Tag Archives: English

25 Titles for English Language Arts Teachers

One of my graduate students recently asked me what are the most influential books I have read that shaped my teaching philosophies. This student is in the process of studying for her New York State Teaching Certification Exam and English Language Arts CST and is looking for additional material to help her prepare for this test.

I had to think about all the books that I have read, which are the ones that have left a lasting impression that I still refer to today when planning and preparing my lessons. Below is a list of twenty five books that have shaped my teaching and practice over the past twenty years. Additionally, these are the books that I refer to often and use as teaching tools in my graduate courses. The books below are in no particular order.

In the Middle by Nancie Atwell – This is the first book I read in my English Methods class and has left a lasting impact on reading and writing workshop in my own middle school classroom. As Atwell states, “this edition represents my current best set of blueprints for how I build and maintain a writing-reading workshop-the expectations, demonstrations, models, choices, resources, rules and rituals, pieces of advice, words of caution, and ways of thinking, planning, looking, and talking that make it possible for every student to read with understanding and pleasure and aspire to and produce effective writing.”

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit – An analysis of contemporary classrooms, Lisa Delpit develops ideas about ways teachers can be better “cultural transmitters” in the classroom, where prejudice, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions breed ineffective education. Delpit suggests that many academic problems attributed to children of color are actually the result of miscommunication, as primarily white teachers and “other people’s children” struggle with the imbalance of power and the dynamics plaguing our system.

Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks – “To educate is the practice of freedom,” writes bell hooks, “is a way of teaching anyone can learn.”  Another book I read as part of my educational classes working towards my certification, this book shaped my pedagogy.

The Freedom Writers Diary by The Freedom Writers and Erin Grunwell – Don’t see the movie! Read the book and see how one young teacher was able to teach empathy and global awareness among her students through literature and writing.

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller – If you don’t know Donalyn Miller and you are an English teacher or aspiring ELA teacher you must read this book. Miller helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves. Her love of books and teaching is both infectious and inspiring.

Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst – In Notice and Note Kylene Beers and Bob Probst introduce 6 “signposts” that alert readers to significant moments in a work of literature and encourage students to read closely. Learning first to spot these signposts and then to question them, enables readers to explore the text, any text, finding evidence to support their interpretations.

Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess – This is a mandatory reading requirement in my Literacy in the Content Areas class I teach each semester. Dave reminds all teachers to plan and teach with passion, engagement, and a love of teaching. Never have your students sit through a boring lesson when you can use one of the many hooks described in the book.

Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman – If you are looking for practical, easy-to-implement tools to help students develop as self-determining readers, writers, and learners, Routman focuses on excellence, equity, encouragement, and engagement throughout her book.

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher – Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. This is a book for all educators no matter the subject area you teach to understand the depth of struggling readers and reluctant readers today.

Book Love by Penny Kittle – Following Gallagher’s Readicide, Penny Kittle sheds light on her classroom practices showing teachers ways to promote reading in the classroom as a positive and engaging activity. Students need to be able to read for pleasure and enjoy words, not just reading for textual analysis.

Shades of Meaning: Comprehension and Interpretation in Middle School by Donna Santman – This book shows you how to teach readers the skills and strategies of comprehension and interpretation within the framework of a reading workshop. Shades of Meaning takes you through Santman’s own rigorous workshop, describing the teaching that allows students to stretch and empower their imaginations.

From Texting to Teaching by Jeremy Hyler and Troy Hicks – Grammar is a part of teaching English but the traditional ways of teaching grammar have left a negative impact on people and teachers alike. Hyler and Hicks offer technology tools and teaching strategies that will help students and teachers understand the depths of grammar and become better writers.

Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning by Erik Palmer – The Common Core Learning Standards are big on claim evidence reasoning and Good Thinking provides effective exercises and templates to lead students into improvements in articulating their thinking and backing up their claims.

Teaching Interpretation: Using Text Based Evidence to Construct Meaning by Sonja Cherry Paul and Dana Johansen – Sonja and Dana also provide specific ways for teachers to introduce or review the various concepts that are essential in teaching interpretation to help our students become better critical thinkers. The design of the book allows for teachers to easily incorporate any of the ideas, lessons, assessments, graphic organizers, and list of text resources into an already existing curriculum.

Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen – The basic message of Jensen’s book is that we have a much greater ability to affect the learning of students than we realize. Some of the many topics covered in his book include how to prepare children for school, how to motivate students to participate, how to influence emotional states, how to design smarter schools, and how to enhance memory and critical thinking skills.

