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Using the Wastepaper Basket for Trashketball in my classroom!

Are you ready to make learning a special experience in your classroom? Subscribe to my newsletter right here from my blog, and you’ll be entered into my Sweet 16 Giveaway! In addition to getting a chance to win a Spalding® Hoopster® Wastepaper Basket, you’ll get a free Trashketball game and other helpful tips for implementing the games successfully in your classroom.

When you use Trashketball to review grammar and other ELA concepts in your classes, you’ll join with these educators who have made learning magical for their students. Here’s feedback from them:

๐Ÿ’—So fun and creative! It is great to find different ways to reinforce these concepts besides the dull exercises in the grammar text :) Amy

๐Ÿ’—This was great! My students really got engaged and it was fun to see them really focused on getting the correct answer, even when their answer was originally wrong. Mindee

๐Ÿ’—My students loved this! They were excited when they first saw "Trashketball" on the agenda. It was a great way to practice, easy and quick. I'm sure they will be asking for more. I do plan on buying more - definitely worth it! Elysha

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Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST 3/23/18. One winner will be announced on Saturday, 3/24/18. 


Getting Teens to Read

Did you know that humans have a need to read? Some of my students don’t always agree with this sentiment, so every semester I begin with choice reading. By giving students choices in their reading, I hope to help them find the one book that will turn them into life-long readers. Over the years, I’ve learned which authors and books are most popular with my students.

Students gravitate toward young adult literature. I remember authors Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, and Beverly Clearly, who made me feel normal and helped me feel deal with the turbulence of adolescence. Here are popular authors and books with my current students.

John Green
If you’ve seen the movie, The Fault in Our Stars, then you’re already familiar with this award-winner author’s books. Besides writing books that appeal to teens, he hosts the Vlogbrothers channel on YouTube. Here are a few of his books:
An Abundance of Katherines
Looking for Alaska
Paper Towns
Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Sarah Dessen
Labelled "something of a rock star in young adult fiction" by the Los Angeles Times, if you mention her name to a student, he/she will no doubt ooze admiration for her realistic-fiction stories. Teens relate to topics in her books such as getting along with family, dating, and friendship.
Keeping the Moon
This Lullaby
The Truth about Forever

Walter Dean Myers
Winner of the Coretta Scott King award, Myers books grapple with issues of race, gender, and war, and have at times been challenged for their realistic language. With over 100 books, students can find books on just about any topic or genre from this prolific writer. 
Fallen Angels
The Greatest: Muhammad Ali

And here are more YA books my students are reading right now:

Ask Me How I Got Here by 
Christine Heppermann
Darkness Before Dawn by 
Sharon Draper
The Hate You Give by 
Angie Thomas
After Ever Happy by 
Anna Todd

I always loved fantasy and science fiction when I was a younger reader, too. Favorites included Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series (I can't wait to see the movie), Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series, and, of course, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. Fantasy and dystopian novels are more popular than ever before. Almost all of my students have already read The Hunger Games and Divergent series; now they're reading these:

Wool, Shift, Dust by 
Hugh Howey  
Wither (
Chemical Garden Triology) by Lauren Destefano
Unwind Series by Neal Shusterman

I also loved classics when I was growing up. I read Little Women repeatedly and loved Lord of the Flies. These books
are still read today but there are modern books of literary merit students love now.

Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

And, of course, students enjoy historical fiction and nonfiction, too.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys 
Orphan Train by Cristina Baker Kline
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrel

Actually, this list could go on and on...  

I'm always looking for new books to recommend to my students.  What are your students reading?

Teaching Civil Discourse

What happened to our ability to talk civilly to one another? When did we stop “agreeing to disagree”? A look on social media or network news quickly shows that respectful communication has diminished in current times. So, I was very happy last year when I was invited to facilitate an Advanced Institute for the College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) with the National Writing Project (NWP). With this program, I have been working alongside other interested educators to improve argumentative writing in my classes.

Here are important takeaways:

Students should READ before they write.

By having students read multiple articles on myriad issues, they learn that there are many valid perspectives. They also are exposed to models for their own writing, which helps them better understand the elements of an effective argument.

The C3WP program uses a lesson that incorporates a “layering” process of writing, reading, rewriting, reading, and rewriting again. This gives students an opportunity to explore an issue and revise their thinking – something that’s usually new to them. This also provides them practice for “writing with sources” instead of simply trying to use their background knowledge (which is often limited). 

I love getting articles from The New York Times Room for Debate website, a part of The Learning Network. In fact, I have developed an entire argument essay unit where they use these articles to explore research topics before they finally select one for their essays. Here are other useful sources for articles:

Kelly Gallagher: Article of the Week 

Teach students to write a NUANCED CLAIM.

In past years, I always told my students to include only their position on an issue in their claims, even when I taught English 101 at the local community college. Of course, they did accommodate the opposition, but they always did that in their refutations near the end of their essays.

A major feature of the C3WP program is writing nuanced

claims. These claims require the writer to immediately acknowledge that there are multiple views on an issue. This is not easy to teach because students can lose focus on their own positions. I’ve found it takes a lot of practice, modeling, and revision. 

 A helpful tool advocated by the program (based on the reading of I Say/They Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein) includes the use of sentence frames. I've instructed my students to turn their claims into thesis statements.  Here's a sentence frame I used and modified for this:

Although some people think ___________________, ______________ should ____________________ because reason 1, reason 2, reason 3.

Here’s an example I gave my students for a recent assignment:

Although some people think school start times should not be changed, school should begin later in the day for teens because it would improve their learning. Additionally, a later start would promote student safety and improve their behavior. 

Engage students with RELEVANT topics.

Over the years, I’ve frequently heard students complain that nothing they learn has to do with “real life”- you’ve likely heard them grumble this, too. The texts provided on the C3WP website discuss real-world topics and are relevant to teens. For instance, this year my students read articles on the following topics:

  • Effects of social media on teens,
  • Danger of high school football
  • Abuse of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medications
  • Participation trophies

Some topics included in lessons from C3WP follow:

  • Video Game Addiction
  • Reality Television
  • Zoos
  • Homework
  • Police Brutality
Create a "CULTURE" of argument.

Whether your students journal daily or weekly, it’s important

to make the debate and discussion of argumentative topics a classroom routine. I made it our opening activity every Monday. With weekly routines, my students learned to listen to each other and respect one another's opinions. Often, I had them read an article and respond to it through journaling; then they paired with a classmate to discuss their reading and writing before we had whole-class discussion. Through partner discussion, they had a chance to rehearse their thinking and modify their ideas. In fact, I always tell them that they can change their minds or elaborate on their ideas during the time that they share with other classmates.

I’ve often used these bell ringers to give students practice with informal argumentative writing.

Of course, there are many other topics and lessons for argumentative writing, and you may want to explore the C3WP website for more tools that you can use in your classroom today.

Do you have recommended resources for teaching argument writing?  Please share in the comments below.

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:  
Raffle #1 (December 3rd) - $25 to Barnes and Noble
Raffle #2 (December 6th) - $75 to Target
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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.

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