Powered by Blogger.

The Best Youtube Channels for ELA Teachers

If you're looking to incorporate more video into your teaching (and why wouldn't you be?), youtube is a great place to turn.

I dove deep into the youtube water recently while writing an article for We Are Teachers called "Creative Ways to Use Video in Your ELA Classroom" and I couldn't believe how many pearls I found. I usually turn to youtube for movie trailers, hair braiding videos (I'm hooked on that Jane Austen look), and Ted Talks, but I soon discovered if you know where to search, it's an English teacher's dream.

There are so many ways to use a good youtube video. You can play fascinating videos only loosely related to your material as students walk in, as a means to get their attention. You can use them as writing prompts and discussion starters. You can use them to teach material to your whole class, either during the period or as homework. You can use them for differentiated instruction, sending links to students who need enrichment or review. You can use them as rewards. You can use them to fill in awkward moments in your curriculum where nothing fits. You can use them for early finishers.

You'll find a lot to love here. Just be careful - you might want to set a timer so you aren't lost in this ELA youtube world for more than a couple of hours! I could probably spent an entire day exploring these channels and not get bored.

John Spencer's "The Creative Classroom"

John Spencer introduces himself on his website with the words "I'm a former middle school teacher and current college professor on a quest to transform schools into bastions of creativity and wonder."

Could I love this more? His channel is stuffed with good things, including appealing videos like "Why Group Work Doesn't Have to Suck" and "Creative Writing Prompt: Create a School for Ninjas."

Khan Academy's Grammar Playlist

If you ever teach grammar or get specific complex questions from students who are learning English, Khan Academy's 118 grammar videos are an amazing resource for you to use.

Here's just one example, the clearest explanation of what a preposition is that I have ever seen.

The New York Times Channel

Why didn't I know The NYT was on youtube until now? They only make high quality videos, but until now I had no idea I could get them all in one place. If you are interested in discussing current events with your students or having them write position or opinion papers on politics and world events, this channel is your new best friend.

Ted Ed's "Reading Between the Lines"

With twenty-seven videos including titles like "Shakespearean Insults" and "An anti-hero of one's own," The Ted-Ed channel is sure to have something to offer your students.

Epic Reads

Epic Reads has several fun series that can help you choose new books for your reading library and connect students with texts they will love. The book trailers section caught my eye in particular. Playing one of these very short movies could be a great way to introduce a new book that you have in your library.

The School of Life

This fascinating channel (and organization) focuses on the social and emotional side of life. While it has a whole playlist devoted to literature, many of the videos without an obvious tie to ELA could make wonderful prompts for discussions, writing reflections or opinion papers. Every student can learn from videos like "How to be Confident" and "How to Be a Good Listener" so if you can find a creative way to explore these in class, you'll be helping your students have better lives in a whole new way.

I love the way the "How to Be a Good Listener" video below compares listening to reading novels, and being a good listener to being an editor.

John Green's Crash Course Literature Channel

John Green, best-selling author of The Fault in Our Stars, knows how to connect with students. With titles like "Why I got my Eye Put Out - The Poetry of Emily Dickinson," and "Don't Reanimate Corpses: Frankenstein Part I," you know these videos are going to appeal to students.

I hope you enjoy your new youtube channels!

And if you fill up on video and you're ready for some audio, cruise on over and check out The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast for more creative teaching strategies you can enjoy on the go.

10 Engaging Games for the ELA Classroom

Gamification. Spellcheck says it's not a word, but it's so hot right now in education. How can we get our students more interested in learning by introducing gaming elements to their work?

And how can we keep the work from getting lost in the game?

We bought my son a one-year subscription to the early learning game, "ABC Mouse." He soon tired of the reading exercises and spent all his time watching his virtual pet hamster play with the toys he had purchased with the tickets he won doing math and reading games. We won't be renewing our subscription.

Yet clearly, incorporating the excitement of games into learning boosts student engagement. As long as we keep the purpose of the activities clear.

Here are ten fun ways to incorporate games into your ELA classroom with a clear goal in mind.

