Category Archives: Teaching Reading

Identity Choice Novels & Playlist

Students are reading books with themes of identity as our last unit this school year. Student outcomes include

  • Recognize how people and characters define themselves as individuals through multiple complex factors, including culture, family, peers, and environment, and that defining oneself is a complex process
  • Read texts of various lengths to analyze content and structure, and cite evidence
  • Respond to texts (orally and in writing) coherently and thoughtfully
  • Develop and support claims with textual information
  • Participate in small-group and whole-class discussions

Students selected from five (5) choice novels:

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson – Newbery Honor

Acclaimed author Renee Watson offers a powerful story about a girl striving for success in a world that too often seems like it’s trying to break her. Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way, which Jade has. Every day she rides the bus away from her friends to the private school where she feels like an outsider. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help or someone who people want to fix.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Nevin

Libby and Jack get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both angry, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel.

Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – A National Book Award Winner. 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world.  Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. She has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy. (Some mature topics throughout the book.)

The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor – National Book Award Finalist

Mason Buttle is the biggest, sweatiest kid in his grade, and everyone knows he can barely read or write. Mason’s learning disabilities are compounded by grief. Fifteen months ago, Mason’s best friend, Benny Kilmartin, turned up dead in the Buttle family’s orchard.  An investigation drags on, and Mason, honest as the day is long, can’t understand why Lieutenant Baird won’t believe the story Mason has told about that day.

Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri – 2021 Michael Printz Award

An autobiographical novel, middle-schooler Daniel, formerly Khosrou, tells his unimpressed and at times cruel classmates about his experience as an Iranian refugee.  Modeling his storytelling on Scheherazade and not beholden to a western mode, Daniel Nayeri writes a patchwork of memory and anecdote.  He layers stories upon stories to create a complex, hilarious, and devastating understanding of memory, family, and perspective. This book is a complex read due to the interweaving of stories in past and present and suggested for advanced readers. 

I created this identity playlist to help student meet learning targets and draw connections text to self, text to text, and text to world.

This is just a highlight of some of the slides. To get a copy of this playlist you can access HERE.

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One Pagers for Deeper Reading Comprehension

The One-Pager is a single-page response that shows a student’s understanding of the text. It is a way of making representation of one’s individual, unique understanding. It is a way to be creative and experimental and respond to reading imaginatively and honestly. The one pager assignment is a perfect summative assessment for students to showcase comprehension, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation skills. 

The requirements for the one pager are up to the teacher. I try to change up the one pager requirements with each assignment. Students complete two one-pager assignments in my class during the school year, I do not want to assign more than that because it loses it luster. Below are some examples of what students can include in their one pager. Also note the different one pager assignments I have shared in this blog post. 

Elements of the One Pager:

Write the title and author so that it stands out on the page.

Answer three (3) of the response questions from the question bank (see back) citing textual evidence to support your claims. – Sometimes I provide a question bank with higher level thinking questions for students to respond to where as if I am assigning the one pager later in the school year, I might have students create their own question and provide a short response answering the question. 

Pull out two (2) “notable quotes” or phrases that jump out at you, make you think or wonder, or remind you of something. 

The quotes must pertain to an aspect of the central idea/theme in the text. The quotes must emphasize key points to be remembered or used to explain the major concept. Write them down anywhere on your page.

Use different colors and/or writing styles to individualize each “quote” or phrase.

Include a visual image or illustration, which creates a visual focus; these images need to illustrate what pictures you have in your mind from reading.

Make a personal statement about what you have read–what does it mean to you personally? What is your opinion, final thought, big question or personal connection?

FILL THE PAPER UP with your words, images, and symbols. 

What Not to Do 

• Don’t merely summarize–you’re not retelling the story.

• Use unlined paper only, to keep from being restricted by lines.

• Don’t think half a page will do. Make it rich with “quotes” and images. 

Want More  . . . check out this blog post on NCTE providing more description and samples. My co-teacher provides specific students with PDF templates and checklists to help students with the visual layout of a one pager and also break down the assignment into smaller parts. 

Can one pagers be digital for your students who do not like or think they have artistic abilities, of course. Additionally, I have even had students work in groups to make collaborative one pagers for chapter notes when we are reading an whole class novel like Animal Farm. Working together helps break down the assignment into smaller pieces and also encourages discussion about the key elements of the reading and assignment. 

