August 2015 - Room 213

Promo 1

Promo 2

Promo 3

The Literary League's Back 2 School Giveaway

The Literary League, a group of exceptional secondary English Language Arts teachers, is hosting a Back to School Give-Away. Enter to win a choice of gift cards, middle school and high school ELA resource bundles, and shopping sprees to middle and high school ELA TPT stores.

By the time I grab my books and I give myself a look I'm at the corner just in time to see the bus fly by. It's alright’ cause I'm saved by The Literary League! That’s right, we are at it again! It’s one of the biggest back-to-school give-aways courtesy of some of your favorite ELA sellers. 

We’re teachers too, so we know that feeling of going back to school.  Cure those back to school blues by entering this HUGE give-away. Not only multiple prize packs, but also multiple winners!

The give-away will run Monday 8/31 to Monday 9/14. You’ll see some familiar and maybe even some new faces, so follow our stores and our social media accounts, and stay updated with what’s new! Winners will be announced Tuesday 9/15.

The Literary League, a group of exceptional secondary English Language Arts teachers, is hosting a Back to School Give-Away. Enter to win a choice of gift cards, middle school and high school ELA resource bundles, and shopping sprees to middle and high school ELA TPT stores.

Prize # 1: Gift Card of Choice
Win a $50 gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers, Amazon, Staples or Target.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Prize #2: Middle School Resources
Win all of the resources listed below for your middle school ELA classroom.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Prize #3: High School Resources
Win all of the resources listed below for your high school ELA classroom.
Close Reading: Guide Your Students Through the Process
Interactive Notebook Bundle
Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion
Common Core Literature Bell Ringers for Secondary English
Found Poetry Packet
Introduction to Close Reading for Middle and High School - Model and Practice
Critical Thinking: What is Textual Analysis #2
Fiction and Nonfiction Test Passages
Short Story Starters Task Cards 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Prize # 4: Middle School TpT Store Shopping Spree 
Win a $10 shopping spree to one of the TpT Stores listed below.
2 Peas and a Dog
The Creative Classroom
Literary Sherri
Mrs. Spangler in the Middle
Darlene Anne
Fisher Reyna Education
Brain Waves Instruction
Stacey Lloyd
James Whitaker's Sophist Thoughts
Created by MrHughes
ELA Everyday

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Prize #5: High School TpT Store Shopping Spree  
Win a $10 shopping spree to one of the TpT Stores listed below.
Room 213
The Daring English Teacher
Making Meaning with Melissa
Linda Jennifer
Brynn Allison
Juggling ELA

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Using Youtube to Engage Your Students at the First of Class

The first few minutes of class is so important. We need to start on time and with a purpose. We need to hook our students and get them engaged in learning. And we don't have to do all of the singing and dancing to do that. Youtube is the greatest little teacher's helper.  There are so many short clips out there that we can use for discussion, either to start class off with in an engaging way or to focus the students on a topic that you are about to begin.  I'm posting some of my favourites here.  I'd love to have you add some of your own in the comments!

Videos to start discussions about education:

Taylor Mali on the importance of speaking with conviction:

Shane Koyczan on Bullying:

Videos on labels:

Cameron Russel on Body Image:

Videos that ask teens to look at themselves:

Videos on our obsession with social media:

An interesting look at perspective:

A dad shows how to be accepting:

Videos to inspire students at the beginning of the year:


Reader's Workshop Assessment

When we teach a whole class novel, we have several traditional assessments to use with our students: response journals, tests, essays, etc.  We know the novel very well, and we develop ways to keep our students accountable and on task.  Marking is never fun, but we are in control and know what to do. Reader's workshop assessment isn’t so clear cut.  When all of our students read the same text, it’s easy to come up with a way to evaluate them. But what do you do when they are all reading different texts? How can we accurately assess them if we haven't read the novel?

Tips and ideas for assessing reader's workshop in middle and high school.

