Jennie K. Brown signs deal for Book 3!

So glad I can share!!! Get ready to read more POPPY!!!

Ditch the Second Day Syllabus and Read Shakespeare Instead!

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After my summer experience at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I decided that I was going to get my students up and moving around my classroom in some sort of Shakespeare activity within the first three days of school. And guess what? I did just that!

On day two of the new school year, I ditched the rules and procedures protocol, and instead, each of my classes participated in a Shakespeare compliment activity (an activity that I first experienced first-hand this summer). I do something similar to this in March when we begin Romeo and Juliet; however, instead of Shakespeare compliments, they spew Shakespeare insults at one another. I never thought this was something my 9th students could handle on day 2, but I was totally wrong!

I passed out the Shakespeare compliments sheet. There were three columns of terms – the first two adjectives and the third nouns. First I had the students read over the words silently to themselves. After this, they practiced reading some of the words aloud. The final step was putting the words together in an out-of-seat activity. They began their compliments with the word “thou”, strung three words together (one from each column), and then they complimented at least six other classmates. I challenged them to speak to peers they aren’t friends with. The results – AWESOME! The students were engaged, not one complained, and they got a kick out of many of the terms. In fact, I had a number of students say, “I can’t wait to do the Shakespeare insults!”

Sample compliments:

Thou airy, eye-beaming wafer-cake

Thou Taffeta, tender-smelling velvet-guard

Thou marbled, May-morn ringlet

Thou alms-deed, face-royal homanger

AND my favorite

Thou mannerly, ear-kissing pittikins

Shakes compli 2

There were so many TEACHABLE moments in this lesson that I never expected! Below are some benefits to this activity (or something similar!)

  1. Fun, engaging icebreaker activity.
  2. They were moving – something that doesn’t occur in many classes the first week of school.
  3. A student told me she couldn’t pronounce a word. I told her that whatever she says is correct (another thing I brought back from the Folger). This led into a quick chat with the class about pronunciation and how it’s rude to constantly be correcting someone. I want all students to feel comfortable and confident when speaking up in class!
  4. This activity helped set expectations. At the sound of my voice, the students said one final compliment and then headed back to their seats.
  5. Some of the rules and procedures of my classroom were explained when I introduced this activity – win/win!
  6. I could gauge the dynamic of the group by seeing the way they interact with others.
  7. THEY READ SHAKESPEARE, and they enjoyed it! In my school district, my class is the first time they are introduced to Shakespeare. This definitely piqued their interest a bit.
  8. I now know who my “actors” are. But by the end of the year, ALL will be actors! 🙂

So go ahead and ditch that second day syllabus and get those students up and complimenting one another using Shakespeare’s words!

Shakespeare Camp and the New School Year

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It’s hard to believe a new school year is beginning once again. But what’s even harder to believe that this will be my 10th, yes you heard right, TENTH year teaching high school English. Over the past ten years I’ve had some amazing and humbling experiences. I’ve directed and produced three musicals, began a reading course for struggling students, moved to a new school district, participated in conferences that took me all over the country, won national English teaching awards, and became president of the PA Council for Teachers of English and Language Arts. I’ve gotten to know and collaborate with respected authors and educators from across the world. Most importantly, I’ve watched thousands of students move from 9th grade to college, growing academically and socially. I’ve seen non-readers become excited, avid, can’t-take-a-book-out-of-their-hand readers. I’ve had the awesome pleasure of witnessing students become excited about reading Shakespeare, scream with joy after receiving a book signed by an author (special thanks to Jay Asher, Steve Chbosky, and the late Walter Dean Myers) to students who were dealing with issues high schoolers should never have to deal with. I’ve been invited to former student college graduations, weddings, and sadly I’ve attended too many student funerals.

And through all of those memorable moments, there is another one that I have the pleasure of adding to my list. This life-changing experience occurred over the course of one of the most memorable weeks of my life, and it will make a lasting impact on my teaching (and writing, too). If you know me, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. The Teaching Shakespeare Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which I now like to refer it as Shakespeare Camp.

