How to Improve Your Students Essays: Six Strategies for Revision

Six Easy Steps for Revision

No doubt, teaching writing is difficult. Many students don’t like to write, are insecure about their writing abilities, or may not see the purpose for writing, This is especially true in a society that seems to value expediency (such as tweets and posts on social media) over deep, critical thought.

But effective English teachers know that students must learn to write well. Not only does it prepare students for standardized assessments, college courses, and the work world, but it helps to improve their thinking.

In our instruction, it’s important to teach writing as a recursive process. The process involves multiple steps including brainstorming, planning, drafting, revising, redrafting, editing, polishing, and finally, publication. But in our rush to get through mandated curriculum, some don’t feel they have the time to encourage students to use the writing process.

It’s not easy, but I make sure to include time for revision activities with any formal writing. I always tell them that no one writes a perfect first draft- not me, not even the best writers in the world! In fact, here are some quotes from famous writers about revision:

"I probably spend 90% of my time revising what I’ve written."
Joyce Carol Oates

"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile." 

Robert Cormier

Revision is not intuitive for most student writers, however, and needs to be taught. Whether students will revise their own papers, complete peer review, or revise essays in groups, teachers need to give them opportunities to learn how to revise effectively.

So how can teachers help students revise their writing? Here are six strategies that may help you:

Effective Feedback

Teach students how to provide effective feedback when they comment on one another’s papers. I’ve often done this with a short concept attainment lesson. In this activity, students are given sample feedback statements and must put the ones that are “effective” in one column and the comments that are “not helpful” in another column. This leads to a discussion of what makes feedback helpful to writers.

This lesson helps my students understand that providing explanations, using questions, and giving constructive criticism are as important as giving praise. I also tell students that if their peer review partners aren’t able to provide some suggestions or constructive criticism, they should have an additional student (or me) give feedback, too.


Only have limited time for peer review? Then use one of these quick strategies: “Bless/Press/Address” or “Glow/Grow/Question.” I learned about “Bless/Press/Address” from my work with the National Writing Project.

Bless: The writer is seeking positive feedback and increasing your confidence. You want only to hear about what’s working so far.
Address: The writer identifies one problem or concern they want the reader address. Be as specific as possible.
Press: The writer wants constructive criticism. Of course, the reader can also include “Bless” and “Address” with their suggestions.

The Glow/Grow/Question strategy is from Susan Barber in my Twitter Professional Learning Network on #aplitchat. With this system, Barber gives one comment that tells what the writer did well (Glow), one comment on what the writer could improve (Grow) and responds to one of the writer’s questions. I’ve actually modified this so that I ask one question for the student asking them to reflect on an idea, their word choice, or other writing trait. Besides using this for peer and teacher feedback, I’ve found this system also helps speed up my grading.

Model Revision

This can be done with an exemplar essay from a former student (of course you should remove the student’s name) or if you have a co-teacher, you can work with that person to model revision in front of the class. Use a think aloud or project a draft and annotate it for the class.

In fact, I have a memoir lesson in which I give students a copy of a one of my first drafts. This 100-word memoir is modeled after a former Washington Post feature called, “Autobiography as Haiku.”

It teaches students to “show” themselves in vivid details and carefully chosen words. In the lesson, students work with partners to eliminate redundancy in the draft. Then the class reviews the draft together, and I show them the changes that I made for my final draft.

Guided Peer Review  

I do this with handouts that pose questions for students to answer as they read their peers’ papers. For instance, in the memoir lesson, the student giving feedback answers questions such as the following:

· What insight about his or her life is your partner writing about?
· What ideas and details to you find interesting or surprising?
· How is the memoir organized? Are there any parts that are confusing to you?
· Which words are powerful and specific? Which ones are vague (nice, thing, cool, fun, etc.)?

Task Cards for Revision

Recently, I’ve used begun using task cards to make peer review interactive, collaborative, differentiated, and reflective. These task cards ask students to respond to questions and focus on writing traits such as ideas, organization, word choice, voice, fluency, conventions, presentation, and academic integrity. The task cards can be used for modeling with exemplars, working with partners, working in small groups, or rotating through learning stations. 

Read Aloud

Have students read their drafts aloud to themselves or with a partner. Often, when a writer reads his work aloud, he or she realizes there are parts that need to be changed or corrected. They can “hear” what they need to do. Recently, I’ve learned about a web-app called Text to Speech lets someone listen to their own writing so they will be able to catch mistakes.

Furthermore, there is an extension called Google Draftback that let’s someone play back the revision history of any Google Doc. Many teachers use it for grading purposes, but I also see it as a tool for writers who want to review the changes that they make which get “erased” as they revise their writing. I’m looking forward to giving this a try as my school system moves towards digital classrooms.

I hope some of these strategies give you ideas for teaching revision in your classroom. What tips and tricks do you have for teaching students how to revise well?


Trashketball Madness - How to Play Trashketball


Connect Learning to Student Interests

When teachers capitalize on a popular trend or activity, it makes learning energizing and fun. Many of my students love sports, so I've found ways to tap into their interest for basketball to make learning "boring" concepts like grammar more engaging.  Although trashketball can be used all school year, the upcoming NBA season makes it more relevant than ever.  It's also popular during the NCAA tournaments in the spring.  Furthermore, brain research supports the connection between movement and learning, which improves academic success.

I actually learned how to play trashketball from my students.  They told me they played it in their other classes to review for tests. I followed their directions for playing but over the years, my trashketball games have evolved into a motivating learning tool that uses Power Point to guide them through the game rounds. I've also advanced to a "hoop" trash can and foam ball for our games instead of a regular trash can and crumpled paper.

In fact, here is feedback from a teacher who has used the games in her classroom.


How to Play Trashketball

Do you want to know how to play trashketball? Here are some tips to help you use it into your classroom also:

Getting Ready

Before playing, I prepare my classroom by placing three strips of brightly colored painter’s tape on my classroom floor at increasingly farther distances. 
motivating students
The students stand behind each of these lines when it’s time for them to shoot baskets into my trash can. If students make the shot from the line closest to the trash can, they earn one point. From behind the middle line, they earn three points, and from the farthest line, they earn five points.

I put my trash can in front of my cabinets so it doesn’t topple over. Trashkeball has been so popular that when I found this trashcan at Modell’s Sporting Goods for $25, I immediately purchased it.
literature review games

Starting the Game

At the beginning of the game, I arrange students into groups where they are sitting in my classroom. Because I’ve already carefully arranged my seating chart to reflect student abilities and personalities, these groups are heterogeneous, but teachers can use any grouping method that works for them.  Sometimes it's even fun to encourage the groups to brainstorm names for their teams.

Next, I project the Power Point Slides and show several review slides for the game concept.  There is also a slide for reviewing the rules with the students. These rules include requiring one student to be the captain of each team. Students also choose someone with legible handwriting to record their answers. They are instructed that the captains of each team will bring the answers for the team to me after each round.  Generally, my games include four - five rounds.

During the Game

Even though I know the answers, I print a copy of the answer key ahead of time to make reviewing their answers a quicker process. If a group's answers are incorrect, I send the captain back to the group, and the students continue to work on the problems until they are ready to try again. This encourages them to keep trying even when they make mistakes.  This process continues until I have a first, second, and third place winner for each round. Sometimes I increase individual accountability and require each student to write his own answers.  They submit their answers to me for a classwork grade at the end of the game.

After each round, I required one of the groups to share the correct answers orally before they can shoot their baskets. Each group decides if one student will shoot the baskets or if they

will take turns. I also encourage them to decide on a strategy for which lines they want to shoot from. Since they shoot baskets in-between each round, I encourage them to think about the current score as they make their decisions.  

Formative Assessment

It’s important to note that I use trashketball to supplement my instruction. When I teach grammar, I introduce each concept in a lecture and then provide guided practice with the entire class.  These activities usually involve identifying the examples in the books they're reading or using the concept to practice writing sentences. Then my students complete independent practice with a a worksheet that gets graded.  Trashketball is used as formative assessment after these activities to review for quizzes.

At times, students can get boisterous because they are so excited to play trashketball. With certain classes, it’s important for me to set some ground rules for the volume of the voices, paying attention to directions, and remaining seated until it’s time for them to shoot the baskets.  I remind them that if they can’t follow the rules, they aren't allowed to play the game.

Individualize the Games

I know that teachers occasionally will want to change the questions in these games to meet their students’ abilities and needs. For that reason, teachers may edit the questions in these games.  To save time from making the games yourself, you can find numerous games for grammar instruction, poetry terms, rhetorical appeals, and literature review in my TpT store.

Have you played trashketball in your classroom? How have you varied it? I’d love to hear about your games or see photos of your students in action. Please share in the comments below.


Teaching Founding Ideals in American Literature

founding ideals

Since I teach American Literature, every day in my classroom provides instruction for the founding ideals of our country and reflects the fact that we have not always lived up to those principles. United States history teaches us that the desire for American rights is also the desire for human rights and has been an on-going journey for many people in our country.

John McCain, Rhetorical AnalysisSeminal United States documents and other classic texts communicate essential American themes.  John McCain's recent "Farewell Letter to America" makes teaching about equality, freedom, and diversity especially relevant. Recently, I've created a FREE Rhetorical Analysis lesson for teaching his letter. (Make sure to check for another freebie at the end of this post, too.)

1. Start with music. 

Music reveals a lot about what is going on in the country at a particular time and also about the sentiments of the people. Song lyrics are much like poetry, so as students listen to and read lyrics, they can highlight words and lines that exemplify attitudes about America.
I use classic American songs from different genres and time periods and have often used the following: 

Star Spangled
Music, Videos, Poetry
Banner by Francis Scott Key, Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday, This Land is Your Land Woody Guthrie, The Times They Are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan, Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue by Toby Keith, and American Idiot by Green Day. 
After practicing with these songs in class, I ask students to bring their own song selections, which demonstrate themes about America. Frequently, I incorporate this lesson with others lessons for poetry and art as an introductory unit to American Literature.

This year I hope to add Childish Gambino's song and video, "This is America." I know it will create lively discussion and the lyrics will be excellent for text analysis.  
Childish Gambino

2. Connect current issues to literature.

American literature is rife with stories and texts about the struggle for equality. One of my favorite lessons uses an excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom with an article and video of Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Malala Yousafzai. My students always admire her bravery and are amazed that she is a teen like them. We watch her addressing the United Nations in 2013. Then through analysis of Douglass’s and Yousafzai’s messages, students note the connection between education, equality, and freedom.
Novel Peace Prize

3. Use powerful speeches. 

Teach rhetorical literacy and let students learn history through the words of important American leaders. One of my favorites is Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?”. She uses biblical allusions and rhetorical appeals such as ethos, logos, and pathos to fight for women’s rights. Here’s a three-minute video performance  of the speech by Kerry Washington.
Memorial for 9/11
Students have designed memorials to honor the first responders and innocent victims of 9/11.
Another significant speech is Abraham Lincoln’s “The Gettysburg Address."  It provides an excellent example of parallelism, and I use it to inspire students to write their own speeches. After reading Lincoln’s message to honor the soldiers who fought in The Battle of Gettysburg, I encourage students to honor veterans and other heroes by designing their own memorials and dedication speeches.
The Gettysburg Address
One former student designed her memorial and wrote her speech to honor Trayvon Martin.
Last year I added Lyndon B. Johnson's Speech to Congress on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  To help students gain a stronger understanding of the argument in the speech, I created this free rhetorical analysis graphic organizer to accompany our reading of it.
TpT freebie, rhetorical analysis

American is a website with many more resources for significant speeches.

Are you interested in more great lessons for American Literature?  Then you might want to check out my "Beyond the Worksheet" American Literature Curriculum Bundle.  It has over 20 weeks of instructional materials and a thematic pacing guide!

Do you have more ideas for teaching the founding ideals of our democracy?  How have you collaborated with other content area teachers to infuse these principles into your instruction?  Please share in the comments.


"Wow" Your Students with Poetry, Music, and Art in this Introduction to American Literature Unit

Back to School

In the high school English classroom, how do you get your students started for their school year? After establishing a positive classroom culture, I dive straight into content. Of course, it’s important to establish routines and get to know students, too, but at the secondary level, students should be reading and writing as soon as possible.

That’s why my introductory unit for American Literature gets students thinking about class topics while also helping me get to know them. The unit, “Name Yourself, Sing Yourself, and Proclaim Yourself,” incorporates poetry, music, art, and writing. Generally, it takes two – three weeks when interspersed with other lessons such as grammar, vocabulary, and independent reading.

Exploring American Voice and Personal Identity

1. Students begin with the poem, “Naming Myself” by Barbara Kingsolver  This narrative poem tells about the speaker’s grandparents and her Native American heritage. While the speaker realizes that she could “shed her name in the middle of life/the ordinary thing,” she chooses to keep her maiden name to honor her ancestors and individuality. This poem leads to interesting discussions with students about why women change their names when they get married, the importance of names to identity, and what the students plan to do about their names if they get married in the future.  My students are stunned when I ask the boys if they are willing to taking their wives names. 
Copyright: <a href=''>worawut17 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
After I model how to analyze the poem, my students read a variety of other poems that introduce them to American voices. Depending on the needs and abilities of my students, I select poems to differentiate instruction. Some of these poems include “I Hear American Singing” and “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, “I, Too,” and “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes, and “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.This exposes students to a range of authors and time periods but focuses on a central theme, American identity. Usually, these poems are simple enough that they don’t intimidate students, and they provide scaffolding for the next activity in the unit.

2. As the unit continues, students read and listen to songs

high school english
about America. I vary the songs to reflect different genres and time periods and have often included the following: "The Star Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key, "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday, "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie, "The Times They Are a Changin’" by Bob Dylan, "Born in the USA" by Bruce Springsteen, "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" by Toby Keith, and "American Idiot" by Green Day. Sometimes I consider current issues in the news, and I find additional songs online to connect with those topics.

Through a jigsaw activity, students analyze the song lyrics as poems and consider what each song tells them about America. Music reveals what is going on in the country at a particular time and also about the sentiments of the people. Song lyrics are much like poetry, so as students listen to and read lyrics, they can highlight words and lines that exemplify attitudes about America.

This year I'd love to include Childish Gambino's song and video "This is America."  However, it will likely depend on the maturity of my students whether I use it for the unit.

For enrichment, students are invited to bring in their own school appropriate songs and share the related themes with their classmates. This is always a popular lesson with them! 

3. In the next part of the unit, I add art. Students “read” non-print texts, self-portraits by classic American artists including Mary Cassatt, William H. Johnson, E.E. Cummings, Andy Warhol, Helen Hardin, and Chuck Close. Once again, I try to include diverse artists to ensure that students learn about the many types of people who live in America. 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). Then they use the “text evidence” and make inferences.

4. This activity segues to them making their own self-portraits. These can be illustrations, collages, or other artistic creations. Some students find that it’s easier for them to communicate their ideas visually, and it encourages my artistic students to demonstrate their talents. Furthermore, the portraits look fabulous displayed in my classroom. 
This activity is timely for the first weeks of school as it helps us get to know one another. Even students who may have been in school together for years, learn new things about each other. Since our class is an English class, however, I require students to also write explanations for the images in their portraits. They reflect on the images that they’ve included in their artwork and explain what these details reveal about them.

5. In the culminating activity, students use the self-portraits to brainstorm more ideas about their identities as individuals and Americans. These reflections become the pre-writing for a poem (get a free lesson) that they write about themselves and which we take through the writing process.

This unit  took me several years to develop and takes 2-3 weeks with each activity connecting to the following ones. At times, I modify the lessons, adding new texts and activities. For instance, to include nonfiction, I’ve used John McCain’s essay in Time Magazine, “A Cause Greater Than Self.”  Throughout the weeks of the unit, I also use journals about the American Dream as bell ringers to help students extend their thinking.  One of my favorite journals incorporates the classic painting,

American Gothic. Furthermore, I may also teach mini-lessons on writing theme statements or how to provide effective peer feedback. This unit is part of a bundle of lessons that I teach in American literature.  I have a free pacing guide with journal prompts that you can get too!

I love that this unit capitalizes on students’ multiple intelligences, introduces them to classic American literature, and helps create a positive classroom culture

Do you have texts that you would recommend for this unit? I’m always looking for new ideas. Please share in the comments below.


Flipgrid Book Club

Getting Students to Read Books

Teens Aren’t Reading Books

Most secondary English Language Arts teachers know that it’s very challenging to get teens to read entire novels these days. In fact, watch this video from Penny Kittle to see what they say. (Do they remind you of your students?)

No doubt, there are numerous reasons why they don’t want to read- distractions from technology, shorter attentions spans, emphasis on standardized testing- but no matter the reason, it’s essential for them to read novels for the following reasons:
  1. It builds their reading stamina.
  2. It prepares them for the reading necessary in college and careers.
  3. Reading deeply and widely increases their knowledge.
  4. It improves their critical thinking.
  5. It helps them succeed in English classes, especially my Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition!
And because I want my students to be successful, I created a Flipgrid Summer Book Club this year so that they would read several books before they even attend class.

Solving a Problem

Over the four years that I’ve taught the course, I recognized a problem. My school uses block scheduling and a semester calendar. Recently, they’ve allowed students to take AP English Literature instead of British Literature, which used to be a pre-requisite.

AP English Literature is only offered in the spring- that means I may have students who took American Literature in the fall of their junior years and won’t take English again until February of their senior years. Although I’d like to think that students who sign up for AP Literature are voracious readers, sometimes that is not the case, especially with books of literary merit.

To deal with this problem, I applied for a grant to create my summer book club and received enough money from the Worcester County Education Foundation to purchase books for all of the incoming AP English Literature students. And even though I wanted them to read rigorous books, I still wanted to give them choices in their selections so here’s what I did.

How to Use Flipgrid to Engage Students in their Reading

1. I experimented with Flipgrid. I’m no tech guru so I asked my current AP English Literature students to help me learn Flipgrid. (I’m from a generation that didn’t even have computers until I was in high school.) I asked them to make advice videos for the incoming students. This gave me a chance to troubleshoot the problems that came up.  If you want to see the advice videos, enter the code c34c4e and password Sdhs2018.

2. Then, I received a roster for the incoming AP English Literature students. (My numbers have increased significantly because of the changed course requirement policy and because I’ve recruited students into the class.)

3. I gathered lists with titles of the books most commonly

Choice in Reading
mentioned on the free response question from the AP English Literature Exam. I even consolidated older lists with newer lists so that students would have access to the most up-to-date choices such as All the Light We Cannot See and Homegoing.

4. Next, I wrote a letter to the students and their parents explaining the book club and asking the students to select two titles. With the letter, I gave them the book list and a permission form for the parents to sign, basically saying that their children agree to read the book and participate in two Flipgrid posts.

5. During the last days of school, I met with the students to give them the letter, book list, and to show them the advice videos. Additionally, I asked them to join my Remind so I could communicate with them over the summer.

6. I requested that they make videos introducing themselves so they could practice with Flipgrid before school ended. And even though I’m camera shy and didn’t really want to videotape myself, I decided that I should make one if I wanted them to make one. If you want to see my video enter the code 8b17f7 and password Sdhs2018.

6. After receiving their choices we ordered the books which arrived several days later, and once again I met with students. 
Free Response Question

7. Lastly, I gave them instructions for posting the videos this summer, including options for students who feel uncomfortable videotaping themselves (amazing to me, since they seem to be posting on social media all of the time). Here were some of the tips:

  • Cover the camera and provide an audio only response.
  • Use props such as drawings, stuffed animals, etc.
  • Flip camera to record something else while talking.

I selected two weeks in the summer for them to post about the books that they are reading. On the instructions, I provided open-ended questions so they can be used for varied titles. For the first post, I have the following questions:
  • How did the book begin? Did it pique your interest?
  • Describe your favorite character.
  • How is the setting affecting the characters or plot?
  • Describe the author’s style with an example.
  • Describe a conflict faced by a character. What does he/she do, and what would you do in his/her shoes?

Of course, I’ll model answers to some of these questions for them with the book I intend to read, The Handmaid’s Tale. For the second week, which will be close to the beginning of the school year, these are the questions I gave them. (At this point, they should be finished with the book):
  • Identify a theme from the reading and provide an example to support it.
  • What character experienced transformation? Describe and explain.
  • Were you satisfied with the ending? Why/Why not?
  • Would you recommend this book? Why/Why not?
  • What’s something you learned from reading the book?

Although I haven’t practiced with it yet, Flipgrid allows students to respond to each other’s videos. I’m hoping we can extend the conversations of their books with this feature.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue our book club during our first semester, and I can share this idea with other teachers in my school who may want to create their own book clubs.

So, please wish me luck! I’ll report back in the fall after we finish at the end of the summer and let you know how it went.


Slam Dunk! Time for a Giveaway

Are you ready to make learning a special experience in your classroom? Subscribe to my newsletter right here from my blog, and you’ll be entered into my Championship Game Giveaway! In addition to getting a chance to win a Spalding® Hoopster® Wastepaper Basket, Mini Swish Foam Ball, AND $20 TpT gift card, you’ll get a free Trashketball game and other helpful tips for implementing the games successfully in your classroom.

When you use Trashketball to review grammar and other ELA concepts in your classes, you’ll join with these educators who have made learning magical for their students. Here’s feedback from them:

๐Ÿ’—So fun and creative! It is great to find different ways to reinforce these concepts besides the dull exercises in the grammar text :) Amy

๐Ÿ’—This was great! My students really got engaged and it was fun to see them really focused on getting the correct answer, even when their answer was originally wrong. Mindee

๐Ÿ’—My students loved this! They were excited when they first saw "Trashketball" on the agenda. It was a great way to practice, easy and quick. I'm sure they will be asking for more. I do plan on buying more - definitely worth it! Elysha

Don’t delay. Subscribe to my email now. 

To subscribe from mobile, scroll down. 
From desktop, fill out the form above my Welcome photo.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST 4/2//18. One winner will be announced on Tuesday, 4/3/18. 

                          Good luck!


Getting Teens to Read

Did you know that humans have a need to read? Some of my students don’t always agree with this sentiment, so every semester I begin with choice reading. By giving students choices in their reading, I hope to help them find the one book that will turn them into life-long readers. Over the years, I’ve learned which authors and books are most popular with my students.

Students gravitate toward young adult literature. I remember authors Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, and Beverly Clearly, who made me feel normal and helped me deal with the turbulence of adolescence. Here are popular authors and books with my current students.  (I've recently updated this post with new recommendations from 2019!)

Books Popular in 2019

These are books that have been popular with my students for choice reading and literature circles (which I call Roundtables).

Dear Martin by Nic Stone
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Refugee by Alan Gratz
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (soon to be a series on Hulu)
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Favorite Authors for Teens

John Green
If you’ve seen the movie, The Fault in Our Stars, then you’re already familiar with this award-winner author’s books. Besides writing books that appeal to teens, he hosts the Vlogbrothers channel on YouTube. 
Here are a few of his books:
Turtles All the Way Down
An Abundance of Katherines
Looking for Alaska
Paper Towns
Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Sarah Dessen
Labelled "something of a rock star in young adult fiction" by the Los Angeles Times, if you mention her name to a student, he/she will no doubt ooze admiration for her realistic-fiction stories. Teens relate to topics in her books such as getting along with family, dating, and friendship.
Keeping the Moon
This Lullaby
The Truth about Forever

Walter Dean Myers
Winner of the Coretta Scott King award, Myers books grapple with issues of race, gender, and war, and have at times been challenged for their realistic language. With over 100 books, students can find books on just about any topic or genre from this prolific writer. 
Fallen Angels
The Greatest: Muhammad Ali

And here are more YA books my students are reading right now:

Ask Me How I Got Here by 
Christine Heppermann
Darkness Before Dawn by 
Sharon Draper
The Hate You Give by 
Angie Thomas
After Ever Happy by 
Anna Todd


I always loved fantasy and science fiction when I was a younger reader, too. Favorites included Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time series (I can't wait to see the movie), Anne McCaffery’s Dragonriders of Pern series, and, of course, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. Fantasy and dystopian novels are more popular than ever before. Almost all of my students have already read The Hunger Games and Divergent series; now they're reading these:

Wool, Shift, Dust by 
Hugh Howey  
Wither (
Chemical Garden Triology) by Lauren Destefano
Unwind Series by Neal Shusterman
Red Queen Series by Victoria Aveyard

Literary Merit

I also loved classics when I was growing up. I read Little Women (can't wait to see the new movie) repeatedly and loved Lord of the Flies. These books
are still read today but there are modern books of literary merit students love now.

Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
There, There by Tommy Orange
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Historical Fiction & Nonfiction

And, of course, students enjoy historical fiction and nonfiction, too.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys 
Orphan Train by Cristina Baker Kline
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrel

Educated by Tara Westover

Actually, this list could go on and on...  

I'm always looking for new books to recommend to my students.  What are your students reading?


Teaching Civil Discourse

What happened to our ability to talk civilly to one another? When did we stop “agreeing to disagree”? A look on social media or network news quickly shows that respectful communication has diminished in current times. So, I was very happy last year when I was invited to facilitate an Advanced Institute for the College, Career, and Community Writers Program (C3WP) with the National Writing Project (NWP). With this program, I have been working alongside other interested educators to improve argumentative writing in my classes.

Here are important takeaways:

Students should READ before they write.

By having students read multiple articles on myriad issues, they learn that there are many valid perspectives. They also are exposed to models for their own writing, which helps them better understand the elements of an effective argument.

The C3WP program uses a lesson that incorporates a “layering” process of writing, reading, rewriting, reading, and rewriting again. This gives students an opportunity to explore an issue and revise their thinking – something that’s usually new to them. This also provides them practice for “writing with sources” instead of simply trying to use their background knowledge (which is often limited). 

I love getting articles from The New York Times Room for Debate website, a part of The Learning Network. In fact, I have developed an entire argument essay unit where they use these articles to explore research topics before they finally select one for their essays. Here are other useful sources for articles:

Kelly Gallagher: Article of the Week 

Teach students to write a NUANCED CLAIM.

In past years, I always told my students to include only their position on an issue in their claims, even when I taught English 101 at the local community college. Of course, they did accommodate the opposition, but they always did that in their refutations near the end of their essays.

A major feature of the C3WP program is writing nuanced

claims. These claims require the writer to immediately acknowledge that there are multiple views on an issue. This is not easy to teach because students can lose focus on their own positions. I’ve found it takes a lot of practice, modeling, and revision. 

 A helpful tool advocated by the program (based on the reading of I Say/They Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein) includes the use of sentence frames. I've instructed my students to turn their claims into thesis statements.  Here's a sentence frame I used and modified for this:

Although some people think ___________________, ______________ should ____________________ because reason 1, reason 2, reason 3.

Here’s an example I gave my students for a recent assignment:

Although some people think school start times should not be changed, school should begin later in the day for teens because it would improve their learning. Additionally, a later start would promote student safety and improve their behavior. 

Engage students with RELEVANT topics.

Over the years, I’ve frequently heard students complain that nothing they learn has to do with “real life”- you’ve likely heard them grumble this, too. The texts provided on the C3WP website discuss real-world topics and are relevant to teens. For instance, this year my students read articles on the following topics:

  • Effects of social media on teens,
  • Danger of high school football
  • Abuse of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder medications
  • Participation trophies

Some topics included in lessons from C3WP follow:

  • Video Game Addiction
  • Reality Television
  • Zoos
  • Homework
  • Police Brutality
Create a "CULTURE" of argument.

Whether your students journal daily or weekly, it’s important

to make the debate and discussion of argumentative topics a classroom routine. I made it our opening activity every Monday. With weekly routines, my students learned to listen to each other and respect one another's opinions. Often, I had them read an article and respond to it through journaling; then they paired with a classmate to discuss their reading and writing before we had whole-class discussion. Through partner discussion, they had a chance to rehearse their thinking and modify their ideas. In fact, I always tell them that they can change their minds or elaborate on their ideas during the time that they share with other classmates.

I’ve often used these bell ringers to give students practice with informal argumentative writing.

Of course, there are many other topics and lessons for argumentative writing, and you may want to explore the C3WP website for more tools that you can use in your classroom today.

Do you have recommended resources for teaching argument writing?  Please share in the comments below.

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