First of all, assessment for reader's workshop should be organized in a way that doesn't constantly interrupt the flow of reading. We want our students to build reading stamina and it's hard to do that - and enjoy the reading process - if they have to put the book away to do an assessment.  So how do we evaluate their progress while allowing them to enjoy the process?

Once again, I'm no expert, but after much experimenting, I have found a balance that works for me:
  1.  Student Conferences are a must. You need to carve out time to talk with students about their reading.  This means that you can't always read along with them (or mark while they do). Instead, you need to make it a daily practice to have short chats with students.  During these conferences, you will be able to tell whether they are actually reading, as well as do a little one-on-one teaching if the student is having trouble with analysis.  Conferences also allow you to do a quick assessment of his/her skills.  For example, you might focus on their understanding of character development and ask them to discuss how the author is developing a character in the novel.  They will need to answer by showing you evidence from the text. A well organized binder with checklists and rubrics will allow you to track each student's progress.

  2. Decide what skills you want students to acquire and build in short assessments to measure them. My students use reader's
    Tips and ideas for assessing reader's workshop in middle and high school.
    notebooks and I will take them in regularly to give them some formative feedback.  I also give short assignments that focus on the analysis of specific elements of fiction.  However, I do not require students to complete these assignments for every novel they read.  If a student has demonstrated an understanding of how an author uses setting to tell the story, then she doesn't have to keep showing me that she understands the concept.  I keep track of each student in my workshop binder, so I know who has mastered what skill and who needs to keep trying.  If they score 3 or 4 on the rubric, they can move on; less than 3 means they will have to redo the assignment with the next novel they read.  By the time reading workshop is over, I will total each student's total score using the rubric shown here.
  3. Have students do some creative writing assignments to illustrate their understanding of both the novel and the techniques the author uses to tell his/her story.  I have a variety of assignments that, again, focus on the elements of fiction. I handle these as above and don't require a student to do one for every text they read.  Instead, they must complete each one over the course of the time we spend on workshop.
The final tally: By the end of reader's workshop, each student will have:
  1. Several formative assessments, either through our discussions in reading conferences or through the checklists I use for their reader's notebooks

  2. A summative evaluation for each of the literary elements assignments 

  3. A summative evaluation for each of the creative extensions they complete
But what about the literary essay?  Doesn't it still have a place? Don't students going to post-secondary studies need to learn how to write one? Yes.  They do.  And using a reader's workshop approach doesn't prevent that.  In fact, I think it is a better way to help student build the skills necessary to write one.  Here's how I do it:
  1. During workshop, we focus on specific elements one at a time. One day I will do a mini-lesson on tone.  Another day I will do a lesson on how authors use figurative language, etc.  After each lesson, students will look at how these elements are used in their own texts.  They write a short assignment or reflection on it.  This is a way to scaffold the skills they need to write an effective literary essay.

  2. After focusing on these elements, they can write a literary essay on one of the novels they have read, or if you are still doing a whole class novel study (as I do), you can have them write an essay at that time.  My approach is to teach the skills during independent reading, in small, manageable bites, and then have them demonstrate their understanding of these skills with the whole class novel. If you do have them write an essay on one of their texts, don't feel like you need to have read the novel.  I always tell my students that a well-written essay will allow a reader who hasn't read the novel to understand the argument.  If their writing is organized and their ideas are well developed and supported by evidence, you can easily assess them.
That's what I do to assess reader's workshop.  It is an evolving process and I know that by second semester this year, I will have tweaked it again.  I'll keep you posted!

If you're interested in this approach, you can check out my Reader's Workshop Teacher Planner. In it you will find lots of pages to help you organize and assess reader's workshop.

You can read more of my blog posts about reader's workshop HERE.

Do you have any great tips or ideas for workshop assessment?  Please share them in the comments!


Balancing Reader's Workshop with the Full Class Novel

Balancing reader's workshop with the full class novel

While I love the reader's workshop concept and what it does for student engagement, I also see the value in a full class study. But, there's only so much time in the semester, and we high school teachers teach with the incessant ticking of the clock in our ears, pushing us to get it all done before finals.