Vocabulary Pictionary

We ELA teachers are constantly tasked with increasing our students' vocabularies. If you are pushing through list after list of SAT words this year, take time every few weeks to review with your students by playing vocabulary Pictionary.

Simply cut up your lists so you have piles of words. Put students into groups, then let the groups divide into teams. Give everyone paper, pencils and cards and explain how Pictionary works.

One member of each team will look at the same card, then call "go" and begin to draw. Whichever team guesses the vocabulary word first gets a point. When you call time, the team with the most points wins.

 Consider letting winners play winners and crowning a class team champion. But really, everyone wins because their vocabulary review will be a lot more fun and memorable than just sitting in their chairs and staring at the words.

Reading Bingo
Looking to push students to experiment with new titles in your independent reading library? Make up some fun Bingo cards with titles you recommend and offer a little prize for completion. You can also create genre cards if you want students to branch out. I like to offer a small prize for a bingo, and a larger one for a fully blacked out card.

Discussion Question Contest
I once had a class of juniors that simply did not know how to ask a question during a discussion. We would be humming along in a Harkness discussion, chatting about whatever topic I had launched at the beginning of class, and then the pause would come. And the silence would settle. And expand.

During each silence dozens of question ideas would pop into my head. But since Harkness is meant to be led by the students, I just had to wait.

Finally one day I thought of a way to show them how easy it can be to come up with more questions.

I held a discussion question contest. They would each write as many as they could about the reading as homework, and I would award not only eternal honor and glory to the winner, but a giant homemade brownie. The contest was a good spark to show them the many angles they could use when generating questions. They could ask clarifying questions, questions connecting the text to other works, to current events, to pop culture, questions relating to themes and writing style, questions asking their classmates to relate to the events of the text.

The winner came up with fifty or so questions about the night's reading, and the class took a good leap in the right direction.

Board Game Versions
Next time you're stumped for a final project, try having students create board games related to the reading. They can either be games testing the players' understanding of the text, or games inspired by the themes and priorities of the writer. For example, after reading Austen's Pride and Prejudice, students might create a game called "Make your Match," in which characters go through various challenges in their efforts to marry and secure social safety.

The key when creating this type of assignment is to make it very clear that the main grade will be about how the game reflects the students' clear understanding and analysis of the text. It's not difficult to keep a creative project closely tied to an academic purpose, but the students need to know that is a priority.

Creative Writing Madlibs
Want to do a fun creative writing exercise after a test or on a holiday? Let students write Madlib stories, leaving key moments blank and writing out a guide for a partner to fill in the blanks. I made one of these last year for Halloween, leaving critical sensory details blank throughout the story so students could brainstorm the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and feels to put in. If you have students create their work in the computer lab, then they can print out multiple copies so several students can try out each one.

Beach Ball Discussions
If you haven't seen this fun idea on Pinterest yet, I'm delighted to introduce it to you. For a beach ball discussion, simply pick up a cheap inflatable striped ball and marker some key questions that could be used for any text onto it. Then when discussion time comes hit it up in the air and let a student ask the first question they see when they catch it. When it's time for the next question, throw it up again. Or you can have the catcher ask and answer a question. Or come up with some other iteration. The main thing is, as a student you really can't disengage when a beach ball is flying through the air above you!

Escape Rooms
Escape rooms are all the rage this year. Let your students race around the room in search of hidden clues, unlock puzzles, and finally discover the prize. While they take an initial investment of time to learn how they work, there's a reason they are generating so much buzz. If you're interested in trying them out, check out my "Ultimate Guide to Escape Rooms" post and podcast.

The Video Game Exam
I wrote about this one in an article for We Are Teachers called "5 Unconventional Final Exams to Give your Students." To quote, well, myself,  "For these unconventional final exams, let each student invent a video game for your material, planning out obstacles, levels, bonuses, and bad guys. Let them know which aspects of your course, in particular, you want them to focus on, or give them a list and let them choose. Use the time set aside for final exams to have students present their games to each other in small groups or rotating partners."

Review Jeopardy
Yes, it's possible our students no longer know who Alex Trebek is. But that's no reason not to play review jeopardy. I've never seen it fail to get students fired up and excited to review material.