One pagers can be meaningful as an assessment tool, creative response to literature, and or check for understanding. One pagers are a powerful way to ask students to reflect upon what they have read. ISTE Standards for Students require students to be creative communicators as well as literate humans. One pagers are an invitation for teachers and students to consider alternative formats and opportunities to be creative communicators and design thinkers while at the same time, foster literacy learning in both a traditional and a blended learning environment

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Literary Travel Guides: A Student Assignment

I just finished reading (Me) Moth by Amber McBride. The debut YA novel-in-verse  is about a teen girl who is grieving the deaths of her family, and a teen boy, Sani who moved in with his mother and her new family.  Moth lost her family in an accident and although she lives with her aunt, she feels alone.

Until she meets Sani, a boy who is also searching for his roots. If he knows more about where he comes from, maybe he’ll be able to understand his ongoing depression. And if Moth can help him feel grounded, then perhaps she too will discover her own history.

Moth and Sani take a road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors. The way each moves forward is surprising, powerful, and unforgettable. This is a powerfully uplifting novel about identity, first love, and the ways that our memories and our roots steer us through the universe.

Half way through the book Moth lists the places she and Santi have planned to stop and visit on their road trip. The book continues with details about their road trip and the landmarks they explore. I love the idea of students creating a literary travel guide of the books they read.

So many of young adult books explore cities and the unique spots that’s propel the story. Consider the trip to Amsterdam Hazel and Augustus take in John Green’s Fault in our Stars trip or the importance of Central Park in New York City in The Catcher in the Rye. In fact, in Booked, author Richard Kreitner explores literary destinations filled with literary landmarks and destinations.

The assignment would require students to become the tour guides leading their fellow students on a trip through a young adult book they have read. Students are reading closely for the importance of setting in the story. Students might consider the following questions:

  1. How does place shape your understanding of a story?
  2. How do the places in your lives impact your life?
  3. How can place/setting impact the mood of a piece of writing?
  4. How does place/setting shape a character’s life?
  5. What works of literature have you read that you remember having an important setting?
  6. How does place/setting interact with other literary elements such as style, symbols and tone to create meaning for readers?

The final assignment might be a choice of a travel essay, brochure or even a television-style infomercial for their story. This project would entice would-be travelers to visit the both the physical place described in the story, as well as the literary world created by the author.

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Literature Circles: A Trusted Book Club Reading Strategy

I first learned about Literature Circles back in the day when I was studying to be a teacher. Literature circles are a form of book group that engage students by allowing them to respond to the text in a variety of ways and practice using reading comprehension strategies as identified by Harvey Daniels.

In literature circles the teacher chooses books that will interest students. Currently students are participating in an interdisciplinary unit on WW2 so they have a choice of six historical fiction and non fiction books about WW2, the Holocaust, and Japanese Internment to choose. Students selected the book they would like to read and were then organized into small groups of four to five for their book clubs and literature circles. During ELA class, students meet twice a week in book groups to discuss their reading. In order to hold each other accountable and encourage a productive book discussion student choose a given a role for the day. Rather than the teacher assigning the roles, the students select new roles for each book club meeting. The purpose for assigning students a role is to have each student engaged in a conversation about the section read. Students are the discussion leaders and respond to the text in a variety of ways and practice using reading comprehension strategies.

The Literature circle model is partly based on Piaget’s constructivist theory, and on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Piaget believed that learners construct knowledge through experiences. Building on Piaget’s initial theories, constructivists also believe that a child is an active learner and thinker, or a sense maker who is constructing his or her own knowledge by interacting with objects and ideas (Constructivist Education, n.d.). In literature circles there is specific role for each student and students must draw upon past experiences. Vygotsky’s theory of ZPD suggests that if children practice a new skill with the help of an adult or a slightly more capable peer then they gradually develop the ability to perform the skill without help or assistance. Literature circles engage students in active sense making and involve them in peer interactions like those expressed in the theory of ZPD.

When I first learned about Literature Circles student’s roles required them to complete an actual task or assignment and turn in to the teacher. Then a decade later, the tasked roles were removed and were said to deter students from reading engagement rather, it makes the reading assignment task oriented. Moving ahead with literature circles now, I find it important for students to complete the role requirements in their Reader’s Notebook. This scaffolding helps middle school students work on their reading comprehension and also have artifacts to bring to their weekly book discussions. The goal for a teacher is to help students become independent and self-regulated learners (Scharlach, 2008). Providing scaffolds and gradual release of responsibility helps students become independent and self-regulated learners.

I have created this slide deck for my students are you are free to get your own copy HERE. Each slide has a description of the different group roles and the tasks needed to complete for their preparation of the book club/literature circle meeting. There are five different roles and students do not repeat the roles but are to take on a new role with each book club meeting. I am also having each group submit their work on a Padlet to curate the group’s discussion reflections and group tasks to house all their work in one place and access for writing assignments and assessments.

Lee Araoz, the District Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Lawrence Public Schools in New York describes many ways to infuse technology into Literature Circles. He uses Padlet, Flipgrid, students create their own Quizizz, and Google Suite. The key is choice. Students choose their books, their group roles, and a technology platform to showcase their reading.

If you also use literature circles in your classroom I would love to know how it is going and what you have found woks well to support your students as readers and independent thinkers. Do you use role sheets and or infuse technology? What are the different roles you have found most successful for middle school students? You can share in the comments section of this blog.

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Teaching Writing in High School: Reflections from TCRWP Workshop

More than twenty years ago I spent my summer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshops for teaching reading and teaching writing. My teachers, Katherine Bomer, Pam Allyn, Isoke Nia, and Lucy Caulkins left an indelible impact on my teaching over the course of two decades. My classrooms still is still guided by Reading and Writing Workshop.

Earlier this month I attended a three day summit with #TCRWP on teaching writing in the high school. Interestingly, in all my years teaching and working with TC, reading and writing workshop was for K-8 and it was enlightening to be working among high school teachers to see the possibilities of bringing this model of teaching into high school. This particular workshop focused on teaching memoir and narrative writing in high school. Despite being geared towards high school, many of the ideas and texts presented in the workshop are adaptable across grade levels.

Let’s start: “Writing is hard and the hardest part is getting started.”

Why start with narrative and memoir?

  1. When students tell their stories we are building relationships (culturally relevant teaching)
  2. We teach storytelling with passion and grace we help students make meaning from life

Launching memoir and getting students ready to begin writing is “having the courage to tell your own stories.”

We began with listening and viewing Renee Watson’s “This Body,” a poem from her book Watch Us Rise.

We started with the video, rather than a dense text as a mentor text to provide an accessible text for our students to discuss and write off of. One way to get started as a writers is getting inspired by other writers. Teachers can help students begin memoir by writing poems and vignettes.

Writers need time to write, lots of mentor texts, choice, and responses from a community of writers. One great move that my workshop leader showed was not to just provide one mentor text, but she actually offered us a Padlet with multiple mentor texts and had each of us pick one to read and study it and record the writing moves we noticed the writer using. What moves dis this writer make that inspired me? We use mentor texts to move our writing forward. After reading and discussing the mentor text students are able to build a vision how their own memoir can go based on the study of the mentor text.

Within the memoir lessons we were talking and thinking about what our memoir is really tell us? We focused and wrote around issues (Is there an issue hiding in a story that is big in your life?, change (Is there a critical change that happens in the story that means something to you?), and identity/relationship (Does the story arise a question about your relationship or identity?). We stretched our writing by talking and creating time lines. We also created some storyboard and story maps, and creating our own story arcs. We even used poetry to elevate our writing. We wrote poems off scenes in our memoirs to think deeper about our piece and place that we think needs more clarity or imagery.

Teaching students to write memoir can be a powerful start to the school year and launching of writing workshop. Memoir and narrative helps to celebrate the diverse voices in your classroom and provide choice and agency. By modeling our own stories and writing alongside our students, they can come to learn that their stories matter.

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March Madness Poetry Brackets: Close Reading and Poetry Analysis

The amazing Reading Specialist who is new to our school this year shared a poetry bracket with me last week when I mentioned doing a poetry unit with my students. I was familiar with poetry brackets from Kelly Gallagher and NCTE. This poetry immersion activity that is mod­eled after the NCAA Final Four Basketball Tourna­ment.

Charles Steltenkamp described in an article for the Language Arts Journal of Michigan in 2001, “The main ob­jective of the Poetry Tournament is to expose stu­dents to many poems in a short amount of time. Through allowing them to choose which poems “survive” as the tournament goes on, we give them control and freedom over their responses. This sense of individual choice and power over their reading creates a more intense focus for students as they read the poems.”

I selected the poems and arranged them by themes of love, life, family, sports, and overcoming obstacles. I specifically selected a diverse collection of poems and include more contemporary poets or diverse backgrounds. Students were provided an entire digital booklet with all the poems and then reflection pages to write a short response on student selections. This short response is an exercise in literary analysis and the ability to articulate elements of the author’s craft and structure. Students discover the craft and meaning in the poem through collaboration and discussion. Through the collaboration, discussion, and writing reflection students will be able to . . .