It’s been a month since Shakespeare Camp (which is so much easier to explain this week of Shakespeare awesomeness to my non-teaching friends and family) and I cannot stop thinking about it. As I sat through three days of valuable in-service sessions this past week (I got a lot out of a number of presentations) at my school district, I found myself thinking back to that week of awesomeness just a little over a month ago. Oh, how I wished I was sword fighting on the Folger’s lawn, listening to engaging lectures by the scholars and Folger text editors, performing on the United States’s only Elizabethan stage, and collaborating with 26 other like-minded, Shakespeare obsessed colleagues (many of whom I now call friends). As I think back on that experience, there are three things I want to take with me as I teach this year in order to keep the Folger memory alive and especially to create a memorable 9th grade year for my 100 plus students.

Shakes Center1. Relinquish control. If you’re a leader, teacher, boss, parent, you understand the difficulty in relinquishing control. But that’s one of the things that I want to work on this year. By relinquishing control (not total control, though), I am placing the learning into the hands of my students, in turn creating a memorable, authentic, and challenge-based learning environment. When I get to the acting of Romeo and Juliet, I know relinquishing control will be a struggle – but with my tools and tips from Shakespeare Camp, I know it can be done.

2. It’s all about the words. Sometimes we get so focused on teaching specific reading skills and strategies (thank you, standardized tests) we forget about the words. When students simply read words (often times through repetition), meaning begins to form organically.

3. Begin with performance. Thanks to an amazing blogpost by Debbie Gascon, I now have the confidence to begin my school year with performance. Although I will be discussing the general rules and procedures the very first day (remember, I do have 9th grade students! haha), on day 2 they’ll be up and out of their seats participating in the first performance-based activity of the year. Check back for an update on that! 🙂

Okay … okay … I know there is so much more more I will be using in my classroom, but I wanted to start with those three ideas. Thank you Folger Shakespeare Library for reinvigorating me for the start of my TENTH year!

Happy New Year! 🙂 Jennie @jenniekaywrites

About Jennie : Jennie K. Brown is an award-winning high school English teacher, freelance magazine writer, and author of children’s books. Her middle grade novel POPPY MAYBERRY, THE MONDAY will be published in April 2016 by month9books (Tantrum Books imprint), with a sequel to follow in December of that year. She currently serves as president of the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) and is an active member of SCBWI, NCTE, and ALAN. She is a regular contributor to the SCBWI Eastern PA and PCTELA blogs. Jennie can be found on twitter, facebook, and her website jenniekbrown.com

!Giveaway! TRUEST by Jackie Lea Sommers

One awesome giveaway! Check it out! 🙂

My Writing Space

Finding the “Write Space” part II

So, a few months back I blogged about revamping my home writing space. While I did get a fair amount of writing and revising done in that small corner of the one guest room, I realized that I was a bit cramped. At the beginning of June, I decided that it was time to once again “revise” my writing space. The first step was getting the spare queen-sized bed out of there (we already have a guest room across the hall, so there was no reason to have two!). After that, we moved my elliptical machine to another corner of the room, organized the closet so I have more room to store books/files/etc., and just reorganized the entire room in general. I threw out old files, donated books, and best of all – wrapping-papered the back of a $25 bookshelf I picked up at Wal-Mart. (pics are posted below).

Book Shelf Before:                                       Book Shelf After:

shelf before                      write space final   FullSizeRender-1

Room Before:                                                Room After: 

before                  IMG_3510  write space

This was a weekend project (taking pretty much all of Saturday and Sunday of last week), but in the end it was SOOOO worth it. I love my space, and I’ve already logged 3,000 more words to my mystery YA manuscript!

Happy Writing!

🙂 Jennie

@jenniekaywrites

Happy Shakespeare Day!

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My son dressed as The Bard this past Halloween

This will come as no surprise to many of you. I LOVE SHAKESPEARE! (See pics!) I really can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became so interested in The Bard. Sure, I enjoyed the works I read in high school and college – but it wasn’t then. Even in my first few years of teaching I didn’t have the same passion for all-things Shakespeare that I have now. Thinking back, I don’t think there was actually one thing that made me love him and his works. It was through years upon years of interaction (in school, performing in his plays, reciting his sonnets, teaching his works) that got me so interested in his works.

Shakes selfie

My annual Shakespeare Day selfie!

