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9 Tips to Encourage Independent Reading with Simplified & Successful Book Conferences

I love independent reading (or student-selected reading), and I love talking about books! It only makes good sense to me, then, to allow my students to show their growth in independent reading through book conferences. Book conferences are an informal conversation between the teacher and student to show completion of and reflection on a novel. Whether you are trying out reading conferences for the first time, or you are looking for ways to make them more effective, I can help! What makes a good reading conference? Obviously, the main goal of a reading conference is to assess the students’ comprehension of their book choice, but I think a successful reading conference should also strengthen your relationship with the student.  In order to make effective book recommendations to them in the future, it might help to

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8 Captivating Novels in Verse for Secondary ELA Students

Whether you’re hosting a lit circle or adding to your classroom library, these novels in verse will be a big hit with your secondary ELA students. I love incorporating verse novels into the classroom! The fact that they have compelling stories, and easy-to-connect with characters makes verse novels an ideal choice for reluctant poetry readers. Students that aren’t typically interested in poetry, but who are interested in the story, can grow to appreciate the writing style. Keeping a few verse novels in your classroom library is also a great way to let students explore poetry in a “no pressure” setting. In this post, I’ll share some novels in verse for middle and high school ELA, plus some extension/enrichment activities that you can use to accompany the books. If you want to pick up any of

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10 Inspirational Writing Quotes for High School Students

These inspirational writing quotes will help energize the young writers in your classroom, and get them excited to write! Writing Quotes for High School Students There are many ways to inspire young writers, from providing them with a diverse classroom library to letting them collaborate with their peers in a writer’s workshop. It’s also vital to let them learn from the best by introducing them to quotes about writing from the experts. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy my favorite inspirational writing quotes 🙂 “Imagination is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.” —Philip José Farmer So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”  -Virginia

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Best Short Stories to Teach American Lit - A photo of a library shelf filled with books, at the top of the image there is a white border with pink text that reads "New Short Stories for American Lit"

5 Best Short Stories to Teach American Lit

Change it up with these 5 NEW best short stories to teach American Lit in middle & high school ELA. Best of all? These 5 stories are all available online for FREE! Today I’m sharing five new short stories for middle and high school ELA, and more specifically, new short stories for teaching American Lit. You might notice that four out of five of these stories are written by women, and four out of five stories are also written by people of color. That’s not a coincidence. Too often, American Lit curriculums are populated by DWG’s (dead White guys), with only token representation of other communities. There is a time and place for the classics, to be sure, but many students will be more engaged by texts that are relevant and relatable to them. I

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Using Procedural Writing to Build a Healthy Classroom Community

It might seem like an unusual combo, but I love using procedural writing to build classroom community. Intrigued? Let me show you how! Teaching procedural writing is a great way to build student writing skills AND develop a strong classroom community. The “how-to” format allows students to become the experts, and you can sit back and enjoy.  Note: If you’re looking for nonfiction writing activities in a different format, check out this post on teaching personal narrative writing 🙂 What is a procedural format? You can basically break procedural writing into an introduction, steps in a process, and a conclusion. It is easy to engage students in the procedural format because there are TONS of engaging examples out there: makeup tutorials, crafting TikToks, and video game walkthroughs. If your students are on the internet at

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Using Music In the Classroom to Boost Engagement

Using music in the classroom has countless benefits. This post has song suggestions, teaching tips, ready-to-use resources, and much more! How does music connect with ELA? Think about your favorite song. How many elements of literature are present in the lyrics? Rhyme and meter are obviously connections, but many of my favorite songs also utilize characterization, symbolism, irony (no, not THAT song about irony), metaphor, and figurative language. Even instrumental music can be related to ELA concepts! Many students might be familiar with “Peter and the Wolf” by Sergei Prokofiev, a piece that is commonly used to introduce children to the different instruments of the orchestra. The characters of the story are represented by different instruments (e.g. the Wolf is represented by the french horn, the hunters by timpani, and my personal favorite, the duck

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5 Short Stories to Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in Secondary ELA

