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Pick an issue that matters to you, research it and advocate for it. Get your class involved.

"There are two kinds of evil people in this world. Those who do evil things and those who see evil things and don't try to stop it."
- Janis from "Mean Girls"

Consider the above statement. Now consider how you could go from inaction to action on an issue that matters to you. The idea behind this project is to not be a bystander, but to take action, take a stand for what you believe in.

The project:

  • Either as an individual or with a partner, pick an issue that you are passionate about. It can be anything: animal abuse, water conservation, human rights, bullying, any injustice you have seen or experienced, etc.
  • Research the issue and take notes; look for examples of the issue playing out in the media; look for examples of action being taken on the issue.
  • On your blog, write about why you picked this issue, what you learned -- and make a list of several ways people can help (Example: Donate to the ASPCA or contact your local congressman to encourage them to support a bill.) 
  • Add audio of you (and your partner) talking about why this issue matters and how people can help.
  • Add a photo slideshow. These can be photos you have taken or downloads of photos that reflect the issue (make sure to provide appropriate credit.)
  • Finally, check out what your classmates are doing -- and make a comment on their blogs!
This resource was adapted from a lesson by teacher Caroline Legan, Orleans, VT.

Photo credit: YWP Photo Library, John Ireland, 2014

Aug 02
Grace's picture

Basic Grammar: Words

An often very confusing part of writing is when to use what word and where to use it. More than once you've probably had someone tell you, "You said that wrong!" Here are a few common usage/grammar rules that often get mixed up by writers.

1. You and I vs. You and me. People have a hard time remembering which phrase you are supposed to say and when. To learn this rule, you just need to remember your subject pronouns and object pronouns. 

            The words "you" and "I" are what we call subject pronouns. These are the pronouns that perform an action. The words "you" (yes, it has two categories) and "me" are object pronouns. These are the pronouns that receive an action. Thus, you say "you and I" if the group is doing an action, and "you and me" if the group received an action. 

            You and I: "Remember? You and I rode our bikes to the waterfall last Wednesday," she said. 
            You and me: "Yes, and then Tommy started throwing rocks at you and me as we rode by," her friend sulked. 

Test each pronoun without the other. For example, from the sentence above, stating it as "Me rode the bike..." sounds quite silly! Also, "...throwing rocks at I as we rode by..." really should grate on your ears!

2. Affect vs. Effect. This is another common mistake people make... even though the rule is as simple as knowing the difference between a noun and a verb. 

            "Affect" is a verb meaning "to influence." "Effect" is a noun meaning "result." Use them in accordance to their roles as a verb and a noun. 

            Affect: Every day, global warming is affecting habitats across the seven continents. 
            Effect: Frogs and their habitats, in particular, are feeling the effect of Global Warming. 
​            Exception: Effect is a verb when meaning "to cause."
​                              Most scientists are hoping by sharing their analyses of climate data that this will effect a change in some people's perception about our impact on global warming.

3. Who vs. Whom. You never hear anyone say "whom," and that's because people are often to afraid to even try to use it. Granted, the rule is fairly tricky. 

            When you're asking a question, and the way the question is phrased will require the use of a subject pronoun — I, she, he, we and they — you should use the word "who" in your question. If you're asking a question that will require the use of a object pronoun — me, him, her, us and them — you use the word "whom" in your question. 

            Who: "Who was the culprit? Who murdered the man?" the officer asked. 
                     "She did," the detective said, pointing to the woman being restrained. 
            Whom: "To whom were her intentions directed?" the officer asked. 
                        "Him, her ex-boyfriend," the detective said, pointing at the body bag. 

4. Lie vs. Lay. We're not talking about telling a lie. We're talking about using the word "lie" in terms of something or someone that "lies down." Often, people don't know whether they should use "lie" or "lay," but the rule is as easy as understanding the context. 

          You should use the word "lie" when a subject lies down on its own. You should use the word "lay" (to place) when a direct object is being put down by a subject. 

          Lie: "Susan, lie down; you're sick. I'll make us some tea," Robert said. 
          Lay: "All right. Lay the tea on the table when you're done, Robert," Susan said. 

         Of course, "lie" and "lay" are in present tense. The past tense of "lie" is "lay," and the past participle is "lain."
​         Susan lay down for a nap. She has lain down for a nap for three days while recovering from her cold.

         The past tense of "lay" is "laid," and the past participle is "laid." 
​          Robert laid the teacup on the tray. He had laid a plate of cookies by her tea once she was awake and feeling better.
5. Hanged vs HungWhen do you say what? You just have to know what you are referencing. 

         If you are talking about someone who was executed via a rope, you use the word "hanged." If you are talking about putting something on a wall or putting up your Christmas lights, you use the word "hung." 

        Hanged: Many innocent people were hanged during the Salem witch trials. 
        Hung: Marry hung a picture of the witch Hermione in the fiction section of her library. 

