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072: Connecting your English Classroom to the World


A few days ago I sat with my young children at our local kids' museum, watching them watch a high school student volunteer perform magic tricks in the hall by the dinosaur room.

Another pair of high school students were re-organizing the town exhibit nearby, and their conversation drifted over to me.

"Korean wood block calligraphy. That's literally the only thing I remember about AP World. And now I'm in AP Euro," said an outgoing girl I had met earlier.

I sat thinking about this for a moment as the teenage magician wowed my kids by flicking a card and turning it into another card. Out of nowhere, or so it seemed to me, he said, "just be glad you're not in high school" to my kids.

Ack. I immediately chipped in with some rushed positive thoughts on the subject of high school, backed up by my friend the museum director who had just walked by. The magician, wanting to fix things, popped in with "oh, you're right. Middle school is really the worst."

Ummm. Perhaps sensing my panic, his friend holding the deck of cards behind me began to tell what was apparently his happiest academic story from middle school.

"Oh, we had fun. We got to take care of trout for an entire year and then release them into the wild!"

OK. Let's unpack this for a minute.

Three wonderful kids who volunteer as interns in the local children's museum. One, an AP student, was wondering aloud about the purpose of her AP classes when she was seemingly unable to retain any information. Another, a whiz at magic tricks that obviously took many hours to practice and perfect, had only negative news of school for my kids. A third, fondly remembered the one project in middle school where he felt his work was somehow relevant and exciting, connected to the world around him.

More and more in recent years, I've felt the importance of connecting our curriculum with what is going on in the world, prioritizing relevance over tradition, depth over breadth.

17 Short Stories for your ELA Classroom


Short stories sure are handy. You can pair them with longer works, read them in isolation when you have a random day or two between units and vacations, or pull them all together into a beautiful diverse unit with many voices and perspectives.

You can focus in on their language, themes, and meaning, or you can use them as springboards to inspire student writers in crafting their own stories. You probably do both.

In graduate school I built my own travel literature elective after spending two years abroad, and my final project was to read all of Ernest Hemingway's short stories and then write a travel story of my own in imitation of his style. I loved sitting at my favorite cafe in Santa Fe, reading his stunning spare prose and using it as a mentor text for my own. Yet until recently, the short story wasn't really a favorite genre of mine.

But over and over this year I've seen the amazing teachers in my Facebook group discuss their favorite short stories (check out this huge variety of themed threads on short stories). And I've listened to some wonderful Education podcasters talking about their favorite short stories and how to use them in unique and wonderful ways. And then there are the rave reviews I keep hearing about this cool (and free) short story fair project from Read Write Think.

So now I'm in. Short stories are pretty awesome. I think I just never got into them as a young reader because I loved diving into the world of novels and staying there so much. Short stories felt too fast to me. But I'm learning, and I'm enjoying the process.

This summer I reached out to a bunch of my English teacher blogger friends and asked them to share their favorite short stories with me, for you. I've collected them here across some loose categories to make it easier for you to find a related set you can use if you're looking for top hits for a certain themed course. Or just browse through and pick the ones you like the best if categories aren't a concern for you.

AMERICAN LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "A Jury of Her Peers"
Author: Susan Glaspell
Category: American Literature
Themes: reality vs. appearance, mystery
Why it's worth teaching: The main characters are informally investigating a murder. As they put the pieces together, they won't dare say what really happened because it's just too horrible for them to even comprehend. Since the conclusion is never said aloud, students need to make their own inferences to determine the identity of the murderer and their motive. This mystery generates lively discussions and offers opportunities for hands-on learning as students recreate scenes and the setting.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

Title: "Amigo Brothers"
Author: Piri Thomas
Category: American Literature
Themes: Friendship
Why it's worth teaching: Students love this story about friendship and boxing. They love the ending!
-Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog

Title: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"
Author: Ursula LeGuin
Category: American Literature, Scifi/Fantasy/Ethics (defies genre)
Themes: Fantasy, dystopia, social justice
Why it's worth teaching: This story describes a utopia in a way that is both specific and vague. LeGuin leaves room for you to imagine it to be however you want it to be, and seems to draw attention to the fact that it only exists in your imagination, as a way to think about an issue. The utopia becomes a dystopia partway through, when you discover that all that is good in the society exists because of the torturous life of one small child, who can never be released from misery or the society will collapse. This story pairs well with any dystopian unit, but would also stand alone as a very interesting springboard for discussion about how societies care for those who suffer.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity 

Title: "Harrison Bergeron"
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Category: American Lit
Themes: Dystopia
Why it's worth teaching: Vonnegut has so many levels of complexity in this piece, making it perfect for so many different student audiences.  On its surface, it's a stark look at the dystopian genre and what happens when the world becomes overly desensitized to violence.  It's also a great entry point into the topic of equality versus equity:  what do we really need in America?  On it's many deeper levels, Vonnegut uses dark, satirical humor to point out some major flaws in American society.
-Amanda Cardenas, from Mud and Ink Teaching

Title: "The Zoo" by Edward D. Hoch
Category: American Literature, Science Fiction
Theme: Be careful of Technology
Why it's worth teaching: Students love this story because of the twist at the end.
-Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog

Title: "Hills like White Elephants"
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Category: American Literature
Themes: travel, relationships, abortion
Why it's worth teaching: If you don't have room for a Hemingway novel in your course, it's nice to share his striking, spare descriptive style with students through a short story. In this one, a couple drink at the train station while discussing whether to have a procedure. While the man continuously argues that the procedure will put their lives back to what they have always been, happy and full of hope, the woman argues that they have now lost that freedom but that she will do it because she doesn't care about herself. As the story ends, it's entirely unclear what will happen.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity

Title: "The Lottery"
Author: Shirley Jackson
Category: American Literature
Themes: horror, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: “The Lottery” is a wonderful story to teach if your students enjoy dystopian literature. The surprise ending raises questions about morality, persecution, traditions, and rituals. It’s the perfect story to work on making connections because it overlaps with common YA literature, like The Hunger Games.





Title: "The Jacket"
Author: Gary Soto
Category: American Literature, Memoir
Themes: Poverty, bullying, identity
Why it's worth teaching: This story is perfect to use with middle schoolers. Teens can connect with the pain of being outcasted because of your clothing. Teachers can delve deep into symbolism and character development with this short story. These are two of the hardest concepts to teach students to integrate into their writing!
-Amanda Werner, from Amanda Write Now

Title: “The Scarlet Ibis”
Author: James Hurst
Category: American Lit
Themes: tragedy, coming-of-age
Why it's worth teaching: I love reading “The Scarlet Ibis” with freshmen for many reasons! It’s a great model text for author’s craft. Teachers and students can explore how flashbacks and foreshadowing as well as description and narration are used to impact the overall story’s flow.

Title: "Test"
Author: Theodore Thomas
Category: American Literature
Themes: man vs. technology, psychology, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: The narrator explains in great detail his afternoon drive which turns into a deadly car crash. Spoiler - it's actually a simulation for his driver's permit. But students are always surprised when he fails the test and the harsh reprogramming and punishment that follows. This story is especially relevant as our students are learning to drive and as changing technology is drastically changing how our society functions. A fun activity I pair with this is an online driver simulation; as a bell ringer, we have a contest to see who's the best driver. Obviously, a free online driver test is not accurate, and this leads to lively discussions about what makes a good driver.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

Title: “Eleven”
Author: Sandra Cisneros
Category: American Literature, Chicana Literature
Themes: realistic fiction, coming-of-age
Why it's worth teaching: “Eleven” is inspired by a real experience Cisneros had in 3rd grade. It provides opportunities to explore isolation, misunderstanding, and stream-of-consciousness writing. Because it is so short, it is an excellent mentor text for workshop classrooms. With a lower reading level, it’s also good for engaging struggling readers.