May is AAPI Heritage Month, so to celebrate, here are 5 short stories that will help your students connect with and appreciate AAPI cultures. Danielle here, I’m so happy to share this guest post by Joan Sung, a writer, and educator. Follow her on IG @joansungwriter and check out her cultural competency course aimed to support K-12 educators in better serving Asian American students! Joan has some great short story recommendations for celebrating AAPI Heritage Month in your classroom, and I have some tips for how to make sure your curriculum is inclusive, year-round. Maybe you’re already working toward creating an inclusive classroom library, here’s a free tool to find any representation gaps in the collection. You can also check out my always-growing, mega list of diverse texts for Secondary ELA. Okay, that’s enough from

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Fun Classroom Games – Team Trivia for ELA

Looking for some fun, new classroom games? This post will show you how to play Team Trivia in ELA, & even give you a free week of questions! If you’re looking for classroom games to play as a group, team trivia should definitely be on your list! Trivia is such a low-stakes way to get kids thinking critically and working collaboratively.  How do you do trivia in the classroom? After years of playing pub trivia with my friends, I’ve come up with a surefire way to get that same energy in the classroom. I want my classroom games to be fun and competitive, even as students build ELA skills. Here are some basic principles:  1. Students work best in groups of 3-4 This is the ideal number to make sure everyone can participate and have

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Teaching ELA Concepts with Short Stories

Need inspiration? This post has all of my tips and tricks for teaching ELA concepts like characterization, setting, symbolism, and much more! Over the past year, I’ve been working on a series of posts dedicated to teaching ELA concepts with short stories. Since the first post is from January 2021, I decided to assemble all nine of them in one convenient place, for easy reading and bookmarking 🙂 If you’re looking for a standards-aligned resource that uses diverse short stories to teach some of the most essential figurative language elements, check out this resource bundle we released in 2024! Teaching ELA Concepts with Short Stories Teaching Symbolism with Short Stories This post also contains a FREE resource for teaching symbolism that your students will love 🙂 Teaching Setting with Short Stories From a futuristic hospital

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5 International Texts to Promote Diversity In the Classroom

One tool for promoting diversity in the classroom is using texts by international authors. Here are 5 texts from around the world your students will love! Note: This is a guest post, written by Abena. She’s a writer and educator who focuses on promoting diversity in the classroom. Check out her blog, DiversityInMind, and follow her on Instagram @diversity_in_mind. Now, enjoy her text recommendations! What is Cultural Diversity In the Classroom? When I taught in the UK, texts from other cultures were part of the curriculum. Often, this meant British-Africa, British-Asian, and so on. It felt like minority cultures were only being validated in part because of their relation to ‘Britishness’ rather than their own individual cultural experiences. (I see this reflected in diverse book lists from other places, like the USA, too.) As time

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12 YA Dystopian Novels for the ELA Classroom

Whether you’re planning a lit circle or you need classroom library recs, I’ve got you covered with this list of YA dystopian novels. Last week, I blogged about how to conduct a Dystopian Literature Circle in your classroom, and as promised, here are my recommendations of YA dystopian novels: Note: If you decide to purchase any of these books for your classroom, please consider using my Bookshop affiliate list. Bookshop’s mission is supporting independent bookstores, and as an affiliate, I receive a small percentage that helps with blog upkeep 🙂 Dystopian Novels for Literature Circles and Beyond: The Program by Suzanne Young Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have

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Dystopian Literature Circles in Secondary ELA

Want to have a dystopian literature circle in your classroom? Let me plan it for you! This post has book recs and a step-by-step guide. Students love dystopian literature, and there’s an endless amount of quality texts covering different themes. That’s why I love to do dystopian literature circles with my students. This allows us to compare themes across different settings and characters. If you haven’t tried literature circles in high school, I’ll share some tips about getting started with those as well.  Introduction to Dystopian Literature Before we ever start literature circles, we come together as a class and create a common understanding of what dystopian literature is. We discuss four types of control present in dystopian novels:  Corporate (Minority Report) Bureaucratic (1984) Technological (The Matrix) Ideological/Religious (The Handmaid’s Tale) As we’re discussing these

