The Literary Maven Goes Back to School

July 27, 2015

The Literary League, a group of exceptional secondary English Language Arts teachers, have come together to share some ideas for back to school with you.
The start of the school year is creeping closer and closer. Whether you are a new or seasoned teacher, that means it is time to start planning for next year. The Literary League, a group of exceptional secondary English Language Arts teachers, have come together to share some ideas for back to school with you.

A Little About Me
I've been a classroom teacher for six years, but have worked in schools and with literacy organizations for nine years. I've primarily taught ninth grade English, but have also taught tenth and twelfth grade English, Achieve3000 & Read180 (reading intervention courses), Creative Writing and Senior Seminar. My experiences have ranged from teaching inclusion (sometimes with a co-teacher, sometimes alone) to teaching Honors in both urban and suburban schools. Because of the diversity of my teaching experiences, my lessons are highly structured with support for all levels of learners. I am experienced in rewriting texts to accommodate students reading below grade level. I am also well versed in aligning my lessons with the Common Core State Standards. 

My Favorite Novel
Close readings following by art-based and creative writing activities will engage students in reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
For a very long time, if you asked me what my favorite book was, I would have told you To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I read the book and watched the film countless times as a child and young adult, and despite that, anytime it is on television now, I have to drop everything and watch it again.

This spring I reread Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck in preparation for teaching it to my tenth grade students. I had forgotten how tragic the ending of the novel is. The plot is simple, but it is impossible not to connect with the characters' plights. Many students deeply connected with the text as well and we had rich classroom discussion about the text and its themes.

Reading the novel was a mix of reader's theater, close readings, and at home reading, but what fostered the high level of engagement for my students was the use of art-based and creative writing activities, both of which allowed deep exploration of the characters and their struggles. You can view all of my resources for Of Mice and Men here.

Use stations to set a tone of active learning and get students up and moving on the first day of school.On The First Day of School
There are teachers out there who are masters of the lecture. They can stand and deliver for an hour without blinking an eye. I'm not one of them. I don't want to be the center of attention all of the time. I want my students to be working as hard as I am (and trust me, if you are lecturing, they are not working hard at all). And frankly, it's boring for both me and my students.

That's why at the start of last school year I decided I was not doing it. I would not stand in front of the room, introduce myself, review the syllabus, and click through my first day PowerPoint as I had for the past five years. Instead, I would do stations. Stations?! On the very first day of class?! While it might seem crazy, I wanted students to see from day one how they would be working in my room. They would be out of their seats, engaged in learning, collaborating with classmates.

Here's a look at my six stations, some of which included group tasks while others included independent tasks. All six stations were intended to be completed within a 45 minute period and using a timer is a must anytime I do stations in my classroom.

Use stations to set a tone of active learning and get students up and moving on the first day of school.Station 1 was a syllabus scavenger hunt (group task). I redesigned my syllabus last year, only including content I thought was absolutely necessary. I then used a newsletter format to create a more visually appealing syllabus and hopefully increase the likelihood of parents and students reading it.

For the syllabus scavenger hunt, I created questions focusing on the most important details of my syllabus. Students were directed to use the syllabus to answer as many of those questions as possible to earn the greatest number of points possible. Different questions were worth different point values and they did not have to answer the questions in order. The group with the highest score received a prize.

To introduce students to a growth mindset, Station 2 was a goal setting activity (independent task). Students were asked to fill in at least one goal for the present year and for their future (10 years from now). Then they cut out the thought bubbles, glued them together (small dots of glue; don’t overdo it), and decorated them as desired. I hung these in the classroom to remind students what they wanted to do that year and beyond. 

Use stations to set a tone of active learning and get students up and moving on the first day of school.
Literature Circles were a new concept in my classroom last year and I was eager to get them started as soon as possible, so I wanted students to select their books on day one. Station 3, "read dating," was an opportunity for students to preview their choices within the genre/theme of study (independent task). Students ranked their choices from 1 (most desired) to 5 (least desired).

