Teaching The Great Gatsby cov

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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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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15 Resources for Teaching about Immigration cover

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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Picture Analysis Teaching Strategy cover

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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How to Get Books for Your Classroom Library for FREE - An overhead shot of books standing up. There is pink and black text overlayed that says "How to Get Free Books for Your Classroom Library"

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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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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Creative Reading Cover

Creative Reading

Spark Imagination with Creative Reading We spend a LOT of time reading books and watching TV and movies in our household, and one game we love to play is “what if”. What if the ending had been different? The characters had had a stronger motivation? The main conflict had been more believable? This is what I call creative reading. Strong readers do this all the time. Passionate readers and viewers claim any story as their own and imagine the possibilities of twisting and molding characters to be more intriguing or more exciting or more heart-wrenching. It’s the joy after the ending. You may not have been the teen who wrote fan fiction, but you do this when you wonder what it would have been like if the girl hadn’t opened the basement door and gone down the stairs. Our

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Create a Winning Teaching Portfolio

Teachers, it’s that time of year again. You’ve been handed a piece of paper called an Intent Form and you must decide whether you want to return to your job next year or seek greener pastures. Or, if you’re a student teacher, you’re thinking about where you’ll teach in the fall. Either way, it’s time to dust off your Teaching Portfolio.     Last year, I wrote about teaching portfolios on the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog. The post is still as relevant as ever, so go give it a read.   Here are my biggest tips. A Teaching Portfolio should:   1. Showcase your philosophy. Every inch of your portfolio should show what you’re about. In addition to writing your actual philosophy, we sure that it shines through the lesson plans you choose to

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Tips for Teaching Shakespeare Cover

Tips for Teaching Shakespeare

Teaching Shakespeare: Tips & Tricks   Teaching Shakespeare can be a tricky prospect, but here are some tips to help you and your students get the most out of your unit. Students have very different reactions to Shakespeare based on their experiences and expectations. I want to advocate for teaching Shakespeare through performance, and I’ll be talking more about that in the next few weeks. Today, I want to talk about how to approach an unmarked script.     If you give students any script outside of their literature anthology (like a play from my Shakespeare in 30 collection, for example), it’s likely going to be unmarked. This means that there likely won’t be any direction for staging or voice. This is one of the joys and challenges of teaching Shakespeare: it’s so versatile! Here

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Shakespeare in 30

The Team Behind Shakespeare in 30

Introducing Danielle & Michelle, Shakespeare in 30 Creators   So, I recently worked with my friend Michelle to release a collection of plays to use in the ELA Classroom called Shakespeare in 30. Since we collaborated on this project, I thought I’d take the time to talk a bit about us and how we met. It’s weird for an introvert blogger to really talk about herself, versus talking about the thing she usually talks about, you know? But I figured I owed it to you to give you some background and let you know why we’re the experts we profess to be.   About Me   I developed a love of drama in middle school and cultivated my skills in high school in Oregon. I was lucky enough to attend a high school with a

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What can you do with five extra minutes in secondary ELA? Here are a few five-minute fillers for keeping your students focused until the bell. (blog post)

5-Minute Filler Activities for ELA

5-Minute Filler Activities for Secondary ELA Although I’m getting pretty good at gauging time in my classes, sometimes, I end up with five extra minutes. When this happens, it’s really important for me to already have filler activities for ELA ready to go, so that I don’t waste the time. Here are some examples of things that have led to needing filler activities:  *A fire drill disrupts class, and we return with only five minutes until the bell *Joey didn’t show up for his presentation slot, but no one else is ready to present today *We lost power, and can’t watch the video I’d planned on. What can you do with five minutes? Here’s a short list. Filler Activities for ELA that Build Skills Play an Improv Game Early in the year, I teach my

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Using television in the classroom can be a great way to engage students, while still teaching the standards. Here are 15 TV episodes to use in ELA to teach genre, narrative techniques, characterization, and much more. Blog post from

15 TV Episodes to Use in ELA

Plot, structure, characterization, allusions, foreshadowing… all of the things we work to teach our students are found in many different mediums. We’re in a Golden Age of quality television, and the English classroom is a great place to introduce students to television with real depth and literary value. Here are 15 TV episodes to use in ELA. Psst, hey you! I have a new blog post that features 15 MORE TV Episodes to Use in ELA, check it out 🙂 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. Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to episodes available on Amazon. Where applicable, I have pointed out the availability of