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10 Video Games to Use in Secondary ELA

Video games can be helpful tools to help students gain a deeper understanding of literature. Here are 10 video games to use in Secondary ELA. Using video games for mentor texts is a great way to connect with students who are reluctant to analyze elements of literature. Since so many students already love video games, these texts are an excellent way to leverage their interests.  I also have a new resource (2023) that has 15 lesson plans analyzing pop culture short texts, like video games, TV episodes, songs, short films, and more! Check out the 15 Pop Culture Analysis Activities resource here. Using video games in the classroom You can harness the goodness and power of video games without turning your classroom into a gaming den. In the blurbs below, I recommend specific scenes you

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Teaching Lamb to the Slaughter

Looking for new ways to use this classic short story? I’m sharing tips and activities I’ve learned while teaching Lamb to the Slaughter. Usually, I’m all about finding contemporary short stories to teach in middle and high school. However, one classic short story my students adore is Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter.”  In Lamb to the Slaughter, Mrs. Maloney is a pregnant housewife whose husband announces he wants a divorce. In a stupor, she gets a frozen leg of lamb out of the freezer for their dinner, but ends up bashing him over the head with it. The police come to investigate and she plays innocent. Then, she insists they stay for dinner (it’s lamb!).  Lamb to the Slaughter pre-reading activities One of my students’ favorite activities of the year is the pre-reading activity

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Ideas for Teaching Braiding Sweetgrass

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer is part poetry, part memoir, and part ecological treatise. Here are some ideas for teaching Braiding Sweetgrass in excerpts. “Like Creation stories everywhere, cosmologies are a source of identity and orientation to the world. They tell us who we are. We are inevitably shaped by them no matter how distant they may be from our consciousness.” -from Braiding Sweetgrass I’m a high school English teacher. I’ve taught both mythology and American literature and have used Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer as a tool for teaching different concepts in both classes. Before I begin: it is incorrect to call Indigenous stories “mythology” and I acknowledged that in my teaching of the course. We cannot refer to a group of people’s deeply held beliefs as mythology. Hence, I prefer the

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5 Perfect Short Texts for Teaching Characterization in Literature

Looking for short stories (and other short texts) you can use to teach characterization in literature? This post is for you! If you’re a fan of using short texts to teach literary concepts and more, I have a new resource (2023) that has 15 lesson plans analyzing pop culture short texts, like TV episodes, songs, short films, and more! Check out the 15 Pop Culture Analysis Activities resource here. Teaching Characterization in Literature Are you tired of teaching the same short stories over and over? Today I’m sharing 5 texts – four contemporary and one classic – that you and your students will love. Analyzing characterization in literature is a vital part of understanding an author’s purpose, and one tool I love to use when teaching characterization is interactive notebooks. I even have a resource

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6 Song-Inspired Black History Month Activities in ELA

Music is a great way to connect with students! These Black History Month activities explore history, social justice, cultural lenses, & more. Music in the classroom is not only highly engaging for students. It’s also great for helping students connect emotionally with people and cultures that have different perspectives from them. These lyrics alone provide lessons on countless poetic devices and ELA concepts, but I have paired an extension activity with each song to help students dig deeper. Songs to teach for Black History Month “For Women” by Talib Kweli “She tried to get it where she fit in, On that American Dream mission paid tuition, For the receipt to find out her history was missing and started flippin’, Seeing the world through very different eyes.” In this song, Kweli pulls inspiration from “Four Women”

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Why I Love Teaching Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes

In this post, I share tips, ideas, & resources for teaching Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes. My students love this book – yours will too 🙂 In Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes, high school narrators explore themes of identity, family, and community at the new Open “Mike” Friday in Mr. Ward’s class. Each chapter includes a prose section that reads like a journal entry *and* the narrator’s slam poem. In this post, I’ll be sharing some ideas for teaching Bronx Masquerade that helped me *and* my students. Why do I love Teaching Bronx Masquerade? As I’ve mentioned before on Instagram and the blog, I had a rough first year of teaching. I was working 70 hours a week and wasn’t sure it was a good fit for me. My school was highly segregated because of a

