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Using Bell Ringers to Spark Discussion


Greetings from The SuperHERO Teacher! As teachers, we are all familiar with bell work of some kind (bell ringers, journal prompts, warm-ups, entrance tickets, etc.), but how can we turn those topics of interest into intellectual classroom discussions? I’m here to help!  Starting a daily routine using entrance and exit tickets, posting discussion guidelines, and determining a school-year worth of topics are some of the many ways to get started. 


Not only will this step help with discussion, it will also be a classroom management MIRACLE.  If your students are prepared to discuss their answers on daily bell work from the beginning of the school year, they will be more apt to participate throughout the course.  I would strongly suggest implementing daily warm-ups the first or second week of the school year or semester.  By doing so, you can set guidelines and expectations immediately, allowing students to gain confidence in live classroom discussions.  In addition to boosting confidence, routine discussion will also create a lively classroom environment where students feel comfortable speaking about their opinions.  


So, how do you develop routine in your classroom?  Try using entrance and exit tickets that your students can use to draft their discussion points prior to speaking about them in front of the class.  I’ve created a FREE editable entrance ticket template for you to use in PowerPoint.  Simply download the file, insert the daily discussion topic, and print them for your students.  Some of the topics I like to discuss as a class are: current events, trending points of interest, controversial matters, and fascinating themes in novels. TIP: Try leaving them in a known area around the classroom so that students can pick them up as soon as they enter the classroom OR greet each student with their entrance ticket at the beginning of class. 



Have you ever *attempted* to have a classroom discussion and it flops because nobody will speak up?  Me, too! It’s the worst!!!  I attribute that silence to my lack of guidelines.  Even if the warm-ups are not meant to be heated debates, it’s still essential to create an environment where students feel safe sharing their thoughts (especially with peers).  These 5 guidelines are a MUST for developing the perfect discussion atmosphere:



The past 4 years of my teaching career, I started off strong, implementing a daily bell ringer… BUT if I’m being honest, by the third month of school, my brain was exhausted and the daily bell ringers no longer existed.  I thought to myself, “…if only I had a year’s worth of bell ringer prompts in an organized fashion” and then decided to take on the challenge myself.  I’ve created two volumes of middle and high school ELA bell ringerjournals.  They include 275 themed prompts that will span from the beginning of the school year all the way to the end.  It’s a stressed teacher’s dream—you’ll never have to come up with a bell ringer topic again! Hallelujah! Click on the pictures below to find out more information.


So, just to re-cap... Be sure to start a daily routine with your students using bell ringers, entrance tickets, or some other for of warm up activity.  Use those activities to then foster classroom discussion using the guidelines I provided in step 3 of this blog post! To access the FREE entrance & exit ticket template to use with your students, click the image below and download it as a PowerPoint presentation.  Thanks for reading! 




Building A Positive Classroom Community


With the pressure for secondary teachers to meet curriculum expectations in such a limited time, building a classroom community can sometimes be put on the back burner.  What many teachers don’t realize is that by intentionally taking time to build a positive community in your classroom, you can ease the challenges of classroom management, improve student attitude toward learning, and create an environment where students feel welcomed and supported.   

Below are my 5 favorite ways to build classroom community in middle and high school.


Establish a positive classroom community by having students complete short activities that encourage kindness, collaboration, teamwork, expression, and the sharing of ideas and opinions.

These challenges don’t need to take up a lot of time.  Have them last 5-10 minutes.  They can be used daily as a bell-ringer, weekly as a fun Friday  activity, or even randomly when you finish class a few minutes early!  
Build classroom community by setting up a classroom challenge bulletin board!  Students reveal one prompt a day and then complete the corresponding activity.  They take only 5-10 minutes each and will help to make build student relationships!
How it works: The teacher sets up a "Classroom Challenge" bulletin board display that includes 20 hidden activity prompts. Once a challenge is revealed, the teacher finds the corresponding activity, passes it out to the class, and they are ready to go!

Here are a few of the prompts I include in my challenge to give you an idea of the types of activities can help build community:

• Write a thank you card for someone you appreciate.
• Talk for one minute to a partner about the topic you receive from your teacher.
• Write a top 10 list on the topic of your choice.
• Imagine you are stuck on a deserted island. Pick one book, one movie, and one other item to bring.
• Play a game of 20 questions with a partner.


You know that nostalgic feeling you get when you are reminiscing with your friends about times past?  Bring that into your room with “Classroom Throwbacks.”  Students use small cards to write down funny, interesting, and memorable moments that happen within the classroom and put it in the “Classroom Thowbacks” jar/box.  
Build classroom community with this FREE resource where students write down funny, interesting, and memorable moments that happen within the classroom.  Later on in the year, take the cards out for a "Throwback Thursday" activity to share class memories.
You can have students fill out the cards randomly, or you can pass them out from time to time, put students in small groups, and have them fill the cards out with a couple memories.  Once the throwback jar starts to accumulate some cards, you can begin sharing them in class.  You might consider sharing one a week for a “Throwback Thursday” activity. Grab this free resource by clicking here.


I once had a principal who left notes of appreciation (and a small treat) in teachers’ mailboxes for little things she had noticed them doing (staying late at school working, helping out at an after-school event, giving extra help at lunch etc.). It was such a small gesture, but it had a dramatic impact on the morale of the staff. Build this same kind of morale in your classroom by finding ways to celebrate your students for the things you see them doing that deserve some praise and appreciation.  There are lots of ways you can do this.  You can post student work in your classroom, call or email parents to brag up those students who don’t often get a pat on the back, or even have a student of the month/week display for those who deserve special recognition!  I also like to keep funny cards tucked away in my desk for those occasions where a student surprises or impresses me.
Build classroom community by tucking these funny cards away in your desk to give to students when they impress or surprise you!
Ask for volunteers for “student paparazzi”. Their job is to take pictures of students in the classroom and send them to you via email to print and post. Of course, students should only take pictures when you deem it appropriate.  They could take some before and after the bell rings or during a class activity (when appropriate and with permission) or at the end of the period if class finishes up a couple minutes early. When you post the pictures in your classroom, consider framing them! I pick up low-cost frames at the dollar store and put them in different locations in my classroom (on the wall, on my desk, on the desk at the front of my room, on a bookshelf).  No need to go use expensive photo paper.  Simply print the pictures on regular letter paper to fit the frame's size (pictures below from the classrooms of @CamilaCdipietro and @Tarafarah7)
Build classroom community by keeping framed pictures of students within the classroom!
Framed photos create a home-like, family atmosphere where students feel welcomed and accepted.   If you have a classroom website or social media account, you could also post the pictures there as long as you have parent media release permission forms.    


Providing students with an opportunity to reflect on the positive moments of the week and look forward to the next week is another way to help foster classroom community.  One way you can do this is by starting a weekly tradition called “Friday 5-4-3-2-1”.  
Students fill out the sheet by jotting down 5 things that made them smile, 4 words to describe the week, 3 things they have planned for the weekend, 2 things they learned, and 1 goal they have.  Give students a few minutes to fill it out and have them share with a partner, a small group, or have a whole class discussion.  If you’d like to try this out with your students, you can download it for free here.  You can also choose to make up your own 5 prompts, as a blank version is included!  Just write the prompts on the board and students can fill it out. 

Do you have any other ideas for fostering a positive classroom community?  Click the comments button at the top of the post and share your ideas! 

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How to Incorporate Inquiry into an English Classroom


Are you looking for a way to dig deeper into your ELA work and incorporate more inquiry into your ELA classroom?  Like many of you, I was too!  My province is implementing a new curriculum and much of it is focused on INQUIRY.  I’m super excited about all of the possibilities and know I have to work on more of it into my English classroom.  Over the last few years I’ve managed to find several ways to build inquiry into what we do on a regular basis. I use the following steps to help guide my students and me through the inquiry process and try to build the vocabulary and understanding into our daily work.

