There's a lot to be said about technology, cell phones in particular, in the classroom. On the one hand, students can use them as a learning tool -especially in schools that are not 1:1. On the other hand, cell phones are highly distracting and can impede learning if student use is not strictly enforced.
I've taught at two different schools, and each had a different policy.
My first school had a site-wide cell phone policy. Students were not to use their phones in class. If they did, teachers could confiscate the phone and turn it into the office. Students or parents would then pick up the device after school. It worked, somewhat. You see, it wasn't followed and enforced uniformly on campus. Some teachers allowed student cell phone use (not just for academic purposes), and other teachers did not. Since every single teacher wasn't on board, the policy wasn't effective.
Furthermore, students knew that if they put up enough of a fight, nothing would happen. For example, at my old school, I tried my best to follow the school policy consistently. One day, a student refused to hand over her phone. I explained that she was now acting defiantly as well. She still refused. I called security to have her escorted to the office. The student was escorted out of my classroom and taken to her counselor. (Yes, this is overkill, and this was in my earlier teaching days. I genuinely believe that such action is more disruptive to the classroom than a student being on their phone. This was one of those learning and reflective experiences for me). The student refused to give her phone to the counselor, to the assistant principal, and then she even refused to hand her phone over to the school resource officer -a Sheriff's Deputy!
Now, this was right around the time when a video went viral showing a school resource officer using excessive force against a teenage girl in the classroom for the same thing. Since my student did not allow our school's deputy to take the phone, she returned to class without any consequences whatsoever -with her phone in her hand.
School cell phone policies only work if they are uniformly enforced on campus. Teachers, administration, school support staff, and even parents have to be on board -and that is asking a lot.
My current school has a district-wide policy. According to the handbook, students are allowed to have phones on and in class, but they cannot use them for personal reasons (texting, social media, etc.). However, it is up to individual teachers to not only enforce that policy but also to police student cell phone use. Without consistent consequences across a school's campus, it is a losing battle. And in a way, we as an educational society should be teaching proper tech use rather than monitoring and policing cell phones in the classroom.
As a teacher, I've seen the detrimental effect cell phones have on students. I started my teaching career at a time when only a couple of students had phones, but data was much too expensive for them to use them in class. Now, students are less engaged, more likely to listen to music during instructional time, and have shorter attention spans. A lesson on proper semicolon usage simply cannot compete with the temptation of cell phones, alerts, notifications, group chats, social media, and YouTube. Adding to the negativity, cell phone use amongst students has also drastically increased cheating and copying, it can hinder student sleep, and student cell phone use can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. However, we needn’t dwell on the negatives.
I've also seen the value that cell phones can bring to education. Students who might not have access to computers at home can type and submit essays on their phones. Students can quickly look up some information and verify its validity. Furthermore, students can also use their cell phones to collaborate with their peers.
Cell phones can be a powerful education tool. However, students need to know when they should and should not be allowed to use their phones. Furthermore, schools need to enforce policies on campus so that teachers are supported uniformly, learning can take place, and students have a sense of consistency.
Classroom Cell Phone PoliciesA while back, I posted an Instagram story about student cell phone use, and I was overwhelmed by the responses I received. I shared my frustration with fellow educators. Some sympathized and related, and others offered great advice.
There are many ways to handle student cell phone use in the classroom. And while cell phones can be used for educational purposes, let's be real. Many students also check social media, post content, text, watch videos, and participate in group chats during class. With that said, I've outlined several classroom cell phone policies and practices to try in your classroom. This post contains affiliate links. While they are of no extra cost to you, I may receive a small kickback for referring you to these items.
Pocket ChartsOut of all of the cell phone solutions I've seen, the pocket chart is by far one of my most common solutions. At the beginning of class, students come in and place their cell phones in their designated space in the pocket chart.
Teaching high school, I can have up to 36 students in my classroom. That's why I love this pocket holder that is already numbered, and it has spaces for 36 phones!
Wooden Storage BoxAnother option is storing cell phones in a wooden box. One advantage the wooden box has over the hanging pocket organizer is that, if placed in a secure location, the box will not fall. Some teachers have a concern that the hanging pocket charts might be too heavy with the weight of 36 phones and fall. These wooden boxes, while a bit more expensive, solve that solution.
This wooden box is ideal for the high school classroom because it has 36 dedicated spaces for phones.