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Teaching Conflict in Literature with Short Stories

Looking for tips & text recommendations for teaching conflict in literature? This post has stories & extension activities to engage students! In a continuation of my series on teaching literary elements, today I’m sharing ideas for teaching conflict in literature. While conflict is sometimes easy to identify, it can be harder for students to determine *how* an author creates and heightens conflict using setting, characterization, and tone. I find that using a variety of shorter examples, rather than teaching, say, a novel or a play, helps students to stay engaged. So with no further ado, here are 5 short texts you can use for teaching conflict. Short Stories for Teaching Conflict in Literature “Say Yes” by Tobias Wolff (MS/HS) In this short story, the Person vs. Person conflict happens between a husband and wife. While washing

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Over 20 Escape Rooms for ELA and Beyond!

Whether you’re a pro at escape rooms or a total newbie, this post will help you find a game that your students will love! I’ve blogged before about using escape rooms in ELA, and I’m here to tell you I still believe in the power of these sorts of games. Whether you’re using digital or paper escape rooms, students have the chance to practice collaboration and critical thinking. Since I’ve been creating escape rooms for five years now, I wanted to make a “home base” where you could find out about them. This post is a round-up of the work I’ve done. Burnbridge and Terminus If you’ve been following me for a while, you’re probably familiar with my two original escape room series, Burnbridge Breakouts and Terminus. Burnbridge came first. My time spent teaching in

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Best Books of 2021 – YA & MG

No matter what you read, there’s something you’ll love on my list of the best books of 2021! YA, middle-grade, and more! If we’re being honest, I really struggled with the motivation for reading during 2020 and into 2021. But these titles – my personal “best books of 2021” – really helped break me out of my reading slump. (Btw, if you’re struggling to find the time or focus to read, that’s okay! Give yourself some grace. I know as teachers we often put pressure on ourselves to feel a certain way about reading, but I release you that! We can still help our students love books and learning, even if we’re taking a break from books <3) So without further delay, I present my nominations for Best Books of 2021! Amari and the Night

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Drama in the Classroom: Tips & Activities

Using theatre in Secondary ELA is a great way to build classroom community, increase public speaking skills, and get students to understand complex texts. Here are some ideas for how to introduce drama in the classroom, from quick, 5-minute games to a class play.  Improv Games build public speaking skills In every English class I’ve ever taught, I’ve used improv games to help students build public speaking skills. When I taught ESL in Germany, my students LOVED telling wacky stories in games like “Story, Story, Die!”  Here are two sets of improv ideas you can use in any class! Improv games are a great way to spend an extra five minutes or what’s left after a fire drill, so you should definitely have a few in your pocket. Halloween Themed Drama Games Drama in the

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Comprehensive Short Story Ideas for English Class

All my favorite short story ideas for English class – teaching tips, story recommendations, timesaving resources, and much more! I’ve thought a lot about teaching short stories over the years. I’ve designed and redesigned my short story unit, I’m always on the hunt for the latest and greatest short story anthology, and I’m constantly striving to make sure that I’m including not just one perspective, but a chorus of voices. I think that by having a wide range of contemporary short stories, embracing alternative media (like songs and film), and giving students the tools to embrace their own creativity, you can make short stories relevant, engaging, and memorable for your students. I tried to make sure that this post has short story ideas for English class that every ELA teacher can use, but if you

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Teaching Suspense & Pacing with Short Stories

These 5 short texts for teaching suspense and pacing will help make your lessons on literary elements less daunting and more memorable! While they’re both fundamental elements of storytelling, students will often struggle with identifying elements of suspense, or examples of pacing in a specific work. As you may have noticed, I love using short stories and other short texts when teaching literary elements! I find that using shorter texts can make a new concept easier to digest for students, and they’re also perfect for reviewing multiple elements in a short amount of time. Note: A big difference in teaching suspense in middle school as opposed to high school is how graphic or frightening your content can be. This post features example texts for teaching suspense that aren’t overly scary. You can find many more

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Inclusive Short Horror Stories for Teens

Here are five short horror stories to share with your students! If you’re looking for some seriously psychological stuff, this is it. These short horror stories for teenagers are fantastic stories in general, and also great model texts for writing horror fiction. Inclusive Short Horror Stories “The Flowers” by Alice Walker (MS/HS) This is a coming-of-age story about a young Black girl named Myop. While picking flowers and blissfully exploring the woods around her home, she uncovers chilling evidence of a lynching. Since this story broaches a heavy topic, I wouldn’t use this short story without being prepared to engage in a larger discussion of racially motivated violence and the history of lynching in America.  Summer as a symbol for youthful innocence is a well trod literary path, but this is an especially effective example.

