4 Teacher Resolutions for the New Year

As 2016 comes to an end and 2017 rolls in, it is time to start thinking about ways to improve our educational practices. We spend the first semester really getting to know our new students and understanding the different classroom dynamics of each class period, so it only makes sense to take what we know and improve our teaching practices.

Here are 4 resolutions to incorporate in the new calendar year.

Teacher New Year's Resolutions to help make a difference
One thing I want to focus on this year is providing my students with meaningful feedback that will enhance their learning. Sure, I can quickly jot down a checkmark next to a well-written sentence , but how does that really help my students?

To provide my students with more meaningful and effective feedback, I’m going to write about two detailed comments on major papers that point out specifically what the students did well and why it works.

Instead of writing “nice intro” on an essay, I might write, “great job on your thesis statement. It is detailed, to the point, and includes a strong verb.” To make this comment more beneficial, I would circle the strong verb, and possibly add a couple more strong verb suggestions to help my student grow as a writer.

Teacher New Year's Resolutions to help make a difference
When students collaborate with one another, they get to act as a student and a teacher. As the student, they get to demonstrate their mastery of the topic and learn from other students in the classroom. As the teacher, they get to reteach the content in their own language to their peers.

The best way to learn something is to teach it, and that is one of the reasons why collaborative work is so great.

Another reason I want to add in more collaborative work in my classroom is because it provides students with more real-world experience. Students need to know how to work with different groups of people, and practicing in the classroom is a great time for them to learn this vital skill.

Some of the collaborative activities I love are collaborative essay brainstorming and collaborative rhetorical analysis posters.

Teacher New Year's Resolutions to help make a difference
Our students are 21st Century learners, and as educators we need to embrace that in our classrooms to help students reach their full potential.

If you are new to educational technology, one way to easily incorporate edtech into your classroom is by having students complete a collaborative assignment in Google Docs or Google Slides. I especially love using Google Forms in my classroom because there are so many different uses for Forms.

If you are brand new to Google Forms, you'll want to read my introductory Google Form blog post. If you've used Forms in the past, you might be interested in different ways you can incorporate Google Forms into your classroom.

For digital lessons and resources, be sure to check out my SMARTePlans digital, Google-based resources. These resources are engaging, and students love how they are interactive.

Teacher New Year's Resolutions to help make a difference
Trees and paper are finite resources, so it is important to be ecologically responsible. While the idea of a completely paperless classroom might be a little too unattainable, there are several ways to reduce paper consumption in our classrooms. 

I’m always trying to think of ways I can use less paper in my own classroom, and here are some that I have found: Have students take quizzes on half or quarter sheets of paper; encourage students to write notes on the back of their paper and in the margins; utilize class sets of copies; encourage collaboration with shared copies; ask your TA to clean out and catalog (preferably Google Sheet that is shared among your entire department) all of your class sets of copies and texts; and share class sets of reading materials with other teachers.

What is your New Year's Resolution for the classroom?

Nine Memes English Teachers Can Relate to at the End of the Year

Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.
As the end of the semester nears, it's time for the same ol' routine we encounter every single year. Between final grades, final exams, final essays, cumulative projects, letters of recommendation, and more, we need to remember that we've made it through before.

1. It's officially excuse season. Our students suddenly realize that there are less than two weeks left in the grading period, and they get pretty creative.
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

2. While some of the excuses demonstrate creativity and ingenuity, others are just .... blah. It's like they think this is our first year teaching or that we didn't attend high school ourselves.
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

3. Then there is that moment when you realize that last week's plans are completely back firing on you right now. Lesson learned: watch the movie AFTER students turn in their essays.
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

4. During this time you might begin to wonder why you have a Google Classroom, classroom website, parent information page, digital calendar, whiteboard calendar, and Remind account.

5. The begging and pleading during the end of the semester is almost comical.
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

6. And then you look back at your desk and remember all of the grading you still need to do. Just the mere thought of it makes you question your sanity.
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

7. But just like every single semester before, you make it through and grade that one last, glorious paper or exam.
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

8. That is when reality sets in and your to-do list is complete for the first time since the semester began. You also realize you won't be waking up at 5:00 for the next couple weeks.
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

9. Enjoy your break, teachers. You deserve it!
Teacher humor: Memes all secondary English teachers can relate to at the end of the year.

You might enjoy these end of the semester activities in your classroom:

Laughing All The Way with The Daring English Teacher

The holiday season is officially here, and I want to make sure that teachers are laughing all the way to winter break. To help make these next few weeks go by quickly, I’m participating in a holiday blog hop and raffle giveaway hosted by The Language Arts Classroom. Keep reading this post for more great ideas and for a chance to win some gift cards!

My entire store will also be on sale on Monday, November 28 and Tuesday, November 29 to help teachers make it until the end of the semester.

