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.   

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. 


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!). 


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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