July 29, 2016

Back to School Ideas for Middle & High School Teachers: Getting To Know Your Students

This #2ndaryELA Twitter chat was all about preparing for back to school. Middle school and high school English Language Arts teachers discussed collecting student information, what to include in a syllabus, important routines and procedures for the first week, forming relationships with students, and building partnerships with parents.

Read through the chat below for ideas on what student information to collect to enhance your lessons: interests, reading history, learning styles, etc. You'll see examples of how to make your syllabus more visually appealing and learn what other teachers emphasize on day one. You'll also find ways to get to know your students and communicate with their parents.

Hope you'll join us next Tuesday August 2nd at 8pm EST to talk about curriculum and unit planning. We'd also love for you to join our 2ndaryELA Facebook group (even if you aren't on Twitter). 2ndaryELA is a group of middle and high school English Language Arts teachers looking to share ideas and best practices. This group is an extension of our Twitter chat and a place for collaboration, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to post teaching ideas, success stories, resource links, photos, etc. that will enhance our instruction. 

July 25, 2016

On My Bookshelf: Panic by Lauren Oliver

In Panic by Lauren Oliver, school has just ended for the summer and the recent high school graduates are playing Panic, the legendary game of facing one's fears. Heather, Natalie, and Dodge all desperately want to win but only one of them can win as the game become more intense and more dangerous. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot: School has just ended in Carp, a poor small town, and the graduates are all gearing up for Panic. It's the yearly game of dares with the winner walking away with thousands of dollars. Heather has just been dumped by her boyfriend and enters on a whim. Her best friend Natalie wants to take the money and start a new life far from away from Carp. Dodge, a bit of a loner, enters with plans for revenge.

The three unite, promising to help each other and split the winnings. As the summer, progresses and Panic becomes more intense and more dangerous, participants drop out, leaving Heather, Natalie, and Dodge in the final few. There is romance, heartbreak, fights with parents and siblings, and questions about what the end of summer will bring. In the end there is only one winner of Panic, but the lessons learned and friendships gained are a far greater prize.


Why I liked it: The chapters in Panic are written from alternating point of views, Heather's and Dodge's, a technique that always interests me. Both the female and male teenage voices are realistic and convincing, a feat some authors just can't pull off. The novel is fast paced and you will want to read it in one sitting as the intensity of Panic builds and draws you in. The plot had some great surprises and twists that you didn't see coming.

In Panic by Lauren Oliver, school has just ended for the summer and the recent high school graduates are playing Panic, the legendary game of facing one's fears. Heather, Natalie, and Dodge all desperately want to win but only one of them can win as the game become more intense and more dangerous. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.Classroom application: This is a must add to your classroom library (grades 8-12). Both your male and female students will be hooked, although I wish the cover was more gender neutral.

This novel could be a selection for literature circles focused on the theme of coming of age.

You could also use it as a mentor text to have students practice writing from alternating perspectives and developing multiple, intersecting plot lines (part of the narrative writing standards for grades 11-12). Another fun writing exercise would be having students analyze each others' writing to try to determine the author's gender. Can your male students write convincingly from a girl's point of view? Can your female students create a convincing male voice?

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Panic for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:



Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

July 24, 2016

#2ndaryELA Twitter Chat on Tuesday 7/26 Topic: Back to School Ideas Part II

Join secondary English Language Arts teachers Tuesday evenings at 8 pm EST on Twitter. This week's chat will focus on back to school ideas.
Brynn Allison, The Literary Maven & Kristy, 2 Peas and a Dog host #2ndaryELA on Twitter every Tuesday evening from 8 - 8:30 PM EST. #2ndaryELA is a weekly chat for secondary English Language Arts teachers focused on a topic. Every Sunday, we post the topic and questions on our blogs to allow you to prepare for the upcoming Tuesday evening's chat. Thank you to everyone who joined us last school year and we hope that you will join us again.