So how do I do an effective job of both workshop and the full class novel?

To be honest, I'm still experimenting. I'm not here to say I am an expert at this balancing act; I'm just going to share my journey as I try to find the perfect formula.

I have always done independent reading, but for many years I treated it as an add-on, something we did when there was extra time in the class.  It was filler, and didn't get the attention it needed.  More recently, when I switched to using reader's workshop, I would start the year with it, panic halfway through as I watched the rapidly turning calendar pages, and ditch workshop to dive into full class novels and plays.

This year will be different, because I am starting with a plan and sticking to it.  I'm doing this because  I know how effective the workshop approach is to turning my students into life-long readers.

I started by looking at the texts I love to teach and the skills I want my students to build. Then I divided the semester and each week into segments, with the weeks of the semester divided between workshop and full class texts.  The first half of the semester will have more days devoted to independent reading, while at the end of the semester, the scales will tip toward full class study.

So, in September and October, we will have three days of workshop and two days of full class study.  I always start with non-fiction, as I find it's a great way to get students engaged.  Reader's workshop mini-lessons -- after my initial ones on active reading -- will focus on elements of the non-fiction genre, and I will use memoirs, biographies etc. as my mentor texts.  We have several copies of Outliers, Breaking Night, The Glass Castle and Night.  I will book talk each of these and when I do so, point out different ways that the authors tell their stories.  Then, whether the students are reading fiction or non-fiction, they can look for similar elements in their own texts.  By focusing on the elements of good non-fiction during workshop, I am also priming my students for what we will do together later in the week. When they discuss the articles we will read, they will have a good starting point.

In October, we will focus on short stories (with some poetry mixed in), and so mini-lessons will focus on elements of fiction. Again, the mentor texts I use will be ones that illustrate these elements.  For example, I do a short story called "The Spaces Between Stars" that is an excellent excellent example of how an author can use symbolism to develop theme.  During full class study we will work together to understand how the author does this, and then I will ask them to explore how the authors of their independent texts may be using symbolism. Likewise, all of the short stories we do revolve around the importance of self-discovery, so as we read them, students will reflect on how this theme evolves in the texts they read during workshop time.

By November, it's time to put more focus on the two major texts I do in the twelfth grade: Macbeth  and Animal Farm.  (By this time, I'm hoping that the independent reading the students have done in the first two months will have turned them on to reading and that they will be more likely to actually read these texts.) The focus of the course is on the power of persuasion, and Macbeth & Animal Farm work perfectly with helping students understand how we humans can use language to control and manipulate--for both good and bad.  So, as we work through the texts, they will also look at their independent novels to see how author's use language to persuade.

That's the plan.  I know I will have to tweak it and that by second semester, when I switch to tenth grade, I will have an even better one.  That's the wonderful challenge of trying something new--learning along with our students.

I'm including the schedule I plan to follow.  I hope it helps you as you try to find your own balance. If you have any tips to share, please leave them in the comments below!

You can read more of my blog posts about reader's workshop HERE.

Follow Room 213's board Secondary Reader's and Writer's Workshop on Pinterest.


Reader's Workshop: Planning and Skill Building

You can do reader's workshop in high school AND build skills for literary analysis
Reader's Workshop is not as common in high school as it is in the earlier grades.  One reason for this is the pressure to prepare students for post secondary studies.  English teachers in the upper grades spend a lot of time on literary analysis, teaching kids to understand author technique and to write about their interpretations of the author's work.  It's a lot easier to do this when every student is reading the same text, the same page, the same day.

But what if the kids aren't reading?  What if they are pretending to, with the help of their good friend, the Internet?

With reader's workshop, students are reading their own texts, but they are still taught, and expected to use, close reading and analytical skills.  And, because they are reading books they have chosen to read, they will be more likely to do the activities you want them to do, rather than look for an answer on the Internet or just copy off another student.

However, this approach takes a little more planning and finesse from the teacher.  It means that you have to spend some time up front thinking about the skills you want your students to hone, and then planning lessons to get them there.

