Site icon ELA Brave and True by Marilyn Yung

Best ELA Lessons

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!

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.

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!”

Book bentos: my first attempt

Book bentos are an alternative to the traditional book report. Here are resources and tips.

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”

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”

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 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”

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?”

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”

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”

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”

Try This Low-Stakes Writing Activity: “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: “Take a line for a walk””

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”

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”

Focus Your Binoculars and Zoom In

A revision mini-lesson 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’s FREE from Texas ELAR Coach) entitled Writing Strategy: Adding Detail by Zooming InContinue 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”

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.

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”

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”

“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”

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”

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”

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”

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

Lessons learned from Writer’s Workshop 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 to arguments to narratives to informational works. The focus of WW was theContinue 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”

NaNoWriMo, my students, and my historical nonfiction project thingy

You gotta start somewhere.   I’m finally doing NaNoWriMo with my students. Well, sort of. All during November, about fifteen students ranging from fifth- through eighth-grade arrive in my room after school and write for forty-five minutes. I only know a little about what they’re writing. That’s because I’m busy working, too, on my ownContinue reading “NaNoWriMo, my students, and my historical nonfiction project thingy”

My one and only complaint with the Missouri Learning Standards

They just seem a little vague. Last week, one of my students came across the term “hyperbole” on a vocabulary assignment. “What does hyperbole mean?” he asked. Wow, I thought. Five years ago, my students knew that term. Why? Because I taught it to them, along with other common figurative language techniques. Why? Because they wereContinue reading “My one and only complaint with the Missouri Learning Standards”

A Poetry Project that Draws Connections Between the Fires at Triangle Waist Co. and World Trade Center

The Essential Questions: How can history inform public policy? How do people prevent past tragedies from reoccurring? Based on those essential questions (developed with help from our school’s art teacher, Joan Edgmon, by the way), I’m sure that some may think I’ve forgotten that I teach Language Arts. They may even wonder if I’m actuallyContinue reading “A Poetry Project that Draws Connections Between the Fires at Triangle Waist Co. and World Trade Center”

The One-Word Summary

It’s one of the most specific and structured assignments my students do. 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 forContinue reading “The One-Word Summary”

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

When middle schoolers use candy to write memoirs (updated 8/21) Need a sweet way to introduce memoir writing to middle schoolers? My second writing project with sixth-graders (after YA author Kate Messner’s Sometimes Poem) is memoir writing. We dip our toes into memoir writing by documenting memories that involve candy. If kids can’t think ofContinue reading “Candy Memoirs: A Sweet Assignment for 6th and 7th”

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