My first interaction with Shakespeare was in a performance of Macbeth the summer going into my sophomore year of high school. My drama teacher, Mrs. Leitner, taught a Shakespeare drama camp at Shippensburg University. That summer, I was cast as the role of Witch 3. Although we only studied and performed for a week, that week was AMAZING! Not only did I love the play, but I loved performing in it. I vividly remember my best friend Lindsey and I opening the play, huddled around a cauldron, equivocating. (At the time, I had no idea that’s what the witches were doing!) I also remember the can of AquaNet hairspray used to keep my frizzled hair in place. It took me week to wash that sticky stuff out of my hair!

Of course, we read Romeo and Juliet in school, and I loved it. And the next summer I was cast as the role of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first time I read one of Shakespeare’s comedies. For that performance, my hair was pushed through two cones placed on the top of my head. Hair pom-pommed from the tops of each cone. I loved the magic and whimsy in that play – as it totally contrasted the Shakespeare that I was used to reading. What a master of language/emotion/genres.

A cake topper and student made for me!

A cake topper a student made for me!

The next school year brought the reading of Julius Caesar, Taming of the Shrew, and a number of sonnets. Loved it all. Even though it was difficult to read his words at times, I think that was part of the appeal. Each time I read his work, I had to decipher what he was saying. It was a puzzle – and that was fun for me! (And still is!)

Then I acted in Romeo and Juliet twice – both were adaptations put into a modern day setting. Once I played Juliet, and the other time I was a news-reporter (Chorus).

I went to college, read a few more of his works – sonnets, Hamlet, Othello, and many others, and then I became an English teacher. Even though I already enjoyed Shakespeare and his works, this was when I began to appreciate them even more. Over the past nine years of teaching, I’ve taught Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Nights Dream, and sonnets. And in the teaching of those works, I’ve had the pleasure of learning more and more about the Elizabethan Era, Queen Elizabeth, King James I of England, Renaissance, Shakespeare’s time in London, etc.

Trip to Folger Shakespeare Library!

Trip to Folger Shakespeare Library!

As a high school English teacher, I pride myself on my enthusiasm for the Bard. My students see this enthusiasm and I like to think that this makes them even more interested in his timeless and universal works. Just yesterday, my students completed modern day interpretations of Romeo and Juliet. They created newscasts, puppet shows, gave eulogies – all fabulous interpretations where modern day connections were made. Although many students are intimidated by Shakespeare’s words, I try to make his language more accessible through a Shakespeare insults game, performance-based lessons, and modern-day connections. At the end of the school year, my students often say that the drama unit was their favorite (even the students who rolled their eyes and groaned at the mere mention of Shakespeare’s name at the beginning of the year). And I think it’s their enthusiasm that builds my excitement every year. And I’m finding out that my students are sharing my interest in Shakespeare with their parents, grandparents, and others. Just this year, a number of parents have contacted me to give me 3-D models of the Globe, Shakespeare books they’ve found, and photographs from their trips to London (Stratford Upon Avon, The Globe, etc.) Love it! When I was pregnant with my son two years ago, my Honors class threw me a baby shower, and showered me with multiple Shakespeare onesies that said, “Shakespeare is my Homeboy”, “Don’t baby talk me, my parents read me Shakespeare”, and “My mommy <3s Shakespeare”.

Shakespeare-inspired gifts from students/parents.

Shakespeare-inspired gifts from students/parents.

In February, my husband and I made a trip to Washington DC to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library. I had wanted to visit for years. They were hosting an awesome exhibit called “Decoding the Renaissance”. While there, one of the gentlemen who worked there suggested I apply for the Teaching Shakespeare Institute. I did this, and just found out a few weeks ago that I was one of 25 teachers selected for this program. I am BEYOND EXCITED about this, and ever more excited to work with like-minded Shakespeare educators from around the country!

Anyway – I could go on and on, but “brevity is the soul of wit,” so I’m going to say one more thing – Happy Shakespeare birth/death day!

Shakespeare Lego!

Shakespeare Lego!

Friday Five: Five reasons to visit the Folger Shakespeare Library

A piece I wrote for the PCTELA blog about the Folger Shakespeare Library. Check it out! 🙂

Meet Eastern PA’s Jennie K. Brown! by Lindsay Bandy

Re-blogging this interview of me today because I address some questions people have had lately! 🙂 Enjoy! And Thanks Lindsay Bandy!