And while we are on the subject of storing student phones, this cell phone storage cabinet is an absolute dream. It can be mounted on the wall, it has a transparent door so students can see their phones inside, and it comes with a key so that devices can be locked inside the cabinet for the entire class period. It truly is a dream. However, with its hefty price tag, this solution should be more of a district or a school purchase. How to Implement the Pocket Chart or Cell Phone BoxWith these solutions, the pocket charts or the wooden boxes, you can hold students accountable in a couple of different ways. One way would be to take attendance using the cell phone holder. Students who do not place their phones in the holders are marked either absent or tardy. For this option, you'll want to check with admin because it could impede average daily attendance and funding if you teach at a public school.
If you can't use attendance as an accountability tool, you could use participation points. You can make placing their phone in the boxes a classroom grade, or you can offer extra credit points as accountability. Whichever you choose, make sure you follow your school's guidelines for grades.
Charging StationsAnother excellent option for storing student cell phones in the classroom is to provide students with a cell phone charging station. By providing students with a place to charge their cell phones, they are much more likely to put the devices away and out of sight for the class period.
Cell Phone Daycare/Cell Phone JailOne management tool that works well in conjunction with the charging stations is a cell phone jail. If students opt not to charge their phones and use them in class instead, their phones get sent to jail -or daycare. Using the term daycare might be a little less harsh. Positive EnforcementMost of the solutions mentioned above rely on negative reinforcement. If that isn't your classroom management style, there are a variety of positive reinforcement strategies to try in the classroom. I tried Pocket Points (not a paid endorsement or sponsorship) at the end of the last semester, and I had a pretty good experience with it. Allowing Cell Phone UseAllowing cell phone use in the classroom can be beneficial if teachers can manage smart student cell phone use in the classroom. Smart cell phone use includes allowing students to check their phones during independent work. And likewise, students also know not to engage with their phones during instruction time and group work.
Another form of allowing students to use cell phones in the classroom is by incorporating designated cell phone breaks into the instruction time. Anecdotally, if students know they will be given a three-minute cell phone break in the middle of the class, they might be less likely to sneak cell phone use during class time.
Whichever cell phone policy you decide to adopt in your classroom, consistency is critical. You'll want to stick with the policy and enforce it uniformly. However, and I've been there, sometimes classroom policies just don't work. It is okay to abandon a classroom policy if it doesn't work for you, your classroom, and your students.
I've found that the best time to change classroom policies is either at the semester or quarter breaks. If you do choose to switch policies in the middle of the year, you'll want to communicate those changes with your stakeholders: students, parents, and maybe admin as well.
One of the most important things you can teach your students is good literary analysis skills. Your students will be critically reading texts in high school, college, graduate school, and in their careers. It's necessary to cultivate analytical ability as early as possible. Here are six ways to enhance the literary analysis curriculum for all ages.
Think Aloud and Model InquiryThe process of literary analysis is fraught with difficulty, even for the most seasoned critic. How can we expect students to "get" literary analysis without seeing it in action?
Hint: it's tough.
As such, a reliable way to gain an understanding of the fluid process of close reading and literary analysis is to model it for your students. To do this, analyze a relevant text in front of the class to show your process. It may seem uncomfortable, but don't prepare yourself for this exercise beyond reading the text you're analyzing- you want to give your students an authentic experience so they can really see the steps required. If you have an overhead projector, document camera, or similar technology, this would be the time to use it.
Emphasize Small Details When teaching literary analysis, a pattern appears: students' analysis looks more like summaries. A way to remedy this is to remind and reinforce to them that the small details are especially important when analyzing a text. That's not to say large plot points are less important; there is merely more to draw from when considering the small stuff in a written work. They must move beyond what's "interesting" and focus on what's "significant," and the small details help students achieve this state.
Explain Why Small Choices MatterTo that end, when digging into the nitty-gritty of analysis, we run into structural details. These authorial details, while seemingly arbitrary, are often intentional. A period here, a semi-colon there- each creates a different meaning and a different context. These choices can prompt and support intellectual arguments if only our students recognize them.
Encourage ExplorationSome of the best analytical essays were born of a question. Allow and encourage your students to explore the text. They should be able to pursue an idea and have it fail, to rewrite and redo, to ask questions that may not seem relevant, and to find a part of the text that speaks to them. Only then will they create a quality paper. Remind your students constantly that for the most part, there are no wrong answers. The only stipulation is that the claim needs to be backed up by sufficient textual evidence and discussion of the evidence.
