English “Thing” of the Day—A simple classroom atmosphere tool

I started at the beginning of my teaching career, based on my belief that students need exposure to the world of language outside of instruction and assessment.  I got the idea from Billy Collins, who implemented a “poem-a-day” program in various public schools that involved a reading of a poem a day, without any required instructional connection whatsoever.  Mere exposure for the sake of it being something in our language.

So I took the idea and applied it to everything else in English.  In my classroom, each day of the week there will be a “of the week” item to be shared.  My schedule so far has been thus:

Monday—Word of the Week

Tuesday—Book of the Week

Wedensday— Facts About the English Language 

Thursday—Quote of the Week

Friday—Poem of the Week

  • Every Monday a word hangs suspended on the board for the entire week, a word most of them haven’t heart very often or at all—cornucopia, satiate, pusillanimous.  The idea is not “this is a word that will be in the reading/on the test/definitely required to know in your future job”, but rather “here is a really neat word you can throw out in random conversation.”
  • Every Tuesday, Reading Rainbow style, I advertise a book from my shelf and leave it on my desk.  I invite students to share one too.  By “my shelf”, I mean the classroom library I have set up (another idea to try in your class).
  • Every Wednesday I give them a neat fact about English: Sometimes it’s unique grammar trick (“Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is a complete sentence), sometimes it’s an explanation of a phrase (like how J.K. Rowling came up with horcrux), sometimes it’s something unique in relation to other languages (there is such thing as an infix, and we don’t have one—unless you count cursing in the middle of a word).
  • Every Thursday, I put a quote either for, by, or about readers and writers.  For example: “Writing is thinking on paper.” -William Zinsser
  • Every Friday, I share a poem with the class, at the beginning or at the end.  I also invites students to share one they like, or even one they wrote.  I find it important for them to digest a poem without having to “beat it with a rubber hose,” as Billy Collins says, to find out everything it has to say to us.  Just take it in.

So far, I’ve had what looks like success in them anticipating these things.  Very often I get a “we forgot the book of the day” or “hey what’s the word of the day today?” or a “English fact!  What’s the English fact?”  I haven’t had too much success with students sharing their own, but that comes with the territory of public schooling.  I did have one student who brought several of his poems in, and another student showed me a whole list of “cool English facts” she found.  It’s hard to measure what effect this has on the classroom, but it may be one of the reasons I’ve received an overly positive report from students in my class.

No matter what strategies you use, it is important to express to kids that this English stuff we’re doing is not just for the classroom, not even always for future classes and jobs, but for enrichment and pleasure.  Inspire them to become invested in the art of language as participants, and not just as forced captive audiences and compelled test-takers.  Treat them to the world of language, and they just might be positively reinforced.

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