Taking the FEAR out of Public Speaking

If it's true that many people fear public speaking more than death... then doesn't that kind of make English teachers heroes, capable of saving students from that fear?

ICYMI, today I was lucky enough to guest post about one of my great teacher passions... making students more comfortable with public speaking.

Check out my post on The Secondary English Coffee Shop to get two freebies AND some ideas to make your next speaking assignment go more smoothly!

Secondary ELA Seasonal Blog Hop: Sara's Spooky Ideas for Halloween

Thinking ahead for Halloween? Not sure if you can (or want to) squeeze the holiday into your class?

Many secondary "big kids" would LIKE to celebrate (especially since October 31st is a Monday this year!), but I know that you need an activity that will still be academically meaningful, too. 

Here are a few ideas for ELA activities, depending on what standard, objective, amount of time, and/or difficulty level you want to take on!

All of the ideas below are recommended for grades 7-12; feel free to make them harder or easier to fit appropriately into your grade level.

1. Writing: Responding to Prompts Across Several Genres {Menu Board}
Maybe you need to allow for differentiation, choice, a short period of time, or squeezing in multiple standards instead of just one.

Enter my October/ Halloween Prompts Menu Board, which has 40 prompts in 8 categories {witches, monsters, ghosts, vampires, fall, zombies, Halloween, and Free Choice).

These topics cover five standards: research, informative writing, narrative writing, persuasive writing, and vocab!

Click here to see a more detailed description, preview/images, and customer reviews!

2. Reading: Read-aloud with a Difficult Tale
Even if you think your students are "too old" for read-aloud, you can VERY likely pull off an exception here, especially if you pick a short story or poem that is sufficiently difficult and/or scary for their level.

One year, I played this recording of Poe's "The Raven", narrated by James Earl Jones. It was a huge hit (and the recording added to the creepiness factor!)

3. Nonfiction: "Scary" Problem/Solution Scenarios
Sometimes real life is equally or more scary than anything we can read in literature... especially in a year like this one, when the news seems full of doom and gloom.

If you want to take advantage of this season (without letting things get TOO depressing), now would be a FANTASTIC time to teach problem/solution structure!

Why not let students pick what they think is the "scariest" issue facing them today, and then propose some plausible solutions for the chosen problem(s)?

This way, students are not only getting valuable research and/or writing practice, but they also get to dabble with balancing the "heavy" parts of life with some optimism.

Need help teaching problem/solution, or other essay structures? Check out my essay structures flipbook and sample texts in my Essay Types Unit!

3. Public Speaking: Scary Genres (or Tasks!)
For many students, public speaking is supposedly scarier than death itself... so the mere announcement that your class is going to take on a SPEECH could be terrifying.

Personally, I don't think public speaking NEEDS to be scary, so my favorite project (below) is one that almost always succeeds in taking the fear out of presentations.

In order to balance spookiness without TRUE fear, why not try my popular "15 Minutes of Fame" project? (It's my #3 best-seller for a reason!) 

With this set of directions, prompts, graphic organizers, and rubric in hand, you could EITHER...
  • Use the project as-is, or... 
  • Make it Halloween-friendly by narrowing students to more creepy genres... maybe let them give a eulogy (comic or serious), tell campfire-style ghost stories, performing faux commercials for a halloween candy or costume, or give a fake news report on something scary that happened (like creepy clowns... sheesh...)

4. Creative Writing: Imitate a Famous Short Story!
What if AFTER you read (*insert scary author or story here*), your students got to write their OWN short stories imitating the classic tale?

What if students got to imitate the writer's tone, techniques, plot, characters, or setting... except with their own original twists?

At least 1-2 times a year, my eighth graders write fiction imitating famous authors' styles (usually in my Giver and Christmas Carol units), and in some years, I've done scary stories, too!

If you want support here, try out EITHER the...
Thank you for reading these ideas!
Be sure to check out these posts by other great teachers, too!

8+ Tips for Secondary English SUB PLANS

Caught the flu from a family member? Don't sweat it (pun intended) - you've got more options for prepping your substitute teacher than you think. 

Although I'm not a substitute teacher myself, I teach in a building that has a REALLY hard time getting enough substitute teachers, so I've *somewhat* been in that role by filling in for other teachers, both planned in advance or at the last minute. 

If you're in a middle or high school setting, you've probably noticed that the primary world seems to have cutesy solutions all over Pinterest for substitute teachers, and our sphere is more silent on this topic. 

News Flash: You don't need a cute "sub tub", or even a perfect printed pile of lessons on your desk when the other teacher walks in the door. But there are a few things that ARE essential before you're gone for any length of time. 

So here's a starter list of ideas to get you started!

Do this first (before you get sick)... 