• Evaluate the structure of a poem and analyze how it adds to the meaning of a poem. 

o How does a poem’s structure contribute to its meaning?

• Contrast and evaluate the mood and tone of a poem.
o What words did the author use to convey a specific feeling?

• Choose and interpret figurative language within a poem.
o How does figurative language enhance your understanding of the poem?

• Analyze poetry using close reading strategies to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of the poem.

o How do multiple readings and marking text help you to have a deeper understanding of poetry?

• Rate different types of poems using an elimination bracket .
o What qualities did this poem have that made you want to vote for it to move on?

If you have created and taught a poetry bracket assignment I would love to know more how it went. My students will spend three days a week in Reading and Writing Workshop reading and creating their own poems and then two days a week work on the poetry bracket and close analysis of the poems selected. This will require students to read the poems more than twice and mark up they thinking about the poetry as they are reading and interpreting the prose on the page.

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Zooming In On Setting for Study of Author’s Craft and Some Creative Writing

Setting is an important part of any story because it explains where and when the events take place. The setting helps create the mood and set the tone for the literary piece. We often ask students to analyze the setting by examining the surrounding environment, background, historical place in time and geographic location and notice how the setting impacts the character and conflict in the story.

Studiobinder.com defines setting as, “A setting is the time and place of a story. Setting is either outwardly articulated to us, or discretely suggested to us. It can be suggested by weather, clothing, culture, buildings, etc. In screenwriting, setting is written into the slugline of a scene heading. But setting isn’t just the location of a scene, it’s the time in which it exists as well.”

My students will be starting our mystery unit and I want to help use more descriptive language so we will spend the next two weeks focusing on setting in film, stories, and their own writing. I have created this playlist to help students understand the depth of setting in literature.

Looking at excerpts from Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious and Laura Ruby’s York students are able to see how authors communicate the setting by describing the environment and how characters interact within the environment.

This unit is an introduction to understanding author’s craft and structure.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5
Compare and contrast the structure of two or more texts and analyze how the differing structure of each text contributes to its meaning and style.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.6
Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

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Eating Insects Argumentative Assignment

The New York Times published a video that is a perfect introduction to an argumentative essay writing assignment. Check out the video below:

What Insects Can Learn From Lobsters About Rebranding | NYT Opinion

This opinion piece was fascinating and very informative. It offered multiple perspectives and was also interesting to watch. I used the video to introduce an argumentative writing assignment this week. Students first watched the video and took notes in their Writer’s Notebooks. Then, we discussed the key ideas in the video and students shared whether they would eat insects or not.

The next day I provided students two different articles about eating insects. One article I paired down from a Time Magazine article by Aryan Baker titled “They’re Healthy. They’re Sustainable. So Why Don’t Humans Eat More Bugs?” (February 26, 2021). The second article from EatCrickster.com, “Edible Insects: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” by Amy Gardner, I also edited to provide more of the cons for farming and eating insects. Students read the articles and coded the text. Then we created a PRO/CON chart on the Smartboard collaborating the findings from the article.

Now students will write an argumentative essay about whether food companies and restaurants should introduce insects into the Western diet for daily consumption and an alternative source of protein. 

Writing Assignment: Eating Insects

Eating Insects Argumentative Writing prompt

Write an argumentative essay about whether food companies and restaurants should introduce insects into the Western diet for daily consumption and an alternative source of protein. 

  • Write a multi paragraph argumentative essay in which you take a stance on the topic of whether  food companies and restaurants should introduce insects into the Western diet for daily consumption and an alternative source of protein. 
  • Make sure you establish an argumentative claim, address potential counterarguments, and support your claim from the sources you have read. 
  • Develop your ideas clearly and use your own words, except when quoting directly from sources.
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Deepening Comprehension & Conversation with Book Discussion Bingo

I know you have experienced this before: your teacher assigns you a collaborative project or asks you to sit small groups to hold a discussion and some students have done the assignment and they say a few things and then the subject switches to something off topic. Or there is one or two people who did not do the assignment and they either do not care or are just looking for someone to give them the answer.

Let’s address cooperative learning and those hitchhikers, discussion directors, discussion derailers, and how to hold more accountability among the group.

I am currently facilitating a book club unit with middle school students. Working in small groups of three to six students, each group is reading a contemporary dystopian fictional novel and meeting daily in their book clubs to discuss aspects of the book they deem important. Additionally, I have peppered in some lessons on characteristics of a dystopian society, characterization, and the hero’s journey. Whereas I have some groups reading and everyday mapping out a reading goal for the group (i.e. how much they are going to read before the next class, asking and answering each other questions), there are some book clubs where a student is not doing the reading and has fallen behind unable to participate in the discussion without spoilers.

