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4 Ways to Bring Joy into Your ELA Classroom


Assessment, rigor, data analysis, text complexity:  These are the buzzwords in education today.  All of this emphasis on accountability can unfortunately make learning dreary and tedious.  But joy makes learning memorable, and students often look back fondly on creative activities.  Thus, it's up to teachers to send the message that sometimes it's okay to have fun in class! 

The holiday season is a perfect time to incorporate something out of the ordinary in your classes.  I've joined with other amazing teacher authors to share ideas for how to add comfort and joy to your classes. Read below for some tips (and a happy surprise at the end):

1. Do a literary cookie exchange with your students.


Make eating cookies a literary event! After reading a novel or story, have students make cookies that symbolically represent literary elements.  For instance, a student could make a cookie in the shape of a mockingbird to represent

Tom Robinson or Arthur (Boo) Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Let students bring in their homemade cookies to exchange with one another.  During the exchange, they can explain how the cookies connect with their selected literary elements.


As a modification, if some students can't make cookies, offer other ways for them to participate.  Maybe they can draw and write descriptions of their cookies.  Of course, b
e sure to check for food allergies so no one makes cookies that could make other students sick.  And don't forget to bring in hot chocolate or cider for students to enjoy on the cookie exchange day! 

2. Lead students on a "writing walk."
Get your students to use sensory details with this free activity.   Students not only improve their writing but also get out of their seats for place-based writing. Take them to write at various locations such as the stage, cafeteria, locker room, and media center around the school (or, weather permitting, go outside to a park or other place in walking distance).  Handouts include guiding questions to help students write words and phrases for each sense: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.  Then students write poetry, stories, or other reflections with their descriptions. While this activity can be completed any time of the year, the sights, sounds, and scents of the holidays make it a delightful experience during the winter season.

3. Design Secret Santa Stockings

Give your students an opportunity to display their artistic talents. In this activity, students illustrate stockings for characters in their reading. It requires them to analyze characterization and to provide a written rationale for their gift selections. 

Easily adaptable to the needs of your curriculum or students, this activity could be done for authors, historical figures, scientists, artists, or others being studied in secondary classes.

4. Show Gratitude

Use this YouTube video to help students see the connection between sharing their gratitude and feeling happy. Even better, have students call and thank someone who has had a positive influence on their lives. Before calling, they can write out what they want to say. Not only will this activity increase the happiness of your students, but it will likely make the days of the people whom they call a lot cheerier, too!


Need other ideas for how to celebrate the holiday season in your classroom? Get tips and freebies from these other secondary bloggers(Want a free trashketball game from me?  Make sure to subscribe to my email list at the top of this page!)

Last but not least, here's something else that will surely bring a smile to your face- four chances to win amazing prizes in our giveaway!  Click on the rafflecopter below for a chance at these great prizes:  
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Raffle #4 (December 12th) - $200 GRAND PRIZE to Amazon


a Rafflecopter giveaway Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that you have wonderful holiday season!

Teaching Gatsby


Most English teachers would consider what I’m about to say sacrilegious: I didn’t like reading The Great Gatsby in high school, and for many years I didn’t enjoy teaching it. However, I have changed my mind. I’m getting a better appreciation for the novel as I try to make it more relevant and comprehensible for my high school juniors. Here are some of the things that I’ve done to make it a better experience for my students (and me):

Get Students Out of Their Seats

There aren’t too many opportunities for students to walk around in English classes so to get my students engaged and thinking about the book, I start with a text evidence anticipation activity. I’ve typed thirty sentences from the book, which I have cut and laminated. On the first day of the reading, I give at least one sentence to each student. Then I tell them they will become “detectives” and collect nine other sentences. They walk around the classroom and share their sentences with each other, writing them down on a handout. Afterwards, they return to their seats, review the “evidence” they’ve gathered, and make predictions for what the book may be about. We have whole-class discussion of their ideas.

Close Reading of the First Page

Because my students often struggle with the language and style of the text, I distribute a copy of the first page and ask them to read it closely. They are directed to look for clues about the narrator and then to make inferences about him in the margins. I model with a think aloud in the first line, noting that the narrator says “in my younger and more vulnerable years.” I explain to the students that this helps me know he is speaking from an older age and plans to share his wisdom.


Reading Checks

Obviously, students won’t understand The Great Gatsby, if they aren’t reading. For that reason, I use the free version of Socrative to give short reading quizzes at the beginning of class. I create three - five multiple choice or true/false question for basic recall of the reading, and students can respond on their phones or computers. I can easily download reports with student responses to help me know which students are doing their reading or struggling with their comprehension.

Numbered Heads

While students are still at the beginning of the novel, I often lead the discussion. Frequently, I use a group activity called “numbered heads." I assign groups of four - five students and ask them to respond to the same questions from the assigned chapters. They work together to answer the questions but are required to respond individually through “numbered heads.”

Roundtable Discussion

As student confidence with their reading increases, I turn the  the discussion over to them through my roundtable discussion. Recently I used this format to help students discuss chapters five and six. First, students completed a quick-write activity to warm them up for discussion. Then they reviewed a rubric and set goals for the discussion. Next, they met with partners to rehearse their ideas. During the rehearsal, they shared the work they did to prepare for discussion (a handout with notes, quotes, and vocabulary) and their quick writes. After sharing with partners, we moved the desks into "inside and outside" circles. The inside circle discussed the book first while the outside circle listened. While the outside circle listened, they took notes on what they heard. Finally, after both groups had been in the inside circle (I usually rotate after 10 – 15 minutes), they returned to their seats and wrote a reflection. 


Accident InvestigationAfter reading chapter 7, I  will engage students in close reading of the car accident that killed Myrtle Wilson. In this activity, students assume roles (CSI Unit Worker, Medical Examiner, Police Officer, Witness, Prosecutor, and Newspaper Reporter) as they reread and review text evidence for the accident. After summarizing the accident evidence, students are also expected to read information about the laws for driving while impaired. They determine who should be charged with crimes and what charges should be filed, writing rationales for their decisions.  

The Finale

Instead of a traditional test, I assign a hybrid essay that incorporates elements of narrative writing, expository writing, and literary analysis for their summative assessment. Basically, each student selects a character and writes an essay in first person point of view; they have to support their inferences and comments with text evidence. To increase the rigor, I also ask students to include a paragraph explaining how their characters are connected to a theme.

For added fun, we celebrate with a Roaring 20’s party, where students role-play their characters and interview one another. Sometimes I also invite an administrator to stop by or students from other classes. 
It creates great memories. 

What do you do to make teaching The Great Gatsby a success?  Please share in the comments below.

Pique Student Interest with Banned Books


It’s true that many teens are notoriously rebellious and can be difficult to teach at times. However, a strategic teacher can tap into their desire to question authority and pique their interest in reading by using challenged books. These books capitalize on their desire to learn about controversial topics. This is especially true when motivating students to read classics and books from the cannon.

For instance, when I use literature circles in my classroom, I often tease students to read a novel, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I tell them that it has often been banned in schools for vulgar language and mature topics. I also tell them that the protagonist, Holden Caufield, has a defiant attitude and immediately gets expelled from school at the start of the novel. This usually grabs their attention, and they often choose Salinger’s book for their group's reading.

Banned Books Week, from September 24 - 30, is an

excellent time to introduce some ofthese commonly challenged books. There are myriad resources to help you excite teens in their reading of these books. Best of all, taking advantage of the contestable content of these books is an excellent motivator at the beginning of a novel unit.

Do you want to get your students engaged in Banned Book Week? Here are some activities that you may be interested in:

Rebel Readers on Twitter
During Banned Books Week 2017, the American Library Association (ALA) is hosting a contest for people to tweet against censorship. They will be awarding prizes each day throughout the week.

Stand for the Banned
In another promotion from the ALA, readers create YouTube videos and read excerpts from challenged books to declare their support for freedom of speech.

Make a Display
Have your students create displays that educate their classmates about banned books. You can find ideas at the link above.




Collaborate with Your Media Center
Recently, I asked my media center specialist to introduce my students to banned books.  She created an engaging activity in which students walked around the room looking at books that had been challenged over the years.  First, they counted how many of these books they had read, and next they chose two to research.  They searched for information on why the selected books had been challenged.  Finally, they shared their results and were amazed.  All of them were shocked that the Harry Potter series was on the list!




Should This Book Be Banned?

Here is a quick and easy activity your students can do to connect argument writing to their reading of a challenged book. This argument writing prompt teaches students to brainstorm evidence, counterarguments, and refutation for a claim about a banned book. 

You can extend their learning with this book rationale activity, too.  First, students research why their banned books have
been challenged, and then they search for text examples showing the books' educational value.  For fun, they can make bookmarks after they write their rationales.

Want more information for teaching about censorship? You may want to check out the resources below:
Freedom to Read Foundation
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center

Gather more ideas from these other teacher bloggers here:

Ways to Incorporate Lessons on Banned Books

What do you do with banned books in your classroom? Please share in the comments below.