You can try this out before a unit test, a final exam, or even standardized testing. Simply create a grid on your whiteboard with several question categories and ascending point values for each. Draw boxes around your numbers (100, 200, 300, 400, 500) and write questions for each. Then divide students into teams. As each representative from a team takes their turn, erase the category point total they choose, read them the question, and award the points if they get it right. At the end of the time you have, the team with the most points wins all the honor and glory (and any prizes you might choose to bestow).

Kahoot is such an easy platform you can use to design quiz games for your students. You simply create an account and a quiz, then students can log on and compete against each other live in your classroom. If you are in a one-on-one classroom, you have to check it out.

You can create discussion warm-up quizzes over the reading from the night before, vocab review quizzes before actual quizzes, even pre-test quizzes just to get a sense for what students already know coming into a unit. Once you get comfortable with Kahoot, you'll see lots of opportunities to plug it into your curriculum.

I hope you and your students enjoy these fun twists on the usual ELA curriculum. What strategies do you use to add gaming elements to YOUR curriculum? Share them with everyone in the comments below!

Want more CREATIVITY in your teaching life? Subscribe to my Podcast on iTunes or jump into my Facebook group, Creative High School English. Can't wait to connect with you!  

Reading by the Fire: Holiday Reads for English Teachers

I always tell my students there are so many types of books. The ones you read on the beach, in the bath, and on long car rides. The ones you read to learn about the world. The ones you read to develop as a person. The ones you read for the beauty of the language.

For those of us who teach English, we are often juggling books for pleasure, books about our craft, books we are re-reading for class, and books we are previewing to recommend to students.

This holiday season, I present a list of worthy options in several of these categories. Put your requests in at the library now so when your school lets out, you can kick back in front of the fire with an incredible book in your hands.

Books for Pleasure

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Kevin
It all starts with a grumpy bookseller, fighting with an agent from a publishing house. Little do you expect the magic that blossoms from that dark scene. This book is a powerful, hopeful story of not only the usual love between people and other people, but between people and books. I drew questioning looks when I laughed out loud at this book at work. Though it has its sad moments, it is never overwhelmed by them.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
Whatever you might expect from the title of this book, it's not what you will get. This is a surprising and hilarious journey through the aftermath of one creative genius's rough patch. As layer upon layer unfolds through a totally unique narrative style, you'll be drawn further into Bernadette's wild and twisty journey. The end gives the kind of satisfaction I only wish every book would give me.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
I began reading this because it was the summer reading for my school. I remained glued to the pages at every available moment for three days because it's one of the best books of the decade. I always tell my students that one of the great powers of literature is that it allows us to empathize with and understand people having different experiences than our own. That by reading we grow as people as well as scholars. This book made me understand the Black Lives Matter movement in a way that no news article ever could. Whatever your background, there is a lot of truth to be found in this book, shared in a sincere and gripping narrative voice.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
If you're ready to fall hard and fast into an alternate universe then join the game in Ready Player One. I'd rank this right up there with the best scifi I've ever read by Orson Scott Card and Isaac Asimov. This book will give you hours of pleasure by the fire, on the plane, or lounging in bed (after breakfast!).

Books of the Craft

Make Writing, by Angela Stockman
This is my most recent find, and already one of my all-time favorites. Make Writing will give you a ton of ideas for incorporating the best principles of the maker movement into your English classroom. Don't be intimidated by the sweeping changes Stockman describes, simply enjoy shopping through her ideas for ones you can incorporate into what you are already doing. I love her creative approaches and the way she makes room for art and varied learning styles in her philosophy.

The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer
If you haven't already read this, today is the day. As a teacher, you are putting yourself out there for public judgment every single day and it can be so hard. Palmer writes beautifully about the pairing of personal and professional identity in this book. It's literally balm for the teacher soul. I read it as a first-year teacher and it was almost like being in a support group for teachers.

The Reading Zone, by Nancie Atwell
I ordered this book while teaching abroad, desperate to inspire my students to read more books for fun in English. It inspired me to start an independent reading program which soon became one of the critical pillars of my teaching. If you are at all interested in incorporating free choice reading in your classroom, whether as part of the core curriculum or as an additional component, this book will be a wonderful guide for you, as it has been for me.

