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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Engaging Reluctant Readers with a Digital Adventure Game

We know that our reluctant readers have a skills deficit that grows over time. Whereas a student may be just one grade level behind in elementary school, that gap can grow if we don’t address the problem. By high school, a student who can’t read at grade level faces significant difficulties across content areas. Moreover, it becomes challenging to find age-appropriate texts to support that student’s progress. But, fear not! We’re going to work together to improve student reading! Let’s give the issue a human face. Malcolm is a smart and charismatic 8th grader. He’s the class diplomat; whenever the class wants something from you, they delegate Malcolm to come forward and persuade you. It’s Malcolm who sees through all of your gimmicks – you thought you could bribe them with candy? Hah! It’ll take

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Teaching Executive Functioning with Escape Rooms

Have you been told you should be teaching executive functioning? Is this a totally overwhelming proposition? Where do you even start? Let’s break it down.       Teaching Executive Functioning   Executive Functioning is the complex way the brain ‘works’. We use these skills to make decisions, choices, and plans. When we use strong executive functioning, we work smarter. We can delay gratification when working towards a goal, plan for the future, and avoid feeling stuck when our plan hits a snag. A lack of executive function skills leads to impulsive/reckless behavior, poor planning/time management, and an inability to stick with a task from start to finish.    Sound familiar? Of course, it’s normal human behavior to be occasionally careless with our time, or to make a rash decision. But if students are struggling

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Wicked Fox & more: Asian American author spotlight

Asian American YA Authors and Protags

sHow many Asian American YA novels do you have in your classroom library? We recently read Wicked Fox, a new YA urban fantasy by Kat Cho, and we wanted to collect some of our favorite Asian American YA authors and protags to share.     According to a study done by Creative Commons, only 7% of children’s and YA books released in 2018 have characters from Asian backgrounds. This demographic is being hugely underrepresented in publishing, and that’s why today we want to spotlight some #ownvoices stories.    Asian American YA Novels for Middle School:    Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen Pilu of the Woods is a graphic novel following an episode in Willow’s life after the death of her mother. After Willow gets in a fight with her sister, she runs

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TED Talks for Young Writers

Have you ever used videos to inspire your students to write? Here are some TED talks for young writers you’ll be able to use at different moments in your curriculum. As I‘ve mentioned before on this blog, I love the Writer‘s Workshop model! Each day includes a focusing mini-lesson, time to write and ponder, and time to share or conference. Videos can be an excellent opportunity for students to choose a concept they’ll focus on in their writing that day. If you enjoy using short texts, like TED Talks, I also 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. TED Talks for Young Writers Nnedi Okorafor – Sci-fi stories that

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Teaching Social Justice with Literature Circles

We read a lot of books with social issues for the YA Cafe Podcast, and I feature a lot of these books on my own Instagram. Because of this, teachers often ask me for resources for teaching social justice books. Today, I want to share some specific resources for teaching social justice literature circles.     Literature circles are classroom book clubs that give students a chance to read a selected novel with a small group of their peers. You can set this up several ways, but I typically choose enough books so that there are 4-5 readers per group. I have students meet twice per week over four weeks. Students make a reading schedule during their first group meeting and they generate focus questions for their reading. I like to have group presentations at the

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LGBTQ+ YA Novels for Pride Month

PRIDE month is almost here! Woo-hoo! In celebration, here are 21 diverse LGBTQ+ YA novels for your high school classroom library, broken down by genre. Building your classroom library to represent more voices is a great way to build empathy, teach peace, and draw in all of your students. Creating an inclusive classroom library filled with LGBTQ+ YA novels is one small way you can make your LBGTQ+ students feel safe. I have some other tips for creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ students in this post on the Secondary ELA Coffee Shop. I also have recommendations for short texts by LGBTQ+ authors, LGBTQ+ books for middle-grade students, and YA/MG books featuring trans and non-binary protagonists. Contemporary LGBTQ+ YA Novels The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding In The Summer of Jordi Perez, Abby scores

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Adding Physical Locks to Escape Rooms

