Winding Down the School Year

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

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

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

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

5 EdTech Sites Every English Teacher Should Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



End of the Year Activities for the Secondary Classroom

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


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

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

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

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


The Earth Friendly Classroom: Tips for Going Paperless

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

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

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

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


Generate Authentic Classroom Conversation with Google Forms

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


Make Poetry Fun with Blackout Poetry

Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students
Even though I incorporate poetry in my instruction throughout the year, whenever I teach my poetry unit, students always seem to moan and groan. It seems as if many students don’t like poetry, so I end my poetry unit with a fun poetry project that students love: Blackout Poetry.

If your students have never encountered Blackout Poetry before, they will love this assignment. I incorporate this project with literature we’ve previously read in class. Since my poetry unit coincides with National Poetry Month (April), I find online PDF versions of the novels and short stories we’ve read in class and print those out. I print out several different pages from each novel so that my students have a variety of options from which to choose.
Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

Before they begin working on this project, I help them out by telling them to first skim the page. As they skim, I have them look for words that pop out at them. Once they have some words that they want to use, I then have them add in more words from the text to create their poem.

I only dedicate one day in class for this assignment, and the rest is completed at home. I tell my students that the minimum requirement is that the poem is blacked out, but I encourage them to make their poems more artistic and to incorporate an image. Students love this assignment, and they truly churn out some amazing work.
Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

Blackout poetry project for middle school and high school students

To wrap up this project, I dedicate one day in class to present their Blackout Poems. For their presentations, I have students state where the original text came from and why they chose that piece, discuss why they gravitated to the words they chose, explain the poem’s message or theme, and talk about the poem’s aesthetics. This is a great way to have students work on their public speaking and presentation skills as well.

Instead of individual class presentations, you can also complete this assignment with small-group presentations or a gallery walk.

If you are planning your next poetry unit, here are some resources that might interest you:
Annotating Poetry Made Easy
SMARTePlans Digital Poetry Notebook
Academic Vocabulary: Words About Poetry
FREE Blank Verse Project

Teaching the Essay Outline

Writing is a process, and one of the most crucial steps in the writing process is brainstorming and organizing, so it only makes sense that I spend a considerable amount of time with my students on brainstorming and outlining their essays. Students need to know how to think of ideas, gather information, and organize their thoughts in a logical manner. Once our students are in college, professors will expect them to know how to do this for much larger and more comprehensive papers, so it is essential that we take time to break this process down for our students and make it a more manageable task.

In my classroom, I use this essay outline with my students. Not only does this essay outline break down the essay into manageable pieces, it also provides students with detailed descriptions of what they need to do for each part of the essay. For example, for their introductions, the outline includes a space for the hook, background information, and thesis statement. Body paragraphs have designated spaces for topic sentences, quotes, and explanations. This essay outline also includes a cover page that provides students with an overview of the essay outline as well as a dedicated space to write important due date information.

When I have my students outline their essays, I require that they include their full thesis statement, complete topic sentences, and all of their quotes (or other pieces of evidence/concrete details if quotes are not required). It may not sound like a lot at first, but outlining their essays like this is, in my opinion, more difficult than actually writing their essays. They have to know exactly what their paper is about, how they will present their evidence, and which quotes will best support their argument.

This typically takes one or two full class periods (two if it is an argument essay, because the counter argument takes more time to explain). Generally, plan to spend more time than you think on the essay outline in the classroom. Once students have their essays outlined and organized with relevant examples and quotes, it is much easier for them to complete the rest of the writing process.

As they are outlining their essays, I make sure that I tell them several times that this is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. I tell them that they are putting in the hard work now, so that it will all pay off once they draft their first draft.

After spending more time in class with my students on their outlines, I’ve seen their essays improve tremendously! They have more confidence in their writing, their essays are logically organized, and they stay on topic!

In addition to the essay outline featured in this post, I also have a free essay outline available in my TpT store.

Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers

Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.
If there are two things my students know, it is that I assign paragraphs often, and that I grade them rather harshly -especially in the second semester. It’s not that I want them to fail, or that I have a fear of passing too many students stellar marks, but moreso, this is because I want them to succeed.


Students need to master how to write a paragraph before they can tackle an essay. I want my students to be able to write a defined and well-supported paragraph when they leave my classroom so that they are more confident when they need to write an essay. Also, as students get ready to take high-stakes standardized tests, they need to be able to respond to a prompt, provide evidence, and support the evidence in their writing.


