My Top 12 Posts of 2020

The most read posts of the most tumultuous year

The year of 2020 was a doozy, wasn’t it?! Even with the pandemic, distance learning, masks in the classroom, new policies regarding due dates, attendance and whatnot, you and I both made it through! (And, frankly, I’m starting to think that 2021 may yield its own share of dooziness, unfortunately.)

But just think… we’re more than halfway through this crazy school year, so let’s rejoice!

To celebrate, I packed this post with the links to my most-visited articles of 2020. Out of the nearly 250 posts I’ve written since starting this site in May 2017, the twelve posts below are those that you and other readers sought out and read the most over the past year.

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash


I know what it’s like when you need a quick idea or want to learn how another teacher approached a certain novel or writing task in her classroom: you ask a teacher-friend, do a Google search, post in your Facebook group, or visit a trusted teacher website… like mine! So THANK YOU!

Without further ado, here are my top twelve posts of 2020!

Where I'm From Poems photo of George Ella Lyon

1. Where I’m From Poems

Each spring, my sixth-grade students write their own “Where I’m From” poems. These poems never fail to produce highly personal, touching, and honest poems.

I always display the students’  work in the hallway or on a bulletin board so everyone can read them. Students are drawn to these simple little poems that can’t help but be packed with imagery and sensory language. In fact, just last week, one of my eighth-grade students mentioned that it was one of her favorite things she had written in my class…

A firework sparkler for Exploding A Moment with Barry Lane

2. “Exploding a Moment” with Barry Lane

This post shows how I modified my middle school “explode a moment” how-to lesson for high school students.

“Exploding a moment “ is what writing teacher Barry Lane calls it when writers take an important moment from a narrative and approach it like a filmmaker treats an important movie in a film… in slow motion. When we visualize the moment in slow motion and then describe the moment in slow motion, we automatically describe it in such detail that the reader views the event with the same intensity and importance that the writer does…

A student writes her one-word summary in a notebook

3. The One-Word Summary

One of my favorite activities to do in my language arts classes is to assign one-word summaries. These quick assignments are an easy way to encourage kids to think deeply about a text, including its theme or gist.

I assign one-word summaries for literature or informational text, for short articles or longer passages, or even whole books. I assigned a one-word summary to my eighth-graders about a week ago after…

A photo of an AOW assignment shown on a computer screen

4. My Number-One Most Effective Writing Assignment: Gallagher’s AOW

If there’s one assignment I would never give up it would be the AOW, the Article of the Week. Gotta have it. Gotta do it. I can’t imagine teaching without it.

You may have heard of AOWs. They’re pretty well-known among English teachers. They were developed by Kelly Gallagher, a high school language arts teacher in Anaheim, Calif. He’s written books such as Teaching Adolescent WritersWrite Like This, and Readicide.

Gallagher developed the Article of the Week assignment to help students gain more background knowledge about politics, history, current events… in short, the world around them. When I took Gallagher’s cue and began…

A photo of a copy of The Red Badge of Courage

5. My First Attempt at Teaching The Red Badge of Courage: It Is What It Is

Yes, it is dry and monotonous at times.  Those chapters where the main character Henry Fleming waits for directions, waits for battle, waits for any indication of progress in the war, do get long. However, as we learn from Fleming, that’s part of the war experience. The Civil War experience, to be exact. And yes, the Civil War was a long time ago, so maybe the book’s monotonous chapters and the book’s antiquated language and style (it was first published in 1895, after all) turns off some teachers.

But this little book – there are 24 chapters each about five pages in length – has merit if you look for it…

A photo of the book Chasing Lincoln's Killer

6. Teaching Transitions in Writing

For me, teaching transitions is one of the most difficult concepts to teach in writing and one of the most needed. When you teach transitions, you are helping students learn how to write smoothly, to make their ideas flow from one paragraph to the next, even from one sentence to the next.

