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:


6 Contemporary Young Adult Novels to Teach

6 Contemporary Young Adult Novels to Teach in the High School ELA Classroom
While the importance of classic novels is undisputed, sometimes it is good to switch up the literature you teach and include more than the canon in your classroom. In addition to traditional classic literature, it's crucial for teachers to include contemporary, high-interest novels in the classroom. By doing so, you will provide your class with new ideas and thought processes are still found in the older classics, but may be more attainable for the modern reader through these young adult pieces of fiction. Merely being in high school involves finding one’s identity and finding where you belong so these young adult texts will focus on these themes as valuable lessons for your students to learn. Here are six contemporary young adult novels to teach and some classic novels you can read with them:

1. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
This book is one of my favorites. It takes a different look at the horrors of World War II. The story is told from Death's point-of-view, and this book does not shy away from much. Your students will not be able to put the book down, and you will be able to teach them about humanity and the importance of words and books throughout the entirety of the novel.

A classic book you can teach alongside The Book Thief is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank or Night by Elie Wiesel. Both deal with the horrific events of the Holocaust and World War II and it might be interesting for students to see a real first-hand account, after reading a fictional story, with a lot of truth within it.
6 Contemporary Young Adult Novels to Teach in the High School English Classroom

2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The very first time I read this novel, it captivated me. This book is an essential young adult novel to share with your class because it covers a lot of critical issues that are relevant for high schoolers. The novel is told in first-person, so students can relate to the main character and her struggles with PTSD after being sexually assaulted. Laurie Halse Anderson also weaves themes of identity and being an outsider throughout the novel.  

A classic novel to teach with Speak is The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne. Halse Anderson includes multiple references to the novel within Speak, and the overall theme of being an outsider is found in both. Melinda’s silence is almost identical to the scarlet “A” Hester must wear. It shows how the times have not entirely changed if the same things happen nearly 150 years later.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
While not exactly a young adult novel, this book is currently pretty engaged in our pop culture because of the new television series on Hulu. It is a dystopian novel that, to a degree, shares some similarities with the country today.  A common theme throughout is that of identity, and lack of identity. The violation of human rights, especially that of the women, is another theme to point out to your students.

A classic novel to pair in your classroom while teaching The Handmaid’s Tale is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Both are dystopian novels, showing the future of America and what that means for the people within the country.

4. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This book is the epitome of high school life in a semi-current manner. There are a lot of lessons to learn from this story, and students may find themselves relating to a character in the text, which is precisely what you want from reading a book written within the last twenty or so years. It is an excellent coming of age novel, dealing with all kinds of issues your class can analyze.

A classic book to teach alongside Perks of Being a Wallflower is The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. This novel is another coming of age novel, focused on a teenage boy who happens to be quite eloquent, but a bit of an outsider. Students can find the similarities and differences as you read these two novels in class.

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Now you may be hesitant to teach this story due to its popularity, but it is an excellent example of modern literature that students can learn a lot from. If you choose to teach this novel in class, you'll want to focus more on literary criticism and critique because so many of your students might already be familiar with the plot. Rowling takes a lot of inspiration from the British novels of the 19th century and adds in a lot of elements of her own. Students will enjoy reading in depth something so prominent in their pop culture and something different, more fantastical, than what they may typically read in class.

A classic book to teach with Harry Potter is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. As mentioned earlier, Rowling borrowed some ideas from 19th-century novelists, and a clear example is Jane Eyre. Jane struggles with identity as much as Harry does, and both grew up with a horrible aunt and uncle, where their only wish was to be free of them and the freedom to be themselves.  

6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is a relatively new young adult novel, published in 2017, and it heavily focuses on the on-going racial issues America's young Black population faces today. It is also being adapted into a movie, showing how important the story is to this generation. With, again, a theme of identity coming into question, with Starr having to code-switch between her two worlds, and the strength the character must find within herself, the story is an excellent example of what a relevant and impactful contemporary young adult novel looks like. This novel also helps open to the class up to a discussion about the social injustices that people in our country face.

A classic novel to teach alongside The Hate U Give is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The issues of racism in America within this classic novel and the more contemporary one can be analyzed by your class to see the differences and similarities.

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Best Back-to-School Reading Choices for the Secondary ELA Classroom

Best Back-to-School Reading Choices for the Secondary ELA Classroom
When your students come back from summer break, they are going to have to adjust to working all day again rather than relaxing by the pool. This might make your task of getting them involved in class a little more difficult. But with books that are engaging and serve as foundations for future novels in class, they will quickly adapt to your classroom. These six books, or the types of books they represent, will make your students excited for the year to come and get them back into the groove of reading and writing for class.

1. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and The Olympians #1) by Rick Riordan.
Books that are familiar to your students are a great place to begin. When books are so infused into our popular culture, it is easier for students to grasp reading them at the beginning of the year and not feel too overwhelmed. Books that are filled with adventure will engage your students enough that they will want to continue reading, even if they are not huge readers.

There is also a lot of good that can come from reading The Lightning Thief in particular as you can discuss Greek mythology alongside the novel. In addition, you can discuss the way the characters use what may be seen as weaknesses, as strengths. It is a familiar novel and the adventures found within are very exciting for students to read about.

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2. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.
While some teachers might be hesitant to incorporate graphic novels at the beginning of the year, there are actually a lot of values associated with reading graphic novels. Reading this story early on in the year will allow your students to get accustomed to reading a full novel, and they will begin to see how reading can be fun. There are also so many educational graphic novels now, so if this one is not what you are looking for, there are so many other options available.

