Global Writing Prompts to Broaden Horizons

On the first day of school in my first term teaching in Bulgaria, I played a getting-to-know-you game I now call "The Sorting." I asked students to sort themselves around the room based on their answers to the questions I asked. For example, "go to this side of the room if you are an only child, that side if you have siblings." It was a fun way for us to quickly get to know each other better.

For one of my questions, I asked students to move to one side of the room if they had left the country, the other side if they never had. Slowly they all made their way to one side of the room.

Every single student had been abroad. 

I asked them to further sort themselves by how many countries they had visited. The majority of my students had been to more than three other countries.

Just think! They had such a different perspective on the world than the majority of my American-born American students. They had eaten other foods, spoken other languages, gotten the hang of other metros and norms. They had a strong sense of the difference in customs and opinions around the world. 

When I first moved back to the U.S., I talked to my students often about the experiences I had living abroad and traveling to many other countries. I wanted to tell them stories and share what I had learned. 

But it's not easy to keep that conversation going. Somehow it doesn't come up very often. We get into our daily routines, and it's easy to stay focused on the here and now.

Yet in many ways our society becomes more global every day. I want to keep my students thinking beyond our borders.

This year when I began writing daily writing prompts as part of my collaboration with, I decided to focus on travel prompts. Sharing a travel-based writing prompt is a fun, easy way to get students imagining life in another place. For many of the images, I use my own photos, a fun stroll down memory lane for me too. 

My travel prompts appear every Thursday on the Facebook page; follow along to see them and writing prompts from the other collaborators every single day of the week. But I also thought I would round up some of them here, in case you'd like to add a splash of global writing to your curriculum.


Enjoy! I hope you decide to take your students on a world writing tour.

Year in Review: The Best of 2017 in ELA

Welcome to the show notes for Episode 25 of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast. Here you'll find the outline of the show as well as all the links I mention in the episode. You can listen with the player below, or read on to discover what the show is all about. 

It’s fun to look back over this year and remember the highlights. My son started kindergarten, my daughter had her second birthday, I started this podcast and learned how to paddleboard, our family traveled to Santa Fe, Florida, and Minnesota, and I finally discovered thegreatest recipe in the world for chocolate cake

But those highlights are not the focus of today's show. Nope, today is about this year in the world of English teachers. It’s about my favorite things I’ve learned that I can share with you, to make a difference in your practice. So with no further ado, let’s give 2017 a round of applause and dive into the best of the best.

#1 Sketchnotes

If I could have devoted a podcast episode to sketchnotes this year, I would have. But it’s such a visual medium. The basic idea of sketchnotes is that students create notes from lectures and discussions by writing down the basic ideas while drawing attention to what is important through highlight fonts, bubbles, sketches, symbols and more. They create a visual representation of the ideas they are presented with.

By creating a work of art instead of just lists of ideas, they process the information and make choices about what is important and how to group things. They end up remembering the information far more clearly.

I LOVE sketchnotes, which is why I created an ultimate guide for using them in the ELA classroom earlier this year. Sketchnotes are a way of giving students real agency during lecture. For me, that is a game-changer. After I shared the Sketchnotes concept in my Facebook group, lots of teachers tried it out and the reports have been quite positive. Many teachers have shared photos of beautiful student work.

My battered copy of The Hate U Give shown with my free creative reading quizzes (download here!

#2: Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give

When my school selected this for summer reading this year, I had never heard of it. That was then. Now I’d consider it the best book for teenagers that I’ve read in many years.

This book will turn many a non-reader into a reader (and a teacher just told me a story of exactly that). Though it may be fiction, I know from hearing her speak that it parallels Thomas’ life very closely, and reading it was a far more powerful lesson in understanding the Black Lives Matter movement and the feelings many of my African-American students may be experiencing than any newspaper article or radio segment ever could be.

If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly suggest you buy a copy for your outside reading library and dive in.

#3 Youtube

So I’ve always known and used Youtube personally. It’s how I watched the entire gymnastics portion of the Athens Olympics while I was pregnant with my son, where I turn for snarky Saturday Night Live clips, and of course, the best place to find unbelievably hilarious cat videos.

But this was the year I realized it was an English teacher’s goldmine. Discovering that Khan Academy has a grammar channel, that John Spencer has put together a collection of video writing prompts, and that John Green, hero of English teachers everywhere, has his own channel, was such a beautiful surprise!

Here's a roundup of the best Youtube channels for English teachers if you want to explore this amazing set of resources.

#4 Escape Rooms

It was so fun to interview my friend Emily Aierstock this fall on the podcast about Escape Rooms. The basic idea is to give students clues and activities around your room that they have to find, do, and solve in their mad dash to the final prize at the end.

This strategy, sometimes called escape rooms and sometimes called digital breakouts, has flared in popularity this year, and it’s easy to see why.

Student engagement skyrockets when you gamify your content with this unique strategy. You might want to go back and listen to episode 17 if you’re interested in learning more. Or check out the blog post if you're more in the mood to read. 

#5 Genius Hour

This was the year I really started to understand genius hour's classroom uses. Committing to genius hour in class means giving students a chunk of time, whether it’s two weeks out of the year, every Friday, or some other period, to work on their passion.

Whether they want to build their own motorcycle engine, make an origami zoo, write a cookbook, or start their own youtube channel. It doesn’t matter so much what they are doing as that they care about it. It’s their chance to explore what really matters to them.

In a world where they may very possibly start their own business, invent their own product, built their own website, or work on a team that values creative innovation above all else, genius hour is an opportunity for students to own their own learning and prepare for the future they actually want to have.

Figuring out how to build a bit of structure for the program isn’t too difficult, and can easily include some writing and presenting skills as they share their projects back with your learning community.  

Reading Posters for your Independent Reading Library (download them free here)

#6 Independent Reading

There has long been a movement toward encouraging students’ choice reading, and I have been a staunch member of that movement since the moment I learned about it.

But as I listened to Jennifer Gonzalez and Pernille Rip discuss how many modern reading programs are killing a love of reading on Jennifer’s podcast “Cult of Pedagogy” this year, I felt like that movement was suddenly even more vital.

Increasingly schools are turning toward excerpts, reading packets, and computer programs to teach reading. Which means for us as English teachers, sharing the best books we can in a truly splendid independent reading program is all the more important.

If you haven’t yet begun a choice reading program in your classroom, check out some of these resources:

#7 Facebook Groups

I never realized how much learning and sharing can go on through Facebook until this year. I started my Facebook group “Creative High School English” back in the spring, and now there are more than 1100 teachers inside collaborating, sharing and supporting each other. I find myself checking in multiple times a day just to see what people are talking about and see what I can add to the conversation. And I love to see other people’s classroom photos!

Sometimes being a teacher is weirdly lonely, considering how public it is, and finding an online community that supports the type of teacher you want to be is really meaningful.

#8 Podcasts

Along the same lines, this was the year I started this podcast but it was also the year I first subscribed to a range of education podcasts. I’ve been fascinated by what I’ve learned on John Spencer’s The Creative Classroom, Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy, and The Flipped Learning Network.

I also know a lot of teachers in my Facebook group are working on teaching with podcasts, particularly featuring the show “Serial.” This was the first year my school included some podcasts that matched some themes from The Hate U Give, our summer reading book, as part of the summer assignment.  Figuring out ways to incorporate them into curriculum or even to have students broadcast themselves is something I’m definitely interested in right now.


This year I began working with a website started by my friend Meredith Dobbs called It’s a pretty amazing resource for writing teachers, and if you’re a new teacher or a teacher teaching a new level, you can quickly put together a wonderful list of writing strategies and assignments to implement in your classroom.

This website gets richer every week, as English teacher collaborators from around the country contribute their best ideas. You can also follow along with their Facebook page this year to get a free daily writing prompt every day. 

#10 Flexible Seating

Well, this concept isn’t new, but this is the year it really dug in. Everywhere I look on teacher websites and teacher social media I see flexible seating. You know it’s achieved its peak popularity when articles began to appear with headlines like “The Troubling Truth about Flexible Seating.”

I love the photos I’m seeing on Instagram of reading libraries with cozy beanbags, yoga ball writing stations, stools along counters, and more. If you’ve got any budget at all, I think now is the time to dive in and add some splashy flexible seating to your classroom. If you're wondering where to begin, check out this flexible seating shopping guide from We Are Teachers. 

I hope you found something to inspire you for 2018! Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss January's special guest episodes. I'm looking forward to welcoming John Spencer from The Creative Classroom as well as Jenna Copper from Doc Cop. 


The Classroom Library Hall of Fame (get inspiration!)

When helping my students fall in love with books became a priority, everything changed. My relationships with students. Their relationships with books. The look and feel of my classroom. 

As I turned to experts like Nancie Atwell and Donalyn Miller, I realized that having the books I wanted to share with my students RIGHT UNDER THEIR NOSES was critical. The more wonderful books I could have in my room, the more wonderful displays I could create with them. The more ways to draw my students into their pages I could come up with, the more my students would thrive as readers and English students.

