'Tis the Season for Gratitude

The holiday season is a time for fun, gratitude and (unfortunately) stress.  To make your holiday season more relaxing and enjoyable, I’m providing some tips to make it go more smoothly for you and your students.

In the secondary English classroom, I don’t usually teach lessons that are specifically designed for a holiday, but I do try to have activities and readings with themes that fit with the season.  Recently I read about a school that is promoting an “acts of kindness” social media campaign.  Students capture moments of kindness, posting comments and photos to social media sites.

This inspired me to create a Holiday Instagram Activity.  The activity gets your students researching, reading, and writing about historical figures, local heroes, or others who exemplify kindness and generosity; then they create an Instagram post.  Additionally, students write clever hashtags to accompany their post.  In the spirit of the season, I’m providing it as a Freebie at this link.

“The Gift of the Magi” is a wonderful story about personal sacrifice for love, so it’s fitting for the holiday season, too.  Since my students are facing the PARCC assessments this school year, I’ve been teaching them to synthesize their readings and write short literary analysis essays .  One lesson I created is a paired passage with the story and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.”  If I don’t get to it before winter break, I know it will also work nicely with Valentine’s day.

After rereading “The Gift of the Magi,” I realized that I’m feeling less grateful than in the past, so I’ve decided to focus my holiday season on gratitude.  In fact, I made a “thankful tree” for our Thanksgiving dinner.  I invited our friends and family to write something they were thankful for and hang it on the decorative branches.  I plan to keep using it throughout the month and hope this will remind me to appreciate the many simple joys in my life.  As I recently read in a New York Times article, gratitude is a choice.  

Here is an unexpected note my husband left on the table for me recently!

Besides taking time to be thankful, winter break should give me time to pursue goals to improve my TpT resources. I would like to hire a proofreader (no matter how many times I revise my work, I always seem to miss typos), improve my blog design, and learn Photoshop.  In fact, our local community college is offering an online continuing education class that I can take beginning in January. 

What do you hope to enjoy for your holiday season?  Do you have activities planned for your students or family?  I’d love to read them in the comments below!

Be sure to click on the links below to read more 'Tis the Season tips from amazing secondary teacher-bloggers!


Fun Fall Finds

It’s that time of year again: the days are shortening, the weather is cooler, and the leaves are turning scarlet and gold.  It’s the perfect time to curl up with a good book, hot drink, and warm blanket. So I’m joining up with hostess Ms. Fuller and other secondary bloggers to share fun fall finds and a fabulous giveaway! Here are two book recommendations that I hope you will find enjoyable.

1.  The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey:  The story takes place in 1920s Alaska where a childless couple chooses to homestead after a recent heartbreak.  However, the Alaskan wilderness tests their ability to survive physically and emotionally each day.   During the season's first snowfall, they put their troubles aside and build a girl out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone—but a girl from the woods suddenly appears. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this mysterious child who lives alone in the Alaskan forest, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, life is often not as it first seems.  Something changes them all…

2.  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah:  This historical fiction novel transports you to the turbulent time of WWII in a small French village. Two sisters face brutal hardships: Vivian’s husband is sent to the Front, her town is controlled by the Nazis, and her friend is persecuted for her Jewish faith while her younger sister Isabelle risks her life for the Resistance.  Although the sisters love one another and fight the same enemy, they are separated by experiences, circumstances, and misunderstandings.  Will the war tear them apart or make their love for each other stronger?   

Can’t wait to read one of these books?  Do you want your students to develop the passion you have for reading?  Then encourage them to take ownership for their reading and learning with Readers’ Roundtable discussion!  This resource provides tools to help you implement book discussions in the style of Socratic Seminar. 

You can enter to win this resource in the giveaway contest below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Tricks That Are Treats

Once again this month, I’m joining the Secondary Smorgasbord bloggers’ link up sponsored by The ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures.  In anticipation of Halloween, we’re sharing treats from our classrooms, and in my case, some are tricks that I’ve turned into treats! So here are some tricks that are geared to create success in the secondary classroom:

1.  Have fun:  I have taken this job too seriously at times, and who can blame me?  I’m constantly pressured to make sure students are achieving high test scores and will be “college and career ready.”  No doubt, I believe in accountability and pursing higher education, but it can be a real chore at times.  Lately, I’ve been including Fun Friday videos to end the week.  Since I love dogs, recent ones have featured silly clips of dogs.  Here is one you may want to watch: 

I have incorporated more humor to manage students this year. Instead of getting mad that students keep forgetting their pencils, I got a box of golf pencils. Whenever a student asks, I point to the cup of golf pencils.  Guess what?  Not many have been asking me for pencils this year. 

