order to fulfill the need for safety; however, it also needs novelty to spark interest. If everything we do is structured and predictable, boredom sets in. To keep students’ attention, we need to inject novelty into our routine. Some ways to do so include:

Changing location – teachers can move to a different part of the room while talking, students can change seats, the class can go outside, or teachers can switch rooms with other teachers.

Introducing lessons with different kinds of music.

Using a variety of instructional techniques.

Using a variety of cooperative learning structures.

Having students work with a different partner or group.

Beginning class with a team-building activity.

Inserting an energizer during a lesson.

Using props, noisemakers, costumes, poetry, or singing to get their attention.

Taking a field trip.
2) Daily or Weekly Agenda

There may be times when you have a number of things you want to accomplish during a particular day or week, but you can be flexible about when they might be done. Allowing students to help develop the agenda is a simple way of giving them a say in what they will be doing while they have to be in school.

3) Choice of Partners or Team Members

Although many times you will want to determine who works with whom in partners or teams, sometimes you may want to give students freedom to choose their partners or teammates. To avoid frustration with this, start the year with various diagnostic tests – determining learning style, working style and personality and share the results with students. Then when the time comes to create a team, tell students that their teams must have diversity based on the diagnostic tests. Explain to them that you are requiring diversity because it enhances the effectiveness of the groups if they combine their strengths.

4) Student-Generated Curriculum

Getting students involved in developing their own course of study gives them freedom from a curriculum imposed on them without any consideration of their interests. Obviously you are required to cover certain things and can’t let students determine the entire course; however, most teachers can let students develop questions that they want answered in a unit of study to help develop their interest.

5) Choices within Assignments

Even limited choices are better than none at all. So you might allow students to choose between 2 or 3 essay topics all demonstrating the same learning objective or let them choose between answering all the odd or even number problems.

6) Free-Reading

During free-reading time, students can bring in any reading material (legal, moral, and ethical) and everyone reads silently for an amount of time.

7) Free Writing

If you use learning journals in your classroom, you might occasionally provide the opportunity for free writing, which enables students to express their thoughts and feelings in a confidential and safe environment. Free writing can provide a powerful emotional outlet for students, lead to excellent class discussions, and help students generate ideas for formal writing assignments.

8) Choice of Performance Assessment

If the criteria for mastery or competence is made clear by the teacher and understood by students, there are dozens of ways students can demonstrate their learning. Consider:

advice column
artifact collection
charts and graphs
book jacket or book report
booklet or brochure
business letter
CD cover
poems – cinquains, free verse,…
classification system
classified ad
comedy act
comic book
diorama or display
field manual
flip or flow chart
friendly letter
game or game show
graphic organizer
interpretive dance
lyrics or songs
newsletter or newspaper
nursery rhyme
photo essay
puppet show
radio announcement or commercial
TV show
Year in Review or yearbook


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The School Board Meeting

February 27, 2007 at 7:37 pm (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, personal, principals, reading, school, school administration, teachers, technology)

This is a continuation of yesterday’s blog – I Said Farewell Today. If you have not read that blog, I have been appointed as the new Principal at Thornebrooke Elementary in Orange County Public Schools (Orland, Florida). Today was the school board meeting, tomorrow, I meet my new staff.

My wife and I got to the School Board about 30-minutes before the meeting was supposed to begin. My parents both showed up as well and surprised me by bringing my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Sara Simpson. I have always kept up with Mrs. Simpson and she ranks as one of my all time favorite teachers. I was blessed to have 2 of my teachers, front office clerk and my current principal attend the meeting. I know for my principal, it was sort of a passing of the baton.

Before the meeting started, it was great to have all of the Area Superintendents and other district officials come to my family and I and congratulate me. It was pretty special to have people that have seen me come up through the system come over and tell me they were proud. It was an honor to have some of them roll off some of the schools that I have been at over the years, as well as some of the accomplishments.

Right before the meeting was to start, I was getting a little anxious, because I could not find my mentor for the past 7 years, Mrs. Grace Lias. Just before the meeting started, I had someone come up from behind me and tap me on the shoulder. I knew it was her. We embraced for what seemed like a few minutes; however, it was probably a few seconds. She has been an amazing mentor to me over the years and I was very proud that she was with me tonight.

Once the meeting started, the Superintendent introduced me as the new principal at Thornebrooke Elementary. I then had an opportunity to address the School Board and the audience. I was told by both my principal and mentor – keep it short and simple. I did. I thanked the Superintendent, Board Chairwoman and Area Superintendent, as well as introduced my family and special guests. It was a special evening.

Tomorrow, I meet my new staff for the first time.

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Changes in My Blog – I Said Farewell Today

February 26, 2007 at 6:38 pm (blogging, children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, personal, principals, reading, school, teachers, technology, writing)

Since I started blogging a month or so ago, I have mainly focused on tips that I generally send out to my teachers on a daily basis.  That is all going to change today.  While I will continue to publish my “Tips of the Day,” I will also begin to write reflections about my new role as Principal. 

Since 2000, I have been an Assistant Principal at 2 inner city schools in Orlando, Florida.  Most people think Orlando is just Mickey Mouse and Universal Studios; but we have some pretty rough parts that have seen surging crime rates in the last 24 months.  Over the past year, I have been interviewing for principal positions within Orange County Public Schools.  On February 12, 2007, I received a phone call from the Executive Area Director informing me that I was the leading candidate for the position of Principal at Thornebrooke Elementary School in Ocoee, Florida, which is on the outskirts of Orlando.  On February 22, 2007, I met with Superintendent Ronald Blocker, who decided that I would become the next Principal at Thornebrooke Elementary.

As much as I would love to tell you about Thornebrooke today – I am not.  I will save that for a future blog. 

Today was a bittersweet day.  I informed my staff that tomorrow night I would be going before the Orange County School Board to be named the new Principal at Thornebrooke Elementary.  My current principal, Mr. Carl Colton, did an excellent job of sharing a story about a former principal as he led into telling the staff that I would be leaving.  When he introduced me, he said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please help me bring up the newest OCPS principal, Mr. Kendrick.” 

I was shocked to see my current staff gave me a standing ovation.  I was even more shocked to see that they kept standing and clapping.  I was extremely flattered.  I then let them know the timeline for my impending departure.  I let them know what I have learned from each of them and that my time at Orange Center was time well spent.  It is hard to talk about yourself and to say goodbye, especially since I had laughed and cried with many in that room. It was extremely difficult to the people that I had hired. They put their faith in me, as I did them. It was very moving as each member of the staff walked by to give me a hug as they let me know the impact I had on them – that was very emotional.

Tomorrow night – the School Board Meeting.

Until then, this is Principal Kendrick, signing off!!!

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Creating Enriching Environments

February 26, 2007 at 10:05 am (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, teachers)

The primary purpose of the brain is to survive, and in order to survive, a brain needs opportunities for continual growth. Using stimulus and learning as basic drives, the brain naturally seeks out what stimulates it, what is meaningful to it, what provides flexibility, emotion, choice, and an absence of threat.

Classroom teachers can work with how the brain takes in and stores information by providing what the brain needs to survive. One of the ways the brain survives is by keeping itself nurtured and growing. Learning provides the brain with the ability to keep changing and growing—which is known as neural plasticity. As the brain learns, dendrites grow and the brain actually changes shape.

The brain also needs nurturing—good nutrition and water. It learns best in a safe environment, with novelty and choice. The brain needs learning and knowledge to survive, so one of its primary functions is to seek learning. Teachers are in an ideal position to satisfy the cravings of our students’ brains.

“Every human being is driven to search for meaning. . . . It’s never too late to begin enriching the brain; the magic dendrite trees can branch and grow, enlarging the cortex, throughout life.”
— Marian Diamond

Research shows that it takes information, imagination, motivation, and effort to create an enriched environment (Diamond & Hopson, 1998).

Research shows that the brain is malleable or plastic, continuing to grow new connections in response to normal development processes and experiences (Huttenlocher, 2002).

Research shows that our brains are composed of about one hundred billion brain cells organized into millions of neural networks (Jensen, 2000).

TIPS: Create Enriching Environments That Enhance Student Learning

When we hear the word “enriching” relative to a school environment, most of us think of additional activities or lessons that improve student understanding or enhance what students are learning. Brain researcher Marian Diamond has extensively researched the value of offering enriching environments to learners. Her research finds that in four days, dendritic growth as a result of an enriching environment occurs, and in four days, dendritic death due to lack of stimulation occurs. By continually creating enriching environments for our students, we ensure that students are learning and using their brains to the best of their abilities.

There are many ways that you can enrich the learning environment for your students.

Create an Environment of Emotional Support
Students need safe and supportive learning environments. When students feel mentally or physically uncomfortable, their brains focus on those conditions rather than on learning. You can foster an environment of positive emotional support by continually offering opportunities for students to get to know one another, and by getting to know each of your students.

Support student comments when they are appropriate. Rather than stopping after a comment like “That’s right,” add a little more: “That’s right. The characters in the story are good at taking turns, just like you and Valerie did on the swings earlier today.” Support can also come in written form: “This essay shows much improvement, with well-developed paragraphs and a clear thesis statement” validates student work more than “Great job.” A little extra goes a long way.

When students are comfortable and supported in their learning environments, the dendrites in their brains can expand and take in more information.

Offer Choice and Challenge
Our brains appreciate having choices. When we have options, our brains immediately step up to the task of weighing them and selecting the one(s) that appeal to us the most. Before we can consciously start thinking about it, our brains automatically seek out what is most appealing and meaningful to us.

Rather than being told to complete essay questions one, two, and three, ask students to choose three of five questions. They can choose the ones that are most appealing or meaningful to them.

Student brains are also in constant search of challenge. Challenges need to be manageable and fair, yet complex enough that the brain has to stretch a little. Appropriate challenge is comparable to starting up an exercise routine. It is important to start off slowly, with gradual stretches. Each time the routine becomes a bit easier, and the body can take on a little more. Manageable challenges keep our brains stimulated.

Students who consistently read the aqua (easier) reading booklets may appreciate moving up to the maroon (more complex) booklets. The challenge may take a little extra time, and the result of getting through the harder material will be rewarding.

Offer choice and challenge by telling students they can either read two aqua (easier) booklets or one green (advanced) booklet. They can choose the challenge that feels most appropriate.

Stimulate the Senses
Learning research is always buzzing with the importance of stimulating the sense when teaching. Auditory is the easiest sense to stimulate, and it is often our habit to tell students what they need to learn. To avoid the “in one ear and out the other” syndrome, use additional techniques besides lecture to stimulate the senses.

If the lesson plan calls for teaching about the Civil War, bring in books with pictures of the uniforms. Consider bringing in a movie so students can see and hear what they need to learn. If possible, take your students to a local museum where they can see the costumes and weapons. Have students act out part of the war, where they have to learn about their historical figures and dress the part. Other students might like to research popular cuisine of the time, and bring in samples for classmates to try.

Finding ways to stimulate the senses doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive when each student has a role in the learning. In fact, taking an active learning role is a fantastic way to enrich the brain.

Offer Opportunities for Students to Actively Process and Participate
So much to cover, and so little time. However, covering content doesn’t always allow students to uncover more learning, or to discover new applications. Traditional educators would lecture to their students, and expect the information to be retained, at least until an exam. We now know that the brain doesn’t function to its best ability with these methods.

Brains need opportunities to process and participate. Once information is taken in, our brains want to know what to do with it—how to apply it. These opportunities can come in the form of a worksheet, study guide, large or small group discussion, field trip, reflection journal, and so on. Ideally, there should be multiple opportunities for students to process and apply what they have learned.

You can offer choice by letting students select whether they would prefer to write a journal entry processing what they have learned, do a pair-and-share with a classmate, create a graphic organizer, highlight their notes, or whatever method works best for their brains to process what they have learned.

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Survival in the Classroom

February 22, 2007 at 9:46 am (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, school, teachers)

In order to have a “Classroom of Choice,” you have to understand William Glasser’s “Choice Theory” which explains how and why human beings behave.  In essence, Glasser maintains that all of our behavior is to meet one or more of our innate basic human needs.  Therefore, all behavior is purposeful.  There are 5 basic needs: the need to survive, to love and belong, to gain power, to be free, and to have fun.  This week we are looking at the first need – SURVIVAL.

How do we define the “need to survive?”

Obviously the need to survive includes basics such as food, shelter, physical comfort and safety.  However, since we are able to imagine the future, this need goes beyond tending to our immediate physical needs.  The need for survival causes us to do things like buy insurance for future financial stability or exercise to maintain good health as we age.  Teachers should be aware that while the need to survive is primarily physical, it has a psychological component as well – the need for a sense of security.  

What things can threaten our students’ sense of security and how does it impact learning?

We have little control over some of the survival needs of our students – the food they have at home, the clothing they buy, etc.  However, we can definitely address the psychological component – the need for a sense of security.  Most of our students are clothed and fed properly, but many experience threats (real or perceived) on a daily or hourly basis – threat from peers, teachers and the system.  These “threats” take many forms: name-calling by peers, bullying, sarcasm from a teacher, fear of punishment, lack of order, …  All of these perceived threats can have a devastating impact on learning.  Threats cause stress which impairs both short- and long-term memory.  Chronic stress can trigger chemical imbalances in the brain which can increase the chances that a student will choose impulsive, even violent, behavior in their attempts to regain control over their lives.    

How can teachers address the immediate physical needs of their students?

  • WATER – Our brain is about 78% water.  Encouraging students to drink water during their breaks or allowing students to bring water bottles to the classroom can help.  The other alternative is to create a  system allowing students to go to the drinking fountain without disrupting class.  
  • FOOD – When a person’s blood sugar is low, the person tends to be tired, easily distracted, and irritable.  If you have students during a class period that is several hours away from their lunch, you might want consider allowing healthy snacks or encouraging students to eat something healthy during their breaks.
  • OXYGEN – The brain uses one-fifth of the body’s oxygen.  Doing things like opening windows or having plants in the room to provide fresh air are useful.  (Spider plans and succulents are great – they require less water and survive a lot of abuse.)  Providing breathing or stretch breaks can help.  Try the “Rag Doll”: Have students bend over from the waist and hang limply like a rag doll.  Then direct them to slowly straighten up.  As they straighten up, they are to take a deep breath and hold it for 2 counts.  Next, they exhale quickly and flop back into the rag doll position.  Repeat 2 or 3 times.  

How can teachers address the needs for a sense of safety, security, and order in the classroom?

1.  GREET THEM – Greeting students by name with a smile communicates that you care about them and want them to feel comfortable.

2.  POSITIVE POSTERS – Fill your room with positive messages about learning in the classroom.  Messages such as “It’s okay to make mistakes; that’s how we learn” tell students that they are free to take risks.  Consider the following motivational statements:

  • We each learn in our own ways, by our own time clocks.
  • It’s intelligent to ask for help.
  • We can do more and learn more when we’re willing to risk.
  • It’s not mistakes that are important.  It’s what we do after we make a mistake.
  • If it happened, it happened.  Let’s go on.
  • Everyone can learn and learn well.
  • We are all intelligent, just in different ways.

