My English Curriculum: The First 6 Weeks

My English Curriculum: The first six weeks of teaching middle school or high school English. Lessons, activities, and ideas.
Hey there, fellow English teacher! If you’ve stumbled upon this blog post, chances are you are looking for ideas, inspiration, lesson plans, and guidance for the beginning of the school year. To help teachers everywhere, I’m writing a new blog series that explains how I plan and sequence my school year starting in the beginning of a brand new school year. This curriculum outline is ideal for grades 7-10.

The first week of school is crucial for building trust and establishing your classroom culture. That is why I like to spend a little bit of time getting to know my students, assessing their knowledge, and teaching some crucial information.
My English Curriculum: The first six weeks of teaching middle school or high school English. Lessons, activities, and ideas. WEEK 1
To begin with, I usually like to spend about three days getting to know my students and fostering a positive classroom culture. To do so, I use the resources in my Back to School Activities for Secondary Students and Growth Mindset Activities resources. Usually by the third day I like to begin assessing my students’ abilities, and this typically takes the form of a short narrative essay. I spend the last two days of the first week teaching students how to properly annotate text with my Annotating Text Made Easy lesson. I like to use this lesson in the beginning of the school year so that I can refer back to the close reading skills they gain during this lesson throughout the entire year.

For my first unit of the school year, I like to begin with short stories. Starting the year with short stories exposes students to literary devices and elements. For the first week of the short story unit, I typically begin with the shortest short story because there is some pre-loading that goes into this unit. Before we even read a short story in class, I teach students about short stories and literary devices using a PowerPoint lesson found in my Short Stories Unit. What I like about this unit is that it introduces students to the content, and it works with any short story. There are many organizers and creative assignments included in this resource as well.

When I teach short stories, I usually tend to focus on one or two literary elements and devices per story. Before we read, I give students vocabulary words, review important story context, and teach the focus literary element or device. Then we read the story, and I have them look for examples and quotes that show that particular device. After each short story, I have them write a paragraph that analyzes the short story, the author’s use of the device, and how the device contributes to the audience’s understanding of the story. I typically do not quiz my students on each short story, rather I assess their knowledge and understanding through these paragraphs.

One of my favorite short stories to teach is “The Most Dangerous Game.” This Close Reading Lesson and Writing Activity follows the format that I teach. It focuses on a particular literary device and includes a writing response. Since I teach short stories in the beginning of the year, I provide my students with sentence frames to help with the writing.

My English Curriculum: The first six weeks of teaching middle school or high school English. Lessons, activities, and ideas. WEEK 6
I wrap-up my short story unit with a fictional narrative. Throughout the first few weeks my students read and analyzed narratives, so I like to conclude this unit with a narrative of their own. We spend a couple days brainstorming their protagonist, antagonist, setting, conflict, and plot structure. The students sketch out their narrative essay and write their first draft. After a day of revision circles (peer editing done in small groups), students then publish their final draft using the feedback from their peers. I use the information in my Narrative Writing Unit to help with this final assessment.

On the last day of the unit, I typically assess my students with an end-of-unit test that includes all of the literary devices we covered and information from each of the stories. I also use this time in class while students are testing to begin grading their final drafts. Doing this helps reduce the time I spend on the weekends grading student papers.

After teaching short stories for the first unit, my students are ready to move on to a longer text!

What do your first six weeks of the school year look like?

My Perfect Teaching Bag

My search for the best teaching bag ever is finally over. After years of using different totes, bags, and even purses, I’ve finally found, what I believe to be, is the last teaching bad I’ll ever purchase. And by last, I mean the last style...definitely not the last print. I'll be getting more of these sooner than I should. There are so many cute prints to choose from!

As a traveling teacher this year, I needed to find a bag that was durable and practical. I’ve never had to travel before, so quickly packing up all of my belongings and moving from one room to another necessitated a new bag because all of my other ones were simply not cutting it any longer.

My new teacher bag obsession is the Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote by Thirty-One. This tote is a teacher’s dream! The white poppy design is adorable, and it goes with almost all of my outfits. Plus, it has two large mesh pockets on the sides, and five more pockets that make storing Flair pens, Expo markers, stamps, paper clips, student papers, my attendance binder, my lesson planning book, and everything else I could possibly imagine easy. Plus, it is super affordable, so that was a major plus!

I even splurged for the Fold ‘N File insert to place inside the bag. This insert makes packing up and organizing all of my student files even easier!

In addition to amazing teacher bags, Thirty-One also makes great lunch bags! If you are interested in this teaching bag, one of my childhood friends is a consultant for Thirty-One. She can help you with your order. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. You can view all of the amazing products HERE!

