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15 Freebies Secondary ELA Teachers will Love


TPT is a great resource for English teachers, both with and without a budget. You can go there for inspiration, to get ideas for new curriculum for your students. You can go there to shop, buying curriculum and decor that meets your needs and makes your load lighter. Or you can go there to download, because just about every seller offers a plethora of free items.

This week I took a deep dive into the secondary ELA freebies of TPT. There's a lot of good stuff out there, but these fifteen are my current favorites. Check out the list and I'll be stunned if there aren't at least three you want to go download (free!). 

Projects


Laura Randazzo has pulled together a wonderful series of blog posts, a full Prezi presentation, her own classroom materials, and examples from her students in their work with 20 time. If you've been sharing about Genius hour and wondering if it's for you, why not start with an incredible free packet?

Get your students thinking critically early in the term as they use their creative skills to invent the kind of school they would want to go to. You'll learn about how they learn best as they fire up their imaginations. 

Discussion


I love Stacy Lloyd's style. These fun printable signs allow students to quickly share their opinion with the lift of a hand, and help keep all students involved in the conversation. 

Discussion Role Cards, by Spark Creativity
If your students tend to fall into the same old discussion ruts, use these printable discussion role cards to encourage them to try out new roles. They'll gain a whole new perspective on how they can use their own voice and what others can contribute as well. 

Writing


Revision Stations for Any Essay, by Read it. Write it. Learn it. 
If you'd like to create a more in-depth revision process for your students' analytical writing, this awesome packet of station materials is your golden ticket. Get students up and moving as they improve their writing. 

Guide students in showing you which topics they understand and what they need to review further with this fun color-coding strategy from Addie Williams. 

If you need to show your students how to annotate, look no further than this two-page guide. 

Classroom Decor


These are wonderful pieces of classroom decor that promote good things in our school communities. The SuperHERO Teacher is a leader in making educational spaces beautiful and meaningful.

12 Inspirational Quotes for Reading, by The Teacher Couple
Jazz up your reading library with these fun printable posters. 

These attractive modern posters express all the right things, with a nice literary flair perfect for the English classroom.

Miscellaneous & Helpful


Hashtags Exit Passes, by Presto Plans
Let students show you what they've learned at the end of the lesson using these fun Hashtags Exit Passes, then display them under the included heading poster. So fun!

Black-Out Poetry Lesson, by Laura Randazzo
Get the steps for your students to complete this super popular poetry activity, plus a Prezi of great examples from popular texts. 

Introduction to Shakespeare, by Teach BeTween the Lines
Let students get acquainted with the bard through this research-based collaborative mini-presentation. 

Use these as a fun finish to the year, offering students small gifts such as "I'll Drop Your Lowest Homework Grade" and providing a de-stressing activity as finals approach. 

I hope you've found something you're excited about! If you enjoyed this post, sign up for my mailing list and I'll keep you current with the highlights from my blog and podcast. When you sign up below, you'll also receive five creative reading quizzes you can use to check in on your students' reading without boring them (and yourself) with plot-based reading check questions. One more fun freebie to add to your list! 











Episode 023: Discussion Warm-Ups


Over the years I’ve discovered my students just don’t respond well to walking into class and kicking off a discussion cold turkey. 

Their heads are still all over the place, thinking about their last class, the friends they were talking to during passing, their weekend plans or their problems. 

They NEVER seem to use the walk to my class to mentally review the reading. (Why is that?) So if I kick off discussion by asking a question first thing, silence and awkward eye contact avoidance is all I will get. Except of course for that one super student who always has something to say. Which really doesn't help.

So in today's podcast (and post) I’m going to share with you a whole bunch of different activities and strategies you can use in the first five or ten minutes of a discussion-based class to get your students warmed up for a truly high quality discussion. In my experience, these tools make a big difference. The other main strategy I use to create a good environment for discussion is the Harkness method. If you’re interested in learning more about that, check out Episode 008.


If you'd like a poster of twelve discussion warm-up ideas to hang by your desk, you can sign up for it below. You can print this out and reference it as you get rolling with this strategy. Before you know it, you’ll be brainstorming them easily as you lesson plan.



Warm-Up Strategy #1: Think-Pair-Share

Who doesn’t love the old “turn to your partner and….”? This is a classic English teacher move, an oldie-but-goodie. I use this before discussions all the time, but I also like to use it in the middle to combat silences or give lots of students a chance to share their opinion when things are getting heated. You can always stop a discussion for another mini-warm-up or break-out session of think-pair-share. 
  • ask partners to write questions for the discussion
  • ask partners to pick out 3 significant quotations and be ready to say why they are significant
  • ask partners to take either side of a debatable topic about the text and, well, debate for a few minutes
  • ask partners to discuss a question or two that you put on the board 

Then, begin the discussion with an easy extension from the partner activity. No surprises needed. 