I'm not going to lie. Committing to sharing my love of reading with my students was not always easy. I'll never forget the day I faced off with my department chair in the computer lab, arguing with him about the best reads for my tenth graders, most of whom were English Language Learners. The canonical choices I had been given, like The Canterbury Tales and Dante's Inferno, were turning them off and making them hate books. 

I wanted to try them on some YA, some dystopia, some books that they would look forward to reading. The rest of my team thought I was insane. 

"The more they read, the better their English becomes. The better readers they are. The better writers. The more they enjoy school. " I tried everything in the book to convince him what a difference reading books they loved would make to my students.

He wasn't having it. After lots of back and forth, he came to his final argument.

"Where's your evidence?" he asked. 

I just couldn't seem to get through to him. So frustrated I began to cry, I realized I was just going to have to do it my own way. I would weave independent reading into my students' lives right alongside the curriculum. There was no need to choose. We would read for pleasure and we would read the canon. And the more we read for pleasure, the more, I believed, they would begin to enjoy the canon. 

I worked with my school librarian to bring in books to fill my shelves. I scoured Goodwill for great titles. I stopped into library book sales and rummage sales. I sorted through my own boxes of boxes in storage. I made posters and bookmarks, displayed students' book projects and literary-themed postcards around my books. 

My reading library became the heart of my classroom. 

This post features some of my favorite book display and reading library ideas from Instagram, in hopes that you will find a new way to pull kids toward your own reading library or be inspired to start one of your own. If you are just getting started on this journey, you might want to check out podcast episode three, "Starting a Free Choice Reading Program," the post "Help Students Fall in Love with Reading," and one more post featuring books students love called "Jump Start your Class Library." 

By the way, if you'd like a little help developing your program into one of the most fulfilling parts of your work with students, check out the free e-course, 5 Days to Build a Better Reading Program. You'll get five days worth of easy, actionable steps with helpful links and free resources, all delivered straight to your inbox. Just sign up below to get started.

Now, let's jump in for a tour of beautiful reading spaces and displays on Instagram. If we haven't connected over there yet, you can find me @nowsparkcreativity. Can't wait to see you there! 

A post shared by Baba (@tundextra) on

I love the rainbow bookshelf idea. I have my cookbooks arranged this way at home, and one of my friends did it with a giant bookcase. This could make a fun surprise during the gray month of February or to open the school year before things get pushed around.

Whoever first thought of the speech and thought bubbles for books really nailed it. If you've got some shining stars hiding in your bookshelf, pull them out and give them a voice of their own.

Wrap your books in covers featuring the first line and see what intrigues your students. It's a powerful writing lesson at the same time as it delivers dramatic hook value for readers.

Your top ten display could be the most popular reads in the classroom right now, the most popular books recommended by the outgoing class from the year before, the top most popular books in a certain genre, etc. But one thing is sure, that number one book is suddenly going to seem pretty irresistible.

I like this fun riff on the DVD rental boxes you see outside grocery stores these days. Catch students attention with a "Readbox" (free) rental stand of your own.

A post shared by Pamela Smith (@allthingspriti) on

Ha ha ha. What coffee-loving student could resist "Starbooks?" What a brilliant idea from Pamela Smith.

A post shared by Sarah Andersen (@yaloveblog) on

Whether you decide to showcase book covers by class or just put everyone's up together, I love this idea of visually presenting back to students what they are reading. Watch their interest grow as the bulletin board fills up throughout the year!

Banned books week is a great time for a fresh book display. Something about the teenage psyche is always going to be drawn towards books adults have decided, at some point, should not be read. Show them the power inside the pages by featuring some of your favorite previously banned books.

While I like the shiny positive style of this classroom library, my favorite thing about it is its VOLUME. Wow! Someone has been doing some serious curating, and their students are sure going to benefit.

The flexible seating craze has spread far and wide, and personally I think it has outside reading library written all over it. If there's any possible way for you to drag an old couch into your classroom, pick up some poofs at Ikea, or throw giant pillows into a corner, the time is now!

This teacher features her book Hall of Fame straight across the top of her library. No student browsing for books will have a chance to miss THE MOST POPULAR titles. And frankly, isn't that where we are going to hook most of our readers at first?

So cozy! What a friendly and inviting space. We focus so much on creating this type of space for our younger students, but really, does anything happen to them as they get older that suddenly they don't enjoy beauty and comfort?

