Give your Students an Authentic Audience: The "Write the World" Contest Series


When I was seventeen, I had to write about something that mattered to me for a class assignment.

Growing up in Duluth, I was never far from Lake Superior. I drove up to my high school as the sun rose over the water, and drove home trying to simultaneously watch the road and stare at the moonlit path on the water. I rollerbladed on the boardwalk every day over the summer, and swam with my friends after ultimate frisbee whenever I could. When I was sad, I went to the beach. When I was happy, I went to the beach.

So that's why I wrote about what the lake meant to me. "A Presence in the Waves," I called my essay.

My Honors British Literature teacher (amazing superwoman that she is) and I worked on it for a month, through three revisions.

Why do I remember all this so well? I can't tell you much about any other paper I wrote in high school. Can't even remember the topic of a single one, even though it was my favorite subject. (Obviously).

I remember because I was so excited to enter my essay in the local Rotary Essay Competition. Oh the honor, the glory, the golden bars! I could only imagine how incredible it would feel to WIN THE LOCAL ROTARY ESSAY COMPETITION! (I heard you chortle to yourself, just now. Take my teenage-self seriously, puh-lease!).

And guess what? I won.

Now I'm not just telling this story to toot my own horn. Though I'm sure you're very impressed. I'm telling it because writing contests can be such a compelling way to suck your writers into the beautiful slipstream of caring about their writing. An authentic audience, the lure of fame and fortune, there's just something about it.

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055: Hyperdocs, Authentic Audience, and Screencastify with Kristy Louden


Today on the podcast I'm interviewing Kristy, of Louden Clear in Education, about three of her favorite creative teaching strategies. 

Together we're diving into hyperdocs, a public speaking project (that you can try out at your school this year, and I hope you do!) involving the perfect authentic audience, and ways for using Screencastify to save you time and make your hard work more effective. I think you're going to love what Kristy has to share. 

You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher. Or read on for the written highlights.


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What to do when a Student says "I hate reading!"


You know the old English teacher saying, "You don't hate reading, you just haven't found the right book yet!"?

Well, it's true.

But for kids who hate reading, it doesn't solve the problem. They have no reason to WANT to find the right book. Because as they have just mentioned, they hate reading. They're not exactly combing the shelves for good options, building "maybe" lists on Goodreads, and checking in with their parents for the latest and greatest from Audible.

I know you know this. I know I'm preaching to the choir.

It's hard to reach these students sometimes, because they have tried to close their doors to reading. But that's just because they haven't gotten the help they need to find the right book yet.

Now, however, they have you. A teacher who cares so much about them that they're using their free time to peruse the blogosphere for ideas to hook them on reading. To show them the world of books they are sadly missing. And you, my friend, have come to the right place.


3

Give Students Voice with Real-World Argument Writing


It can be hard for students to understand the point of writing papers. Almost as hard as it is for you to hold their hands through the process time after time when they haven't bought in.

"ANOTHER paper?" they cry when you roll out the new assignment, "WHYYYYYYYY?????!!!" 

You'd think by their moans and groans you'd just told your three-year-old she can't have the double-decker banana split.  

Practicing argument writing can get old fast for students. But repetition helps so much in getting them to understand how to write literary analysis, which you know is a skill they really need.
So what are you supposed to do?

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Students CAN focus in December: 7 ELA Activities for the Holidays


With the holidays approaching, students tend to get a little obsessed. I mean, who isn't looking for a little brightness and cheer after the gray and brown month of November? I, for one, am already making a tremendous effort at this point not to say "I hate winter" every time I step outside. (You'd think I'd be tougher from my northern Minnesota childhood... but you'd be wrong).

It's a challenge to keep everyone focused on their work in December, but harnessing the holidays to accomplish some of your curriculum goals can really help. Luckily for English teachers, the skills of speaking, writing, analyzing, and creating can be applied to plenty of holiday themes with no trouble.

Here are seven ways you can incorporate a sprinkle of holiday fun into your ELA curriculum.

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Enjoy your Teacher Observation, 20+ Engaging Lesson Ideas


So your administrator is coming to visit. In an ideal world, this is your chance to ENJOY showing the amazing things you are doing and get some positive feedback and fresh new ideas.

Unfortunately, these observations can easily become major stressors instead. When you feel judged by your administrator instead of supported, then the observation period becomes almost as dread-worthy as a stack of one hundred essays that have to be graded by tomorrow.

It helps to have a solid battle plan. An activity that you know is going to be extra exciting for your students so they can shine and you can relax. Because your teacher observation should be something you can look forward to. After all, you are doing amazing creative work in this world, and you deserve a chance to be applauded for that.

In this post, I'm rounding up a bunch of ideas for you to tap into next time you have an observation. Of course, you can also use them any time you want, whether or not anyone's coming to visit.

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The ELA Teacher's Quick Guide to Meaningful Peer Feedback


Peer editing can be sooo helpful, or kind of a waste of time. In an ideal world, kids trade their writing, get great help, become better writers, and turn in a final product that is more meaningful. They learn more, and you can spend your marking time writing about their big ideas instead of explaining how to analyze a quotation for the three thousandth time. 

But without some guidance, peer editing isn't like this. Students read each other's drafts, add a period here or there, and write "good job" or "more quotes." 

That's why in this post, I'm sharing four meaningful structures you can use to help students give each other feedback that really helps. By the way, you can sign up for the pack of four free guides featured in the upcoming photos at the end of the post. 
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Tired of Crickets? Four Discussion Options for THAT class


Years ago a teacher friend told me his hilarious trick of playing a sound clip of crickets on his computer when no one responded to his questions in class.