BONUS: Because. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that you can't start a sentence with "because." You can; you just have to establish a cause and effect relationship. 

          You can start a sentence with the word "because" as long as the sentence has a cause and effect relationship and is a sentence. 

          Because school is starting soon, students are rushing to the beach to get in some last-minute sunshine. 
​          Reminder: Whenever a sentence begins with a dependent clause (one that wouldn't make sense on its own), it is followed by a comma (as you notice in these two sentence examples).

[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Cannizzaro]


Your Mood

Experiment with different voices to create a range of moods in your writing. 

Whether you are writing a story/ narrative, report, or essay you must think about the mood you are in, which often determines your voice. If you are bored, your writing will be flat and your reader won't care. If you are excited, you reader is more apt to be excited, too. But there is something more to voice -- mood or, in another way, the tone or personality of the text. Below are some descriptive words to identify different of types of voice you may choose to show in your writing:

Happiness          Guilt                Gratitude           Surprise
Excitement        Pride                Panic                Shame
Fear               Compassion         Embarrassment     Curiosity
Confusion          Arrogance          Empathy             Disappointment
Anger              Relief              Sympathy            Shock
Boredom           Satisfaction       Hope                 Exhaustion
Jealousy           Love                Anxiety              Confidence
Envy               Regret              Concern              Disapproval
Joy                Sadness            Loneliness            Remorse

For this challenge:
1. Choose one of the descriptors above and write a quick story using a voice that shows that mood/ personality. Take 7 minutes. 
2. Choose two different descriptors from above and rewrite your anecdote using a new voice that shows each new mood/ personality. IMPORTANT: Do your rewrite below the initial response so your classmates can see both versions.

Remember to:
- Title your entry with the mood/ descriptive word you chose from the list above and put the two discriptors above the second  version.

And don't forget to read several classmates' posts and give them some specific feedback on what you noticed about their posts.

This resource was adapted from a lesson by teacher Caroline Legan, Orleans, VT.
Copyrighted photo by Maciej Dakowicz  Girl in Islamic school in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, 2010. Used by permission.

Aug 01
admin's picture

Free Write -- Rationale

Writing is like panning for gold or hunting for diamonds. If you get good at it, you gain a skill needed to succeed, to gain confidence, to fully participate in any learning activity and to be active in community life -- If you can express yourself, you are more apt to participate. Simple as that.

But learning to write well takes practice.

Your YWP digital classroom platform is a great space for students to practice -- to experiment, to play, to focus. Just about everything written in a class can be posted — drafts, journal entries, reflections, poems, finished pieces, discussions, narratives, podcasts, digital stories and essays. You can build a supportive writing community around this platform -- and what is done in class -- to create trust and mutual respect. That will lead to students taking creative risks, engaging in subjects that interest them and improving.

Regular writing should be a pedagogy:

  • writing skills improve when writing is a regular activity;
  • peer commenting and feedback helps both the reader observe and articulate and the author improve their work and be affirmed;
  • youths care about their peers and try harder when they know their peers are their audience;
  • writing for an online audience fosters respect and digital literacy; and
  • regular research on the Web helps youths differentiate fact from opinion or falsehoods.

The benefits of student blogging don't end here. Regular writing also:

  • engages students;  
  • creates powerful, inclusive learning communities;
  • provides writing practice as students reflect, converse, collaborate and create;
  • deepens critical thinking;
  • allows students to develop their own voice, as they see that their ideas and views matter;
  • helps students see that information is interconnected through linking;
  • suits all learning styles and abilities
  • provides increased motivation for writing and reading, as students read each others' posts
  • teaches students to read critically yet respond respectfully;
  • improves confidence levels enables students to create with text, multimedia, audio, images and video; and
  • fosters peer-to-peer learning

Some students are thrilled when they hear that they get to write in a digital space. Others are skeptical and nervous when asked to post their work for all the class to see -- even though what they write can't be seen by the outside world. They don't necessarily like to work in "public" or in groups. They may feel exposed when other students read their writing, especially if they believe they are not as skilled as some of their classmates. It can take time for everyone to feel comfortable sharing. But once students trust one another and themselves, and realize how fun and engaging it is to write “for real” about what matters to them, they find that writing in digital spaces helps them to become better writers and stronger learners. Learning is, after all, intensely social, and the digital world is all about connecting and communicating.

Some teachers shy away from regular practice writing for a simple reason -- there is so much curriculum and learning to accomplish in a year. They worry that it will take too much time for both them and their students. They worry about finding time to read the students' work, let alone respond to every entry posted. Yes, students need responses, coaching, even correcting, but the more they begin to do this together rather than depending on the teacher to do it for them, the more skilled they will get at thinking, writing, and learning.

