Best ELA Lessons

What’s Up with Meyer Wolfsheim?

Three Articles to Explore Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby Even though I’ve taught The Great Gatsby only twice, I have done quite a lot of writing about Fitzgerald’s many-layered masterpiece. If you pull down to The Great Gatsby on my Blog menu at the top of this page, you’ll find upwards of fourteen postsContinue reading “What’s Up with Meyer Wolfsheim?”

True Crime Unit: Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos

Planning for next year? Check out these multi-media resources If your students are into True Crime as a reading genre, or if you’re needing a “ripped from the headlines” unit to breathe new life into your upper-level high school ELA classes, do I have an idea for you! And the best thing about this ideaContinue reading “True Crime Unit: Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos”

The Book Bento

Have you tried book bentos yet? I’ve assembled a handful of my book bento articles in this post that I hope will introduce you to this new reading assessment project.

Book Bento Tip: The Art of Knolling

Always be knolling. Check out these videos to show your students how to “knoll” their book bento arrangements.

Book bento instructions and tips

Now that the semester is almost over, are you in need of a quick way to alternatively assess student reading? If so, try book bentos!

Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice

Metaphor Dice are excellent tools for inspiring evocative, poem-worthy ideas. The words set the stage for deeper, extended critical thinking. My poetry students loved them!

Back to School: Four Icebreaker Poems

Get to know your students with these poetry mentor texts School is starting soon in most locales of the United States and teachers are busy gearing up to find interesting. low-stakes ways to get students writing. Poetry is always a no-fail way to encourage students of all ages to get back in the swing ofContinue reading “Back to School: Four Icebreaker Poems”

Three Back to School ELA Lesson Ideas

Needing some fresh ideas for the first day back at school? Want to avoid the ubiquitous “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” drudgery?

Back to School Poetry: The Sometimes Poem from YA Author Kate Messner

Young adult author Kate Messner inspired one of my favorite back-to-school poetry projects for middle schoolers! I’ve updated my post about this activity for the 2021-2022 school term with updated links and a free PDF presentation to download. I hope you try this project. It’s a keeper!

Candy Memoirs: A Sweet Assignment for 6th and 7th

Hey there! I’ve updated this post about candy memoirs… one of my favorite memoir projects for middle schoolers. I’ve also added a free PDF with three student-written mentor candy memoirs! Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment or sending me a message via my Contact page.

Movie Captions and Text Create Unique Poems

When text passages from a novel mingle with captions or subtitles from its accompanying movie, interesting things happen. Here’s what I mean: I always watch movies with the subtitles on. It helps me catch every word of dialogue and also catch every nuance given through the sound effects.

Switch Up Sketchnotes to Engage Distracted Students

I love sketchnotes. They’re engaging, colorful, and creative, and allow me to make illustrative connections while I listen to a book. But here’s the thing: I’m not a very good listener. I need to carefully concentrate on the words I’m hearing or my mind wanders to whatever’s going on in the hall, outside the window, or just inside my head. So even though I’m a huge fan of sketchnotes, sometimes I need a more passive kind of sketchnotes… sketchnotes that keep me engaged, but still able to focus on the text so I can create meaningful notes and doodles that will ultimately aid understanding and retention of the content.

How I Used the New York Times’ Anatomy of a Scene

Using the New York Times Anatomy of a Scene collection as inspiration, high school students provide director’s commentary for a movie clip and thereby showing their understanding of satire.

My British Lit Students Translated a Poem into Braille

My senior British Lit students recently tried their hands at embossing Braille code. Here’s how they did it.

Book Bentos: 5 Tips to Make Them Better

Based on my first attempt with book bentos, I came up with these 5 tips to make these fun projects even better.

Reinforce reading with student photography

A recent snow day activity has sparked my curiosity about the possibilities of combining student photography with reading.

Ekphrastic Poetry Video Resources for Students

Experiment with ekphrastic poetry and infuse your English class with beautiful art. These videos will help.

Finally! One-pager success!

Plus: the idea that finally made one-pagers work for my class One more try. That’s right. In December, I decided to give one-pager graphic essays one more try. In case you’re unfamiliar with one-pagers… visit Spark Creativity for a complete explanation and also some awesome one-pager templates. One-pagers, in a nutshell, offer a way forContinue reading “Finally! One-pager success!”

My post-COVID Follow-Up: Creative Vocabulary Resources

Here they are: the links for “Eight Ways to Explore New Vocabulary Words” Since COVID mixed things up a bit for me personally last week, I’m mixing things up a bit this week. I’ll explain in this quick video. Links: Please leave a comment with all the questions you have! And if you’re wondering aboutContinue reading “My post-COVID Follow-Up: Creative Vocabulary Resources”

Eight ways to explore new vocabulary words

I’ve used these vocabulary strategies from Always Write for years now. “Vocabulary is about precision.” Those are the words of Sheridan Blau, author and Professor of Practice in English Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. I heard Blau speak at the Writing & Thinking Conference hosted by the Ozarks Writing Project at Missouri State UniversityContinue reading “Eight ways to explore new vocabulary words”

How to get better “One-Word Summaries” from your students

Make these off-limits: the topic and their opinion In the past, after I assigned One-Word Summaries, I would often feel a little let down when I walked around the room, glancing over students’ shoulders as they wrote their paragraphs defending their chosen word. Read my post on the One-Word Summary if you’re unfamiliar with thisContinue reading “How to get better “One-Word Summaries” from your students”

Headline Poetry Reimagined and Redefined

My high school students take headline poems to the next level Again this year, I chose to start the school year with headline poetry. Both my in-school students and those learning at home created headline poems with words and phrases found and clipped from with a variety of printed materials, magazines, newspapers, and even junkContinue reading “Headline Poetry Reimagined and Redefined”

Make a “Live” Word Cloud with This Super Easy App

I tried Mentimeter.com on the first day of school On the first day of school, I jumped in and tried something new: Mentimeter.com. It’s an interactive presentation software website that helps you increase engagement while gathering valuable information for teaching. I used its popular word cloud presentation, but there are many other presentation styles availableContinue reading “Make a “Live” Word Cloud with This Super Easy App”

Where I’m From Poem Templates

Plus photos and links to help you plan Back-to-school is the perfect time for Where I’m From poems. I’ve decided to repost this article from last May to help you add this great activity to your opening days. Where I’m From poems from the author and poet George Ella Lyons… you just can’t write enoughContinue reading “Where I’m From Poem Templates”

A Book Cover Analysis: A Fun Back-to-School Reading Task

When it’s too soon to ask questions about plot and character On Tuesdays in my independent reading class, I prepare a text-based question for students to answer in a paragraph or two on paper. I ask them to do their reading, keeping in mind the question, and then at the end of the house, theyContinue reading “A Book Cover Analysis: A Fun Back-to-School Reading Task”

Exploding a Moment: How I Show Students This Revision Strategy in Action

Seeing is believing with my “before and after” handout First things first: THANK YOU, BARRY LANE! Barry Lane’s video where he retells the story of “Jane Wilson’s poured milk memory” is one of my all-time favorites to introduce my students to the idea of exploding a moment. Exploding a moment is one of Lane’s signatureContinue reading “Exploding a Moment: How I Show Students This Revision Strategy in Action”

This Back-to-School One-Pager Works Wonders

Get to know your in-class and remote learners quickly Thanks to Spark Creativity! for this awesome “biographical one-pager” idea that I used last week when school started on Thursday. Read this blog post for all the details and printable downloads. As a mentor or example, I projected mine (see above) on the whiteboard and weContinue reading “This Back-to-School One-Pager Works Wonders”

The New York Times Announces Its 2020-21 Student Writing Contests

And get this: most are now open to middle school students! Yes! The student writing contests hosted by The New York Times’ Learning Network are back! In addition, most are now open to U.S. middle school students starting in sixth grade (for international students, ages 13-18). A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this postContinue reading “The New York Times Announces Its 2020-21 Student Writing Contests”

Use this ‘Hamilton’ article to teach six poetic devices

Thank you, Wall Street Journal, for this amazing resource Buckle up, poetry lovers! This Wall Street Journal article, written by Joel Eastwood and Erik Hinton and published on June 6, promises to brighten your poetry lessons with some Broadway style. The article showcases the hip-hop/musical theater/American history mashup known as Hamilton, written and created byContinue reading “Use this ‘Hamilton’ article to teach six poetic devices”

The New York Times Announces Two New Writing Contests

Both ask students to record their lives in the year 2020 Last Thursday, I attended a webinar titled “Giving Students a Voice: Teaching with Learning Network Contests.” It was hosted by The New York Times’ Learning Network. Teachers from around the world gathered online to get the skinny on a total of ten student writingContinue reading “The New York Times Announces Two New Writing Contests”

Six Writing Prompts for AOW Assignments

Offer students more ways to respond If you’re a fan of Article of the Week (AOW) assignments and student choice, then this post is for you. Side note: If you’re unfamiliar with the AOW assignment, scroll to the bottom first for a quick explanation and here’s a link to my post about how I useContinue reading “Six Writing Prompts for AOW Assignments”

“Why Do We Read Such Depressing Stuff?!”

Especially in times like these??? My students have told me the following list of nonfiction books is depressing. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn Night by Elie WieselContinue reading ““Why Do We Read Such Depressing Stuff?!””

Reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison… again

Reading it once is not enough. When author Toni Morrison died last August, I assigned an article about her life and career for our first weekly Article of the Week assignment of the year. I also read the first chapter of her first novel, The Bluest Eye, plus parts of the foreword to expose studentsContinue reading “Reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison… again”

New writing contest: Book blurbs!

Whether you’re distance learning or at school, start fall with this new contest With talk of a second corona virus wave coming late summer, knowing what “school” will look like in August or September is impossible right now. However, one thing I know for sure: on the first day of school, my creative writing classContinue reading “New writing contest: Book blurbs!”

The Ten Percent Summary

Jazz up the typical summary assignment Ever get tired of having kids write summaries? If you’re like me, it’s easy to become tired of summary writing. However, I also know it’s a skill that students need to practice from time to time. Summary writing helps students comprehend a text, prioritize its ideas, and convey theContinue reading “The Ten Percent Summary”

When class discussions get controversial (and unfair)

I need this plan for better discussions in my classroom Because I am a writer first, and a speaker second, teaching via whole-class discussions does not come easily to me. When those class discussions involve racially-charged, controversial topics, it’s even more difficult. This difficulty can be blamed on two things: I teach at a nearlyContinue reading “When class discussions get controversial (and unfair)”

White Teacher Question: Are these race and social justice books enough?

Send me your contemporary social justice book suggestions I ordered these books for fall 2020 because I’m focusing on the power of literature to effect social change. Of course, recent events in response to the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd make me wonder if there are more topical books I should have ordered insteadContinue reading “White Teacher Question: Are these race and social justice books enough?”

Use Article of the Week assignments to build relevant mini-lessons

The AOW can help you design targeted instruction in specific problem areas of writing Don’t you love it when a classroom activity teaches something not only to your students, but to you as well? That’s the case with my most effective writing assignment, the Article of the Week (AOW). Not only do Article of theContinue reading “Use Article of the Week assignments to build relevant mini-lessons”

Mini-lesson idea: Avoiding first-person point of view in academic essays

For the most part, it’s an easy fix. It’s nice when a common issue you know your students have with writing can be easily remedied. This is one of them: avoiding unintentional and unnecessary first-person point of view in academic writing. For the most part, the first-person words can simply be removed with… wait forContinue reading “Mini-lesson idea: Avoiding first-person point of view in academic essays”

Corona virus journals foster creativity

A reminder that students can still thrive in uncertain times Don’t underestimate your students when it comes to distance learning. Some of them might surprise you and take your assignment to new heights, as my senior student Savannah B. did with her journal (shown in photos). Savannah took my Life in the Time of CoronaContinue reading “Corona virus journals foster creativity”

Word clouds spice up distance learning

Have kids make word clouds about life during the pandemic My students have been home since March 17. As part of their distance learning, I’ve asked them to write a couple of paragraphs every other day or so for a “Life in the Time of Corona” journal. This journal, which we will finish in theContinue reading “Word clouds spice up distance learning”

Pros and Cons of Padlet

My first impressions of this app for my high school classroom 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 forContinue reading “Pros and Cons of Padlet”

I’m trying out Padlet during distance learning

Six assignments I’m using to test-drive Padlet Since so many aspects of teaching right now are new due to school closings amid COVID-19, what’s one more? As long as we’re entering unchartered territory, let’s not only learn how to Zoom, but let’s try Padlet as well. Padlet is basically an online discussion board application thatContinue reading “I’m trying out Padlet during distance learning”

When half your students don’t have internet access

Make Zoom optional About a week ago, I decided to host an optional meeting on Zoom so students could drop in to ask a question about an assignment, check on a grade, or just talk. One or two students dropped in momentarily to ask about their homework, and a half-dozen or so decided to chatContinue reading “When half your students don’t have internet access”

How to get middle schoolers to write 16-page essays

Try “The 8th-Grade Human Rights Dissertation” Want to be impressed by your middle school ELA students? Want to see them rise to the writing occasion? Try this extended writing assignment that I call the 8th-Grade Human Rights Dissertation. Sidenote: Obviously, this is not an assignment for distance learning. It’s designed for a normal full-time scheduleContinue reading “How to get middle schoolers to write 16-page essays”

Photo Friday: Graphic Essays

Graphic essays break down theme into bite-size chunks Graphic essays break down theme into bite-size chunks of textual evidence, interpretation, and symbolism. Read this post to see how my juniors creatively demonstrated their knowledge of various themes found in Ernest Hemingway’s short story “In Another Country.” Thanks for stopping by! Become a follower for moreContinue reading “Photo Friday: Graphic Essays”

Teach Theme with Graphic Essays: The Old Man and the Sea

Here’s how I’ve used graphic essays and what I’ll tweak for next time. My junior English classes recently read the short story, “In Another Country” by Ernest Hemingway as a follow-up to reading “The Old Man and the Sea.” Because they had just completed a traditional written thematic analysis of the novel, I opted toContinue reading “Teach Theme with Graphic Essays: The Old Man and the Sea”

Try this low-stakes writing activity called “Take a line for a walk”

It’s a keeper. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to the 2020 Write-to-Learn Conference sponsored by the Missouri State Council of the Int’. Literacy Association, The Missouri Writing Projects Network, and the Missouri Council of Teachers of English. Even though I attended only one day of the three-day conference, I’m happy with the handfulContinue reading “Try this low-stakes writing activity called “Take a line for a walk””

Friday Eve Photo: Protocol Peer Review Groups for High School Students

Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend and feel free to leave a comment about how your students peer review in your classroom or about your experience with this particular method, PPRG. Here’s a link to another recent post: My Article of the Week Rubric.

Teaching students to write essays that answer the question: So what?!

Asking “So what?” makes the difference My juniors finished reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Instead of taking an objective culminating exam, they will show their learning by writing a literary analysis essay. However, each student will choose the content and the focus of their essays instead of selecting a topic fromContinue reading “Teaching students to write essays that answer the question: So what?!”

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: A nonfiction contender for 2020-21

Thinking ahead to new class sets for next year Nonfiction is definitely my thing. Yes, I love novels and short stories, but nonfiction really captivates me. And I guess it’s because I truly believe that life is stranger than fiction. As a result, I’m starting to consider which nonfiction books I’d like to requisition forContinue reading “Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: A nonfiction contender for 2020-21”

Sometimes Poetry Can Teach Better than I Can

Take word choice, for example Last December, when I read a student’s second draft of their Treasured Object poem and saw that it contained the word “get” four times, I thought Really? Get? Four times?  It surprised me because I thought I had taught not only sentence variety, but word variety as well. It’s goodContinue reading “Sometimes Poetry Can Teach Better than I Can”

Teaching transitions in writing, part 2

This student-written essay illustrates transition ideas A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how the nonfiction author James Swanson’ transitions from paragraph and from chapter to chapter in his nonfiction narrative Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. The post discussed transitions words (such as therefore, however, in contrast, nonetheless, and others) that we all know andContinue reading “Teaching transitions in writing, part 2”

Dear Teachers: The Church of Scientology is one click away from your students

Be careful: the church’s Youth for Human Rights lessons are now available online.   A lot can happen in two years. Two years ago, I wrote on Medium.com about a variety of educational materials offered by Youth for Human Rights International, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based human rights advocacy group. Back then, after doing some quickContinue reading “Dear Teachers: The Church of Scientology is one click away from your students”

Don’t give up on improving your students’ vocabulary skills

Stick with your plan; give your lessons time to work   I recently designed some daily bell-ringer activities to teach my students some new vocabulary words. To create these on-going brief lessons, I continue to use Vocab Gal’s “Power Words of the Week” from Sadlier’s ELA Blog, and “Vocabulary Words of the Day” from PrestwickContinue reading “Don’t give up on improving your students’ vocabulary skills”

Ditch the Dictionary

I’m trying these four short vocabulary bell-work tasks to help kids better learn new words I recently signed up to receive weekly email updates from the Sadlier School. As part of the email, I receive a free “Power Word of the Week” email from the Vocab Gal’s blog. I’ve been using these “slides” in myContinue reading “Ditch the Dictionary”

Use this movie clip to teach high school writers how to “explode a moment”

Plus, here’s a free slow-motion video site to give students more practice 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 theContinue reading “Use this movie clip to teach high school writers how to “explode a moment””

Focus Your Binoculars and Zoom In

I created a mini-lesson that uses a technique from Barry Lane and a handout from TpT Because it seems my high school students would benefit from learning some revision strategies, I decided to do a search on Teachers Pay Teachers for any revision handouts featuring the work of Barry Lane. I found this one (it’sContinue reading “Focus Your Binoculars and Zoom In”

Slice-of-Life Writing: The Anti-Instagram Narrative

These short narratives celebrate the ordinary One result of a three-month summer break? Students out of practice with writing, especially creative writing. To remedy that last week, I decided to introduce my high school students to slice-of-life writing, a fairly new genre within the world of narrative non-fiction. In my former middle school ELA teaching position,Continue reading “Slice-of-Life Writing: The Anti-Instagram Narrative”

When Anxious, Depressed Students Stare into Space

Don’t assume they aren’t listening Last spring in my middle school language arts classes, I taught the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave for the eighth year. It’s the autobiography of Douglass, who was born into slavery. In his formative years, he experienced an epiphany: literacy equaled freedom. As a result,Continue reading “When Anxious, Depressed Students Stare into Space”

A boy, a bird, and a bus station in Athens

Slice of Life writing is one of my favorite genres to do with young writers. Here’s a slice I wrote while waiting in a bus station in central Athens last week. It appeared first on my personal writing blog.

I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected

Rejection proves that my students are indeed writers I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected. I teach them it’s okay to fail and That it’s good to receive a rejection letter because That’s what writers do: They get turned down. I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected. I teach them to risk itContinue reading “I teach kids it’s okay to be rejected”

My top three movies for the last week of school that will let you keep your teaching integrity

Walter Mitty starring Ben Stiller Rated PG; 114 minutes long; Reason to watch: To see a movie that advocates living life to the fullest; Bonus: Great for graduating students. In fact, I show this to my graduating 8th-graders as they transition to high school. Sully: Miracle on the Hudson starring Tom Hanks Rated PG-13 forContinue reading “My top three movies for the last week of school that will let you keep your teaching integrity”

My attempt at teaching kids how to add narration into their dialogue

Here’s a mini-lesson I created a few months ago Kids love to write dialogue, but it often ends up being just a series of spoken words… a lengthy showcase of spoken words followed by any one of the following: he said, she said, he replied, she stated. This year, in my AOW and EOW assignments,Continue reading “My attempt at teaching kids how to add narration into their dialogue”

Graphic Essays Add Variety and Visual Creativity

A fresh way to reflect on Douglass’ experience, themes and symbolism 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 experienceContinue reading “Graphic Essays Add Variety and Visual Creativity”

2019 Middle School Writing Conference…A Great Day!

I was finally able to take some students to this regional day of writing at MSU just for middle schoolers Last Friday, May 10, I took eight students on a field trip to the Middle School Writing Conference at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo. The conference was hosted by Missouri State University’s Center forContinue reading “2019 Middle School Writing Conference…A Great Day!”

“Where I’m From” Poems

My All-Time Favorite Poetry Activity (updated Aug. 2021) “Where I’m From” poems are perfect for going back to school! Read on to get acquainted with this awesome poem that every teacher I know raves about. Have you heard of George Ella Lyon? She’s an American writer and teacher from Kentucky who wrote a poem severalContinue reading ““Where I’m From” Poems”

My Attempt at a STEM-Themed Activity: Exploring Coffee Lids

This project was a long time in the making… brewing, I mean This week, I’m posting several photos from a lesson and activity that’s been in the works for a few months, if not for a year. About a year ago, I found an article online on MentalFloss called “9 Facts about Coffee Lids YouContinue reading “My Attempt at a STEM-Themed Activity: Exploring Coffee Lids”

Instantly elevate your students’ writing: teach them to write cumulative sentences

Thanks to the National Writing Project’s Sherry Swain, I had a great lesson to use as a resource A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a workshop I had attended at the Write to Learn Conference in late February at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. I had attended Sherry Swain‘s workshop on teachingContinue reading “Instantly elevate your students’ writing: teach them to write cumulative sentences”

My students confuse the words “although” and “however” and I’m not sure why

So, as a teacher, how do I figure this one out? Lately, I’ve noticed a pattern in my students’ writing. The pattern I’m noticing may reveal some confusion that my students have regarding  the words “although” and “however.” It seems that some students will use “although” correctly in a guided writing prompt, but then inContinue reading “My students confuse the words “although” and “however” and I’m not sure why”

To the parent who told my student she’d never be a writer

Thanks but no thanks for the motherly advice. Yes, a student informed me about a month ago that her mother told her she wouldn’t ever be a writer. “Say that again?” I asked when I overheard Claire report to a friend what her mother had said the previous evening as she revised a narrative essay.Continue reading “To the parent who told my student she’d never be a writer”

When you finally visit a place you’ve taught your students about for years

I searched through lower Manhattan to find the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. building There’s nothing like visiting a place you’ve only read about in books. Last week during spring break, my daughter and I visited New York City primarily to visit the City College of New York, where my daughter will begin graduate school next fall.Continue reading “When you finally visit a place you’ve taught your students about for years”

Write To Learn Conference Highlight: Sherry Swain’s Cumulative Sentence Workshop

I learned a ton from this session and walked away with a ready-to-use lesson plan and handouts. I attended Write to Learn 2019, a writing and teaching conference, held at Osage Beach, Mo. at Tan-Tar-A Resort and Conference Center. Write to Learn is sponsored by the Missouri State Council of ILA, the Missouri Reading Initiative,Continue reading “Write To Learn Conference Highlight: Sherry Swain’s Cumulative Sentence Workshop”

The 2022 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards: Six tips for entering your students’ work

Your students need to enter this contest! In March of 2020 (just before shutdown), two of my students (out of three) received honorable mentions in the regional level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The previous year, ten of my students’ entered their writing in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Two of thoseContinue reading “The 2022 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards: Six tips for entering your students’ work”

Don’t “dis” formulaic writing prompts

Use structure to develop ideas and writer’s voice   I’m pretty proud of the student’s written response in the photo above. It’s written by a seventh-grader who, while being a strong writer, struggles with turning in work, whether assigned as homework or completed during class. He is not doing well in my class “grade-wise”; however,Continue reading “Don’t “dis” formulaic writing prompts”

When students don’t “follow along” in the book

“Following along” may not work for every student I’ve been reading Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson to my seventh-graders and we just finished it on Friday. About every two chapters or so, they’ve written a response to a question I’ve posed to help them comprehend the text as well as think critically about someContinue reading “When students don’t “follow along” in the book”

My number one most effective writing assignment: Gallagher’s AOW

Nothing works better to build writing stamina. 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 KellyContinue reading “My number one most effective writing assignment: Gallagher’s AOW”

How to teach students what “be specific” means

It’s about naming things Be specific! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written that on my students’ essays, poems, and narratives. They know the importance of adding relevant details and crystal clear descriptions to their writing. We talk about it all the time, after all. In fact, “add more detail” and “be moreContinue reading “How to teach students what “be specific” means”

Use this totally free source for movie and TV transcripts

Every so often, this website comes in really handy. Ever need to know exactly what a character said in a movie? Ever want to show your students how dialogue is done for film? I recently found a free —I repeat, FREE—source for any and every movie transcript. At the time, my class had just finishedContinue reading “Use this totally free source for movie and TV transcripts”

How not to feel guilty about showing videos before a break

Plus: the movies we watched the final two days before Christmas break Every teacher knows the feeling. You’re in the final week of school before Christmas break. There’s no point in starting something new, and often, you’re finishing up a project or unit and you need a couple of extra days for the late workContinue reading “How not to feel guilty about showing videos before a break”

One road-tested way to connect with your students

Put a “lotion station” on your desk   If you’re wanting another way to connect with your students, try adding a small box of lotions to your desk or wherever it might fit best in your classroom. Male English teachers (all five of you out there) can try this, too! Find a couple of macho-scentedContinue reading “One road-tested way to connect with your students”

How I actually accomplished something in my classes the week before Christmas break

Students presented their writing contest entries for an end-of-semester critique   The last week before Christmas break was super productive. Oh, don’t get me wrong… we still watched videos late in the week, but we ACCOMPLISHED SO MUCH early in the week with our contest entry presentations that my self-inflicted and totally undeserved teacher guiltContinue reading “How I actually accomplished something in my classes the week before Christmas break”

Dear Teachers: Thinking about the first day back at school after break?

Even though I wrote this post one year ago, it still holds true today. This post is one of my top articles on Medium.com, so I thought I would reblog it here again since many teachers are close to returning to school from Christmas break. Have a great second semester and know that many ofContinue reading “Dear Teachers: Thinking about the first day back at school after break?”

It’s a Wrap! Three Take-Aways from Writer’s Workshop

Students turned in their final portfolios on Friday, and just like that, the semester is nearly over. On Friday, my seventh- and eighth-graders turned in their final Writer’s Workshop portfolios. In early November, students began choosing eight writing projects from a list of twelve. The list offered a range of projects ranging from poetry toContinue reading “It’s a Wrap! Three Take-Aways from Writer’s Workshop”

NCTE’s Promising Young Writer’s 2019 Contest Prompt has been released

A writing contest just for 8th-graders! The long-awaited 2019 prompt for NCTE’s Promising Young Writer’s contest has been released. This year, NCTE invites students to write about instances in their lives when they “made a conscious choice to welcome or show hospitality to an experience, feeling, or person.” Click this link for more information. This contest’s purposeContinue reading “NCTE’s Promising Young Writer’s 2019 Contest Prompt has been released”

Outlines have a time and place; a personal essay isn’t one of them.

One of my students is learning that “Discovery is the thing.” Last week, I wrote about Writer’s Workshop and how I am really enjoying it this fall in my middle school language arts classes. I have a few books that I pull ideas from to use for mini-lessons before the kids transition to working onContinue reading “Outlines have a time and place; a personal essay isn’t one of them.”

Here’s what Writer’s Workshop looks like in my middle school classroom

I’m so glad I didn’t give up on what is now one of my favorite activities Since I began teaching seven years ago, I’ve learned that sometimes it may be necessary to try a new technique, a new curriculum unit, or simply a new idea more than once in order to fairly assess its effectiveness.Continue reading “Here’s what Writer’s Workshop looks like in my middle school classroom”

I’m still using and really, really liking Planbook

Here’s my follow-up post about my online lesson planning I’m still using Planbook! Every day, I can enter my lesson plans for the next day, the next week, the next month, and even the next year. If I like how I did something, I just copy it into the future and voila! it’s done. (ClickContinue reading “I’m still using and really, really liking Planbook”

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