Website GOLD for ELA Teachers

Finding great resources online is THE BEST.

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

Much as I have always loved browsing the pedagogy section at the library for the best and brightest new ideas (seriously, I do love this), books about teaching help me improve my long-term skills, not so much my short-term lesson plans. So now I'm going to take you on a little tour of the best of THE BEST that I have discovered in the fourteen years since my first day of teaching.
This is a relatively new site with tons of great ideas for every aspect of the writing process. Whether you are trying to figure out how to design a writer's workshop or an English maker space, need a fun writing assignment or prompt idea, or are looking for prewriting or revision strategies, presents solid ideas from a range of contributing teachers.

The Penguin Putnam Teacher's Guides
I discovered these while I was teaching abroad in Bulgaria, and boy did I give myself a round of applause. What a find! Penguin Putnam has paid writers to put together incredible multi-page guides chock full of discussion questions, class activities, and project ideas. They feature over a hundred titles, including lots of Shakespeare. Go check out their list.
The Teaching Tolerance organization has put up an amazing website full of materials and free lesson plans with titles like "Analyzing Gender Stereotypes in the Media" and "Analyzing How Words Communicate Bias." If you are looking to discuss important issues in the media and the press, is a great place to start.
This website is a veritable warehouse of extensive lesson plans including directions, handouts, and various online interactive tools. It's easy to get intimidated by all the tiny type on the page, but if you can make the search engine work for you, there are oodles of great free lessons here. Check out "All's Well that Sell's Well: A Creative Introduction to Shakespeare" and "Analyzing the Purpose and Meaning of Political Cartoons" to give a sense for the resources available here.

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

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

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

It's a massive site, and an amazing one. Check out John Spencer's "The Creative Classroom" channel and Khan Academy's extensive "Grammar Playlist." Or dive headfirst into Youtube English teacher bliss with my roundup of The Best Youtube Channels for ELA teachers.

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!


An EASY Tool for Making Book Posters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adventuring out of a Crowded Classroom

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

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

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

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

The Computer Lab

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

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

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

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

The Art Studio

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Outdoors

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

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

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

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

Cozy Spaces

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

Performance Places

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

Picnic Grass

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

The School at Large

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

The Library

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

Speaking of choice reading, if you'd like a little help developing your program into one of the most fulfilling parts of your work with students, check out my 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.

While your own classroom is the best place for some things, getting out and about can boost your morale and your students', especially when you're dealing with an overcrowded classroom.


ELA Expert Advice: Coping with Grading

It's the issue that just doesn't go away. No matter how far down in your bag you shove that folder of papers, they'll still be there. No matter how nice you get your office looking "so you can work better," they just don't go away. No matter how much you hope that grading at a coffee shop or with a box of chocolates at your side will make it fun, it really doesn't.

Grading is hard. And it's not the reason any of us went into teaching.

That's why I've rounded up some great ideas from fellow ELA bloggers to give you a helping hand. If you can minimize the amount you grade and maximize the effectiveness of your feedback, you'll be giving yourself the best possible chance to focus your attention on creative teaching and connecting with your students.

Emily Aierstock of "Read it. Write it. Learn it." shares her process for highlighting student errors in themed colors, identifying their "rock star moments," and letting them figure out how to solve their issue with partners.

I shared my favorite strategy in my post about grading from a common errors list. Discover how I avoid repeating the same comments over and over and over and over and over.

I love Secondary Sara's deep dive into 25 Ways to Make Grading Less Painful. Especially when she compares the process of grading to the seven stages of grief! You're definitely going to find at least one, if not twenty-five, usable tips in this post.

Laura Randazzo has a lot of great strategies for avoiding grading overwhelm. Here's the first in her series of four videos to help you make life oh so much easier.

Louden Clear in Education offers some clear advice on guiding students to really read and understand your feedback, which, in the end, can save you a lot of time on marking the same issues over and over.

Melissa Kruse of Reading and Writing Haven has an extensive list of strong ideas for saving time. My favorite is to have students choose one best paragraph or piece for you to grade if they've demonstrated the same skill multiple times. Why write the same comments over and over, if you could just write them on the student's very best work?

Hello Teacher Lady shares her strategy for cutting grading through the use of digital tools Doctopus and Goobric. If the names of those tools don't already have you dying to find out more, consider that Teacher Lady reveals a way to grade with a digital rubric overlaid onto student work, cutting the need for any pen and paper at all. She calls it a game changer, and if you enjoy working with tech, you'll probably agree!

Meredith Dobbs makes a strong case that we all aim for improvement, not perfection, in her article on assessment for She recommends avoiding "the red pen of death," and focusing instead on helping students improve one or two things about their writing each time they have an assignment. Imagine how much easier it would be to comment on one thing instead of EVERYthing!

If you try some of the tips presented here, I have no doubt you'll soon find the load at least a bit more manageable. And every bit counts! The more time you can spend on the parts of teaching that you love, and the more you feel that your hard work grading is really making a difference to your students, the more fulfilled you will be as a teacher. 

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