December 11, 2021

8 Lessons To Look Forward To Before & After Winter Break

Students are full of energy in the days leading up to winter break AND the days after it. These 8 seasonal lessons will channel that into engagement.

Middle school and high school students are full of energy in the days leading up to winter break AND the days after it. Work with that excitement rather than against by planning a few days before and/or after winter break to engage in some seasonal lessons. Because, hey! secondary students deserve to have fun just as much as elementary school students. These 8 resources connecting to Christmas, New Years, and the winter season will channel students' energy into engagement.

November 30, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in December

We're kicking off a new unit "Facing Fear," with short stories and poetry before moving into nonfiction. Choice reading and writing routines continue.

My predictions about November being over in the blink of an eye were correct and now we're into December! Perhaps because October was a nightmare of a month for me (my entire household had Covid and I missed nearly 3 weeks of school), November seemed easy breezy in comparison. I also feel incredibly fortunate that my school has invested in building substitutes so my colleagues and I are not constantly covering classes the way I know so many other educators are right now. 

November 2, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in November

Our whole class novel study will wrap up with an essay focused on how conflict helps to reveal theme. Students will also have a choice of projects.

Just when I though we were settling into routines, I had a nearly three week absence in early October due to Covid-19. Despite being vaccinated and being cautious as possible, the virus spread from my husband to one of my daughters to me and finally my other two daughters. Fortunately my husband and I had mild symptoms and my three daughters, all too young to be vaccinated, were asymptomatic. Teachers always joke that writing lesson plans is worse than calling out sick, but being sick, solo parenting while quarantining, AND writing lesson plans for 12 days definitely was a whole 'nother level of stress. We're gradually getting back in the swing of things at home and at school. This month will bring benchmark testing, the book fair, and Thanksgiving Break, and I feel like before I blink November will be over too.

October 6, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in October

After a choppy start, I'm settling into routines with my classes: independent reading, choice writing, our first unit, and soon our whole class novel.

After a choppy start (we didn't have a full five day week of school until the fourth week of school), I finally feel like I'm settling into routines with my classes. What I'm most excited about this school year is how many students are excited about reading. Independent reading is now part of our daily routine at the start of class (I struggled to commit to that this year, but the start of class is what works best for me and the flow of my lessons). I have a variety of strategies I'm using to read the excitement of reading high and expose students to books from our classroom library they might want to read next. I am also slowly working toward my goal of connecting our independent reading with grammar and writing instruction, so far with great success.

September 5, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in September

I'm back to school, getting to know my students, and getting books in their hands. Read on for what I'll be teaching and reading in September.

And just like that, school is back in session again. After a week of professional development (good, but still made my head want to explode. I'm back in the classroom with full classes of students for the first time in about a year and a half. 

I am feeling incredibly anxious about the health risks of being in a room full of students who are largely too young to be vaccinated. While, my school (and state) is mandating masks for everyone and students' seats are three feet apart, I worry that it will not be enough to prevent the kind of horror stories I'm hearing from teachers in the South and West who have been back at school for weeks now. 

August 6, 2021

Literature Circles: Skill Focused Activities

Literature circles are about reading and discussing, but also an opportunity to review and introduce skills through focused writing and activities.

Literature circles are not just about reading and discussing in student led groups, teacher led groups, or online. They are also an opportunity to review old skills and introduce new ones. Opting to use mostly skill based activities (i.e activities that focus on conflict or character) rather than text based activities (i.e. activities that are specific to a certain book) allows all students to engage in the same work regardless of what book they are reading. This approach also means much less work for you as the teacher.

Literature Circles: Online Discussions

Students practice providing text evidence to support their ideas and respectfully responding to others in online literature circle discussions.

While I am meeting with literature circle groups for teacher led discussions, the students not meeting
with me participate in their online discussion groups. These "discussions" are written, rather than oral, and take place in a shared Google Doc, to which all students in the group have edit access. 

These online discussion are not just busy work to keep students quiet and occupied while I meeting with other students. Just like our live discussions, these online ones allow students to practice providing text evidence to support their ideas and how to respectfully agree or disagree with other students' ideas.

August 5, 2021

Literature Circles: Holding Teacher Led Discussions

If you are new to literature circles or want enjoy talking about books with your students, teacher led lit circle discussions may be the way to go.

If your students aren't ready for student led discussions during literature circles, teacher led discussions are another option. As I shared before, I am not a fan of using assigned roles during literature circles because students can become overly focused on their role and then don’t have much else to contribute to the discussion. While I've found success with student led discussions, I have found just as much success with teacher led ones.

August 1, 2021

What I'm Reading & Planning in August

School starts up at end of August, but until then I'm enjoying summer. Here's my TBR list for the month and an update on my writing instruction plans.

This summer has been all about making myself feel like me again. Between the struggles of the pandemic and mothering three little ones, I needed to spend this summer on things that make me happy. I've focused on making time for more exercise outdoors and reading even more than I do during the school year. I've been writing blog posts and revising teaching resources. I've traveled to visit family in the Catskills of New York and spent two full weeks plus several weekends at the New Jersey shore with my immediate family. I've taken my girls to playgrounds and splash parks, and filled up bags and bags of library books. 