Wonder  
The idea of WONDER seems like a lost art in my high school students – with a quick Google search it seems everything my students could possibly want to know is at their fingertips.  Whether you’re reading a short story or learning about new figurative language ask students as much as possible what they wonder.  Use the term wonder whenever you can and incorporate an element of wonder into your lessons. Instead of giving students all of the information, give students just a tid-bit and ask what they think it is they’re going to learn about.  Here’s an idea - show students examples of a type of figurative language and ask if they can see the similarities between the examples.  See if they can figure things out before giving them all the answers.  Talk about the title of a poem or a short story before jumping in.  Encourage your students to come up with three questions they have based on the title alone.  

Question
Having students develop their own questions is part of the inquiry process so we work on developing “good” questions throughout the year.  QUESTIONS that encourage wonder rather than questions that can be answered with a quick Google search.  I use this handy Q-Chart to help guide students in creating “good” questions. The chart guides students to create deeper questions than the simple questions they tend to think of first. The chart is a perfect way to keep them on track.   Grab a FREE copy here!





Research
One of the big projects we complete each year is an Inquiry Project based on a novel my students have read in class.  I have done it with a whole class novel (To Kill a Mockingbird) and with an independent novel study and both times it’s worked well.  Students dig deep into a bigger issue they’ve wondered about while reading and must RESEARCH a topic of their choice related to the book.  I’ve had students delve into the modern-day role of geishas after reading Memoirs of a Geisha, investigate the Hollywood Blacklist after reading The Crucible and dig deeper into the history of the civil rights movement after reading To Kill a Mockingbird.  The possibilities are endless!  Check out my Novel Study – Inquiry Project for ANY Novel! Everything you need to create your own inquiry project during a novel study is included.  

Explain & Create
Typically, in an ELA classroom we have asked our students to write about their thoughts, their ideas and their findings. AND… I absolutely think that students need to learn to write and write well, but I also believe they need to learn how to present their ideas orally, visually and using a wide variety of media.  As much as I can, I give my students choice in how they EXPLAIN their work in my classroom. What they can CREATE as an example of their learning often boggles my mind! When given the chance, their creativity shines though!  But… don’t worry… they’re still writing!  A big part of the inquiry process is to present their ideas to their peers or others.  I've upped the ante by having students present to their principal and vice-principal - as stressful as it can be, the students are excited that the administration is willing to listen.

Reflect
The last step in the Inquiry process in my classroom is to REFLECT on the inquiry process.  What went well?  What could they improve upon for next time?  What did they learn?  This process of reflection can be applied to so much of what we do in an ELA classroom and I inject reflection into much of what I do.  A quick exit slip or bell-ringer question is the perfect and easy opportunity to have students reflect.  

The more I incorporate the elements of inquiry into my classroom, I find the easier it is for me to complete a bigger inquiry project.  Whether it's a guided inquiry with teacher created questions or a full student led inquiry like a Genius Hour project, the more exposure students have had with the process the easier it will be for them and for you!




The 9 English Lessons We Love Most


True story - the nine of us teachers who write for The Secondary English Coffee Shop aren't just random English teachers. We're friends, collaborators, and virtual co-workers who help each other through this adventure called teaching.

Along the way, we've bought and used each other's lessons, projects, and resources. Today, we're going to tell you about the resources from fellow teacher-authors that we love the most!