BRITISH LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "The Landlady"
Author: Roald Dahl
Category: British Literature
Themes: reality vs. appearance
Why it's worth teaching: This story is told from the perspective of a young man renting a room in a small town with which he's not familiar. Students really enjoy putting together all the pieces (making lots of inferences) and figuring out what's going on before the narrator does. It's a dark story with a shocking ending, so it's always a crowd-pleaser in my classroom.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

Title: "Lamb to the Slaughter"
Author: Roald Dahl
Category: British Literature, Thriller
Theme: Be careful how you treat people
Why it's worth teaching: Students love this story because the character is so seemingly "harmless" and tricks the police.
-Kristy, from 2 Peas and a Dog

GOTHIC LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "A Rose for Emily"
Author: William Faulkner
Category: American Literature

Title: "The Fall of the House of Usher"
Author: Edgar Allen Poe
Category: American Literature

Title: "The Company of Wolves"
Author: Angela Carter
Category: British Literature

Why they're worth teaching: There's no doubt that when it comes to highly engaging themes in literature, the Gothic genre can't be beat.  This is my go-to genre to engage readers across levels, and these three stories in particular use literary elements in innovative ways that leave plenty of room for discussion and interpretation.  "A Rose for Emily" provides a platform for discussing how point of view affects the theme of a story as well as the consequences of strict gender roles.  Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher" not only uses eloquent vocabulary in typical Poe style but also explores a narrative technique that builds mystery.  "The Company of Wolves" by Angela Carter is a fantastical retelling of the traditional "Little Red Riding Hood" tale that allows readers to examine how we perceive similar stories.  Since students will already (most-likely) be familiar with the plot, they can focus on the language and narrative techniques Carter uses to build mystery and suspense.  As a grouping, these three short stories will draw students in to literary analysis.
-Meredith, from Bespoke ELA



DYSTOPIA: STORIES

Title: "The Lottery"
Author: Shirley Jackson
Category: American Literature
Themes: horror, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: “The Lottery” is a wonderful story to teach if your students enjoy dystopian literature. The surprise ending raises questions about morality, persecution, traditions, and rituals. It’s the perfect story to work on making connections because it overlaps with common YA literature, like The Hunger Games.

Title: "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"
Author: Ursula LeGuin
Category: American Literature
Themes: Fantasy, Dystopia, social justice
Why it's worth teaching: This story (with some mature themes) describes a utopia in a way that is both specific and vague. LeGuin leaves room for you to imagine it to be however you want it to be, and makes it seem that it only exists in your imagination, as a way to think about an issue. The utopia becomes a dystopia partway through, when you discover that all that is good in the society exists because of the torturous life of one small child, who can never be released from misery or the society will collapse. This story pairs well with any dystopian unit, but would also stand alone as a very interesting springboard for discussion about how societies care for those who suffer.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity 

Title: "Harrison Bergeron"
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Category: American Literature
Themes: Dystopia
Why it's worth teaching: Vonnegut has so many levels of complexity in this piece making it perfect for so many different student audiences.  On its surface, it's a stark look at the dystopian genre and what happens when the world becomes overly desensitized to violence.  It's also a great entry point into the topic of equality versus equity:  what do we really need in America?  On it's many deeper levels, Vonnegut uses dark, satirical humor to point out some major flaws in American society.
-Amanda Cardenas, from Mud and Ink Teaching

Title: "Test"
Author: Theodore Thomas
Category: American Literature
Themes: man vs. technology, psychology, dystopian
Why it's worth teaching: The narrator explains in great detail his afternoon drive which turns into a deadly car crash. Spoiler - it's actually a simulation for his driver's permit. But students are always surprised when he fails the test and the harsh reprogramming and punishment that follows. This story is especially relevant as our students are learning to drive and as changing technology is drastically changing how our society functions. A fun activity I pair with this is an online driver simulation; as a bell ringer, we have a contest to see who's the best driver. Obviously, a free online driver test is not accurate, and this leads to lively discussions about what makes a good driver.
-Amanda, from Engaging and Effective