July 27, 2021

Literature Circles: Holding Student Led Discussions

If students are new to literature circles or if you want students to be able to run their own discussions, a highly structured format is a must.

You've decided on the books and how to group students, but now you will have to decide how you'd like to structure the discussions those groups will have. I am not a fan of using assigned roles during literature circles because I find it can lead to superficial engagement with the text. Student can hyper focus on fulfilling their role of writing a summary, defining unknown words, etc. and then don’t have much else to contribute to the discussion. I’ve run literature circle discussions in two different ways and have found success with both.

Literature Circles: Grouping Students & Holding The First Meeting

Create literature circle discussion groups, in which students will feel comfortable sharing and build excitement with their first group meeting.

Group dynamics are important during literature circles. If you want to get beyond surface level responses, students must be comfortable with you and other students. Your classroom must be an environment where they feel comfortable sharing and not be concerned with what constitutes the "right" thing to say. In addition to selecting texts and having students preview them, before getting into literature circles you will need to make sure students are ready for a departure from a typical novel study.

June 30, 2021

What I'm Reading & Planning in July

Summer is for reading and recharging. Here's my TBR for July and the reading choices and writing instruction I am considering for next year.

School is out for the summer and those last few days of teaching in June weren't half bad. After sweating through two field days (thanks hybrid schedule), we spent our last few days in the classroom reflecting on the year and having fun. Students created a virtual portfolio and completed an end of year survey for my class. On our last day of class, students "competed" in a series of summer themed challenges. It was definitely a school year like no other and I'm interested to see what next year will bring.

Reading in July
I read all but two books on my June TBR list. I read 7 middle grades titles, all of which were audiobooks. I also read 3 young adult titles and 1 professional development book that I plan on finishing today. I decided to start including the titles that I did read the previous month in these blog posts because it is usually more than what I set out to on my TBR list.

So here's what I read in June:
1. Walls by L. M. Elliott (young adult, available July 27)
5. Blended by Sharon Draper (middle grade)
7. The Brave by James Bird (middle grade)
9. Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai (middle grade)
10. Goldie Vance: The Hotel Whodunit by Lilliam Rivera (middle grade)

More time in the car driving my oldest daughter to and from camp plus the back and forth from the beach plus more downtime at home means I've had more time for audiobooks. During the school year when I'm tired, I get in bed with a book, but I'm finding I'm doing less of that during the summer because I'm better rested and less stressed. Tracking the number of books I've read throughout this year and the format of those books (physical versus audiobooks) has really helped me think about my reading habits and ensure that I'm not spending too much time doing less important things (yes, I'm talking about you social media). In July, I'm hoping to read a few more adultish titles plus two PD books that I want to lean on during my writing instruction this year.

Here's what I'm hoping to read in July:
2. Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson (professional development)
3. Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson (professional development)
5. The Light Between Us by Andrew Fukuda (young adult fiction)

Planning in July
Immediately after school let out, I spent a week at the beach with my little ones, enjoying being able to just be mom. Now we're in the swing of summer, which means some time at camp and with their summer sitter for my girls and long weekends at the beach. The days when my girls are occupied, I spend working through my teaching resources, making plans for next year, and thrifting for books.

One of my first summer tasks, especially after this year, was to do a clean up of my Google Drive. I have an archive folder where I put all of the folders I won't need next year, but might want to reference at some point. Then I organize everything in my ELA folder, labeling and color coding things so they are easy to find and access. One thing I did this year that I haven't done in the past is to make copies of excellent student work samples and save them in the folders with the assignments. I know I'll be thanking myself for that next year.

Another of my first summer tasks was to review the novels I used this past year and submit any changes so books could be ordered for next year. In Trimester 1, my theme is "animal intelligence" and all students read Pax by Sara Pennypacker, which I'm keeping for next year. I'm considering replacing it with Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly, but not ready to create an entirely new whole class novel unit just yet. 

I am also going to keep the parallel novels from Trimester 3 tying into the theme of "dealing with disaster." Using Life As We Knew It and The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer meant students still had a choice in books, but they were similar enough that we could have whole class discussions that still made sense to everyone. That was perfect for the end of the year when we did a lot more just talking about our books and less assignments. The change in genre (the rest of my titles are realistic fiction and these are science fiction/dystopia) is also nice.

For my literature circles with the theme of "facing fear" during Trimester 2 this past year students had 6 choices: On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer, Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee, Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes, The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz, A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée, and Under A Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. There weren't any titles that students didn't enjoy, but as I reflected on the list I wanted to replace some of the titles to better allow students to learn about identities or experiences other than their own. I also wanted to make sure my choices didn't center around racial trauma or potentially reinforce stereotypes. 

As a result I decided to drop On My Honor and Black Brother, Black Brother. I will still offer The Only Road and Under A Painted Sky because I have copies left, but I'll phase those out. My new additions will by Tight by Torrey Maldonado, The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez, Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick (I used this title as a read aloud this year) and Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai. I imagine this list will continue to evolve year to year as I read more middle grade books and as new titles are released. The new mix of titles still ties in to "facing fear," but more specifically the fear of "othering," which will allow me to incorporate purposeful discussion around our experiences being the other or othering, and being upstanders and bystanders.