Research Stations
"Last spring, I used Room 213's Research Stations for the first time, and they were such a hit with my class! My 9th graders really needed the extra practice with in-text citations and creating a Works Cited. They loved how each station focused on one concept and the sample texts assured that everyone was on the same page. Thanks to Room 213, I'm a stations convert, and I'm looking forward to trying out her new Shakespeare stations!" - Nouvelle ELA




Writing Lessons: Essays are like Meals
"If your students are anything like mine, they lack excitement when it comes to writing essays.  Luckily, Secondary Sara created a product that is deliciously irresistible!  Her five paragraph essay bundle breaks down each section of the essay into a meal (appetizer, main course, dessert, etc.) for an easy comparison in the eyes of our students.  As you can see in the photo, dessert represents the conclusion.  Can you imagine your students' faces if you brought in a tasty treat?! Because of Sara's product, I can confidently say that your students will master the essay writing process! Bon appetit!" -The SuperHERO Teacher


Daily Writing Prompts
I love writing prompts, but what I love even more is a quick and easy way to assess them! You'll find both in The Classroom Sparrow's Full Year of Daily Writing Prompts. She has a theme for each day of the week and each prompt has the students thinking creatively and critically. Best of all, there is a checklist for giving feedback on the bottom of each page. It doesn't get much better than that! -Room 213




Growth Mindset Posters
Presto Plans has a lot of great posters and displays, but lately I’ve been all about her growth mindset posters. There’s a great mix of 20 famous people and their inspirational quotes about perseverance, failure, and success. (My favorite part was that each one also had a mini bio of the person, in case a student didn’t recognize the person pictured.) The posters were also very easy to print and hang! Awesome whether you need a quick bulletin board OR want to use her included activities for a Quote of the Week setup. - Secondary Sara

Clip & Flip Poetic Devices
These task cards are a great way to help students practice identifying poetic devices and figurative language. Students simply clip the devices they find in the excerpt and then flip the card to self-check. Read more at the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog.
Nouvelle ELA’s Clip and Flip poetic device cards are a fun addition to any poetry unit.  Students read one of the 30 poems, attach paper clips to the devices they find, then flip the card over to see if they placed the clips correctly! What’s also great about the cards is you can laminate them and have students annotate the poem using dry erase markers.  The cards can be used in so many ways.  They work great at a poetry station, but could also be used for independent practice, or even as a bell-ringer. Thanks to Nouvelle ELA for this fun, interactive resource!  Presto Plans


Interview With Cupid
I love holiday-themed assignments, so I wanted to share one of the most memorable activities I completed around this time of year (Valentine's Day) with you! Addie Williams' Interview With Cupid is a fun, creative and thorough Valentine writing activity. Every element of the assignment is explored - best of all, students and teachers will get a kick out of reading these interviews after the final drafts have been completed! - The Classroom Sparrow


Annotating Text Made Easy
When I went back to full-time teaching last September, I was a mess. A hot mess. I needed all the help I could get, and that's why I was excited and relieved to find The Daring English Teacher's incredible resource: Annotating Text Made Easy. I used it with my Grade 11 class who were analyzing personal narratives, and they loved every aspect of it: the clear informative slideshow, the helpful practice exercise, and the useful bookmark reminders. Plus, I got a little breathing room during a hectic time; what more could you ask for from a teacher-friend? - Stacey Lloyd


Complexity Wheel for Novel Study
Like many other secondary ELA teachers, I require my students to complete an outside reading requirement each quarter. I want to students to develop a love reading, but I also need to make sure that they truly are reading. That is why I turned to The SuperHERO Teacher's Complexity Wheel Novel Study Package. This resource was the perfect combination of rigor and excitement for my students; they loved the resource's interactive features, and I loved the resource's complexity and thoroughness. I used the bell ringers to get the students thinking about their novel, and we tackled a new aspect of the complexity wheel every couple days. It's the ideal resource for a novel unit or independent reading project! - The Daring English Teacher


Figurative Language Worksheets
I could not have been happier to find Stacey Lloyd’s amazing package of Teaching Figurative Language  Techniques ~ Worksheets pack last year!  It had everything I needed to help my 9th and 10th grade students review and learn figurative language.  Each attractively designed page has a figurative language term and its definition, examples and room for students to explore how to use and incorporate the technique into their own writing.  And the best comment was from a student who told me that he was going to keep his set “to help me in English class next year”. High praise indeed! ~Addie Williams


We hope you enjoy these lessons as much as we have! 
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Teaching Portfolios: How to Create One that Works!

Hey, y’all! This is Danielle from Nouvelle ELA, taking over the Coffee Shop this week to get real about Teaching Portfolios. Whether it’s to prepare for an annual review, to look for a new job, or just to feel great about what an amazing teacher you are, you need a Teaching Portfolio.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.


I’m a military spouse and we are early in our career, meaning that we move around a LOT. I’ve already had to interview for several teaching positions, and I can tell you that a stellar Teaching Portfolio has won me more than one job. It has also helped me move up a level on a couple of components in my annual review – I had the proof that I was accomplished in the target area! All of the examples in this post are from my teaching portfolio, and be sure to check out the free planning sheet.

So, let’s break it down.

A great Teaching Portfolio:

*showcases you and your teaching philosophy
*includes artifacts (photos, student samples, lesson plans) that support those philosophies
*is organized and useful in a job interview or annual review.

1.       A Teaching Portfolio should showcase your philosophy.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

The whole point of a Teaching Portfolio is so that the person sitting across from you can get a glimpse into your wonderful expert teacher brain and imagine a day in the life of your classroom. Is your classroom quiet or loud? Do you favor lectures or group work? Do you give a lot of direct feedback, or do you favor peer editing? What is your main strategy for developing strong readers?

Your whole Teaching Portfolio is really centered around this philosophy, so be sure to check out this Teaching Philosophy Questionnaire and Teaching Portfolio Checklist to get started.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.


2.       A Teaching Portfolio should include a lot of proof.


This is the most fun aspect of a portfolio, in my opinion: collecting artifacts. For the next month, snap a picture at least once a day of life in your classroom. This can be students working on activities, bulletin boards and displays, and student work. Keep student samples if you can, but be sure to take pictures of three-dimensional projects, too.

In addition to proof of your life with students, snag proof of other parts of your school life, too. Print a few emails to parents to show your communication style. HUGE CAVEAT here that this shouldn’t be anything personal about a student and you should black out all names and email addresses. Just print an example of a “first contact” email that tells how amazing a student is – this is simply proof that you keep in touch! As part of my portfolio, I have the email that I send to parents before we start “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, explaining about the value of No Fear, Shakespeare and other support available.

Have you done other things at school? Show proof of that, too. For me, this includes programs for the plays and functions I’ve directed. For you, it may be a team schedule for Varsity Basketball or a photograph of your winning Robotics team.

3.       A Teaching Portfolio should be organized and usable.


As you design your portfolio, keep the other party in mind. Is it an administrator in your school or a job committee? Does the person have five minutes or thirty to spend looking at your artifacts? Here are some hints to keep in mind:

Use section dividers to your advantage. Mine include personal info, lesson plans, student artifacts, communication, and evaluations

Give every page a title and every artifact a caption. Make sure that the viewer always knows the worth of each artifact. For example, I have tags that say “Collaboration example” and “STEM project”.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.


Choose your artifacts carefully. Don’t overwhelm your viewer. Make sure that you’ve already selected the best of the best, and that someone could find something interesting on every page.

Use tabs (labeled from your point-of-view) to help you guide the viewer. These will face you as you sit across the table from your interview or assessor and guide the conversation. For example, I know that I want to mention my Student-Selected Reading program, so I have that tab reminds me of that.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.


Parting Thoughts:

Practice with your Teaching Portfolio. Recruit a friend or loved one to sit across from you (like an interviewer) and walk them through your philosophy and portfolio. Let them ask you questions about various student samples and talk to them about what they see in the pictures.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

Remember, this is the best you have to offer, and you deserve to be proud of it. You are an expert, and you have the right to guide an interview to highlight your strengths. It’s never amiss to gently add “I would love to talk to you about my experience leading Debate Club”, and then guide them to a page. Be kind, but assertive, and use your teaching portfolio to show off that very best side of you.