WORLD LITERATURE: STORIES

Title: "Apollo"
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Category: World Literature (Nigerian)
Themes: identity, disconnect with parents, first love, betrayal
Why it's worth teaching: I love Adichie's Ted Talk, "The Danger of a Single Story," and went searching for more of her work. In this story, the protagonist reflects on a childhood in which he felt highly disconnected from his academic parents, and sought solace in a fellow Kung Fu-loving friend who worked for his family in a position with no power at all. The story ends with a brokenhearted betrayal that comes as quite a surprise.
-Betsy, from Spark Creativity

THE SIX WORD SHORT STORY
Another category of short stories, invented by Hemingway, is the six-word story. Narrative Magazine online shares several examples and invites readers to submit their own (though you probably won't want to, because of the submission fee - ew). This could make a fun project to go along with any short story unit, perhaps creating a gallery of stories with related images in the hallway outside your classroom or the school library.

"For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn." —Ernest Hemingway

"Longed for him. Got him. Shit." —Margaret Atwood

"All those pages in the fire." —Janet Burroway

You can find more examples over here at HuffPost. 

Hopefully you've discovered some great short stories to add to your curriculum and perhaps some project ideas too. What's your favorite short story to teach? What do your students like about it? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

071: How to talk about Equity and Inclusion, with Liz Kleinrock




For many of us in education, the lure of changing the world for the better is part of the reason we got into this game. As we see the turbulent politics and crises emerging around us, it's sometimes hard to know how to use our roles to help equip students to engage with the real world and make it a better place. We are admonished not to bring our politics into the classroom, or offend anyone by sharing too many of our own opinions.

Even if we are still hoping to find ways to bring important issues up in class, it can be hard to ask for advice on the topics of race and social justice at school so that we can do a good job. I remember the first time I was presented with Huck Finn and told to teach it. I read it and immediately came to my colleagues in a cold sweat, asking how on earth I would deal with the language of the book in the classroom. "It's just history," I was told, "you just read it."

Ummm. That didn't work for me. I was not going to have my students read the n-word aloud in my classroom like any other word.

But like me, teachers often encounter really difficult and loaded situations without any training or prep in how to handle them. Much less how to use them to help students grow, gain confidence in their voices, and learn to have conversations about important issues that don't end in fury, tears and reports to the superintendent about a teacher messing up the classroom with politics.

Sometimes even asking questions leads people to get angry at the way we phrased those questions or the fact that we didn't already know the answer. It's not easy to talk about racism, sexism, and homophobia. It's not easy to talk about the state of politics in America.

But it is important. So important. We have to keep asking and trying and reading and learning and hoping to do better. To find ways to approach big and important subjects. Subjects that sometimes feel taboo.

Since encountering a giant swastika in the parking lot at my favorite trailhead this spring, my half-Jewish children walking just far enough from me to miss it, I've wished more than ever that I could help teachers fight against hate and work towards equity. I've discovered many wonderful resources (like the ones from this post), and many wonderful people to learn from, like my guest today.

In this episode of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, you're going to hear from Teaching Tolerance's teacher of the year, Liz Kleinrock. I find her inspiring, and I believe you will too.

Listen in to discover ideas and strategies for safely holding conversations in your classroom around topics that can be contentious - like race, religion, gender, and more. 

A New Teacher To-Do List for Summer


Hey there, New Teacher,

So you got your first teaching job! Congratulations! Wondering what you need to prepare before those first busy days can be pretty stressful. That's why I wanted to write you this letter. So you wouldn't have to wonder what would be most helpful to do in advance, and what it's really OK to wait on.

Now of course, this is my opinion, based on my own experience in several schools and working with a lot of teachers. You may know of some specific other requirements of your job. But if you can consider what I'm going to share with you here, my guess is you're going to be in good shape.

CHOOSE YOUR SYSTEMS

The biggest thing that will help you this year is giving thought now to what systems you want to have in place. Let me give you some examples.

070: Help for Student Apathy, with Dave Stuart Jr.





Are you struggling with students who seem apathetic? Unmotivated? Does it sometimes feel like no matter what you do, it's still hard to reach them? You're not alone. And your problem is not unsolveable. As Marie Forleo often says, "everything is figureoutable."