If you've never heard of or checked out Thirty-One before, you are missing out! This bag will surely make your teaching life easier!

Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Thirty-One...I just love the bags this much!

Why I Accept Late Work: Cultivating a Growth Mindset in the Classroom

Classroom management: accepting late work and cultivating a growth mindset in your classroom.
At the beginning of every single school year, I agonize over whether or not to accept late work. Finding the balance between being firm and strict, but yet also caring, nurturing, and empowering is difficult to find. If you lean too far one way, you will lose students in the middle of the year.

Classroom management: accepting late work and cultivating a growth mindset in your classroom.
For the first few years of my teaching career, I changed my late work policy with each new school year. One year I would accept late work at any point in the year, and the next year I would not allow any late work whatsoever. During the years when I would accept late work, I always seemed swamped and overwhelmed. During the years when I didn’t accept late work, I had less assignments to grade and saved a lot of time. I also thought that I was teaching my students about responsibility and accountability.

Allowing students to turn in late work is time consuming. You must be super organized, have a system in place, and put in extra time grading all of those late assignments that come rolling in toward the end of the grading period. It is much easier to simply say no. “No, I do not allow any late work. You are in high school now and you simply must know that there are deadlines and consequences for not meeting such deadlines.”

But what does that really teach our students?  By not allowing students to turn in any late work, we are saying that once a time passes, we no longer care to see what they know, what they’ve learned, and what they have to share with us. By not allowing students to turn in any late work, we are saying that the learning stops. By not allowing students to turn in any late work, we are denying our students an opportunity to cultivate a growth mindset.

So even though it requires extra time and organization on my part, I will gladly accept late work from my students. However, even though I accept late work, I make it perfectly clear to my students that I do not look favorably at constantly missing deadlines.

My Late Work Guidelines
1. Do not make a habit out of turning in assignments late.
We are all human. We make mistakes, we forget things, and we miss deadlines. It happens. And in almost every single case, missing a deadline does not have an end-all-be-all hard-stop consequence. If we miss paying our taxes on time, we simply pay a late fee. If we forget about paying the electric bill, we have a 15 day grace period. If adults have failsafes such as these, so should students. I truly feel that it is important to realize this when we are dealing with our students.

2. Students must put in extra effort to turn in assignments late.
If a student is going to turn in an assignment late, I want to talk to them. I want to know why it was late. I tell students to come to school early or stay after the end of the day to make up assignments. I will even grade the assignment right then and there and update their grade. While this is time consuming, it also does wonders for relationship building. I want my students to know that my door is always open. They can always come in before or after school to make up work they might have missed.
Classroom management: accepting late work and cultivating a growth mindset in your classroom.
There are many ways to promote a growth mindset in your classroom, and accepting late work is one way to begin showing students how to keep learning and not give up. If you are interested in establishing a growth mindset in your classroom, check out my growth mindset resources. This resource includes activities, a self-assessment, and resources to help your students with cultivating their own growth mindset. This resource even includes a late work submission and redo slip!

Click HERE for growth mindset activities and resources.

Teaching in the 21st Century: Annotating Text Digitally!

Teach middle school and high school students to annotate text digitally. 21st Century Learning Skills.
As an English teacher, I believe that every single high school student needs to know how to annotate text meaningfully and effectively in order to gain a deeper understanding. Close reading is an essential part of the English language arts, and it is also essential to many other academic disciples as well. Teaching students to properly annotate text is something can be challenging, but my step-by-step text annotation lesson makes this process much more manageable for students and teachers. Check this lesson out HERE or at the bottom of the post.
As we step into the digital world and as schools slowly transition to 1:1, teachers have to find new ways to have students demonstrate their mastery of a skill.

Teach middle school and high school students to annotate text digitally. 21st Century Learning Skills.Recently, I stumbled upon a Google Chrome app that makes annotating text on an electronic device easy peasy: Xodo.

Xodo is a free Google Chrome app that allows students to annotate directly on the screen. They can draw arrows and type in comments. It is a dream!

Simply instruct students to find the Xodo app in the Chrome Web Store. It is completely free and very easy to install. To do this, students can Google the “Chrome Web Store.” From there, have them search for “Xodo” and install the app onto their Chromebooks. You district administrator might need to install the app or grant permission to do so.

Once the extension is installed, students are ready to annotate any PDF text on their device. To do this, send students a PDF file of the text you would like them to annotate and have the students save it in their Google Drive. The easiest way to do this is to distribute it through Google Classroom. Instruct students to access their Google Chrome apps and open the Xodo app. Once this app is open, students will then be able to access and open the PDF file from their Google Drive.