Subjectivity and ObjectivityDiscuss the differences between subjectivity and objectivity and how they relate to writing. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of literary analysis is not "what does the text mean to me." However, subjectivity does have a place in literary analysis. It's finding the balance between objectivity and subjectivity that many students have issues with, and it's important to define these terms and their usage in context at the beginning of the year.
Promote Controversial StancesAn argument that is accepted widely as "true" runs the risk of sounding like a retelling of the text. Students must avoid this. The most evident way to do so is to write about something that has multiple, plausible opposing sides. Find the controversy in the text, and have students analyze the controversy.
When I stepped into my very own classroom for the first time as a brand new teacher, Instagram didn’t exist. I didn’t even know about the online wealth of information available to me, a struggling first-year teacher. When I eventually created my own personal Instagram account in the middle of 2012, I didn’t even really know how to use the platform. I posted ten pictures of my infant son on the profile all within 5 minutes, but of course, not before applying filters to the photos. Then, I didn’t open up the app for almost a year later.
I didn’t understand Instagram, and to be completely honest, I didn’t think the platform would be a success. Why would people only want to see pictures? What about the text? (Remember, the captions used to be more limiting.) But then again, I also remember preferring MySpace to Facebook and thinking that Facebook was the inferior platform. However, that is an entirely different discussion.
Unlike myself more than a decade ago, today’s new teachers know all about Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and online blogs, and they might even know that there are quite a few teacher Instagram accounts that are worth following for sound pedagogy, helpful ideas, education humor, teacher fashion, and classroom decor ideas. As helpful as the online teacher community can be, it can also be incredibly intimidating and overwhelming, especially for new teachers who are still trying to test the waters. Trust me, you should have seen my early bulletin boards. They were a hot mess.
To illustrate, here's a comparison: I am so thankful that Pinterest wasn’t around when I was planning my wedding. I looked through some magazines, read some messages online, and had the best backyard wedding a girl could ask for. -complete with homemade bouquets and string lights that my then fiance hung.
However, Pinterest was around when I planned my son’s first birthday party. In many ways, planning my son’s first birthday party was so much more stressful than planning my wedding because I would always compare the party I was planning to these perfectly styled and edited pictures on Pinterest. I kept finding new party favor ideas, party decor ideas, party game ideas, party invite ideas, party balloon ideas, party food ideas, and well, you get the point. I was overwhelmed and bombarded with too much.
I purchased more than 200 latex balloons, and I rented two large helium tanks from a local party rental company. Yes, I know exactly how superfluous this sounds. Hours before party guests arrived, I was frantically inflating balloons and tying them to string. When the party started, I still had one full helium tank left that I hadn't even touched, about 75 balloons I didn’t get to inflate to make that ‘perfect’ balloon arch, blood blisters on my fingers, and a matching pair of bruises on my shins from leaning up against the ladder to hang the homemade Happy Birthday Banner that I spent countless hours making. Despite all of the stress and extra hoopla, I didn't even get to, the party was a success. My son turned one, he slightly smashed his cake, and I was able to enjoy an afternoon visiting with family and friends.
I am thankful Pinterest wasn't around as I planned my wedding. Comparison would have stolen my joy. And similarly, I am thankful that Pinterest and Instagram weren’t around when I was a first-year teacher.
While having access to a plethora of classroom-tested ideas and activities might have been helpful, I know that I would have compared myself to established teachers and felt overwhelmed, unworthy, and underprepared for life in the classroom. I would have felt like I wasn't doing enough.
It is human nature to compare and judge, and I know that first-year-teacher me (heck, even second-year, third-year, and fourth-year teacher me) would have come out on the losing side of that competition. I would have felt deflated and inadequate. I might have even questioned my (second) career choice. (Side note: teaching is my second career).
While I do recognize that I am a contributing member to many online platforms, it is so very important for every teacher -the contributors, the consumers, the veterans, the newbies, the influencers- to be mindful that we see just a glimpse of classroom life through these social media platforms.
As difficult as it is, we should try not to compare ourselves to someone else. We don't need to have a perfectly decorated classroom, nor do we need to facilitate elaborate escape room challenges and classroom transformations every single unit to be a good teacher.
