3 Things I Learned This Summer and How They Will Make Me a Better Teacher

For many of us, the upcoming school year is quickly approaching! As my summer closes, I have been gearing up for this fresh start. Shopping through Target, pouring over Pinterest, adding ideas to my Pinterest boards, creating new educational resources, and reconnecting with colleagues all help when transferring back into the teacher life!

Over Summer, I reflected in many ways. Learning to relax and remember why I love teaching so much. In addition, I revitalized how to be happy. Putting yourself first and ensuring your happiness reflects your teaching are all thoughts I worked on during vacation. I am so thankful I had this time to recover, but so excited for what lies ahead! After all, happy teachers have happy students.

To prepare for the year, I have thought about what changes I want to make. Color schemes, classroom setup, classroom rules and management, and overall colleague relationships! Noting what I wasn’t pleased with last year helps this process tremendously. With my last two weeks of vacation, I plan to investigate and research what might work best for my upcoming assignment. I also intend to expand my relations with colleagues. Not only do they offer great recommendations and ideas, they offer irreplaceable friendships inside and outside the workplace! Through all of my reflection, there are three things I’ve learned that will help me become a better teacher.

As I finish up this last stretch of my summer vacation, here are three things that I’ve learned:

  1. I know exactly what I want to improve this year for my new students. I want to work on providing more meaningful feedback to my students. To do this, I am going to grade less often...but when I grade, it will be with meaningful feedback that will help my students learn.
  2. I want to utilize my prep time more efficiently. Last school year some teachers commented on my Instagram page that they schedule out their prep time. I totally plan on doing that this new year. Two days will be for grading, two days will be for planning, and one day will be for classroom prep. I really feel this will help with time-management.
  3. It is okay to not have a picture-perfect classroom on the first day of school. This is one that I keep telling myself. I am less than three weeks away from having students in my room, and I have yet been able to step inside my new classroom. Decorating my room will be a work-in-progress, and that is perfectly okay. In fact, I am kind of excited to have my students help in the process.

5 Simple Steps to Teach Text Annotation in the Secondary Classroom

Teaching students how to annotate text can be an intimidating task. Likewise, for our students, annotating text can be equally as daunting, especially if they don’t have a process of their own that works or steps to follow.
When I teach my students how to annotate text, I use these simple steps to break down the process into a manageable task for my students. There are also a variety of strategies that I use when I teach and model students how to annotate text.
5 simple steps to teach students how to annotate text
Step 1: Preview the Text
Before I have my students annotate text, I want them to get an overall feel for the text. I have them look at and read headlines, subheads, pictures, captions, headings, graphs, and pull-out quotes.
Step 2: Read a Small Section of Text
Since close reading and text annotation can be a daunting task, I have my students only focus on a small portion of it at a time. This makes the task less intimidating for students. It also enables them to focus more closely on a section of text rather than get lost in the entirety of the text.
Step 3: Annotate the Section You Read
Once they’ve read the small section, I provide my students with (or encourage them to) go back and annotate the section they’ve just read. As they become more confident in their close reading and text annotation skills, students will incorporate steps 2 and 3 together, but as they are learning and practicing the skill, I’ve found that students annotate more thoroughly when they read and then annotate.
Step 4: Review Your Annotations
It is essential to have students go back and review their annotations. This reinforces the process that the students are completing, as well as gives them an opportunity to review their annotations and margin notes so that they gain a better understanding of the text.
Step 5: Repeat Steps 2-4
As students work through the text, they will complete steps 2-4 until they finish annotating the entire document.

While annotating all different types of text generally follows these steps, there are a few different things that I do when I teach my students how to annotate fiction, annotate non fiction, and annotate poetry. I’ve included all of these lessons and resources in an Annotating Made Simple Bundle.

Teachers and Summertime

At this point in summer, we teachers have recovered from our previous school year, but don’t quite have to worry about the upcoming year. For some of us it is still two months away, and for others we still have about a month remaining. Personally, I find this is the best time to set new goals! I want to walk you through mine, and light the fire so you can find yours.