I think we've all been there.

But even though the cricket noises are funny a couple of times, what then? What if your students really won't talk?

It's awful! No one needs the palm sweats, the awkward silence, the quick glances to the clock. When students won't respond, your teaching confidence slides downhill like an Olympic skier.

That's why in this post I'm rounding up four options to jumpstart good discussion no matter how challenging the group.

2

The Easy Guide to Blackout Poetry


It's a quest, isn't it? Trying to help students see the point of poetry. Giving them reasons to love it.

I like to give students lots of easy ways to connect to poetry before I start bringing out the poetic canon. It's like teaching kids to enjoy cooking by having them make fudge brownies with you, not braised Swiss chard.

I've written before about the power of using Poetry Slam (or jam) to get students to buy into poetry. But if you're doing a poetry unit and you want a quick hook, a writing assignment to help students start enjoying poetry in just half an hour, it's time to try blackout poetry.

To see blackout poetry in one of its simplest, quickest forms, check out these poems by Austin Kleon, a writer and artist who invented newspaper blackout poetry.

Let's dive into how blackout poetry works in the classroom (you can sign up for a free download of these instructions in handout form for your students in a minute).

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051: Mock Trials, E-mail Etiquette, and Papa Squares with The Daring English Teacher



Ready for a whirlwind tour of some amazing creative strategies? 

Today on the podcast I'm interviewing Christina, of The Daring English Teacher, about some of her favorite ways to engage her diverse group of learners at a large public high school in Southern California. 

I think you're going to love the creative methods she uses to help her students go deeper with their critical thinking and literary analysis.  We're going to be talking about how she uses sticky notes and PAPA squares to help her students become better at literary analysis (yay!), the time she used board games as a creative summative for The Odyssey, her mock trial methodology (love the way the jury chats on a Google doc during the trial!), and the hilarious way she teaches proper e-mail etiquette. I am always inspired by Christina's work, and I know you will be too. 

Today’s episode is brought to you by my new free mini-course, 5 Days to Build a Better Reading Program. If you’re wishing to try choice reading for the first time, or struggling to get your program going, this short e-course is for you. If you can commit ten minutes a day for one week, you’ll soon have students coming into class asking to read, arguing over your most popular titles, and telling you they’ve started to enjoy reading for the first time in their lives. I know from experience that choice reading can be one of the most rewarding parts of your career as a teacher, so I really hope you’ll sign up for this action-packed e-mail course. 




If you're looking for some fresh creative strategies for your classroom, this episode is definitely for you. You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher. Or read on for the written highlights.




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How to Host a Literary Food Truck Festival


Do you ever feel like you're making the last stand in the battle against student apathy? Like even if you put on a Moana costume and sang "How Far I'll Go" your kids would still be staring at their phones?

I get it.

Trying to figure out how to teach students who've already disliked English class for a decade isn't easy.

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One Page of WHAT? 8 Creative Ways to use One-Pagers



Have you been wondering, what the heck is a one-pager? Are you ready to discover the OODLES of ways you can use it in your classes?

Yay!

I first heard about one-pagers last year.  Students simply show what they've learned on a single piece of paper, using words and images. I was already loving sketch notes and artistic interdisciplinary activities.

Then I googled "one-pagers" and it was love at first sight. I mean really, how awesome are the final products we see posted around social media these days?

But I was still wondering the same thing I bet you're wondering: how do you get students there? What about students who hate art? Who think colored pencils are a waste of time? What did the other kids' projects look like, the ones that didn't make the internet photos?

That's when I thought of using templates. I needed some kind of structure to help students succeed with one-pagers, no matter what kind of art skills they had. Specific directions that would help them even if they had never heard of "shading."

Because in the end, a one-pager is a chance to think deeply about something, and show your depth of thought. That's all. You don't have to be Picasso to show, on a piece of paper, that you understood the text.

With the addition of templates, one-pagers become an amaaaaaazing creative classroom strategy.

They've got it all. They help students think critically and creatively. They give YOU a quick assessment option, and give students a colorful, memorable result.

What's more, there are just soooo many ways you can use one-pagers to help your students connect to your class materials.

This post will take you on a tour of options for how to use templated one-pagers. You'll find links to the templates that I have designed for each type of one-pager assignment, or you can use the ideas to create assignments of your own.

One Pagers for Novels


One-pagers for novels ask students to show the most important parts of what they've read. You can ask them to include just about anything, but I like to focus in on character development, themes, author's style, key quotations, and connections between the text and our modern world.

You can use these as an assessment for literature circles, independent reading, or whole class novels.

Want the templates? Let me send you this free set of four templates with complete directions (AND rubric) when you sign up to receive my Friday e-mails chock full of creative teaching ideas and inspiration.



One-Pagers for Identity/Autobiography Units


This templated one-pager asks students to represent their life history and personal qualities. It's a great way to help them reflect on their identities when doing a unit on identity in literature or getting ready to write autobiographies. You can find my handouts here.

One-Pagers for Films


There are so many reasons why watching a video might be useful in class, but it's nice to have some way to keep students focused as they watch.

Whether you're building up to video analysis, using it to introduce new themes, or letting students compare it to what they've read, using a one-pager template to keep them paying attention helps!

 You can write the prompts for each section of the template specifically to relate to what you want them to take away from it, or you keep them on track with my One-Pager for Any Film Activity.   