New in 2016 is our 2ndaryELA Facebook group, which we would love to have you join even if you aren't on Twitter. 2ndaryELA is a group of middle and high school English Language Arts teachers looking to share ideas and best practices. This group is an extension of our Twitter chat and a place for collaboration, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to post teaching ideas, success stories, resource links, photos, etc. that will enhance our instruction.

On Tuesday, July 26, our #2ndaryELA chat will focus on back to school ideas

The Format:
8:00 Intros: What and where do you teach? Include a link to your blog if you have one. #2ndaryELA
8:05 Q1: What student information do you collect at the start of the year? How does it help inform your instruction? #2ndaryELA
8:10 Q2: What information do you include in your syllabus? Share a sample if you’d like. #2ndaryELA
8:15 Q3: What are your must teach routines/procedures the first day/week? #2ndaryELA
8:20 Q4: How do you begin building relationships with your students? #2ndaryELA
8:25 Q5: How do you begin establishing partnerships with parents? #2ndaryELA

The Directions:
1. Log into Twitter on Tuesday from 8-8:30 PM EST.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #2ndaryELA in the search bar. Make sure to click “All tweets.”
3. Introductions are for the first 5 minutes.
4. Starting at 8:05 (@literarymaven or @2peasandadog) will post questions every 5 minutes using the format Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. and the hashtag #2ndaryELA.
5. Respond to questions using the format A1, A2, A3, etc. with #2ndaryELA.
6. Follow any teachers responding and who are also using #2ndaryELA.
7. Like and respond to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your responses to the questions ahead of time using a scheduler like TweetDeck or HootSuite (but don't forget to use A1, A2, etc. and #2ndaryELA). Links are encouraged, so be sure to use a link shortener like tinyurlbitlygoo.gl or ow.ly Just visit one of those links and paste your long link to shorten it for Twitter. Using images is also encouraged when relevant.

New to chats? Here are the rules:
1. Stay on topic & stay positive!
2. Please do not post or promote paid products unless specifically asked.
3. If you arrive late, try to look through other posts before beginning.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet.
5. Always use our hashtag #2ndaryELA, including in your replies to others.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to public. (Also keep in mind that Twitter is completely public – that means students, parents, and administrators can and will read what you tweet.)

Be sure to spread the word to any teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well. We look forward to chatting with you Tuesday evening and in our 2ndaryELA Facebook group!

Get caught up on past chats here:

July 18, 2016

On My Bookshelf: The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg

The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg, though fictional, is an amazing tale of a young man's successful escape from a concentration camp in hopes of warning the rest of the world about its horrors. The novel is full of action and adventure without being overly violent or gruesome. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot: Jacob and his family, Jewish, are living in Hitler's Germany. His parents are in denial about their dire situation and refuse to leave the country, while Jacob's uncle, Avi, is a part of the resistance and begs them to leave. Jacob's sister Ruthie is killed on the Night of Broken Glass and his parents are killed the night before their possible attempt to finally flee Germany.

Jacob manages to escape and join his uncle in his resistance efforts. When a sabotage mission goes terribly wrong, Jacob ends up trapped on a train bound for Auschwitz. Jacob's resistance efforts don't end one he reaches camp. He is selected to be a part of an escape plan to help spread the word about the death camps and warn other Jews.

Why I liked it: I think I've mentioned before that I love historical fiction. Maybe I've also mentioned my slight obsession with literature surrounding WWII and the Holocaust. If I haven't mentioned those things before, now I have and you can understand why I just had to read this. I was also recommended to me by a teacher friend's mother.

The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg, though fictional, is an amazing tale of a young man's successful escape from a concentration camp in hopes of warning the rest of the world about its horrors. The novel is full of action and adventure without being overly violent or gruesome. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.As I read the first few chapters, I  struggled to continue reading. The author's writing, particularly the main character's internal monologue, felt forced. But once events unfolded and the action began, I had to keep reading. The resistance effort is fascinating, and Jacob's plan to sabotage a train bound for Auschwitz is just amazing. There are only 144 known successful escapes from Auschwitz and this is my first time reading about one, despite it being fictional. I also appreciated the author's notes at the end about fact versus fiction in the novel.