So YWP recommends to teachers to rest easy; respond to some but not all posts as much as you can, rotating through the group so that everyone receives responses but does not become dependent on your feedback. And if you, the teacher, are worried about how they're treating each other, take a quick peak at the comments via the comments link to see whether they are following their own guidelines which they developed at the beginning of the year.

So a suggestion: Get the kids to write regularly -- for only 7 minutes; and give them an additional 5 minutes to read and comment on someone else's work. 


Home -- Setting Tone

Sometimes the setting of your community story can establish the tone of the piece.

This challenge has two parts. First a quick write. And then RESPOND again with something more relevant to your community story efforts. The point is this: setting can often set the tone for a story, particularly if you use sensory detail, that is how a place sounds, or looks, or feels or smells.

  1. Look at the pictures above. Choose one that grabs you (or amuses you). Look at the details and imagine what it's like to live there. Imagine. Now, in 7 minutes and writing as quickly as you can, write about living in this house or coming upon this. How weird it is. How inconvenient it is. How cool it is. But try to use the house to set the tone. If you want to make the house spooky, go for it; if you want to make-believe you are a high flyer and have a mansion, fashion your story around that aspect. But set the tone. Go wild. Make up a story.
    1. Comment on several classmates' posts and see how they handled it. 
  2. The second part of this is to write about your own home. Click the RESPOND button on this challenge a second time and describe the setting of your home. Set the tone with specific detail; your home figures into your sense of community, help us, the readers, understand what your home is like. Incorporate photos into your post.
    1. Comment on several classmates' posts and see how they handled it. 

Credits: The original photographer and copyright of the photos in this slideshow are extremely difficult to determine since many have been appropriated and put on pinterest.com and twitter.com; using google image search yields, in most cases, more than 20 million results; blocking pinterest and other sites still did not yield the origin in most cases. Since these photos are being used on a limited basis for educational purposes, YWP would ask that none be made public and that they remain in use only in these private classrooms. That said, a few origins were discovered: luxury house with a pool: http://www.highcorkett.com/30-pelican-point-new-luxury-listing/. House with tree roots: cover art of Bon Jovi album, This House Not for Sale, a black and white image by photographer Jerry UelsmannUpside down house Via curious-places. Wreck of a house, clip art from https://scoopposts.info


Oscar creeped towards the creepy house. It was clear that Stackpole and McGee had been there, and that it had been abandoned only recently. The 'roots' were huge for a tree, and had been undoubtedly been chopped decades ago. It could of very well been built from the wood of it's bases former occupant. Oscar shuffeled into the abandoned fort, and what was inside discusted him.  Wooden chairs wit some legs missing and a stone table laid crumpled in a corner. The whole shack reeked of rotten eggs, and the creaky floorboards and walls felt as if they had been greased an hour ago. Oscar manuevered the rickety wooden staircase, for some of the stairs were missing. When he finally got upstairs, the view was no better. The windows were shattered beyond repair, and the shutters were riddled with holes, and a couple of them were hanging on one hinge, or fallen off altogether! Geez! Was there a raid here or something? Oscar thought. Little holes and broken windows? Good grief!  There was a bucket in the corner of the room filled with- eew! thats what the smell was! that's disgusting! Oscar fled the house afterwards, for the smell of human waste was unbearable.
Aug 01
Grace's picture


When doing research, using an article, a scholarly article, or a scientific journal can often give your research more credibility. First, ask you local library or your school library about their database, and see if you can use it for research. If your library doesn't have these resources, here are a few free online databases you could use. 

Vermont Online Library 
This is a resource many of your own teachers and librarians may use. There are eBooks, articles, career resources, and school resources all available with a simple search. 

The New York Public Library 
This library is famous for its extensive, free information. There's multiple ways to organize your information, search through catagories, and new databases and information is added at a regular rate. 

Colleges almost always list JSTOR as a database resource due to its advanced search mode, and extensive digital library. The best thing about it? JSTOR is free. 

Directory of Open Access Journals
This database is extensive, and it has a large collection of peer reviewed journals. Peer reviewed journals give your information an even greater amount of credibility. 

PLOS is a more simple database, but still returns great articles and journals alike. The platform is very user friendly. 

An extensive database and sort system of YouTube via categories and visual aspects.

[Creative Commons Lisence: Stewart Butterfield, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/stewart/​]

I like ...

This is a simple -- and fun -- free write. Make a list or a long sentence that begins "I like ... "

Please write your responses in completion to the starter phrase: "I like ..."  Do it in 7 minutes; you can list, write a series of sentences or write a long, seemingly endless sentence.

Think about what you like: to do, to eat, to watch, to play, to ... whatever.  The object is to get as many ideas and/or words down as possible. 

COMMENT:  When you are finished, read someone else's and offer a comment AND a question. Authors: please write your response to the question as a reply to the comment.