From there the possibilities are endless. Students can annotate any text you share with them. I’ve found that it is easiest if the file is a PDF. This will make annotating text online with Chromebooks easy, fun, and interactive.

Teach text annotation and make it easy. This lesson is great for all middle school and high school students.
When I teach my students how to annotate text, I use my Annotating Made Easy lesson series to get them started. These text annotation lessons include step-by-step directions that teach students how to annotate non fiction, fiction, and poetry. Each lesson includes a PowerPoint presentation that is editable, and a PDF resource that includes helpful student handouts and resources. Each lesson even includes an in-class example that breaks down the process to make it manageable and easy for students.

If you are looking for more digital annotation activities, check out my SMARTePlans Digital Poetry Annotation activity. This resource includes a Google Slides activity for students to annotate a poem.

Engage your Students with Fishbowl Discussions

Conduct authentic and meaningful classroom discussions in your high school or middle school English classroom.

If you’ve never conducted a fishbowl discussion in your classroom, you and your students are missing out. Similar to a Socratic Seminar, fishbowl discussions are organized classroom discussions that require students to prepare thoughtful responses to deliver in class.

I love using fishbowl discussions as an end of the unit review activity because I can give my students a lot of content to review and use to prepare for the discussion, and I can also use the discussion itself as a way to assess my students’ speaking and listening skills.

Conduct authentic and meaningful classroom discussions in your high school or middle school English classroom.
Organize your classroom
You will want to prepare your classroom for the discussion. Typically, I place two tables or four desks in the center of the room. That is my fishbowl. During the discussion, four students will sit in the middle of the room and answer and discuss the topic questions. The rest of the tables and desks in the room are arranged in a circular pattern around the fishbowl. That way, just like people look at the fish inside a fishbowl, the rest of the students in the classroom are looking at the students who are actively participating in the discussion. At the front of the room, or at the top of the fishbowl, I usually place two desks or one table. This is designated as the “hot seat.”

Prepare your students
In order for the fishbowl discussion to be effective, students need to be prepared for the discussion questions, and that is why this activity works very well as a review activity. Typically, a couple days before the discussion, I will assign my students about 20-30 review questions to help them prepare for the discussion and the end-of-unit test. Open-ended questions that require evidence and explanation and opinion-based questions typically work best for the discussion. When students can either agree with one another or disagree, the discussion will be more powerful. The day before the discussion, I will have my students either work in groups to answer the questions, or I will conduct some sort of collaborative activity (gallery walk, question jigsaw, or review stations) that requires students to answer the questions.
Conduct authentic and meaningful classroom discussions in your high school or middle school English classroom.
Conduct the Fishbowl Discussion
Before I begin the fishbowl discussion, I print out the review questions and cut them up into little strips. I then fold each strip a couple times and place them in some sort of bucket. I use my small bucket from the Target Dollar Spot. I then explain the fishbowl procedures to my class: each student must speak at least once; each student must contribute something meaningful to the conversation that demonstrates their knowledge and understanding of the content; only the “fish” inside the fishbowl can answer the discussion questions and participate in the conversation; students sitting in the outside circle can participate at anytime as long as they move to the designated “hot seat” location; only two students may occupy the “hot seat” location at a time; all students need to be respectful at all times; and once the fish inside the fishbowl are satisfied with their answers, they must tap in a student from the outside circle that hasn’t been inside the fishbowl yet. I also explain to my students that they are being graded based on their responses, and that in order to receive full credit, they must contribute something meaningful to the discussion.

Usually right before I begin this activity, I provide my students with some sentence starters and sentence frames to help them properly agree or disagree with their classmates. I want to model to them proper communication strategies that will help them in college and in the work force.

Sentence Frames for the Fishbowl Discussion
  • “While I agree with ______ about ______, I also feel that_______.”
  • “I respectfully disagree with _____ about his/her stance on ______ because I feel that ______.”
  • “Adding onto ____’s contribution, I would also like to say ________.”
  • “While _______ has a great point, I believe that _________.”
  • “While I can see why _______ said _______, I think differently because _______.”

Holding a fishbowl conversation in your classroom is a great way to get all of the students involved in a classroom discussion. It is also a great way to help students learn difficult concepts and prepare for upcoming tests. Additionally, having fishbowl conversations in class helps students open up and share their thoughts because even though they are sharing their thoughts and answers with the entire class, the intimate setting of the four seats in the center feels more like an intimate conversation that a classroom presentation.

If you enjoy holding fishbowl discussions in your classroom, you may be interested in my Socratic Seminar resource. This resource will help prepare your students for Socratic Seminars and fishbowl conversations. Teaching in a digital classroom? You might be interested in my SMARTePlans Digital Socratic Seminar.