We need to care about our students, and we need to use sound pedagogy -research-based pedagogy that will help our students.
Because at the end of the day, week, month, unit, semester, or year, there will always be that full helium tank we didn’t get to, and yet, we still make an impact and create a memorable learning experience for our students if we truly care about our students and stick to sound pedagogical practices.
Teaching can be an incredibly isolating profession. On some days, it is entirely possible for teachers to make it through an entire working day without any adult interaction. And while sometimes it sounds lovely to go into our classrooms, teach, spend our thirty minutes of lunch in our room catching up or grading papers, and then leave at the end of the school day, having fellow teacher friends can genuinely transform your teaching experience.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a group of amazing, strong women whom I am happy to call my teacher besties. And ever since I changed districts and schools several years ago, this incredible group has made my teaching career so much more fulfilling.
Here is a list of 5 reasons why you should have teacher besties at your school. Teacher besties understand each otherTeacher besties will understand one another. They won’t judge you if you don’t want to stay out late on a Friday night. They also won’t even dare ask you to hang out on a school night because they know what lies ahead the next morning. Likewise, once summer comes, your teacher besties are available during the day to relax poolside, grab a cup of coffee, or go shopping at a local bookstore. Likewise, you know that even if you don’t speak all weekend, come Monday, your conversations will pick right up. Teacher besties know the stressMany people who aren’t in education don’t quite understand what the job entails. They don’t understand the worry we experience late at night before we drift off to sleep. Sometimes, it is impossible to not think about our students, especially if we know they’re going through a tough time. Your teacher besties understand how stressful testing season is. Teacher besties make work more enjoyableIn the early years of my career, I used to eat lunch alone in my room. Part of that was because I needed the extra time to feel caught up with everything as a new teacher, and part if that was also because I needed to pump when my children were babies. However, now I make sure that I spend my lunch half hour with my teacher besties. We chat about our lives, our weekends, our classes, and we even collaborate and plan together. Seriously, it is the best, and I look forward to these lunches with my friends.
Teacher besties share the same interestsYou all entered the educational field for a reason, and more than likely, you already have more in common than you might think. With that said, it is quite natural for your teacher besties to become, simply, your besties. After all, you work together, you spend your lunches together, you attend PD together, and you might even chaperone dances together. Teacher besties help one anotherSeeing as how teaching can be an isolating career, having teacher besties on campus can be quite helpful. If you ever need emergency sub plans, copies made, or a place to send a student who needs to make up a quiz, your teacher besties will have your back. Knowing that you have a built-in support system in place at school is reassuring, especially since you know your teacher besties are just a text away.
It’s no secret that teaching can be a tough profession, but having a teacher best friend on campus is one sure-fire way to make work a more enjoyable experience. If you are new to your campus, try to reach out to some of the teachers in your grade level or content area. If you’re established on your campus, reach out the new teachers who might not have found their niche on campus yet. After all, there’s always room for one more teacher gathered around the table.
Congratulations! You've landed your first teaching job. This is such an exciting time, and you should celebrate this occasion. However, if you are anything like me, the very second that happy moment ends and you realize that you are going to have your own classroom with your own students to teach, the panic might set in. So, you've landed your first job, now what?
Your first year won't be easy and carefree, but it shouldn't be the most stressful year of your entire life. Here are seven tips for first-year teachers. 1. Seek out a mentorAs soon as you sign your contract, ask if your school has mentor teachers on campus. Your mentor could be a department chair, or a grade-level lead, or someone who is in charge of making new teachers feel welcomed. Not every school has a mentorship program in place, so if you are a newly hired first-year teacher at a school that doesn't have mentors, find one. You'll probably be introduced to more veteran teachers toward the beginning of the year. Please, do not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. 2. Ask questionsThe beginning of a new school year is a crazy, hectic time for teachers everywhere, rookies and veterans alike. As a veteran teacher, it is so easy to get caught up in the rush of the new school that we often forget how difficult the first year, or first few years, was. We are in such a routine now that we might have forgotten that we once didn't know how to enter our code into the copier, who to call to ask for some extra bandaids, or where we could get a new stack of hall passes. Trust me; you won't be bothering anyone if you ask questions. 3. Find a planning partnerWhether you have full reign of your curriculum or if you follow a strict pacing guide, find a planning partner - someone who teaches the same content or grade-level that you do. Planning with someone will help you get a feel for the school and the curriculum pace. Plus, it will save you tons of hours is you share and collaborate.