  1. Find what makes me unhappy. You may find this is a weird place to start, and maybe it is! However, I know I’ll never leave unhappiness behind until I know what drives it! For me, unhappiness begin when I feel I lose control. Whether that means in my health, my social schedule, or in the classroom, I need to be in the driver’s seat. As a goal for my upcoming year, I’m going to work improving my relationships with my students, as well as challenging them throughout the year.

  1. Find what makes me happy! From big things to little things, they all make a difference. It could be going on a weekend getaway or just going on an evening walk. Any time I am able to disconnect and find my own space I am feeding my happiness. Looking forward, I want to implement time for happiness for myself and my students. Sometimes this presents itself as a time away from all electronics just enjoying my surroundings.

  1. Find what inspires me! As often as Pinterest gives me new ideas, I love finding new forms of inspiration. I have quite a few different Pinterest boards that are filled with many different back-to school ideas and resources. I strive to find more and new resources around me. I plan to discuss with and learn from my fellow teachers. Asking questions and trying new things within my classroom will relight my inspiration fire. Finally, I hope to learn from my students and let their creativity blossom in the upcoming year!
These are my summer goals! Yours may be different, and I would love to hear about them and your plan to tackle them. Keep enjoying your summer and looking forward to the upcoming year!

Strategies for Teaching Text Annotation

Strategies for Teaching Text Annotation
One of the first lessons I teach every single year, regardless of the grade-level I am teaching, is how to closely read and annotate a text. Because I feel this is such a valuable skill for students, I carve out a week of my instruction in the beginning of the school year to help my students get more comfortable with annotating text.
When I teach my students how to annotate text, I use a step-by-step PowerPoint presentation that breaks down the annotation process into five simple steps and provides examples for my students. I also provide them with guides and bookmarks to use as references as they annotate. I even encourage my students to keep these documents for their entire high school careers.

There are three invaluable strategies to help students gain confidence in their text annotating skills.

The first strategy I use for teaching and practicing text annotation is that I have my students share and compare their annotations and margin notes with their table-mates. This not only gives them additional insight on how they can annotate, but it also helps to build their confidence when they notice that they have similar notes and markings as their peers.
Strategies for Teaching Text Annotation

Strategies for Teaching Text Annotation

Another strategy I use is direct modeling. I model my own thought-process as I think aloud and annotate text with the document camera. I will set up a piece of paper, grab my annotation supplies (post-it notes, highlighters, pens, etc.), and think aloud as I annotate in front of the classroom.

A final way I like to reinforce my students’ annotation skills is by completing an annotation gallery walk. I will print out text with large font and place it throughout the room. My students will be placed in groups and each group will have 5-7 minutes to read the text, review the existing annotations, and add their own annotations to the chart. This is a great way to get students up and moving while working productively.

Some text that and classroom resources that work very well with these strategies include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and even various close reading passages from short stories.

Winding Down the School Year

Winding down after the school year. Three things teachers can do in the summer.
Congratulations, Teachers! Summer is upon us, and we’ve survived 180 days of craziness. Now what? If you’re anything like me, you cannot and will not sit around all summer. Sure, you say you will. And you certainly will try, but after about a week you might find yourself going a bit stir crazy. Here are three different productive activities you can enjoy right now!

  1. Reflect. How did your year go? What did you love? What could you do without? How would you like next year to go? Start journaling! Reflect on your experiences and brainstorm your upcoming school year. Bringing your ideas to life will substantially assist you when going back to school. I challenge you to keep an ongoing journal entry to think about what you want your classroom and curriculum to look like in the upcoming school year!
  2. Research. Changing your lesson plans is intimidating once you find your comfort zone. Use this time to broaden your horizon, hello Pinterest! I have quite a few different boards for your viewing pleasure. You can also read new novels, test new experiments, and practice new activities! The more fun you find for your future students, the more positive your year is likely to be. If you are in the planning mood, I have some great back-to-school resources available in my store. I also wrote a blog post about my curriculum for the first six weeks of the school year.
  3. RELAX! You deserve it. How do you relax best? Find a new way to do it. Look at your local businesses for summer deals and always ask about teacher discounts! Use your time off to treat yourself and find a new hobby! As for me, I am going to relax by hiking the local hills!
Winding down after the school year. Three things teachers can do in the summer.

These aren’t your typical ‘R’’s, but teaching isn’t a typical career! We are so lucky to do what we do, I hope you all can find some time for yourself this summer!  

Winding down after the school year. Three things teachers can do in the summer.

5 EdTech Sites Every English Teacher Should Use

5 EdTech Sites that Every English Teacher Should Use
As more and more schools integrate technology into the classroom, the need for high-quality, effective EdTech sites increases. Last year I taught my first year in a 1:1 classroom; every student had access to a Chromebook. It was wonderful. Between using several of my SMARTePlans digital lessons for Google Drive and various EdTech sites, teaching in a 1:1 classroom significantly reduced the amount of paper I used in the classroom.

However, teachers do not need to teach in a 1:1 classroom to use SMARTePlans resources or implement these EdTech sites into their classroom. In fact, I utilized the computer lab and assigned a few activities, including my Research Paper Writing Unit and my Character Analysis Interactive Notebook, and used a couple of these sites before transitioning to a 1:1 classroom.

Whether you are teaching in a 1:1 classroom or if you are only able to get into the computer lab once in a while, here is my list of the top 5 EdTech sites for secondary English teachers.

1. Turnitin.com
I cannot emphasize how much I love Turnitin.com. I use it for every major piece of writing that I have my students submit. Turnitin.com is a plagiarism checker. Students submit their papers to the site, and it automatically crawls over each student’s paper while scanning for evidence of plagiarism. It even checks for plagiarism within your class. However, I don’t only use Turnitin.com for its plagiarism-checking abilities. I also use it as a teaching tool. I have my students upload their first drafts on the site, and then they can check their originality reports to see how they can improve their papers. Turnitin.com also has a peer review function that provides students with a way to electronically peer edit papers.

For writing instruction, check out my Ultimate Writing Bundle. It is filled with many different writing lessons and assignments.

2. Vocabulary.com
Before I started using Vocabulary.com in my classroom, I dreaded incorporating vocabulary into my curriculum. Sure I included it with each major piece of reading I introduced, but it was always a hassle. Vocabulary.com takes that all away. With a subscription, I can easily assign my students a vocabulary list, and then they complete the vocabulary work online. With their vocabulary.com accounts, students complete authentic exercises online that help them with comprehension, spelling, and usage. It’s amazing. If your school or district can’t splurge for the license, there is a free trial that allows one teacher and three students to use the site. To try it out, you could project the practice questions on your board, and have students work individually, in pairs, or in teams to complete the practice questions.

For vocabulary instruction, check out my Academic Vocabulary Bundle. It is filled with ELA-specific academic words every student should know!

3. NoRedInk.com
Implementing grammar into your middle school or high school English class is a breeze with NoRedInk.com. With free and paid subscriptions available, this EdTech site provides students with grammar lessons that are geared toward them. When students create their accounts, they fill out an interest survey, and then the grammar questions and practice sentences are focused around their interests!

For additional grammar lessons, assignments, and activities, check out my Mega Grammar Bundle. It is filled with grammar instruction for the entire year!

4. Listenwise.com
With listening comprehension apart of high-stakes state testing, Listenwise.com is a great site that provides teachers with audio content. I use Listenwise.com to incorporate audio nonfiction into my classroom. Each Listenwise audio file has discussion questions that students can answer. With a free account, teachers can access the online content, play the file aloud for the students, and project the questions at the end. In my classroom, I have the students answer the questions in small groups and then share their answers aloud. This site is great for standardized test prep!

My Paraphrasing, Quoting, and Summarizing teaching resource pairs perfectly with Listenwise.org. This resource includes graphic organizers and writing assignments that can be used with any text.

5. Commonlit.org
I cannot tell you how much I love using CommonLit.org in my classroom. It is amazing, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you are certainly missing out. With my free CommonLit.org account, I can browse content and text sets by subject and grade level; assign texts with guided reading questions, multiple-choice questions, and written-response questions to my students; easily see which multiple-choice questions my students answered correctly or incorrectly; and easily grade the written responses on one screen. I use CommonLit.org with my students quite because the questions are aligned with the common core standards, and the questions require that students use textual support for their answers.  

These EdTech sites not only help me reduce the amount of paper I use in the classroom, but they also cut down on some of my grading time. What is your favorite EdTech site to use in your classroom?
5 EdTech Sites that Every English Teacher Should Use

Adding Creativity and Rigor to Poetry Units with Universal Theme Analysis Projects

Beginning a poetry unit can be intimidating for both teachers and students alike, but it does not have to be something to dread. Poetry offers so much freedom in the classroom: freedom for teachers to incorporate project-based learning into the classroom, and freedom for students to explore new avenues to express themselves. After I introduce poetry to my students with a quick annotation lesson that teaches them how to read and annotate poetry, I move onto fun and creative activities like blackout poetry, blank verse projects, and theme analysis projects.

One project-based learning assignment that I love to incorporate in my poetry unit is a universal theme poetry analysis project. This project is a great end-of-unit-project assesses student understanding while giving students an opportunity to explore universal themes that interest them. One of the great things about this project is that it can easily be tailored to fit a wide variety of grade levels. Students in upper-elementary students and Advanced Placement high school seniors can complete this project. For younger students, simply assign fewer poetic devices that are grade-level appropriate.

For a universal theme poetry analysis project, students work either individually or in small groups. They will select a universal theme (can be researched, assigned, or chosen from a list), and then find, cite, and explain examples of various poetic devices and techniques within poems that fit the theme they’ve chosen. To complete the project, students will then prepare a visual presentation that represents the theme they’ve chosen and all of their examples, citations, and explanations.

This project takes quite a bit of time, and students should be given some class time as well as adequate time outside of the classroom to complete this project. Typically, I assign this project at the beginning of the poetry unit once I’ve taught and reviewed various poetic devices so that they have a good understanding of poetry. You can download this assignment, a list of universal themes, and a comprehensive list of poetic devices HERE.

Here are more student examples of this project. While the directions call for the universal theme to be placed in the center, students can also get creative. In fact, the more they make this project their own the better!

End of the Year Activities for the Secondary Classroom

End of the year activities and ideas for middle school and high school students.
After the end of a long and productive school year, I like to take some time to celebrate with my class. Throughout the year we’ve been through a lot. They tackled an entire curriculum, wrote countless essays, conducted research for a variety of research projects and papers, analyzed thousands and thousands of words, and did so all without complaining. Okay, so that last piece might be a stretch, but I won’t hold it against them. The end of the year is a time to celebrate my students and all of their accomplishments.

End of the year activities and ideas for middle school and high school students.
The end of the year is a great time to reflect on what they’ve learned. This year I incorporated growth mindset activities and growth mindset bell ringers into my instruction, and reflection is a big proponent of that. I recently created and posted an End of the Year Growth Mindset resource that is ideal for wrapping up the school year as you and your students reflect on their successes and failures from the year. This end of the year resource includes three different growth mindset writing prompts and graphic organizers to get students thinking about their successes and failures from the current school year, and how they can learn from their failures in the future.

Another great way to wrap up the school year is to write letters. Students can write thank you letters to teachers they’ve appreciated this year, and they can also write letters to their future selves or future students. These letter templates are available in my End of the Year Activities for the Secondary Classroom.
End of the year activities and ideas for middle school and high school students.

There are so many activities to choose from in this End of the Year Activities for the Secondary Classroom resource. From recalling their all-time top 10 moments from the school year, to reflecting on growth, to rewriting the end of one of their favorite stories they read in class, this resource will definitely keep students occupied (and entertained) at the end of the year. There is even a coloring page that you can give to students toward the end of the year if they finish work or an assignment early.
End of the year activities and ideas for middle school and high school students.

Another great way to end the school year is by having students fill out an end of the year student survey. These surveys are important to the teaching process because through students' anonymous and candid feedback, we learn how to improve our teaching practices.
End of the year activities and ideas for middle school and high school students.
The end of the school year is just around the corner. Be ready to share and celebrate this exciting time with your students. They will truly remember a remarkable end to a great year.

The Earth Friendly Classroom: Tips for Going Paperless

Your bank wants you to go paperless. You child's report card is paperless. Retailers want to email you receipts rather than printing them at the register. Your students want to use their mobile devices for everything. So what about your classroom? How are managing your teaching lessons? Are you paper or tech? Blended or 1:1? For ideas and tips about going digital, check out my blog post on Creating a Digital Classroom.

Whether you are all in for going paperless, you plan on it, or you just can't seem to head in the paperless direction, Earth Day is typically the time when we all think about our environment, energy, recycling, preserving our resources, and eliminating waste. That's where our English language arts blog link up comes in.

Using technology in your classroom will definitely cut down on your trips to the copy machine. Sharing an assignment with your students via a cloud storage system (Google Drive or One Drive), an educational app (Notability, MS OneNote, Edmodo) or a learning management system (Canvas, Google Classroom, Microsoft Classroom, Blackboard, Schoology) will allow you to explore auto-grading, self-calculating rubrics, opportunities for student collaboration, and increased student engagement. In my own classrooms, I use my SMARTePlans digital lessons with Google Classroom.

Paperless classroom facilitation is also very low-prep. Teachers are saving prep time by not photocopying or filing endless stacks of paper. Wouldn't all teachers love that? We've put together a collection of blog posts to give you some Earth Day inspiration for your upcoming lesson plans.

Generate Authentic Classroom Conversation with Google Forms

There’s nothing I love more than Google Forms. Okay, that’s not true. I love my husband, my children, and Bordeaux candies from See’s Chocolates way more more than I love Google Forms, but when it comes to generating authentic classroom discussion, Google Forms ranks supreme. I also love how using Google Forms in the classroom helps me save paper!

One way I use Google Forms in my classroom is for class review. If my students have an important test or quiz coming up, I’ll create a Google Form with multiple-choice, review questions. I’ll instruct my students to quickly complete the class review form, which is essentially a quiz in itself. (One of the benefits of this activity is that I get to see the real value that this review has by comparing students’ review scores to their actual quiz scores). Completing the review question Google Form is not the review though. In fact, I prefer if students complete the form quickly and choose the answer that they first think is correct. The real magic for this review begins when I project a summary of the answers on the overhead.

Right after students complete the form, they get to see the colorful charts and graphs that contain all of the data from every single student’s Form. Projecting these graphic on the overhead, I will then discuss with my students why some people answered the way they did (usually asking for evidence to support their answers) and why the correct answer is indeed the correct answer. This review strategy is amazing because not only does it prepare students for an upcoming test or quiz, but it models test-taking strategies for the students and generates a content-rich classroom discussion. Just look at the amazing graphics you can display in your classroom!

Another way I use Google Forms in my classroom is as a pre-reading anticipatory activity to survey my students and get them thinking about the various themes and issues we will read about in our next book. Before using Google Forms for this, I would use a single piece of paper for every single one of my students. And seeing as how I have roughly 150 students, that is a lot of wasted paper. However, saving paper isn’t even the best perk about using Forms for this type of activity. The most significant advantage Google Forms provides for a pre-reading anticipation activity is the ability display the students’ answers on the projector.

Once my students are done answering the anticipatory questions on Google Forms, I display the summary responses on the board. This provides students with the opportunity to see the class’ answers as a whole, which also leads to great classroom discussions. And since students can see that they might not be the only person who feels the way they do, they are much more open to sharing their ideas aloud. One of my pre-reading anticipation guides that generates some of the best classroom discussions is my SMARTePlans Night Pre-reading Anticipation Guide.

Sure, Google Forms is great because using Forms saves paper and it can serve as a self-grading quiz, but when taken to a deeper level, Google Forms provides students with data-rich, visually stimulating graphics that cultivate authentic classroom discussion. Students see all of the responses on the board, and instantly gain more confidence in their own thoughts and beliefs. Before they even volunteer to contribute, they know people will support their answers and opinions.

Read more about using Google Forms, using less paper in the classroom, and creating a digitally-supportive classroom in the classroom in these blog posts.