As the end of the semester nears, students begin daydreaming about winter vacation, no school, presents, no school, time with family and friends, and no school. It can be very difficult to keep their focus and concentration during this time of year, so I give students some choice with real-life topics that matter to them while maintaining the rigor that my administrators expect!

One thing I like to do at the end of the semester is engage students with a high-interest argument essay. Even though they write a complete argument essay with researched information and supporting evidence, students enjoy this assignment because I give them a variety of highly engaging topics to choose from. Plus, this assignment fits perfectly in the instructional time we have between Thanksgiving and winter break!

Students can choose between anything from cell phones in the classroom, to college tuition prices, to school uniforms, and more. To expedite this process, I include all of the articles for my students so that they do not waste any time sifting through unreliable information. My Argument Essay Unit - Student Choice MEGA Bundle will be 28% off during the sale!
To help breathe some life into this assignment during this time of year, students can work on the assignment in teams of four. Two students on each team write either the pro or the con together. Then, once both sides are written, each team presents their essays in a debate format. Another fun way to add some excitement to an argument essay at the end of the year is to have students present their research with a campaign poster supporting their claim. Since I have access to Chromebooks in the classroom, I like to have students create digital posters and post them to a padlet!

Enter to win a giftcard!
Check out the rest of the blogs in the hop.

Collaborative Rhetorical Analysis Poster Project

Engage students in rigorous rhetorical analysis with a collaborative poster project.
One of the things I love the most about teaching nonfiction texts is teaching rhetorical analysis and watching students get it.

After teaching my students about ethos, pathos, logos, and a variety of rhetorical devices in two different speeches, I wanted to see if they got it on their own, so I assigned a collaborative rhetorical analysis project.
To set up the project, I printed copies of historical and political speeches that we had not reviewed yet: The Space Shuttle Challenger Address, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream, President George W. Bush’s 9/11 Address to the Nation, and JFK’s Ich bin in Berliner. With the exception of I Have a Dream, all of the speeches are about the same length. I printed out enough copies for each group to have one speech each, and then I collated the speeches so that I could hand them out at random. The students did not have a say in which speech they were given.

I gave each student group a piece of chart paper, markers, and a copy of the speech to annotate.

Using my white board, I drew a mock-up, sample poster for the students with my requirements, and explained my expectations. In groups of three, students were to annotate the speeches, for literal and figurative meaning as well as rhetorical devices; identify the speech’s subject, purpose, author, context, and tone; write a 5-8 sentence summary of the speech, and include at least three rhetorical devices on the poster, with explanation.
Engage students in rigorous rhetorical analysis with a collaborative poster project.

The project took two and a half days, and it went better than I could have asked for. I heard dynamic conversations about the various authors’ use of ethos, pathos, logos, repetition, anaphora, alliteration, and allusion. I saw my students annotating their speeches and truly dissecting the text to gain a deeper understanding. I witnessed authentic learning take place.

On the third day of this project, we took half a day to display the posters and complete a gallery walk. For the gallery walk, I asked each student to write down the title and speaker of each speech and then identify one rhetorical device that the speaker used and explain its significance and overall impact on the speech.
Engage students in rigorous rhetorical analysis with a collaborative poster project.
Engage students in rigorous rhetorical analysis with a collaborative poster project.

Engage students in rigorous rhetorical analysis with a collaborative poster project.
One reason why I think the activity exceeded my expectations is because my students were ready to demonstrate their understanding. Prior to this activity, I taught my students this lesson: It covers the three rhetorical appeals and various rhetorical and persuasive strategies. We used Lou Gehrig’s Farewell to Baseball speech as an introductory text.

Another reason why I believe my students did so well with this activity is because I also taught them how to annotate text. Using my Annotating Made Easy lesson, I taught my students how to annotate text in a step-by-step manner. As a class, we broke down the Gettysburg Address and annotated it. After students annotated small chunks of the text, I had them share their annotations with their table partners and then I showed them some of my annotations. This helps build up their confidence in annotating text. We then spent another day analyzing this speech for rhetorical appeals and devices in the same manner.

I definitely suggest walking through two to three speeches as a class before completing this collaborative rhetorical analysis poster project.

This was a new activity in my classroom, and it will be one I continue to use and tweak throughout the years.

Best of the Best Essay Writing Instruction

Best practices for teaching high school and middle school students all about essay writing
Teaching students to write essays well can be a tricky task. It is so simple to assume that our incoming students are equipped with all of the tools necessary for writing various types of essays, but that thinking is not only flawed, it is detrimental for our students.

I remember way back in the day when I was in high school. My teachers simply assigned an essay, gave us a prompt, and set us on our merry way. Perhaps this wasn’t the norm for most people back then, and I surely hope that it wasn’t, but it always left me utterly confused. Our students need direction. Our students need guidance. Our students need step-by-step instruction.

When we assign our students essays, especially in the first semester of the school year, we need to make sure that we provide our students with all of the tools and information they could possibly need to write the best essay they can. And for essay writing, this means over teaching. So many of my students lack the skills needed to write a thorough topic sentence, and this isn't a skill that secondary teachers can just assume all of their students know.

My newest essay writing lesson series, Essay Writing Unit: Teaching Students to Master the Essay, was designed to help teachers break down the essay writing process into a step-by-step, multi-day instructional unit that empowers teachers to improve their essay writing instruction and enables students to feel more confident in their own writing capabilities.

After implementing this lesson series into my own classroom, I truly feel that this essay writing unit is the best of the best when it comes to essay writing instruction in the secondary classroom.
This series breaks down the essay writing process into manageable chunks: mastering the essay outline, the introduction and thesis statement, topic sentences and body paragraphs, the conclusion, and a final essay checklist. Each portion of this lesson series includes a PowerPoint presentation that is semi-editable provide teachers the opportunity to tailor the content to meet the needs of their individual classrooms and supplementary teaching materials and handouts for the students.

This lesson also includes step-by-step instructions and examples for students to use as mentor texts. For example, in the introduction and thesis writing lesson, I've included examples of what good thesis statements should look like. I've also included examples of poorly written thesis statements with explanations as to why each statement isn't so great.

When I teach essay writing to my students, I teach it as a process. We start with breaking down the essay prompt, brainstorming ideas (click here to read about how I facilitate group brainstorming), outlining the essay, drafting the essay, completing peer and self editing (click here to read about five foolproof ways to conduct peer editing in your classroom), and finally publishing and finalizing the essay.
To preview my essay writing teaching style, you can download my Comprehensive Essay Writing Checklist for FREE! I use this checklist in my classroom as a self editing tool for students to complete before they turn in their final drafts.

This blog post is included in a Secondary ELA blog hop hosted by Secondary Sara. In this blog hop other amazing secondary ELA teachers discuss their best of the best lessons. Be sure to check out all of these posts to find engaging ideas, classroom-tested activities, and free resources that you can use in your own classroom!

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5 Ways to Foster Effective Peer Editing

High school and middle school writing instruction: Effective peer editing activities
When I teach writing in my classroom, I teach it as a process. Every part of the writing process, from the initial brainstorming to peer editing, is equally important and integrally essential to the final draft.

All too often, students flounder when it comes to peer editing essays. Not only is it confusing for students, but they often lack the direction and skills that they need to successfully peer edit a paper. Simply designating a day for either peer editing and giving each student a red pen and free range to check his or her best friend’s paper is not enough.

When it comes to peer editing, students need direction and focus. Here are FIVE ways to make peer editing successful in your class.
Peer editing strategies and activities for the secondary ELA class.
Peer editing with mentor sentences is a great way to not only teach students how to write correct and effective thesis statements and topic sentences, but it also guides students in the because they are looking for and correcting or complementing specific aspects of the essay. I like to do this peer editing activity when my students are still outlining their papers. This activity takes about 15 minutes to complete from start to finish, can easily be completed at the end of the class period, and provides students with critical feedback early in the writing process.

To peer edit with mentor sentences, simply write or project a sample thesis statement and topic sentence (one, or one for each body paragraph) on the board. Then have students trade papers and instruct them to peer edit only the thesis statement and topic sentences. Students should use the mentor sentences as a guide to make sure that the thesis statement and topic sentences are accurate and complete. The thesis statement should include information about the topic of the essay, a strong verb, and the supporting reasons. Similarly, the topic sentences should include a topic, strong verb, and a clause.

When using this method of peer editing, it helps to color code the mentor sentences. Doing this provides extra support for struggling writers, and it especially helps them understand and identify each part of the thesis or topic sentence.

Students are never too old to work with crayons. I love using crayons in my classroom or essay writing and peer editing. You can read this post about how to score free crayons for your classroom.

When peer editing with colors, I like to designate colors for certain parts of the essay. Then, I have my peer editors underline each part of the essay with a certain color. For example, they will underline the thesis statement in red, topic sentence in orange, examples in blue, and commentary in green. From there, they will then look specifically at each part of the essay as designated by its color.

Peer editing strategies and activities for the secondary ELA class.
Ever since I started using my Peer Editing Stations and Rotations resource with my high school students, peer editing has become much simpler and more focused. To begin with, I introduce the concept of peer editing to all of my students with a PowerPoint that teaches about the process and why it is important. Then I explain that we will be going through a series of four rotations and that they will be sharing their paper with four different people.

