As the school year comes to a close, you might be looking at your calendar thinking, what on earth am I going to do with these random extra days? Or maybe you have room on your calendar for a final unit, but no idea what to do with your students. I’ve got your solution right here! Here is a roundup of 13 ideas for ELA mini-units and lessons that can effectively and meaningfully fill between 3-5 days at the end of the year.
The word CENTO means “patchwork”. The goal of a cento poem is to pull together lines and phrases from the writers and world around you and arrange them in a meaningful way to create something new. If scraps of fabric can form a brand new object (a quilt), then so can language form a brand new poem. And that’s what I love to teach my high school students.
I love this poem. I love the imagery, the title, the metaphor, but most of all, I love how teachable it is. The poem has a great deal of mystery and room for debatable discussions about author’s intent, but it’s also accessible to students who might feel intimidated by poetry - or even just intimidated by language.
That was the goal I had in mind while making this list: I wanted to find poems that were challenging and worth discussing in class, but also poems that could be tackled by students in one or two class periods. As a guide, I used The Big Six as my foundational analysis tool . If you’ve never used it, get on board!
No matter whether you love or loathe the long novel you teach, the same struggles pop up every time we come around to teaching it year after year. For me, it’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a 400 page monster! It’s fun dawdling around with setting and making maps of Maycomb and then rolling through Boo Radley anecdotes. Before we know it, August has turned into December. I’m kidding, of course, but time truly does have a way of slipping away as we work through a long text. And there’s nothing worse for kids than dragging out a book for too long! Here are my best suggestions for getting through your version of my Mockingbird.
Over a decade of teaching, I feel like I’ve heard it all! This year, however, I feel like I’ve found a new and sustainable way of reframing how I look at annotation. Yes, it does involve some tech, but don’t be intimidated! It’s a low-tech approach and works on multiple devices.
After teaching for ten years and then switching schools, I was very quickly reminded of how much work goes into writing curriculum from scratch. For a long time, I was in a happy place of continual revision of curriculum that I liked, but was tweaking here and there for relevance, rigor, and for fun.
Now? It’s the Wild West. It’s intergalactic chaos. It’s constant guessing and unpredictability. All that aside, however, it’s also invigorating and exciting. I would call myself “a curriculum person” because this kind of blank slate challenges me in a way that sparks joy in my life, despite the chaos, so I’d like to share with you how to most easily navigate through a first attempt at writing and implementing a new curriculum for a new novel in your secondary ELA classroom.
Teacher burnout is a real thing. Exhaustion from the myriad demands placed on our shoulders year in and year out can make anyone question why on earth they started in this profession in the first place.
As a teacher in the US, the winter break gives me a chance to reevaluate my “why” in teaching. Why do it? Why work so hard? Why work to the point of burnout every single year? When there’s actually time to slow down and remember the answer to that question, the answer is so simple - why? Because I love watching kids learn. That’s it. It’s that simple. And when does burnout start to feel so painful? It’s when the job has become something other than dedicating time to helping students learn and experience new things.
Whether I’m starting a brand new school year, returning after winter break, or even just starting a new quarter, there’s always this itch in my gut that tells me to take a breather on those first few days together to regroup and reset our classroom culture and community. It’s vitally important to take the temperature of your classroom - has it been feeling toxic lately? Are students there to be the best versions of themselves? Are we having fun but not working hard? Are we working really hard and don’t know each other at all?
To celebrate the end of another wonderful year and the countdown to our winter breaks (in the US, that is!) twenty four talented, creative English teachers have come together on Instagram with ideas, handouts, strategies, games, and more to inspire your teaching spirit. These ideas are ready for English teachers around the world to be reinvigorated by and launch them into a fabulous 2019.
When I first started teaching, I remember trying so many different ideas all the time in my classroom. It was exhausting running a new small group scenario or differentiation strategy several times per week, and over my many years of teaching, I’ve come to master a handful of strategies that are versatile and work EVERY time (at least NOW they do!). For me, learning stations are the way to go. I’d say at least once a week, I have my students engaging with content through a learning stations setup and I love it.
Writing the claim. It’s the sentence we hype up, the “one sentence that holds the WHOLE PAPER TOGETHER!!!” No pressure, right?
Well the truth is, there IS a lot of pressure to get this sentence right and a lot of pressure on us to help students write them. My kids want a formula, which I give them, but only as a starting point. The strongest claims exist beyond the “three pronged claim” formula and getting kids to write better statements organically is a seemingly insurmountable task.
It took me a long time to prioritize and understand how important self-care is as a teacher. For the first eight years of my career I burned through hours of grading, planning, rearranging, and constantly making myself available to students. Those eight years were rewarding and I sure learned a lot about my profession, but I also felt (and still feel) the physical and mental health consequences of making y life 100% dedicated to teaching.
Long gone are the days that I stand in front of my class before the start of a novel and go through a three day powerpoint slide. Ten years ago, that was best practice for so many of us. They were lessons I looked forward to, but I fear it’s because I loved being center stage. The trouble with that? Planning lessons so highly teacher-centered just isn’t the way to go! We can do better and I have six solutions today that you can try.
Starting in a new school next year had me all amped up to dig in hard to my classroom decor, but I was able to take a big, deep breath, and focus on what classroom DESIGN really means. It means functionality. It means positive behavior. It means creating a space where my students can learn and be their best selves. What it DOESN’T mean is splurging for every adorable Dollar Spot or “hot steal” that I find while endlessly shopping this summer.
So I set a budget. $100. 24 hours. I resolved to spend my time and hard earned money on my family this summer and not get out of control with projects and cash for my classroom. It’s tempting to think I have to do ALL THE THINGS with a brand, spanking (institutional-looking) new classroom this year, but I don’t have to do that. And neither do you