Suspenseful Moments: A distance learning project for my ELA classes

Six steps of the project are listed From getting a book, taking a quiz, organizing evidence, posting to a discussion board, writing an essay, and calling the teacher to read that essay to voice mail.
Suspenseful Moments Project Page
In case you are reading this months or years from now, It's the end of April 2020. We are in what we hope is the middle (and not the very beginning) of a global pandemic due to Covid-19. All schools are closed, and students and teachers in my district are doing "distance learning." I like to think of it as bionic teaching.

I just assigned my students their first distance learning project for a grade. I posted a screenshot of the steps on Twitter and several people wanted more information about the project.

I designed this to meet two criteria. It had to be something my students could do independently at home, and it had to be standards based. I'll list the standards below for anyone interested. This assignment is based on students' independent reading books, which means students have choices. Before school closed they were writing an evidence based analysis comparing a suspenseful Poe story to a suspenseful movie, so this builds on some of the skills and terms they were already familiar with, but hadn't totally mastered.

The nice part for me is that I will get to learn more about all the books they have been reading. (Stop laughing. A lot of them have been reading.) And I won't have to worry about them copying from each other because their books are different.

Get your copy:
You can get your own copy of the project doc here. Be sure to click "Use Template" to make your own copy. I linked everything you should need for the project within that doc including the evidence organizer, the specific quizizz that I used, and the essay prompt template.

There are teacher directions in most sections that you'll need to use and then delete before you send the doc to your students. The doc will be one page after you remove the teacher notes. (In case you have to print it.)

Google Voice:
In the last step, I directed students to call me and read their writing to my voice mail for three minutes, or until they finish, whichever comes first. I'm using a Google Voice number to do that. I've blogged about using Google Voice for students reading their writing in the past. You can find that post HERE for more information. You could also achieve something similar with Flipgrid or Vocaroo, but don't make them public. Students are nervous about calling to read their writing, but it helps them proofread their work. Since I can't do writing groups and other forms of in person peer feedback right now, I'm falling back on Google Voice.

After the Suspenseful Moments project my students started their second project doing an analysis of how a famous person is presented in various media. You might be interested in the Famous Person Project.

FAQ: (Answers without the questions to save us all time.)
  • I built this doc in Google Docs. 
  • I made the header in Google Drawings. You can have a copy
  • I'm giving my students two weeks to do this project, but I told them a few weeks ago to look for a suspenseful book. Last week I gave them the organizer, the quiz, and the discussion question. They have seen a preview or even started working on steps 1-4. I just put it all together in one place because I know some students haven't started yet. 
  • I made the video version of the directions with Screencastify. Consider making your own because some of your details will be different anyway. Pro tip: Before you record use ctrl-+ to make the things on your screen bigger. They will be easier to see in your video. 
  • The grid on the doc is just a table.
  • I used File/page setup to change the background color.
  • I used the schedule option in Google Classroom to post the project steps and the essay template for my students at 9:00 AM Monday. 
  • Yes, I taught this way before the pandemic. I've had 1:1 laptops since 2008. Diana Neebe and I even wrote a book about teaching with 1:1. The best place to get it is directly from our publisher, Stenhouse. 
  • If you have other questions feel free to tweet me @JenRoberts1. I'll be happy to help. 

Standards in this Project: (From the California Language Arts Standards, but based on the CCSS)
  • RL1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RL5. Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
  • W1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • W4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 
  • W9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • S6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.