Group work is an integral part of school and work culture. Through group work, students learn that there’s a diversity of valid perspectives, build comfort around using their own voices, and understand the value of accepting and building on the contributions of others.

Getting people to work together does not come naturally and as teachers we need to foster positive collaboration and group work in our classroom. Collaboration is part of building a community of learners. Here are some benefits to collaborating and working in small groups as identified by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels (2009):

  • Collaboration generates energy for challenging work.
  • In small groups we are smarter.
  • In small groups diversity is an asset.
  • Collaboration makes for engaged, interactive learning possible.
  • Collaboration allows teachers to differentiate instruction.
  • Well-structured group work enhances student achievement.

The important thing to note is that effective groups are made, not born. Collaboration doesn’t always work and as teachers, we need to help facilitate good group work so that it can be successful in all the ways described above.

So, with these ideas in mind I created a book club discussion bingo board for some groups and students to use during their book club meetings to help foster collaboration and communication. This bingo board can be used as a roll the dice or numbered heads activity where everyone takes a turn to answer a question and respond or can be used to facilitate the book club discussions. Yes, I would love for the book club discussions to be less task oriented but collaborative skills need to be modeled and taught. Providing students with group roles, group objectives, and even a collaborative game can help all students keep on task and accomplish the goal of the group assignment.

The Declaration of Independence was a collaboration. Music and dance is collaboration. Google was created because two men collaborated on an idea. Wikipedia is all about collaboration.  Many great ideas and inventions happen because people got together to create and share. We need to make sure that our classrooms allow students to work independently, with partners, in small groups, and as a large group.

Here are four additional collaborative activities to try in your classroom.

Jigsaws – Just as in a jigsaw puzzle, each piece–each student’s part–is essential for the completion and full understanding of the final product. If each student’s part is essential, then each student is essential. The teacher breaks students up into a group and each student in the group has a specific reading or task which they are responsible for reporting back to their group members. You can read more about the jigsaw strategy for active learning.

Write Around – A trustworthy Harvey Daniels activity that allows students to collaborate on paper and in conversation about a specific topic or subject. You can find the directions here.

Numbered Heads – Numbered Heads Together is a cooperative learning strategy that holds each student accountable for learning the material. Students are placed in groups and each person is given a number (from one to the maximum number in each group). The teacher poses a question and students “put their heads together” to figure out the answer. The teacher calls a specific number to respond as spokesperson for the group. By having students work together in a group, this strategy ensures that each member knows the answer to problems or questions asked by the teacher. Because no one knows which number will be called, all team members must be prepared.

Think Dots or Cubing – There are many ways to do this activity. To see the variety of ideas and examples check out PB Works.

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Contemporary Dystopian Fiction Playlist

Instructional Playlists are individualized digital (hyperlinked) lessons and assignments for students to follow. Whereas a hyperdoc could be one lesson or inquiry unit, a playlist provides students directions for an entire unit. Students can work through these hyperdocs and play lists at their own pace. The teacher might provide dates to help students keep pace and not leave the assignments until the last day. Additionally, since every student gets a copy of the playlist on Google Classroom, the playlist can be individualized to support the diverse learners in your classroom.

This contemporary dystopian playlist is a three week unit that is driven by students reading and book club discussions. Playlists are perfect for blended learning classrooms. Playlists are like full lessons that involve combinations of whole group learning, online learning, face to face opportunities, online learning with individual collaboration and small group learning. When you enter my 8th grade ELA classroom students spend the first ten minutes of class time reading their contemporary dystopian text and then responding in their Reader’s Notebook. On Reading Workshop days students get longer reading time in the classroom. If we expect students to read we need to give them the time to read in our own classes. For this unit, since it is only three weeks we are focusing in on the setting of the dystopian society and characterization. Students will learn about the Hero’s Journey and types of dystopian controls. Students will have multiple opportunities to work in their book clubs to share their thinking about their reading and learn from one another.

If you are new to creating playlists and hyperdocs, note that packaging is key. Think about aesthetics and the visual effect of the playlist. Make sure the organization is simple, clear, and accessible to diverse learners. Provide opportunities for student collaboration and inquiry based learning. Try new approaches to student learning. So what are you waiting for? Try out a playlist with your next unit and let me know how it goes.

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