American Born Chinese is important because it tackles a lot of issues, including harmful stereotypes and racial issues. There is a sense of finding one’s identity throughout the novel which can be really helpful in the classroom, as some of your students may be able to relate to the characters in the novel.  

3. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.
Young adult novels are good to share with your class because the subjects are often more relatable for high schoolers than other classic novels. When students read young adult novels, they can find young characters who remind them of themselves who are facing issues related to their own lives while reading stories told in non-complicated ways.

This particular Y.A. novel focuses on a teen girl’s mental health and how it affects her life. John Green writes a lot of Y.A. fiction, and they all cover serious issues pertaining to teens today.



4. Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles.
An anthology is another excellent way to get your students engaged and ready to read this school year. You can choose which short stories to have your students read, or have them read the entire thing. Starting off with short stories can help your students begin the processes of analyzing and working through the more substantial novels you’ll be reading as the year continues.

This particular anthology is critical, as it is paired with the organization, We Need Diverse Books, and it has stories from 13 diverse authors sharing stories that need to be told. Students will appreciate feeling like they see themselves in these stories so early in the year.

Best Back-to-School Reading Choices for the Secondary ELA Classroom
5. “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.
A book of poetry is another good option for the first month of class. You can pick and choose however many poems you want your class to read and analyze, allowing them to practice the skills they will need for the rest of the year. Poetry will also be appealing to students because poems are generally shorter than prose and students often appreciate not reading a lot. But poetry is really important, and they can use the analyzation skills later in the year with the novels you read.

Maya Angelou is one of the best choices for poetry for your class because she has a beautiful, lyrical way of writing her real-life events, even when the moments are horrible. This collection of poetry is a perfect one to share with your class because there are you mentioned this already. Get rid of it, leaving the fact that these have some famous poems to choose from, and some famous ones that are important historically.

6. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.
A classic mystery is an excellent choice to share with your class early on in the year. Mysteries are always fun to read as they keep your students engaged and interested in the subject. A classic detective novel is a great way to analyze different techniques and figurative language, similar to other novels they will soon be reading in your class.

And what other great classic detective novelists to choose from than Agatha Christie herself. And Then There Were None is a favorite read of Christie’s and is fun for students, too. With the novel, they will be able to find motifs that are often found in mysteries today, and it will be interesting to discover where they began.


Back to School Resources for the Secondary ELA Classroom:
Back-to-School Activity Packet

How to Incorporate Creative Writing in the Classroom

How to Incorporate Creative Writing in the Classroom
Creative writing is an essential aspect of teaching English that teachers should incorporate into the classroom. It is useful for students to know that writing is not always based solely on analysis or explanation, but can be used for expression as well. Here are a few ways in which to include creative writing in your lessons and why this is such a valuable lesson:

1. Take a few minutes every day in class to have your students free write.
Allowing students to express themselves through free writing will give them the confidence to begin writing in more creative ways. Have the students write as creatively as they want to get the creative energy flowing. Free writing is a great tool to get your students practicing their writing.
Free writing will also teach students how to be confident in their thoughts. Since students won’t spend a long time free-writing, they will trust their instincts and feel proud of what they write at the moment. Also, with the experience of free writing, their writing in other essays and assignments will improve due to this increase in confidence.

2. Give your students creative prompts.
Creative prompts will allow students to begin their creative writing journey with a little bit of help. Prompts can also be fun and be engaging within the classroom. Some examples of prompts are: write a scene that begins with the lines, “That night, though I didn’t know it at the time, was the beginning of the end;” write about the moment you were the happiest you have ever been; or write about the biggest mistake you have ever made.
Creative prompts will give students the freedom of creative writing and the benefits of expressing oneself, but will also keep students writing creatively, especially if students have a tough time coming up with prompts themselves. I think when students are well-versed in writing creatively, with assistance from their teachers, they will grow to become stronger writers overall.

3. As a class, brainstorm different character profiles.
With this exercise, students can learn how to create characters that they both like and understand as people. Have students focus on details and traits to make characters both realistic and exciting. This will teach them what makes a good character. What qualities do students appreciate in the characters they read and write about? What are the specific characteristics that students feel are important to know when writing these characters?
Once a student understands what goes into creating a character, he or she will be able to recognize how the different novels you study use these characters to tell the story.
How to Incorporate Creative Writing in the Classroom

4. Read short stories to give students inspiration for their writing.
While this is not precisely the students writing for practice in creative writing, reading other original works will help to inspire them. Have the students look for moments in the stories that inspire them and annotate where they see different rhetorical and literary devices working, and where things are not working in their own opinion.
Having your students pay attention to what they are reading and what they find works in a creative piece will make them realize their style of writing. Once they know what they like in their writing, their confidence will only increase and their writing, both creative and analytical, will be for the better. Teaching Unit: Intro to Short Stories.

5. Assign creative writing with the novels you read.
When reading different novels in class, there may be parts that are difficult for students to grasp and often you may want to try new ways of teaching them to help with the difficulty. A fun way of changing things up when teaching a novel is to assign a creative writing challenge such as rewriting a specific part of the book. This will give students a chance to write in a way they may have never tried before. Ask them what they would change if they could.

This will again give students the confidence they need to write both creative pieces and essays. Since they will have the power to change an already approved scene in a well-acclaimed novel, they will feel like their opinion matters and that they could write as well as some of the great authors. Reading a novel in class? Try THIS novel resource pack that works with any work of fiction


Writing Resources:
Descriptive Writing