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Halloween Themed Drama Games for the ELA Classroom

These Halloween themed drama games will help students flex their creative muscles & boost their public speaking skills, all while having fun. I’ve blogged about Halloween themed ELA activites before, but this year I wanted to focus games. Drama games and improv are a great way to boost student confidence and increase collaboration in your classroom. These Halloween themed drama games will give you those same benefits, while adding some seasonal flair! Drama is a great way to build public speaking skills, memory, and community in the classroom. I have used drama with grades K-12 in France, Germany, the US, and Puerto Rico, and students beg for more. Literally. After finals one year, I was planning to show a movie, and students asked to reprise some improv games instead. How cool is that? So, where

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Teaching Metaphors with Short Texts

Teaching metaphors with short texts is a great way to make your literary lessons more approachable & engaging. Here are five of my favorites! Teaching metaphor is like, um, hm, if only there was some way to describe it 😉 Even if your students can’t tell an allusion from a simile, I’m here to help with this blog series on teaching literary elements. This week, my focus is teaching metaphors with short texts. I’ll be shouting out some great texts and giving teaching tips to go along with them. What are you waiting for? Let’s dive right into it! How to teach similes and metaphors As English teachers, we often approach teaching metaphor as a contrast to simile – “a comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’.” I like to expand this approach to focus on simile

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Teaching Shakespeare to ESL Students

My approach to teaching Shakespeare to ESL students will make it an engaging and accessible experience for teachers and students alike! Teaching Shakespeare to ESL students (English Language Learners/ELLs) is an important consideration, particularly if you’re working in a pull out model. If students are studying Shakespeare in their regular ELA classrooms, teaching Shakespeare to ESL students can level the cultural playing field.  Now, I don’t think Shakespeare is the be-all, end-all of excellent writing. I’m not sure why students study a Shakespeare play every year of high school. However, I think that teaching the same thing to all students with appropriate academic support is the key to making all students feel like a community. Shakespeare isn’t something we should reserve for Honors students. Teaching Shakespeare to ESL students with appropriate supports is key to

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4 Personal Narrative Examples by Latinx Authors

Are you looking for personal narrative examples by Latinx authors? Here are some ideas from the new anthology edited by Saraciea J. Fennell, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed.  This anthology features 15 stories from the Latinx diaspora. If you’re looking for personal narrative examples, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is a rich source of teaching materials. Here are four stories I loved and ideas for integrating them into your Secondary ELA curriculum.  Personal Narrative Examples for High School “A Mi Orden: a Meditation on Dichos” by Elizabeth Acevedo “They were a constellation heavily riddled with teaching me my place.” Author and poet Elizabeth Acevedo strikes again! If you’ve read With the Fire on High or The Poet X, you know Acevedo connects with her teenage readers. Here, Acevedo reflects on one dicho from her grandfather.

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Using Short Stories to Teach Setting

I love using short stories to teach setting! Shorter texts are more approachable to students, and allow you to provide more examples. Short Stories to Teach Setting Setting is one of the earliest literary elements we understand as readers, since we know the difference between the feel of a creepy house in the woods and the warmth of Grandma’s house. Using short stories to teach setting is a great way to move those reading instincts into honed reading skills. Here are two short stories to teach setting that I love: “No Me Dejas” by Mark Oshiro, found on Slate.com  This story takes place inside a futuristic hospital. Our protagonist, Gabriela, is preparing for “the Transfer,” a procedure which will allow her to receive all of her dying grandmother’s memories. During the procedure, she experiences a

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