The Journey is Everything by Katherine Bomer – Katherine Bomer reclaims the essay as a tool for writing and communicating our ideas. Throughout her book she offers countless mentor texts and ways to teach writing that gets away from the bossy thesis statement and closer to poetic writing.

A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts – Kate Roberts uses the reading workshop approach to teach choice novels, book groups, and whole class novels. She gives permission to teachers to utilize whole class novels to teach key elements of literature without spending too much time teaching books, rather teaching readers.

Text-Dependent Questions, Grades 6-12: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading by Douglas B. Fisher , Nancy Frey, et al. – What does the text say? How does the text work? What does the text mean? What does the text inspire you to do? Fisher and Frey break down close reading into four cognitive pathways to help students peel back the layers of text for deeper meaning.

Teaching English by Design by Peter Smagorinsky – Teaching English by Design is practical, providing examples of units and support for how to create them.

Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson – This is my philosophy: If you are doing all the hard work and the heavy lifting then you are doing all the learning. Jackson’s seven principles will help your students be the lead learners in your classroom an effective facilitator for learning and understanding.  

Using Informational Text to Teach To Kill a Mockingbird by Audrey Fisch & Susan Chenelle – The new Common Core State Standards mean major changes for language arts teachers, particularly the emphasis on “informational text.” How do we shift attention toward informational texts without taking away from the teaching of literature? Fisch and Chenelle have written four books all focusing on different core texts still taught in high schools today.

Sparks in the Dark:Lessons, Ideas and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney – In Sparks in the Dark, Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney share their experiences as educators who purposefully seek to spark a love for reading and writing in the learners they serve. The reason is simple: Writing and reading have the power to change the trajectory of a life.

Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4-12 by Kelly Gallagher – I will read anything by Kelly Gallagher and this is another must have book for teaching English. The book is filled with many ideas to teach literature and respond to texts. Kelly also provides guidance on effective lesson planning that incorporates strategies for deeper reading.

Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Content Comprehension Grades 6-12 by Chris Tovani – Building on the experiences gained in her own language arts classroom, Cris shows how teachers can expand on their content expertise to provide instruction students need to understand specific technical and narrative texts. The book includes: examples of how teachers can model their reading process for students.

 

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Social Justice: A Young Adult Book List

Summer time allows me to catch up on reading and begin to plan for the ideas swimming in my brain for the new school year. Since I have moved around which core texts that I am teaching first in my eighth grade English class, and we will read To Kill a Mockingbird in the first quarter, I have decided that the first outside reading  assignment will focus on the theme of social justice.

Each quarter my students select an outside reading book to read independently and if students are aiming for honors English in the high school they read two outside reading books per quarter. The themes of the outside reading books change based on current events and genres. The most popular outside reading assignment this past year was graphic novels.

As students are reading the historical based text, To Kill a Mockingbird, I want them to be aware of the oppression and injustices that still exist in our world today.  I have carefully selected books that I have read and have been recommend to me that cover topics of racism, classism, homophobia, guerilla warfare in third world countries, and illegal immigration.  My over all theme throughout the year is community and empathy.  Below is the book list that I have compiled for September.

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Year in Review Flipagram

My student had a Flipagram running on her phone yesterday and I became obsessed. This is an awesome free app that creates a speedy slide show with music (free for 30 seconds) to one’s pictures. So, I just had to create a year in review slideshow to share with everyone the highlights teaching eighth grade English this year.

Here’s a list of the biggies:

The Literacy Lounge
Interactive Notebooks & Foldables
Common Core Standards
NCTE Annual Convention
Bubble Head Responses
Close Reading
Give More Hugs Partnership
Genius Hour
Tunnel Books
Twitter Chats

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Who’s Who? A Detective’s Interactive File & Close Reading

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My students have just started reading Agatha Christie’s murder mystery And Then There Were None.  In the first chapter the reader is introduced to eleven different and central characters. This can be confusion for some. So, in order to help my students to learn and understand each of the characters I created an interactive detective’s file foldable for their English Journal.  Students created the detective’s file and then received a small file card on each of the characters to fill out while reading of the text.  Like a detective seen on television and in movies, students are required to keep a file on each of the characters based on their reading and understanding of the text. The detective’s files needed to contain the following information:

Front Side (To be completed during after reading Chapters 1 & 2) :

Physical Traits

Character Traits

Reason for going to Solider Island

Mode of Transportation to the Island

Inferences that can be made about the character

Back Side (To be completed during reading chapters 3-15):

Crime Accused of

Reactions

Cause of Death

Time & Place of Death

 

After students made the detective file foldable and glued it into their notebooks they were assigned a specific character to study and examine closely.  Working in small groups, students reread specific sections about their character gathering evidence, then developing ideas and making inferences about the character. Using the information from the selected text students were to uncover the following: (1) the character’s physical appearance and age; (2) the mode of transportation the character used to arrive on Solider Island; (3) a direct quote about the character describing the character’s personality; (4) an inference about the character’s personality based on the quote; and (5) how the character was invited to the island and what he/she expects to do on Solider Island. Students created posters to communicate all the above information. 

This activity directly links to the CCLS and close reading for text evidence: “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it” (CCLS R.1). 

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Students presented their finished posters and their classmates filled in their detective files on each of the characters of the text.

Christopher Lehman & Kate Roberts’ book Falling in Love with Close Reading (2014) describes close reading as “following the unfolding of an idea, to hear a text, to attend to language, to question, to visualize scenes, to mentally construct characters can only come from closely paying attention” [to the text] (p.10).  This year I am slowing down my students reading so they practice the skill of reading closely, paying attention to the details, and see the complexity of ideas that are presented in texts and in our own lives. 

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Summer Reading Recommendations for Middle School

This upcoming fall I plan to teach eighth grade English and summer reading requirements have sent me researching book titles for my incoming students.

All students entering Grade 8 at the schools where I teach are required to read: Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals. In 1957, Melba Pattillo turned sixteen. Little did she know that same year she would become a warrior at the core of the fight for civil rights. Following the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, Melba was one of nine teenagers chosen to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Warriors Don’t Cry is her story.

My students will be required to read another book, plus a third for extra credit.  Here are some recommended titles:

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal

Equally detested and revered–often by the same people–Steve Jobs, the man who operated from his own “reality distortion field,” moved beyond the visionary to perfect the simple and transform the world as we know it. Blumenthal’s accessible biography presents an intimate and well-rounded portrait of a complex American icon and the technological contributions that define his enduring legacy.

Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans

Michael Vey is an ordinary fourteen-year-old. In fact, the only thing that seems to set him apart is the fact that he has Tourette’s syndrome. But Michael is anything but ordinary; he has special electric powers. Michael thinks he’s unique until he discovers that a cheerleader named Taylor also has special powers. With the help of another, they investigate their conditions. Their investigation brings them to the attention of a powerful group who wants to control the electric children – and through them the world.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Growing up in Texas in 1899, Calpurnia is more interested in science than cooking and needlepoint. Her grandfather, a naturalist, sparks Calpurnia’s curiosity and they explore the rivers, observe animals, and possibly discover a new species of plant. Conflicted by societal expectations for girls in the 1900s, Callie desires to be a scientist rather than a mother and a wife.

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of WWII by Robert Kurson

John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, two divers, take on a wreck, a WWII U-boat, at 230 feet, off the coast of New Jersey. The two divers embark on a seven-year search for the U-boat’s identity, jarring people’s memories and researching archives. Along the way, Chatterton’s diving had serious repercussions for his personal life, while Kohler’s commitment to the cause resulted in his becoming a U-boat scholar. The completion of their quest answers one of the few remaining questions about WWII. Adventure enthusiasts will love the story of these divers and history buffs will revel in the descriptions of WWII and the Third Reich.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Sixteen-year-old Jacob receives a letter that sends him on a journey to a remote island, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar, possibly dangerous. The story includes vintage photographs that help unravel the plot and Jacob’s findings on the island. Read the story to find out why these children were quarantined on this island long ago.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, the hallways hum with the murmur of “Stargirl, Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with just one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. At first then they turn on her. Stargirl is suddenly shunned for everything that makes her different, and Leo, panicked and desperate with love, urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This book comes recommended to me by one of my students.  Sixteen year old Hazel is living with cancer and clinically depressed.  She is sent my her doctor to a support group where she meets Augustus, a fellow cancer survivor.  They fall in love and so the novel continues.  If you have read Wonder, by RJ Palacio, this might be a book you would like.

If you have a great recommended read for middle school students, please share book titles in the comment section below.  Happy reading!

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