Why Students Aren't Writing (And What Teachers Can Do About It)

ncte, nwp, national day on writing

Every year the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) sponsors a National Day on Writing. NCTE celebrates writing with a social media campaign which asks people to share why they write using the hashtag #WhyIWrite.  This year (2020) it will occur on Tuesday, October 20th.

Starting with a Bulletin Board

In the past, even though there were many interesting ways to incorporate the day into my classroom, I didn’t have much time to add a new activity to my curriculum lessons. 
writing-instruction, high-school-English
Nevertheless, I still wanted to acknowledge the day.  So at the last minute, I looked at my empty bulletin board and decided my students would write tweets explaining why they write (thanks Glitter Meets Glue and Presto Plans for the clip art and exit slips). Most students were excited to complete this activity, but of course, there are students who don’t enjoy writing, so I gave them permission to be honest.  This resulted in a handful of tweets that said they write “because I’m forced to” or “because I want to pass English.”  This could easily become a virtual activity with Padlet, Google Slides, or another online bulletin board program. 

The Purposes of Writing Instruction

As a person who loves to write, these responses made me sad, so I pondered the following questions:  Why do teachers make students write?  What do we require students to write?  How do we ask students to write? 

The obvious answers are that we ask students to write to pass standardized tests, to meet course requirements, and to prepare them for college and work.  We identify purposes such as “writing to inform,” “writing to explain,” and “writing to persuade,” or we assign argumentative, narrative (enjoy this free narrative writing activity for Halloween), and literary analysis essays.

The National Writing Project

Thinking about how to implement best practices for writing instruction is not a new idea for me as I have worked with the Eastern Shore Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, for many years.  In fact, in past summers I interned as a facilitator at our Invitational Summer Institute (ISI) where teachers from around the region in diverse grade levels and contents developed teaching strategy toolboxes for writing instruction to use in their classrooms.

Writing for Human Connection

What I was reminded of during the institute, though, is that a primary purpose for writing is to connect with others. Writing for human connection reminds us that we are not alone in this world.  Our stories connect us through our fundamental human experience.  We are in this thing called life together – whether the people we write for are our family, friends, community members, or seemingly strangers from around the world.  Most importantly, writing for human connection helps us understand one another, build empathy, and hopefully, create a more peaceful world. 

writingRegrettably, with testing mandates and curriculum requirements in mind, teachers may neglect to incorporate writing for human connection.  But it’s important, especially if we want to encourage our reluctant writers to feel positive about writing.  It's often hard to fit these lessons into our instruction, but sometimes we have to do what’s best for our students, no matter what pressures we experience from outside of the classroom.  Students want to write to express their feelings and to have their voices heard by others. During the pandemic, this is more important than ever because students often feel isolated in this virtual world. 

Tips for Supporting Writing Instruction

So how can teachers incorporate more writing for human connection?  Here are some possibilities:
1.  Journaling
Regularly let students write about their feelings, opinions, and reflections on a host of topics.  This writing should be informal and can take various formats such as diary entries, letters, lists, webs, etc.  This can be intimidating for a teacher who then asks, how will I grade these? And maybe the answer is that it’s best not to grade many of these journals. I just collect student journals occasionally, and I ask students to choose which journal they want me to grade.  This way I can give them credit for participation but also respond to at least one of the journals they've written in class.

2.  Choice
Give students choices and creative opportunities in their writing whenever possible.  One way I accomplish this is to provide a “menu” of writing activities (or choice board) that students select from.  For instance, when my students complete their reading of an excerpt from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, they can choose from nine activities.  Some of these include reflecting on and writing about nature, researching and writing about the Tiny House Movement, or writing an imaginary diary entry with Thoreau’s perspective on life in current society. 

3.  Sharing
To help students connect with others, let students share their writing.  This does not have to be done with every assignment and it doesn't always have to be in whole-class discussion, but there should be frequent times for students to share in partners or small groups.  Teachers can also display student writing on classroom bulletin boards, school showcases, or encourage students to publish their writing in school newspapers, local publications, or online forums. I like to offer students "enrichment" points for entering writing contests like the ones sponsored by The New York Times Learning Network.

4. Inspiration
A participant from our ISI gave each of us a plastic egg with a paper that said, “Your idea can change the world.”  Teachers should encourage students to change the world with the ideas that they express through their writing.  Call students “authors” and reward them for sharing their writing.  In addition to entering writing contests, sometimes I also offer enrichment points to students who will read their writing aloud in front of the class. For distance learning, students could use Flipgrid, or they could record themselves reading their writing with their cell phones, iPads or laptops.  