Classroom application: Your high school boys will love The Auschwitz Escape. It is full of action, adventure and a little violence (without being too gruesome). If you use literature circles in your classroom, this would be a great choice for a unit on the Holocaust, but also for the theme of heroism or survival. 

The end of the novel focuses on the world's lack of response to the Holocaust despite having concrete knowledge about what was happening in the concentration camps, so this could also be used in an ELA or history unit on genocide.The resistance efforts, escapes, and attempts to warm the world would counter beliefs that Jews just passively accepted their fate and help answer your students questions, when they ask, "why didn't anyone do anything to stop this?"

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Auschwitz Escape for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:



Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

July 17, 2016

#2ndaryELA Twitter Chat on Tuesday 7/19 Topic: Back to School Ideas Part I

Join secondary English Language Arts teachers Tuesday evenings at 8 pm EST on Twitter. This week's chat will focus on back to school ideas.Brynn Allison, The Literary Maven & Kristy, 2 Peas and a Dog host #2ndaryELA on Twitter every Tuesday evening from 8 - 8:30 PM EST. #2ndaryELA is a weekly chat for secondary English Language Arts teachers focused on a topic. Every Sunday, we post the topic and questions on our blogs to allow you to prepare for the upcoming Tuesday evening's chat. Thank you to everyone who joined us last school year and we hope that you will join us again.

New in 2016 is our 2ndaryELA Facebook group, which we would love to have you join even if you aren't on Twitter. 2ndaryELA is a group of middle and high school English Language Arts teachers looking to share ideas and best practices. This group is an extension of our Twitter chat and a place for collaboration, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to post teaching ideas, success stories, resource links, photos, etc. that will enhance our instruction.

On Tuesday, July 19, our #2ndaryELA chat will focus on back to school ideas

The Format:
8:00 Intros: What and where do you teach? Include a link to your blog if you have one. #2ndaryELA
8:05 Q1: What preparations for next school year are you doing over the summer? #2ndaryELA 
8:10 Q2: What are you most looking forward to about this school year? #2ndaryELA
8:15 Q3: Describe the first day of school in your classroom. #2ndaryELA
8:20 Q4: What is your favorite getting to know you activity? #2ndaryELA
8:25 Q5: What will be your first content-based lesson of the year? #2ndaryELA

The Directions:
1. Log into Twitter on Tuesday from 8-8:30 PM EST.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #2ndaryELA in the search bar. Make sure to click “All tweets.”
3. Introductions are for the first 5 minutes.
4. Starting at 8:05 (@literarymaven or @2peasandadog) will post questions every 5 minutes using the format Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. and the hashtag #2ndaryELA.
5. Respond to questions using the format A1, A2, A3, etc. with #2ndaryELA.
6. Follow any teachers responding and who are also using #2ndaryELA.
7. Like and respond to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your responses to the questions ahead of time using a scheduler like TweetDeck or HootSuite (but don't forget to use A1, A2, etc. and #2ndaryELA). Links are encouraged, so be sure to use a link shortener like tinyurlbitlygoo.gl or ow.ly Just visit one of those links and paste your long link to shorten it for Twitter. Using images is also encouraged when relevant.

New to chats? Here are the rules:
1. Stay on topic & stay positive!
2. Please do not post or promote paid products unless specifically asked.
3. If you arrive late, try to look through other posts before beginning.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet.
5. Always use our hashtag #2ndaryELA, including in your replies to others.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to public. (Also keep in mind that Twitter is completely public – that means students, parents, and administrators can and will read what you tweet.)

Be sure to spread the word to any teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well. We look forward to chatting with you Tuesday evening and in our 2ndaryELA Facebook group!

Get caught up on past chats here:

July 15, 2016

15 More Short Stories for Engaging Secondary Students & Teaching Literary Elements

Looking for even more short stories to read with your middle school and high school students? There are so many options out there, many of which can be used to teach a variety of literary elements and lead into interesting discussions and activities. Read on for 15 recommendations from secondary English Language Arts teachers.
I recently wrote about thirteen of my favorite short stories to read with middle school and high school students. While those are my go to stories for teaching literary elements and pairing with other texts, there are so many other options out there. Here's fifteen other short story recommendations from middle school and high school English Language Arts teachers.

1. "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs
My students love this creepy story! But more than that, they love the suspenseful ending that leaves them wondering, questioning, and debating. This story is perfect for teaching foreshadowing, point of view, and irony. A fantastic gem of story that students referenced throughout the school year.
*Recommend by Marypat from Just Add Students

2. "Lamb to the Slaughter" by Roald Dahl
I love teaching this story for its surprise actions from a seemingly harmless protagonist. I start off with a PBL exercise written from the cop's perspective, and students make inferences to decide how and why Mrs. Maloney killed her husband. Once students have solved the mystery, we read the full story. Then, students choose whether to write a closing argument as either Mrs. Maloney's defense lawyer or as the prosecution. Even though we all know she's guilty, it's fun to hear the arguments they come up with!
*Recommended by Danielle @ Nouvelle

3. "All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury is by far one of my favorite authors. He manages to convey so much emotion use so many different forms of figurative language, and yet his language is pretty simple. I've used it with high elementary students, middle school, and high school students. EVERYONE connects to the story. Even though it takes place in a strange time in another planet EVERYONE can relate to the concept of bullying. Especially in this time of cyberbullying, it is important to bring up the conversation of advocating for others, in your class. This story not only is great for analysis, it also allows you to really delve into this topic without seeming preachy. It's great for summer school students stuck inside, or for a story in the midst of winter when you're craving sunshine. Heck, use it at the start of school as you feel summer leaving you. I promise you your students will love creating their own ending, finding the literary devices, and applying this story to their lives!
*Recommended by Carissa, The Melting Teacher

4. "Ruthless" by William De Mille
This story is an absolute hidden gem! Judson Webb, an arrogant business man, gets caught in his own nefarious web. Webb wants revenge against a supposed thief, he sets a trap and... (well I'll let you discover what happens). This short story provides an excellent introduction or revision activity for close analysis of language, inference, characterization and narrative structure. Furthermore it will allow your students to debate issues of justice, cause and effect, responsibility and revenge. A perfect package for engaging analytical and critical thinking.
*Recommended by Louisa Enstone, Literature Daydreams

Looking for even more short stories to read with your middle school and high school students? There are so many options out there, many of which can be used to teach a variety of literary elements and lead into interesting discussions and activities. Read on for 15 recommendations, including this one, from secondary English Language Arts teachers.5. "The Chaser" by John Collier
"The Chaser" by John Collier
If you like story lines filled with mystery, manipulation, and magic, you’ll love “The Chaser” by John Collier. This little story poses big questions like:
1) What constitutes criminal intent?
2) What qualifies someone as a victim?
3) What types of decisions (if any) determine destiny?
As the story unfolds, Collier compels every reader to wonder, “What would I be willing to do to gratify my deepest desires?” This well-crafted story - which was also turned into a “Twilight Zone” episode - inspires lively (and sometimes heated) discussions in middle/secondary classrooms.
*Recommended by Janice Malone, ELA Seminar Gal

6. "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
Can a person die of a broken heart? Kate Chopin poses this question with her classic tale, “The Story of an Hour.” The surprise ending provides an ironic twist that will engage your students and make them reconsider the obvious answer. Despite being set in the late nineteenth century, students will no doubt relate to the themes of love and personal freedom. This brief, yet poignant story, is packed with teachable literary elements and demonstrates the brilliance of Chopin’s craft.
*Recommended by Kim, OCBeachTeacher