Finding the “Write” Space

The Write Space

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Today I want to talk about writing spaces. Many of my author friends have a favorite place where they get the majority of their writing done. Some travel to a favorite coffee shop, some set up shop in a hotel room while on a book tour, and others make a quaint little writing nook at home. I’m in the latter of this group. (But hopefully one day I’ll be on tour for my novels and have to make a writing space out of my hotel room!)

When my husband and I moved last February, I knew exactly where I wanted my writing space to be – in the front spare bedroom on our second floor. I envisioned myself sipping coffee from my favorite Shakespeare insult mug, typing away. Well, this didn’t happen for quite some time. Some days I wrote at the dining room table. Other days it was the kitchen island. A few evenings here and there would be spent on the couch with my laptop in … well … my lap. Some weekends I would get writing done at the Hershey Panera Bread. But I was finding that I did not accomplish much due to distractions in these locations. With an open floor plan, my son playing in the living room distracted me when I wrote in the kitchen, living room and dining room. The chatter and crowd at Panera Bread would cut my writing short. I needed a quiet writing zone. So when my latest Better Homes and Gardens arrived, and I saw the fun writing space on the cover, I became motivated to create the right space to WRITE!

    INSPIRATION:                                         BEFORE:                                                AFTER:

BHAG         IMG_0545             IMG_0553

And the best part – I created my space in under $25 dollars.

Lamp: $7.99 K-Mart

“B”: $5.99 TJ Maxx

Vase and Floral Arrangement: $7.00 Michaels

Sea foam – green Tray: 50 cents! Staples

Fabric for Inspiration Board: $1.25 Joann’s Fabrics

Although many people don’t need a set space to write, this works for me! And if you can get in the writing zone in a coffee shop, or need the solitude of a writing nook, whatever get you writing is your “write” space! Already, I’ve added 7,000 words to my WIP – the sequel to Poppy Mayberry, The Monday (Due to my publisher in March – yikes!) in my nook.

I’d love to see pictures of your writing space!

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

🙂 Jennie K. Brown @jenniekaywrites

Writing Advice from Best-Selling Authors Stephen Chbosky and Jay Asher

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There are some major perks (no pun intended – and you will see why soon enough…) to being the President of the PA Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts. For example, this past weekend, I had the awesome pleasure of spending time with award-winning author, director and producer Stephen Chbosky and amazing writer Jay Asher. You probably best know Stephen as the author and screenwriter of Perks of Being a Wallflower and Jay as the author of Thirteen Reasons Why. Both authors were two keynote speakers at the PCTELA annual conference. Although much of their addresses discussed their interactions with English teachers throughout their lives, they also spoke of their writing life and writing process. Below are a few writing “tips” Stephen and Jay gave during their keynote speeches and a few more they shared with me over dinner and email.

  1. If you write, you ARE a writer. Stephen emphasized the fact that by just writing something down on paper you are, indeed, a writer. “There is no such thing as an aspiring writer,” he said. Again, if you write, you’re already a writer. It’s as simple as that.
  2. Stop procrastinating. That’s much easier said than done. Jay and I talked about our procrastinating nature Friday night. Between teaching full time, grading, magazine deadlines, and chasing a 1-year old son, it’s difficult for me to find the time to work on my novels. But I have to. You have to. Carve some time out and DO IT! This leads to my next piece…
  3. Commit to time, not pages. This was Stephen’s number 1 piece of advice for me. After my son’s to bed and the house it quiet, I need to set my alarm for three hours and JUST WRITE. You need to do the same. If in those three hours you write one page – great. If you finish two chapters – even better!
  4. We all get rejected. Jay’s first book was rejected 13 times before publication. (How ironic is the number?!) My debut novel POPPY MAYBERRY, THE MONDAY (coming out August 2016 with Tantrum Books) was rejected more times than I can even count – first, by agents, and then, by publishers. But all of those rejections led to finding my first agent, and then my current super agent Bill Contardi, and a 2-book deal!
  5. Revise. Revise. Jay said, “the genius of me is I didn’t know how bad it (my first book) was, so I sent it off to New York.” Even if you think you have the perfect manuscript or query letter or synopsis, revise it one more time. It never hurts.

Happy Writing! 🙂 Jennie @jenniekaywrites

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