10 Picture Books to Teach Grammar in Secondary ELA


Many middle and high school English teachers are either reluctant to use picture books at all in their classrooms, OR they are interested but don’t know where to start.

Grammar in particular is a great opportunity to include picture books, which can add color, imagery, and rhyming to enhance memory of rules. One way to get started would be to put these books around the room and let students rotate to them, taking notes on grammar rules or observations they take from each one!

Chatting with me today is Christina Hanson, a picture book guru who blogs at Hanson Hallway (and who does the #ClassroomBookaDay routine with her middle schoolers)!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

#1.  Twenty-Odd Ducks
Sara: I love Twenty-Odd Ducks as a memorable way to teach hyphens and other punctuation marks (which is SO helpful if you’re a middle school teacher in particular, since some of the “fun” punctuation marks are in our Common Core standards). The whole book is built around sentences punctuated two different way and how each one would change the meaning. (For example: “Well done, steak” vs. “Well-done steak”).

#2: Alfie the Apostrophe
Christina: In Alfie the Apostrophe, Alfie wants to enter the annual punctuation-mark talent show to show off his contraction and possessive-making skills, but he is very nervous.  After the question mark, exclamation point, parentheses, and a few others show off their skills, the host, Mr. Asterisk, thinks the show is over.  But Alfie summons up the courage and performs, but will his tricks work?  This is a fun book full of punctuation puns, and it will be useful for students to learn about how different punctuation marks work.  Plus, students will learn the origin and meaning of the word apostrophe (which I didn’t even know until I read this book)!

#3: The Perfect Punctuation Book
Sara: The Perfect Punctuation Book is a pop-up book, and it's basically a premade Interactive Notebook for punctuation! It would be a great way to review basic punctuation and let students remember little rules they may have forgotten.

#4: Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective?
Christina: Hairy, Scary, Ordinary is one of 27 books in the Words Are CATegorical series by Brian P. Cleary.  It starts out with the definition of adjective, and follows with many, many examples of adjectives.  To make it easy to find them in the text, the adjectives are even printed in a different color.  The story has a fun rhythm and lots of rhyming that will keep students engaged and learning new, descriptive words.  Other books in this series include topics ranging from verbs to prefixes to antonyms to interjections and more!

Sara: As a side note, I’m now obsessed with this series and want to get all the parts of speech ones!

#5: Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Sara: You might know the grown-up style guide of the same name, but the picture book version of Eats, Shoots & Leaves is similar to Twenty-Odd Ducks in that it shows the power of changing punctuation marks. However, this one focuses on COMMAS, and how the placement or absence of one can change everything.


#6: Exclamation Mark
Christina: Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld team up in this book about the Exclamation Mark.  He has always stood out, and has tried everything to fit in with others.  But with the help of a question mark, exclamation mark finds his voice and where he belongs.  This book not only teaches students about how exclamation marks can emphasize text, but it’s also a good lesson to find that exclamation mark inside of us.

#7: That’s Not My Panda
Sara: Naomi Watt has an entire series of “That’s not my (*insert animal here*)” books, and when I read them to my toddler, I always feel compelled to read it to my students, too. It’s a quick example of parallel structure AND use of the possessive “its” (if you want to review it’s vs. its).

#8: Did You Say Pears?
Christina: Learning and spelling homonyms and homophones can be tricky for students, and this would be a good book to help students better understand them.  With words like horns and trunk (homonyms) and rows/rose (homophones), Did You Say Pears? author Arlene Alda uses simple text along with photographs to create this picture book. 

#9: The Girl's Like Spaghetti
SaraThe Girl's Like Spaghetti is another book similar to Twenty-Odd Ducks, this time focusing on apostrophes!

#10: Fantastic! Wow! and Unreal!: A Book About Interjections and Conjunctions
Christina: In Fantastic! Wow! and Unreal!, author/illustrator Ruth Heller has combined rhyming words and phrases with brightly colored pictures to create this book about interjections and conjunctions.  I loved the vibrant East Asian dragon (“Awesome! Cool! Fantastic! Wow! are all interjections that people say now.”) and colorful zebras (“Although this is a wondrous sight, these zebras do not look quite right, because they should be black and white.”).  Heller has created seven more books in this Explore Language series to help students learn even more about grammar.

Do you have more suggestions? 
Tell us in the comments!

20 Nail-Biting Books for Teens: Scary or Thrilling Titles

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. 

Some students are ready for stories that are action-packed, spooky, or just plain scary. Halloween is a great time to put these titles out for display and let teenagers tiptoe into horror or thrillers.

I recently asked several trusted English teachers for their recommendations, and here's what they said! To read the full book talk for each one, click on the Instagram handle of the teacher who recommended it.

Keep in mind that some of these are definitely more mature (or scary) YA and are more suited for high school than middle school; as always, you are the best judge of what titles are best for your classroom.

20+ Graphic Novels that English Teachers Love


Ever look around the graphic novel section of a library or bookstore and wonder which ones should ACTUALLY go into your classroom shelves?

Fear not, for 20 of us English teachers have gathered to share our top favorites with you. Some are adaptations of classics or YA favorites, and some are original graphic novels.

(Click on the name of the person who recommended the book to read the full book talk!)

1. Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier
Recommended by @secondarysara. Link to Amazon.

2. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Recommended by @nouvelle_ela. Link to Amazon.

3. Maus, Books I and II, by Art Spiegelman
Recommended by @bespokeelaclassroom. Link to Amazon.

4. Poe: Stories and Poems
Recommended by @elaclassroom. Link to Amazon.

5. Smile, by Raina Telgemeier
Recommended by @erinbeers. Link to Amazon.

6. The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui
Recommended by @elaeveryday. Link to Amazon.

7. Rapunzel's Revenge, by Shannon Hale
Recommended by @readingandwritinghaven. Link to Amazon.

8. Real Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
Recommended by @hansonhallway. Link to Amazon.

9. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
Recommended by @stacey.lloyd. Link to Amazon.

10. The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley
Recommended by @theliterarymaven. Link to Amazon.

11. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Recommended by @mrsorman. Link to Amazon.

12. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Recommended by @elabuffet. Link to Amazon.

13. A Wrinkle in Time, by Hope Larson
Recommended by @mrsspanglerinthemiddle. Link to Amazon.

14. Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
Recommended by @2peasandadog. Link to Amazon.

15. Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
Recommended by @addiewilliams_tpt. Link to Amazon.

16. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Recommended by @literarysherri. Link to Amazon.

17. Beowulf: Monster Slayer by Paul D. Storrie
Recommended by @studyallknight. Link to Amazon.

18. American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
Recommended by @thedaringenglishteacher. Link to Amazon.

19. Swing it, Sunny, by Jennifer L. Holm
Recommended by @readitwriteitlearnit. Link to Amazon.

20. What It Is, by Lynda Barry
Recommended by @nowsparkcreativity. Link to Amazon.

What other suggestions do you have? 
Tell us in the comments!

4 Tech Tricks to Teach in English Class


What if we told you that a few careful clicks could help students turn in higher-quality work, and therefore save YOU some precious grading time? 

The following technology hacks are short, doable skills that any English teacher can (or, perhaps, should?) teach. Even if you don’t have a strong background in technology, these are skills that students might not get elsewhere and definitely enhance outcomes in an ELA course. They’re a win-win!

16 Books that Build Empathy for Refugees, Immigrants, and Marginalized Voices


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

It has never been more important to build empathy for all of humanity, and we know that characters are some of the best teachers we can give our students.

The following novels help a secondary classroom include more voices from around the world that are historically underrepresented in literature, AND they can help broaden the perspectives of students who are trying to understand the world in a very confusing time.

5 Diagnostics to Get to Know Your English Classes


The first few weeks of a school year (or new semester), we have to learn way more than just students' names. In an increasingly data-driven world of education that wants teachers to quantify OR demonstrate growth over time, it's beneficial to get some baseline snapshots of what students know and can do.

How I Teach Grammar (The Grammar House Cup)


I was desperate for a better way to teach grammar.

On my end, I was overwhelmed with how much I needed to teach: how to get it all done and how to do so logically. For my students, I was concerned about their engagement (not tuning out or getting bored) AND how to ensure that they "got it".

16 Books to Start Your (Secondary) Classroom Library


Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.

I'm currently on the hunt to improve my classroom library, so I turned to some of my fellow English teachers on Instagram and asked them what THEY considered to be can't-miss books.

And here are their answers!

8 Bad Health Habits that Sabotaged my Teaching


Tired of feeling hungry, achy, and sleep-deprived during the school year?

Me too. But it wasn’t until I took a year off from teaching that I realized which HEALTH habits were undermining my ability to teach better. (There are some things that not even coffee and a growth mindset can fix!)

21 Nonfiction Books for Secondary ELA Classrooms


Tell me if this sounds familiar: sometimes it's tough to get middle and high school students to go outside their comfort zones for reading nonfiction. They assume the book is too long, too difficult, or too boring, and many students stick to super-short biographies or animal books.

As a result, I'm always on the lookout for nonfiction that will be nonthreatening, "worth it", or super engaging for my classroom library.

When I asked several of my English teacher colleagues on Instagram what they would recommend, they answered the call with some GREAT suggestions. These titles range in length, difficulty, content, and maturity.

We hope you enjoy this list! To see the FULL book talk for each title, click on the hyperlink of the teacher's username who recommended it.

9 Literary Outfits for English Teachers


Teacher fashion is a whole different game than most of the "office" outfits that magazines and fashionistas say we can "wear to work".

18 Books for a Middle School Classroom Library


One of the toughest parts of teaching middle school English is choosing which books to recommend to each reader. In this age group, reading ability AND student maturity vary widely. Further, adults tend to disagree about which books are "appropriate" for middle school, so YA fiction with mature content can be risky.

7 Times to Put Students in Control of English Class


Sara: It's not easy to surrender control and trust middle school students to make decisions that will impact your curriculum, classroom, or content. 

But squeezing too tightly to your control can also choke their learning, especially in middle school, a time when students need to learn independent problem-solving. 

Writing with me today is Darlene Anne (the ELA Buffet), a fellow middle school ELA teacher.

6+ Products to Fight Teacher STRESS Acne


I never thought I’d still be fighting acne on this side of age 30, but there are still a lot of factors that can mess with adult skin.