From CoryF:  I like fishing because it is fun. I usually like to catch sunfish, bass and catfish. I like sunnies because they are the easiest fish to catch; all you need is a worm. I like bass because I get to use little gummy bait things, though sometimes I use minnows. I like to catch catfish the most because you can use the a whole fish. Sometimes I like to be careful and put the fish back in the water to catch another day. I caught a fish once that we had to kill because it swallowed the whole bait; after we cut it open we used the bait again but we didn’t catch anything because it wouldn’t sink; when I tossed it out, a beaver got it. I like fishing because we laugh a lot and it’s a think I can do with my Dad and my friends.

In this variant, students imagined they were a character in a book and then imagined what they'd like. This one was written by a boy reading Old Yeller who imagined he was living in East Texas after the Civil War: 
I like that there are no "posted land" signs.
I like that you can dip your cup in the river water and drink it.
I like that it's so quiet you can hear yourself think.
I like that there's no fences.

Photo: Creative Commons FlickrL R.W. Sinclair


I am the one

Finish this sentence, "I am the one who .... "  Take seven minutes. Only. Write as fast as you can.

This is a free write designed to show your writing style and reveal a little something about yourself. Take a moment to think about how you would start off and then get going. Go as fast as you can, don't worry about how it sounds or what you are saying, just go. In a word, don't edit yourself. At least not yet. Feel free to have lots of sentences that begin "I am the one who..." or have one long, run-on sentence that seemingly goes forever, or soemthing in between. Think about what you love to do, what you are good at doing, about your sense of humor, your creativity, about what you do to help others. Slide in a quick story if you can, but just keep on going. Below are a couple of exemplars from a middle school class.

When you are finished, save and read some of your classmates' posts and give them some comments with some specific things you noticed about their works.

Courtesy of MylesD of Richmond Middle School: I am the one who sizzles with power, bringing entire landscapes down in my eternal anger. I am the one who sits quietly in class, occasionaly glancing at the clock. I am the one who controls the sea, writhing in agony beneath the smooth scaled depths. I am the one who draws a picture on my single sheet of lined paper. I am the one who throws lightning at mountains that scrape the top of the ground. I am the one who likes to gaze at the stars. I am the one who makes vines grow with my feet, and makes petals shrivel with my touch. And I am the one who walks the thin line between fantasy and reality, treading careful toe over careful toe in a neverending battle with insanity. 

Courtesy of MollyC from Richmond Middle School: I am the one who is ambidextrous and will annoy the heck out of you. I am the one that does my best work when I'm walking barefoot outside. I am the one who will talk your ear off and then not speak for the next day. I am the one that can speak one line of about ten weird languages. I am the one that stretched three times over the summer and can now do a full split. I am the one who got bit in the eye by a cat when I was five, but still loves them to death. I am the one that started a flash mob. I am the one who pet-sit a parrot that saved a man from going to work on September 11, 2001. I am the one that's from a super Jewish family from New Jersey and a super country hippie family from California. I am the one that wanders off on family trips and always gets lost. I am the one that was born with bright blonde hair that's now faded to brown. I am the one that is obsessed with trash TV. I am the one that started my own duct tape wallet company in sixth grade and sold to my friends and teachers. I am the one whose mom is a cancer survivor. I am the one that wrote songs for an all-girls singing group in third grade. I am the one that's shy and awkward until you get to know me. I am the one that wrote a letter to Barack Obama in third grade and got a signed letter back. I am the one that won a contest for my lemon squares in fifth grade. I'm weird. I know it. But I'm just me.

(Photo credit: Dmitri Kessel, Life magazine)

If you would like to expand on this, here is an idea.
  • Story Formation: Take one of the things that you've posted in the initial response and write a story about how or why you are that way. A curve: Write it in the third person point of view, as if writing a story about someone else.
  • My Community Story: Take one of the things that you've posted in the initial response and show how this relates to how you connect with your community. Write the story behind your statement that "I am the one who ..."

History through Photos II

Lewis Hine photographed child laborers in the early 1900s -- and laws were changed. Look at the children's faces in these photos. Imagine their lives. Write for just seven minutes.

This challenge is intended as a free write, but it may get you interested in the subject enough to want to pursue your own project. Or it can be incorporated into your My Community Story project.

Look at each of these photos and imagine yourself as one of the children in the photos. Choose the one that speaks to you most. Hover your mouse over the photo to stop the slideshow and think about what life must have been like. Write for seven minutes only. Tell us a story of what happened in your day. Or tell us how you happen to be in the photo, or what your life is like that requires you to work. 

When you are finished, save, and read a classmate's post and tell her/him your reactions to what they wrote.


Incorporating Research into Stories

Use the completed stories as drafts in a larger research project. The purpose would be to conduct research and revise -- edit, expand or redo -- your story with what you discover to create historically accurate representations of these children’s lives. Some important questions:

  1. Why is it important to add historically accurate elements to your story?  
  2. Where can I go to find out more information? websites: 
    1. http://www.history.com/topics/child-labor
    2. http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/childlabor/
    3. http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/hine-photos/#documents
    4. http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1566/lewis-w-hine-american-1874-1940/
    5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Hine
  3. Now that I have gotten more information, how do I incorporate it into my story, or, write a new one? What's the most compelling thing I discovered? What are some other details about the time, the conditions, that I can incorporate into my story?
  4. Are there other, broader topics that might make a good personal, independent project such as child labor?
(Photo credit: Lewis Hine, Library of Congress)
Aug 01
Grace's picture

Details: Concrete vs. Abstract

We want our writing to feel genuine, and to connect with our readers to the point where they can visualize our words in their heads. A great way to learn to connect to readers through writing is by understanding the difference between concrete and abstract details. A concrete detail/image, most of the time, will engage your reader, and make them have that visual and deep reaction to your writing. 

Concrete vs Abstract. A concrete detail/image is one that is grounded in tangible ideas, examples, and descriptions. An abstract detail/image has language and examples that are conceptual and have multiple interpretations. 

        Concrete: The plant just barely brushed the bottom of my knee; its flower was broad as my face, and its stem as thick as my pinky. 
        Abstract: The plant was tall, it's stem was thick, and the flower had a beauty that reminded me of love. 

The concrete example is easy for the reader to visualize, and offers more information for them to grab onto. The abstract example provides less information, and is slightly vague. A beauty like love? What is a beauty like love?

The concrete example brings the reader into the story by providing them with relatable, tangible, and genuine imagery that engages them. In narrative writing, in poetry, journalism — you name it — concrete and specific details will make your reader want to read. Plus, they will remember what you wrote, because your language was so unique. Using what you think is the right a mix of concrete and abstract details will help you develop your writing voice. By understand the difference between the two, you can vary the sentences you write, and make educated choices about what details you want to use and when. 

Here is an example of a poem from the Young Writers Project that exercises a great blend of concrete and abstract language:

by Xii2

I saw a man once getting out of bed, pulling back his rumpled covers and dragging himself into the bathroom, stepping into the shower of his one bedroom apartment
imagine his childhood tub with water beaded on its yellow-stained sides
He showers quickly, lathering his balding hair with watermelon shampoo
Turning the water off, he dodges the last ice-cold drips and wraps a towel around his middle
Wiping the fog off of the mirror he flexes at it
I am God
Then rubs away the droplets running down his legs with his towel
blue terrycloth
pulls on a fresh pair of boxers
then his old suit
He grabs a cup of coffee on his way out the door and boards the New York subway.
Every seat is taken so he stands and holds the yellow-painted rail
the million other jostling riders seethe around him -
- Pushing into him
- elbowing the soft parts of him
not knowing he is god
Because he isn't.

[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, photo by Mythicalquill - YWP User]


Photo Challenge

Choose one of these photos and write. For seven minutes. Then comment.

Before you write, take a close look at each of the photos. When you've got one that interests you, hover your mouse over the photo to stop the slideshow and then think about the photo -- its characters, what's happening, what led up to that moment. Think about what point of view you want to take -- one of the characters? someone just outside the frame? the photographer? And decide upon a verb tense -- present is more immediate. Tell us a story, perhaps the back story or what happens after the photograph.

When you are done, save, and find a classmate's post to read and comment upon.

[Photo 1: Fine Art America, photo by Steve Williams]
[Photo 2: Deviant Art, photo by daMaeko]
[Photo 3: My Intwood] 
[Photo 4: Robert Doisneau Photo Archives, photo by Robert Doisneau] 
[Photo 5: National Geographic, photo by Gemma Collier] 



Migrant Mother -- Background

This relates to the Challenge: History through Photos (https://mycommunity.ywpvt.org/node/281) 

This is the transcript of the recording of Florence Owens Thompson, the woman pictured here in Dorothea Lange's iconic taken in 1936 when Ms. Thompson was camped near a pea farm during the Great Depression and had been a migrant worker, picking vegetables and cotton wherever she could, to keep her family alive.

"I left Oklahoma in 1925 and went to Oroville [California]. That's where them three girls' dad [Cleo] died, in Oroville, 1931. And I was 28 years old [in 1931], and I had five kids and that one [the baby in this photo, Norma] was on the road. She never even saw her daddy. She was born after he died. It was very hard. And cheap. I picked cotton in Firebaugh, when that girl there was about two years old, I picked cotton in Firebaugh for 50-cents a hundred."

Question: "A 'hundred' [meaning] weight?"

"A hundred pounds."

Question: "How much could you pick in a day, then?"

"I generally picked around 450, 500. I didn't even weigh a hundred pounds. I lived down there in Shafter, and I'd leave home before daylight and come in after dark. We just existed! Anyway, we lived. We survived, let's put it that way. I walked from what they called a Hoover camp ground right there at the bridge [in Bakersfield], I walked from there to way down on First Street, and worked at a penny a dish down there for 50-cents a day and the leftovers. Yeah, they give me what was leftover to take home with me. Sometimes, I'd carry home two water buckets full.