Why Read?, by Mark Edmundson
In an era when more and more people are choosing games, online news summaries, e-mail and text over books, Mark Edmundson explores the beauty and power of reading fiction. While it won't give you specific teaching ideas, this book can help you explain to students why reading matters, and you will probably recognize many of your own defining beliefs as an English teacher in Edmundson's words.

Books to Preview for our Students (with pleasure!)

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
If you aren't recommending Rowell to your students yet, it's time to dive in. This is a surprisingly beautiful look at teenage love, mixing in plenty of the complicated issues of identity and family most teens are struggling with. It's addictively readable, well-written, and a great first Rowell book to add to your independent reading library.

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
I've already gone on a fair bit about this book here on the blog. It's just so good. Out of maybe forty students I've talked to about this book, only one didn't like it. He said that was only because he "just likes sports books." The Outsiders explores a teenage constant - social division. It takes a good hard look, through a gripping story that just about everyone can relate to, at the issue of fitting in versus breaking out. If you're anything like me, you'll like it just as much as your students.

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card
If you haven't read this one yet, I'm so jealous! It's a perfect novel to place in the hands of a student who enjoys video games more than books. I can still remember one of my favorite Bulgarian students (not that I'd ever have favorites) coming in and telling me he'd decided to adopt the nickname "Ender" after falling in love with this novel. I loved seeing him pouring over the pages during reading time, combat boots crossed in front of him. The story of Ender Wiggin, kid genius, and his lonely struggle to save the earth, is surely one of the best pieces of scifi ever written. And when you're finished, you can move on to Ender's Shadow. Which is at least as good, if not better!

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
If you've been thinking about getting a few graphic novels for your students, Persepolis is a great one to start with. This memoir about growing up in Iran during the Cultural Revolution brings up a lot of issues relevant to life in the modern world. Satrapi and her family do not fall into step with the new regime, and her story is a powerful one.

What book would you recommend to other teachers this holiday season? Add your favorites to the comments below! Or step over to my Facebook group, Creative High School English, and join in our many conversations about books, teaching strategies, and how to thrive in education today.

The Ultimate Guide to Sketchnotes in the ELA Classroom

As a student, I was never big on lecture classes. I can remember only two teachers I enjoyed hearing lecture from the fifty or so from whom I've learned. My Shakespeare and Jane Austen professors in college were both so brilliant that listening to them speak was a gift in itself. I didn't need a lot of interactive activities and discussion to keep me intrigued. I knew I was listening to two of the foremost scholars in the world on their subjects, and everything they said was gold. 

For most of us creative teachers, who have not taken the path to become the foremost scholar in our field - not wanting to spend ten years reading everything there is to know about one author - lecture is an occasional necessary evil. At least that's how I feel about it. I have to exhaust every other potential way to get the information across before I will lecture. Because I HATE "the glaze." I hate to see students check their watches, finger the phones in their pockets, fight the head nod of understandable high school exhaustion. It makes me throw up a little in my mouth. Metaphorically speaking. 

But there are times when lecture is simply the fastest and easiest way to give students a treasure trove of important information. And this year I've discovered a strategy that can uplevel the lecture by making it far less one-sided. 

I know you know where this is going. If you haven't heard of sketchnotes yet, I'm SO EXCITED to be the one to share it with you. When you teach your students to take sketchnotes, you give them a method for listening to lecture that will allow them to process and remember it better, as well as have a chance to exercise their own creativity as they do so. 

And it's so easy. Start by showing students the video below. In just a few minutes, they can quickly pick up the basics of sketchnoting. 

When they take their notes, instead of writing drab bullet point after drab bullet point, they will spread ideas across the page, emphasizing key points with bold lettering, connecting thoughts with arrows and lines, adding containers like bubbles and shapes around key ideas, bringing the information to life with related sketches and symbols.

Are you feeling it yet? I kind of want to go sprint around the school track, that's how excited I am about this. We're talking about making lectures FUN. 

Now maybe it seems like students will not enjoy this. Like maybe it would be too hard and too complicated. 

Not long ago, I posted the video above to the fabulous creative teachers in my Facebook group. One shared it with her students and then immediately asked them to try their hand at sketchnoting as they went through the play Othello. She shared the pictures below from their initial attempts. 

Awesome, right? I love what they came up with on just their first day of sketchnoting.  

In an article for KQED radio called "Making Learning Visible: Doodling Helps Memories Stick," Katrina Schwartz explores the experiences of one school in introducing sketchnotes. My favorite part of the article shares how the director for learning design in one high school took sketchnotes during two lectures at his school.

"'I sat through two 45-minute lectures in high school social studies and not only was I super focused because I was doodling, I could also basically give the lecture afterwards,' said Paul, who is director of learning design at Woodward Academy. 'And if I look at the doodle again today for three to four minutes, I can basically remember it all again.'"

The article goes on to share how quickly the students at the school took to the strategy and how much it helped them remember. “'Teachers were amazed at the depth and diversity of what the kids produce, even the first time we tried this,' Paul said."

Once students have learned the basics, you can invite them to sketchnote during video presentations (like Ted Talks), your own lectures, guest speakers, or school assemblies. 

English students could also use sketchnotes as a tool to help them prepare for writing a paper. In this article I wrote for teachwriting.org, Sketchnotes: Paper Prep That's Funyou can see how to use sketchnotes as an engaging prewriting strategy, and download a free packet to walk students through the process. Below you'll see the sketchnotes I made about The Hate U Give. I had no idea what I would focus on in a paper when I began, but slowly the themes I was most interested in emerged as I sketchnoted the text.

There are so many ways to incorporate this simple and fun technique into your day-to-day lessons. To see ten great examples of sketchnotes from Instagrammers and ten related assignment ideas involving sketchnotes, check out this post I wrote for We Are Teachers: 10 Creative Ways to Use Sketchnotes in your Classroom. This will take you still deeper into the strategy. 

Want to follow a blog that's exclusively about sketchnoting? Check out Sketchnote Army. On this site Mike Rohde (creator of Sketchnotes) and his team share examples of sketchnotes from around the world, as well as a podcast on the subject.

If you're still on the fence, just give it a try for one day and see what happens. Showing the video is such a short commitment - what do you have to lose? Let your students try this strategy, and then swing over to my Facebook group, Creative High School English, and let us know how it goes! I would love to see your photos. 

Website GOLD for ELA Teachers

Finding great resources online is THE BEST.

I remember years ago listening to everyone around me argue about how best to use the internet and the latest apps to benefit students, and thinking, the real benefit is that teachers can now find thousands of ideas online to improve their teaching.

Much as I have always loved browsing the pedagogy section at the library for the best and brightest new ideas (seriously, I do love this), books about teaching help me improve my long-term skills, not so much my short-term lesson plans. So now I'm going to take you on a little tour of the best of THE BEST that I have discovered in the fourteen years since my first day of teaching.

This is a relatively new site with tons of great ideas for every aspect of the writing process. Whether you are trying to figure out how to design a writer's workshop or an English maker space, need a fun writing assignment or prompt idea, or are looking for prewriting or revision strategies, teachwriting.org presents solid ideas from a range of contributing teachers.

The Penguin Putnam Teacher's Guides
I discovered these while I was teaching abroad in Bulgaria, and boy did I give myself a round of applause. What a find! Penguin Putnam has paid writers to put together incredible multi-page guides chock full of discussion questions, class activities, and project ideas. They feature over a hundred titles, including lots of Shakespeare. Go check out their list.

The Teaching Tolerance organization has put up an amazing website full of materials and free lesson plans with titles like "Analyzing Gender Stereotypes in the Media" and "Analyzing How Words Communicate Bias." If you are looking to discuss important issues in the media and the press, Tolerance.org is a great place to start.

This website is a veritable warehouse of extensive lesson plans including directions, handouts, and various online interactive tools. It's easy to get intimidated by all the tiny type on the page, but if you can make the search engine work for you, there are oodles of great free lessons here. Check out "All's Well that Sell's Well: A Creative Introduction to Shakespeare" and "Analyzing the Purpose and Meaning of Political Cartoons" to give a sense for the resources available here.