One-Pagers for Podcasts


Podcasts are all the rage these days.

There are a lot of great ones to listen to in class, to go with the themes of a unit, to practice analysis, or to jumpstart discussions.

But there's always the question, what the heck should everyone be doing while they listen? Staring off into space and doodling aren't great options.

Podcast one-pagers present an easy solution. Students sketchnote their most important takeaways as they listen.  Again, you can create podcast-specific prompts, asking students to capture key quotations, themes and ideas from your episode, or guide students using this general template.

Vocabulary Sketchnotes


Teaching vocabulary isn't easy.

It's hard to come up with a lot of fresh and creative ways to help students memorize words.

One of my favorite ways is to have students respond to funny videos with writing prompts that ask them to include vocabulary words. Another of my favorites is to use vocabulary one-pagers.

Especially if you've already introduced them to one-pagers with one of the other types of templates, they will have a clear idea of how to combine doodles, images, and words to demonstrate the meaning of their vocabulary. Create your own templates or find mine here.

Name Tent One Pagers


Trying to memorize your students names in week one can be so frustrating! You're just a tad busy (ha ha), but the last thing you want to do is offend one of your students. 

With this name tent one pager, students are guided through creating a name tent on card stock that will help the whole class learn their names and get to know them better too. 

Bonus, the name tents work great for the rest of the year when you want to change up your seating chart (just throw out the name cards onto desks however you want them before students arrive), assign groups, or give a helping hand to a substitute teacher. You can find my template here or make your own. 

Reading Profile One-Pagers


It's a lot easier to effectively match students with great books once you know their reading background.

Letting them create reading profile one pagers as you roll out your independent reading program is an easy way to discover their favorite titles, authors, and genres before you begin steering them into your bookshelves. Find my version of this activity here.  

Novel Specific One-Pagers


When you need a novel-specific assessment, you can create instructions for a template that hits on what you want students to take away, as I have done for this one-pager assignment for The Outsiders. 

If you'd like a set of free template options ready made so you only have to create the instructions, you can find that right here. Boo-yah! 


Well, I hope you can see that one-pagers have so much to offer you and your students. I've already fallen for them, and I hope you will too! 

Want more creative resources you can use now, so you can save your prep period to knock out the grading you don't want to take home? 

Check out my free creative curriculum offerings here on this site or peruse my TPT shop. 

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050: The Power of Imperfect Action in the Classroom


You know that feeling you get when you consider trying something new? You're a little excited and a lot worried. Maybe you want to learn French, but you immediately decide you don't have time. Or you want to take a dance class, but you think you don't have enough background for "Beginning Dance."

It's easy to get paralyzed by that feeling, and tie your own feet together. Easy to feel like you need to do a few months of research before making a decision, comparison shop for hours before choosing a new item for your home, read a half dozen pedagogy books before trying a new strategy in your classroom.

Except... who has the time?

Today's podcast (and post) is all about taking imperfect action when you feel stuck. Because in the end, any good action moves things forwards in your classroom, even if it's not Pinterest-perfect.

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Got Reluctant Readers? There's Help.



Imagine yourself on your way to class. You walk by one of your students laying in a sunny patch of hallway, reading The Hate U Give. You walk by another with earbuds in, and notice he's listening to The Knife of Never Letting Go on audio. As you enter your classroom, you see two students over by your bookshelf, arguing about whether Stephen King or Orson Scott Card is more fun to read. You think happily of a letter you just got from a parent yesterday, telling you you're the first teacher to get her son to read a book in five years.

Does it have to be a fantasy?

Sometimes it's tough to fight the barrage of "I hate reading" you hear from students who have been repeating it for a decade. You want to change their minds, but you don't know how. Your administrators sure aren't telling you. You might have read 180 Days, or put No More Fake Reading on your Amazon wish list.

But... is it really possible to help readers this reluctant fall in love with reading? Like, as reluctant as your last period seniors?


Trust me. While you may not reach every reader, it IS possible to draw your kiddos to books like tweens to a Taylor Swift concert.

Grab a glass of wine (unless of course you're at work) and stay with me.

When I taught in Bulgaria, I had one particular student who struggled with reading. He and his best friend sat in the back, and she struggled even harder than he did. I liked him, tried to smile in his direction and ignore the way he put his combat boots up on his desk.

Then I introduced my choice reading program, and slipped Ender's Game into his hands. Suddenly he started coming to class early to ask, "are we reading today?" He always had his book with him. After a week, he suggested that "Ender" would be a good nickname for me to call him.

I think of him often when I talk about independent reading. I bet you've got a student (or twenty) like him in your mind right now. Kids whose lives would be changed by a reading program that really worked.

But how to begin?

That's where I come in. Let me walk you through five steps that will help you build a successful reading program in your classroom. I've built a new (free and fast) e-mail course just for you.

You won't have to worry about all the details. 

I'll show you how to...
  • Get the adults around you on board, so they don't think you're wasting instructional time.
  • Afford, develop, and organize your classroom library. 
  • Help reluctant readers find the right books for them. 
  • Stop having to worry about fake reading. 
  • Assess your students without killing their growing love of reading. 
I know you're soooooo busy. You've got a stack of papers in your drawer, one in your bag, and one with coffee spilled on it on your desk.  You've got meetings, e-mails, and overexcited parents to attend to.You've got family at home waiting for you to light up their lives.

So rather than try to teach you ten years worth of knowledge in one epic blog post, I've boiled it down into five ready-for-action email lessons. Think of it as a challenge. For five days, you'll get an e-mail from me telling you just what you need to know to tackle one of the big questions of independent reading.

You just need ten minutes a day for one week, and you can start a reading program. It won't keep you from getting home in time to throw something into your Instant Pot and play Uno with your kids.

Get ready to see your students fighting over The Shining. Lining up for Ready Player One. Staying up till midnight glued to The Outsiders.

Creating a successful reading program can be one of the most rewarding, fabulous, and fun parts of your teaching career. This (FREE) course is going to make it sooooo much easier. I really want to help you do it.

Here's what'll land in your inbox when you sign up: 
Day One: Convincing Everyone that Reading Matters
Day Two: It All Starts with Books
Day Three: Organizing your Reading Library (free gift!)
Day Four: Inspiring your Students to Read
Day Five: Assessing the Unassessable, Reading
Bonus: Taking Imperfect Action + A Shortcut if you Need It

Ready for action? Sign up below. And send your teacher BFFs this link so you've got a partner in awesomeness. Can't wait to say hello in your inbox.





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Halloween Creative Writing: The Maker Lab


It's easy to envy the primary teachers who get to dive deep into the joys of the seasons with their students. Who doesn't fondly remember making applesauce with their teacher, dressing up for the school Halloween parade or carnival, and coming home with CANDY on October 31st?

I still remember the year I dressed up as a dollar bill for school. It was amazing. Just saying. 

Anyway, I like to try to build in a little holiday time with older students too. It's just another way to learn from the amazing things our primary teachers are doing. Ahem, classroom libraries and beautiful spaces, ahem. 

I have been so inspired this year by Angela Stockman's work with bringing the maker movement into our English classrooms. She shared such a compelling message with me on the podcast (episode  047) about how to use the making process to inspire reluctant writers, spur more critical thinking and creativity, and help overwhelmed students avoid writer's block. 

So I decided to try my hand at creating a Halloween Maker Lab for you. I think you're going to love how flexible and fun this activity is for your students (and that it's a free download you can snag today at the end of this post!). 

The basic premise for this creative activity is that students will create the elements inside of their Halloween creative writing BEFORE they begin writing. By doodling, drawing, constructing and creating, they will brainstorm all their moving literary pieces, and that will make it so much easier to write. When they pick up the pen (or power up the iPad) they will already have a vision. 

And that, my friend, makes a huge difference. 


 

You can use these stations however you wish. Choose a few or choose them all. Let students go to only the ones they find helpful, or ask them to try out every single one you put out. Have students drift freely, or give them a set time at each station and then have them rotate in groups.

Simply cut out the station cards, set up groups of desks or tables in your room, and put out whatever maker materials you can come up with. Pen and paper works. Legos, playdoh, paints, pencils, flair pens, recycled materials do too. Whatever! 

Then invite the students to "make" the elements of their creative Halloween writing. Let them know they will be using for a creative Halloween writing project. 

Once students have made the various elements, invite them to use what they’ve made to help them create a Halloween-themed short story, prepare a dramatic scary story to tell the class, write a series of Halloween poems, or even write a Halloween play or screenplay. Or let them choose what really suits them from all those options. 

This is soooooo flexible. You can do a different station every few days throughout October, then do the writing project at the end. You can do all the stations in one day, then have students work on their writing for the next few and finish with a gallery display of the maker pieces and the final written work. You can do a week's worth of stations as bell ringers, then spend the next week in writing workshop. 



The point, in the end, is to find joy in the creative process, to learn how to #makewriting, and to produce a wonderful written piece! 

Ready for action? Grab this set of stations by signing up for my e-mail list below. You'll get your free download as soon as you confirm your address, and you'll also be joining 6,000+ other teachers in receiving creative teaching ideas and updates on new posts and podcasts from me on Fridays. Whoo hoo! 




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049: Take Flight with Google Classroom, with Matt Miller


I just keep hearing about Google Classroom. Whispers of how to use it to organize everything. To respond to everything. To eliminate the paper trail. To differentiate for different ability levels. To pull in creative new options for class time.

I bet you've been hearing about it too. Maybe even experimenting with it. But perhaps, like me, you've got a lot of questions.

That's why I invited Matt Miller, of The Google Tribe Teacher Podcast, onto the show. We're talking about how to use Google Classroom from an English teacher's perspective. We'll be covering what it is and what it does, how to get started with it, how to use it to stay organized and create truly creative lessons, and also how to use it to make your grading quicker and more effective. At the end of the show, I asked Matt if there's a way to use Google classroom to help prevent plagiarism and cheating, and I think his answer will surprise and delight you, as it did me. 

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The TPT Day of Giving: 9/27/18


There's a big day coming up on Thursday. Have you heard? It's the TPT Day of Giving, and I want to tell you about it and invite you to participate.

Zoom backwards with me for a moment. When I was little, my Dad always had a story for me about his days as a Sociology professor.

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Reading Program Accountability that doesn't Ruin Everything


So you know you want your students to love reading. It will help them develop their writing skills, make them more successful in all their classes, teach them empathy, broaden their horizons, and help them become critical thinkers and leaders. 

You've seen the buzz about Gallagher and Kittle's 180 Days here there and everywhere, or you've read Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer) or Nancie Atwell. Maybe you listened to Jennifer Gonzalez interview Pernille Ripp for the podcast episode, "How to Stop Killing the Love of Reading."

You're working on your independent reading program, maybe you've picked up some great books and managed to add some silent reading time for your students to your busy week. 

Now what?
2

How to Plan a Unit for ELA


So you've gotten your classroom ready, gotten to know your students, laid out the order of your texts and units for the year. But what comes next? How do you plan a unit so you can fit in everything you need to do?

Planning things out in advance helps you feel like you have control over your curriculum, and actually makes it easier to fit in all the creative activities you want to do. You can be sure that you are hitting all your priorities as you define the many wonderful parts of your unit.

For today's post, I wanted to share a few strategies for unit-planning success with those of you who are newer to the process. It can feel so intimidating to try to fit everything in - vocabulary, reading, writing in different genres, different types of discussion, research, passion projects, grammar, journaling, blogging, projects, acting, speeches, etc.! You've got your list of standards or the priorities of your grade level, and somehow you're supposed to stir all this together and produce the perfect unit.

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The Power of the Writing Makerspace, with Angela Stockman




For a long time, the conversation around the maker movement pointed in one direction, STEM. No longer! Because of Angela Stockman's amazing work developing the make writing movement, ELA makerspaces are now popping up around the country. Students are discovering new levels of complexity and creativity as they work with maker materials to develop their ideas before they write them down. 

I invited Angela on the show to share the origins of the #makewriting movement and to teach us how to get started with making writing in class. Don't be nervous! There's no need to run out and buy a ton of materials or scrap the writing curriculum you already have. 

In this show, you'll learn about some basic (even free) materials you can use to start, get ideas for prompts you can share with your students to inspire their making, and find out how the process of making writing will help your reluctant and enthusiastic writers alike to develop their skills and love of writing. At the end, we'll explore a little about what Angela learned in her recent trip to visit the Reggio Emilia schools of Italy, a system that honors the classroom space (or "atelier") as one of the teachers in the school environment. 

2

YA Novels that Make a Difference



Have you noticed how powerful YA is becoming? I have always loved YA, for the chance to dive into other worlds, for the wonderful characters, for the entertainment, for the fun. 

But lately I love YA for how thought-provoking it is. For the way it lifts the veil on issues that I haven't experienced and gives me a real lens into lives I haven't lived. 

I believe to my core that reading helps develop empathy in our students. That it is one of the most powerful ways for them to broaden their horizons and start to understand issues and people and places that are outside their own experience. I bet you do too. I bet you're always looking for new titles that will lead your students down worthwhile paths. 

That's why this week I am sharing five of the best YA novels I've read in the last few years that can help your students grow as people, not just hook them on reading. Though they are all compulsively readable, and likely to help your readers develop their love of literature too.   
2

046: Sketchnotes are Awesome, with Mike Rohde



Oh the hours I've spent doodling. I created a whole world of doodle characters in high school, with different expressions and outfits and pursuits. The margins of all my notes were stuffed with doodles that had nothing to do with what my teachers were talking about.

What a missed opportunity.

If only I knew then, what I know now. Doodling doesn't have to be relegated to the margins. 

Enter, sketchnotes. When I first discovered the concept of sketchnotes, it was love at first sight. Finally, a way to make the listening process active and even, for those so inclined, artistic. If you've been with me on this journey for a while, you know how much I love one-pagers. I bet you love them too. Sketchnotes are like one-pagers that you create on the fly, making your choices rapidly as you process information and get what really matters down onto your notes through a combination of pictures and words. 

In a nutshell, sketchnoting is a powerful way of taking notes in which the listener processes the information while putting it on the page. Some things are bigger, some things are smaller. Some things are bolder, some things are brighter. Some things that don’t feel important just don’t make the cut. Drawings and experiments with different fonts, arrows, bubbles, icons, and more help to make the important information noticeable and memorable.  For me, sketchnotes make listening way more enjoyable, and they make information stick in my head longer. That’s why I am so excited to be sharing a conversation with Mike Rohde, the creator of Sketchnotes, on the podcast today.

Before we dive in, let's look at just a few examples of sketchnotes in education that Mike was kind enough to share with me. It helps to see this work in action so you know what the end goal is as you begin to experiment with sketchnotes.

Take the case of Allison Huang, a middle school student who read Mike's book on sketchnoting and began experimenting in various mediums with creating sketchnotes for her history and science classes, eventually working her way into producing amazing sketchnotes on blank paper and digitally. You can read her story here, and see an example of her work below.

Digital Sketchnote by Allison Huang, 8th Grader

Then there's the story of educator Stewart Hudnall, who decided to sketchnote his own lecture on the board while inviting students to do the same. (That's right, you can share YOUR sketchnotes with your students too!). Says Stewart, "I tried this on my two rowdiest classes and it was wonderful to see how the kids reacted to the change. All of a sudden they quieted down and were paying attention. They loved it!"  

Whiteboard Sketchnotes by Educator Stewart Hudnall

History teacher Brent Pillsburg has adapted sketchnotes as a way to review each chapter of the history textbook (again, making this sketchnoting assignment a lot like one-pagers). You can see an array of amazing work by his students right here, and one stunning example below. 


I could go on like this for a long time, but we better get to the podcast! Hopefully you are feeling excited to dive in, and ready to try sketchnoting yourself, because...

The Challenge

To help you experiment with sketchnotes and feel more prepared to share the method with your students, Mike and I are inviting you to sketchnote this podcast episode, then share it on Instagram with the hashtag #podcastsketchnotesparty and see what everyone else has created too.  

Tag us @nowsparkcreativity and @rohdesign, and we’ll be cruising around to see and applaud your experiments all week (August 23-30).

I’ll be choosing three random winners to receive twenty-five dollar gift cards to pick out fun teacher shirts at my favorite online teacher apparel store, The Wright Stuff Chicks.  

If you don’t have Instagram, join the fun in my Facebook group, Creative High School EnglishThere will be a thread in there where you can post your photos if that works better for you.Just search #podcastsketchnotesparty inside the group. I can’t wait to see what you come up with! 



If you're feeling a bit nervous, or you think your students might be intimidated at the prospect of sketchnoting, spend a minute with the video below and sign up for your free download of sketchnotes templates to help you get started.  I used one to create a sketchnote for this podcast (above) and I enjoyed having a little structure to get me going. 



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045: Memes, Interactive Notebooks, and YA with Tracee Orman



As a kid, my favorite book was Anne of Green Gables. I read the entire multi-book series a dozen times (all the way up through Rilla of Ingleside, Anne's last daughter), and watched the movies whenever I was sick. Anne is ever in search of "kindred spirits," people who she feels intuitively connected to. 

In today's podcast, I get to talk to a kindred spirit, and I think you're going to feel the same way.

I just loved getting to sit down with Tracee Orman. I agreed with everything she said, and found myself nodding along enthusiastically and taking notes as she talked. For the first time, I really understood how memes could play more than a humorous role in the classroom. For the first time, I felt like interactive notebooks were worth diving into. And I got to dig into some of my favorite subjects - YA and Creative Project Prompts - and hear a fresh and fabulous perspective. 

You guys, this show is fantastic! That's why I saved it to share with you right as school starts. Because Tracee shares so many wonderful actionable strategies that you can use RIGHT NOW as day one approaches. (And of course, if you're listening later on, anytime!). 

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The ELA Assessment Game Plan (25 Options)


So you've finished a novel, and you want your students to practice writing. But you don't really need a five paragraph essay at this point in the year. You want your students to practice their writing, but you want it to be creative and empowering, involving no busywork or hoops to jump through.

Preferably, the assessment you're looking for would also be interesting to grade.

Luckily, there are a MILLION options when it comes to creating an inspiring ELA assessment. Folks, we won the lottery here in ELA. Inspiration is everywhere!

For example, flip the radio on on the way to work and you've got half a dozen assessment ideas.

Students could create a playlist to match a character's experiences, host a literary podcast and bring on the author of the novel for a conversation, script a news interview between an NPR anchor and three literary characters around a theme from your current novel, write and perform a song about a character's development throughout the novel, curate a Ted show pulling together three existing Ted talks relating to a theme in the novel, or write the script for a call-in show in which characters from the novel call in for advice and discuss their problems with a host.

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10 Elective Ideas for ELA


Electives can be incredible. I love teaching them, but I've also found they are not without their challenges. I often find my electives to be a mix of two types of students, the students who love English so much they are taking two English classes (an advanced course and an elective) and students who have struggled so much in English that electives are their best option to be successful.

Teaching a course that truly interests you and that you can fill with content so inviting and empowering that both types of students can succeed will help so much. There's more to the story than that, of course, teaching strategies matter too. But this post is to help you find a course elective concept you love!

So without further ado, here are ten elective ideas for your next ELA course design project.

Travel Literature
Do you love visiting other countries through books like The Sun Also Rises, Eat, Pray, Love,  and A Year in Provence? Travel literature is popular and broadening, and for students longing to stretch their horizons, it will make an appealing elective. The topic also lends itself well to an exploration of modern travel media, since travel vlogs, podcasts, Instagram feeds, and blogs are so popular and prevalent.

Blogging & Podcasting
Bring your students into the world of modern journalism and let them explore their own passions when you introduce them to these two mediums. Help them set up their own channels and then share stellar models from around the web before launching them to write, curate, and record their own work. They'll love the authentic audience, and you'll love the engagement.

Youtube Hosting 101
A lot of kids out there dream of becoming a Youtube sensation. The great thing about Youtube is that there is a market for practically every topic. As with blogging and podcasting, students can share on whatever topic truly interests them. They will still need the essential ELA skills of research, writing, and speaking to be successful. Get them going in iMovie and share tutorials of your own or online every week to help them learn new techniques in their video creation. While subscriber numbers won't have anything to do with their final grade, you can bet they will love realizing they are impacting viewers around the world as those numbers grow.

Journalism
Journalism sure has changed in the last two decades. In a modern journalism class, you can explore everything from writing to video creation to podcasting to social media. Have students write about what's happening in their own community, and submit pieces to writing contests and local newspapers. Or start a class news site online or a class social media channel.

Film & Screenwriting
Are you a movie buff? In the era of Netflix, students have more access than ever to films and T.V. shows whenever they want them. Tap into their interest by studying great films with them and then launching into screenwriting units of your own. Let them create T.V. show and film scripts, act out scenes, even dabble in storyboarding and filming. All these skills are highly relevant in a world where a writer might well be asked to script and shoot a short video clip in relation to whatever they are writing about.

Creative Writing
Aaah, the classic. If you'd like to keep your focus wide, propose a creative writing class and cobble together bits of all these elective options. Have students enter writing contests, try out Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), record a podcast, script a youtube video, write a short story, start a blog, and more. Creative Writing is a header under which almost anything is possible.

Social Justice & Writing
For this elective, give students a peek into the impact powerful writing can have. Study great speeches, poetry, essays, and films that have impacted the human condition. Use design thinking to help students launch a project of their own to impact the community where you live.



Innovation / Genius Hour
For this elective, students will get to study whatever they want. "Whaaaaat?" you say? Yes, if you decide to try out this elective, you will be trekking into an amazing new wilderness with your students, encouraging them to pursue their own passions through reading and research and then create products reflecting their work. A student might choose to delve into the local food movement and then help start a farmer's market in your neighborhood, putting her ELA skills to good use as she writes letters to local farmers, records a video for a new market website she designs, and goes on a local radio show as a guest. You get the idea! This class requires a lot of one-on-one, so you want to get the basic structure and timeline clearly in place so students know it's not pure free for all.

Theater in Performance
Do your student love drama? Give kids a chance to get up on stage when you create an elective centering around studying, writing, and performing plays. Start your own one-act festival and involve other local schools. Invite an actor as a guest speaker. Watch screencasts of theater from around the world. Put on a class play at a local elementary school. Whatever else you do, bring in costumes.

Dystopia
There's a reason dystopia is sweeping the world. Ask your teenagers to help you figure out what that reason is as you study the literature they are choosing in their free time. What is so powerful about dystopia? Why does it resonate with this generation? Where do we go from here? Travel through the worlds of The Hunger Games, The Uglies, The Maze Runner, Divergent, and so many more as you and your students go deep with dystopia.

OK, and I'm adding an eleventh idea. This one is a bit rogue, but ever since I heard about a friend teaching it a decade ago I have been in love with the idea.

Stuff you need to Know
Seriously. That was the class. Isn't that a great idea? You could interpret this so many ways. Maybe you teach students how to waltz, change a car tire, make bread, write a thank you card, sew on a button, and repaint a wall. Or maybe you spin it another way and teach them how to podcast, edit video, take great photos, write a killer hook, and design a website.

Hopefully one of these ideas will feel like a great springboard to you as you get going in the exciting project of course design.

By the way, did you know there is a big new free resource section on my website? I think you're going to love it! Just jump over here to explore all the available free downloads, like one-pager templates, syllabus templates, attendance questions, book posters, and more. 





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043: Tips for New Teachers with Kristy Avis


The first year of teaching is intense. From that day in the summer when you begin wondering if it's OK to call your assistant principal and request to get into your classroom, to the exhausted finale when you tearfully say goodbye to your students, so much of YOU goes into your work.

While the ups and downs were of rollercoaster quality, I still think my first year of teaching was one of my best, and I bet yours will be too. You have so much to offer - not just a passion for the profession and all the strategies you have been studying for years, but also the ability to connect with students closely. After all, you were just a student, and you will recognize yourself in them more in your first years than later on.

Everything I talk about on this website and in this podcast can apply to your work in the classroom, my friend, no creative strategy is out of your reach. But in this podcast episode, I wanted to narrow specifically in on some of the small tweaks you can make in the first year that will make your overall experience as a teacher a little easier. I invited Kristy Avis to share her ideas with you because I like her proactive approach to the first year, and I think you will too.

Her advice to find a mentor, build clear routines into your classroom, avoid faculty drama, find time for exercise, give yourself easy classroom wins when you are overwhelmed, and never stop believing in your ideas and sharing them in team meetings, all resonate with me.

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How to Match Student Readers with Books they'll Love


You know when there's a book on your bedside table that isn't really working for you? It languishes as you read maybe one or two pages a night before falling asleep. Finally, you return it to the library, find something amazing, and devour it in one or two days, no matter how busy you are.

When it comes to independent reading, making sure our students are matched with the books they will fall in love with makes all the difference. But most kids who don't already love reading have no idea how to pick out a good book, so how can we make sure they find something they will want to read?

Is it really possible to match every student with a good book, every time? Or at least to try?

In short, yes. Though it sounds like an intimidating or even impossible task, there are systems you can put into place to help you a lot. And the more you get to know your students the easier it becomes. Plus, they'll begin passing their favorites along, realizing they can actually enjoy reading, and becoming more active participants in the process.

What begins by seeming impossible, will become one of your greatest joys in the classroom.

So let's talk about the systems. What follows are nine ways you can operate as a successful matchmaker. Use one or use them all!

#1 Host an incredible classroom library

It would be nice if we could all rely on beautifully stocked, thoughtfully displayed, conveniently located school libraries. But since we can't, having a classroom library that is full of highly readable books is a critical part of matching students with books they will love.

Hit half-price book stores, rummage sales, friends' old boxes of boxes, the thrift store, used book stores, and everything in between. Ask for money if you can. Start a Go Fund Me campaign if you need to. Work with your school librarian to pull some books from the school shelves if that's possible.

Here are a few titles I would try to include if I was starting a library right now:
  • The Outsiders
  • The Hate U Give
  • I am Not your Perfect Mexican Daughter
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  • Ender's Game
  • Cinder
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • The Foundation
  • Fangirl
  • Carry On
  • Eleanor & Park
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • The Alchemist
  • Into the Wild
  • Slam
  • The Book Thief
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
  • The Hunger Games
  • Divergent
  • Persepolis
  • Maus
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
  • Uglies
  • The Kite Runner
  • The Time Traveler's Wife
  • The History of Love
  • Sherlock Holmes

My friend Brynn Allison, of The Literary Maven, is constantly putting together lists of great book ideas. So if you are looking to build up your library consistently, stay tuned to her website as well. We also talk a lot about new and exciting books for students inside my Facebook group, Creative High School English, so feel free to join us there.

#2 Create displays that draw students in

How you arrange your books makes a big difference! Try to face a lot of book covers out so that students can see all the options, and when you have the time, craft a fun book display like the ones I featured in the spring in my "Classroom Library Hall of Fame." You'll see a lot of fun displays and set-ups in this post, it's definitely eye candy for English teachers. Students will be drawn to look at and discuss the books you feature in your displays, so be sure to put the cream of the crop out in the spotlight.

#3 Get a sense for your students' reading histories as school begins

Take a few minutes early in your reading program to survey your students somehow about what they like to read. Whether it's a questionnaire about their favorite books and genres, a one-pager about their own reading life and general interests, or a journalistic assignment in which they write up an article about their own reading history, find a way to discover what makes them tick as readers. Even if all you get is one title that they liked six years ago and the information that they're too busy working after school to read, you have a place to start and some important background about them.

#4 Take a break to PITCH

I first learned about this idea from Melissa Kruse of The Reading and Writing Haven when I was interviewing her for my podcast episode on book clubs. She called it a book commercial, while someone in my Facebook group recently called it a pitch. It's a great way to have students share what they are reading with the class.

Decide for yourself whether to choose a student who you know LOVES their book, or just randomly rotate through all the students. Then as a class opener or to kick off a reading chunk of class, invite the student to stand up and give an argument for why their book is awesome. (Students who don't like their books will need to be matched with a new one and given a pass to try again another day). Reinforce how helpful it is for students to share really specific reasons why they are enjoying the book, so that other students will know if they want to read it.

This practice helps generate momentum from within the student community. Certain books will pass from hand to hand quickly, and those matches will all begin to happen authentically without any help from you.

Another, even quicker, way to get students talking to each other about their books is to use a quick activity I call "Book hashtags." Simply take five minutes to have students jot down the hashtags they would use to describe their book on Instagram, then ask them to share those hashtags with partners or small groups and explain why they fit their books. This is a super speedy way to help expose new students to great books. Sign up below and I'll e-mail it to you today!





#5 Invite guest book talkers from the community

Inviting other teachers, parents, administrators, and other staff in to spend five minutes in your classroom talking about their favorite books (which you will just happen to have available for check out, based on your amazing foresight) is a great way to bring new titles into your rotation and help students to see that people besides their English teachers value reading.

I like to snap photos of my guests holding up their books and turn them into reading posters, as a nice visual reminder of the recommendations from within the community. (I also like snapping photos of students with books they recommend to turn into posters!).

#6 Visit your school library after hatching a plan with your librarian (if you have one... excuse me while I cry...)

If your school hasn't made the insane decision to cut the school library, get serious about using this resource. The librarian at the school where I work is a BOOK GENIUS. And so many librarians are. Get together with yours and get help in creating an incredible cart of good options for your students. Or talk with him or her about those few students you might still be having trouble matching after a month or two of school, then let those students browse the shelves with your librarian's guidance and recommendations. A quick trip to the library is never wasted time, as long as you have a plan for what to do with your students who already have a good book or choose a book in seconds. I like to have them write down a list of ten books they might enjoy in the future so they don't just start chatting in the entryway.

#7 Create an online venue for student reviews




I originally used Blogger to post pictures of the books my students were reading along with a paragraph review. Every once in a while I would pass out an index card and ask them to write the name of the novel they were reading and a short review including specifics about why they would or would not recommend it. Then I would type these into blogger as blog posts, building up a large library of student reviews. Now and then I would ask students to hop onto the blog and peruse others' reviews, making a list of books they might like based on others' reviews. This worked well, and students especially liked to see the little widget I put in the sidebar that allowed them to see little dots where they had readers around the world. Before long it was clear that people in dozens of countries were reading and benefitting from their reviews, which gave them a wonderful authentic audience beyond their own peers.

Another, perhaps easier, way to do this now that Instagram prevails would to have students write a short review in a colorful marker, snap a picture of it next to their book with their phone, and send it to you for a class Instagram book review feed. You could simply post it without retyping all the reviews (which was always a bit arduous, I'm not going to lie).

You could do something very similar with a private reading Facebook group, asking students to take one minute during class to post a picture of their book with three or four sentences about it and why they do or don't like it.

#8 TALK to them

OK, yes. This seems a little obvious. I almost forgot to include it, but it's definitely the most helpful way I match students with books. When students are reading quietly in your class, peek over your own book to see how things are going. Take note of students who are obviously not engaged or excited by their books. Then do a lap, checking in here and there. Walk around and peer over their shoulders for a few seconds, then quietly ask "how are you liking your book?" When they admit that they hate it, invite them over to your fabulous library for a few minutes and, based on whatever you know about them and whatever you can find out in those few minutes, help them choose a new book. You may be able to redirect four or five students a day in this way until all the other systems you have in place start to do it for you.

#9 Have "graduating" students create book review bookmarks

At the end of the year, have the students leaving your class create bookmarks featuring a little about themselves and a little about their absolute favorite book of the year. Photocopy these and use them both as bookmarks and as part of your library display bulletin boards or wall decor. Students rising up in the next year will see their older friends' recommendations and also see what students with similar interests enjoyed from your library.


I made you something! Sign up below to receive a fun set of posters for your independent reading library, and you'll also receive my weekly Friday e-mails full of creative teaching strategies.

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