My big mental project this summer is to think about how I'm going to build by writing instruction next year. Pre-pandemic, I was working on building students' writing skills with personal writing assignments, mostly inspired by Linda Christensen's work in Teaching for Joy and Justice and Reading, Writing, and Rising Up. I want to get back to that this year, but also work in Jeff Anderson's use of mentor sentences as a way to "teach" grammar in the context of the writing we are already doing. The first step will be reading the two books of his on my TBR list. Hope you are enjoying doing whatever it is that makes you happy this summer!
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Summer is for reading and recharging. Here's my TBR for July and the reading choices and writing instruction I am considering for next year.

May 31, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in June

There's just a few days of school left and just enough time for some reflection and fun. Here's what I'm be doing in my classroom and my TBR for June.

May was not much of a teaching month between administering our school's benchmark tests (NWEA's MAP testing) and then our states standardized tests. This lull in classroom planning and grading made May my best month yet for reading. But that doesn't mean nothing happened in my classroom! Students did finish up a crossover research and narrative writing assignment and will finish their last novel unit this week. I have just a week and a half of school left in June to squeeze in some reflective activities and some fun.

Reading in June
In May, I read everything on my May TBR list; I am finally getting the hang of creating a monthly stack of books I want to read without hesitation. I'm still working on balancing genres, but did pretty well with that this month too; I read six YA titles (one was a collection) and six middle grades titles (two were nonfiction and the other four were audiobooks). I'm almost a month ahead on my goal of reading 104 books for the year, so I'm feeling pretty good about that too.

Here's what I'm hoping to read this month:
2. Walls by L. M. Elliott (young adult)
8. The Line Tender by Kate Allen (middle grades)

Teaching in June
My students just finished their final novel of the year; they had a choice between two parallel novels, Life As We Knew It and The Dead and The Gone, both by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Because of all of the testing in May, this novel unit was much less structured than the whole class novel or literature circles I did with students earlier in the year. We had a lot of informal whole class discussions about the two books because although the characters and specifics of the plots are different, the general events and issues are similar enough. Students enjoyed getting to hear about what was happening in the other book and comparing the characters' experiences.

To wrap up the novels, students will have a short and creative assessment that will hopefully be the perfect mix of structured and open ended. I'll ask students to focus on the thoughts the main character is having in the final chapter of the book. Students will choose three key words or phrases to represent the character's thoughts and then pull three pieces of evidence from the text to support those choices. Students will also add at least three images to reinforce the key ideas and text evidence. To support my special education students and lower level readers, I created a word bank of key words they could choose from. This is my first time using an assessment like this, so I'm hoping it is something that students will be successful with and not something that turns out to be much more difficult for students than I intended.

Despite all of the challenges in teaching and learning this year, I want students to reflect on everything they've accomplished this year and give me feedback so that I can make changes for next year. After grades are in, I'll have students complete an anonymous survey about their favorite unit, assignments, and books as well as the structure of my class and classroom. The other reflective activity I'm trying out this year is for students to create a virtual portfolio. They'll choose four of their assignments to show off, write a reflection paragraph, and then decide who they'd like to share their portfolio with. If the idea goes well this year, I would love to build it up next year into an in person event for families to attend (I can remember doing something similar as a sixth grader).

Each year, students are given a summer reading assignment, so I'll be previewing Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, the novel students will be reading as rising seventh graders, and passing along Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds to my incoming sixth graders. The "work" attached to reading is to send me an email reflecting on the character and conflict and making connections with the book. I also ask students to answer some fun questions about themselves. The summer assignments are not graded, so I like the email format which doesn't make a big show of who turned it in and who didn't. It is also a great way to preview students' writing skills and start connecting with students before the school year begins.

On the very last day of school, I've set up a summer themed mini-Olympics, similar to what I did the day before winter break. Students will create teams and compete in six rounds of activities, some are word or logic puzzles and others are games on Kahoot!, Quizziz, and Blooket. Since some of my students are remote and some will be in person, I'll use breakout rooms on Zoom to allow students to work together. And that'll be a wrap for the 2020-2021 school year!

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There's just a few days of school left and just enough time for some reflection and fun. Here's what I'm be doing in my classroom and my TBR for June.

May 5, 2021

Literature Circles: Selecting and Previewing Texts

Running literature circles in your classroom may seem daunting. Find out how I select books to offer students and having them preview those choices.

The idea of running literature circles in your classroom may be a daunting one. Maybe it is your first go or maybe it didn't work out all that well in the past. This series of blog posts will detail my experiences with literature circles in hopes of making your next go at it a little easier for you, more engaging for your students, and an enjoyable experience for everyone in the classroom. This first post is about selecting books to offer to students and having them preview those choices to find which books they'd like to read.

Selecting Books to Offer
Literature circle choices usually have some thread that binds them together. The choices may be all of the same genre, from the same time period, focused on the same topic, or connected to the same theme. How many book choices you offer will largely depend on your access to books, what your school has available and/or what you are able to purchase. You may also want to think about how many different discussion groups you want to manage in your classroom. More choices will likely mean smaller groups, but you could also break up larger groups of students reading the same book.

As you select books to offer as literature circle choices, you will want to consider offering a variety of difficulty levels,  lengths, and protagonists. Common Sense Media is a great resource for vetting the appropriate age level of a book if you are making a selection before you are able to read the book yourself. 

With class sized around 24 students, I like to offer six different choices. I don't mind having some groups that are smaller and some groups that are larger; three students is usually my minimum and six students is usually my maximum. Most of my book choices will be at grade level, but I like to have at least one choice that is below and one choice that is above grade level to meet different students' reading needs. I handle length the same way; most books will be of the same length, but I like to have at least one choice that is fairly short and one choice that is longer to meet different students' reading needs. When possible, I like to choose protagonists with a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences

Physical Previewing
If you able to have students preview physical copies of the choices of books, I put one at least one stack of book choices at each group of student desks and give the students time to preview each of the books, telling them to look at the front cover and read the details on the back (and inside flaps if it is a hardback). I also encourage students to read a few pages to see if the book grabs their interest and the writer's style and organization appeals to them. When students are finished previewing the choices, I have them rank their choices and turn them in to me.

Digital Previewing
If students are going to be previewing the book digitally, I create a Google Slides with a slide for each choice. On each slide, I provide the image of the front cover and a summary of the book. I also include a link to Amazon and show students how to use the "look inside" feature so they can read a few pages. When students are finished previewing the choices, I have them rank their choices in a Google Form to allow for easy sorting.

Other Considerations
Depending on the number of choices I am offering and the number of copies of each I have available to give out, I may have students rank all of the choices or just their top three. In addition to ranking their books, I may also ask students if there are students they do and do not want to work with, the size of the group they'd like to discuss with, and their usual role in discussions : leader, participant, or listener. Since I don't typically start the school year with literature circles, I usually have an idea of which role students take on in discussions, but it is good for students to self identify as later that can be used to help the student set goals for how they will participate in discussions.

Find all of my resources for literature circles here.

May 3, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in May

In between school benchmarks and state testing, we're reading parallel novels from the Life As We Knew It series and writing a disaster narrative.

After another month of virtual teaching, I thought I would feel more comfortable and settled into a routine, but instead I find myself feeling more bored and frustrated. There's only so much shaking things up I can do while still feeling connected with my in person and online students. There's also so many aspects of teaching that are just more complicated with some students at home and some in the classroom. 

The good news is that there's only a little over a month of the school year left. The bad news is that next year may not look much different, but I can't process that right now, so I'm trying to actively ignore it. At this point though, I've taught in person, virtually, and hybrid, so whatever next year brings can't be more challenging. I've also got a repertoire of activities and lesson materials for all three scenarios, so next year will not be me recreating the wheel, maybe just fine tuning the spokes. 

Reading in May
In April, I read 9 books, six of those were young adult and the other three were middle grades (and all of those were audiobooks). This is the fewest number of books I've read in a month so far this year and I can't pinpoint why. I still averaged about 2 books a week, keeping me on track to reach my goal of 104 books by the end of the year, and worked through most of the titles on my April TBR list. However,  this month I want to be more conscious of what I am spending my time doing when I could be reading. I may be able to sneak in some reading time in class during independent reading time. Here's what I am hoping to read:
May has just barely started and I know it is going to be a whirlwind. So many teaching days are lost to testing: first our school's benchmark (MAP)  testing and then state standardized testing (the PSSAs). As we continued with our dealing with disaster narrative, I debated moving into a historical fiction narrative piece (students research a disaster to be at the center of their narrative) or our final novels of the year (parallel novels Life As We Knew It and The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer), and decided to do both at the same time. My periods are currently 80 minutes long, so we spend the first half hour dedicated to activities connected to our parallel novels, the second half hour on developing our narratives, and then the final twenty minutes of class reading.

Our narratives are still in the development stages. Students picked a natural or manmade disaster to be the focus of their narrative and then researched the disaster as well as its setting. I provided students with two lists of disasters as a starting point, but they could choose other topics with my approval. Incorporating a real disaster allows students to practice their research skills at the start of the writing process and practice MLA formatting for a bibliography at the end of the writing process. Once students have a grasp of what happened during the disaster and where it occurred, they create the main character for their narrative. Students have a choice of basing the character off of a real person involved in the disaster or starting from scratch. Finally students will map out the plot of their narrative, making the connection between the disaster they researched and the character they created. Before we start drafting, we'll work on writing dialogues and hooks. After drafting, we'll work through revisions focused on adding figurative language and imagery.

We just started our parallel novels last week. Both center around the disaster of an asteroid hitting the moon, knocking it closer to Earth, but have two different settings and protagonists. Miranda is a white high school sophomore living in fairly rural Southeastern Pennsylvania and Alex is a Puerto Rican high school junior living in New York City. As students started reading the first few chapters of their books, they explored nonfiction texts and media about asteroids, the relationship between the Earth and the moon, and the likelihood of a disaster like the one depicted in the novels actually occurring. Now that students are a few chapters in, they are tracking changes that have happened in the character's personal lives as a result of the disaster as well as changes that have happened in the larger world around them. Assignments like these allow students to discuss in groups of other students reading the same text, but we can also share out as a whole class and make connections between the two books. I am keeping the assignments are generic as possible so I can utilize them for both novels. Over the next two weeks, I will work in some grammar review using examples from the books. I haven't decided yet on a final project, but will try to work in something fun and creative after testing ends.

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In between school benchmarks and state testing, we're reading parallel novels from the Life As We Knew It series and writing a disaster narrative.

April 2, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in April

Our "dealing with disaster" unit started with a mini research project and poetry, and in April will move on to other texts and narrative writing.

This week is my Spring Break and after a full month of hybrid teaching, I just barely made it. While I am overjoyed to no longer be spending my days alone in my classroom, it is a serious struggle to balance the needs of students in person and online. I never feel like either group is getting enough of my time and attention. Strategies I used for collaboration when my students were 100% virtual now have to be tweaked to accommodate social distancing in the classroom and avoid feedback issues from students being on Zoom in the classroom.

The stress and exhaustion of teaching this past month meant that I spent most evenings lying on the couch with a book. I read all but one title on my March TBR list and a total of 12 titles, bringing my total reads for the year up to 32. A tough month for teaching turned into a great month for reading.

Reading in April
In March, I read 12 books: 2 adult titles (one was a memoir), 6 young adult titles, 3 middle grade titles (all of those were audiobooks), and 1 poetry collection. The rest of this week will hopefully be filled with more reading. Here's what I'm hoping to read:

1. Where It All Lands by Jennie Wexler (young adult, available July 2021)
2. Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood (young adult, available November 2021)
3. Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler (young adult, available May 2021)
6. You've Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (young adult, available November 2021)
7. Enduring Freedom by by Trent Reedy and Jawad Arash (young adult, available May 2021)

Teaching in April
Leading up to spring break, I kicked off our final unit focused on the theme of dealing with disaster. After an introduction to man made and natural disasters as well as disaster preparedness, students chose a disaster to research and analyze its impact on humans. This is the first project of the year where I chose students groups; they did get to rank their topics and indicate if they wanted to work alone or in a group of two or three. Coordinating group work was tricky since some students were at home and some were in the classroom and that changed halfway through the week. Presenting was also tricky since my students at home often have difficult hearing my students in the classroom. My solution was to have the in person students sit right next to our classroom microphone and speak directly into it.

The week that followed I had originally planned to focus on Ray Bradbury's short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," but instead decided to continue our focus on poetry (you can read all about our March Madness Poetry Tournament here) and spend the week before break focused on poetry centered around Hurricane Katrina. The poems “After the Hurricane” by Rita Williams-Garcia and "Watcher: After Katrina, 2005" by Natasha D. Trethewey both focus on events after the hurricane as their titles suggest. Since my students were born several years after the hurricane hit, I use a mini documentary featuring spoken word poet Shelton Alexander and his experience at the Superdome to help build background knowledge before digging into the poems. We discussed tone, point of view (speaker), repetition, and structure (traditional versus free verse), most of which was a review from earlier studies of poetry. Students were very engaged with the topic and next year I'll add in opportunities to learn more about the disaster.

When we return from break, we'll continue our focus on real disasters with an informational ready about the Boxing Day Tsunami titled "Mammoth Shakes and Monster Waves, Destruction in 12 Countries" by Brenda Z. Guiberson. I tried out having students create visual summaries (sketchnotes) with this reading last year and will likely do that gain this year as well as practice identifying cause and effect text structure. I'll also use a jigsaw activity to help students write a text dependent analysis since this is a longer reading. You can read more about how I use jigsaws here and more about my process for practicing text dependent analysis here.

Then I'll move on to imagined disasters with "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury, focusing on personification and how setting impacts plot. I haven't explicitly taught students the part of the plot diagram so I'm hoping to work that in here this year. I also have to think about how I'll revise some of the activities I used last year with this short story. I used skits to help students understand the relationship between setting and plot and also allowed students to create a skit to summarize the story after we finished reading. I'm not quite sure how that type of movement and student interaction would work while social distancing.

Following reading that short story, I'm debating moving into a historical fiction narrative piece (students will research a disaster to be at the center of their narrative) or our final novels of the year (parallel novels Life As We Knew It and The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer) or maybe both. I'd like to have students try out the format of the books (dated journal entries) for their own narratives, but might also want to to work through just the narrative writing first since it involves research as not to have to many different pieces within my lessons. I also need time to plan out this final novel unit since I only taught one of the two novels last year and need to decide how I'll handle the student choice this year.

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Our "dealing with disaster" unit started with a mini research project and poetry, and in April will move on to other texts and narrative writing.

February 28, 2021

What I'm Reading & Teaching in March

February seemed like one long snow day and lesson plans got shifted around quite a bit,  but we finished literature circles and I read 10 more books.

February seemed like one long snow day with lots of headache about the return to in person learning. We started back in person with a hybrid model in mid February, but just had our first full week last week due to snow, parent conferences, and President's Day. Lesson plans got shifted around quite a bit as a result of the weather, but we did finish our literature circle novels on time just with fewer discussion and activities than I had originally planned.

I didn't read all of the books on my February TBR list, but I did read 10 books keeping me on track with my goal of reading 2 books a week (and a total of 104 by the end of the year). I'm now up to 20 reads so far for 2021!

Reading in March
In February, I read 10 books, matching pretty much what I read in January: one young adult title, two middle grades, three adult, and four audiobooks (two of those were young adult, one was middle grades, and one was a nonfiction young adult adaptation). Some of what I read was on my TBR, most of them weren't, but I am pleased with the mix. Several of the titles on this month's to be read list are repeats from the past two months, so I can work on clearing off my bookshelves. Here's what I'm hoping to read:

Teaching in March
To wrap up the trimester, students will be creating an infographic based on a topic from their literature circle novels. This is my first time doing a project like this, but I think I've structured it for student success. We'll kick off the project by doing a gallery walk (digitally) of sample infographics. Students will examine the layout and design strategies, thinking about what is effective or not, and what they might want to imitate in their own. Then students will choose a topic from a list of topics connected to their literature circle novels. 

For each topic, I curated four sources (three readings and one video) that students can use to collect information for their infographic. Students will spend two days researching and then create a rough draft in Google Drawings or on paper. Before students create a final draft, I'll give students a day to play around with a few different tech tools and choose the one they feel most comfortable with. I'm planning on two days for creating the final draft, but will also set up a platform for students who finish earlier to share and give feedback to each other.

This project will span the last week of Trimester 2 and the first week of Trimester 3, which will give me a little break from grading new student work and time to finalize student grades for Trimester 2. I made the mistake of assigning an essay at the end of Trimester 1 and had to quickly get them all graded before report cards. 

After finishing up the infographic project, we'll have two weeks to get started on our "Dealing WIth Disaster" unit before spring break. Last year I started with a research project, but I'm not sure how I feel about doing two projects back to back. Instead we may read a nonfiction piece focused on the Boxing Day Tsunami, "Mammoth Shakes and Monster Waves," and Ray Bradbury's short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," which was a big hit with students last year. I'll also kick off the unit with an introduction to the types of disaster, both weather related and accidental/caused by humans.

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February seemed like one long snow day and lesson plans got shifted around quite a bit,  but we finished literature circles and I read 10 more books.

Everything You Need to Host a March Madness Poetry Tournament

Hosting a March Madness Poetry Tournament is a great way to read and reread poetry as students examine elements and pick favorites.

Ever since I generated this list of 32 poetry pairings, I have wanted to try out a March Madness Poetry Tournament in my own classroom and finally got my act together last year. I printed out packets of my 32 pairings for students to share and posted a giant bracket to fill in as we went along. I began each class with students reading a few poems, examining a selected element, and voting on their favorites. Click here to make a copy of the Google Slides I intended to use at the start of each class.

Unfortunately schools closed last year in the middle of the month due to the coronavirus and our March Madness Tournament had to get a reset when learning resumed online in April. All of our poem examinations and voting had to shift to online activities. After operating on a hybrid schedule the following year, I have finally been able to bring everything back in person.

February 21, 2021

Teaching Symbolism to Middle & High School Students

Use these ideas for teaching symbolism to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

While symbolism is a higher level concept that some students can struggle with, it is also such an engaging concept to teach because symbolism is all around us: in songs, movies, commercials and on posters and billboards. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce symbolism in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Build Students' Background Knowledge
Symbolism can be a fun literary conversation, but students don't always understand the concept. To ensure that students are able to analyze symbols, you will want to explain colors, everyday gestures, common symbols, intangible symbols, and weather. With these tips for talking about symbolism, teachers can find a successful way for talking about symbolism with secondary students. You can read more about these tips here and as extra help, I've included a free download of 101 activities for literary analysis. . . with an entire section devoted to symbolism.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

Use these ideas for teaching symbolism to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Play Symbolic Pictionary
Before playing the game, you will need to create a slideshow with an abstract noun on each slide (you could also use concrete nouns, specially people or places). Some ideas include determination, power, speed, intelligence, violence, and peace. To play, first break your students up into teams and make sure each team has drawing supplies (whiteboard and markers, paper and crayons, etc). Once a word is revealed, teams begin discussing and drawing a possible symbol. After the allotted amount of team, each team reveals the image that they have drawn and points are awarded. You can read more about the rules of play here.

Introduce The Symbolic Arc To Create Layers Of Understanding
The first arch of the symbolism arc is filled with an object's concrete details (what is looks, smells, sounds, tastes, feels like). The second arch of the symbolism arc is filled with an object's abstract traits, the associations we make with the object because of society, culture, tradition, etc. In the third and final arch of the symbolism arc, students make connections between the concrete details and the abstract traits to determine a possible symbolic meaning. You can read more about this strategy here.

Use Music Videos To Look For Symbolism
Before students dig into printed texts to look for symbolism, start them off with symbols they can actually see. While there are so many choices for music videos, it is often best to use something students are already familiar with (and obviously school appropriate), Musical numbers from Disney movies work well. This blog post from Lit LearnAct describes using "Let It Go" from Frozen to note important objects, describe their purpose or function, and then consider a possible symbolic meaning.

Keep An Eye Out For Objects Of Importance
When you do begin to look for symbols in printed texts have students look for references to concrete objects, especially objects named in titles, and consider whether they could be symbols. Students should also pay special attention to objects or places that are repeated or described in detail. When analyzing a short story or part of a novel or play, assign each student or group of students a page number and ask them to list any objects mentioned. Ask students to share out what they found to create a class list, tallying the number of times an object is mentioned. Beginning with the most frequent mention work down the list discussing the meaning this object might carry with it.

Use these ideas for teaching symbolism to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

February 14, 2021

Teaching Theme to Middle & High School Students

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

While theme is a concept I like to teach early and often each year, students first must have a strong understanding of the other literary elements that play into it. The events in the plot, the conflict that develops, and the actions and reactions of characters all help to reveal the theme of a text. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce theme in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Define What Theme Is (And Is Not)
Before beginning to analyze theme in a text, be sure that students have a solid grasp on what a theme is and is not. When you ask students to define theme, their response may really be a definition of main idea, a topic, or a moral (and depending on the source of their online search, the definition they find may not match what you are teaching). This blog post from Secondary English Coffee Shop includes a graphic that clearly defines each term and gives examples of each from "Little Red Riding Hood." You could have students repeat the differentiation of the chart with examples from other fairy tales or well known stories.

Give Students Multiple Opportunities to Process And Practice
Determining the theme of a text definitely requires some high order thinking skills and some students may not "get it" at first. Allow students to review the definition of theme and how to find one with videos like the ones in this blog post from Teaching ELA With Joy Sexton. Sometimes hearing someone else explain it in a slightly different way will help it click for a student. Then practice using stories are familiar with, fairy tales or stories you've previously read as a class, or use short films like the ones made by Pixar. 

Try Out Thematic Triads
When students are trying to craft their theme into a sentence or a thematic statement. I start with a list of "big ideas" like love, hate, honesty, deception, pride, beauty, etc. and have students select as many big ideas as they see connecting to the text we are examining. Then I ask students to share out the most important three ideas present in the text. We make a list as a class, tallying up the times each idea is mentioned. Then I model how we can connect those three big ideas into a sentence, and voila! we have a theme. Students practice coming up with a theme using the top two or three big ideas they selected. Often what they come up with is a variation of what I modeled, which leads to discussion about how there is no one theme statement. This Edutopia article discusses the same strategy.

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Analyze Using Graphic Organizers
Many components of a story fit into explaining a story's theme. Secondary students might be able to articulate a story's theme, but they can't always explain how characters, the plot structure, a motif (and more!) contribute to the development of that theme. With a variety of literary graphic organizers, a teacher can highlight certain sections and examine details with students. As students flesh out ideas about the story, they'll realize the influence of other components on the story's theme.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

Synthesize Literary Elements In A One Pager
When I think about literary elements, it’s hard to imagine teaching them in isolation. Yes, I introduce concepts (setting, plot, theme) separately, but in order for students to truly GET literary elements, they have to be able to analyze how authors use all of them to create dissonance and harmony in a text. I use one pagers to help students practice and apply this idea of extending thinking and seeing the connections between literary elements. With distance learning, I recommend using digital one pagers to chunk the process for students. It’s less overwhelming and allows us more time to provide meaningful feedback. How does setting impact the theme? How does a character’s development help to shape the plot and drive the conflict, which, in turn, develop the theme? Understanding theme is a process of synthesis, and literary one pagers are a perfect vehicle for that type of thinking.
*Recommended by Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven

You can find all of my resources for teaching theme here.

Use these ideas for teaching theme to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

February 7, 2021

Teaching Point of View to Middle & High School Students

Use these ideas for teaching point of view to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

An understanding of point of view as well as perspective is key to interpreting any fiction or nonfiction text. Students need to be able to understand an author or character's view point as well as its impact on the information or narrative presented. I detailed the many ways I introduce and reinforce point of view in this previous blog post and you can find even more ideas below.

Hold A Point of View Scavenger Hunt

Help students become comfortable with identifying point of view with a scavenger hunt. Pull children's books from your home or classroom library, or borrow some from a lower grades teacher. Students can work on their own or in groups to find at least one book that matches each type of point of view that you have taught. Students should record the titles of the books they found and at the end of the activity, these titles can be shared out in a whole class discussion. Students can confirm or challenge each other's identifications.

Use Mentor Texts For Analysis
Mentor texts can provide an interesting approach to teach language and literary analysis. With point of view, mentor texts can provide clarity. First, students can choose the lines that articulate point of view to them. Second, the teacher can provide several lines from literature to show point of view. Students can then choose what line best helps them. Lastly, the analysis of mentor texts naturally leads to literary analysis. Check out some famous mentor texts for teaching point of view.
*Recommended by Lauralee, Language Arts Classroom

Introduce The Nuance Of Perspective With Poetry
I make teaching point of view and perspective engaging by using dialogue poems as mentor texts. The reading and writing of these poems help students grasp character complexities that definitions and worksheets can’t convey. Students improve their understanding of the psychological, moral, and cultural traits of characters. Although the classic book, Joyful Noise – Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman, is geared toward younger students, I use examples from it as a starting point for my high school students and then add more age-appropriate poems that I’ve found online.
*Recommended by Kim, OCBeachTeacher

Use Images To Reinforce Perspective And Types Of Point Of View
In this blog post from Teaching With a Mountain View, she shares how she collects images to use for this activity on perspective and point of view. Each image is glued to the center of a piece of paper and then the paper is separated into five different sections: perspectives, first person point of view, and the three types of third person point of view. In pairs, students first list the different possible perspectives for an image. Then, they rotate to a new picture and write a brief narrative of what was happening in the picture in first person point of view using one of the perspectives the previous pair has identified. Students rotate with their partner until each pair has practice writing in each of the points of view.

Play With Perspective And Point Of View In Fairy Tales
Ask students to select a fairy tale and rewrite the tale from the viewpoint of a different character or object within the tale (this is a genre of fairy tales called fractured fairy tales). Students may enjoy looking through the selection on Sur La Lune and choosing an old favorite or one that is new to them. Let students share out a part of the original and a part of their rewrite to facilitate discussion about how changing the perspective or point of view changes what we learn in a story.

You can find all of my resources for teaching point of view here.

Use these ideas for teaching point of view to middle and high school students with any short story, novel, or drama.

February 1, 2021

Tackling the Text Dependent Analysis Essay

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.

Text-dependent analysis writing is when students are given an essay prompt that asks them to provide specific evidence from a literary or informational text while demonstrating the ability to interpret the meaning behind the evidence they provide. When my students come into sixth grade this is not a type of writing they are comfortable with.

The first few times students respond to a text dependent analysis essay, I balance modeling with gradually releasing the students to write independently. We start with a whole class writing of the introduction. Then I assign just one body paragraph. Then next time we tackle a prompt, we may again work through the introduction as a whole class and then I’ll assign two body paragraphs. Gradually we build up to writing a full five paragraph (or more) essay.

Breaking Down Text Dependent Analysis Essay Prompts
Before I even attempt to have students write a response to a text dependent analysis prompt, I introduce them to the structure of these types of prompts so that they are aware of and recognize the pattern. Without knowing how to break down the prompt, they will not know what to write about.

Text-dependent analysis prompts typically follow a three line structure. Line 1 introduces the literary element in focus. Line 2 introduces the task related to that literary element. Line 3 instructs students to use text evidence in their response. Before assigning a text-dependent analysis essay, it may be helpful to review the structure of this type of writing prompt with students so that they are aware of and recognize the pattern.

Examining A Model Text Dependent Analysis Essay
Especially when we are first diving into writing text dependent analysis essay, I will write a model essay responding to the same prompt, but focusing on a different text from the ones my students will be writing about, a text my students have also read. Doing this, rather than using a generic model, really helps students to model the structure of their paragraphs and even sentences. They can also understand the examples in the model essay because they've also read that text.

Again, when we are in our early stages of learning how to write a TDA essay, I annotate the model essay with students to have them to identify the components of each paragraph in a text-dependent analysis essay. I like to annotate the introduction and then have students write their own, annotate the body paragraphs and then have students write their own, and finally annotate the conclusion and then have students write their own. This chunking allows students to immediately try out the structure of each type of paragraph after annotation.

Brainstorming the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
Brainstorming is probably the most crucial step of the writing process when writing a TDA essay. I use a graphic organizer to help students identify the examples they will use to respond to the prompt. On the graphic organizer, students include how they will introduce and explain their examples as well as a direct quote and a page or line number. Once students have completed their brainstorming organizer, I take time to review it to ensure that students’ examples connect to the prompt. Taking the time to check students' brainstorming saves me so much time later when I am reviewing the body paragraphs students have written. For students that are struggling at this stage, I provide them with page or line numbers to look back at in the text, or reduce the number of examples I am asking for from that student.

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.

Drafting the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
In addition to using a graphic organizer to help students brainstorm, I also use a graphic organizer to guide students through drafting their essay step-by-step. Like the brainstorming organizer, students are asked to include two examples per body paragraph. When I model writing a body paragraph, I show students how the ideas from my brainstorming organizer can plug right into the essay organizer, which again is why the brainstorming stage is so crucial.

Modifying the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
There's a variety of ways I modify this type essay (or really any essay) for students with IEPs or struggling writers. During the brainstorming and drafting stages, I often reduce the number of required examples per body paragraph to one instead of two. Another frequent modification I use is adding sentence frames to the organizer to help students start their sentences since getting started is often the hardest part. Another possible modification is filling in one body paragraph in the brainstorming and drafting stages for students to refer to as a model for the other two body paragraphs.

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.

Revising & Editing the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
I've found color coding to be the most effective and engaging way to have students revise. Who doesn't want their writing to look like a rainbow? When students revise their essay, they follow step-by-step directions to highlight the different sections of their essay. This allows them to very clearly see that they do or do not have all of the necessary components in each paragraph, and to make additions as needed.

Some of the revision steps also require students to use the comment tool to make note of important parts of sentences. They use the bold tool to help them identity transition words and phrases. The final step is a reminder to use the spelling and grammar check tool (I'm always amazed at the number of students who will turn in an assignment with the red squiggly underlines still there!). Students mark off each step as complete as they move through the steps to help them track their progress and then review their essay for what needs to be added.

After students have completed the self revision activity, they can engage in a peer revision activity, in which a peer gives feedback based on the highlighted sections of their essay. Students are provided a mix of comment banks for feedback and more open opportunities for praise or suggestions. Once complete, students return the feedback to their partners to make necessary changes.

Scoring the Text Dependent Analysis Essay
I use a 4 point rubric to score students on focus, organization, content, and style with specific descriptors for each point value of each category. During remote learning I've started using Google Classroom’s built in rubric for scoring. Besides making it incredibly easy to score assignments online, once the rubric is created it can be used over and over for other assignments.

You can find my resources for writing text dependent analysis essays here

Text dependent analysis writing asks students to provide specific evidence from a literary text. Here's how I help my students through that struggle.