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Here are some of my favorite resources and ideas for teaching short stories in middle school and high school. Teaching short stories can be a great way to build student confidence and endurance with a number of skills. These texts span all genres and are hugely versatile – teach them as a unit or woven in with other texts throughout the year. (blog post)

Teaching Short Stories: Innovate & Engage

You gingerly lift a new arrival off the shelf and flip it open, trailing your finger across the printed page. You imagine yourself sipping an espresso as you thumb through the pages, savoring every plot point and befriending new characters. …and then someone hands you a worksheet. Did the bookstore fantasy crash down around you? Yeah, I thought so. If we really want to help students love reading, we need to stop crushing them with comprehension worksheets. There’s a time and a place for those, sure, but we can think of more innovative ways to ignite a love of reading. (Note: This post does not contain affiliate links. I trust these bloggers and collaborate with them regularly. This post does contain a few links to my products on TeachersPayTeachers.) Teaching Short Stories Teaching short stories

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Here are three tips for grading interactive notebooks quickly and easily, even in a high school ELA classroom. This blog post contains actionable steps you can take today, along with a freebie to focus your grading. (

Grading Interactive Notebooks

I love using Interactive Notebooks in high school and sharing this love with others. Still, the number one question that I get from teachers is how to manage grading Interactive Notebooks without letting it take over your life. I’m here today to tell you that it is possible, as long as you set yourself up for success. Here are some tips for making grading Interactive Notebooks easier and faster. Watch the video: Read about Planning Novel Units for Interactive Notebooks Decide when you’ll grade. I like to collect my notebooks at least once per unit, and twice if it’s a particularly intensive or long unit. I decided never to take Interactive Notebooks home, so that means I need to grade in class or at school sometime. The easiest time to grade is during a unit

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Using music in the secondary classroom is a great way to engage students, so here are some songs to use in ELA, and some ways to use them. (Blog post)

15 Songs to Use in ELA

Want to expose students to new songs, or make them think about old songs in a completely new way? Using music in the classroom is a great way to engage students, so here are some songs to use in ELA, and some ways to use them. I’m going to link to the YouTube videos of these songs for your convenience, but please know that I do not always show music videos in my class. Most of the time, students just listen to the music. Music videos can be distracting, and sometimes inappropriate. Does it go without saying to always preview songs & their videos for content before sharing them? (Just covering myself here, folks!) Also, if you are looking for ways to lessons to help students analyze short texts, like songs, short films, and more,

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Using Escape Rooms in ELA is a great way to promote collaboration, critical thinking, and engagement. Students work together on a variety of tasks to find the necessary keys to escape. Learn more about how to develop and set up a successful escape room for your students.

Using Escape Rooms in ELA

The clock is ticking down and you can’t find the blacklight clue that will lead you to the last key… your friends and family are tossing the drawers and papers again, desperately trying to find the six-digit code for a lock, and the seconds are disappearing fast. Finally, it all comes together, and you open the door with thirty seconds to spare! I’ve been obsessed with Escape Rooms ever since my family first tried one at Christmas, and I’ve been looking for ways to bring this experience to the ELA classroom ever since. Read on to find out how I make and use Escape Rooms in ELA, and how you can design your own. Game Speak An Escape Room or Breakout Box are two versions of a collaborative puzzle game. Players work through a series

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Free End of the Year Gifts for Secondary Students. (resource round-up at

Seasonal Teacher Tips & 13 Free End of Year Gifts for Students

I’ve teamed up with some amazing teachers to bring you 13 free end of year gifts for secondary students. Bonus! I’ve also dished out some seasonal teaching tips and gift ideas for teachers in this post. Check out all of the printables below and follow the links to get these resources free on TeachersPayTeachers. You can also check out these resources under the hashtag #EOYGiftsforBigKids! Free Student Gifts Teacher Gift Ideas Tips for Teaching Before Winter Break Summer Bucket List Ideas for Teachers Free Student Gifts Flip-Flop Cards for Middle and High School by The Reading and Writing Haven Want Five? Cards by B’s Book Love Playdough Printable by Language Arts Classroom Reward Bookmarks by The Daring English Teacher Bookworm Gift Tags by Musings from the Middle School Words of Wisdom Cards by The Creative Classroom Write On! EOY Cards by Doc Cop EOY Infographic by Lit with Lyns Cute Pencil Holders:

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Effective rubrics are clear and well-designed, and can help increase feedback to students and decrease grading time. Check out this blog post to figure out which rubric style works for you.

Rubrics 101: Improve Communication and Efficiency

I’ve talked before about why I stopped writing on student papers, but today I want to talk about an important tool I used to be able to do that: rubrics. A rubric is a grid that expresses your expectations for an assignment using concrete, achievable descriptors. The biggest time-saving device you can have in your classroom is a good rubric. Here’s why a rubric is important: *Clear expectations for students *Fair grading for teachers *Streamlined feedback Make a clear and concrete rubric for everything you do in your classroom, and give it to your students up front. Let them know how the points are going to shake down, and they will have more ownership over the grade they receive. Overview of Rubrics There are three main types of rubrics, so let’s quickly make sure we’re

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Poetry Speed-dating is a great way to hook students' interest in poetry. Plan a day to let them browse and enjoy poetry books. More information and recommendations at the blog post at

Poetry Speed-Dating

I love poetry, and I always want to share that love of poetry with students. Last year, I decided to add a new element to my poetry unit, Poetry Speed-dating. This simple activity allows students to explore some poetry in a low-stakes way. Set Up Poetry Speed-Dating The set-up is simple. Find a variety of poetry books and anthologies for students to browse. You can collect anthologies from the library, set up stations with access to various poetry websites you like, or have students bring in books of poetry from home. If students have a favorite poem from childhood (perhaps something from Where the Sidewalk Ends), this can be a wonderful place to start. Allow students to browse. It really is that simple. I remind students to write down the names of any poems or

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It can be challenging to keep students focused and engaged before the Winter Break, but these five tips will help you succeed! Save yourself stress and fatigue and check out these tricks today. Blog post includes a holiday gift freebie!

5 Tips for Teaching before Winter Break

Tips to Save Your Sanity Before Winter Break Teaching in the weeks leading up to Winter Break can be a challenge, you can save your sanity by following a few key tips. It can be hard to keep students’ attention before the holidays: they’re tired, we’re tired, and we all just want to push through. Plus, with various “treats” throughout the day, students have a constant sugar high and can’t seem to focus. Here are some tips to help focus your classroom during the last couple of weeks before Winter Break. Do Short, Creative Projects I’ve found that students find it a lot easier to focus on creative, collaboration-based tasks in the last couple of weeks before break. During this time, I give students small partner or group projects that take a day or two

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Using Interactive Notebooks to teach class novels can be rigorous and engaging, even for middle and high school. Here are some tips and tricks for setting up your novel units. Read more at

Teach a Class Novel with Interactive Notebooks

Do you love the idea of Interactive Notebooks but are unsure of how to use them to teach class novels? Stay tuned for my best tips and tricks for designing rigorous and engaging class novel units. I am a huge proponent of using Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs, INBs, INs) in high school. I love them for the ease of structuring a lesson, keeping everyone organized, and helping students create a yearlong learning tool. Once your students get onboard, it can even be a relaxing addition to your classroom since there can be some coloring or crafty elements. And whereas people find it easy to set up a spread for a single lesson, I often get asked how to set up an notebook for an entire class novel. Well, I’m here today to share my planning

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I finally nailed teaching symbolism to my students! Using candy was both efficient and engaging, and they kept referencing this lesson for the rest of the year. This strong foundation really helped their literary analysis skills.

Teaching Symbolism with Candy

I have been reflecting on my favorite lessons from the school year, and one of the most fun and effective was teaching symbolism with Tootsie Roll Pops! Not only were the students enthusiastic about eating the candy (because aren’t they always?), they really grasped the concept of analyzing a symbol. We were nearing Halloween and deep in our Short Stories unit, and I planned for my 9th graders to read “Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe. They had already told me in their journals that they didn’t “get” symbolism.  I wanted to help them learn to take apart symbols and analyze them based on concrete details before adding in the abstract traits and drawing a conclusion. Basically, I wanted to help them break down symbols and realize that there was a lot

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Interactive Notebooks for High School

Are you looking for ways to use Interactive Notebooks for high school English? When I was first faced with this possibility, I was super excited!, but had no idea where to start. I wasn’t sure if these would be the right tool for my 9th graders. I decided to start off the year with my normal Short Stories Unit, and slowly found ways to transform those lessons to ISN spreads. Over the course of the unit, I discovered that Interactive Notebooks gave me a great structure for planning lessons, a lot of scaffolding for my students, and very rigorous, focused practice of a new skill before they left me each day. Check out this 2 minute video to see how I set up Interactive Notebooks for high school English: Interactive Notebooks in ELA To make

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