Shelf or Clothesline?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013
by Lori

We all have our "staple" lessons. The ones that are must teach pieces. The ones that work. The ones that kids remember forever. 

My favorite staple lesson just happens to coincide with a pet peeve of mine--appropriately marking titles by either underlining them or putting them in quotation marks. Kids always get it wrong, but my favorite is when they underline, quote, bold, italicize...all of it...everything...just for good measure. It's such an annoying little problem. And here's how to fix it!

You'll need a few things:

  • You'll need a string. Something that can serve as a clothesline. I've used twine, curling ribbon, and most recently I used a lanyard because it was a teachable moment that I hadn't necessarily planned for. 
  • You'll need clothespins. The old school kind. Hi Mom...hey this is weird, but do you have some wooden clothespins?? If that doesn't work, I've also used chip clips. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  • Grab the biggest book you can find. Try not to use your textbook because the effect is generally lost. I've used a hardcover copy of The Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, and one time I got so gung ho that I used my Norton Shakespeare Anthology. WHOA.
  • Print a poem on a single sheet of paper.
Now then, pick the two most annoying enthusiastic kids to hold up your clothesline. Ask the class if we are supposed to underline a book title or put it in quotation marks. I've never had a single class answer me correctly, and for some weird reason, it seems like the majority will always say it goes in quotation marks. Ok fine. So then you tell them..."funny thing...quotation marks look a whole lot like clothespins, huh?" 

"Well how about I take this book and hang it on the clothesline with the clothespins?"

They'll look at you like you're crazy, but when you bust a clothespin or you break sad piece of twine or when the book goes crashing to the floor, you'll prove that books are too big for quotation marks. "

"So where on earth can I put this bad boy??"

That's when I move to my white board, set it on the rail and tell my kids..."hey, how about I put it on the shelf!" [Exaggerate underlining a-la Vanna White]. I promise that you will hear an audible Oh!

Your clothesline kids are still standing there though, so you can tell the class..."what if I want to take this tiny poem and set it on the shelf?" You'll place it on the shelf, and [womp womp] it'll fall to the floor. But move it to the clothesline, and voila! 

Now you can have all sorts of conversations that might sound like this:

  • Give me the name of an album. Ok...great. Does that go on the shelf or on the clothesline?
  • Now, pick a song from that album. Does it go on the shelf or on the clothesline?
  • How about the title of a movie? Shelf or clothesline? If I were to take a scene from that movie...shelf or clothesline?
  • A chapter from a book?
  • A poem?
  • A play?
  • A scene?
I promise you, they'll get it, and they will remember it forever. They will still inevitably make mistakes because they're kids. But you now have a tangible way to direct them toward correcting it on their own rather than leaving them hanging out to dry. 

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