In short, we’re talking about the concept of cohesion in writing. As you know, cohesion happens when an idea is carried through from the introductory paragraph(s) to the supporting sections of the text and finally, to the summary or conclusion. There are two ways to accomplish cohesion: transition words and ideas as transitions…

Two girls, one a teen and one ten years old, wear masks during Covid-19

7. Corona Virus Acrostic Poems Perk Up Distance Learning

My students learned at home from March 17 until yesterday when the school year officially ended. As part of their distance learning, I asked students to write a couple of paragraphs every other day or so for a “Life in the Time of Corona” journal.

This journal will document their personal experience during the global pandemic.

I got the idea for students to create these journals thanks to a tweet from Kelly Gallagher in March. Here’s the assignment sheet I created to guide students through the journal assignment…

Graphic essays displayed on a bulletin board in a middle school classroom

8. Graphic Essays Add Variety and Visual Creativity

During spring 2019, I assigned graphic essays to my eighth-graders after they finished reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. This incredible book, which provides Douglass’ first-hand account of the horrors and traumas of American slavery, provides a reading experience that is both sobering and inspiring. In short, Douglass’ narrative is a lot to take in.

For my students, I felt graphic essays would: 1) offer a break from traditional essay writing; 2) help students discuss theme with evidence and their own commentary; 3) allow students to discuss symbolism; and 4) allow students to get creative and apply their artistic skills…

A movie poster for The Natural, a movie with a clip that works well when teaching high school students to "explode a moment"

9. Use this Movie Clip to Teach High School Writers How to “Explode a Moment”

For some reason, young writers seem to want to write as little as possible when describing a scene. I read descriptions as sparse as this example: I shot the ball and it went in and everybody freaked out. However, when kids see the effectiveness of exploding a moment, they’ll surprise themselves with how much description they can generate.

About a year ago, I wrote this post about a mini-lesson where my students watched a slow-motion video clip from writer and author Barry Lane’s YouTube channel. We watched the clip in five- to ten-second second segments. Following each segment, I would pause the video and…

Three teenagers use Padlet on a  computer laptop

10. Pros and Cons of Padlet

Yesterday, I wrote about six assignments I am using to test-drive the discussion board app called Padlet. Click here for a link to that post. Read on for my first impressions in the form of pros and cons.

While I’m using it now for distance learning during my school’s COVID-19 closing, I really think it will have more optimal use in the classroom. For example, I can envision projecting a Padlet on my whiteboard as students work so they can see their comments publish immediately, as well as those of others…

Students write in notebooks and on a laptop computer during writer's workshop

11. Here’s What Writer’s Workshop Looks Like in My Middle School Classroom

Since I began teaching seven years ago, I’ve learned that sometimes it may be necessary to try something new — a new technique, curriculum unit, or simply a new idea — more than once in order to fairly assess its effectiveness.

Usually, the first time I try anything, it fizzles. At the conclusion of the semester, when students were turning in their final drafts of their projects, I was glad Writer’s Workshop (WW) was finally over. I didn’t like the unstructured nature of class time that the workshop encouraged. Perhaps my classroom management skills weren’t up to par, or perhaps I’ve just relaxed a little since then. Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but the less structured nature doesn’t concern me like it used to because…

A photo of a book bento for the book, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

12. Book Bentos: My First Attempt

To conclude first quarter, my independent reading class usually produces some kind of summative project for a book they read during the previous eight weeks. This fall, instead of the usual book report, I came across the “book bento” idea in a private Facebook group. It basically takes the look of a bento, a common Japanese to-go meal, and applies it to a book. Instead of an arrangement of individual food portions, it’s an arrangement comprised of a book surrounded by tangible objects that connect to the book.

A bento is “single-portion boxed meal that is usually…

Thanks for reading! Please let me know, by the way, if you’d like to request an article on a certain topic or novel or assignment, PBL idea… you name it. I would love to find out more for you and possibly turn your request into a future post. Just reach out to me by leaving a comment to this post or sending me a message via my Contact page. I will do my best to meet your needs! See you next week!

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Treasured Object Poems

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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