The most rewarding outcome of the ISI was the opportunity to write for myself.  In years past, I had written eighty pages of a memoir but had stopped because of writer’s block. By responding and writing to daily journal prompts at ISI, I moved past my writer’s block and began to once again work on my memoir. For this reason, I often write with my students. Hopefully, just as the ISI motivated me, I can encourage students to share their voices!

How do you help students write for human connection?  I would love to try out some of your ideas.  Please share in the comments below!

Simple Ways Teachers Can Support the Emotional Health of Students

covid-19, social unrest

We all have difficult times in our lives, but 2020 has been hard for everyone. This year has been filled with challenges such as Covid-19, social unrest and protest, a troublesome economy, and more. No doubt, our students are struggling emotionally because of this turmoil.

Classroom teachers should always be mindful of the impact of emotion on learning but with the current situation in America and around the world, it’s more important to support students’ emotional and mental health than ever. As all teachers know, our work reaches far beyond our curriculums because we are nurturers, and we care for the well-being of our students. Why is this so important?

Emotion affects motivation 

One of the main reasons that teachers need to be aware of their students’ emotional health is that it can interfere with their motivation to learn. This spring, when schools changed instruction over to remote learning, many teachers blamed the lack of motivation from their students on their inability to grade students. (This was called “compassionate grading” in my school system.) And while that was certainly true in some cases (students even told me this), many students lacked motivation because of their feelings of depression, fear, and anxiety.

In the article, “The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory,” the authors note that “Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention…(and) motivating action and behavior.” With this in mind, how can teachers adapt their instruction to support students?

Make learning memorable

Research shows that emotional events are remembered more clearly and accurately than neutral events.
  • Connect real-world topics to your lessons: What happens outside of the class is as important as what happens in the class. Whenever possible, I include discussions and activities such as these Back to School TED Talks that are related to current issues.  Furthermore, Dan Levy, a senior lecturer from the Harvard Kennedy School, says he may cover less content so that he can modify instruction for real life, and he knows his students will better understand the material. “It’s not about me. It’s about the learners. It’s as simple as that.” For teachers, this means we must prioritize the most important content. I often remind myself that it’s most important to teach an “inch wide and a mile deep.” If I’ve already taught a standard, then I likely won’t need to teach it again. This may prevent students from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Add Humor: Have you noticed how much a little humor can engage students? Think of some of your favorite speeches, television shows, and movies, and you’ll most likely notice that they make you laugh. It’s a great way to “hook” your students and help them look forward to their learning. Even though I’m not always good at making jokes, I like to add video clips that help my students laugh. Sometimes, I end the week with Fun Friday Videos such as the parody from the Holderness Family. 

  • Enhance instruction with exploration: Students are motivated by their curiosity and by choice. Whether this is through lessons that use inquiry activities like this one for The Great Gatsby, project-based learning, or choice boards, feelings of suspense and empowerment encourage them to take ownership of their learning. This, in turn, helps improve their confidence. For remote teaching and learning, this is essential.
  • Create positive associations: We’ve all probably taken classes that felt boring- sadly, sometimes even with the material we used to enjoy. Unfortunately, as educators have increased rigor, learning has frequently become tedious; however, teachers can make learning both challenging and exciting, sometimes incorporating celebrations. For instance, my students work hard at reading, annotating, and discussing the novel Snow Falling on Cedars in my AP English Literature and Composition course, but like the characters in the book, we also enjoy a strawberry festival. 
    During our reading of The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, we’ve celebrated our completion of the novels with a roaring 20’s party and a tea party. These were in-class activities, but now it’s up to teachers to find ways to do these celebrations virtually. It’s okay for us to make learning joyous! I love this activity where students staged photos of their reading that was posted in one of my teacher social media groups. 

Teach coping strategies

Teachers routinely become counselors and surrogate parents to their students; they spend more time with their students than many other adults in their lives. Consequently, we can help them handle their stress by encouraging healthy activities.

As parents and educators know, many students suffer from test anxiety, and apprehension from “normal” school activities becomes worse with the threat of illness and death from Covid-19 to students, their family members, and their friends. This stress can lead students to make poor choices in regards to drugs or alcohol. It can also increase the incidence and severity of mental health illness.

  • Practice deep breathing: Research shows that deep breathing techniques help reduce stress. In the journal, Scientific American, author Christophe Andre explains that “deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of parasympathetic nervous system…When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness pervades the body: the heart rate slows and becomes regular; blood pressure decreases; muscles relax.” Clearly, it’s important for students to understand that their physiology affects their emotional state. I’ve been known to use the Calm app for a meditation exercise before standardized assessments.
  • Incorporate Physical Activity: Again, it’s crucial for students to understand the mind and body connection. Doctors and scientists have frequently discussed the benefits of exercise and movement. Exercise reduces fatigue and improves concentration. As explained in an online article by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.” Studies show that physical activity can improve sleep and concentration. Physical activity may be harder to incorporate during online learning or while social distancing, but I’ve encouraged students to take writing walks and find other ways to get routine exercise. 