Students often forget to put their names on their papers, which annoys and frustrates me.  I used this meme from Tracee Orman and posted it where students turn in their papers.  It gets the point across and makes everyone laugh! 

 Find these on Tracee's Pinterest Board.

Lately, I’ve also noticed that students have been struggling to open the door to my classroom because they have to pull it instead of push it.  For fun, I posted this Far Side comic on the door to help them remember:

2.  Be human:  For our SAT essay brainstorming sessions, I have students practice with retired prompts.  One of them asks the following question:  Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?  This usually leads to a discussion of learning from the memory of one’s mistakes.

During this discussion, I tell a story about how I got caught cheating on a chemistry test in high school.  I explain how my chemistry teacher tore up my test in front of the class; not only was I upset about the failing grade, but I was certain that I would be disqualified from cheerleading since as a school representative, I needed to reflect good character.  So, of course I tell my students that I went to the guidance counselor and tearfully told her my mistake. She advised me to apologize, which I did.  I learned never to cheat, and they love hearing this story!

3.  Incorporate holidays with content:  In the secondary classroom, we usually don’t do Halloween parties or dress up anymore, but we can still connect our teaching to the ideas of the holiday.  In English, poems, stories, novels, and plays abound with frightening characters, spooky moods, and dark themes.  Edgar Allan Poe is the master of this, but I’ve even used The Crucible, “The Devil and Tom Walker,” “A Rose for Emily,” Frankenstein, and other texts during the days around Halloween.  In fact, this year, I’ve created poetry analysis prompts that are perfect for Halloween.  As a TREAT to you, they are offered for free.

You can also find more resources for Halloween here

Hope you enjoyed these tricks (really treats)!  What texts would you recommend for teaching near Halloween?  Share them in the comments below!

You can also find other great posts on these blogs!


Settle Students with Bell Ringers

I'm joining the Secondary Smorgasbord FB group this month to blog about bell ringers.  Whether you call them bell ringers, warm-ups, or something else…. I can’t imagine teaching without them!  Here’s why I love them:

1.  Students get focused immediately, and the warm-ups set expectations.  Students know that when they enter my classroom, they have something to do right away. They know where to find necessary handouts, and they have a section in their binders for them.  It also helps cut down on socializing and chatter at the start of class.  

2.  They create routines.   My students know that as soon as they enter class they should start a given activity depending on the day of the week.  Typically, I start the week with journal writing.  On two other days, I start with Silent Sustained Reading.  On Wednesdays I have students complete SAT warm-ups, and on Fridays I usually have an editing activity.  By having planned warm-ups for each day of the week, it helps me ensure that I will cover a variety of topics and skills throughout the semester.

I have a classroom library to help students prepare for SSR.

3.  They’re a great management tool.  In our school, teachers are expected to take attendance on the computer at the beginning of each class.  By having students work on a bell ringer activity, it gives me a moment to take care of this task.  Depending on the activity, it’s also a great time for me to meet with a student individually or to provide assistance. 

4.  Warm ups split a 90 minute block into manageable learning chunks.  Research shows that the human attention span is limited, so I need to divide my class periods into several short activities.  My warm-ups range from 5 – 15 minutes depending on the activity.  Often, I can link the warm-up to a standard or topic that will be explored further in class.  For instance, I choose journal topics that are related to the day’s lesson.

5.  They don’t have to be graded.  I set the expectation that warm-ups must be completed but I do not always collect them.  This gives students an opportunity to practice their learning without feeling threatened. This works especially well for SAT warm ups, which are often intimidating to students.  We always take a few minutes to discuss answers in whole-class discussion, and students know they may be asked to share answers, but they also know it’s okay for them to make mistakes. 

Poetry Bell Ringers American Poets
Poetry Bell Ringers British Poets

This year I plan to use my poetry bell ringers in my Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition course.  Students need to be able to read, analyze, and write about poetry on the AP exam quickly.  By completing these bell ringers weekly, my students will have lots of practice with these skills and exposure to numerous classic poems.  If you’re interested in trying some of these out, click on the images.


Maryland Teachers Head Back to School

Classroom Tip – Handling Student Absence

Most Maryland teachers are back at school, but fortunately I do not return to school until Monday.   Well, as I head back and think about setting up my classroom, I plan to continue some classroom procedures from previous years.

In our school, students frequently miss class for myriad reasons.  Some of their absences are school related, such as field trips, sports, and other activities, but many of them get sick or go on family vacations.  To help students when they return, I have a place in my classroom where they get assignments that they missed. Since they are high school students, it also encourages them to take responsibility for themselves.

On an accessible counter, I stack letter trays that have folders for each day of the week.   In each folder, I put a printed agenda where students can find the objectives, activities, homework, and any handouts from the days that they missed.  I simply put the absent student names on the appropriate handouts in the folder.

The beauty of this procedure is that it saves me from too many interruptions during class.  When a student asks what she missed, I just point to the absence folders.  Of course, this is just one of many procedures that I will be explaining during the first week of school.

To make reviewing classroom expectations and procedures more interesting this year, I’ve created a set of task cards. Great for the first days of school, this activity will engage students and require  them to find answers in their syllabus, handbooks, and other classroom resources. 

Besides helping students review their routines, the Twitter response handout requires students to write concise answers and makes their learning relevant.  For extra fun, students also write #hash tags.  If you’re interested in checking them out, click on this link.

Teachers are always in need of new tips for handling their classroom routines, so I hope you find my absence procedure helpful.  I’ve also created an English textbook scavenger hunt as a freebie gift for your return back to school.  

Want to find other great resources from Maryland teachers?  Check out the TpT sellers below!


"Chunk" Your Syllabus

cooperative and active learning

In addition to perusing the school agenda, every teacher I know discusses her syllabus on the first day.  Some keep their syllabi brief, but often they simply read it to their students while the kids look at them with glazed eyes.  And really, can you blame the students?  Can you imagine listening to all of your teachers review a syllabus or agenda for eight hours straight?

Unfortunately I was guilty of doing this, too.  In the past, I routinely read my syllabus to my class; however, several years ago, I created a new method for reviewing my five page syllabus. 

I use the reading strategy “chunking,” which breaks up reading into manageable sections.  Furthermore, my activity incorporates cooperative learning, so it gives me an opportunity to see how my students work (or don’t work) together.  The activity is always popular and gets my school year started positively.  Best of all, after my students complete the activity, I have posters of their work to display on the VERY FIRST DAY of school, which pleases my administrators and brightens my classroom.

Here is how I implement my activity:

1.  Since my syllabus is five pages long, I number each page and divide my class into five groups.  Each group is assigned a page to read and analyze.  I also give a poster-size construction paper and marker to each group.

2.  I tell the students to identify at least five essential details that the class needs to know from their assigned pages.  They must also make an inference.  Typically, I give an example:  even though it doesn’t state it explicitly in the syllabus, we can infer from the course expectations that good attendance will help students be successful.
back to school activity
3.  Each group chooses someone with legible handwriting and writes the details and inference on its construction paper.  They also decide on how to present their posters to the class in a way that involves everyone in the group.  Recently, I've tweaked this activity and my students turn their posters into the "front pages" of newspapers. 

4.  When the groups are ready, each one presents its poster to the class.  This gives me a chance to check for understanding, answer questions, and elaborate on any points that are important.  Finally, I collect the posters for my display. 

My students are involved and grateful to do an activity that’s different than the typical first-day lecture.  Best of all, I get them reading and writing, so I can meet curriculum standards right away. The displayed posters serve as an excellent reminder of content, expectations, and procedures for the first week, too!

Want more tips for back to school?  You can download this free BTS eBook for 7-12 ELA teachers. 

Read more ideas for back to school here.
Do you have ideas for reviewing classroom rules, procedures, and routines?  
Please share in the comments below.


July 2015 Friday Flashback

Once again, I’m linking up with Julie Faulkner for her Friday Flashback, and I can’t believe July is over!  Fortunately, I don’t return to school until the end of August, so I’m taking a few moments to reflect on this whirlwind month.

1.  Viva Las Vegas

I was a little nervous since I traveled to the TpT conference alone, but it was an amazing experience!  I enjoyed meeting with my online collaborators and was pleased to find them so down to earth.  I also had a few important take aways that might resonate with you also:

·         Build your brand (first, I am working to clarify my vision of my brand).
·         Find your inner business woman (this doesn’t come naturally to me since I’ve spent my life as a teacher).
·         Invest in good tools (it’s time to spend money on a better computer and blog design).

2.  Beach Bum

Of course I’ve been enjoying the beach.  That’s why I live here, right?!  My favorite place is the national park by my home where wild ponies stroll by our beach blankets.  It’s also a fantastic place for enjoying cook-outs and bonfires.

3. Game of Thrones Binge

I rarely watch television in the summer but this year I decided to find out why all of my colleagues rave about the HBO series Game of Thrones.  I purchased the DVDs so I can watch the episodes in order.  I immediately got hooked and have already finished the first two seasons.  My only complaint is that too many of my favorite characters have been getting killed!

4. Seller Collaboration

Another take away from Vegas is the importance of collaboration.  I’ve been continuing to collaborate with other TpT sellers and recently I participated in the TpT Seller Challenge.  One of my favorite activities was the Makeover Madness which encouraged me to revise the cover of one of my first resources (see below).  I’m also taking part in the TpT Social Media Surge hosted by Brynn Allison, the Literary Maven.  There’s so much for me to learn about social media but I’m already feeling more comfortable with Twitter.

5. Summer Employment

Usually I teach writing camp or teach English 101  at the local community college in the summer, but this summer I’m devoting myself to my TpT store.  I’ve been busy updating my products and creating new resources including this Literature TrashketballBundle.  It includes nine of my popular trashketball games, which can be used to review classic plays and novels.  I will be adding more to the bundle this year, so I’d love to know what books or plays you use in your classroom.  Please tell me about your literature units below!


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!

TpT Seller Challenge

I am DARING TO DREAM thanks to the brilliant idea for a TpT Seller Challenge from Third in Hollywood, Sparkling in Second, TeachCreateMotivate, and Peppy Zesty Teacherista. Coincidentally, since I began summer break this week, I was just brainstorming about some of these dreams the other day! 

I’ve written about five of them below.

1. Gain Financial Peace and Freedom

It's true that money can’t buy happiness, but it may reduce worries, give more time, and provide comfort.  Right now I am fortunate to own a home and have my basic needs met, but it’s a continual struggle to pay my bills, including the tremendous student loan debt from schooling that I completed almost 20 years ago!  I haven’t always made the best financial decisions, but I’m working to educate myself and acquire enough wealth to achieve many of the dreams below.  My work as a TpT seller inspires me and gives me hope that I can achieve my goals!

2. Publish “Be Strong”

They say that everyone has a story, and I have quite a few. I have an especially inspiring story of my sister’s survival after being attacked and stabbed as she worked security in a grocery store in 2007.  At times we were not sure if my sister would survive her injuries, but she has made an excellent recovery!  In fact, she has returned to the police work she loves.  I’ve tried to record the experience in a book so I can share the story of her courage and perseverance with others.  I suffered writer’s block after completing 80 pages but hope to finish it in the near future.

3. Create Happy Tails

Although I haven’t been blessed with children, I have rescued several fur babies, including our former cat Lucky, previous dog Koko, and current dog Buster.  At the high school where I teach, I sponsor a club in which participating students fundraise for our local humane society and advocate for abused animals. In the future, I intend to adopt more dogs from the shelter and would love a fenced yard for them to run around in!

4.  Enjoy a View of the Sunset

Right now I live on a heavily trafficked road, so it would be wonderful to purchase a home where I could watch the sunset every night. We frequently join our close friends to watch the sun set over the river behind their house.  I find watching the sunset to be calming, and it always cheers me after a long day of work.

5. Journey Across America

After graduating from college, I moved to Colorado for a ski adventure.  Two years later, my best friend and I backpacked Europe for the summer. However, ever since I started teaching and accrued more responsibility, I haven’t been able to travel as much as I would like.  So my husband and I would love to take a road trip across the U.S.A. (and now I’ve added Canada to the wished-for adventure).  Ideally, since I am an English teacher, I would love to visit the homes of classic American authors as I travel the states.

Thanks for reading about my hopes for the future.  Now what dreams do you hope to achieve?  Please share yours in the comments below!
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Summer Reading

I’m not out of school yet (two more weeks to go), but since my seniors are gone and my other classes are winding down, I couldn’t resist starting my summer reading!  I’ve ordered a stack of books from Amazon and intend to put them on my classroom library shelf next school year.  Best of all, these books are just for my enjoyment, and I don’t have to think too hard (AP English Literature books can be intense) or plan lessons for them!

Here are two in my stack:

1.  The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls
I loved Walls’s The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses, which were both non-fiction. In fact, I convinced my media center specialist to order The Glass Castle to use in literature circles and just had a group of students finish reading it.  They told me they really enjoyed it and some plan to read Half Broke Horses.

Now, I’m excited to read her first fiction novel, The Silver Star. According to reviews, it’s about two sisters who survive the abandonment of their mother.  It promises to be a story about overcoming hardships and the power of love. 

2.  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
After a recommendation from a colleague, I have read at least five of Hannah’s books.  Two of my favorites are Night Road and Winter Garden.  In February, The Nightingale was released and I've splurged on the hardcover! 

Alternating between present and past, Winter Garden is in many ways a historical fiction novel, recalling one character’s survival during the Siege of Leningrad.  Hannah’s newest book appears to be another historical fiction story.  This book, like The Silver Star, is also about two sisters; this time the story is set in France during WWII. 

Hmmm, I just realized that both books are about sisters.  It must mean I’m ready for a summer road trip to visit my own sister who lives in Georgia!

Me & My Sis

What books do you plan to read this summer?  I’ve got more on my list than these, and I’m open to even more suggestions.  Please post your summer reading selections in the comments below and check-out other books of summer in the link-up hosted by Julie Faulkner.
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