Once I explain the process, we begin the rotation. As students work their way through each rotation, I keep a to-do checklist on the board for my students to follow. Each rotation asks students to peer edit something different in the essay. By doing this, students are very focused and they are editing with a purpose.

The last rotation is a suggesting and complimenting rotation where students must provide thoughtful and helpful suggestions and compliments for the paper. This is especially helpful because it forces the peer reviewer to read with a critical eye, which then strengthens their own writing capabilities. You can purchase this resource HERE.

If you are fortunate enough to have access to technology or be in a 1:1 digital classroom, you can take peer editing to whole new level in Google Docs. When I use Google with my students for peer reviewing, I instruct each student to change the editing setting from “editing” to “suggesting.” That way the peer reviewer can type directly in the document without changing the original content.

One of the benefits of peer editing digitally is that students can plug the essay into grammar checking websites like grammarly.com or polishmywriting.com to help them provide meaningful suggestions when it comes to grammar, spelling, and style.

Peer editing strategies and activities for the secondary ELA class.
One of the best and most tried and true ways to help students complete peer editing is by providing them with some sort of checklist, form, or even a rubric. I use my Peer Editing Made Easy forms in my classroom when we don’t have time to run through the rotations. These forms are detailed and provide students with specific information to look for. Plus, there is a peer editing form for all of your writing needs.

When peer editing this way, it is also helpful to provide the peer editors with a copy of the rubric you will use to grade the essays. By doing so, the reviewer is looking specifically at different elements within an essay with a critical eye.

As with any portion of the writing process, I always assign points and a grade for peer editing. Usually these points are merely participation points, but by doing so, I show the students that I value peer editing as part of the writing process.

Classroom Intervention: Regain Control of Your Classroom Without Losing Your Cool

Ever so often, secondary teachers will have a difficult and challenging class. While all of the students individually are great kids, the combination of students just makes for one bad recipe. That was the case in my sixth period class this year. It was a difficult class, and almost every day for a few weeks the class tested my patience and classroom management skills. I tried talking to kids individually. I tried positive rewards and interventions. I tried calling home. I tried whole-class punishment. I tried my whole bag of tricks -which includes everything that I do in all of my other classes where this does not happen. Nothing was working, so I paused the class, took an entire day off from instruction, and rebooted my class. I gave them a voice, and the results were amazing.

After several sleepless nights, I decided my class needed a classroom behavior intervention. I didn’t just limit this to my class though, I included myself. At the beginning of the period, I (once again) expressed my disappointment, frustration, and expectations, but then I did something to give the students a voice. I gave them an opportunity to honestly provide input.

I displayed this organizer on the overhead projector, and I told the students that I wanted each and every one of them to complete all of the boxes with information that they felt was reasonable and that would help create a productive and positive classroom atmosphere. This organizer contains six different categories: their expectations of me as their teacher, what I could expect from them as a student, suggested classroom rules, suggested classroom electronic device policy, fair consequences, and classroom goals and objectives. After completing the chart, I asked my students to rate themselves in the classroom and provide rationale.

I told my students that there would be time to compare lists, but that I wanted each student to work on his or her own piece of paper silently and individually, so that they could formulate their own ideas. I told them that I would also do the same, but that I would fill it out as a teacher.

For the first time in a few weeks, every single one of my students worked diligently and silently. And I mean EVERY. SINGLE. ONE! Students didn’t check their phones. They didn’t whisper and engage in side conversations. They didn’t complain. After about 15 minutes of working silently, I then instructed my students to talk with some of the people at their tables to compare notes, and then it was time to face reality. It was time for them to share their responses with me.

Since I wanted to provide my students with a voice. I had them share their expectations of me first. The well-behaved students in my class kept silent, as I suspected, but the ones who usually caused disturbances and distractions were eager to share. And while their expectations were more of a complaint about my classroom rules than an expectation, I made sure not to interrupt them. I listened. I took notes. I thought of ways I could improve in that classroom. I agreed with my students on some of their complaints, and we met in the middle. I made sure they knew their voices were heard.

I then shared my expectations, and together as a class we discussed what we wanted the class to be like.

That was almost a week ago, and ever since that day, classroom morale is up. The students are more cooperative, more learning takes place, and I don’t leave the classroom at the end of the period feeling frustrated and defeated.

I didn’t want to ditch my lessons for a day, but I needed to get my class back on track. I needed to reign them in, while still showing them respect. There are so many people in this world telling our students that they aren’t old enough to make informed decisions, or that they don’t know what they are talking about, or who don’t even give them the time of day to listen to their thoughts and opinions. By doing this with my worst class, not only did I show them respect, but I showed them that I care.

You can download this free classroom intervention organizer here! To help keep your classroom moving in a positive direction, please check out my Growth Mindset Activities resource especially designed for secondary students.