In today's episode of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, you're going to hear from Dave Stuart Jr.,  a teacher, speaker, and author who has put a lot of time, thought, research, and consideration into the idea of student motivation. What helps make students more motivated? What can we do about the frustrating apathy that can creep into classrooms and make teachers feel powerless?

In this episode, discover the five key beliefs that help motivate students in the classroom, alongside specific actions you can take to begin combating apathy and promoting the long-term flourishing of the kids in your classroom. Best of all, you'll hear that Dave's approach is reasonable and practical, and doesn't ask you to turn your life into a Hollywood teacher movie, sacrificing everything else on the altar of motivating your students. In fact, he'd really rather you didn't. (And I couldn't agree more). 

The Best Free Posters for your Classroom



Lately I keep finding lovely free posters around the web. It made me wonder, is your classroom space on your mind now? It is July after all, the month before the month when you can probably get in there and start working your magic.

So here are some options you might want to consider for your walls. Before you get printing, let me make two suggestions.

First off, consider picking up card stock for printing your posters, it makes a huge difference.

Second, if you're looking for your posters to last all year, consider picking up some cheap black frames like these (the ones I always get) so they're protected and you can hang them with longer-lasting Command strips instead of tape.

#1 The Great American Read


PBS's travel posters for various great novels are stunning. And this is just a sample! They've also got hilarious memes and book facts you could print for bulletin boards. You've GOT to go check them out. You could probably cover a whole wall just in PBS chic. 



Amplifier Art not only has an incredible selection of posters available to download and print for free, but you can sign up for their educator network and receive access to free lesson plans and projects related to their work. I am really impressed by what they're doing, and I think you will be too.

#3 We are Teachers Downloads


We are Teachers puts out a lot of free printable sets. You can get this poster as shown, or check out their whole line of ELA-related printables. 




Teaching Tolerance has a huge set of downloadable PDFs featuring diversity and inclusion quotations and beautiful artwork. 



There is soooo much great sharing going on in the files section of my Facebook group, Creative High School English! I just put the growth mindset posters above there, and teachers are constantly sharing great activities and handouts inside. So you should scoot over and join if you haven't already, and if have already joined, don't forget to check out the files section once in a while. The posters above (and the rest of the set that goes with them) are just labeled "posters" with an upload date of June 23.

I hope you've found some new classroom decor you love! What are your favorite sources for free posters? I hope you'll share them in the comments below and keep this conversation going.


















Canva for the Classroom



Canva can be addicting. The other day my husband was putting together a few simple signs for guests at our cabin, explaining how to use different things.

"Here! Let's do it on Canva!" I said, racing for my computer.

"Umm. They're just really small...." he replied.

So yeah. You can't use it for EVERYTHING, but practically. Canva is a lovely online tool that allows anyone and everyone to design posters, flyers, social media posts, banners, stationary, infographics, resumes, postcards, programs, desktop wallpaper, and more. (I'm not an affiliate, just kind of obsessed).

I heard its founder, Melanie Perkins, interviewed on NPR's How I Built This, and I love the mission she set out with, to make design approachable and doable for everyone, without so much technical skill and access to industry programs. Canva actually began as a site to easily design yearbook pages, but it's become much more.

Scanning over my draft projects in Canva from the last few years, I have easily hundreds there. And once you get the hang of it, I have a feeling the same will soon be true for you (and your students).

So let's just agree at the top here that you're not going to get intimidated by the tech, because it's so doable. If you've used Word or Powerpoint or Docs, and you're willing to spend ten or fifteen minutes monkeying around, you can do this. Seriously, you can do this.

Before we dive into all the ways you can use Canva in class, I want you to feel confident that you can use the program. So I've done a quick screenshot tutorial of the steps to design a project tin Canva below, or you can check out the short video tutorials on their site if you prefer to learn that way.

Simple steps for using Canva:

#1 From the scrollable menu of options across the top, choose one (such as "poster").

#2 Now inside your chosen genre of design, scroll down through the many layout options available to you and choose to see "all" for one (such as "school poster"). 


#3 Now you'll see MANY options for layouts. Choose one you like as you scroll through them all along the left. 