A post shared by Cait (@thefoodrealness) on

I like the label concept here. Dividing books into the realms of graphic novel, classics, dystopia, science fiction, etc. can help those focused on their favorite genres far more than alphabetical order. I notice many children's libraries have bins devoted entirely to favorite authors or favorite themes (superhero books, etc.) to help kids easily select their favorites. Grouping in different fun ways could do the same for our older students. You could feature popular authors, styles of writing, and themes as well as genres. Maybe even change it up throughout the year.

So fun! So true! This display is simple but powerful.

While it may not suit everyone, I think the color theming here is really nice, and I love the concept of putting up a giant poster or piece of contact paper that makes it seem like your cozy reading corner is next to a plate glass window looking over some stunning natural scene. Scholastic reposted this from @thesuperhero teacher, who is always a great go-to for classroom visuals.

Well, that's a wrap on our tour through Insta! Hope you're feeling inspired to add a new element or display to your library this year.

If you're looking for an easy way to draw your students' eyes to your reading library, sign up for this colorful and bright set of eight reading library posters I designed for you! Subscribe below and they'll be on their way. 

Excited to chat about your fabulous plans for your reading library? Jump into my Facebook group and tell our community of 1000+ creative English teachers all about them!


A Beginner's Guide To Student Blogging

In my Facebook group this week, someone asked how to get rolling with a student blogging project, and it took me back through my blogging adventures. 

I started my first blog back in 2008, to document my adventures with my husband living and teaching abroad in Bulgaria. I was stunned by just how easy it was to pop my travel photos and stories into the blogosphere so that my family back in the U.S. (and quite a lot of other people too, as it turned out), could follow along.

In fact, it was so easy that I started three more while I was there. One about learning to cook in Bulgaria, one for my I.B. English students who were constantly missing class, to give them updates and link their assignments, and one with my tenth graders to share their choice reading recommendations with the world. Oh, and I started a blogging elective and had all my twelfth graders create their own writing portfolio blogs as well. 

Did I mention I got pretty into the whole blogging idea? No sooner did I learn what a widget was than I was off to the races. And that’s what I want for you too, because blogging is SUCH A GREAT option in so many different educational scenarios. 

In this post and podcast, I’m going to give you a really quick introduction to my favorite simple platform, and then walk you through a bunch of ways to use it. Blogs are an amazing way to empower students to share their own ideas with the world.

First, the quickest possible technology primer. Starting a blog on blogger is SO EASY. Follow the steps below to get started.

Starting a Blogger blog...

1. Set up a Gmail account or sign in to yours.
2. Go to
3. Choose the type of profile you want to use and then click "Create New Blog."
4. Put in a title and web address that fit the topic you've selected. You might want to choose one of the "simple" blog templates and to begin with. Then click to create your new blog.
5. Click "no thanks" when you see the offer to connect a domain name. This is for professionals who want to remove the ".blogspot" from their web address.
6. You can now click "view blog" on the left, or "new post" in the center.
7. From within "view blog" you can always click "new post" in the upper right hand corner, or "design" to adjust the look of your blog.
8. Inside "New Post" you can type the content of your post. The bar above your writing field will allow you to put in images and links, as well as adjust the look of your text.
9. Inside "design," you can click "layout" and then adjust the look of your blog by adding elements to your sidebar or dragging elements around.

If you have any trouble, you can watch a complete video tutorial right here. I'm also going to jump on in my Facebook group this week and do a demo video of my own, as well as answer questions. I'll link to the video post as soon as it is up.

OK, I'm about to share SO MANY fabulous ways you can empower your students to channel their voice and creativity into blogging. But first, one quick word of warning and one quick word of comfort.

The Warning: Don't let your students put any personal or school information on their blogs! Nothing beyond first names. This is an important security measure for you to stress with them.

The Comfort: Students can handle the tech. Remind them they can always Google "how to embed sound clips in Blogger," " how to speed up an iMovie video," etc. I first assigned students to create podcasts eight years before I learned to record one myself, and it was fine. Really. Let students go farther than you with technology if they want to. When they ask if they can add the new things they find and discover  they can make to their blogs, just say yes! 

Student Choice Blogs

One great option for using blogs in class is to let students start a blog on any topic that interests them. It really doesn’t matter what they hone their skills writing on, as long as they care about it. They could choose fantasy football, fashion, gaming, celebrity pets, graphic novels, local news, figure skating, Instagram trends, etc.

You can incorporate student choice blogs into your routine in many different ways. You could create a two-week stand-alone unit. You could work on the blogs every Friday for the entire year, as a 20% time option. You could introduce them in the first week of school and then assign posts as independent work once a month. 

