Nine Growth Mindset Novels to Recommend to Students

Nine Growth Mindset Novels to Recommend to Students
A great way to incorporate a growth mindset into the middle school and high school ELA classroom is by introducing it through literature. As we read and teach novels in our classroom, discussing how characters persevere to overcome substantial obstacles can have more of an impact on our students’ lives than we imagine.

It is important to have your students read books that tell stories of growing up. High schoolers are especially focused on trying to find themselves and who they are. By reading texts that tell the stories of characters who have a growth mindset, students will feel like perhaps they are not that different either. Your students finding who they are, and feeling like they belong is a valuable lesson easily learned through these kinds of novels. Here are 9 different novels, both classics and young adult fiction, with a significant growth mindset that your students will love to read:

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
In this novel, the reader watches the main character, Janie, grow up from her teenage years to her forties. Each part of the story develops her character and we watch her grow as a person, learning something from each interaction she faces and also how she overcomes the difficulties of her different husbands. There is growth in her identity as she continues on her journey.

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis is a graphic memoir-novel, but it still is a great example of growth. It tells the story of Marjane’s childhood growing up in Iran during the Revolution. The illustrations show a teenager going through the normal hardships of growing up, with the additional hardships of finding yourself in a society that isn’t accepting. There are small moments of growth within Marji herself, as she watches her country fall apart, but this also creates the overall mood for the entire story.

This is another memoir type of novel, where Maya Angelou looks back on her life and how the horrors of her childhood have turned her into the woman she is. Angelou highlights the significance of each event in her life as a young girl with the poetic nature of her writing. The reader is able to notice how everything affects her growing up, and who she becomes by the end of the book.

4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This novel focuses on a group of boys growing together. It highlights the significance of finding your group of friends and how your friends have an impact on who you are. Ponyboy, the character who grows a lot throughout the story, spends more and more time with the other boys and they have to face a lot of challenges, specifically the death of one of their closest friends, furthering Ponyboy's growth as a person.

5. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
This novel follows Esperanza, a young Latina girl growing up on Mango Street in Chicago, showing her determination to leave and find a better life for herself. Esperanza meets people along the way, whom she will model her life after and try to avoid becoming like. She knows what she wants out of her life, and the story illustrates how she tries to achieve it while still showing her determination to grow along the way.

6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Pip in Great Expectations grows from a young orphan to an adult throughout the entirety of the novel. He deals with a lot of loss in his life and this causes him to develop into the adult he becomes. But Pip grows despite the loss because he does not let it hurt him; instead, he carries his growth mindset throughout his story, making the novel better.

7. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This is one of the more recent novels on this list, and it is a young adult book telling the story of a high schooler who is worried about coming out to his family and friends while being blackmailed about his secret, so there is a lot going on in Simon’s life that causes him to grow as a character. He soon learns it is best to just be himself and becomes happy with who he is, who he has grown to become, and thus overcoming his worries. Because this secret is the drive of the story, Simon’s growth mindset is the most important theme.

8. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
American Street is the story of Fabiola, an immigrant from Haiti coming to America with her family. Fabiola has to face the hardships of what this new life for her means, including when her mother is detained; and with all the horrors of trying to adapt to a new kind of life, her character develops. She has to navigate through this new life and faces roadblocks that may deter her determination of growth, but she will eventually grow to become a strong person.   
9. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This is a young adult novel focusing on contemporary racism through the lens of two high school boys of different races. Quinn, a white student, witnesses his black classmate, Rashad, get beaten up by a police officer, and now that he understands what is happening in the world, he realizes he can be part of the solution. Quinn has to learn more about the people around him, and he is determined to see the world as it is for other people. Rashad, despite what has happened to him, learns how to grow and how to help others who are also suffering through injustices and racism.

Growth Mindset Teaching Resources

Growth Mindset Bell Ringers

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Secondary ELA Pacing Guide and Curriculum Map

Secondary ELA Pacing Guide and Curriculum Map
One of the most challenging things for a (new) teacher is planning and pacing the curriculum. After all, there are so many different standards to teach, practice, and assess, and so little time.

Whether you teach middle school ELA or high school English at a school where you have a strict pacing guide or if you teach at a school where you have complete freedom in your planning, this is tough. I’ve taught in both situations, and each one has its positives and negatives.