Classroom Transformation

This week we start school (many of you  returned weeks ago) and I’m going to meet my new students. In preparation, I’ve tried to make my classroom inviting to them (but also conducive to learning). In fact, inspired by Pinterest (sometimes a curse) I started transforming my classroom  a few days early because I have a large classroom to set up.

I’m certainly not complaining, though, because it took nine years for me to get my amazing classroom. For many years, I was on a cart and “floated” into other teachers’ classrooms. Fortunately, as I set up my room, I had help from my niece and teacher intern. However, two challenges remained, including decorating on a teacher-friendly budget and making it appropriate for high school students. But with hard work and creativity, my classroom is now ready to go!


Here's what my classroom looked like when I first returned. (We pack everything at the end of the year so the custodians could clean the floors.)

And here's my classroom transformation!

This wall includes fun displays, part of my classroom library, and the crates where I collect student assignments.

Here I've taken book covers and laminated them to make a hanging banner in the corner of my classroom.


For my seating arrangement, I have students facing towards the front in small diagonal and vertical rows.  This facilitates discussion.

This bulletin board was inspired by a picture that I found on Pinterest.  With the help of my teacher intern, we added inspirational quotes so students will be empowered to achieve success.

Above my book shelves, I display students projects that I've kept over the years.  I'm proud of them and love displaying their hard work!

What do you do to make your classroom an inviting environment?  Please share your ideas in the comments below!


Back to School Stress? 5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself!




It’s that time of year again.

Teachers and students are headed back to school after a relaxing summer, which can cause their stress levels to sky-rocket. During the summer, you may have enjoyed waking up without an alarm clock, drinking your morning coffee at a leisurely pace, and spending quality time with friends and family.

It can be difficult to transition to the hectic pace of the school year, so it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself as you head back to school. Here are a few suggestions for self-care and some ways that I try to shift back into the school routine calmly.

Stay Active

1. During the summer, I am much better at getting exercise and going to the gym than during the school year. I’ve been taking spin and yoga classes throughout this summer. However, once the school year starts and I can’t exercise in the morning, it’s much harder for me to get to the gym. So, I find that just getting outdoors after school and taking long walks to the end of my road refreshes me and helps me burn some calories.

Other options include taking a bike ride, kayaking, or paddle boarding (if you live near the water). Not only do these activities help improve your energy, but there is the added benefit of getting vitamin D from the sunshine. 


Here's the view at the end of my street.
TLC

2. When teachers and students return to school, it’s easy to get consumed with work. For me, I work long days and I often have evening events at school during the first months back. It makes it hard to relax, so in the past I would neglect myself. That only made me grumpy and my work more tedious – not good qualities for a teacher.

Consequently, now I try to treat myself to a few indulgences. I may get a pedicure, read a book for pleasure, or enjoy a delicious dessert. These gifts to myself help cheer me up when I’m sad that summer is over. Make sure you pamper yourself, too!

Get Sleep

3. When switching from my summer schedule back to a school routine, it’s important to make sure I get enough sleep. In the summer when the days are longer, I go to bed later at night. But with the early mornings of the school year, I have to make sure I go to bed earlier, so I start winding down after dinner. This may mean that I need to turn off my cell phone or walk away from the television. Without those distractions, I can often go to bed by ten on a school night and get my full eight hours of sleep.

You should try to do the same. Don’t grade papers in bed or bring your laptop into the bedroom. And make sure to give yourself time to listen to some soothing music or take a bath before you go to sleep.

Continue Summer Hobbies

4. In the summer, I tend a small garden of tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. I make sure to water and prune the plants, and I enjoy the reward of fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, with my busy school schedule I often forget to do these things. As a result, I need to make a conscious effort to check my garden in the early autumn. That in turn, reminds me to cook and eat healthy. If you have summer hobbies, hopefully you can continue to enjoy them also.

Say "No"

5.  This is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in my 20 years of teaching. Of course, it’s still hard to say “no” to the many requests made of me by administrators, students, and other teachers during the school year. Whether it’s attending the talent show, chaperoning a dance, or teaching an after-school program, there is always more that people want me to do!
No doubt, I enjoy attending some of these events, but if I don’t say “no” I won’t have any time left over to take care of myself. New teachers especially need to heed this advice because they will often be inundated with requests for help. Please stand up for yourself and set some boundaries!

Teachers are so generous with their time that they are often inattentive to their own physical and mental health. But the truth is that by sacrificing your health, you end up being able to give less of yourself. Overtired and burnt-out teachers are irritable, lethargic, and frequently ill. They certainly can’t help their students when they’re in this condition. So by helping yourself, you’re helping others.

I’ve shared some ways that I care for myself. What do you do for yourself? Please share in the comments below.



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