#4 Now that you're inside a design, you can use the toolbar across the left to add elements. This toolbar allows you to upload your own images (click the "upload") button and drag them into your poster to replace existing photos or just to add to what's there. You can also add text, illustrations, icons, shapes, and other items using this lefthand toolbar. 


#5 You can adjust the text within the poster using the toolbar across the top. Simply click into the text you want to alter, type what you want it to say, and then you can adjust your colors, fonts, sizes, etc. Or you can delete sections of text if you want to by dragging them off the screen. You can also move them around by clicking them and then pulling them around the design. 



#6 Now just monkey around for a while until you have the hang of the program. Below, you'll see a poster layout I chose and the poster I created in a couple of minutes by tweaking the colors, changing one font,  deleting the bottom box and text, and putting in my photo. As long as you don't add any of Canva's copyrighted photos or illustrations, you can then click the download arrow in the top right and get a lovely free PNG or PDF of your design.




OK, just play around for a little while over at Canva. Once you have the hang of what I have found to be a pretty intuitive program, you're ready to implement some fun ways to use Canva for your classroom. Keep in mind, as you peruse these ideas, that I made each example in Canva in just a few minutes so I could show you a range of possibilities. You could spend longer and get more beautiful results.

About the Teacher

However you want to introduce yourself to students, whether it's with a poster on your door, a sidebar on your syllabus, or a flyer that goes home to families, Canva is an easy way to make it. For the example below, I used a Pinterest template and just added my photo, an e-mail address and a brief description that would give families a tiny glimpse of my life. You could go way more in depth, of course.



About the Kids

Similarly, in the first week of school you might enjoy teaching your students how to use Canva with an introductory lesson and then a chance to make a poster about themselves. Have them send you their PNGs at the end and print them for an amazing initial display on your classroom wall. I suggest giving them a few specific requirements to help them go into some depth with introducing themselves.

Syllabi

Making syllabi as infographics is all the rage right now. Choose one the infographic templates on Canva and start plugging in your info. (Or grab these free syllabus templates if you're not into infographics).



Book Posters

If you'd like to have your students sharing their favorite books with each other (and why wouldn't you, right?!), Canva is a really easy platform for this. Just have them snap a selfie with their book and turn it into a poster, then send you the PNG. Or they can send you the selfie and you can make the poster. You can also encourage students to make book posters on Canvas to submit to the Modern Voices Project and share their recommendations with other teenagers around the world.



Class Events

Have a poetry slam coming up? A class play performance? A one-pagers festival? You can use Canva to design a program or poster for anything you've got going.



Parent Newsletters

Trying to keep parents involved in classroom work? Canva can help you out. They've got a whole section for classroom newsletters. Just choose your favorite and drop in whatever you want, then send it out by email or print it for parents, whatever you prefer.


Novel-Based Social Media Posts

I love pulling social media into projects, and Canva would make it easy for students to put together professional-looking work. Maybe they're designing an Instagram feed for Jay Gatsby, a Pinterest board for Starr Carter, or a Facebook page for Ponyboy. When you teach them Canva, you'll empower them to elevate the level of their work, and help the kids who don't like drawing find their wings.



One-Pagers

Are some of your students asking if they can make one-pagers digitally? Canva would be an ideal platform for this. Just let the kids open the posters section and begin adding their images and text.


Infographics

Just as you could easily use Canva to make an infographic syllabus, you could assign infographics as a student project. You could do a mini research project culminating in an infographic, or create novel-related infographics featuring themes, main characters, historical context, etc.

Memes

Want to do funny Hamlet memes? Or have students create 1984 memes that show the role of Big Brother in the modern world? Memes to show what makes a good discussion participant versus a not-so-stellar one? Canva is a great place to have students create memes. The Instagram photo templates (like this one) work well.


So there are some starting points for you! Once you get started on Canva, you'll probably find even more wonderful ways to use it. I hope you'll jump into the comments below and let me know what you're excited to try or share other successful ways you've used the program.

Looking for more creative teaching ideas? Have you given The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast a listen? It's just waiting for you and your earbuds...




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