A strong Teaching Portfolio can win you jobs or help you ace your annual review. Read this blog post for tips and resources for creating a portfolio that showcases your strengths and works for you. By Nouvelle ELA at the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

What is an activity or lesson that you're most proud of? How will you showcase it in your teaching portfolio? Let us know in comments! We love hearing from our readers, and be sure to follow us on Instagram @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop for more great conversations.




Let's Talk Parent-Teacher Conferences


I am not sure how you feel about parent-teacher conferences, but when chatting to colleagues, I have encountered everything from frustration and dislike, to enjoyment and gratification. Personally, I love them: I find that meeting the parents or guardians of the teens I work with every day can be the most insightful, valuable and constructive experience. Below are just a few of the top tips I have garnered from my many meetings with parents (often learned the hard way).
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From my experience, unless there is a particular issue to discuss, parents come to teacher conferences just wanting to know that your really know their child: that you are on their side and have their best interests at heart. The best way to communicate this is to be as prepared as possible.


In order to do this, at the beginning of the school year, I have all my students complete a few basic forms themselves, and then I place these in manila folders so that every student I teach has a file. Throughout the year, if I ever have an interaction with a student which is noteworthy, or if there is cause for concern, or even if they produce a particularly important piece of work, I pop it into the file. This means that when I meet with a parent, I pull out the file and have a substantial stack of material to reference.
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I can’t advocate for this enough: when dealing with teenagers, it is vital that they are always included in their own learning process - that they take responsibility for their own education and progress. Therefore, I always (strongly) encourage my students to attend any parent-teacher meeting I hold.

This serves two purposes. Firstly, it means that students are accountable for their own education; they are active participants, and they are given a voice. Secondly, it cuts out the middleman; it means that you limit the potential for miscommunication and “he said, she said” messages.
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FREEBIE #1: Grab this free worksheet to have students complete at the beginning of the year, so you can check in with them on their progress and get vital information about how they learn best.
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This is the real benefit of having students attend (see above): I start any meeting with a student or parent with a series of questions to really get the pulse of the conversation and draw out any specific concerns.

If a student is present I will always ask them questions such as: How are you enjoying our course? Which area of English do you want to grow in? Can you name one activity we have completed so far this year which you really enjoyed? One you struggled with? How would you rate your engagement in class? Where would you like to see improvement?

If a student is not present, I might ask the parent questions such as: How do you find your child is doing this year? Do you have any particular concerns? Does he/she ever talk about what we are studying in class? How much is he/she reading at home?  What area would you like to see improvement in?

The answers to these questions can often be extremely revealing and will often then determine the path our meeting will take. Starting this way shifts the focus off of the teacher, and onto the students and their educational journey: a far more constructive focus.
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I always try to end my meetings by identifying one or two actionable goals for going forward. Usually, I have the student self-identify these goals, or we all come up with them together, and agree upon them collaboratively.

This also serves two purposes: it gives a clear actionable focus moving forward, which often gives parents and students a feeling of progress, and a focus for growth; in addition, it really does help indicate the end of the meeting, and bring it to a close - a sometimes much-needed signal! ;-)  
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FREEBIE #2: This is a template of the page I prepare and use for parent-teacher conferences; I compile one of each of these for the students with whom I meet. Click to download instructions and template.
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Finally, I really do try to keep parents/guardians as informed as possible throughout the year, and not just at parent-teacher conference time. Sending parents short emails, giving them quick phone calls when possible, or sending notes home on a more regular basis: all incredibly rewarding, valuable and satisfying parts of my job, especially when done to signal positive praise and achievement (you can read more about that here).

If you have any specific questions or comments about parent-teacher conference, please do post them in the comments below, as all our Coffee Shop ladies have ample experience and advice on this topic, which they’d love to share.


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