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Summer Playlist: 10 Podcast Episodes for the ELA Teacher

Summer is so close now most of us can taste it. The air smells different. Books and beaches are calling, though I know you are keeping things creative and engaging up to the last moment! I know from the great things I'm hearing over in Creative High School English, that you are probably mulling a lot of things about next year in the back of your mind as you wrap up this year. It's only natural in a time of transition.

Obviously the summer is a great time to unplug and recharge your batteries. But if you're like me, you usually have a project or two you will really enjoy doing in between all the rest and relaxation. And you'll probably like the feeling that you are investing in next year's happiness and success even as you enjoy your time off.

I spend my summers on a tiny lake in Minnesota, going with my family to the one good restaurant in town, The Lazy Moose, and then listening to the loons as I go to bed. It's a time for paddle boarding, sunsets, and lots and lots of family games and books. But almost every day I go for a rollerblade. And almost every day, I listen to a podcast or a book. It makes me so happy!

In case you, too, enjoy a bit of friendly chat in your ears as you do some of your summer activities, I want to recommend my favorite ten podcasts I have done this year to you. With topics like helping you start a reading program, getting going with genius hour, and teaching your students how to blog, each of these episodes offers some significant contribution to next year's success for you.

You can listen to them right here all summer by bookmarking this post now, or you can subscribe on your favorite platform and then choose to download these episodes so you've got them in your phone.

Episode #3: Creating a Free Choice Reading Program

I chose this as one of my first topics on the podcast because it is so important to me. If you don't have a free choice reading program, please listen. Having a program like this will help your students fall in love with reading, make it easier for you to teach them other things, and build your relationships with them.

Episode #4: Using Theater in the ELA Classroom

If you wish you could find more ways to incorporate theater in your classroom, regardless of your curriculum, check out this fun episode. It's easy to find moments for drama throughout the year once you know how to get started.

Episode #7: Poetry Slam

Ready to host a successful poetry slam? I've done more than a dozen successful poetry slams with my students, and every one has been a gift. If you haven't tried this fun strategy for hooking students on poetry yet, give this episode a listen!

Episode #13: Creative First Day Activities

If you're already anticipating those first week jitters, be sure to download this one. In it I'll share a number of great ways to start off the year besides the dreaded "going over the syllabus." Doing creative, interactive activities on the first day will help you set the tone for the year you are dreaming of.

Episode #20: Giving Students Authentic Audiences

This is a great all-purpose episode for helping you think about how you can expand who looks at your students' work and why. For many students, writing/acting/designing just for you is not enough, so give this one a listen and get started thinking about how you can bring this simple change into your curriculum.

Episode #24: A Beginner's Guide to Student Blogging

Ready to empower students with a writing unit that gives them freedom to pursue their passions in blog form? I once taught a student blogging elective, and this year I designed a brand new complete blogging unit curriculum teachers are loving. I've got good strategies and tips to share with you about how to get going with student blogging when you listen to this episode.

Episode #30: The Simplest Method for One-Pager Success

One-pagers are all the rage! Yet it's easy to hesitate, worrying that students won't like the artistic component. In this episode, I share one simple switch you can make so that all students can enjoy and succeed with this easy and super-engaging strategy.

Episode #31: 3 Lessons You'll Love (Ted Talks, Murder Mysteries, and SNL Clips)

I love what my special guest, Amanda from Engaging and Effective Teaching, brings to the table in this episode. All three of these fabulous lesson ideas are seriously engaging. And seriously effective. This is one of the most popular episodes of the year, and it's going to give you three back-pocket options you can use anytime throughout the year.

#33: Get Started with Genius Hour Now

I heart genius hour. Seriously, I cannot think of a single classroom anywhere, with any level of students, that I don't think should try it. It's a great option and there are a million different ways to structure it to make it work for you. Check out this episode to get started figuring out just how to use it next year.

#35: Using Book Clubs Successfully

This episode, with Melissa Kruse from The Reading and Writing Haven, will get you started with a monthly book club in which students make their own free choice selections based on a genre you select. Melissa lays out her creative format clearly and it's so doable. If you're looking for a more structured approach to free choice reading, you'll want to listen to this episode.

And that's a wrap! I realize you've now looked at this picture of me a lot of times (yep, can't figure out how to embed the podcast without it!), but hopefully all that peaceful Pennsylvania farm country behind me will help you relax as you soak in these great options for next year. I sincerely hope you enjoy a little podcast time this summer, and that it helps you feel excited for next year in those  moments squeezed in with the serious pursuit of relaxation.

Got an idea for a podcast? Or a question you'd like me to answer in one? Send me an e-mail at betsy@nowsparkcreativity.com! I'd love to help.

Rock your Felt Letter Board

Ok, guys. Sometimes I get pretty excited about the learning space. I'm not going to lie. I love to see beautiful classrooms. Flexible seating and amazing displays of work are my jam. I like creating  posters and photo walls, and sometimes I put my bookshelves in rainbow order.

So I guess it's no surprise that I bought one of those felt letter boards that are popping up everywhere you look. Yes, I succumbed to the Insta-pressure.

And yet, when it arrived from Amazon with it's hundreds of tiny white letters that I had to individually break off from their tiny plastic stems, my enthusiasm quailed a bit. Luckily, my six-year-old got excited about getting them ready for me. #Parentingwin

Which brings me here, to this post. Perhaps you, too, have purchased a felt letter board in a moment of Instagram-fueled enthusiasm. Perhaps now you too are wondering what on earth to put on it, now that you have it.

I've got your back! Here, with no further ado, are seven ways to use your new letter board and a lot of fun options for what to put on it.

5 Ways to Cut Stress at the End of the School Year

As the end of the year approaches, sometimes survival feels like the name of the game. Keep showing up, keep trying to smile, keep from getting mad at anyone when you're feeling exhausted and in desperate need of a break. It's so tempting to put up a big countdown chart on the board and root for summer along with everyone else. 

But the problem with counting down is, it doesn't really speed things up. Or make you feel much better. It puts all the emphasis on what you don't have yet. 

I remember one summer in college when I worked in a candy store. The summer afternoons dragged when customers were sparse. When beachcombers and weekenders crammed in happily demanding custom jelly belly mixes and gift wrapped boxes of chocolate rocks, the time flew. 

The end of the year will actually come much sooner when you and your students are busily engaged doing good and important work right up until the end. The tempo and type of work just needs to shift a little to fit the season and everyone's mood. 

Here are five tips, based on my own experience and a lot of great conversations inside my Facebook group, Creative High School English (are you there yet?), for taking some of the stress off you and making the end of the year smooth and successful.

#1 Don't Leave MAJOR Grading until the End

Oh man, this is such an easy mistake to make. You are likely going to have a giant final exam project, paper, or test to grade already. There is no need to also collect a huge assignment, like a multi genre autobiography, semester's worth of blog writing, or research documentary project, on the last day of school. 

So many teachers across the disciplines stack their major assessments in the last week, so not only will you save yourself a super stressful grading frenzy by scheduling your due dates a bit sooner, but your overloaded students will appreciate it so much.

The Outsiders: 10 Creative Activities

I've written before about why I think The Outsiders is a must-have for your independent reading shelf. But if you're lucky enough to get to have it as a curriculum option, I'm so happy for you!

This book, about a teenage boy who questions the divisions - social, political, economical - of the society he's trapped in, is wildly engaging for students. The voice is gripping, real, honest. Probably because the book was actually written by a teenager dealing with truly difficult experiences.

Like so many of our students.

Though the book is at a relatively easy reading level, it's a great option for hooking kids who have defined themselves as non-readers. And it's a fabulous platform for discussing things that truly matter to our kids - the ways they define themselves publicly and privately, the divisions in our society and in the world, the social complexities of being a teenager.

So let's look at some creative activities you could use to teach it.

#1 The Open Mind

When you're looking to get students thinking deeply about characters, consider an activity I call "The Open Mind." Either assign students a character, or let them choose one they are most interested in. Then ask them to go inside that character's head, creating a page of sketchnotes that go deep with the relationships, crucial life events, dreams, and developments relating to that character. Ask them to include several quotations.

This activity makes a great warm-up for discussion. Once everyone has had ten or fifteen minutes to think deeply about a character, kick off the conversation with a question about a character. See where things go from there. 

Episode 036: Host a Successful Class Play

The class play is a concept that can easily strike terror into your heart. So many parts to assign, rehearsals to launch, energy to reign in. So much chaos to control.

And yet. So much learning! So many memorable experiences and life lessons. A class play is experiential learning in one of its finest forms. What better way is there to learn about theater than by stepping on the stage?

10 Ways to Fill a Hole in your ELA Curriculum

You know that moment when you realize your class material is going to run out before your class does? Or the moment it hits you that you probably won't want to start a brand new novel five days before a long break?

Sometimes it's nice to have a few fun fillers in your back pocket. My goal with this post is to serve them up to you on a silver platter, so you don't end up frantically searching the internet at midnight trying to figure out how to use those awkward days you weren't anticipating.

Episode 035: Using Book Clubs Successfully

I know you wish you could share the love you have for reading with your students. As English teachers, we know the power of books. To comfort us. To help us escape. To teach us about the world and each other. To fire our imaginations. To give us advice.

We want this for our students. So badly. I believe in the power of choice reading to help make it happen, and I believe in it to my core.

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