7. "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros
I enjoy reading and teaching this story to my special education middle school students in the beginning of the year. Although some of my students may not be eleven at the time we read this story, the lesson is one that we can all identify with. There are times when we all can act mature and our age but there are other times where for no apparent reason, we act immature and childish. We all get embarrassed and are put in situations where we wish we could've acted differently. I like teaching this story in the beginning of the year because it gives my students and myself a common experience to draw from. I get to learn about my students from their personal experiences and they get to see that I am not perfect but a human also who makes mistakes, just like them.
*Recommended by Kristin Muse, Samson's Shoppe

Looking for even more short stories to read with your middle school and high school students? There are so many options out there, many of which can be used to teach a variety of literary elements and lead into interesting discussions and activities. Read on for 15 recommendations, including this one, from secondary English Language Arts teachers.
8. "Test" By Theodore Thomas
My students love this short story because it has a huge twist at the end which is completely unexpected. It is also realistic fiction/science fiction cross over, which are two genres most students really enjoy reading. This story is great to teach story elements of plot, characters, theme, setting and conflict, and is just one of the stories students read during my short story unit, which culminates with a Short Story Choice Board. Students are given a choice board with the main focus areas of reading, writing, oral, visual/media. Each topic has three different choices for each focus area. Students are required to select one option from each column to complete and then hand in to be assessed.
*Recommended by 2 Peas and a Dog by Kristy Avis

9. "Lob's Girl" by Joan Aiken
Its tale of loyalty and friendship combined with mystery and suspense make it an incredibly engaging read. Students develop skills in understanding short story elements, mood development, theme, foreshadowing, vocabulary, dialect, and writing while reading this story. "Lob's Girl" taps into students' natural love of animals and keeps them intrigued until the very end!
*Recommended by Mary Beth, Brain Waves Instruction

Looking for even more short stories to read with your middle school and high school students? There are so many options out there, many of which can be used to teach a variety of literary elements and lead into interesting discussions and activities. Read on for 15 recommendations, including this one, from secondary English Language Arts teachers.
10. "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
This dark short story is an awesome way to spark great conversations OR jump-start a unit on a dystopian novel; for example, I teach this short story right before we start reading The Giver in eighth grade. It's a fairly easy read, since there's so much dialogue, but it raises great questions about whether or not societies should follow traditions and why. We also like to build "conspiracy theories" about whether or not dystopian authors of books like The Giver and The Hunger Games were inspired by (or plagiarized) this short story.
*Recommended by Secondary Sara

11. "Raymond's Run" by Toni Cade Bambara
“Raymond’s Run,” by Toni Cade Bambara, is a story I love teaching with my middle school students. The first-person narrator, Squeaky, grabs everyone’s attention with her “tell-it-like-it-is” attitude. Bambara uses long, rambling, descriptive sentences to show us Squeaky’s confidence as a runner, her fierce loyalty to her mentally-challenged brother, Raymond, and her determination to rise above peer pressure. There are an abundance of theme topics for discussion and writing! Also, it’s a perfect story to track the way a character changes over the course of a text, since at the story’s end, Squeaky has a different perception of both her brother and her opponents. After reading, my students enjoy creating a foldable Story Brochure, which focuses on several different tasks including character traits, illustrating a conflict, new words, theme, summary, and close reading questions.
*Recommended by Joy Sexton

12. "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury
One of my favorite short stories to teach is Ray Bradbury’s futuristic, yet cautionary tale, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” This story is phenomenal for teaching setting, foreshadowing, and theme. When I teach this story, I really focus on setting. I want students to pay attention to every detail of the house. I want them to understand the way in which this family lived in this smart house. As they look at and analyzing the setting of this story, I urge them to discuss why they think this house is empty, and where they think its occupants are. As we finish reading the story, I ask them to tell me what happened to its occupants and why they think it happened. This generally leads to a conversation about theme –which usually revolves around technology and war. After reading the story, I like to complete a poetry analysis activity where I have my students analyze the poem for which the story is titled. “There Will Come Soft Rains” is a must read in the secondary English classroom.
*Recommended by The Daring English Teacher