I have a list of literary elements that I want students to look for and analyze in their texts. In order to introduce these elements (or review), I find exemplars to show them.  I put a quote on the board and pose a question that they will either discuss with a partner or use for a quick write.  Here's an example of one that I use for the opening lines of a novel:

You can do reader's workshop in high school AND build skills for literary analysis

ou can do reader's workshop in high school AND build skills for literary analysisAfter our discussion of the exemplar, students will do an exercise or a quick write that requires them to reflect on the day's topic in relation the the novel that they are reading. I also build in required assignments that they have to submit.  However, I don't over-do this, because it's pretty easy to take the joy out of reading if they are constantly interrupting the flow.  So, I don't ask students to do an analysis of every literary element in every text they read.  They don't need to do an exercise on setting multiple times to show me they understand how author's use setting to tell their stories.
ou can do reader's workshop in high school AND build skills for literary analysisTo keep track of student progress, I keep a binder with assessment checklists for each student.  If they
have shown an understanding of each concept, they can move on.  But, if they are struggling with understanding, I can ask them to try again with their next novel.

Reader's workshop does work in the high school classroom.  Students are reading books they want to read, and they are developing important skills as they do so.  It does take a little more planning on your part, but the benefits are so worth it!

You can read more of my blog posts about reader's workshop HERE.

If you'd like some help planning your own workshop, you can check out my products on TpT.

Follow Room 213's board Secondary Reader's and Writer's Workshop on Pinterest.


Reader's Workshop: stocking your classroom library

One of the best things about reader's workshop can also be seen as one of its biggest obstacles: you need a classroom library with a variety of books at a variety of reading levels, so your students can have lots of choice.  Teachers envision themselves having to spend their own money to stock the shelves, but there are several other, less expensive, sources to access:

1. The students themselves
First of all, you don't always have to provide the books.  Some students will prefer to buy their own, and they like to trade with each other once workshop gets rolling. You can also ask them to donate any books they have at home that they don't want to keep any longer.

2. Parents
I send a letter to parents at the beginning of the semester, explaining to them how reader's workshop will work.  I let them know that students will be selecting their own books and that they should ask them about what they are reading at home. (This covers you when it comes to students selecting books that parents may not be happy with; by asking parents to communicate with their children about their reading choices, you put the responsibility in their hands).  This letter is also an opportunity to ask for donations of any used books they might like to get rid of.  Some will also choose to donate some new titles too!

3. Your principal or department head
Ask if there is any money for you to buy some books.  Most departments have some money for teachers to spend on classroom materials, and even if it's a small amount, you can add one or two new titles each year.

4. Ask and ye shall receive
Last year I put out a call on my personal Facebook page.  I told my friends that I was looking for used books for my classroom library, and I got several tubs of great reads for my students.  I even had a former student send me two boxes from Amazon, full of all the latest and greatest YA books!  What a nice surprise that was.

5.  Used bookstores
Whether you are spending money from your principal or your own, always buy used. You will get twice as many books than you will if you buy new.


Get Your Students Engaged Right From The Start

An engaging back to school activity for high school students
(This is a repost from last year)
I like to start the year with a bang, with activities that not only set the tone for the semester, but also ones that students find engaging and relevant. This year I will be doing Reader's Workshop three days a week, but the other two will focus on specific genres. I always start with non-fiction, as it provides an opportunity to give students interesting and relevant texts to read.  As the semester progresses, we will move on to poetry and Shakespeare, things they find "intimidating", so I like to begin with texts that they find more accessible.  That way they can build their skills and gain confidence before we move on to the more difficult work.
So, to that end, we start with a topic that everyone in the room can relate to: education.  We begin with a discussion of what they feel is working in the school system and what they feel needs to change.  We always have an amazing discussion, because they usually have a lot to say!  I preface the discussion with a warning that they must not point a finger at any specific teacher, so the discussion stays general and focuses on issues, not people.
Then, we spend a couple of days reading/discussing a selection of poetry and non-fiction that is critical of various aspects--and players--in the education system.  We also view several videos that always get a great reaction.  My favourite is this one, a TedTalk from Sir Ken Robinson:

An engaging back to school activity for high school studentsFinally, after we have looked at the system from many angles, I assign "The Ideal School Project".  Students work in groups to design their version of the ideal school.  They look at courses, extra-curricular activities, etc. and create a presentation for the rest of the class.   They are always very thoughtful and creative, and presentation day is one of the best all year!
If you would like more detail on this, you can click HERE to download it for free on TPT.

How do you engage your students at the beginning of the semester?  Leave a comment!


Three Reasons You Should Do Reader's Workshop in High School

I am so very lucky to teach in a district that is promoting a reader's workshop approach in our high school English classes. In fact, over the last two years, they have stocked our classroom libraries with multiple copies of many best selling YA books.  We have different genres, different subject matter and different reading levels - everything you'd need to start reader's workshop.  More importantly, our head of curriculum has uttered this sentence several times: "you don't need to teach a full class novel."
Reader's workshop in high school? YES!

However, as exciting as this is, it's also a little daunting. That's because it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  No matter how much you like the idea of reader's workshop, no matter how much you know it makes sense, the pull of "the way you've always done it" is powerful.  There are also many objections from we high school teachers who like to analyze text and prepare our kids for college.  How can students possibly be ready for the next level if they are just reading for fun?  First of all, there is a lot more to reader's workshop than {gasp} reading for fun, and three really good reasons why you should use it in your classroom:

1. Students are not reading your full class novels.  
One of the biggest myths that we English teacher's subscribe to is that our students actually read the full class novels.  Check out this video from Penny Kittle for a little bit of reality:

After I saw this, I did a survey of my own twelfth grade students.  Almost seventy percent of them said they did not read every novel assigned to them over their high school career. Twenty percent hadn't read one.  And yet, there they were in their last English class before they graduated.  They told me the same things as the kids in the video: by using the Internet and by listening in class, they were able to fake their way through.  Sadness.

2.  Students going to college need to build reading stamina.
We're doing our students a huge disservice by allowing them to continue to fake their way through our classes, because they aren't building the reading muscle they are going to need in college where they will have to read many, many pages of text. We all know the power of putting the right book in the hands of a reluctant reader, and by allowing students to choose books that they want to read, at their own reading level, they are far more likely to want to read.  If they want to read, they will read, and they will be able to increase their fluency and stamina. And, even more importantly, we can give our students a gift they will have forever: a life-long love of reading.

3.  They will do more critical thinking and analysis.
One of the biggest objections to reader's workshop for high school teachers is that a workshop approach won't allow them to teach the students the all-important analytical skills they will need to be successful in post-secondary studies.  When a teacher facilitates a whole-class novel study, s/he is in the driver's seat and can plan activities that will allow students to learn these skills.  However, sadly, that idea is just as much fiction as the texts we teach.  Let's face it.  The Internet has made it so easy for our students to find answers without doing any thinking for themselves, and many of them will do more work pretending to read than they would have done had they actually cracked the spine a few times. Reader's workshop offers them an opportunity to learn the skills they need while reading the books they want to read.  For example, if you want your students to discuss the theme of To Kill a Mockingbird, those who haven't read the book can just listen to and get answers from those who did read it.  However, if you model the skills they need to discover theme, and then ask them to do so in their individual novels, they are on their own.  They are forced to do it themselves (and may be more happy to do so with a book they have chosen). In the end, then, more students will end up doing more thinking with reader's workshop than whole class novel study.

Reader's workshop in high school? YES!Switching over to reader's workshop can be a little scary. Trust me; I've been there.  I'm quite an old dog in teacher years.  However, the rewards for both teacher and students are worth it.

If you're thinking of diving into a workshop yourself, stay tuned over the next few weeks as I blog about my preparations for my start of school in September (all posts are now compiled HERE).  You can also check out my products for reader's workshop.


