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Professional Development Books for Teachers

Need a summer read? These professional development books for teachers cover topics from Shakespeare to standardized testing, and beyond! Ah, summer! A time for relaxation and recharging… …this is also a pretty great time to slow down and hear ourselves think, am I right? That’s why I like to read at least two professional development books for teachers in the summer. I like to sit with my cup of coffee and process the year through the lens of a good book. Here are some books I’ve been learning from over the last couple of years. You can find these books on my affiliate list as Bookshop.org. Using Bookshop, you’ll support the independent bookstore of your choice, and I’ll get a small kickback from every purchase that I use to update and maintain this blog. Win

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New Short Stories for Middle School

No dusty old classics here! There are my favoite new short stories for middle school, and some non-traditional texts to engage and inspire. Are you struggling to get your students excited about reading? Do even your most engaged students zone out when you bring out the reading list of “classics”? Sometimes all students need is a fresh story. Something that feels relevant to them and their peers. We can revitalize our content, without sacrificing our standards. And I’m here to help! Today I’m sharing with you some of my favorite new short stories of middle school and ideas for how to use them, but if you want this type of content for high schoolers, I’ve got you covered too 🙂 Modern Short Stories for Middle School: Short Story: “How to Be Chinese” by Celeste Ng

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Teaching with Short Films in Middle & High School ELA

Teaching with short films in ELA is a great way to strengthen reading skills and increase students’ literary analysis. Why use short films with students? Much in the same way that short stories can help reach reluctant readers, short films are excellent for demonstrating literary elements in ways that are approachable, memorable, and engaging. They’re also a fantastic choice for ELLs since many of them have little to no dialogue, and therefore rely on more universal means of communicating their message. I’ll share some specific tips for the short films I’m shouting out, but here are some activities you can use with any short film: Practice writing summaries. Since short films are just that (short), they’re easy to summarize in a paragraph. You can make it more fun and challenging by asking students to write

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Choosing Digital Escape Rooms for Secondary ELA

Looking to try digital escape rooms for Secondary ELA students? This post will help find a game that meets your needs.     Choosing Digital Escape Rooms for ELA You may have played a digital escape room with your students at this point, but have you tried a series yet? Digital Escape Room series are a great way to increase your students’ endurance for reading, strengthen their reading skills, and keep them coming back for more! (In this post, I’ll be focusing on my two ELA game series, Terminus & Burnbridge Breakouts. If you’re looking for a “one-off” game that focuses on a specific text or topic, I also have digital escape rooms for The Odyssey, Romeo & Juliet, Lord of the Flies, The Harlem Renaissance, The Roaring 20s, and a Poetry Escape Room.) Terminus

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Teaching Social Justice with Short Stories in Middle School

Short stories are great ways to tackle big issues in easy-to-digest lessons! Here are my tips for teaching social justice with short stories. Short stories can be great foundational texts for conversations about social justice and current events. (More about incorporating current events in the classroom here.) Because they’re short, they can act as common reading before students work on discussion and research. Also, teaching social justice with short stories can help students connect those stories to nonfiction texts like essays and news articles. They can hone in on the relationship between literature, politics, and “the real world.” This makes literature more relevant. And it’s always easier to talk about big issues through the lens of fictional characters. Besides suggestions for contemporary short stories, I’ve added other texts that fit this bill. Giving students a

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Teaching Romeo & Juliet

How do I teach Romeo & Juliet? Let me count the ways! To me, it’s a timeless classic, but I know that many students struggle to connect with with story. Some students tell me it’s “corny” and “unrealistic.” Sometimes they’re thrown off by Shakespeare’s language. (More on teaching Shakespeare’s language here!) But that doesn’t mean we should just give up on the bard! In this post I’ll give tips for teaching Romeo & Juliet that make it more inclusive, engaging, and relatable to your students. And as a bonus, all of these ideas will work for virtual, hybrid, or in-person learning. (And these are just a few of my Romeo & Juliet ideas, you can find the rest in my full Rethinking the Classics: Romeo & Juliet resource.)     Teaching Romeo & Juliet:   Play

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Tips & Resources for Teaching Poetry in Secondary ELA

These tips for teaching poetry in secondary ELA are perfect for National Poetry Month (April), and they’ll help you create engaging lessons year-round. Is there a subject that divides students (and teachers, let’s be honest) more than poetry? Some folx (like me!) find poetry to be magical, moving, and merry, others find it to be confusing, boring, and a chore. While that hurts my heart, I understand. Poetry is a unique and exciting literary experience. A wide range of formats expressing a wide range of emotions. But our students can’t appreciate that if all we focus on is memorizing literary elements. By creating an inclusive, relevant, and approachable poetry unit, we can help more kids to fall in love with poetry as an art form. Over the years I’ve blogged a lot about teaching poetry

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Teaching Symbolism with 3 Short Stories

Do your students struggle to identify instances of symbolism in a text? Yeah, mine too. So today I am sharing some contemporary short stories, plus additional resources, to help you plan a unit on symbolism that is both compelling and memorable. Teaching symbolism with short stories helps students practice their analytical skills. The first way I found to engage my students was to bribe, uh, I mean, reward them with candy. Candy was the perfect way to help my students finally get symbolism. But the biggest positive change I made when teaching symbolism with short stories was to revamp the texts themselves. I was getting burned out on using the same old stories. (And teachers, if you’re getting bored, you can bet your students are too.) Plus, “Masque of the Red Death” and “The Pearl” (a

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YA Books with Strong Female Leads

Whether you’re looking for books to celebrate Women’s History Month or just amazing titles to add to your classroom library, here are some YA books with strong female leads you can use in your secondary ELA classroom.    YA books with strong female leads:     Dread Nation (YA Fantasy) Dread Nation is set in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. The twist? The Civil War ended not after a treaty, but after the dead began to rise. To combat the undead –known as “shamblers”– many Black and Indigenous children are forced into a life of conscripted service. Our heroine Jane McKeene is attending Miss Preston’s School of Combat. It’s not the life she desires, but it offers her more opportunities than many of her fellow Black Americans. Dread Nation is a classic monster-tale in that

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5 Powerful Tips for Teaching Social Justice in ELA

Do you want to be teaching social justice in ELA but you don’t know where to start? Check out these tips, resources, and low-prep projects. The title of this post is a bit misleading. Social Justice is part of teaching about our society and culture, and that is our principal work as ELA teachers. Our tools of choice are stories and communication, and we can interweave those in the goals of social justice. What is Social Justice? Social Justice is the acknowledgement of disparities in wealth and opportunities in our society based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability and an engagement in the effort to decrease those disparities. Therefore, developing an ad campaign to raise awareness about childhood poverty? Social justice. Writing an argumentative essay about why the town library should be wheelchair accessible?

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Books to Read, love, and share: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo cover

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Want a contemporary novel for your curriculum? Need classroom library suggestions? Check out Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo If you love YA books, you’re probably familiar with Elizabeth Acevedo’s work. Her debut novel The Poet X was a breathtakingly beautiful novel-in-verse, and a breakout success. We featured her follow up novel, With the Fire on High, on the YA Cafe Podcast. WtFoH was an unexpected novel-in-prose, but equally wonderful. With Clap When You Land, Acevedo returns to her poetry roots and gives us another novel-in-verse. If you’re looking to add more Latinx voices to your classroom library, any of Acevedo’s books are a great choice. I also have a blog post featuring my favorite YA books by Latinx authors. Today’s post is written by the amazing

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Contemporary Short Stories for High School

Struggling to engage your reluctant readers? Check out these contemporary short stories for high school ELA. Are you excited to teach short stories, or does the thought of revisiting “The Lottery” and “The Lady of the Tiger” fill you with intense boredom? Well, if you are tired of using the same old dead White guys, I promise your students are tired of reading them. But don’t despair! There are tons of interesting contemporary YA short stories for high schoolers that you can use instead of (or alongside) the classics. Today I’m going to share a few of my favorites.   Contemporary Short Stories for High School:   Puro Amor by Sandra Cisneros Students may already be familiar with Cisneros’ work from her 1984 novel, The House On Mango Street. And you can expect more lush

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Teaching To Kill A Mockingbird

Are you teaching To Kill a Mockingbird this year? Whether you view it as a treasured classic, or an outdated relic, I have some tips.     Today’s blog post will be a little different. I would typically start by sharing ideas for teaching the novel in question. However, I think To Kill a Mockingbird is ready for a curriculum overhaul. It’s a fictional story sharing the trauma of systemic racism through the eyes of a young White girl. Her father, an immortalized literary hero, didn’t even win the case. Why are we still teaching To Kill a Mockingbird? Why are we holding on to this novel? I recommend NOT teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. Not convinced? Let’s talk about it. While I never connected with TKAM, I know many teachers have fond memories of

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Teaching Irony with Short Stories

Are you looking to revitalize your short story unit? Are your students just not getting irony? I’m here to help! Here are 5 fresh texts for teaching irony with short stories. Sure, “Gift of the Magi” and “The Lottery” are classics for teaching irony, but they offer little in the way of inclusive representation. There is nothing wrong with these stories, but we can serve our students better by including a wider selection of voices and identities. I’m not asking you to stop teaching “The Lottery” or “Gift of the Magi”, but encouraging you to add some more inclusive short stories and supporting materials to your curriculum. Many teachers are working to diversify their curriculum to include more voices. I’ve been working with Dr. Sheila Frye (from Teaching Literacy) on a project called “Rethinking the

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Digital Escape Rooms for ELA

Have you tried any digital escape rooms for ELA? Whether you’re doing virtual, in-person, or hybrid learning, I have a game for you.   Digital Escape Rooms for ELA: Do you LOVE Escape Rooms, but feel like they’re out of reach now? Whether we’re in distance learning, a hybrid classroom, or trying to maintain social distancing in a physical classroom, we can still bring the critical thinking and excitement of an escape room to our lessons. The answer? Digital Escape Rooms for ELA.     Since March, I’ve been working on creating digital versions of my most popular games. Each digital escape room has the same tasks and content as the original paper games, and now has much more flexibility for you, the teacher. Game List: Introduction to Shakespeare Digital Breakout Introduction to The Odyssey

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Terminus – Digital Breakouts for ELA

Are you looking for new digital breakouts for ELA? Look no further! I’d like to introduce you to my newest game series, Terminus. Terminus is a four-part digital adventure series geared towards 8th and 9th grade students who read below level. This story is a post-pandemic, found-text adventure. Playing as Rania, students work to solve the mystery of the MILSA outbreak by reading letters, memos, manuals, and emails left behind. Behind the game  This game was a labor of love by myself and my wife Amanda Thrasher. Amanda wrote the storyline, and I designed the puzzles. Then, we combined it all with incredible original art by Lily Chan. Amanda began writing Terminus in the summer of 2019 (while I was at the TPT conference!) and finished it later that year. Little did we know that

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Adaptable Resources to Teach 3 Classics During Distance Learning: The Giver, The Great Gatsby, & The Odyssey

Are you going to teach classics during distance learning like The Giver, The Great Gatsby, and/or The Odyssey? Great choice! Here’s how to make your novel unit even more inclusive and engaging. Teaching Classics During Distance Learning? No matter which text you are working with, below we have provided some resources & strategies to make your unit successful and one to remember! The Giver Considered by many to be a modern classic, The Giver is a brilliant choice for middle-schoolers who will instantly connect with the 12-year-old protagonist, Jonas. Today I’ll be sharing some resources and tips to teach The Giver during distance learning, and also how to bring some diverse voices to the conversation. The ideas and resources I am sharing today were all hand-picked with distance learning in mind, but you’ll find many more ideas for teaching The

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Latinx YA Books for Your Classroom Library

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month, y’all! We celebrate this every year from September 15th to October 15th, and we can also bring it to our bookshelves. I recommend visiting the National Hispanic Heritage Month website: they have some great resources for teachers. Keep reading for amazing Latinx YA books that you can share with your students to celebrate. While it’s important to celebrate cultural and national heritage during specific festivals or annual events, how inclusive is your classroom library year-round? Books are both windows and mirrors. Can your students see genuine representations of themselves, or “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”? Don’t feel discouraged if your classroom library or curriculum isn’t inclusive, yet. Your students are lucky because they have you to advocate for them and to continue pushing for diversity in the materials that

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15 MORE TV Episodes to Use in ELA

