The truth of my seismographs is the story of my life, in a much smaller, compact form.
A couple years ago, I was looking for a new way to teach poetry and nothing was really speaking to me – So I did what most do, I pulled together an amalgamation of different things until I had created a beast that I could experiment with until it was tamed.

I called it a Seismograph, as I wanted something that measured the impact of words – how a poem affects us at the most base, emotional level. Does it shake you to your core? Or just give you a little goosebump?

When I finally fleshed out my idea and sent it out into the classroom, I was overjoyed. It worked! It made sense to the kids, and I began to use my seismographs regularly in my classroom.

Then, last summer, I attended an AP Literature training. One day the instructor pulled out a short story called “The Lifeguard” by Mary Morris and said, “Today we will be doing what I call ‘Literary Seismographs.’”

Whelp, I thought, another brilliant idea that turns out not to be mine after all.

But don’t fear, dear reader, for I did not let this stop me from continuing my love of the literary seismograph. My version looks a little different than the one the instructor at my training used, so I continue to consider it my own (I’ve even joked about renaming them ‘Parke-mo-graphs’).

How does it work?

Seismographs are useful for close reading, and can be used with poetry or prose. With prose, I wouldn’t use more than a couple pages of text- the point is to understand the author’s choice of words and wording. Therefore, it makes it an excellent activity for trying to reach standard RL.2.4.

First, students are assigned a passage. In the examples below, students read the first three pages of Atonement by Ian McEwan. Those students then star or highlight the lines that really stuck out to them. I usually ask them to keep the number of lines they choose to 5-7.

After they find the lines that affect them, I have them rate the level of impact on a scale of 1-10. Then, they plot it on a graph similar to the one below:


On each point of impact, they write the quote that impacted them.

After plotting all their quotes, they then have the hard task – discovering what the author has done to make this impact happen. Is it foreshadowing? Alliteration? More importantly, what does it do for the piece? What is the purpose of those lines in the larger scale of the work?

Here are some examples from Atonement:

And some examples from “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou:

After the seismograph activity, students can use the quotes they analyzed to springboard into analytical writing – how do these lines relate to the work as a whole?
Overall, students in my classes seem to like the activity – some even get excited when they see it listed on the agenda. One student told me that she enjoys seismographs because “it’s easy and I get it, I don’t feel like I’m struggling for the answer.” I also like that it helps reinforce that what a reader gets out of a text differs from person to person, and that’s okay!

I’ve noticed that essays that spring from these activities use stronger evidence and elaboration, and I encourage my students to consider using seismographs as a planning activity when trying to suss out an essay.

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to comment below!


An Optimist Deals with Death

I’ve been a positive person my entire life – not because I believe that everything will work out in the end, or that “things happen for a reason,” but because in this short life, there is, in my purview, no reason to go through it sad. I enjoy moments, find joy in them, save them for another time when I need them. I am Billy Pilgrim, returning to a sun-soaked snooze in a wheelbarrow during my time of strife.

But there are times when it seems like all the positive attitude I can muster is not enough to battle the very real monsters knocking on my door. Yesterday, four hours from my home, my work, my school, another angry, violent white male decided that it was his right to take the lives of seventeen others.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I watched as young boys struggled to hoist teddy bears taller than themselves through the gates of the parking lot, hoping to catch their girlfriends (how long has it been? a week, a month, a year? All an eternity to them) before they get to class so they don’t have to carry it around all day. Girls decked out in pinks and reds, and even I got into the spirit, donning a cream dress embroidered with red hearts.

When I got home, my husband and daughter greeted me with love, arms outstretched to welcome me home after a cheerful day of happy students, happy teachers, happy classrooms.

Then the news came. Instead of students walking home with outlandish Valentine’s gifts, I imagined abandoned stuffed animals strewn across classroom floors, left behind after the SWAT teams evacuated their would-be recipients. Balloons tied to lockers meant as a celebration of life and love, now macabre markers, alerting authorities as to where they should be looking for the bodies.

It’s hard to be an optimist on a normal day. On a day like this, it’s impossible – I know that nothing will come of this. In a year there will be a memorial. A pro-gun control group will remind us what happened, but others will have forgotten. But it will happen again, because nothing will be done to stop it.

As I watch my students come through my doors today, they will know that I love them, that I see them, that they matter to me. I will find joy in them, in my work. I will find joy with my family, with my home. But I will not be optimistic for a future that I cannot believe in.

Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

9780385363563A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So let’s get this out of the way. One of the worst lines I have ever read in a novel resides in this book. It is:
“Akhmed’s head hummed with the shock of how not shocked he was.”

Yep. That’s there.

Thankfully, that was the outlier. The story of this book started like a slow boil, and became so enchanting that by the end, I couldn’t wait to read it. I still can’t think of those last few pages without crying, and I’m still affected by it a week later.

Best dollar store purchase yet.

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Book Review – Ship Breaker

ShipBreakerPaoloBacigalupiShip Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my third Bacigalupi novel and so far they all follow the same pattern. Male protagonist lives in a not too distant future where everything has gone to shit (lack of water, genetic modifications, climate change) and works at some unusual post-apocalyptic job (water knife, whatever the dude from windup girl did, ship breaker) and falls in love with a mysterious girl from a different social class (poor desert girl, wind up girl, swank) and must decide if he should leave the world he knows out of love of this girl.
And the title is the job of one of the main characters.

There, now you don’t have to read any of them.

Just kidding, I loved “The Water Knife.”

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Book Review – The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North
















The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Man. This one got me. There were a couple times where a sentence was just so good I had to put the book down because I thought, “well, it’s not going to get any better than that.” But then it did.

This book talks around and about the titular Sophie Stark, and she is a bit of a mystery. The strength of this novel is the treatment of grief, the stories that the people we know tell when we are gone. How what we do stays with them, and what parts of us they remember.

Sophie is manipulative, but she is also manipulated by the people in her life. She is by no means faultless character through most of the story, though she is someone we can sympathize with.

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Book Review – Walkaway by Cory Doctorow


Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes I feel like Cory Doctorow is too clever for his own good. Some of the references in here were a bit too much, particularly when he made the reference a couple times and THEN felt the need to explain it, though his target audience probably knows exactly what he’s talking about.

There are some concepts in here that appear in his other works, like deadheading, singularities, and of course, anarcho-communist ideas, but overall, there was just WAY TOO MUCH world building in here for me. I wanted the story, and Gretyl and Iceweasel’s story was far more entertaining than all the lead up about the walkaways. The last 2 sections of the book were the best for me personally.

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One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or to the world, is by telling the story. It is a balancing act and it is a dream. The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless.

The tale is the map which is the territory.
You must remember this.

Neil Gaiman