Classroom Escape Rooms are collaborative games that make engaging review activities for students! Students work together to solve puzzles in order to be the first to “escape”. I’ve written a lot about using Escape Rooms in ELA before, and today I want to focus on just one aspect: adding physical locks to Escape Rooms.     Many teachers love the idea of adding physical locks to Escape Rooms, but don’t know where to start. There are kits out there, but they can be expensive. Moreover, if you purchase an Escape Room on TpT that wasn’t made to use physical locks, what do you do? So, let’s break this down.     Escape Rooms don’t require physical locks. I have designed all of my classroom escape rooms for use without physical locks. This is because locks

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Teaching the Great Gatsby: Building Background

Teaching The Great Gatsby can be transportive and engaging. Students explore a whole new era (Flappers! Jazz! Speakeasies!) while still making modern-day connections. To get the full impact of this American classic, however, students need to situate it within its historical context.     Building Context: The Post-War Era   Before teaching The Great Gatsby and the quirks of the 1920s, you should share context with students for the American spirit right after World War I. in 1917, we were reeling! Depending on how your school sets up your history curriculum, students may already be familiar with this. Activating prior knowledge creates a bridge between their history class and your novel unit.   4-Corners Brainstorming   Separate students into four groups. Give each group one of the following questions. What are possible difficulties faced by

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Pilu of the Woods (and Trauma-Informed Teaching)

Author H.D. Hunter joins Danielle for a discussion of Trauma-Informed Teaching and YA books that touch on grief, like Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen. (Transcript)   In today’s episode… Pilu of the Woods is a graphic novel following an episode in Willow’s life after the death of her mother. After Willow gets in a fight with her sister, she runs away to the woods to calm down. She meets Pilu, a young tree spirit who feels her mother doesn’t love her. Can the two girls help each other find peace among turmoil?     These Show Notes use Amazon Affiliate Links for your convenience. If you decide to purchase this book, please consider doing so through our affiliate links. Your support makes this podcast possible.   Episode highlights… Today’s entire episode is

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Including Superheroes in American Literature

When I took American Literature as a high schooler in 2003, we read a range of texts from colonial accounts to Puritan sermons to stories from the Great Depression. Even as a future English teacher, I hated the class. Where were our nation’s epics? I already viewed Huck Finn as passé and overrated, and The Grapes of Wrath never spoke to me. Where was our Beowulf? Our Odyssey?   Fast-forward a few years to my student-teaching in 2009, and the cinematic rise of superheroes had begun. DC had already launched a successful new Batman franchise with Christian Bale in the lead role, The Dark Knight breaking all kinds of box office records in the summer of 2008. Marvel had success with its first hit of the new age: Iron Man. Now, I could talk to

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10 Gifts for English Teachers

If you’re looking for a gift for Teacher Appreciation Week or for the beloved English teacher in your life, you’ve come to the right place! Here’s a list of ten gifts for English teachers. I’ve chosen a range of items in terms of price, size, and seriousness, so I know you’ll find what you’re looking for. Enjoy!       1. Emoji Stamps How cute are these stamps? These are the sort of gift I LOVE because they are fun AND practical. A teacher could use these to quickly assess bellringers or journal entries, and maybe use a different stamp each day. These could also be used to code certain happenings in a planner or on a calendar. Love them!       This blog uses Amazon Affiliate Links for your convenience. If you decide

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7 Ideas for Effectively Teaching Women’s History & LGBTQ+ Rights in the Classroom

Whether you are looking for teaching tips for Women’s History Month, Pride Month, or just a regular inclusive Tuesday in your classroom, we’ve got resources and suggestions to keep your classroom thriving! Teaching Women’s History When we arrive at March, we finally talk about teaching Women’s History. Even though it’s something we should integrate all year long (like Black History!), we rush to gather lesson plans in the busiest month of the year. Well, here are ideas you can use year-round to get your students talking and thinking. Honestly, I used to wonder what the point was in teaching Women’s History. Didn’t my students understand the accomplishments that women have made and the obstacles they still face? Teaching women’s history out of a sense of celebration of the past is one thing, but there’s much more

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Teaching Shakespeare: a Conversation with David Rickert