If you are a secondary ELA teacher and you haven't found anyone to plan with, I have a free curriculum pacing guide download that I created. As a first year teacher, I would have loved something like this to use as a starting off point.
4. Don't be afraid to abandon a sinking lessonIf you talk to other veteran teachers, I am sure they can all say the same thing: Sometimes, lessons don't go as planned, and it can even happen to the most experienced teachers. Sometimes, the activity doesn't work. Usually, you can tell if a lesson isn't working. It is okay to jump ship and pivot during the middle of a lesson. I find that when this happens, it also helps to be transparent with your students. Let them know that things are not working as you imagined and that you are going to switch things up. Being transparent and open allows your students to see you in a new light.
I remember when this happened to me the first time. I think it was my second year of teaching, and I thought I had it a little more together. I planned this -what I thought- fun and engaging activity that required all of my students to participate and move around the room. After I took way too long explaining what to do (that, my friends, was my first clue that the lesson was doomed), my students attempted the activity. Quickly, I saw things fall apart. There was no cohesion and this elaborate activity that -in my mind- seemed like a brilliant idea was quickly unraveling.
I said -something like this- aloud to my kids, "What! This is not what I had in mind. I think I need to go back and revisit this. Let's stop and do partner work instead."
This is why it is always wise to have a backup plan. Back during my early years of teaching, EdTech was just emerging. However, today, there's a plethora of online sites available that serve as perfect back-up plans. One of my favorite go-to sites is CommonLit.org. 5. Don't take your work home every nightAs a new teacher, you are more likely going to have work after your contract hours and take grading home. It's just how it is, especially if you are a new middle school or high school English teacher and your curriculum requires that you teach a novel in which you've never read. I've been there. On top of the lesson planning and grading, you also have to read and reread the book to make sure you are always at least a couple of chapters ahead of your students. The workload can quickly become quite burdensome. It's okay to stay just a few chapters ahead of your students when teaching a new novel. This is why it is so important to have those planning buddies who can help you out.
To help alleviate the stress of the toddler teaching years (you know, years 1-3), try to dedicate one day in the middle of the week to not take home any work. This will help give you some much-needed midweek rejuvenation. That night is yours. Don't even check your work emails. 6. Give yourself some graceTeaching is a tough profession, and the first couple of years are by far the most difficult. There's a reason why the turnover rate is so high and why many new teachers don't make it to year five. Be sure to give yourself plenty of grace in the classroom. Your teacher ed program and even an entire year of student teaching can't fully prepare you for your first year of teaching. You will make mistakes. You will second-guess your grading. You will say something in which you immediately regret. You will feel stressed. You might even question if you chose the correct path. And, despite all of this, it will be okay. Those first few years are tough, but it does get easier. The planning, grading, and general pace of teaching come a bit more naturally each year.
7. Save every student cardDuring my first year, my mentor teacher gave me some of the best advice that I've ever received. She told me, "Christina, save all of this in a folder" as she pointed to a student thank you note that I showed her. Ever since my first year of teaching, I've saved all of the cards, thank you notes, personalized student doodles, and other memorabilia that remind me of my WHY -why I became a teacher in the first place.
Your first year might be rough, and there will more than likely be some days where you question your career choice, sanity, and ability. Don't let those days get to you because the good days will outnumber the bad.
While the vast majority of schools have school libraries, classroom libraries play an essential role. There are many ways to build up your classroom library including shopping at garage sales, library sales, and second-hand stores. Additionally, you can also score some free books by asking friends to donate to your classroom. If you are looking for ways to build your library, you can read my post here. Also, I recently wrote a post about how I organize my library.
Here are five reasons to have a classroom library in your classroom.
1. Accessible BooksHaving a library in your classroom gives students another opportunity to access books. Depending on your classroom book check-out policy, your classroom library might also allow students who have late fines in the library to read a book. This is also especially helpful before school breaks. I have many students who stop by before the end of the day to check out a book before a break.
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2. Constantly in SightWith a library in your classroom, books are always in students’ sights. Students will see the books when they enter the classroom and throughout the period. With books constantly in view, more students might be interested to read.
3. Easy to Implement Dedicated Independent Reading TimeHaving a variety of books in your classroom at all times gives you more flexibility for dedicating independent reading time in the classroom. If you have a library large enough to make sure that every student has a book, you can devote independent reading time whenever you like because you can make sure every student has a book.
4. Options for Early-FinishersWith a classroom library, students who finish their work early can read a book as they wait for other students to complete the assignment. This is especially helpful for students who have finished work in other classes as well.
5. Introduce New TitlesA final reason to have a classroom library is that you can continuously introduce your students to new titles as you populate and add to your library. At the start of each month, you can showcase some of the titles in your library to help entice students.
This past school year was a great one. With every school year that passes, I like to take a moment and reflect on activities that were successful in the classroom and really think about why they worked.
Here are nine of my top activities from this previous school year.
SWIFT Poetry Analysis Collaborative Poster ProjectsAs a way to have my students practice their poetry analysis skills while also building their self-efficacy, my students worked on these collaborative posters.
Using the acronym SWIFT (structure/symbolism, word choice, imagery, figurative language, and theme and tone), my students analyzed a variety of poems about a similar subject. Not only did the read and annotate the poems, but they also identified each of the SWIFT elements, provided a quote, and explained how each element impacted the poem.
Once students complete the poetry analysis posters, we spent some time in class conducting informal presentations. Student groups presented the posters. I completed this project with my sophomore classes.
Why this worked: Students collaborated with one another to help each other as they worked on a new skill.
For more information about this project, you can read this blog post.
Hero’s Journey Literary ProjectToward the end of my short story unit with my sophomores, I like to review the Hero’s Journey archetype. We watch a quick video, discuss the various stages of the Hero’s Journey, use some familiar animated movies as examples, and then my students work together to create this Hero’s Journey poster.
Usually, they work together in small groups of three, and I give them about two days in class to work on the assignment. Once my students are done with the poster and have demonstrated that they understand the archetype, we read a short story as a class and analyze the Hero’s Journey elements of that story.
Why this worked: Students were able to choose their own Hero’s Journey story for this project, so that generated a lot of student interest. Whenever kids get a say in what they do, there is more buy-in.
For more information about this project, you can read this blog post.
Rhetorical Appeals Learning StationsRhetoric is one of my favorite units to teach. I love reading significant and persuasive speeches with my students and teaching them how to analyze the language. I love seeing that moment when they get it -that moment when they realize just how powerful language is.
This year, I added rhetorical appeals learning stations to my rhetorical analysis unit. For this activity, students spent one station analyzing ethos, one station analyzing pathos, and one station analyzing logos.
Why this worked: Adding movement and collaboration to the classroom is a great way to break up the monotony of traditional learning. Students learn best when they are active participants in the process.
Intro to Transcendentalism Exploratory PostersBefore my juniors started learning about transcendentalism, I had them explore the five tenets of transcendentalism as an inquiry-based introductory activity.
For this activity, I placed my students in small groups, and I assigned each group a different tenet. This type of poster project is a quick one, and I don’t even give my students an entire class period, roughly 55 minutes, to work on the poster. As I explain this activity to them, I make sure that I emphasize that I am looking for content. I want to see that they explored the tenet and that they are beginning to understand it.
For the posters, students wrote their own definition of the word, three synonyms, a quote about the tenet, and a visual representation.
Once students completed the posters, the groups presented their posters to the class as the class took notes on the five tenets of transcendentalism.
Why this worked: This introductory activity was student-focused. The students were in charge of their learning, and they essentially became the experts of their group’s tenet. Furthermore, they were also responsible for teaching their peers about the tenet they researched. I completed this activity with my juniors.
Listening Skills ELA Test Prep Escape RoomIn my state, juniors take the standardized state test -the SBAC. This test contains a listening portion of the test that requires students to listen to nonfiction articles and answer comprehension and analysis questions.
To help my juniors prepare for this test, they completed a listening-skills escape room. This escape room is one of my favorites because it closely imitates the state test. My students listened to an audio file. In fact, I had them listen twice and also take notes to practice good test-taking skills. Then, my students worked together in groups of six to complete all of the tasks.
Escape room days are always a blast. They are high-energy, fast-paced days that engage even the most reluctant learners.