Whatever format you choose, just keep introducing a new type of blog work to do. Have them write an opinion post, a list post, a linked post, a media post (embed a video, podcast, slideshare, etc.), a feature post, etc. 

You can also use class time to have them comment on each other’s blogs. For this reason I recommend you create a class blog where you can link to all the students' blogs. That way they can easily access everyone’s. All you have to do is set up your blog and create one post, in which you type the title of each student's blog, highlight the text, click "link" and put in their web address. Once you publish this post, you and your class can visit anyone's blog in seconds. You can share work on your projector and have the class give feedback that way as well. 

I did student choice blogs as an elective several years ago, and the students loved it. Each of them was absolutely fascinated by their own little online world, devoted entirely to their most passionate interest.

If you're a bit busy right now prepping for exams, building your classroom library, convincing your administration it's OK to use creative methods in class, learning about escape rooms, giving extra help, advising various clubs, and everything else generally heaped on a teacher's plate, you can find my brand new full curriculum packet for choice blogging right here.

Class Blog

Depending on the educational technology available at your school, a class blog can be a very handy thing to have. A class blog can allow you to share photos of events with students and their families, make announcements, and also put up short summaries of class activities and links to assignments in Google docs. 

I once had a class of seniors in which three or four students seemed to miss every day. I simply could not keep up with gathering all their work, explaining individually to them everything they had missed, and reminding them to make up assessments. Yet our school had no system for this.

That's why I started my I.B. English 12 blog. In five minutes a day, I would make a post that summarized what we had done, linked to any online resources we used or videos we watched, and linked to the handouts and homework on Google Docs. When students returned from absences, I just reminded them they needed to keep up with the work via the blog. They didn't even need to wait until they returned to school. What a lifesaver! It really saved my sanity. 

Project Blogs

I heard Jennifer Gonzalez from the Cult of Pedagogy do an episode this year on curation projects, and I loved it. In a curation project, students share a variety of work around a theme and knit it together with their introductions and commentary. Kind of like if they were creating a museum exhibition with a variety of artistic pieces and multimedia. Each piece would be captioned with the important information that ties it into the exhibit as a whole.

A blog is a perfect option for this type of project.

Let's say you want students to do an interdisciplinary project that knits together what they are learning in history with what they are learning in literature. Have them choose a connecting theme and curate poetry, photography, videos, radio clips, etc. on the theme. You can choose a number of blog posts for them to make and the types of elements you wish to require.

Link all the project blogs to your class site so that you can have students go on a virtual gallery walk as the project comes to a close. They can comment on each other's blogs as a way of sharing feedback, or you can project them one by one and let a few students share what they like about each. 

Character Blogs

I once had my students design blogs for the title character of Jane Austen's Emma.

It was great fun for us all to imagine what Emma would write about in her blog, what she would link to, what images she would share. Would it be a dating blog? Fashion? Advice columns? Life lessons?  

Through the project guidelines I was able to guide them to use their blog to show their knowledge of the character and her motivations and interests. It's important to construct your assignment carefully so that students keep their work connected to the text. Then, just let them know the requirements as to number of posts and sidebar features, and you are off to the races.

Teacher Blog

This one takes us outside the classroom realm, but it does impact teaching quite a bit.

Starting a blog for yourself, to reflect on your professional practice and join the online community of teacher writers, can be a really helpful way to process what you are doing and get perspective on your classroom. It can also be a good outlet when things are hard. When I was first writing my travel blog from Bulgaria, I was able to turn many an awkward moment into a funny blog story, and soon I found myself constructing my posts in my head while stuck in difficult situations. It made them much easier to handle! 

Writing about your professional practice on a blog also puts you on a track toward publishing articles about your teaching to share with others and presenting at conferences. It can help you further your career as well as reflect on your own journey.

Have you joined my e-mail community yet? Sign up below for insider freebies, fun classroom ideas, and podcast and blog post highlights delivered to your inbox, and you'll also get four free one-pager templates with complete instructions!


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!). 

Before you follow the links to TPT, here's one great freebie you can get from me. It's a packet of four one-pager templates (each with specific instructions to guide your students in their critical thinking). These will get you going with one-pagers with ease, whether or not your students enjoy art. Find out more and see a short video right here


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. 


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. 


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!

Have you joined my e-mail community yet? Sign up below for insider freebies, fun classroom ideas, and podcast and blog post highlights delivered to your inbox, and you'll also get four free one-pager templates with complete instructions!

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