I love teaching Shakespeare, and I LOVE discovering new and innovative ways to engage students in the material. I’ve talked before about teaching Shakespeare’s language or using abridged versions for in-class productions. I’ve even shared how my 9th graders put on a full production for the middle school! Today, I’m so excited to share about one more way I get my students’ total buy-in – Shakespeare comics! – AND share a conversation with the comics’ creator, David Rickert.   If you don’t know David yet, you are in for a treat! He’s an amazing artist with a keen sense of humor, and he has over twenty years of classroom experience. He’s also a kind and generous guy! We decided to swap some tips for teaching Shakespeare, so let’s get started.     David’s Work  

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Teaching Argumentative Writing with Adam Ruins Everything

So, you’re teaching argumentative writing again, and you’re looking for something to spice up your unit. I have been there! And I have an idea to share!   Even though they LOVE to argue, teens aren’t always excited to write it down. Their eyes glaze over when you say the word “rhetoric”. I’ve talked before about teaching media literacy and even linked to my free Rhetoric Sketch & Learn activity, but what happens after that?     Students learn in all sorts of different ways, and one of those ways is visually. A visual lesson can help students see how to craft their argument and moreover, how they can integrate research into a meaningful product.   What about integrating some pop culture? I’ve talked before about using TV in the ELA classroom, and this is

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15 YA Books about Sports

When I say that I give my students time for independent reading or that I believe there’s a book for every kid, people invariably ask me for a list of books about sports. Well, here it is, folks! Here are 15 YA books about sports to engage your most reluctant readers!     1. Swing by Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess (2018) – Basketball Noah and his best friend Walt, aka Swing, plan to make their junior year the best year of their lives. Noah hopes to make the basketball team and maybe, finally!, express his feelings for his childhood friend, Sam. In the midst of their personal dramas, someone has been planting American flags around town and no knows who or why. Then, after witnessing a divisive event in a community they’ve always

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Poetry Escape Room grades 4-6

Poetry Escape Room for 4th-6th grades

I’ve talked before about using teaching with puzzles and games and using Escape Rooms in ELA, but I thought I’d address using escape rooms in upper elementary. Our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders can definitely benefit from collaboration and critical thinking, which is why I made a Poetry Escape Room for that level. Check it out: Some things you’ll notice: *There’s a variety of skills tested. This means some “easy wins” for reluctant readers or struggling learners. *Each task is valued in the final Secret Message. This means that students can “divide and conquer” the different tasks and everyone will still have their contributions valued. *A variety of poems are used. This means that you can always spiral learning by revisiting the entire poem later on in the school year. Students can also keep their

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How to navigate the big 3: grief in the classroom, teaching about immigration, & anti-racism affirmations

Grief in the classroom Teaching about immigration Anti-racism in Secondary ELA Grief in the classroom I am not a counselor, but I’m a survivor of tragedy and I’m here today to get very real with you. This post will cover:💛 dealing with loss in a student’s family, 💛 what to do if a student in your school or community dies, 💛 and how to deal with grief in your own life and still be a leader in the classroom. So, let me say this again: I am not a counselor, but I’m going to approach this from the perspective of someone who lost several immediate family members and friends while in school, as well as someone who has lost students. It’s going to be sad at times, but remember that my goal in sharing all of

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Powerful Picture Analysis Teaching Strategy to Build Text Connections

If your students struggle making deep connections to a text, look no further than this picture analysis teaching strategy. Students analyze each photo as a text. You’ll provide students with necessary domain vocabulary and principles, but they’ll learn to trust their intuition and develop confidence as analysts. Why Photo Analysis? Photo Analysis is a great introduction to analyzing a wider range of texts. Its visual nature pulls your visual learners into the game. Just as students analyze literature for conscientious choices made by authors, they approach each photograph with an eye for conscientious choices made by the photographer. And honestly, I advocate for integrating even more types of text into your curriculum! While we’re here, here are 15 Songs and 15 TV Episodes to Use in ELA. Three Steps to this Picture Analysis Teaching Strategy

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7 Science Fiction Poems for Secondary ELA

Using science fiction poems (or speculative poems) in the classroom can be a great way for students to build a deeper understanding of the genre. Students often have a very narrow understanding of science fiction (limiting it to perhaps one or two television shows or movies), and we can help them extend this. Additionally, this particular genre will show students that poetry isn’t some dusty art form relegated to Shakespeare or Byron. This post includes Amazon Affiliate links. Any revenue that Amazon shares with me will be used for the upkeep of this site. 🙂 Here are some science fiction poems I love using in my secondary ELA class. 1. “Six Haiku” by Karen Anderson The white vapor trail   Scrawls slowly on the sky      Without any squeak. I love Haiku for their brevity, and Karen

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Real-Life Utopias to Share in the Classroom cov

Teaching The Giver with Real Utopian Societies

Teaching The Giver. The Hunger Games. Matched. Unwind. Feed. Teaching dystopian literature can be a great way to expose students to types of government and societal control. Dystopian novels often begin with something that seems like a utopia, though. Everything seems great before the protagonist sees the strings that control the system. In The Giver, utopian society seems great until Jonas realizes what’s being kept from the community and at what cost. Feed seems like technology for everyone until we meet a character who doesn’t have access. The Hunger Games is obviously terrible right off the bat, so this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but to have dystopian, you must first consider what utopian looks like. When my 8th graders read The Giver, utopian society becomes an excellent research topic for secondary ELA students to research

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5 Fun & Resourceful Tips for Teaching Shakespeare’s Language including Thou & You

Help students understand and engage with Shakespeare’s Language with these activities on vocabulary, grammar, and rhythm. 1. Thou & You: Rank and Emotion My students know well in advance that I love teaching Shakespeare and drama, so they’re a little surprised when they confront Shakespeare’s language. They always assume I’m some sort of super genius if I can possibly understand that. Who could possibly understand all of those thous and wherefores and yons? Well, I’m not a super genius, but I can teach my students a few tricks to help them feel like geniuses. One of the most important aspects of teaching Shakespeare’s language is helping students understand the meaning of thou and you. Analyzing the use of pronouns in a play can tell students a great deal about the status of characters and about

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How to Get Books for Your Classroom Library for FREE

Build a Classroom Library with FREE Books! Want to know how to get books for your classroom for FREE? If you want to add new releases to your classroom library without breaking the bank, you’ve come to the right place. It can be a challenge keeping up with new books and is it really worth investing in titles before you even know if your students will like them? In this post, I’ll share how to get books for your classroom library for FREE. How to get Books for Your Classroom for FREE For two years I co-hosted the YA Café Podcast, a weekly roundtable discussion of new books. Since we released our episodes the Thursday after the books are published, it’s obvious that we weren’t reading at super-speed and producing an episode in two days. Nope! Our

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15 YA Thrillers for the Classroom Library

YATeens love YA thrillers, and I’m constantly getting asked for recommendations of good young adult books with suspense, mystery, and light horror.   Here are some diverse YA thrillers that you might consider adding to your high school classroom library. As always, please preview these titles for yourself because what flies in my school may not fly in yours. I’ve made an effort to include titles highlighting diverse characters, authors, and stories. Please let me know your additional recommendations in comments. 🙂   Happy reading!   This post uses Amazon Affiliate Links for your convenience. If you decide to purchase this book, please consider doing so through our affiliate links. Your support makes this blog possible.   *As I Descended – Robin Talley This is a Macbeth retelling y’all, and I LOVE it. We have power

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If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales

  We take a look at online shaming and Leila Sales’ new novel, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say. Join us this week on the YA Cafe. (transcript)   In today’s episode…   In Leila Sales’ newest novel, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, Winter Halperin gets caught up in a storm of online shaming after she posts a racist comment about the winner of the National Spelling Bee. She tries to defend herself, tries to apologize, claims she can’t be racist because she “has black friends”… it’s a whole thing. But when her college acceptance is rescinded and her future put on hold, she is forced to reckon with her actions. These Show Notes use Amazon Affiliate Links for your convenience. If you decide to purchase this book, please consider

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