What else can teachers do to meet students’ need for safety, security, and order?

There are too many tips for me to cover in one e-mail so check in next Monday when we cover guidelines for behavior, classroom rules, and procedures and routines.

Source: The Classroom of Choice by Jonathan C. Erwin

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Strategies that Give Students Power

February 21, 2007 at 10:59 am (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, school)

Listening to Students

1.    Class meetings – Class meetings are a great way in which to let students express their thoughts, feelings and opinions and to be listened to by both the teacher and other students.  (For more details – go to

2.    Journal entries – Reading and responding to students’ journal entries is another effective way in which to help students feel that they have a voice.  You might give them prompts that invite them to:

  • Make suggestions about classroom practices or procedures.
  • Express an opinion on a topic.
  • Comment or ask questions regarding the class content.
  • Share something about themselves.

A brief, positive response lets the student know that he or she has been heard and acknowledged.

3.    Suggestion box – Keep a box somewhere in the room in which students can express thought, concerns and opinions or communicate private messages to you.

Class Jobs

Students feel important when they are allowed to take responsibility for class jobs.  Any time your give students responsibilities for necessary tasks, it is an opportunity for them to gain power.  Students will often surprise you with what they can do and how well they can do it.

Peer Tutors

Employing students to teach or tutor other students empowers both the student doing the teaching, and by increasing the chances for success, the student being tutored.  It can also bridge the time gap between the student who achieve mastery on the first assessment and those who need more time. 

Peer Mediators

Many schools have peer mediation programs, which teach students conflict resolution skills.  Why not teach these skills to all of your students?  If you do so, then you can give students involved in a conflict in your classroom the option of working it out themselves, working with a peer, or involving you. 

Teach and Tell

This variation of “Show and Tell” encourages students to tell the class about something they like or do well and teach the class how to do it.  In middle school, students from one class can teach another class or teach others within the same class. 

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Adult Behaviors That Decrease Student Misbehavior

February 20, 2007 at 9:56 pm (children, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, High School, kids, life, Middle School, Parents, school)

Adult Behaviors That Decrease Student MisbehaviorAdults who work with confrontational students must have the capacity for patience, self-control, and self-coaching. Responding to this type of student requires forethought and planning.

De-escalating a confrontation can be accomplished in several ways. Each of the following suggestions requires tremendous desire on the part of the teacher for maintaining his or her own control and understanding that the student needs to save face.

  • Speak calmly throughout the interaction.
  • Keep the focus on the desired behavior of learning or work completion. For example, you could say, “Sounds like we have an issue to discuss. Let’s do so right after class. For now, can you get back to the report?”
  • Use self-directed humor or self-admonishment: “Why didn’t I think of that? You’d think after ten years of teaching, I would’ve thought about this coming up!”
  • Listen actively and acknowledge the student’s concerns: “Seems as though you are really angry. Let me think about it for today, and we’ll talk about it at another time.”
  • Try the broken record approach—communication through a nonconfrontational voice and body language: “Please return to your chair and get back to work.”

Teachers will be able to use these strategies only if they rehearse them, at least mentally. Practice time through role-play can be given during faculty meetings.

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Effective Technology Integration in Middle School

February 20, 2007 at 9:54 pm (children, Education, Educational Leadership, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, reading, school, technology, writing)


It’s becoming more and more apparent that teaching in the 21st Century will require teachers who can effectively integrate digital technologies into their daily classroom instruction. And, more importantly perhaps, include a focus on 21st Century *skills* in their curriculum planning. What do integrated lesson and unit plans look like in practice? The Northwest Educational Technology Consortium offers four examples at their website Classrooms@Work, including an eighth grade unit called “It’s a Wild Ride,” developed by a three-member teacher team. This link leads to a well-documented discussion of the unit, which integrates science, math and language arts. You’ll also find background about the team and their classrooms, the school where they teach, and their community (Twin Falls, Idaho). Don’t miss this — very impressive! If you’d like to see other units (there’s one for a 4/5 blend and one for ninth grade) go to:

To see the “It’s a Wild Ride” unit, go to:

For information on the classes and school involved, go to:

It's a Wild RideProject
Learning That Works Learning that Works
It’s a Wild Ride takes a high interest topic, roller coasters, and builds content-specific knowledge before moving to an open-ended group design task.
Working Together Working Together
Planning, scheduling, and monitoring work in three classrooms requires coordinated teamwork among teachers and students.
Using Workspaces Using Workspaces
Flexibility in technology access and an extended period schedule supports this multifaceted project that integrates several different technologies.
Assessing Learning Assessing Learning
A range of assessment strategies from embedded performance assessment to traditional paper tests, inform students and teachers about learning progress.
Supporting Success Supporting Success
A committed teaching team and a strong instructional leader are only two of the several factors that support successful classrooms at work.

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Exit Tickets

February 18, 2007 at 2:13 am (children, Education, Educational Leadership, kids, Parents, reading, school, writing)

Here is a really neat post-learning assessment: Exit Tickets.

This site has a description of the strategy, explanation of the process, and examples. Check it out today!

Exit Tickets

1. Give students “tickets” – small pieces of paper designed to look like tickets, but with space for writing.

2. Ask students two questions. One that requires a factual answer about the big idea of today’s lesson, but in their own words. A second question should require more explanation of a concept.

3. Give students five minutes at the end of class to write their answers.

4. They must give you an Exit Ticket to leave class for the day.

5. Analyze the tickets to learn how many students got the big idea and how they understand it or misunderstand it.

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Using Pop Culture in the Classroom and @ Home

February 16, 2007 at 5:56 pm (art, children, culture, Education, Parents, reading, school, technology, travel)

You’re the Top! Pop Culture Then and Now

ColiseumThis lesson, appropriate for most secondary classrooms, entails writing about present-day pop culture as well as learning about pop culture of the past by using Cole Porter’s song “You’re the Top!” (1934) to touch on many issues relevant to a language arts classroom, especially the literary technique of cataloguing.

The lesson also provides opportunities for student research on particular time periods. Students can include pop culture items from those particular time periods (relevant to the literature they are studying, for example) in expressing the “tops” in pop culture.

From Theory to Practice
This lesson employs the teaching strategy of “text-tapping,” which Lynn Langer Meeks and Carol Jewkes Austin describe as “a combination of guided reading and writing strategies that use a text as a source for ideas and instruction.” The idea is to use one text in order to produce another, student-created text. In this way, students use their primary discourses (those acquired mostly subconsciously through daily interaction) in order to learn and demonstrate secondary discourses (those learned through formal schooling). In doing so, the students understand that their primary discourses are valued, and thus they will be more inclined to participate in secondary discourses. Common strategies of text-tapping include having students write newspaper articles based on literature, update Shakespeare’s language into modern language, and write alternative endings to literature.

Further Reading
Gee, J.P. “First Language Acquisition as a Guide for Theories of Learning and Pedagogy.” Linguistics and Education 6 (1994): 331-354.

Meeks, Lynn Langer and Carol Jewkes Austin. Literacy in the Secondary English Classroom: Strategies for Teaching the Way Kids Learn. Boston: Pearson, 2003.