     "Well, [in 1936] we started from L.A. to Watsonville. And the timing chain broke on my car. And I had a guy to pull into this pea camp in Nipomo. I started to cook dinner for my kids, and all the little kids around the camp came in. 'Can I have a bite? Can I have a bite?' And they was hungry, them people was. And I got my car fixed, and I was just getting ready to pull out when she [Dorothea Lange] come back and snapped my picture.

"I come to this town [Modesto] in 1945. I transferred from Whittier State to Modesto. And when this hospital opened up out here, I went to work there. And the first eight years I lived in this town, I worked 16 hours out of 24. Eight-and-a-half years, seven days a week."

Question: "Are you comfortable now?"


B A C K G R O U N D   M A T E R I A L:

Florence Owens Thompson, (1903-1983) the woman in the Migrant Mother picture taken in 1936 by Dorothea Lange (and seen to the left, sitting in 1979) was born on an Indian reservation – "in a tepee," she said – in Oklahoma in 1903. Her father died when she was 13 months old, but her mother lived to be 108. Even before the Depression, Florence, her husband Cleo and their growing family left Oklahoma for California. For a time, they found work around Shafter, California. But as the Depression settled in, they were forced to become migrant farm workers. They followed the harvests until the war created jobs. Florence settled in Modesto, California in 1945. Her family put down roots, although Florence was most comfortable living in a mobile home. She died of cancer in 1983.  (Photo on left was with three of her daughters in the 1936 photo; c. 1979)

Background for photo: She and her family had left Oklahoma in 1925, before the Depression. The 30s made their situation worse. She and the family were following the migrant trail moving from place to place as crops became ready for harvest. "It was very hard and cheap," Florence said. "We just existed! We survived, let's put it that way." California – the state that had once advertised for more migrant workers – found themselves overwhelmed by up to 7,000 new migrants a month, more migrants than were needed. So for several months in 1936, the Los Angeles Police Department sent 136 deputies to the state lines to turn back migrants who didn't have any money. Bordering states like Arizona were angry that California was trying to "dump hoboes" back on them. Eventually, the police were returned to Los Angeles, but the migrants kept coming. There was some work, especially in the new fields of cotton that were being planted in California – a crop that southern plains people knew a lot about. But there was not enough work for everyone who came. Instead of immediate riches, they often found squalor in roadside ditch encampments.

B A C K G R O U N D   M A T E R I A L:

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), (pictured left in Life magazine photograph; more here: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fachap03.html) was one of many top photographers hired by the U.S. government to chronicle the Depression era.

On the day she took the iconic "Migrant Mother" photo in March, 1936 -- and later she said she didn't fell like it was hers -- she was heading home from assignment. She saw a ragged sign for "Pea Pickers Camp" and the Thompson family camped beside the road but drove on. Here is what she said in 1960 about the experience:

"It was raining, the camera bags were packed, and I had on the seat beside me in the car the results of my long trip, the box containing all those rolls and packs of exposed film ready to mail back to Washington. It was a time of relief. Sixty-five miles an hour for seven hours would get me home to my family that night, and my eyes were glued to the wet and gleaming highway that stretched out ahead. I felt freed, for I could lift my mind off my job and think of home.

“I was on my way and barely saw a crude sign with pointing arrow which flashed by at the side of the road, saying 'Pea-Pickers Camp.' But out of the corner of my eye I did see it; I didn't want to stop, and didn't. I didn't want to remember that I had seen it, so I drove on and ignored the summons. 

"Then, accompanied by the rhythmic hum of the windshield wipers, arose an inner argument: 'Dorothea, how about that camp back there? What is the situation back there?
 Are you going back? 
Nobody could ask this of you, now could they?
 To turn back certainly is not necessary. Haven't you plenty if negatives already on this subject? Isn't this just one more if the same? Besides, if you take a camera out in this rain, you're just asking for trouble. Now be reasonable, etc. etc., etc.' Having well convinced myself for 20 miles that I could continue on, I did the opposite. Almost without realizing what I was doing I made a U-turn on the empty highway. I went back those 20 miles and turned off the highway at that sign, 'Pea-Pickers Camp.'  I was following instinct, not reason; I drove into that wet and soggy camp and parked my car like a homing pigeon.

"I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made six exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.

"The pea crop at Nipomo had frozen and there was no work for anybody. But I did not approach the tents and shelters of other stranded pea-pickers. It was not necessary; I knew I had recorded the essence of my assignment."

T H E   O T H E R  5  P H O T O S:

 References: Lange, Dorothea, "The Assignment I'll Never Forget: Migrant Mother," Popular Photography (February 1960); Curtis, James. Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth: FSA Photography Reconsidered. (1989).
Aug 01
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Presenting can be scary. Whether you are giving a speech, doing stand-up, or reading a creative writing piece you wrote, it can be nerve-wracking. Almost everyone gets stage fright, even actors. But, knowing some helpful tips can get you through your presentation, and help you deliver it with a greater sense of confidence. 

Try these tips:

Breathe. This is a classic tip, but it's a good one. Running out of breath when you are performing can dishearten you, and it can decrease the quality of your performance. You need to make sure you are breathing throughout your presentation. Practice and look through your writing. Mark off natural places you can pause in your presentation. Use that pause to breathe. Just make sure you aren't gasping — that will distract your audience. 

Posture. If you're nervous, it will show, although there is some truth to the phrase, "fake it until you make it." By standing tall, pushing your shoulders back, and holding your head high, you will look more confident, and thus feel more confident. Plus, it will help with your projection.

Voice. Often we're either too quiet, or too loud; our voice is too breathy, or our voice is cracking because of nerves. In this case, practice makes perfect. Practice in the space you will be presenting in, and have someone stand in the back of the room. Project the best you can, and ask the person if they can hear you, and if your voice is at a normal pitch. Remember, you want to project, not yell. Gather your breath from your stomach, and that deep breath will help your voice carry. Plus, by breathing from your stomach, you will avoid sounding breathy. Making sure you open your mouth wide enough will also help with your projection, and with clarity. 

Moisture. Some presenters get dry lips or a dry throat and have troubles with volume. Others, when they speak for a long time, will start to get too much moisture building up in their mouth, making for an unpleasant speaking voice. Practice before you perform. Learn what happens to you. Prepare yourself with lip balm and water. If you get too much moisture, make sure you drink water to clear your mouth, and when you are speaking, find natural places where you can pause to swallow. For moisture, another tip is to make sure you open your mouth wide enough when you speak — the air will help dry your mouth out. 

Feet. Someone who is constantly shifting or moving across the stage while they are talking is very distracting to the audience. Many people move or shift their weight as a nervous tick. Try to plant your feet shoulder-width apart, and only move them if it is necessary to the performance. Practice your performance a day or two before in front of a mirror — watch your feet. Learn what your feet do, and practice standing still. 

Eyes. If your eyes are darting all over the place, you will distract your audience. Yet, if you don't look at your audience at all, you might bore them! You want to find a middle ground with your eyes. If you are reading a paper, memorize your writing well enough so that you would feel comfortable enough to look up occasionally. That way, you won't be nervous about losing your place, and you can make eye contact with the audience. Pick a pattern for your eyes — such as gazing from left to right, or just looking up to the center. That way, your eyes won't be sporadic.

If you don't have a paper, and you're presenting to a very large crowd (over 30-40 people) you can just pick one to three points you will look at — and it doesn't have to be people. You can pick a point above the heads of the audience to look at, or a flag in the corner of the room. This strategy is often good for those with stage fright. 

Papers. Rustling your papers can be distracting for the audience; plus, having your face buried in your papers hinders your volume. You want to make sure you have a firm, two-handed grip on your papers. Printing on thicker paper can help stop rustling. Make sure your papers are held away from your face, but not directly in front of it. Chest level is a good place to hold your papers so they don't hinder your voice, or hide your face. Just don't hold them in front of the mic!

Mic. No one likes it when there is a sudden screech of feedback from a mic, or when someone doesn't speak loudly enough. Generally, to avoid loud accidental sounds, and to avoid being too quiet, you want a mic placed at a 45 degree angle from your mouth one step away from your body. Speak clearly, and loudly. Practicing with your mic a day before will help you get comfortable using it. 

Mistake. It happens. We all make mistakes when we perform. Though, there's one thing you have to remember when performing: you know you made a mistake, but the audience doesn't have to know. They've never heard your piece before — they don't know that wasn't supposed to happen. If you make a mistake, act natural. Don't make an upset face, don't make an "oops" sound, and don't say that you messed up. Pretend nothing happened, and just keep going. If you pretend that it was supposed to happen, the audience will think it was supposed to happen. 

[Creative Commons Lisence: Kaykaybarrie, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/kaylajanebarrie/​ ]

Aug 01
Grace's picture


Photojournalism — the photography you use in newsmedi articles — plays by different rules artistic photography doesn't. You have to be respectful, cannot alter your photos and you need to be careful or show a bias. 

Gathering Information. In any situation where you are gathering information from someone -- even if for a project that will only be seen in school -- it's good to exchange information with your subjects. HINT: When you take pictures of people, when you interview them, look at this process as a form of conversation; if you share information about yourself, they're more likely to share back. Tell them who you are associated with, why you are taking their photo, and where it might be published. Make sure they are OK with what you are doing.

  • Permissions and identification. When you ask for permission and for personal information depends on the situation. Sometimes, if you see a great picture, just take it and then ask. It's a good rule, if you plan to publish any photo you might take (publish meaning that your photo would be printed or shown or posted to external (non-school) audiences) to ask permission ahead of time. Either way, make sure they are OK with the fact their picture will be made public.
    •  Generally if there are more than five people in a photograph, you won't have to identify each one. But, again, it's best to get the identification information while you are there. 
    • Make sure to ask for name, age, hometown and some way to contact them -- email or phone -- in case you have questions.
    • HINT: Take a pad and pen with you always and hand the pen and pad to the subject to get them to write their information; that insures accuracy but make sure you can read their handwriting.

Staging. Traditionally, photojournalism should not be staged -- you are trying to capture scenes as they happen. You should not tell the subject to smile or stand a certain way or to pose for you. Photojournalism for an article should be a natural moment that is captured without outside interference. Because these photos are for news, they should reflect what is happening naturally. The only time you can stage a photo for photojournalism is when you do an environmental portrait — a photo where you can pose your subject with an environment or an object that represents their personality or profession. 

  • HINT: There are situations, though, when you DO want to pose someone, say for a profile and you can ask them to stop what they are doing or you can move them to better light or better framing. Your intention on this kind of shot is to try to show what they look like in a way that helps the viewer see inside them a bit. So if you are taking a portrait shot, try to put them in the element of the story that is important -- a farmer might be best photographed in a barn, or with animals, or in the field, etc. 

Bias. In gathering information you should always be aware of your bias. And this doesn't necessarily mean just your political beliefs. You might really object to hunting, yet you are doing a story on someone who hunts. You need to take care that you are not photographing the subject in a way that casts the hunter in a bad light. If you don't like a certain politician or community leader you are photographing, it would be biased to take a picture of that person in a shadow or making a weird face or even frowning. You're capturing a moment in time, not showing your own opinion on it. 

Editing. The photos you take have to be natural and true accounts of what you saw. You cannot digitally alter the photo dramatically in Photoshop. Changing the shape of someone's nose or editing out a sign in the background makes your photo untrue, and you can actually get in some trouble for it. You can adjust your lighting or picture quality or make the photo black and white to help make it more publication ready, but these adjustments must be minimal. HINT: The more pictures the better; don't be afraid to take lots and lots of pictures; this will help you when it comes time to edit because you'll have lots to choose from. 

[Photo Credit: YWP Photo Library, Gabrielle MckItty] 

Aug 01
Grace's picture

Grammar Strategies

The English language is complex, so it can be hard to keep all those rules in your head. You need a strategy.

Try these grammar strategies:

  • Catch phrases. People use odd phrases to help them memorize things. The phrase My Very Elderly Mother Just Sat on Uncle Ned can help you memorize the order of the planets. You can do the same to help you memorize grammar. For instance, F.A.N.B.O.Y.S stands for each word that can help you fix a comma splice. For, and, but, or, yet, and so are coordinating conjunctions, that, when paired with a comma, can join together two independent related clauses. A song works just as well!


  • Eyes open, eyes closed. This is a classic, with a twist. Write down the rule you want to memorize twice, and then write it once more while closing your eyes. By closing your eyes, not only do you see if you can memorize the rule, but the silly way in which you are doing it will make you memorize the rule. Plus, your hand writing will be hilarious. 


  • Comic. Oddly enough, you can find a lot of comics about grammar. Newspapers and online publications often have comics. The Oatmeal also has some amazing grammar comics that will help you memorize the rules. 


  • Learn from mistakes. We all spend copious amounts of time on the Internet, and we're often looking at something that makes us laugh. One way you can learn the rules of grammar is by laughing at mistakes. You can find memes and snapshots everywhere of people misusing grammar. If you can learn to laugh about a grammar mistake, that means you are actually memorizing the rule at the same time, because you remember what it looks like when it's wrong. 


  • Grammar jokes. Along the same vein as looking at memes, you can learn many grammar jokes. Humor will help you learn. For example, jokes like What do you say to comfort a grammar nerd? They're, their, there will make you laugh, and make you learn. 


  • Listen to the same song. Pair a song with a rule. Listen to one very memorable song while you keep reading about that rule, looking at examples of that rule, or even writing it down. When you go to use the rule, just think of the song, and you will find the rule will start to come to you... and a song will be stuck in your head. 


  • Find a friend. If you know someone who also struggles with grammar, ask if they want to learn grammar rules with you! You can quiz each other in the hall, or check each other's papers. Sharing an experience with a friend always makes things better.


  • Flash cards. The absolute classic memorization stratagem. Get some index cards, write down the rules, and quiz yourself. 


  • Practice. The only way you will surely memorize grammar rules is to make sure you keep using them. When you are writing, remind yourself to check your work, and push yourself to learn the rules by being true to them. 

[Creative Commons Lisence: Damien Ayers, non-commercial, https://www.flickr.com/photos/omad/ ]