Spark Creativity
This one is very near and dear to my heart, probably because I write the articles every week! If you are looking for creative English teaching ideas, this very website is a great place to be. Try out "Escape Rooms: The Ultimate Guide for English Class" and "Creative Project Ideas for ELA" to get you started.

We Are Teachers
This site is a fun place to browse when you wish you had a hilarious mob of teachers around you looking to share stories, vent, laugh, and trade ideas. The Classroom Ideas Archives is the best place to go for articles to inspire your teaching. Check out "10 Creative Ways to Use Sketchnotes in your Classroom" and "How to Prevent Fake Reading? Give Teens choice as well as Classics" to get you started.

PBS Education
Ever since I took my students on a webquest of PBS's online digital scrapbook about Mark Twain, I've known PBS had a lot to offer. And they've only expanded. Check out their full selection of free High School English Resources and pick out some to try, or go into the "PBS Teacher's Lounge" for what they call "ideas to teach boldly."

It's a massive site, and an amazing one. I'm going to do a roundup post soon featuring all my favorite channels for English teachers and wonderful video examples from each, but here's a quick starter. Check out John Spencer's "The Creative Classroom" channel and Khan Academy's extensive "Grammar Playlist." Then check back next month for the big list!

And speaking of free resources, I have one of my own to offer you. I just finished a complete English maker space unit, in which students design a character using art materials before diving in to write a short story about him or her. I LOVE this project, and the teachers I've shared it with so far have loved it too. Sign up to receive the occasional e-mail from about creative teaching ideas and I'll start you out with this wonderful free resource. 

Want more CREATIVITY in your teaching life? Subscribe to my Podcast on iTunes or jump into my Facebook group, Creative High School English. Can't wait to connect with you!  

An EASY Tool for Making Book Posters

I love to read. I love to see my students learn to love to read. It's just the best.

Encouraging their independent reading is one of my greatest joys as a teacher. (Find out more in Podcast Episode #003!). I love to remember the students who fell in love with reading on my watch, and to pave the way for more.

One way I promote reading is by inviting people from around the school to visit occasionally and talk for one or two minutes about their favorite book.

I've had several history teachers, an art teacher, an administrator, and more. You could also invite older students, alumni, community members, politicians. Showing students that their adult role models read for fun and interest is a great way to let them know how much reading matters. We've got to fight back against the likes of Candy Crush and Snapchat!

Afterwards I take a picture of the guest with his or her book and turn it into a poster. It's so easy, using the Big Huge Labs motivational poster tool.

You just upload the picture, choose a few details about the orientation and border of your final poster image, add your text, and you're done.

Download, stick the image on a blank document, print, and you are ready to go.  I like putting my posters up on my door and around my classroom.

This would also make a great project for students. You could have each student in your class create a poster after taking a picture of a friend or family member with a favorite book, then create a giant reading gallery.

Just last week my son's kindergarten teacher sent a reminder to all the parents to let our kids see us reading to help them want to learn.

I believe older students are also inspired to read by seeing people they care about with books they love. The bonus is, with this type of poster, they get great ideas for reading material too.

If you're the type of teacher who cares so much about your students that you make reading posters in your free time, we want you in our Facebook group, Creative High School English! Just click "join" when you get there.

Getting OUT of your Classroom

Are you teaching in a crowded space? Where no one quite has room to think by the end of a busy day?

Or maybe it just feels constricted sometimes. When your seniors are dying to be somewhere else or your freshmen are exploding with pent-up teenage emotions.

Getting OUT of your classroom regularly can make such a difference. Though I've been lucky enough never to teach in a truly overcrowded classroom, I still like to get my students out of our box (lovingly though I decorate it) pretty often.

Here are some options for getting out and about, from the simple to the extravagant. In this post, all the ideas are for activities you can do on your school campus, but I'll dedicate another post to field trip ideas soon.

The Computer Lab

If your school has the option, signing up for the computer lab on a regular basis lends itself to all kinds of activities. 

You can send students on a webquest about the author you're reading, the era you're studying, or art and music connected to your reading. 

You can have them watch theater and movie clips related to your text, answering questions as they go, and spending the most time with the clips they like the most. 

You can have them explore links to different online writing contests and choose one to enter, then spend designated computer lab time throughout the term working on their contest entries.

The Art Studio

There are many ways you can incorporate art into your English lessons. Consider asking your art department if you could bring your students in to work on a project in the school art studio. Collaborate with an art teacher on how to draw connections between their expertise and what you are studying in class. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Have students create an artistic character study, highlighting what they understand about a character through painting, sketching, collage, etc.

Invite students to explore a theme from a novel, short story collection or poem through art. Perhaps they might create a sculpture, a photo essay, a mural, etc.

Have students work on graphic novel memoirs, illustrating a part of their own lives with a combination of words and art.

Ask students to prepare an artistic version of their notes before a major test or exam, reviewing their materials and then synthesizing them into a colorful Sketchnotes version. (For more about Sketchnotes, which I LOVE, check out this post I did for teachwriting.org).

The Great Outdoors

I vividly remember one day in high school where we got to go outside to work on a writing project. We all split up to sit on the warm sunlit rocks behind the school, writing in our notebooks on some prompt that escapes me now.

Taking students outside on a beautiful day can change everyone's experience so much. It's vital to get their buy-in in advance. If they can't stay focused out of doors, it won't work. But if they agree that they'd so much rather be outside that they will make themselves keep it together, this is a wonderful option.

You can sit in small groups to discuss the text, work on writing projects in pairs or independently, or act out theater scenes.

At one school where I worked, the English department purchased folding seats (like these) so that classes could check them out and go outside for comfortable discussions. It took flexible seating to a whole new level.

Cozy Spaces

If you do any independent reading with your students, start a tradition of doing it in a cozy school space. Maybe the library has comfortable chairs, or you could spread out blankets in a lonely hallway filled with sunlight. Maybe there's a lounge area somewhere that's unused during your class period. Ask around. Let your students know that if they enjoy the chance to get out and read in a cozy space instead of in desks, they need to respect your efforts to make it work by reading quietly.

Performance Places

I rarely have students do their culminating projects in class. It's so much more exciting for special performances to take place elsewhere. I've had students hold poetry slams and perform theatrical scenes in almost every public area of the school. I often invite groups to select their own locations, then guide them through the process of getting permission to use those spaces. We have fun traveling around the school as a class to watch groups perform in different spaces.

Picnic Grass

If you're ever in a position to reward your students for good work or for winning a challenge or competition, having a potluck picnic outside is a great way to do so and get out of your classroom too. I held a reading contest between two of my sections once with no prize but an outdoor picnic during class time, and the students read over 10,000 pages in their quest to win. There was literally no grade at all. The picnic made for a wonderful bonding day for us, and the only cost was in brownie ingredients, since I brought dessert but the students brought the rest of the food.

The School at Large

Can you think of a way that students can improve your school? Decorate your school? Interview people at your school? Perform for younger students? Bringing your students out of the classroom to interact with the actual school building and its inhabitants is another great way to leave the space. Maybe you'd like students to present on writing strategies to ninth graders, create a hallway display about banned books, or interview administrators about their favorite books. Maybe they could create a school rock garden while you're reading the Transcendentalists, or put poetry for students to read in every bathroom stall. Once you start thinking outside your doors, there are a lot of ways students can make the school a better place.

The Library

If you've got students doing choice reading, collaborating with your school librarian for some book browsing days is a great option. Ask students to explore the shelves and write down ten titles they might like to read and why. This helps you avoid the problem of having a student choose a book in ten seconds and then talk to friends for the rest of the time. You could also invite students to create booklists for younger students, or help create library displays.

While your own classroom is the best place for some things, getting out and about can boost your morale and your students', especially when you're dealing with an overcrowded classroom. I hope you found some inspiration in this post to get you started, and I'd love for you to share your own favorite strategies for getting out of the classroom in the comments below or in our active Facebook group, Creative High School English.

If you're the kind of teacher who goes the extra mile and gets students up and out of your classroom walls, I bet you're also the kind of teacher who'd like to have students engaging with truly creative projects. I'd like to send you the complete materials for five of my very favorites. Check them out right here.

Back to Top