After the popularity of my 2017 post, 15 TV Episodes to Use In ELA, I thought it was time for an update. That was 3 years ago, after all! Tons of exceptional new shows have come out, I’ve discovered shows that are “new to me,” and gotten reacquainted with some old favorites. Using TV episodes in ELA  can be more than just a reward (although that’s okay too!). Television can be a great way to introduce new concepts or review old topics, in an engaging, bite-sized format. Using TV to practice critical writing can be a distance learning asset or as part of a sub-plan. I have a TV Episode Review activity up in my TPT store if you’re looking for something like that 🙂 I also have a new resource (2023) that has 15

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Inclusive YA Retellings for the Classroom Library

I recently finished Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron and it got me thinking about using inclusive YA retellings in Secondary ELA. Retellings (or “reimaginings,” as I like to think of them) involve taking any story and giving it a new spin. This provides the reader a novel (hah!) way to connect with the material. We know that retellings stretch as far back as Shakespeare (he based Romeo and Juliet on a poem by Arthur Brooke). So let’s dig in… why are retellings so important to our collective conscience?     Cinderella is Dead is set in a Dystopian fantasy future in which the Cinderella story as we know it has been weaponized against women to bring them into submission. Our LGBTQ+ heroine will not be attending the ball, business as usual. It’s 200 years

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YA/Middle Grade Books by Arab & Muslim Authors

Are you looking to create a more inclusive classroom library? Are you asking yourself, “What should I read next?” We have many lists of inclusive recommendations and today, we’ll focus on books by Arab and Muslim authors. Before I dive into the book recommendations, I wanted to talk about a few terms that sometimes get used interchangeably: Arab, Muslim, Islamic, Middle-Eastern. The most important takeaway here is that no single book will reflect every experience of one of these groups, so please include as many voices as you can. Arab/Arabic: To put it simply, not all Muslims are Arab, and not all Arabs are Muslim. “Arab is an ethno-linguistic category, identifying people who speak the Arabic language as their mother tongue (or, with immigrants, whose parents or grandparents spoke Arabic as their native language)”, (from

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50+ Captivating & Diverse Texts for Secondary ELA

Hey y’all! Are you looking for diverse texts for secondary ELA? Do you want to grow your classroom library or find suggestions for a lit circle? Look no further! I’ve written a lot of YA book reviews and created a lot of book “round-up” lists over the years, so I thought it would be helpful to compile my many recommendations here.  Each list, unless otherwise specified, features a range of authors and protagonists, including BIPOC, queer, neuro-divergent voices. And a final word about diversity and inclusion: no “one text” is going to develop your students’ empathy and thirst for justice.  Instead, be sure to include a variety of voices throughout your shelves and curriculum, all year long. Be sure to bookmark this list of diverse texts for secondary ELA as it will continually grow* 🙂

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Current Events in the Classroom

You can help your students see beyond the headlines! In this post, nine other teachers and I share our favorite tips for teaching current events.     Current Events in the Classroom When we have to devote so much time to teaching the test, I know how tough it is to consider adding anything new, like teaching current events, into your routine. As tough as it is, it’s worth it! Our students might sometimes seem far from adults to us, but in a few years, they’ll be driving, voting, working, and hopefully fully autonomous members of society. We can help them prepare for adulthood by helping them to understand our ever-changing world.   …But you don’t have to take it from me I asked some of my #teachergram friends for their take on teaching current

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Teaching The Odyssey with an Interactive Escape Room

Take a look inside my completely updated and redesigned Odyssey interactive escape room. New art, new hints, and a brand new digital platform for teaching the Odyssey. Have you played my Odyssey Escape Room? In this interactive adventure, students play as Telemachus, trying to solve Eumaeus’ puzzle and get access to Odysseus’ famed bow. It’s an introduction to the Greek gods and goddesses, the characters in The Odyssey, and life and customs on Ithaca.  Since I first shared this resource in 2017, it has been in constant evolution, improving for the better based on amazing feedback from students and teachers. One teacher told me that her class needed hints, so she set herself up as the Oracle at Delphi. I worked this into an update in late 2018, adding four hints in verse for the

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2019 Book Recommendation Round-Up