Secondary ELA Pacing Guide and Curriculum Map
Regardless of how your school is structured, every teacher in every single classroom needs to plan lessons, activities, and assessments, and figure out how much time to spend on each one. Getting the timing of it down takes a few years, and pacing and planning is something that changes with every school year.

To help out teachers, I am sharing my secondary ELA pacing and planning guide with you. This pacing guide comes as a PDF download that also includes a link to an editable Google Doc. If you want to make this yearly pacing guide your own, you can edit your own copy of the document.

While I do include links to paid resources, free resources, and blog posts in the guide, you can easily change these out with existing lesson plans and activities that you already have, or include my resources in your curriculum.

I genuinely hope that this pacing guide helps you create a more robust, evenly paced school year. As a reference, I use this pacing with my freshmen and sophomores.

You can download this free English pacing guide by clicking this link.

8 Ways to Bring Halloween Into The Classroom

8 Ways to Bring Halloween Into The Secondary ELA Classroom
Halloween can be a lot of fun in the high school English classroom, and just because it’s Halloween doesn’t mean that we have to ditch the curriculum in favor of candy-apples. Teaching on Halloween can be fun, content-oriented, and rigorous with a little planning. Besides, the fall air and the excitement of the beginning of the holiday season usually energizes the students, so why not capture that excitement?

Here are eight ways to incorporate the spooky holiday into the classroom with creative writing:

1. Write a cliffhanger.
Have your students write something that leaves the reader wanting more. Will their character survive the precarious position they have found themselves in? Who knows! This is what will make it so much fun for them to write.

2. Research on the holiday.
Admittedly, this is probably not as exciting as the rest of the options on the list, but it is still good practice. You could even turn it into more of an opinion piece as to why they like or dislike the holiday for the reasons they have found.

3. Practice Grammar
Review and practice some important grammar skills with Halloween-themed grammar worksheets! Students will have fun exploring grammar while reading about ghoulish ghouls and haunted houses.
8 Ways to Bring Halloween Into The Secondary ELA Classroom

4. Create your own villain.
Every good scary or creepy story has a great villain. Voldemort (The Harry Potter series) and The Joker (The Dark Knight) are memorable for this reason. Have your students describe the creepiest and scariest villain they can. Eventually, you could have them write a full story around the villain.

5. Write your own myth about Halloween.
So many holidays have myths surrounding them, and Halloween is no different. The amount of scary stories in the world is intimidating, but who says your students cannot contribute to that? Research some common myths, and then have your students write their own spooky myths.

6. Read and analyze a creepy story.
Nothing says Halloween more than a frightening story. On Halloween, I like to set the tone in my classroom by dimming the light, playing creepy background noise, and reading a scary story to my students with a flashlight (think campfire style). It’s fun, the kids love it, and it still focuses on content. One of my favorite creepy stories to read is The Monkey’s Paw. This short story has it all: suspense, foreshadowing, and enough eerie insight to give students a small fright. After reading the story with my students, I like to participate in a close read exercise with my The Monkey’s Paw Close Reading Activity. Once the story is over, we turn the lights back on, go back and reread some important passages together, and analyze the text for various literary elements.
8 Ways to Bring Halloween Into The Secondary ELA Classroom

8 Ways to Bring Halloween Into The Secondary ELA Classroom
7. Practice Sentence Combining
I love assigning sentence combining to students because it is a sure-fire way to get students actively thinking about syntax and sentence construction. These Halloween-themed sentence combining bell ringers are a great way to start your class period each day in October. Students will practice combining a series of simple sentences together to create compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences. What is even more fun is turning this into a competition. Students can work together in small groups to see just how many sentence variations they can write while still holding true to the original meaning.

8. Write a child-appropriate scary story.
This one will prove tricky for older students as the task is to make it scary, but still, something that won’t keep younger kids up at night. It’s all the excitement of writing a horror story, but with a twist. For this one, you might want to look over Halloween stories that are considered kid-appropriate with your class first, so they can get the idea of what to write, like R.L Stine stories. This exercise forces our students to keep their audience in mind.

Halloween provides many opportunities for creative writing. I would start with some examples to get your students into the mindset, but after that, let them have free reign. This is the perfect excuse to get their imaginations going and incorporated into the classroom during Halloween.