To make their decisions, they were encouraged to look at the front and back covers and read a page or two of the book. These novel choices were given out later in the week to be read both in class and at home. Students' Literature Circle groups were formed based on their novel selections.

Again because I wanted to jump into instruction right away, at Station 4 students collected some of the supplies that they would need for the year (independent task). Students selected a notebook (for their homework assignments only) and a folder with a copy of the syllabus, parent and student surveys, and their homework calendar. Putting all of this paperwork in folders ahead of time meant time was not wasted on handed things out and everyone got a copy of everything.

Use stations to set a tone of active learning and get students up and moving on the first day of school.
To allow students input into the classroom environment and help students take ownership of their role as students, at Station 5, students were asked to describe what the perfect school, classroom, teacher, and student would be like (group or independent task).

Students could write complete sentences, short phrases, or words, or draw images as part of their description on the chart paper. I hung these around the room, which was a great way to incorporate student voice and decorate until I had student work to put up. I cover much of my wall space with posters but dedicate my bulletin boards to student work. Using the Post-It kind of chart paper for these lists meant I didn't even need a stapler to hang them up.

The final station, Station 6, was a "get to know you" activity for the students (group task). The quiz asked questions like "Which member of your group has the birthday closest to the start of the school year? When is it?" and "What are you most nervous about as you begin high school?"

Use stations to set a tone of active learning and get students up and moving on the first day of school.Some questions required responses from all group members and some questions only required a response from one group member. These quizzes were a quick read for me later and an easy way to start learning about my students. I also kept them for later reference. If you are interested in starting your school year off similarly, you can find my first day of school stations, which are fully editable, here.

If you are looking for more ideas and resources as you head back to school be sure to check out this post about the first lesson I'll be teaching at the start of the school year and this post about a must have organizational tool and vocabulary resource to use throughout the year.

Best of luck to you this fall!

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  1. I absolutely love your stations idea, and I bet the students enjoyed a break from the usually first day of school activities.

  2. These stations are amazing and have me rethinking my first day activities. Awesome, thanks for sharing!

  3. I love this stations idea! I'm with Melissa - you've got me rethinking some things! :)

  4. Wow! Love this blog post. So many ideas. How could I forget to add in Of Mice and Men!! That's my all-time favorite book to teach!

  5. Great post; thanks for sharing. I am totally with you on not doing the lecture style rules and regulations lesson in that first class - I would much rather do something engaging and fun to set the tone for the year; your stations idea is perfect for that. I love it! Thank you for sharing.

  6. I am not a lecturer either, but I never thought about having stations - brilliant! :)

    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

  7. Excellent ideas, Brynn. Looks like your students have an awesome teacher!

  8. How much do I love your stations? Let me count the ways . . .

    Literary Sherri

  9. I absolutely LOVE the First Day of School Stations! That is such a great idea to get a lot of things accomplished in a fun and student-centered way. Thanks for sharing, Brynn! :)


  10. Stations on the first day of school?! Genius! Sets the tone for active learning right from the start! Love it!

  11. Excellent ideas, Brynn! I especially love the goal setting station. Setting goals is so important to help students not only work to accomplish those goals, but to be able to celebrate little victories along the way. Thanks for sharing!
    Kristen @ Simply Novel

  12. Love your idea!! Thanks for sharing it with us all!


  13. Great stations idea! Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. I'm still chuckling over "read dating"...LOVE it! Thanks for so many great ideas!


  15. Your blog posts are always so thoughtful, and so usable. I think this year...I will up my game and incorporate more stations. Gina

  16. Thank you for sharing! You have inspired me to try stations on the first day of school this year. Would it be possible to get a copy of the sheets you used for your stations? I would appreciate anything you are able to share! My email is: Your station sheets would work perfectly for my 7th grade classes.
    Thanks so much!

  17. I'm with Shari! Inspired to try stations on the first day of school! Would it be possible to get a copy of the stations also? If you would be willing to share, I'm also intrigued by your syllabus newsletter… Would you be willing to share that? I am terrible with formatting, but if I had something to work with, would feel more confident.