With the decade drawing to a close, it’s time to reflect on the great books released in 2019! Here are my favorite YA book recommendations of 2019:   2019 YA Book Recommendations Round-Up:   As I write this, it’s the end of 2019 and the holiday season has begun. Whether you’re looking for last-minute reads to hit your reading goal or shopping for the booklovers on your list, I’ve got you covered. Here are YA book recommendations for every reader! Please note that not all these recommendations are a good fit for middle school readers. 🙂 Enjoy!   The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee    Y’all, I love Stacey Lee. To me, her books are like curling up with a warm cup of tea, you just sink into the story. But The Downstairs Girl isn’t

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Indigenous Literature for Secondary ELA

It’s Native American History Month! How are you celebrating and honoring Native culture in your classroom? One great way is through books. In today’s post, Megan Tipler from @tiplerteaches brings us recommendations for using Indigenous literature for Secondary ELA.   This post uses Indiebound Affiliate Links. We earn a small percentage of each sale (at no additional cost to you) and use the money to sustain this blog. 🙂   According to data compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, only 1% of children’s books released in 2018 were written about Indigenous characters. That number deteriorated even further when we looked at how many books were written BY Indigenous authors. Even though there are hundreds of nations and tribal affiliations across Turtle Island – with a variety of diverse experiences, customs, and practices – Indigenous

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Inclusive Nonfiction Titles for the Classroom Library

Do you struggle to get students interested in nonfiction? Keep pushing! Fostering a love of reading nonfiction books can help students become lifelong learners. If you’re looking for engaging, inclusive nonfiction for your secondary ELA classroom, look no further! This list has a little bit of everything from memoirs to history.       I have compiled tons of recommendation lists that focus on novels, but I know that sometimes the biggest struggle can be finding nonfiction titles for secondary ELA. I hear you, and I’m here to help! 🙂 The list is broken down by genre to help you peruse, and I hope you enjoy it!   Engaging Nonfiction for Secondary ELA:   Memoirs:   Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson  Twenty years after her groundbreaking novel, Speak, Anderson has given us Shout, her memoir.

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15 Halloween School Activities for Secondary ELA

Looking for engaging and rigorous Halloween school activities for your Secondary ELA classroom? Look no further! These mini-lessons will build close reading skills, practice inferencing, and get students thinking creatively. Whether you are a Halloween lover or a Halloween tolerate-er, it will be on the forefront of your students’ brains this time of the year. They are likely dreaming up their costumes, gossiping about the hip parties, and totally ignoring your lessons! Many of the resources I’ve linked below are also available for 25% off in this spooky and spectacular Halloween Activities resource bundle! Check out the 8 included resources here. Here are 15 Halloween school activities for secondary ELA that will allow you to use that excitement in your classroom: 1. Analyze Symbolism & Allegory with Candy It seems like, as soon as the

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LGBTQ Middle Grade Novels

Since we started the YA Cafe Podcast, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about LGBTQ middle-grade novels. This means anywhere from 4th-8th grade. Since our show doesn’t always cover this age range, we thought we’d spend some time here talking about it. Need recommendations for high schoolers instead? I have a big list of books for the high school classroom library that feature LGBTQ protagonists 🙂 Why should I include LGBTQ titles in my classroom library? My students are too young. Including LGBTQ middle grade novels in your library is not about sex. Seriously. (I mean, we can talk about the statistics of middle schoolers who do have sex, but that’s not what you’re talking about; I know) Anytime we’re talking about including more representation in a classroom library, we’re talking about issues of identity.

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15 More Songs for Teaching ELA

Song lyrics can be so versatile in the classroom: Creative writing inspiration, making non-fiction more engaging, etc. Here are 15 more songs for teaching ELA, and suggestions on how to use them. Ask and you shall receive! My other post, 15 Songs to Use in ELA has gotten so much positive feedback that I decided to make a sequel 🙂 Like before I am linking to these songs on YouTube, but it’s not necessary for students to watch the videos. And as always, not all songs for teaching ELA will be appropriate for all classrooms; you know your students best 🙂 I also have a new resource (2023) that has 15 lesson plans analyzing pop culture short texts, like songs, TV episodes, short films, and more! Check out the 15 Pop Culture Analysis Activities resource

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