1. Make your sub binder or folder. 
Pick a bright binder or folder and keep it in an obvious place - on top of, or near your desk - so that a sub could find it easily, even if it's not laid out front and center for him or her. 

Make sure your sub folder includes:
  • A detailed, annotated version of your daily schedule - including any notes about where to go or what to expect!
  • Copies of all your class lists/rosters, and/or any attendance forms you want to be used. Don't be afraid to annotate this list with any special notes about students, including allergies or behavioral FYI's. 
    • (Note: if your attendance is electronic, include directions for how to deal with that!)
  • Copies of seating charts, if you use them. 
  • Emergency paperwork, such as directions of what to do if there's a fire drill or other alarm.
  • Don't assume your sub is familiar with classroom or building norms! 
  • Technology instructions, whether that's how-to details about how to use your projector or rules about the technology that STUDENTS are allowed to use. 
2. Appoint one student helper per class period. 
Pick a responsible student in every class period who you can trust to follow your rules, and ask him or her to be the sub's appointed helper. This student could be trusted to pass out or collect papers, be a "runner" to the office, or perhaps verify if a classroom rule is true or not. 

Once you have that set up, be sure to write the names of your student helpers in the sub binder somewhere (perhaps with each class period list/roster). 

3. Post your classroom rules (either in general, or for Sub Days)
Laminate and post a paper on the wall/board that has student rules or reminders on it. Doing so can give the sub something to fall back on, and cue the students to be on decent behavior... 
  • Are there rules that you want to make sure are followed? 
  • Will students be rewarded upon your return if you get a good report?
  • Will today's activity be worth double the points? 

Options for Sub Lessons 
This is the more controversial part of my post, because teachers have very strong and varied opinions about the "best" way to spend such a day of lessons. But here's my no-judgment list of ideas anyway.

1. Have a preprinted, standalone lesson in your binder.
A popular option among many teachers is providing a single, easy-to-teach and easy-to-complete lesson or activity that is mutually beneficial for the sub and students. 

Here are a few of my own sub-friendly lessons that would NOT require technology:
Here are a few that would require some tech, such as a projector:

...Enter the Controversy...
The suggestion I gave above is fine. It's what a lot of people do... BUT, you don't HAVE to leave behind a printed lesson, and you don't have to stay up late writing a quiz for the sub to pass out. (Gasp.) There are easier options, if you're willing (and allowed) to use them!

2. Give students a reading day. 
If you have an independent reading program already in place, OR if you are in the middle of a literature unit, why not just give students a reading day? They'd probably appreciate the "bonus" time to get caught up (or ahead) in their current books!

3. Give students a work day/ study hall. 
If they already have a project or assignment in motion, why not just give them a writing day and/or study hall? Most secondary students have enough homework on their plates that they'd use a study hall fairly efficiently (not to mention that they'd appreciate the "break"!)

4. Give a writing prompt and/or timed writing. 
In your sub binder, leave a writing prompt that the sub can write on the board, along with any directions you wish to give students. It can be a timed, in-class activity that they must finish and turn in within the class period, OR one that they start in class and finish (or proofread) for homework. 

Gone for more than one day?
With my own maternity leave looming in 2017, I'm thinking a lot about what I can comfortably ask another teacher to do... that is still good use of student time... that won't make me feel guilty for what I'm asking of the teacher. 

Here are just a few multi-day or multi-week lessons that are self-explanatory enough in someone else's hands!
  • Choice Writing Menus: Seasonal prompts that let students write in multiple genres on relevant topics... very self-explanatory and conducive to in-class writing time
  • Five Paragraph Essay Unit: Easy-to-follow single lessons that could culminate in an essay
  • Short Story Unit that puts some of the teacher role on students, instead of the sub!
  • Two Truths and a Lie: Creative writing with a twist
  • 15 Minutes of Fame, my best-selling public speaking project for a reason! Just read the teacher/buyer comments to see why it might work well in your absence. 
  • Why Grammar? Unit, if you want to weave in some nonfiction reading and writing

Have other ideas for substitute teachers? I'd love to hear them in the comments!

12 Tips for Teaching Grammar like a Pro

In the past five years, I've tried everything a variety of methods to meet the grammar needs of that year's class of students. Let me save you the trouble of finding some things out the hard way... as well as some ideas that are just plain cool.

Here's the problem: 
Teachers of English are put into a tricky set of dilemmas every school year:
  • How do find "enough" time for students to master, or at least improve, in different grammar topics?
  • How do we engage students in a topic that they find boring and/or difficult?
  • How do we choose which topics we do (or do not) teach?
  • How do I cope when my students either didn't master OR didn't maintain grammar fundamentals from previous years?
  • How do I reconcile my own beliefs, opinions, and/or background knowledge with the task in front of me?
On one hand, there's no one right answer. We have to adjust our grammar instruction from year to year to meet the needs of the classes we just inherited. 

However - and I may ruffle feathers here - as long as there is standardized testing in our schools, we cannot blow off grammar. Period. 

Even if we don't want to uphold the most traditional norms of Standard English and wish to be more linguistically progressive, it's a disservice to not equip students to be competitive in the worlds, like test-taking, that are not optional at this time. 

SO, how can teachers survive and thrive in this subsection of ELA? Here are some tips to think about as you plan your school year of instruction!

1. Find and give a grade-level pretest
Make or find a pretest to see what students know, but don't feel pressure to make it include all grammar for the year; it's fine to pretest just the topics you think you'll cover that quarter or term. Then you'll know more confidently what you do (or don't!) need to teach.

Even better? Give a pretest in the format of the next standardized test they'll take. I've been known to scan and print a page of the ACT's English section from a test prep book and give it to 8th graders. 

2. Prove why students should care
I love using part or all of my "Why Grammar?" mini-unit, because it lets students read why grammar and editing matter (from people OTHER than me), and motivates them to care more. I'd rather have them hear it from more authentic sources than just take my word for it!

If you don't have enough time for the whole mini-unit, you might like part or all of my Word Crimes lesson, made to go with the music video!

3. Give quizzes that grade themselves
Check out all of the tech options you have in your building and see if any come with the ability to create self-grading quizzes or polls. My team uses Edmodo, so we can create self-grading quizzes as little formative checkpoints. (Backup plan? Use Google Forms!)

4. Teach it in reverse
The trouble with traditional memorization of rules is that not all students gain the ability to really understand the patterns and "why" of grammar; they know a rule, but can't apply it.

I recently started teaching grammar with inductive reasoning, showing wrong AND right examples and asking students to infer the rule. It helps their analytical skills!

5. Narrow your rubric
You don't have to grade EVERY piece of writing for grammar, but even when you do, there's no rule that says you have to point out EVERY mistake they make (at least all the time). It's fine to make a rubric in which you JUST grade commas, or JUST spelling/homophones. Your shortened grading time per paper will thank you!

6. Put students in the role of teacher (& artist!)
We learn by doing and teaching, right? Push students to deeper levels of thinking with two cool projects

7. Take requests!
Every once in a while, why not take student requests on which mini-lessons you should do next? It will up their engagement as well as make them take some ownership and curiosity of a sometimes-dry topic. 

8. Students make their own learning goals 
The ultimate low-stress differentiation is to let students self-assess, identify their own problem areas, make plans to fix them, and then accomplish those plans. Show visible growth from each student with my Grammar & Proofreading Project. 

9. Reward error-finding
Students catch a grammar error on a store sign? Found a typo in a published book? Caught a business in a sloppy mistake on an ad? Find a way to reward them for their finds - it can be a point, a piece of candy, or just public praise. 

10. Write original sentences ASAP
Don't just give all the mentor sentences away; make students copy real sentences from others AND also write their own original ones! They need to practice recognizing errors AND drafting correctly the first time. If you need help, here are 10 activities to write grammar rules in context.

11. Use videos wisely
Even if you don't have student-made videos (see #6), I highly recommend giving students EITHER videos you find online, or recordings of you explaining a grammar topic. I "flip" most of my grammar instruction with homemade videos; I make PowerPoints explaining a topic and then use screencastomatic.com to record myself narrating over those slides and teaching.

There are serious advantages to having grammar instruction in video format. It helps absent students, not to mention any student (IEP or not) who needs to hear something multiple times before it "sticks".

12. FREEBIE: Find it in the texts you're reading!
I've seen elaborate mini-lessons analyzing the grammar used in a specific text, and while those are fine, sometimes it's enough to just:
  • Make brief mentions while doing a close reading ("Did y'all see that semicolon that Dickens just used, btw?")
  • Collecting correct sentences from texts! Use my FREE Grammar in Literature activity sheets if you need a starting point!

The bottom line
Any grammar instruction is better than none, and you have the professional skills and judgment to help your students in the best way that you can. If you don't give up, and if you model that grammar is important, then your teens and tweens will be better for it!

18 Tips for Teaching Creative Writing {with FREEBIE}

Teaching a creative writing class?
Need a boost before your next narrative unit?

Regardless of your experience and enthusiasm, teaching creative writing can be daunting in all its forms (fiction, poetry, narrative nonfiction, etc.).

But why is that?

Problem #1: Writers are picky.
As both a teacher and a student, I can vouch that creative writers can be picky. I'm sure you know the excuses objections we raise when faced with a task...
We don't like THAT prompt.
We want to listen to OUR music while we write.
We don't feel like it right now.
We want to sit somewhere that's NOT a desk.

Making a classroom environment for creative writing becomes a differentiation task in itself!

Problem #2: Student writers are vulnerable and may lack self-confidence. 
Middle and high school writers constantly claim that they "can't think of anything to write about" or "don't know what to write next". Sometimes, those cries are the truth, but a lot of times, they DO have an idea and just don't feel self-confident enough to move forward with it.

Combating student insecurity has to involve a combination of:
  • "Stacking" an assignment in their favor (more on that later), 
  • Teaching new skills in mini-lessons (so they have new techniques to try as a starting point), and 
  • Training students not to fear revision. If the first attempt is crap, then they can always rewrite it, so there's no reason to not try!

Problem #3: Revision is hard. 
... for both the teacher and student. The student doesn't want to do the REAL work of rewriting; you're lucky if you can get them to EDIT.

Teachers sometimes struggle with teaching revision, especially if:
  • The student has wildly different needs, mistakes, or patterns than the class,
  • The draft is terrible, and there's TOO much that could be commented on, or
  • You can see an issue, but you're not sure how to correct the student (and if it's worth picking a fight over). 
Unfortunately, not all English teachers in K-12 put equal emphasis on the writing PROCESS, so students may need to be reminded about those revision, proofreading, and publishing/sharing steps. Be prepared to fight discomfort in this area at first. 

So, how are you supposed to appease finicky writers who might not know much, might not feel like writers yet, and might not have buy-in to the tasks?

To be honest, entire blog posts could be devoted to each of these issues, but here are some starting tips of what to think about before you start your creative writing unit or class.

1. Decide in advance what is negotiable.
Before the first task, decide if you will say yes or no to students who want:
  • To sit unconventionally (feet up, head down, on the floor, etc.)
  • To listen to music, like Pandora or a iPhone playlist
  • To eat or drink
  • To work on it at home instead of at school
  • To change their topic/plot/idea
  • To cover up their screen or keep a draft to themselves
  • To throw away a draft and start over
  • To use the names of students, teachers, celebs, or other real people as characters
  • To write about REALLY dark topics, like suicide, abuse, abduction, self-harm, drugs, etc. 

2. Start with a student survey, and ask...
  • What do you already know about what a "good" story has in it?
  • What kinds of writing do you like to do?
  • What writing have you tried by yourself, outside of school, or in another English class?
  • What do you want to accomplish in this class?
  • What kinds of writing do you think you could need in future careers?
  • What do you want to learn or try in this class?
  • What help do you need from me?
  • What is your ideal writing environment?
Notice how all of these questions are student-centered, positively worded, and seeking out student motivation? ;-)

3. Start with really, really short quick writes.
At first, especially in a longer unit or course, you're up against a lot of student uncertainty, so break the ice with quick writes! Whether they're really short (like a bell-ringer, 5 minutes or less), or in the 10-20 minute range, try a new prompt a minimum of once per week, and just see what sentences or scenes emerge while students find themselves. It's fun and a good confidence-booster!*
*Eventually. A majority of the class will like it, but you WILL have some students who are slow to decide on an idea and will need time to get better at this. That's okay. 
4. Alternate between required and choice prompts.
Yes, sometimes it's good practice for everyone to respond to the same prompt. But that's not necessary every time, and some of my students' best writing has happened when I gave them a choice of prompts out of a pretty long list. 
For example, I've given students access to my PowerPoint of 100 prompts in advance of the in-class writing day and told them to walk in prepared with which prompt they want to respond to. It works brilliantly every time. 

5. Don't spend TOO long on every draft or assignment.
Yes, it's good to have one (or a few) drafts that get extra attention and revision. But...
  • It's better to get more practice drafting, not less, and 
  • The longer you spend on one draft, the increased likelihood they will hate it, especially if they didn't like the prompt or assignment to begin with! 

6. Assign a variety of genres.
You'd be surprised at which students turn out to be really great at writing which genre. Give them a chance to try their hand at as many as possible.
For example, you can assign some or all of these five genre assignments; another option is to give students access to all five, but they only have to choose and write one!

7. Assign BOTH fiction and personal/memoir writing.
Fiction is where MY passion lies, but for some, it's way more important to share from real life. This kind of writing may provide a therapeutic outlet, or might simply be more appropriate to what they want to pursue one day. (Not everyone will become fiction novelists!)
If you need a starting point, here are five realistic fiction assignments that can be based on real or fictional events. Assign one, some, or all!

8. Teach direct vs. indirect characterization.
This is one of the single most important lessons I teach that has the most visible impact in student drafts. If they know this difference, they can identify boring/direct sentences and "convert" them into more nuanced indirect ones. Get the handout and answer key here!

9. Have page limits.
For everyone's sanity, have a word/page maximum, not just a minimum, and require teacher permission to exceed it. You will have less to grade, and it's a realistic practice for students to have to fit within someone else's word count max (ahem, college admissions essays!)

10. Vary between timed and stretched-out drafting.
Let them learn how to write under pressure as well as in a relaxed fashion. They might not like it, but they'll thank you later.

11. Teach more than just the plot arc.
Yes, stories need structure. But I see a lot of students who know WHAT the plot triangle IS, but have no clue how to execute it. Or, they spend so much time just mapping their plot that they don't really do much with description, characterization, symbolism, figurative language... See my point?
If your students need help developing a more "full" story, try the mini-lessons in this flipbook; it has instructional points, tips for writing, AND space to get started applying each concept to your own story. 

12. Teach the difference between editing & revision.
My all-time favorite ways to teach this are with metaphors, specifically how proofreading is like checking your teeth vs. why revision is like a makeover. You'd be surprised at how few students know (or accept) that editing and revising are not the same thing... as well as how many students don't know how to revise authentically. 
Give students this editing checklist and task card set to show students how to break down the scary act of revision into smaller, manageable parts!

13. Coach students on how to give peer feedback.
A lot of us tell students to give specific feedback (not the generic "good job"), but most students don't know what they SHOULD say instead. They need to see lists of possible sentences and think about how they could respond. If you need help, try this set of "superlative" comments that students can award to each other!

14. Don't grade for all things, all the time, on all drafts.
Not every draft needs to be graded for grammar AND dialogue AND plot AND genre conventions AND... You get the idea. Pick what you're looking for this time, and be clear about it to students in advance. 

15. Let writers throw out ONE draft.
Maybe give them a literal "pass" card to get one extension, one throw-out, or one forgiveness per academic period. In the real world, don't writers get to bury certain drafts? 

16. Be praise-heavy.
We are trained to critique, but we also are trying to show students to LIKE creative writing too, right? Even if you're normally an Alfie Kohn follower who doesn't dish out a lot of compliments, remember that creative writing is very different, and students are more vulnerable here than other areas of ELA.

17. "Stack" an assignment in their favor. 
You know how video games always give the player a tool, advantage, ally, or ray of hope?
Well, I try very hard to make sure that in every assignment, there is at least ONE element that is more in their favor than mine: a tool they're allowed to use, free choice of prompt/topic/genre, more in-class writing days (less homework), or SOMETHING. This isn't necessarily a bribe or carrot, mind you - just the perception of advantage that makes them more confident moving forward. 

18. Remember why we write. 
Never lose sight of why we bother with creative writing (other than our standards and curriculum): expressing emotions and messages to readers. If your enthusiasm is flagging, the kids will see it, so hold onto this idea to remember that we should ALWAYS feel something while reading and writing.

FREE BONUS: if you need a boost, I HIGHLY recommend you check out BOTH my slideshow of writing quotes and NaNoWriMo's list of pep talks from real authors!

You can also get all of the materials mentioned in this post in one download! Check out my narrative writing bundle for grades 7-12.) 

15 Tips for Pulling off Independent Reading (in Middle/ High School)

If you have any variation of independent reading in your middle or high school English class, you've undoubtedly faced challenges at some point in the experience. 

Unlike the enthusiasm for reading in primary grades (think stickers, SSR, take-home bags, cute reading nooks, etc.), it's a huge accomplishment in secondary to get students to read anything, much less doing so with a stocked classroom library, fair assessments, and anything resembling enthusiasm. 

When many of our kids are over-committed, how do we make reading habits enjoyable, instead of just assigning tasks that just feel like more work?

Though I won't pretend to have all the answers for every reader and every type of classroom, I *can* tell you 15+ solutions that helped me teach independent reading programs over the last six years, to four grade levels and two school settings (urban and suburban/private). 

Why Independent Reading, Though?
This book is gold!
(Link to Amazon)
Before I share these tips, let me clarify that I'm a Kelly Gallagher fan and believe firmly that teens should read as much as possible, without "killing the book" by over-teaching and over-assigning it. 

On the other hand, if your students are reluctant or growing readers, then even finishing one book per month might be an accomplishment. It's all about getting them to read the same or more than they are now, right?

My Story: Starting from Nothing
During my master's program, I was studying motivation and reading for my thesis/portfolio, and I was hell-bent on bringing some level of independent reading to my inner-city classes of sophomores and seniors for student teaching. 

However, despite my amazing mentor teacher, there was no classroom library, the school library was under-funded, and the kids had NO buy-in. The regular-English class of sophomores were outwardly priding themselves on having NEVER FINISHED A WHOLE BOOK BEFORE, and my AP Lang seniors felt that they had too much homework to squeeze in any more reading. 

So, with the help of book drives, volunteers, and various kinds of coercing on my part...

  • We built a classroom library. 
  • My "Book of the Month" system was born. 
  • We had guest speakers come talk about reading. 
  • We made time in class to read (and/or talk about) books. 

And, according to the letters that I got from students at the end of my time (which they were NOT required to write), many were "converted" to reading, before it was too late.

Now, I teach in a private middle school with a district that requires use of Accelerated Reader (which kids hate) and have a lot of over-committed students (who think they have no time for reading). My challenges have changed, but the solutions I used in both settings really haven't. 

So trust me, I know how hard it is to start (and enforce) independent reading. But the steps below have helped me a lot, and they can help you, too.

Top 15 Tips for Your Program
So here are a few solutions to think about before or during your choice reading requirements for your English class. 

1. Start with a quantity within their ZPD
At the beginning of your program, ease into the length and/or quantity of books you require. Let them pick up shorter books at first, and don't be afraid of giving them plenty of time to finish the book (before assigning shorter deadlines later).

When I helped teach sophomores and AP Lang, the one thing both classes had in common was my Book of the Month requirement, and it was a hit at both levels! 

2. Teach students how to pace reading to meet a deadline. 

We teachers HAVE to stop passing out books, assigning a deadline, and just saying "go." The sink-or-swim approach does little to actually teach students to pace themselves, and it probably won't help them like the experience, either.

I like using these pacing bookmarks to help my eighth graders calculate the number of pages they need to read per day to meet a deadline; it promotes more consistent reading instead of trying to fly through 150 pages the night before it's due. 

3. Let some books end with just opinion or reflection. 
Yes, some texts will end with summative assessments, AR quizzes, or your own check for understanding. But not every book needs to end with work (and you don't need to grade everything, either.) 

4. Use reverse psychology. 
One of the best ways to get a teen interested after all is to tell them they're not allowed to. Even if it's not September, try this banned books mini-unit to get students reading commonly challenged CHOICE books (that they negotiate with you and their parents). 

5. Make them watch the movie version. 
Yes, this activity is fun, BUT more importantly, it's extremely important for weak readers who have a hard time visualizing the text.

You don't have to play the movie in-class, either. Make students do the work of picking the book/movie combo (including getting parent permission based on film ratings), and then let them generate heated opinions of which version (book or movie) was better. Start here for more ideas

6. Eliminate excuses for acquiring books. 

  • Don't have books at home? Get them from school. 
  • Don't have time for the school library? Get a cart of books from there. 
  • Don't have a classroom library? Do what I did and ask your local Half Price Books (or whoever) to work with you on a Book Drive for your classroom!
  • Need more copies? If you qualify, set up a Donors Choose account
7. Let books become gifts. 
I always make a big deal out of it when new books arrive in the mail or when I've been shopping. I bring it into the room in its shopping bag/box and "unwrap" it in front of them, turning it into a suspense-filled book talk.

You can also literally gift them back and forth: let kids donate books to the classroom, and if you have the funds, buy a book for each kid at some point in the year.

8. Add a teacher book talk once a week.
Just make a starting goal to hold up and discuss ONE book for five minutes or less, once per week. You need to model what enthusiastic chatter about books looks like, especially if no other adult does. Plus, it will help them branch out into different books (other than the popular ones already being circulated in teen word-of-mouth).

9. Make STUDENTS give the book talks. 

I have a Student-Led Book Talks Project that lets students recommend one book, a series, or a themed collection in a short (graded) presentation.

Book talks that come directly from students always have WAY more cred than ones from a teacher (even if they trust your book judgment)!

10. Do a buddy read.
If ever, they probably haven't been allowed to read a book with just one buddy since elementary school. Maybe one month is a required Partner Read month in your class, in which both have to agree on a book and do a culminating partner assignment together!

11. Allow one "re-read". 
Let just ONE of the books be a reread of a book from the past 2-5 years (assuming it's a reasonable choice, difficulty-wise). Let them feel the confidence-booster of being older and smarter, noticing more as they read it again. Ask them to reflect on what they got out of the text the second time!

12. Make decorative book reviews that last. 
I did this Quote Analysis and Artwork project as prep for an author visit last year, and it gave us cool Pinterest-style illustrated quotes to hang on lockers or walls!

13. Bring in (free) guest speakers. 
I know this may vary, but our local librarians do free school visits to recommend books to students, especially if it's at the end of the year (to promote their summer reading program). See if a library or bookstore is willing to come talk to your class!

During student teaching, I also had college students come visit my sophomores and seniors to talk about their reading habits (both their required reading in college classes and what they read for fun).

14. Get a (free) author visit. 
Many authors do free (or cheap) Skype visits, or sometimes even in-person ones if they're local. Ask your school or local library for ideas, or check out websites like this one that provide lists.

Not going to work out? TWEET AT THE AUTHOR and see if you get a reply! (I did this last year, and you can read about it in my TED posts.)

15. Give them TIME.
I saved this for last because I know it's the hardest one - making time to give students in-class reading time.

I've done this several ways in the past - doing it as my bell-ringer (while I take attendance), or doing a longer period of time once a week (so I can circulate the room and check reading logs/progress, etc.). Do whatever works for you, but once a week for 20 minutes is better than nothing, and it may give them a chance to RELAX in the middle of the school day!

For More Info
If you want help getting your program started, you can get my rubrics, logs, and other forms HERE in my Book of the Month programs for middle school and high school! And if you want to see my other lessons and tools for teaching literature, just click here.

5 Rookie Teacher Mistakes to Avoid in the First Weeks of School

Sure, all teachers learn and improve their practice each school year. That's especially true when a veteran teacher changes courses, grade levels, or school buildings.

But that first year or two brings special challenges.

I *thought* was prepared. I had all kinds of tangible and theoretical tools from my grad program; I'd had a good student teaching experience. But there are a few things that no mentor teacher, master's degree, or orientation told me.

Let me save you the trouble of finding these out the hard way!

1. Don't blow your entire back-to-school budget BEFORE the first day. 

Even if you have taken others' advice and satisfied all of your own Pinterest-worthy-classroom dreams, you won't entirely know what you need until you're in the room, WITH your students, for at least one full week. Experience your new schedule fully, and THEN go finish shopping.

I wasted money on an attendance book that was all wrong for my needs (and made this one instead), bought folders and files that weren't necessary, and got tools that didn't end up being relevant after all. Unless you're REALLY confident about your curriculum, procedures, and audience, allow yourself to buy a different clipboard or re-do that teacher binder a week later.

2. Don't over-promise, either literally or figuratively. 

Yes, you might be discussing a syllabus, setting rules/procedures, and trying to create a safe culture that first week. But while doing all of that, don't get too confident and make big statements promising things like...

  • How fast they will get papers back*
  • What your grading style & amount of feedback will be
  • What the prize for something will be
  • What units and lessons are happening (unless you truly know this)
  • Routines that are time-consuming (ex: guaranteed minutes of reading time per day/week)

Verbal promises aside, don't figuratively over-promise by creating expectations that will be hard to maintain, either, especially...
  • Bulletin boards or displays that constantly need updating (or redone entirely)
  • Extremely frequent changes to seating charts 
  • Playing a new video every day
  • A "new books" shelf that begs to be restocked

Look, I'm not saying that you CAN'T pull all this off. Far from it! But don't let the glow of New School Year Enthusiasm trap you into a promise that you won't want to maintain in January. 

(*And if you want HELP with that grading/feedback time, a lot of teachers like my grading helper forms!)

3. Don't lose your personality in favor of professionalism. 

Yes, fine, agreed - you don't want to be TOO soft, or try TOO hard to be their friend. But the kids are sizing you up on several levels, and they need help to not only figure you out, but know what kind of relationship they can have with you.

  • Are you going to be someone who will recommend great books? 
  • Are you a teacher who also digs Star Wars? 
  • Are you the teacher they will go to when they need help? 

Find an appropriate way to show who you are, and not just what you teach. I often have a 3-slide PowerPoint of just photos to introduce myself on the first day, showing students things I did that summer, hobbies I have, or life milestones (especially my dog). It helps them get to know who I am as a person faster, just as I'm trying to figure THEM out!

4. Don't wait too long to start learning new things. 

Trust me, I get it. My back-to-school season involves a syllabus, community-building, pre-tests, and dealing with their summer reading assignment. 


If you wait too long to start tickling their brains with new learning, then students will decide that this class is boring, or maybe easier, than it actually will be. Then the acting-up or tuning-out might start sooner than you want. The same applies to teachers who talk too much the first few days (instead of incorporating student talking and/or movement). 

Combat this by using bell-ringers, the start of your first unit, or a really worthy project as soon as you can, even if it's concurrent with the more dry stuff. Resist the urge to dwell in the aroma of new crayons for TOO long. 

5. Don't wait too long for the first confidence-booster. 

Notice that I did NOT say to give a prize, show a movie, or bribe them with candy early on. But students of all ages DO need to have hope that they can succeed in this class, that their efforts can result in good results, and that you are on their side. 

Maybe you'll choose to give a quiz that isn't too tough yet. Or make a group assessment. Or teach something firmly within their ZPD, with a method that's guaranteed to click. But whatever you do in the first weeks, try to ensure that your students choose to believe in themselves, in this class, and in you. 

The most important part... 
Finally, believe in yourself. You were hired for a reason, you are qualified to be here, and you CAN do this. Self-confidence is the best trick to NOT looking like a rookie, so stand firm in who you are and why you became a teacher.

You have so much to offer! Good luck! :) 

THIS WEEK: Freebie, Giveaway, and SALE

When a good deal comes along, I just have to share! There are three cool things happening this week that you should check out, before they disappear... 

#1: FLASH FREEBIE from my store!

In my post from Monday, I shared some Back-to-School ideas in my blog hop with other English teachers. 

Be sure to grab these writing prompts while they're still free!

Make sure you read Monday's post and click around to the OTHER FREEBIES being offered by the other English teacher-bloggers!

#2: GIVEAWAY for High School English!

Several secondary sellers are giving away items from their stores in these cool prize packs, divided by age and content area. 

Enter HERE now before the window closes!

(Scroll down and enter for whichever prize packs you want. Mine is in High School English #2.)

#3: Birthday SALE on Thursday & Friday!
I'll be writing more about this tomorrow, but Jackie from Room 213 and I have adjacent birthdays this week, and we're celebrating with a sale in both of our stores! 

Check back soon for more details. 

This is a great opportunity for anyone who missed the big TpT sale on Monday/Tuesday, or who just wants more help getting ready to go back to school!

#4: Short Story Blog Posts!
I also want to draw your attention to a great blog post about short stories that I recently got to contribute to! 

It gives a lot of great teaching ideas to boost your next short story unit, and it's so awesome that the people of Teachers Pay Teachers decided to share it on THEIR blog, too. 

Go check it out for great inspiration!

Back to School: Freebie, Classroom Management, and More!

Welcome to back-to-school season! I know that August can feel like one long Sunday night, but let's hang on to the last bit of summer together.

Several ELA teacher-bloggers and I are getting together to share some great ideas and free resources this week.

Be sure to click through all of our blog posts (list at the end of this post).

About Me
The 2016-17 school year will be my sixth of full-time teaching in a private middle school, and my ninth of tutoring high school students. Since I teach 8th grade the most, I spend a lot of time helping students in a transition, shifting from middle to high school or from high school to college.

In addition to teaching and tutoring, I coach a creative writing team (called Power of the Pen here in Ohio).

Classroom Management Tip
Many teachers have food in the classroom, whether it's a fun motivator (like candy) or as an actual survival tool (like granola bars for low-income students' breakfast).

However, I have to balance those needs with the list of kids with allergies, which my school nurse hands us each year.

I keep student snacks in a plastic box (shown below), mostly to keep them organized and keep the smell contained (especially for peppermints!).

Some of my favorite allergy-friendly treats are Lifesaver mints, Jolly Ranchers, fruit snacks, Twizzlers, and plain chocolate (unless there's a food dye allergy in the room).

Last year, instead of throwing whole boxes or bags of candy in there, I just dumped the contents into the box, mixed it up, and gave students 5-10 seconds to pick when it was time.

I had the nutrition labels taped to the box lid so that my allergy students could verify what they could eat. It let them feel safe in my classroom, instead of just having to trust me and hope that I hadn't steered them wrong.

Free Resource Spotlight: Back to School Prompts
This set of writing prompts is more than just a choice menu - you'll get to diagnose writing skills, get to know your students' personalities, AND challenge them in multiple genres at the same time!

Download the set of prompts, rubric, and graphic organizer now - it's free this week only!
And if you like it, there is a set for each month of the calendar year HERE.

Thanks for reading!

Sale and Giveaway: "Pardon my Dust" & Thanks

Things have been quiet on the blog for a reason - I'm in the middle of some hefty projects that you're going to LOVE later on!

To thank you for your patience, I'm throwing some "Pardon My Dust" celebrations this week. 

  • There is a SALE in my store this week, today through Wednesday! Check out what's new in my store, or stock up on the items on your wishlist. 
  • I'm hosting a GIVEAWAY, right here on the blog, and the grand prize is something I've never offered before: a new custom product of YOUR choice, straight from me to you! (And hey, the TpT gift cards are pretty good runner-up prizes, too!)

Thanks again for being a reader of this blog, and thanks for your patience as I work on some behind-the-scenes magic. It will all be worth it later!

Best wishes,
Sara :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(FYI - Fine Print about the Grand Prize:)
  • All winners will be notified by email within 48 hours of the contest closing. 
  • Grand prize winner will negotiate the custom product with Sara via email. 
  • Sara will deliver the custom product via email no later than August 30th, not to exceed 20 pages; Sara can refuse to create the requested item if there are moral conflicts, or if she does not have sufficient background knowledge of the topic. 
  • Sara reserves the right to post the custom product in her TpT store and retains all rights with IP, copyright, and sales; prize winner cannot claim authorship of the item or distribute it online. 

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