Bad Movie Adaptations: What’s so Good About Them?

 Bad Movie Adaptations: What’s so Good About Them?
A simple Google search will show you some of the best book-to-movie adaptations in history. But what can really be gained in the classroom by, for example, reading To Kill a Mockingbird and then watching Gregory Peck portray Atticus Finch flawlessly on the big screen? Other than a free day to not do anything in class, I argue, not much. What can be more beneficial for your students is showing the terrible book to movie adaptations? Here are three bad book-to-movie adaptations that can be good conversation starters in the classroom:

1. Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park written by Michael Crichton; directed by Steven Spielberg. With the new film in the series coming out this summer starring Chris Pratt, the original movie and book combo might be great to share with your class. Between the novel and the film, many characterizations are changed and some characters are even taken out. This is a slightly more graphic book and movie than what may typically be read in the classroom, as there are many violent deaths, even if some deaths are removed in the movie adaptation. These changes can cause questions to arise. You can ask your students why the movie might have a particular character live in this version? What do the new characterizations add to or remove from the story?

2. Percy Jackson
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief written by Rick Riordan; directed by Chris Columbus. This is the first book of a series I mentioned in an earlier post. It is an excellent read for middle schoolers as it moves quickly, and is written from a twelve-year-old boy's perspective. However, the film adaptation is infamous for how poorly it was created. The characters are all aged up about four years, and the gods do not intervene in Percy’s quest as much in the movie, as they do in the book. Also, the plot is changed to have the demigods trying to reclaim power, rather than the Titans using the demigods to do the fighting for them. There are so many changes; it will make your students question the disadvantages, and maybe even the advantages of them. Some questions to ask your students are why are the characters older? Why remove Kronos from the plot? Should the gods have been restricted like they were in the movie?

Bad Movie Adaptations: What’s so Good About Them?
3. Frankenstein
Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley; directed by James Whale. This classic novel has been adapted so many times that any adaptation might be sufficient in its poor ability to reflect the original novel to get this point of the benefits of a bad adaptation across. However, the 1931 adaptation is the first of the talkies generation. It allows us to see how the monster is mute in the film, while in the novel he is fully literate and learns to speak quite quickly. This is the most significant change between book and movie, but it drastically changes the entire conflict of the plot. We go from sympathizing with the creature to being frightened of it. Questions to ask are why make the monster unable to talk? Do we now feel more sympathy for the young scientist than for the monster? What does this new sympathy for Frankenstein do to the overall theme of the story?

Allowing students to watch the poor adaptations gets them thinking about the changes made and why they were made. This, in turn, gets them thinking about the character, plot, setting, and themes in every storyline they come across. Asking questions about these changes in the poor film adaptations will give students a starting point to understanding the novels better. An excellent adaptation only allows students to turn off their brains, while a lousy adaptation forces them to think critically.

3 Ways to Analyze Tone

Tone might be one of the hardest concepts to explain to students. Some understand tone immediately. These are not the students to worry about. Our job as teachers is to help those who do not innately understand how to analyze literature. Working out how to understand tone in the classroom can help students understand it better when reading at home. Working it out at school can allow them to feel more confident while reading and analyzing on their own. Here are three ways to work on analyzing tone in the classroom:

1. Use a word list
Words that express a happy connotation or a sad connotation are simple enough for the students to recognize. Once they can identify these kinds of words, discussing more complex tones like sarcasm, bitterness, or even apathy will be easier to tackle in the classroom. Use this list of keywords to ensure that the students understand the importance of word choice and sentence structure. Providing them with a list of essential words that they can look for while reading any novel or short story will get them used to looking for the words in general and will help their skills in identifying different tones.

2. Read out loud
You can do this with the actual novel you are reading, or you can also use other short story examples. Short stories no more than a few pages will have a tone that you can easily discuss in class. Children’s stories are also an excellent example to use in the classroom because they often will have a simple, easy to identify tone. Again, these stories can be read out loud to give the students a better sense of the tone of the story.

3. Act it out
There is a reason we always read Shakespeare out loud: so the students can understand how the characters are interacting and how their moods change during the scene. The same concept applies to analyzing tone in literature: novels, short stories, and plays alike. By having the students act out the scene, they can get a much more well-rounded feeling of the tone as a whole. This takes the “reading out loud” argument to another level. By utilizing this method of teaching, you can bring the literature to life and help the students see the work as something worth considering in a broader context.

The main point is just getting enough practice to make the students feel comfortable with identifying tone. Any of these methods will get them into the habit of looking for and understanding the tone of any piece of literature you want them to work with.

Spicing Up Shakespeare: 5 Ways to Add Some Pizazz to your Shakespearean Unit

Spicing Up Shakespeare: 5 Ways to Add Some Pizazz to your Shakespearean Unit
Shakespeare might be a crowd favorite for us English buffs, but the average high school student seems to be less than enthusiastic about the concept. Let’s be honest though, if they knew just how many inappropriate jokes the Bard included in his plays, they would find it just as entertaining as we do. (And as a side note, yes. Yes I am the English teacher who likes to point out the naughty nuances throughout his plays). So how do we convey to our students the genius of Shakespeare without taking time out of Romeo and Juliet to explain the nurse’s comment about “Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit” (I.iii.45)?

I have compiled five ways to modernize the old Bard’s words so the students can enjoy the work on their own.

1. Act it out.
This is the age-old tool utilized in high school classrooms across the nation. And why? Because it works. But this means doing more than just reading Hamlet out loud together. Get the kids up and moving, have them make big dramatic gestures. Show them first-hand how depressing it is to be around Hamlet as he mopes around the castle. Buy some foam swords at the dollar store and have students recreate famous dueling scenes. Shakespeare was meant to be experienced, not read from behind a desk.

2. Listen to music inspired by Shakespeare.
There is a hit Broadway musical called, Something Rotten!, which is all about Shakespeare! The most popular song is “God, I Hate Shakespeare,” and it essentially lists every complaint students have ever vocalized about Shakespeare. It could be a great ice-breaker for the unit. Though be warned, it is a Broadway song, so there are some curse words in the song. Other songs referencing Shakespeare to show your class are: “Love Story” by Taylor Swift (talks about Romeo and Juliet), “Ophelia” by The Lumineers (references Ophelia’s personality in Hamlet), and even “Take a Break” from the Broadway hit show, Hamilton (Hamilton compares his life to the play Macbeth).

Spicing Up Shakespeare: 5 Ways to Add Some Pizazz to your Shakespearean Unit
3. Make it a competition.
This is a straightforward one to do with Romeo and Juliet as you can split the class into two groups; in this example, the Montagues and the Capulets. Have them earn points for their “family” based on quizzes and answering questions about the play in class. You can even add in some positive behavior points rewarding the family who is all on time to class or who volunteered to read aloud. Your students will be so excited to learn and understand as much as they can about the play if they feel that there could be a prize at the end of the unit.

4. Encourage the use of SparkNotes.
I am in no way condoning the use of SparkNotes instead of reading, or even instead of profoundly analyzing the text. Students need to discover meaning for themselves rather than read an analysis online. And while SparkNotes might be the bane of every English teacher’s existence, they do have an excellent tool for Shakespeare. They call it “No Fear Shakespeare,” where they do is put the original play on the left side of the screen with an updated version on the right. It is always exciting when your students realize that some phrases are even better in Shakespearean English. The site also highlights passages they think are particularly hard or need more explanation, allowing students to get the background they need for the play quickly.

5. Watch a revamped movie based on Shakespeare.
How many times has Hollywood desperately tried to recreate Shakespeare in the modern age? Enough that this point could earn its own post. And while Kenneth Branaugh is brilliant in his role as Hamlet, the movie is very long and still in Shakespearean English. Many movies attempt this, and it could be a turn-off to Shakespeare for your students. Instead, try finding other updated versions can keep the students interested. One good option is 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). This is a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew starring many actors your students might recognize, like Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Gabrielle Union, and Joseph Gordon Levitt to name a few. It is entirely in modern English and is also a fun movie to watch. A few other options include: She’s the Man (2006, based on Twelfth Night), Forbidden Planet (1956, based on The Tempest), and Warm Bodies (2013, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet).

Shakespeare does not have to be as dull as students like to make it out to be. There are always ways to get Shakespeare to feel new and exciting to students so they can understand the real magic of Shakespeare.

Shakespeare Teaching Materials: