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).


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.


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.


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?


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? (Psst, by the way, let's hang out on Instagram!)

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. 


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.


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.


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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