Tips to Prevent Behavior Problems in the Secondary Classroom

It would happen every summer, just a few weeks before I'd head back to school: the recurring dream. I'd be in front of an out of control class, trying desperately to speak and no words would come out of my mouth.  I'd wake up with an uncomfortable feeling that would stay with me all day.
Tips to Prevent Behavior Problems in the Secondary Classroom

It's been a while since I had that dream, because after two decades of trial and error, I rarely have problems with classroom management.  That's not because I'm big and scary, or one of those teachers who never lets them see me smile until October.  I think it's because I do the following things that help me to (mostly) avoid any behaviour problems from cropping up in my room:

Make it a priority to build a rapport with your students.  This is the single most important thing you can do to avoid management issues, because when your students have a good relationship with you, they are less likely to misbehave. Make it a priority to get to know your students, whether that be through a letter of introduction or some sort of back-to-school activity.  Find out what they are interested in and ask them questions about their lives.  I like to stand outside my door before class and not only greet the students, but also single out different ones each day to have a quick chat with. It doesn't have to be long: a quick How was the soccer game last night? or Did you show your mom that great mark you got? does wonders to show you care about them.  One of the best ways to build rapport, however, is to make sure they get to know you.  Share a bit about your life and don't edit out the bad stuff (well, within reason, of course).  Let them see that you are an imperfect human, just like them.

Be yourself--we can't all be Mr Keatings.  As much as we'd like to think we are as charming, witty and inspirational as he is, most of us aren't.  In fact there are a few teachers at our school who, if they stood on a desk or asked the class to rip pages out of books, would have students rolling their eyes and running for cover.  That's because they don't have the personality to do that.  But they are excellent teachers that the students adore. They adore them because they have embraced who they are and use their strengths to teach a subject they love.  Besides, variety is the spice of life and students need variety in their teachers too.  So don't look enviously down the hall at the teacher who has the students rolling in the aisles laughing if you aren't a comedian yourself.  Be the best you can be, and they will appreciate and respect you for who you are.

Relationships, as important as they are, are not everything.  You also need to do some other things during the class (like cover the curriculum), and these are some things that work for me:

Use a hook to start the class.  You can use a bell ringer, a writing prompt, a youtube clip, a discussion question --anything that will focus the lesson and get the students paying attention. I like to mix it up, too, so they don't always know how things are going to start. What's most important, though, is that they know that class will start on time with them paying attention and focused.

Tell them why the activity or lesson is relevant.  I get so much more buy-in when I do this, because students can see why it might be important to learn whatever it is I want them to learn.  And I'm not talking about grades and college admission here; I want students to see why what we are doing in the class can be applied to real life, how they might actually use it. So, if I start teaching persuasive writing by asking them if they would like to be able to win more arguments with their parents, or to be able to convince people to hire them, I will get far more attention than if I said I'm going to teach you persuasive writing techniques so you can write an essay.

Mix it up and include action breaks. Think about the last long meeting you had to go to.  Were you fidgety and wishing you were somewhere else after ten minutes? Your students are no different.  We all like variety and most find it hard to sit still for over an hour. When you plan your lessons, don't always follow the same pattern of hook, instruction, seat work, wrap up.  It's good to have structure and consistency, but if it's the same thing every day, boredom can set in.  I also believe very much in getting students moving, not just to break things up, but to activate the kinesthetic learning style. This can be done as simply as having them do group work standing up or by giving them a two minute stretch break in the middle of class.  Behaviour problems usually happen when kids are bored or tired of sitting.  If you design a class that has variety and movement, you will get more focused, better behaved students.  If you'd like ideas for how to get more action in your class, you can grab my freebie at my TpT store.

Be firm, fair and consistent.  I know this is not new advice, but it's ultra important. You aren't your students' friend and being a softy will not help them in the long run.  Do what you say and say what you mean should be your mantra. However, don't be afraid to engage in debate with your students and to concede if they present you with a good argument. I spend a lot of time and energy teaching my kids to communicate and to write and speak persuasively.  What kind of hypocrite would I be if I didn't let them practice those skills?  Now, what I just wrote might seem contradictory, but it isn't. It's simple: don't give in to whining or complaining, but be willing to change your mind if you are presented with a good, solid argument. There's a big difference between you changing your mind about homework because a bunch of kids complained that they were tired of homework and changing the date of an assignment because the class presented you, respectfully, with logical evidence for why you should.

Always let the student save face.  Despite your best efforts, you will have discipline issues.  That's an undeniable fact.  But when you do, deal with them in a way that shows respect for the student, even if s/he isn't showing respect for you.  You have to model how to treat people respectfully, and making them look bad won't do that.  So, if you are talking to the class, and little Johnny isn't paying attention or is talking to his neighbour, just keep on talking and add in a simple, isn't that right, Johnny?  Or do you agree, Johnny? and then keep right on talking.  I also walk around the classroom as I talk and if someone isn't paying attention, I can just stop by the desk and put my hand on his/her back or desk. Both of these methods make the student aware that you want his/her focus without drawing attention to the bad behaviour.  And if you have to have a more serious discussion with a student, do it privately.  Not only does the student save face, but the bravado often disappears without an audience.

I  hope you've been able to pick up a few tips that will help you have a great year of teaching and learning in your classroom.  If you have other tips that work for you, please share them in the comments.  Happy back to school!

If you'd like some lessons that are sure to keep your students engaged and focused, check out my series of products that make connections to their lives.  Click HERE.

Create a Guiding Question for the Year

I like to have a "theme" for the year, a guiding idea or question that keeps students focused on a reason: why are we doing this?  With my twelfth grade class, most of or texts and activities centre around the power of persuasion. We read non-fiction articles with the intention of discovering how authors persuade us to believe their messages.  We discuss and debate controversial and timely issues, and they write persuasive essays and conduct debates, using what they have learned to persuade others. Then we move on to Macbeth and look at it through the same lens: how do the witches and Lady Macbeth persuade this strong, brave hero to do the nasty deed?  What does his willingness to do it show us about both the power of persuasion and human nature?  Next it's Animal Farm and the same question is asked again.  How do the pigs persuade the animals to follow and why do they get sucked in so easily?

All year, whether we are doing reader's workshop or a class literature study, we will take time to reflect on, discuss, and write about these questions: "What are you learning about the power of persuasion?  How can it be used for good and bad?  How can you harness that power yourself?" Their final assessments are based around what they have learned all year in terms of the guiding question.  Projects, essays and presentations will require them to synthesize ideas from a variety of texts as well as their own thoughts and learning.  What I like most about this approach is that they can't just "google" an answer to a traditional essay question that is based on one text.  The fact that they have to stitch together ideas from several texts means that they have to do a lot more thinking for themselves. And, this approach does more than focus the students and our studies; it also gives them a real life skill.  They learn to identify persuasive techniques that may be used to suck them into something and they learn persuasive skills that they can use for good reasons--college letters, job applications, relationships, etc.

We use the same approach in my tenth grade class, but this time the guiding question is "What causes intolerance and how can we learn to be more tolerant?"  As with my tweflth grade class, students reflect on this question all year, and at the end of the semester they create a website that illustrates their learning, plus do a "mockingbird project" where they have to stand up for a mockingbird in the community.  The boys in this picture used their musical talents to busk downtown; the money they raised was used to buy supplies for a local women's shelter.

Guiding questions with an inquiry approach really work for me and my students.  When they see that they are learning something with a real-world application, they certainly get more engaged.  Give it a try!

You can find several of my inquiry units HERE


We're back!! The Literary League Celebrates Back to School

I know.  No one wants to go back to school yet.  Everyone would rather have more days to relax and recharge...but can have a few more days!!  Head on over to the TpT sale and let us do the planning for you! 
Check out the TpT stores of these amazing secondary ELA teachers.  Let us inspire you, save you time and let you relax a little bit longer this summer!


Off to School with Secondary!


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required