English Teachers Bring Real-World Examples into the Classroom

In the fall semester, Ms. Mullin and Mrs. Irvin transformed their English classes by bringing in real-world connections for their students. For example, after reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Ms. Mullin introduced her 8th graders to argumentative writing and used the 2014 Slenderman attempted-murder case as the topic.

“In both the short story and the real-world scenario, students could argue whether the murderers are cold-blooded psychopaths who planned out their murders or mentally-unstable psychotics who just snapped,” Ms. Mullin said. “I decided to use the Slenderman case for our argumentative writing task because the students seemed so intrigued with the case when I showed them the 20/20 news report as an example of psychopathic behavior.”

Mario Dominguez enjoyed the lesson.

“I liked it because I felt like I was the one trying to decide on the consequences the girls will face and to convince the readers that the girls are psychopaths who should go to jail,” Mario said.

In addition to writing an essay, Pre-AP students also held a mini trial for the girls who tried to kill their best friend as a sacrifice to Slenderman, a fictional online character. Students split into Team Prosecution or Team Defense, gathered evidence, and presented their cases to a jury of their classmates.

“I wanted my students to see that what we read in literature can transcend into everyday life,” Ms. Mullin said. “I would say that the lesson was successful because rather than complain about having to write an essay, the students were excited about getting to pick a side and either prosecute the girls or defend them and keep them out of prison.”

Mrs. Irvin combined food and poetry to enhance her students’ writing skills. While studying odes, freshmen also supported Mrs. Garcia’s tamale church fundraiser. Mrs. Irvin encouraged students to be in the moment by describing the taste, texture, and smell of the tamales as they ate them.

“Most students were able to capture that imagery in words and, between bites, transfer those thoughts to paper,” Mrs. irvin said. “There were some very excellent poems written from this activity.”

Most of the students enjoyed the real-world connection when writing their own poetry.

“I enjoyed putting my senses to work like smell, taste, etc,” Christy Acosta said.

Another example of Mrs. Irvin using real-world connections is when she had her students listen to the Serial podcast about Adnan Syed who had been tried for the murder of his ex-girl friend Hae Min Lee.

The freshmen had been listening to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and were struggling to relate to the protagonist, Pip.

“As this was my first time to teach Great Expectations, I was at a loss on how to help students get into the book,” Mrs. Irvin said. “I remember how involved I became when I first listened to Serial, and since it was released in installments just as Dickens’ novel was, I decided to switch gears and listen to the more current story.”

To determine if the key witness Jay gave an accurate account of what happened on the night of the murder, Mrs. Irvin had students make a map of Baltimore across the classroom floor. They used white cups to represent key places in the story and red cups to represent the nearest cell towers that had picked up Adnan’s cell phone calls.

“Students who are generally reluctant to participate were eager to help tape the highway lines on our floor map and plot the important points on the grid (floor tiles),” Mrs. Irvin said. “We also drove a remote-control car around and retraced the alleged events of the day and discovered that neither Adnan’s nor Jay’s story added up correctly.”

Students reflected on what they thought the events of the day were really like, based on the evidence presented in the podcast.

“Doing the map in real life with the remote-control car made me change my mind on who I thought the killer was,” Kyeshia Weston said.

Students really got into the activity and were excited to present their own theories about the true version of events.

“What I liked best about the Serial podcast was that it made me feel like a detective,” Jair Vega said.