Student Objectives
Students will

  • work independently or in groups to reflect on items in pop culture of the past to determine items’ place in pop culture.
  • brainstorm “tops” in pop culture of the present day.
  • use rhyme and rhythm to imitate Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top!”
  • discuss and critique items worthy of recognition in today’s pop culture.
Instructional Plan


  • Get an audio copy (or several versions) of “You’re the Top.” Recordings by Ella Fitzgerald, Stacey Kent, and Barbara Streisand are recommended.
  • Make copies of the lyrics and chart, one for each student.
  • If you choose the online option for reflection, test the Online Self-Reflection Checklist on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Instruction and Activities

Session One

  1. Begin by setting the context.
    • Use this lesson plan after the class has become familiar with Walt Whitman’s work, which extensively uses the stylistic device of cataloguing (a list of people, things, events). Review what the class has learned about the cataloguing technique in writing and brainstorm a list of popular songs that include this technique. This lesson can also be used after the ReadWriteThink lessons Put That on the List: Collaboratively Writing a Catalog Poem and Put That on the List: Independently Writing a Catalog Poem.
    • Use this lesson with any other work in which one character expresses affection for another. For example, students can brainstorm expressions that Romeo uses to describe Juliet (“rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear,” “Juliet is the sun,” “bright angel”) and discuss the value of such compliments. Ask students to think of more modern compliments and ways of saying that someone is “the top.”
    • Use this lesson with any major text in which you want to teach more about the culture of the time. Students can put themselves in place of the characters and complete the lesson as though they are members of a specific time period.
  2. Introduce the song “You’re the Top” with a little background—It was written in 1934 by Cole Porter, who uses items from pop culture to express his feelings about another person.
  3. Preview the activity for students: They will listen to the song, look at a list of the pop culture items to see what they feel is still valid today, brainstorm replacements for other items, and create revised lyrics for the song.
  4. Hand out the lyrics, and listen to the song.
  5. Respond to any immediate comments that students have about the song.
  6. Hand out the Lyrics Analysis Chart.
  7. Ask students, working independently or in groups, to discuss the current cultural relevance of items and to brainstorm a list of items they’d like to include. You can encourage students to be as exact with rhythm and rhyme as Porter is, depending on your own purpose for using this lesson.
  8. While students work, if desired, play the song (or several versions) in the background so they can become more familiar with the tune, rhythm, and rhyme.
  9. If reference materials are available, encourage students to look up any details from the song that they need more information on before choosing a substitute.
  10. For the rest of the period, students can re-write the lyrics and prepare to perform their new version of the song at the end of the period.
  11. At the end of the period, students share their lyrics through reading or singing.
  12. For homework, ask students to complete the Self-Reflection Worksheet or Online Self-Reflection Checklist as a final self-assessment of their participation in the project.


  • For extended research projects, students can explore the significance of Porter’s references and better evaluate the relevance of the references today. The song provides plenty of resources for short research projects. Students can investigate a particular item mentioned in the song, explain what the item is, and state its significance for the time period when the song was composed. The finished work could be a class-annotated version of the song, created using HTML or simply using poster paper.

Web Resources

The Cole Porter Resource Site
Want more information about Cole Porter? It’s here.

“Cole Porter On Lingua Franca” by Andrew Ford
In this transcript for Australia’s Radio National program, Lingua Franca, composer Andrew Ford considers the rhythm and rhyme characteristic of Porter’s music.

Bloomsday for Dummies: A Skeleton Key to “You’re the Top.”
This article by Timothy Noah provides annotations for the many cultural references in the song.

Slate’s Chatterbox: “You’re the Top,” Today
This NPR segment features author Timothy Noah talking about his article (above). The site includes links to additional articles on Porter’s music.
Student Assessment/Reflections
Students may be informally assessed through completed lyrics and class discussion or group participation (see rubric). Have individual students complete the Self-Reflection Worksheet or use the online Self-Reflection Checklist. Review students’ comments, and provide support for accurate reflections on their participation in the activity.

Collect students’ Lyric Analysis Charts as evidence of their reflection on the relevance of pop culture items. Teachers might create “Grammy” awards for best lyrics, best performance, most precise rhymes, best adherence to rhythm, or other student-voted favorites. For extended projects, students can be assessed on essays that analyze the original lyrics’ relevance or the student-created lyrics’ relevance.

NCTE/IRA Standards

    1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

    2 – Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.

    3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

    6 – Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

    11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

    12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

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