Why this worked: Escape rooms are one of the best ways to engage students. I’ve done a handful of escape rooms in my classroom, and I always have 100% participation. It is amazing.
Short Story Collaborative Review Poster ProjectsThis short story poster project has quickly become a staple in my classroom. At the end of our short story unit, and before we take a comprehensive test on all of the stories we read, my students work together in small groups to complete short story collaborative review posters.
Each group is assigned a different short story that we read in class. They then go back and review their designated short story and identify and analyze various literary elements. I also have my students include a summary of the short story as well. Since this serves as our review, students usually have about a class period and a half to work on their posters. I encourage them to divide and conquer; I also emphasize that I am looking for content over aesthetics.
When students complete their posters, each group presents the poster to the class. Since I do this as a review activity before our end of unit test, presentations are a bit more formal. I require student groups to come up to the front of the classroom to present. I also require every student to present an aspect of the poster. As students are presenting their posters, the rest of the class takes review notes to help them prepare for the unit test.
Why this worked: This is a fun and engaging student-centered review activity that generates discussion about the texts. Since we already read, studied, and analyzed the text in class during the prior weeks, students are able to dig a little deeper and discover more about the text.
For more information about this project, you can read this blog post.
Dialectical Journal ConceptsWhen I teach novels, I like to have my students complete notebooks as they read. The notebooks contain two main elements: dialectical journals and basic comprehension questions that we answer together in class as we read (one, to keep up engagement as we read, and two, to help prevent copying and cheating. If we answer the questions together in class as opposed to assigning them as homework, students are less likely to text each other pictures of the answers).
For the dialectical journals, I provide my students with a handful of big-picture thematic concepts that all relate to the novel. For each dialectical journal entry, students write and cite the quote, explain its significance, and then connect it to one of the concepts. I do this because once we are done reading the novel, students will then have categorized quotes pre-selected that they can use for their essay at the end of the novel.
Why this worked: When I plan my units, I like to plan backward. I always have the end-goal in mind. With that said, I make sure that the concepts we use are ones that students can apply and discuss in their essays.
You can read more about how I assign dialectical journals and even download a free template in the classroom in this Secondary English Coffee Shop blog post.
Lord of the Flies Mid-Novel Review Escape ChallengeI love the day when my students compete against one another in this Lord of the Flies review activity. When I assign this activity, my students need to place all of the events in chronological order from chapters 1-6. I have them complete all six chapters together at once because it is more challenging.
This activity works well because it generates authentic conversation about the story. Students review the events of the story, which then helps them prepare to read the final half of the story.
Why this worked: It is a fun activity and the kids get super competitive. Since students complete this activity in their teams, they are already familiar with working with one another. Plus, it gets pretty intense. The kids debate and even argue about the events in the story.
Lord of the Flies Team CompetitionTeaching novels from the literary canon can be a bit cumbersome sometimes, especially if students cannot relate to the characters or the conflict. One way that helps overcome this is by teaching Lord of the Flies as a team challenge.
I started doing this a couple of years ago, and I keep refining my challenge. It still isn’t quite where I’d like it to be, but it sure is fun.
Before we read the novel, I place my students into six groups of six students each. I carefully group my students to make sure that each group is pretty even in regards to ability level; this is especially helpful in my inclusion classes.
As we read the novel, my students compete in a variety of activities that assess and challenge their literary knowledge. Some of the challenges include a map-making challenge, mask-making challenge, quiz challenges, and the mid-novel review that I mentioned above.
Why this worked: This is a fun and engaging way to get through a pretty tough text. Because they are working together in teams, the students have more ownership in their learning.
To read more about how I game-ify Lord of the Flies, check out this blog post.
Writing on standardized tests can be hard for students. Most tests try to give a broad enough prompt to get a variety of responses back. There is also a lot of pressure associated with standardized tests, and the writing portions are no different. But how do we prepare students for this type of stressful situation that can yield so many results? Here are a few suggestions as to how to ease your students into writing under pressure.
1. Understand the prompts. Old prompts for whatever test you are preparing your students for, whether it is the SAT, the ACT, or state-standardized tests, are released online after a certain amount of time has passed. You can look these over with your class and talk about ways to tackle the requirements listed. These prompts also typically ask for students to use personal experience, lessons from the classroom, and novels they have read as examples. Showing these examples will better prepare students for the test. Part of this particular point is also to help students understand themes from various novels to be able to reference them from memory.
2. Practice timed writing. Allow for time during class for the students to practice writing a full response in a certain amount of time, the same time required in the tests. The more practice they get in the classroom, the less pressure they will feel when it finally comes time to write for the test.
3. Have students keep a journal. It is possible your students feel nervous about writing for a test because they only ever write for school or under pressure. Having them write for fun and just for themselves will allow them to associate the experience with something more relaxed. In turn, this can help them write something more cohesive when it is required for a test.
4. Start the class with writing. Building on the last two points, have your students write whatever is on their minds during class, like a free write. Leaving some time to let them write in class will be beneficial overall. This again reinforces the classroom setting, while also allowing them to associate writing with a more relaxing and therapeutic process.
One way to implement this in the classroom is to utilize daily bell-ringers in your classroom. Both my growth mindset bell-ringers and my classroom kindness bell-ringers focus on the three main writing strands often found on standardized tests.
5. Analyze released passages and examples. For many tests, the publishers will release previous writing prompts. Use the previously-released writing prompts to analyze together as a class. Have students work together to write a well-crafted essay based on these prompts, and then analyze student examples together in class. Have students point out which examples are strong and why. Also, have students point out areas of improvement within each example and why they think it needs to be fixed.
Essentially the most significant point here is practice, practice, practice. When it comes to writing, we can all sit and edit papers with our students, which is suitable for papers that have the time to be edited, but for tests, it is all one sudden burst of writing. Students have to get used to this type of pressure before they get into the test room if they are going to be comfortable and successful. Understanding the question is a huge part, but practicing the art of writing is the only way to improve their writing on tests.
Plays are great literary works to utilize in your classroom. Students will enjoy the faster pace of reading them even acting out the scenes. Many high school classrooms solely read Shakespearean plays, but it can also be exciting and educational to read a variety of dramas and playwrights that come from all different backgrounds. Here are five different dramas to read in your classroom that aren't from the Bard. This post contains affiliate links.
1. Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams (1947) This play is considered one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. The characters are iconic, as are specific lines, i.e. “Stella!” and this makes the play a memorable study for your students. You can discuss with your class the specifics of the play that make it so significant to study, such as the setting of New Orleans, or the themes that revolve around the topics of mental illness, gender, sexuality, and control. Since there was a movie produced in 1951, your class can witness the play being performed. Show the film in class, or assign it for homework to help your students understand the play in greater depths.
2. Fences by August Wilson (1985) Fences is a great play to use for your class to read to get a perspective into the life of an African-American family in the 1950s. You can even use this text as a supplement for a bigger piece your class studies like Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston to show the differences in how race and gender are portrayed in each text, despite being different forms of literature. Themes to discuss with your class include that of race, masculinity, gender, and family. The play runs so deep in its expressions that students who doubt the literary value of plays will fully be on board with this text as something of importance. 3. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959) This play is inspired by a poem, “Harlem,” by Langston Hughes. This would be a great way to introduce the teaching of the play, as you can read the poem in class, and have the class determine the inspiration Hansberry found in it. The play focuses on a black family, the Youngers, and their struggles with racial discrimination after the father dies and the family decides to move to a white neighborhood. Themes for your class to pay attention to are the subjects of race and family, and how both affect each decision the family faces.
4. The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman (2000) The Laramie Project is the most modern of the plays on this list. It is about a gay college student’s murder. It is told from many perspectives, all based on actual interviews, news reports, and journals. This play’s major goal is to teach tolerance and acceptance, in the hopes to end the hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ+ community. It is a unique play because of the way it is presented in short scenes, all based on actual events and dialogue. There is also a movie based on this play, so have your students watch the film and show the significant parts in class to have them get a better understanding of the story.
5. Machinal by Sophie Treadwell (1928) This is the oldest play on the list but still focuses on issues that your students will be able to understand, even with their modern sensibilities. This is another play inspired by true events. It focuses on the life and death of murderer Ruth Synder, though the play does not use the real names of the people, and often only uses descriptions, like “A Young Woman” or “A Young Man” in order to allow readers, or actors, to place anyone in that position. The play focuses a lot on gender and the prisons we make for ourselves in our minds. Gender is a key issue in this play, as the main character never feels like she can be herself because of the restraints she has from her marriage.