  • Inspire Positive Self-Talk: Many people are their own worst critics and teachers can help students to “talk” to themselves in kinder and more reassuring ways. It’s important because our inner voices affect how we think and feel. Teachers can encourage students to use positive self-talk by modeling it with themselves, creating positive self-talk statements, and helping students change negative thoughts to positive statements. For instance, if a student says he/she was “lucky” to score well on a test, tell them that they did well because of their good study habits.
Of course, if teachers are concerned that individual students may need additional support, it’s always important to reach out to a child’s parents and to school counselors.  Be sure to take care of your own emotional health as well!  These strategies may help you avoid burnout during distance learning.

Finally, in addition to making learning a positive experience and helping students learn coping strategies, teachers can improve their students’ emotional health by building community in their classes. This reduces social isolation, prompts feelings of belonging, and develops a safe and supportive environment for learning. In the classroom, I frequently employ cooperative learning and am considering using virtual discussions, Zoom, and classmate connections for online instruction. I’m looking forward to finding new ways for students to connect in a virtual environment. Do you have suggestions? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Works Cited

AndrĂ©, Christophe. “Proper Breathing Brings Better Health.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 15 Jan. 2019, www.scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/.

Hough, Lory. “Making Learning Memorable.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, 3 Mar. 2015, www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/03/making-learning-memorable.

“Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html.

“Physical Activity Reduces Stress.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 2018, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st.

Pragholapati, Andria. “COVID-19 IMPACT ON STUDENTS.” EdArXiv, 11 May 2020. Web

Tyng, et al. “The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 10 Aug. 2017, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.

Easy to Implement Ideas for Teaching Remotely

Do you know the key to successful remote teaching?  After doing it online for four weeks, I can’t say that I’m an expert, but I have reflected on what I've learned. I have ideas to share with you, which I hope will make your online teaching easier!

1. Build community. 

Warm Up Discussions
Just as we need to make our classroom environments safe, comfortable places to learn at the beginning of the school year, we need to take similar steps to ensure that atmosphere online.

I’ve done this by including daily warm ups for informal chats. For instance, I’ve had my students post photos of pets (or funny animals). We’ve also played “Two Truths and a Lie” to demonstrate the differences between verbal and nonverbal communication.

Video Chats   
Although it’s received some criticism, Zoom has worked well for me. Our school system joined the Clever Portal to make it more secure for our students, but with the correct settings I think Zoom is fine in most situations even without extra security. I use the waiting room, require a password, and mute students upon entry. Of course, if students will behave badly in class, they may behave poorly online too. Consider what group of students you’re using Zoom with and manage them the way you might in your regular classroom.
I also have been keeping Zoom sessions short. I give students norms before starting the session and a brief plan for the activities we will complete. The students and I enjoy seeing and hearing one another in video chat lessons such as these for our book discussions.

2. Set the tone and establish your classroom culture.

School at Home
At the beginning of online learning, I posed questions about work spaces and routines. Students either post photos or described their school work spaces. I modeled by putting a photo of my own desk area to encourage them to find a quiet place for school work. While I know this may be challenging for students who have many distractions at home, I’ve encouraged them to find creative solutions (for instance, by rotating desk space with siblings).

Returning to a school routine is also important. I’ve noticed many of my high school students are online at 2 a.m., but I’m holding my office hours at 9:30 a.m. (later than the regular school day so they can still get needed sleep). I’m encouraging them to wake up at a reasonable hour.

In all of these online discussions, I make sure to comment, even if it’s just with a short phrase. I want my students to know that I’m involved, listening to their posts, and available to support them.

If you would like an activity to support your online classroom culture, these Twitter task cards might be perfect for you! I’ve recently updated them with 10 additional task cards that are specifically geared for distance learning. I also have ones for the end of the school year where they reflect on their learning.


Teach students how to send professional emails and make appropriate online posts. Even though my students use social media, they may not know the best ways to use the Internet for online learning or work. For that reason, I purchased this excellent Power Point and lesson to make sure students understood different forms of communication, and why it’s important to use the right tone online.

3. Take breaks and plan for off-screen learning.

After a recent conversation with a friend who is the mom of three young boys, I was reminded of the “20/20/20 rule” to prevent eye strain from working online. It may be helpful to encourage students to set a timer so they take a 20-second break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes. It’s important that during the break, students focus on an object 20 feet away so the eye muscles can relax.

Writing Walk
To get students off their screens but keep them practicing English Language Arts skills, you may want to incorporate a FREE descriptive writing walk activity that students can do when the weather is warm. It’s great for improving their ability to use sensory detail in their writing and would make a good opening activity for a narrative or poem writing assignment.

Students will get bored quickly if teachers simply send home worksheets. To keep students engaged and physically active, they can play games such as Trashketball. Although this is normally played in a classroom, there may be ways to modify it for distance learning.  I made a video for how I think it may be played at home.

4. Encourage social interaction.

Revisit Discussions
During these past few weeks, I’ve noticed that students, especially teens, long to have conversations with each other. It helps reduce their social isolation. Those conversations can be related to their learning.  For instance, when using anticipation guides to hook my students and prepare them for an upcoming text, I turn those previously face-to-face conversations into discussion forums. 

After they post their original thoughts, I ask them to revisit the discussion forum on the following day.  I direct students to reread their classmates' comments and add one more comment to the discussion.  Because students may post throughout an entire day (not just during our traditional class period), this helps ensure that their are having a true dialogue.

5. Keep it simple.

Clear Directions
Communicating online is different than in person and it’s essential to keep directions brief and organized. I keep the saying "KISS" in mind and number each warm up or activity on an opening "page."  Also, since I our school system uses Schoology, I've followed the advice of my colleagues and organize each day with its own folder.  This makes navigating our course and finding assignments simple.

Shorter Lessons and Activities
Because of slow internet, laptop problems, and learning of new technology, it can take twice as long to complete online learning as in the classroom. For this reason, I limit daily activities and lessons to three per day.  We are accustomed to teaching on a block schedule, so three fifteen - thirty minute activities seems reasonable. Of course, I make adjustments along the way if needed.  Flexibility is also vital for online instruction (and in the regular classroom).

Remote teaching definitely has unique challenges, but we’ve got this!  I hope that some of these ideas help you.  What would you add to these ideas?  Please share your tips in the comments below.


Tips and Tricks for Digital Learning

remote learning, distance learning, elearning

Several years ago my school system purchased laptops and other devices for every student, so I began incorporating more digital learning in my instruction. In an era of remote and distance learning and teaching, this is more important than ever.  For those of you who are like me and need tips to make your digital teaching meaningful, I reached out to fellow teachers who shared their expertise with me. I’ve shared their advice (and one tip of my own) with you, too!

Google Classroom
Google Classroom has become a game changer in my class! This platform has made managing and organizing my assignments a MUCH easier process. Google Classroom is a part of Google Apps for Education and can be used by anyone with a personal Google account. One of the things I love most... students can use from any location that has internet access, AND each assignment that they complete automatically saves to the student's Google Drive! This means no more missing or lost assignments! The same goes for the teacher, as well!

With each class that is created, a folder is also created in your Google Drive. This is where you will find every single assignment that you have assigned your students through Google Classroom. You’ll have endless access to their work, with no chance of losing it! I like to get my students

acquainted with Google Classroom right off the bat, so during the first couple days of school I show them a short video I made called, "Google Classroom Tutorial for Students." The video shows students how to access and use the program. Feel free to use it to introduce Google Classroom to your students! Lit with Lyns
Need instant feedback on whether your students understand

apps for the classroom
the concepts you’re teaching? Use the Socrative app for formative assessment. Typically, I use the multiple choice and exit ticket options, but there are other choices such as true/false, short answer and a game called “space race”, too. The app is free and the teacher makes her account and quizzes, which can be used multiple times. Since these are for formative assessment, I limit my multiple questions to five. I've made several Socrative quizzes for reading analysis lessons in my class including this free lesson on Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Speech on Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Teachers are given options as to whether they want students to use their names or to be anonymous. Often, I project the results live while the students are responding to the questions. After everyone has finished with the quiz, I can simply look at the results and provide further instruction on any questions that a significant percentage of students responded to incorrectly. I can also download the reports. Best of all, it’s easy to use from a smart phone or iPad, too, if your students don’t have access to computers. OCBeachTeacher

Just a few years ago, I couldn’t find easy to use and affordable speech-to-text software for a student who was physically unable to type her research paper. I contacted that same student two years later just before she began a college English course to tell her about the FREE Voice Typing feature that had been added to Google docs. We were both thrilled about this feature that makes typing as simple as talking to a friend. 

Before beginning, make sure that the microphone is on and working. Then, look for “Voice Typing…” about halfway down the Tools menu at the top of a Google docs page. You’ll see the black microphone image indicating that the microphone is not recording, but when recording starts, it turns to the red image. I've found that the microphone built into most
digital school, home learning, elearning
computers is adequate, but if it has a noisy internal fan or if the student is working in an area with a lot of talking or noise, you may wish to use an inexpensive external plug-in microphone. One distinct bonus about Voice Typing is that this feature allows students to use the keyboard while speaking or if they stop talking to think, making it easy to jump from talking to typing and back again without having to stop the microphone. Students can learn to use their voices to make a quick deletion, go to the next line, make the font bold, add a period or comma, or do a myriad of formatting and editing tasks--or they can just move the cursor to the desired spot and make changes with their keyboard or mouse as they usually would. Click here to access a list of Voice Typing commands. 

Another plus is that students can download the free Google Docs apps to their cell phones (Android or Apple). Since phone microphones were designed to easily pick up voices and interpret them correctly, speaking into a phone produces very accurate results. Google Docs is cloud based, allowing

students to move seamlessly between computers, laptops, and cell phones, and all of their work is stored safely on one document. In addition to those students who have physical challenges that make typing on a traditional keyboard difficult or impossible, I've also found this feature to be incredibly helpful for students who have dysgraphia or those who struggle with idea generation, staring at a blank page, stuck, unable to come up with a single word. Many students who can't figure out what to write or how to begin, find that speaking their ideas is much easier and far less intimidating than writing on paper. Maryann from Secondary Strategies

Revision History
When I began Google Classroom, I quickly found that I could check group work participation. Group work haunts me because I dislike assigning grades to students who do not earn that grade, and perhaps underscoring a student who deserves more. I ask students their experience with group work and even have students complete an evaluation on their partners. Parents and administrators normally want more than other students' ideas, and I'm not entirely confident deciding grades on this component.

Now when I assign group work, students must sign in on their own computer - in their own Google account. When students complete a Google presentation (for example), I can see in

the revision history - which student modified what.

This stipulation is clearly listed in my syllabus and on group work assignments. This encourages all students to participate, and I can fairly grade the projects. Parents and administrators know that this is a requirement, and I have this component on my rubrics as well. 
Lauralee from Language Arts Classroom

digital learningFlipped Classroom
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I began flipping my classroom was to assume my students would know how to “read” an instructional video. Sure, they are surrounded by technology both at home and at school, but they typically approach those visual texts from a different angle -- one that is based on an entertainment factor, not a analytical or retention one. I quickly learned that in order to help my students succeed with this innovative approach to learning, I

needed to provide some scaffolding for academic-style visual texts. Whether teachers are creating flipped lessons or simply asking students to independently watch video clips to supplement existing instruction, we must give them the tools they need to succeed. Teaching visual literacy is critical, especially with the increased emphasis on digitally-oriented classrooms. Providing best-practice tips and modeling through think-alouds are the most beneficial ways to manage this issue. You can read more about how I approach visual literacy instruction and the specific lesson format I use on my blog. Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven

Virtual Open House
It’s the start of another school year. Your classroom looks perfect. Your bulletin boards look amazing. The desks are clean and your textbooks are all neatly stacked where they belong. You love your students this school year and are so excited to meet their parents and families, especially for them to see your classroom! This is the time to try a virtual open house. Back to School Night finally comes and unfortunately, you only see five, maybe six families show up (I've experienced this). You are left feeling disappointed and sad. Your feelings are not about you. Your feelings of disappointment are a result of knowing your students' families missed out on what you had planned. Here is a solution. Teachers can easily create a Virtual Back to School Night - or virtual open house - to send to the families that were unable to attend.

Back to School Night is usually held towards the end of the first month of school. You will want to create your virtual open house video before the actual open house- maybe closer to the beginning of school. Why? Your classroom will still look

perfectly put together and in place within the first few weeks.
You don’t need any fancy recording device. Your phone or tablet’s video app works perfectly. If you want a different app, iMovie™ works well too. Find a friend or colleague who is willing to record you. Or if you feel uncomfortable about being watched and wish to record yourself, you can set up a tripod or even use one of those crazy selfie-sticks! Weird, yes, but effective.
Now that you have your classroom set up, your outfit picked out and your video recorder set up perfectly, it's time to record! Here is a quick checklist of items you’ll want to cover in your virtual open house: 1. Introduction (about you and how to contact you) 2. The specifics of your syllabus 3. Grading policy 4. Classroom management procedures 5. Tour of the classroom (seating, where absent work can be found, classroom library, bulletin boards, student work, etc.)

Want to learn more helpful tips on how to pull this off? This can be done in ten minutes. I have the answers for teachers in an easy-to-follow visual tutorial and step-by-step video loaded with reminders, pictures, and ways you can reach the families of your students. Your school community's engagements and connections will go to the next level if you explore the use of video as a way of communicating with families. I hope you give it a try! Your virtual open house will be a hit. Danielle from Study All Knight

Blended Classroom
In my 1:1 classroom, we use many useful apps, add-ons, and extensions. I talked about some great ones for productivity

and differentiation here. I don’t waste any time introducing these tools to students--we practice using them all right away. During the first week of school, I have students complete an activity that enables them to become familiar with tech tools and with one another. They complete a series of small tasks about themselves and their summer vacations using apps, add-ons, and extensions. They share the final product with the class in Google Classroom, and then the class completes a scavenger hunt with the final product. You can preview the activity here. It’s a fun way to knock out all types of introduction. Leah Cleary
Do you have tricks or tips for digital learning in your classroom?  Please share them in the comments below!


Poetry Online

free poetry resources, national poetry month

Poetry- people seem to adore it or to abominate it

Like many of my current students, I didn’t enjoy reading poetry in high school because I often didn’t understand the poems we were reading in class. But when I studied literature to become an English teacher, I was challenged to read more poetry and develop engaging poetry lessons. The more I read, the more I appreciated the poems I studied.

As a result of my own experience, I try to make poetry accessible and pleasurable for my students. With the Internet, this is more possible than ever before (and essential in an era of remote and distance learning). I find audio versions of class poems and many videos to accompany them. Here are resources and tips to make teaching poetry wonderful (and don’t forget to get my free lesson for introducing poetry at the bottom of this post)!

Hook students with these poems and talks

free poetry resources
Dead Poets Society
Use video clips from the brilliant movie, The Dead Poets Society, to get your students excited to read poetry!  You may want to start with this video clip in which Professor Keating tells his students to rip out pages from their textbooks because it poetry is not like laying pipe.  Or use this clip with one of my favorite quotes:

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race."

John Green
Or use this video from popular teen author John Green, who gives an entertaining talk about the classic poem “The Road Not Taken.” I also love his Crash Course video about Emily Dickinson.  It's a great way to start the study of the enigmatic poet.

Use Humor

Another way to hook students on poetry is to use humor. Here’s performer Taylor Mali’s funny and relatable poem, “On Girls Lending Pens.”

Amaze Them

You can amaze your students with this reversible poem, “Lost Generation” by Jonathan Reed; it always engages them with its clever wording and format. 

And here’s an inspiring commencement poem by Harvard graduate Donovan Livingston. He encourages the audience to participate in this spoken word poem by snapping, clapping, and rejoicing. This poem also challenges its listeners to consider his compelling message about education and society.

Modern Poets
Want a modern poem to share with your students? Juan Felipe Herrera reads his poem “You Can’t Put Muhammad Ali in a Poem” as part of Dear Poet, the Academy of American Poets' educational project for National Poetry Month 2017. In fact, you can find a playlist with numerous poets from the Dear Poet project here.

Poetry also provides an emotional outlet for students with teen angst and anxiety. Here’s a popular poem they may enjoy.

Instructional Resources for Teachers

Poetry Out Loud, a National Recitation Contest, created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, provides $50,000 in awards and school stipends for the winders of the competition. More importantly, the Poetry Out Loud activities help students build confidence and speaking skills. At the site, you can find more information about the contest, lessons for teaching recitation, and videos of winning performances.

National Poetry Month

Poets.org has provided "30 Says to Celebrate National Poetry Month," including links to resources for the virtual classroom and for learning at home.  Go directly to the source of National Poetry Month with the Academy of American Poets. You can sign up for a free poster and find innumerable teaching resources.

TED Talks

There are myriad topics and speakers related to poetry including these poems about dogs  from Billy Collins, and this rationale for poetry’s importance from literary critic Stephen Burt.  In my American Literature classes, I also like to use art and song lyrics to engage students in reading and writing poetry.

Poetry Foundation
Find poets, poems, and other learning tools with this website.  You can find featured pod casts for teaching poetry and an audio poem of the day.

I hope you find some of these links useful. You can also download my free lesson to introduce poetry
national poetry month
It uses inquiry to make reading poetry fun and meaningful.

You can also find poetry bell ringers, poetry paired passages, and poetry writing lessons in my TpT store.

There are just so many helpful resources online for poetry that I’m sure you have some suggestions which I haven’t included. Why don’t you share in the comments below?


Make Writing Magical With Poetry

Helping Students Enjoy Writing Again

Sometimes students are afraid to write.

They may have had negative experiences with writing in previous classes. Maybe they’ve only been required to write for standardized tests which has turned them off to writing. Perhaps, they just lack confidence in their writing abilities.

Well, one way to help them enjoy writing again is with poetry since it can give writers both freedom and an emotional outlet. Here are ways you can use creative activities and poetry to make writing pleasurable for them. 

Have students “play” with words.
Paint Strips, poems, poetry, imagery
Use sensory writing to let students experiment with language. Give students paint strips that help them “find” new words such as heartthrob red, radish, goldfinch, or oceanside. Bring in interesting objects like dolls, figurines, toys, feathers, etc. for them to describe.

Give students dictionaries and tell them to randomly turn to several pages, finding at least five words. Ask them to use the words in several sentences or a poem. They’ll learn new vocabulary in a non-threatening way.

Assign students letters from the alphabet and ask them to write meaningful sentences using assonance or consonance. Let them read them aloud with a partner. Watch them giggle as their sentences turn into silly tongue twisters.

Encourage your students to see the “art” in poetry writing.

Blackout Poetry
Ask students to choose a page from a favorite novel to bring to class (or give them magazines and newspapers) so they can turn the page into a Blackout Poem. They use prose and
Blackout Poetry, blackout poems, poetry pictures, figurative language
circle words to create lines of poetry on the page. They may choose words for various reasons such as because the like the sound of the word or the imagery it creates.  

They may also choose words that are thematic. For instance, when I had students use a page from the novel Frankenstein, their poems captured the essence of the monster and ideas about dangerous knowledge. Finally, they used black marker to block out the rest of the text. When they were finished, they were always impressed by what they’ve created!

Poetry Pictures

Illustrate a line from a poem. Inspired by the free verse project, this lesson gets students to look closely at one line in a poem.  You can find examples of these poetry photos on Flickr. (Be sure to preview which photos you would be appropriate for your students to view.)  Students can do close readings of the lines or poetry and then illustrate them using photography, digital manipulation, and other creative techniques. They could even do this with a poem of their own.

Poetry Inspired by Personal Photos

Tell students to bring a favorite photo from home to use for writing a poem. First, they describe the literal picture with details and imagery. Then, students write about the story “behind” the photo. Ask them to tell the who, what, when, and where from the image. Also, challenge them to include the how and why. This is an effective way to teach students that a poem (and all of their writing) has multiple meanings.

Concrete Poetry
Use Shape Poems to help students understand the relationship between form and meaning. Start with examples, such as the poem, “Seal” by William Jay Smith  or poems from Guillaume Apollinaire. Then brainstorm simple illustrations that they can draw; they use those shapes to inspire their writing.

Allow students to express emotions through poetry.

Poems for Two Voices
Teens are emotional! They need outlets for all of the feelings bubbling up inside of them. Dialogue poems get them to consider the complex emotions of two people or characters who have different points of view. These poems help students see the connections between people who may seem different but often have many similarities. There are innumerable relationships they can brainstorm: parent and child, boyfriend and girlfriend, cop and criminal…or, have them use characters from a work of fiction for the poem.

Figurative Language Poetry

Write metaphor and simile poems that describe feelings. In these poems, students use figurative language to describe emotions. For instance, what does love look like or sound like? Is love the sight of tender kiss between a mother and her baby or the sound of a sobbing girl whose heart has been broken? These poems are also a great way for students to better understand figurative language.

Expand on this idea with a Four Metaphor Poem. I found this lesson through my work with the National Writing Project and it comes from WritingFix, Students use metaphors to describe abstract ideas.

Really, there is so much you can do with poetry to make writing accessible to teens. And if you need more ideas for teaching poetry, check out these online resources to engage students in poetry. 

What do you to get your students engaged with writing poetry and other forms of writing? Please share in the comments below.


Twitter: A Tool for School

twitter, twitter chats

Is your school one of the many that is pushing the use of technology?

Do you know how to use it effectively for student learning? 

While the use of technology can be engaging and entertaining, it’s also important for teachers to ensure that it supports student learning and achievement. And with the onset of Coronavirus, it's become more important than ever!

One way I’ve recently incorporated digital learning is with Twitter. By using social media productively, I’ve made Twitter an instructional tool and engaged my high school students in Twitter chats about their reading. These chats are modeled on my own participation in #aplitchat and #2ndaryela chats, which I use for professional development.

There are multiple reasons why this benefits my students:

Timed Writing

One of the most formidable challenges of standardized assessments such as the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature exam is the need for students to communicate their ideas quickly. On the AP English Literature test, students are required to write three essays in two hours, averaging 40 minutes for each two - three page essay.

At first, two hours may seem like adequate time, but two of the essays require students to read and analyze text before they write their essays which must communicate the complex ideas in the readings. By requiring students to respond to fast-paced reading and questioning during a Twitter chat, they practice reading, thinking, and writing quickly. 

Most Twitter chats post questions every five to ten minutes. No doubt, whether it’s an exam for an AP course, the SAT, or other standardized assessment, students will likely face a timed-writing situation and Twitter chats provide helpful practice.

Social Learning and Collaboration

Learning requires interaction and sharing of ideas with others. I have two sections of AP English Literature and do weekly roundtable discussions of our novels. Students take ownership of their discussion and lead these roundtables. Since I listen to the discussion in both classes, I hear the valuable, yet sometimes differing, ideas that my students express.

By hosting a Twitter chat in the evening, I can get students

digital instruction, twitter
from both classes to share their thoughts with each other and add more voices to the discussion. This semester, my students discussed two poems, “We Are Many” by Pablo Neruda and “The Writer” by Richard Wilbur as practice Twitter chats.

Besides hosting chats between classes, I’ve also teamed up with a teacher Shari Marks from World Journalism Preparatory School in New York to host chats between both of our classes. She and I met during teacher Twitter chats and decided to try it with our students. Last year, our classes chatted about their reading of the The Awakening by Kate Chopin. This year, we had students discuss the poem, “Mansplaining.” Although our classes are different – I teach AP English Literature and she teachers AP English Language- our students benefit from the shared conversation and critical thinking that occurs during the chats. 

Worldwide Audience

Students need exposure to different writing purposes and audiences beyond the traditional classroom. Digital communication provides exposure to new audiences and opportunities to build relationships. It also creates a space for the “publication” of student writing, an important step in the writing process that may get neglected in the standard classroom.

During our most recent Twitter chat, the audience included the author of the poem that was being discussed. At the end of our discussion, I tagged author Jennifer Militello and asked her to weigh-in on the contradictory interpretations that students had for the end of her poem. She responded to their discussion (see one of her responses below) and her tweets made a lasting impression on them. By communicating with the author of the poem, student ideas were validated and her response helped build their confidence in themselves. It also made the chat more personal; we likely would not have been able to gain her insights without the benefit of technology and social media.

While the benefits of Twitter chats are clear, it can take practice to figure out the logistics of a chat. I’ve got some steps to help you navigate your own chats.

How to Host a Twitter Chat

1. Choose the text that you want your students to discuss. You can decide if you want to let them read it before the chat or just make it available at the beginning of the chat, depending on how much time you want them to have with the text. I try to choose a text that’s available on the internet and always provide a link to the text.

2. Create a unique hashtag for the chat so it will be easy to find and follow the discussion thread. You may want to check if the hashtag has been used in the past before you share it with your students. It’s best to keep the hashtag concise.

3. Write the questions for the chat. (You may want to involve students in creating the questions ahead of time.) Keep the questions open-ended but also short enough to be answered with tweets.

4. Determine the amount of time for your chat. I’ve found that a half-hour goes too quickly, so my chats are scheduled for 45 minutes to an hour. This allows me to post questions every seven - ten minutes (set a consistent time interval). It also gives students time to read and write their Tweets.

5. Provide directions to the students ahead of time. I modeled my directions off of the directions from the teacher chats I’m involved with.

6. Instruct students to use their first name (and last initial) only to protect their privacy. Start with a welcoming tweet and short introduction. Normally, I have students share their grade level and class and something related to school (but not too personal). To make the chat easier for them to follow, I also recommend that they follow my Twitter account @ocbeachteach.

Twitter in the classroom, Coronavirus

Those are the basic steps but here are more tips to make your chatting go smoothly:

  • Keep the group to a manageable size.
  • Consider a “slow” chat that extends over several hours (helpful for students who have evening obligations).
  • Practice within the context of your class period during the school day.
  • Offer “enrichment” points for students who choose to participate in the evening.
  • Encourage students to like one another’s tweets and retweet when responding to each other.
  • Model responses for students and ask individual students questions to involve them.
  • Ask students to offer new ideas instead of simply repeating what others have said already.
Of course, it's always a good idea to have a backup plan for when your technology fails or the internet won’t connect. Sometimes I just use these Twitter task cards and activities where students “tweet” with pencil and paper. I’m sure there are other social media platforms or apps that could be used if Twitter isn’t the right tool for you. The point is to get students using technology in a productive manner.

Do you want more ideas for using digital instruction?  Check out these recent blog posts from other educators:

Angie Kratzer: When Instruction HAS to Go Digital
AP Lit and More: Converting to Digital Teaching
Spark Creativity:  Help for Teaching through Cornavirus
Lit with Laura:  A Free Resource to Help Parents with Google Classroom

Do you do Twitter chats or similar activities? What tips for teaching online would you give? Please share in the comments below.
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