Warm-Up Strategy #2: Silent Discussion

This strategy gives quieter students a voice. This is especially important for students who take longer to formulate their thoughts in English. If you work with language learners at all, this can be very helpful to them. 

  • put up chart paper on the walls with questions at the top, everyone circulates with a pen or marker for ten minutes responding to the questions and to others' responses 
  • everyone writes a question in their notebook, then passes them to the right for the next person to respond (repeat, repeat, repeat)
  • put your questions on your board or white board and ask students to write a response for at least three
  • put out topic headers on the walls and give everyone sticky notes on which to contribute key quotations, questions, or comments
When you throw out the topics from the silent discussion, most students have already given them some thought and are ready to speak.


Warm-Up Strategy #3: Review Activity 

Though we often want the warm-up to encourage higher level thinking, sometimes a reading has been long and complicated, or some time has passed between the reading and the discussion. In these cases, a review activity can be helpful. 
  • have students write one line summaries of the reading (harder than you think!) and then share them on the board
  • let groups work to script and rehearse a sixty second dramatic version of the reading
  • have students draft a timeline featuring the main events of the reading
  • invite students to create a short graphic novel version of the reading
  • let partners draft an NPR style interview with the main character
  • ask students to create sketchnotes of the main themes in the reading (check out my Ultimate Guide to Sketchnotes for ELA post here

This strategy gets students to think back through the reading so they are more prepared to begin on any question.  


Warm-Up Strategy #4: Search & Explore the Text

Helps students incorporate citation into their discussion. This is an important thing to keep reminding them about throughout the year. 
  • Ask students to choose three songs they would use in a soundtrack for the reading, and be ready to quote text to explain why those songs are perfect
  • Challenge students to choose the most important paragraph from the reading, and be ready to defend their choices
  • Invite students to find important quotations on a certain theme or quotations to show change or development in a certain character. 
Remind students as you segue into discussion that you particularly want them to focus on using their text as evidence as they discuss the reading.


Warm-Up Strategy #5: Present Something Related

This warm-up brings a more complex layer to the discussion and can help inspire critical thinking. 
  • share a video clip, poem, essay, or cartoon related to the reading
  • bring in a guest to speak briefly on a topic related to the reading
  • share a mini-lecture on a subject related to the reading

After you share something closely related to the text, have students either respond in writing or in pairs or small groups. Then kick off the discussion with a connecting question between what has been presented and the reading. 

If you'd like to launch this strategy with a packet of handouts ready to go, you're in luck! One of the first things I ever made for my TPT store was a set of fifteen fun discussion warm-up activities. You can check them out here and see the seventeen four star reviews, but then instead of buying them, you can sign up for my e-mail list and get them free below! Whoo hoo!



Curious about episodes 001-022? Head over to iTunes and subscribe!  

Find Time to CELEBRATE


You know that feeling when you have lists of the lists of things you need to do? And you wake up in the middle of the night to add things to those lists? 

If you've got little pieces of paper and post-its everywhere, and the notes app open on your phone and computer all the time, this post is for you. Half the time I never even remember to go back and read my lists, because I'm too busy trying to do everything on them! 

This kind of BUSY is not very conducive to the feelings of comfort and joy that are SUPPOSED to come along with this beautiful season. But there's something I want to share with you that I think is going to help. It's time to take back the holidays, teachers! 

This post is part of the a wonderful holiday blog hop put on by a creative and merry band of secondary ELA bloggers. 

As part of this fun blog hop, our group is hosting a raffle to win four wonderful prizes. We'll be giving away Barnes and Noble ($25), Target ($50), TPT ($100) and Amazon ($200) gift cards, so enter as many times as you wish in the Rafflecopter below, beginning December 1st.  


So let's get down to it. Did you see that New York Times article this summer making the intriguing claim "Want to be Happy? Buy More Takeout and Hire a Maid, Study Suggests"? 

I definitely did a double take with that headline. As I read, I found myself nodding along. We are so often willing to give up our time to make money, but then, even when we can afford it, we don't think to pay a bit to take back our time. 

Lately I have been feeling overwhelmed. On any given day there was work to do, two beautiful children to guide through life, the house to clean, voicemails to listen to, three e-mail accounts to check, shopping to accomplish, thank you notes or holiday cards to write, meals to make, a podcast to record. No matter how hard I tried, I always felt like I was failing to get to something. 

I know you can relate. 

So I began to think, is there anything here that I could lift off my shoulders? Slowly I crafted a list. Maybe I don't have to have a birthday party for thirty kids when my son turns six in December. Maybe we could have his three best friends over instead. Maybe I could hire a babysitter for a few hours a week while I work on my podcast, instead of always doing it late at night. Maybe I shouldn't offer to host my school's holiday cookie exchange during my daughter's tricky twos period. 

And I got to thinking, what are some shortcuts we could ALL take this holiday season so we can really enjoy time with our families, our students, and ourselves? 

Just think of it. Wouldn't it be nice to really enjoy this time?  

So here they are, eight ideas for holiday shortcuts that will let you relax just a bit and enjoy these precious weeks. 




#1 Patronize your Favorite Bakery
Having a party? Participating in a cookie exchange? Want to bring something tasty to your seniors who are stressing about college acceptance? Now, if you love baking, bake away. Pop on that apron and some holiday music and experience the glory of holiday baking! But if you don't, maybe this is the year you call up your favorite local bakery. The one with the small business owner that always takes the time to get to know her customers. The one who supports the local t-ball teams. Maybe you call up that bakery and order six dozen beautiful holiday cookies and save yourself ten hours and a lot of dishes. 

#2 Get Some Help at Home
Seriously, guys, I have never heard ANYONE say "I hired someone to help with cleaning my house, but I'm really regretting it now." Maybe you just do it for December through February this year. Give yourself a break from feeling badly about how little you clean the bathroom. Spend that hour a week sitting in front of the fire with a good book instead. 

#3 Takeout Tuesdays (and Thursdays. And Fridays.)
OK, so it probably wouldn't be very healthy for us to do this all year long. But in the busy month of December, would it really be so bad to hit Chipotle, pick up some Chicken Biryani, or zoom through the prepared foods section at Whole Foods a bit more often? Shopping and cooking can be a joy, but not in a time crunch.

#4 Let Someone Else Address your Holiday Cards
Every year I get out my address book and wing through for every person we know and care about. I address card after card, seal the envelopes, add the stamps. I don't mind. But it's one of those things elbowing for room on the to-do list. This year I couldn't help but notice that the company I made them with, Shutterfly, will actually send the cards for me. Which probably means they'd save the addresses of everyone I know and send them for me next year too. And the next. And they'd do yours. 

#5 If you have Kids, add a Popular Babysitter to the Mix
We have one babysitter that my son loves so much. He counts down the minutes until her arrival. Now, we like to think he's pretty fond of us too, but we are thrilled that he's happy for us to leave the house now and then while he spends time with her. At this time of year, it's easy to feel like you should spend every moment with your kids and do all those things you have to do late at night after they go to bed. But maybe, just maybe, you could send them out to go sledding with their favorite babysitter while you finish your work so that you can enjoy a cozy evening watching Love, Actually later. Or they could enjoy pizza and The Grinch Stole Christmas with their babysitter while you wrap up final exam grading so you can really breathe over your vacation. 

#6 Skip the Post Office
Much as I love to wrap gifts, adding my own little ribbons and cards, I love not having to tape up box after box and go to the post office even more. Ordering your gifts online to be delivered directly from the companies to your loved ones far away makes it so much easier. I tend to get almost all my shopping done in one evening, online, popping in address after address to my computer and then never worrying about those gifts again. 

#7 Take a Break from Writing Curriculum
Writing curriculum is my favorite part of the job, so if I could, I'd definitely outsource grading instead. (If anyone can think of a way to do this, they'd make millions!) But since that isn't an option, picking up some fun lessons created for this time of year can really take the strain off. If your students are itching for something festive and you'd rather spend an evening decorating your tree or going to the nutcracker, you might check out some of these fun lessons from various secondary ELA TPTers. I had fun looking around for good ones!  


Another option would be to check out my post, Website Gold for ELA Teachers, and find a ton of free resources you can explore around the web. Or work with your teaching team and each create two days of fun holiday activities, then swap so everyone has a bunch of great material to work with. 

#8 Activate Student Helpers
Want a merry classroom? Ask for help! Bring in material and put on an audiobook you've been wanting to introduce your students to from your free choice reading library, then invite them to help you hang lights, cut snowflakes, frost the windows, wrap the door, or whatever else you think would be fun. Not only will you save yourself the hours of decorating alone, your students will probably like the decor even more because they'll have ownership over it too. 



Looking for inspiration and support on your journey as a creative ELA teacher? Join my free Facebook group, Creative High School English. With a thousand members and more joining every day, there's always a good conversation going on. 

Finally, don't forget to check out all the amazing posts by other secondary ELA bloggers with ideas designed to help you bring more comfort and joy into your classroom this year. You're going to love what they've come up with for you. 






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
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. 


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