13. "The Schoolmistress" by Anton Chekhov
It’s no secret that when learners link their lives to literature as they do through contrasts in this story – they gain and retain far more. What’s less known though, is how teens make relevant links between literature and learning – in ways that cultivate curiosity, build on their diverse intelligences, and lead to meaningful and brain based takeaways. This story invites personal links that help students to enjoy and learn literature in ways that offer lived experiences to bring alive Anton Chekhov’s classic story, and their own. They start by recalling similar experiences to those they predict in the story, and end by pass a talking stick to share and compare story parts that relate to their interests and experiences.
*Recommended by Ellen Weber - Brain Based Tasks for Upper Grades

Looking for even more short stories to read with your middle school and high school students? There are so many options out there, many of which can be used to teach a variety of literary elements and lead into interesting discussions and activities. Read on for 15 recommendations, including this one, from secondary English Language Arts teachers.
14. "The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury
"The Veldt" is a chilling dystopian short story about the power of technology in our lives. We all enjoy various electronics as they make our lives easier, but can it go too far and be too much? I love to use this idea to “hook” my middle school students at the beginning of the year as they love their technology. You can imagine that a Socratic Seminar revolving around this theme really fires them up! We discuss how technology impacts our lives, both positive and negative, and even about how doing some things for yourself might be better than having all things done for you. It’s a perfect lead-in to establishing expectations for the year and creating an environment of personal responsibility and self-motivation that can be supported by technology but hopefully not dominated by it!
*Recommended by Lisa at Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

15. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce is one of the short stories that I use as part of my fall boot camp. I use it to teach the point of view; it is written in third person but as a stream of consciousness. The story is a frame story where the middle section is an alternate reality. In addition the story takes place during the Civil War, which makes it an excellent choice for any American Literature or American History class. My students are usually drawn in by the alternate reality and shocked by the ending.
*Recommended by Sarah from Kovescence of the Mind

For more ideas for teaching short stories & literature: 

July 13, 2016

Connect & Collaborate With Other Secondary ELA Teachers

Connect & collaborate with other secondary ELA teachers. Join a growing community of middle school and high school English Language Arts teachers on Twitter and Facebook. We chat weekly on Tuesdays at 8pm on Twitter on focused topics while our Facebook group is an open forum for sharing ideas and asking questions. Whether you are a new or experienced teacher, the #2ndaryELA community will inspire and invigorate your teaching.
Sometimes in the teaching profession you are lucky enough to be surrounded by colleagues who are eager to collaborate and a schedule that allows time for you to talk and plan together. Other times coworkers aren’t willing or interested working together, there just isn't the time to do so, or there isn't anyone else at your school teaching the same course, subject, or grade. These are the times that are frustrating and even isolating for teachers who want to grow and share best practices.

During the summer of 2015 Kristy Avis and Brynn Allison (that's us!) met online in a Twitter chat and we decided to start our own Twitter chat for middle school and high school English Language Arts teachers as a way to combat that frustration and isolation too many of us experience in teaching.

The weekly chats on topics such as teaching the classics, classroom management, avoiding teacher burnout, and using picture books at the secondary level were a source of inspiration in our classrooms and others' across the country.

At the start of 2016, we launched the 2ndaryELA Facebook group as a place to continue our weekly discussions, collaborate on other topics, ask questions, and encourage each other. All members are welcome to share teaching ideas, success stories, resource links, photos, etc. that will enhance our instruction.

So whether you're feeling frustrated, alone, uninspired, or just looking to connect with like minded, motivated educators, we'd love for you to join our weekly chats and our dialogue on Facebook. In addition to welcoming new Twitter chat participants and Facebook group members, we are always looking for topic suggestions and guest hosts for upcoming chats. Submit ideas and requests to host here. We look forward chatting with you soon.

Find summaries of #2ndaryELA's past chats here: