First Days of School Giveaway & Blog Hop

In the high school English classroom, how do you get your students started for their school year?   For the First Days of School, I like to dive into content.  Of course it’s important to establish routines and get to know students, too, but at the secondary level, students need to be involved with reading and writing as soon as possible.  That’s why I have an Introductory Unit to my American Literature course that gets students thinking about class topics while also helping me get to know them!

Here’s how it goes:

1.  Students read and analyze poems including “I Hear American Singing” by Walt Whitman, “I, Too,” by Langston Hughes, and “Naming Myself” by Barbara Kingsolver.  This exposes students to a range of authors and time periods but focuses on a central theme, American identity.  Additionally, these poems are simple enough that they don’t intimidate students. Click this link to learn more about the lesson.

2.  Next, students read and listen to songs about America from a variety of genres as part of my lesson, “Literary Analysis & Close Reading: Reflections of America through Music.”  They analyze the lyrics as poems and consider what each song tells them about America.  For bonus, students can bring in their own school appropriate songs and share the related themes.  This is always popular with them!

3.  During the next phase of the unit, I then have students “read” non-print texts, self-portraits by classic American artists.  They learn that reading images is much like reading words, requiring them to focus on details (in this case, such elements as color, shapes, composition, facial expressions, and body language) and make inferences. You can enter to win this lesson below!

Sample Student Portrait
4.  This activity then leads them to creating their own self-portraits.  Since it’s an English class, students must also write explanations for the images in their portraits.  These can be illustrations, collages, or other artistic mediums.

5.  In the culminating activity, students use the self-portraits to brainstorm about their own identities as individuals and Americans.  They use their reflections as pre-writing for a poem that they write about themselves and which we take through the writing process. You can get this lesson as a freebie from my TpT store!

Sample Student Portrait
This unit took me several years to fully develop and takes 2-3 weeks with each activity providing scaffolding for the following ones. There are so many features that I love about this unit because it capitalizes on students’ multiple intelligences, introduces them to classic American literature authors and themes, and helps us all get to know one another.  Furthermore, I often post their portraits and poems together on my walls and quickly have student work to display.

If you would like a chance to get one of the lessons from this unit, I am offering my “"American Voices through Art: Reading & Creating Non-Print Text" for free in the giveaway promotion from July 20 - 26 sponsored by Ms.F's Teaching Adventures.  Even if you don’t teach American Literature, you could likely use many of the activities for your own courses. Enter Here:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want to find out what other teachers are doing in their classrooms at the beginning of the school year?  Visit the blogs below!


  1. This sounds like a great unit. Thanks for sharing, I'm going to go check it out further!

  2. I love this! We are working on including different forms of "composition" into our college classes and the pictures etc really play into that with this lesson. Thanks for the great ideas!

  3. What an excellent idea to create and follow an introductory unit to woo students into the meat later! This approach offers you unique opportunities to draw on their interests and even add their capabilities to the mix. What a wonderful way to add relevancy from the start of any term. Thanks! Ellen

  4. My students would LOVE the self-portrait activities. What a fantastic idea! Thank you for sharing! :)

  5. I like that. The idea of getting to know your students is important, and this is appropriate for older grades. Very neat!


Back to Top