I typically assign a paragraph every week in my class. The paragraphs are related to what we studied, and I follow a traditional Jane Schaffer format. I expect that my students can produce a clearly-defined topic sentence, related evidence, and supporting commentary and explanation. Their paragraphs are typically worth 20 points each. Students receive 5 points for their topic sentence, 5 points for their evidence, and 5 points for their commentary. The remaining 5 points are given based on grammar, cohesion, mechanics, and overall if students truly demonstrate their understanding of the topic. Even if the paper is filled with grammatical mistakes, the most I take off is 5 points. One reason why I do this is because many of my students learn English as a second language, and I believe that assigning punitive grades for grammar does them a disservice. When I grade harshly, I am looking primarily for content and ideas.
Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.

If the student is missing a topic sentence, or if it is off-topic, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student is missing evidence, if their evidence is not related, or if their evidence is too generic, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student is missing the commentary and explanation, they do not receive the 5 points. If the student does not answer the writing prompt, they receive zero points.


In order for this to work, I make sure that I provide my students with detailed comments and I provide them with an opportunity to redo their paper for full credit.
Grading Writing: My philosophy to help students become better writers. Secondary ELA. Teaching writing to students.


When I write comments on papers, I try to be as detailed as possible. When students need to be more specific, I prompt them with questions that will help them be more specific. If students need to include better commentary, I begin the sentence for them or provide them with different routes to take. Once students receive their paragraphs back, I allow them to redo the paragraph for full credit because this is where I believe the real learning takes place. Providing students with the opportunity to learn from their first drafts, revise their writing, and resubmit for a better grade encourages students to work all the way through the writing process. It also shows the students that you care about their learning.


While thoroughly grading 100+ paragraphs takes quite a bit of time, this strategy will pay off in the long run. Ever since I started grading paragraphs with a critical eye, I’ve seen improvements not only in their paragraphs, but also in their essays. This is something that transfers from paragraph writing to essay writing. I’ve also noticed that the more paragraphs I assign, the less time it takes to grade as the year progresses. As my students learn how to write better, I find myself writing more checkmarks (my sign for “yes,” “great point,” etc.) on papers instead of detailed comments.

Toward the end of the year, it is so rewarding to see a student who routinely scores a 10 or 12 out of 20 consistently earn a perfect score.

Here are some teaching resources that might interest you:

New Website Launch Giveaway

To help celebrate the launch of my new website, TheDaringEnglishTeacher.com, and first-ever newsletter, I am giving away two $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift cards.


My newsletter will be packed with teaching ideas, resources, sale information, product updates, free downloads, and more!


To enter the gift card giveaway and to sign up to receive my bi-monthly newsletters, visit TheDaringEnglishTeacher.com and signup to receive the newsletter. The giveaway will end on Saturday, January 28 at 9:00 pm PST.

There are two ways to enter: 1) simply sign up to receive the newsletter; 2) sign up for the newsletter and tag your friends on social media (FB or IG). The more people you tag, the better your chances are to win!

No purchase necessary to enter. Winners will be notified via email on Sunday, January 29. Winners will have 48 hours to claim the prize. You may earn ten additional entries, one per tagged person, on social media. People who tag their friends must also sign up for the newsletter.

Kindness Matters in the Classroom and Beyond

#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.
A little kindness and empathy can go a long way. Demonstrating kindness and empathy can completely change a person’s day, open new doors and opportunities, and mend hurting relationships. And while I firmly believe that teaching kindness and empathy should start in the home, as educators, we need to emphasize these qualities in our classrooms every single day. There is a link to a free resource to use in your classroom toward the bottom of this post!


I start every class period with a bell ringer. Bell ringers provide students with the perfect routine that helps them transition from the craziness that happens in the halls during passion period, to the more structured setting of a classroom. Some of my favorite bell ringers to use with my students are sentence combining bell ringers, growth mindset bell ringers, and bell ringers that force students to use their critical thinking skills. I have my students track their bell ringers on this free tracking sheet, and I stamp it every single class period after I take attendance.
#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.

To provide my students with opportunities to grow as intellectuals and think about love, acceptance, tolerance, diversity, and kindness, I created this set of 40 bell ringers: Bell Ringers to Establish Community. Each bell ringer includes a thought-provoking quote from someone who has made a positive impact on the world and a quick writing prompt that encourages critical thinking.

I typically give my students the first five minutes of class to respond and share their response to each bell ringer. During these five minutes I am able to take attendance, answer student questions, talk with students who were recently absent, stamp all of my students’ bell ringers, and have two or three students share their responses aloud. I look forward to hearing my students respond to these prompts.


To help you decide if these bell ringers are right for you class, I’ve posted a FREE SAMPLER. The free sampler includes 5 different bell ringers that are sure to inspire your students.
#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.

#KindnessNation #WeHoldTheseTruths resources for educators to teach kindness in the classroom.



To help show that kindness matters, I’ve teamed up with some amazing educators and resource authors to provide teachers with free resources to teach kindness in the classroom. This #WeHoldTheseTruths and a #KindnessMatters blog hop is hosted by the Secondary Smorgasbord: The ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures.