Ten Books to Recommend to Your Students

It’s time to start thinking about summer reading.  Even if you are not interested in assigning projects for students to do during the summer vacation, it is essential to encourage your students to continue reading over the break.  Or, you may just be looking for books to recommend to your students during the school year. Here are five books to suggest to your students for “just-for-fun” reading.

1. Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
This beautifully written novel will engage readers as they learn about a new culture, language, and religion.  While the moral dilemmas and exciting plot points will provoke discussion, the profound insights of the book will encourage students to use personal insight to analyze the novel.  Middle school and high school students alike will enjoy this book.

2. True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff
This verse-novel may be new and different for many readers, but the writing style will introduce students to a new way of looking at literature. For high school students, this book will act as a source of comradery and relatability as they see many of their struggles reflected in the novel.  

3. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
This is a brilliant novel that holds a mirror to literature’s Gothic age.  The fast-paced tale breathes life into the young adult horror genre while asking essential questions on the moralities of weighty subjects such as law enforcement and imperialism.  Mature high school readers will be engrossed in this adventure tale.

4. Nothing by Janne Teller
This novel, originally written in Danish, is a surprisingly deep and meaningful story that will force personal reflection.  The book introduces a nihilistic mindset and a profound message on bullying. A mature reader with an open mind will find an exciting and compelling read in this novel.

Ten books to recommend to your students
5. Surviving the Angel of Death by Eva Mozes Kor
This non-fiction book writing by a Holocaust survivor tells of the experience of a Mengele twin in a Nazi concentration camp.  Young readers may be hesitant to read a non-fiction book for fun, but this book is as engrossing as it is powerful. Great truth and a lesson can be learned from this book as it reflects on the horrors of human history.  This book is appropriate for both middle school and high school-aged students.
Warning: There is both adult and young adult versions of this book.  While the content is mostly the same, your students will most likely appreciate the writing of the later.

6. Legend by Marie Lu
For your student that can’t get enough of dystopian literature!  This book, which bleeds into a trilogy, features two main characters: an officer of the law and a known criminal.  Students will enjoy the suspenseful game of chase as June (the officer) hunts down Day (the criminal) for a crime he may or may not have committed.  Bonus: this series features a compelling and brilliant female heroine.

7. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
If your student is looking to start a great series that takes place in a fantasy realm, this book is excellent.  Sabaa Tahir constructs a fantastic world full of magic and mystery that also pays homage to the Roman Empire. Students will love the characters and fast-paced plot of this novel.

8. Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya
Markandaya paints the picture of the quickly changing Indian landscape through the eyes of a child bride in this beautiful novel.  With lyrical prose, this book addresses issues of poverty and imperialism as it tells a heartbreaking story that readers will not soon forget.

9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
By the author of The Kite Runner, this novel will enchant and engross students (preferably high school) and teachers alike.  While telling a gripping story of two women brought together by war, this novel also depicts a vital span of history of Afghanistan.  Readers will grow in their understanding of a landscape riddled with false assumptions as they learn new cultural values.

10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexei
Based on his own experiences, Sherman Alexei tells the story of growing up on an Indian Reservation.  With poignant drawings and enlightening interviews with the author, this book introduces readers to new cultures and experiences as it breaks the chains of prejudice and predispositions.

How I utilize No Red Ink in the Classroom

Like many other educators with access to technology in the classroom, I like to incorporate the use of EdTech and educational websites into my curriculum. Previously, I’ve written about my favorite EdTech sites, and today I'm going to take a moment to discuss how I use the website NoRedInk.com in the classroom.

NoRedInk is an online-based grammar instruction, practice, and assessment website. The program includes a free version and a paid version. I am very fortunate to work at a school that subscribes to the paid service.

I’ve tried quite a few different methods of incorporating NoRedInk into my classroom, and I believe I’ve found a way that works the best with my teaching style: I assign my students grammar each month. I also quiz my students on the grammar each month.

Every month of school, I assign my students a grammar assignment. I make the work available on the first of the month, and like clockwork, it is due on the last day of the month. Also, all of the grammar assignments are from the same track or related to one another. Usually, I assign 80-120 minutes of work for the entire month. At the beginning of the month, I review/teach the grammar concepts to my students. I usually spend about half a class period at the beginning of the year to teach and review the new grammar concept. Then, as the month progresses, I will dedicate a couple of bell-ringer activities to reteach the concept and show more examples.

My students work on the assignment as homework. However, I will sometimes begin my class period with 5-10 minutes of NoRedInk. If it is a day when my students are working on the Chromebooks, this helps them get logged into their GAFE accounts quickly. Students also have time in class to work on NoRedInk if they finish an assignment early. Many of my students can complete the monthly assignment using only the time I give them in class.

At the start of the new month, I assign my students a quiz on the same concepts. I encourage my students to work through the questions they answered incorrectly to help them learn the concept and learn from their mistakes; it also helps for the students’ growth quiz scores. I see a strong correlation between my students' homework completion scores and quiz scores. After I assign the quiz, I assign the growth quiz as an optional assignment. I provide my students with the opportunity to take the growth quiz before or after school for 3-4 days. On NoRedInk, the growth quiz option will show you how much your students improve. If my students receive a lower score on the growth quiz, I keep their original quiz score in my grade book. However, if students earn a higher grade, I average the two scores together.

By providing my students with the option to take the growth quiz, I am giving them an extra chance to learn the concept and improve their grade. As teachers, I feel that it is so important to give our students these types of opportunities. Furthermore, assigning the growth quiz, I am demonstrating to my stakeholders (admin, parents, students), that I am doing my part in giving students opportunities to improve their grades.

I really enjoy using NoRedInk in my classroom; however, I believe it is essential to use this site as a supplemental tool. Yes, NoRedInk is excellent, but it shouldn’t be a standalone grammar tool. I strongly encourage teachers who use the NoRedInk platform also to take the time and provide direct instruction and small-group practice to make sure they are meeting all of their learners’ needs.

4 Steps to Implementing Peer-Review in your Classroom

Four Steps to Implementing Peer Review in the Middle School or High School ELA Classroom
Students are used to receiving criticism on their writing after it has been handed in, graded, and returned. However, feedback prior to a paper’s due date can improve a student’s writing and proofreading skills. Opinions held by other students are valid and can help change how a student thinks about the writing process. Furthermore, the process of peer-review is a standard step used in colleges and universities, and using it in a middle or high school classroom can help prepare students for future education. Here are four steps to implementing peer-review in your classroom.

1. Create a comfortable environment
Some students may be hesitant to let peers review their work. It can be daunting for a student if he believes that he will be criticized. Encourage your students to review peers' papers gracefully while also finding elements to praise. While constructive criticism is productive, positive feedback can be equally as helpful.

2. Material up for critique
Tell your students what you want them to look for. Without structure, many students will look only for spelling and grammar mistakes. While it is essential to bring these errors to the attention of the writer, more of the paper’s content should be analyzed. Tell your students to look at elements like passive voice or word choice. Reading for tone and voice can help with the overall quality of a piece of writing.

Finally, stress that it is also important to look at the argument of the piece, particularly the thesis statement, organization, and overall persuasiveness of the information presented. If a bibliography is required, this should be looked at as well.

3. Discussion
After each student takes the time to review and critique a piece written by a peer, students should engage in conversation with their reviewer. Have them discuss each piece’s strengths and weaknesses. Students may discover a lot of helpful material through asking questions and hearing the thoughts and opinions of a peer.

4. Self-assessment
Once they have read and heard the thoughts of their peers, students should take the time to reflect on what they have learned about their writing. What errors can they fix? If there was something that they did particularly well, how can they echo that quality throughout the piece? Time should be set aside for students to make revisions to their own writing.

Additionally, encourage students to go through the steps of peer-review with their papers as this will improve individual proofreading skills.

Resources for Peer Review
Paragraph Peer Review Forms

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Assigning a One-Pager as a Culminating Project

Assigning a one-pager as a culminating novel study project in the ELA classroom.
I recently assigned a one-pager final project to my sophomores for their culminating Night project. I wanted to combine as many rigorous ELA content ideas as possible, while also designing a fun project for students that provided them with a bit of choice.

Assigning a one-pager as a culminating novel study project in the ELA classroom.
To make this project rigorous, I required my students to include multiple MLA-cited quotations with a literary analysis explanation. These are skills my students have learned and practiced all year long, so it was a way for me to assess that skill. I also wanted to give my students an opportunity to express their creativity, and it came through.

For the actual assignment, I created a one-pager choice board that is similar that requires students to connect four elements. Every student had to complete the quotes, questions, and images element of the project. From there, students had their choice of four different items they could include: a connection to a song, a timeline, a setting, or a figurative language option. By providing students with a choice, they feel like they have more say with their work.

I reviewed the assignment with my students, explained my expectations, passed out the handout (which was printed double-sided with the instructions on the front and the brainstorming organizer and checklist on the back), and showed my students some examples. Keep reading the post. You can sign-up for my emails to receive a free Google Docs copy of this assignment which includes the assignment, checklist, planning sheet, and a rubric.

I first assigned the project on a Friday to give my students an extra weekend to work on the project. Only a few students took advantage of this extra time, but I recommend giving some extra time. I also dedicated two class periods to work on this project, and most of them needed to commit outside class time on this project as well.
Assigning a one-pager as a culminating novel study project in the ELA classroom.

On the day projects were due, I provided my students with an opportunity to present their one-page to class. I did this as an extra-credit option. For each student who volunteered to present their project, I gave them an extra 5 points on their project).

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Assigning a one-pager as a culminating novel study project in the ELA classroom.
The Night One-Pager was an enjoyable project for my students, and it was the perfect final project to assign at the end of the school year.

Historical Fiction for the Middle School Classroom

Historical Fiction for the Middle School Classroom
Historical fiction is great both in and outside of the classroom. While teaching about important parts of history, they often provoke deep discussion while asking difficult questions.  Here are five historical fiction novels perfect for middle schoolers.

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Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook must fight for her own survival in this poignant historical novel.  Philadelphia has become overrun by yellow fever, and fatalities continue to build. Students will become engrossed in this novel as they witness the narrative of a young girl fighting for her life in the newly independent United States of America.  

Night John by Gary Paulson
This is a great book to either be read aloud to your students or individually read.  Perfect for younger grades, Night John tells the story of an enslaved man who had previously escaped slavery but came back to teach other slaves how to read. Told from a young girl’s point of view, students will enjoy the story while learning about a dark point of history in our nation’s past.
The Book Thief Markus Zusak
Advanced middle school readers will appreciate the chance to challenge themselves with this award-winning novel.  Told from death’s ambiguous point-of-view, the novel tells the story of a young girl living in Nazi Germany during World War Two.  The unique perspective will enchant readers as they experience a story like no other.

Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe
This meticulously researched novel tells the true story of the murder of Emmett Till.  As the title suggests, the story takes place in 1955 and will give students a glimpse into the American South while provoking class discussion on some difficult topics.

The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
Perfect for class discussion, The Breadwinner tells the story of eleven-year-old Parvana as she goes through life in Taliban-run Afghanistan.  While providing an important historical lesson, this book asks difficult questions that will force readers to engage with the text and each other.

Historical Fiction for the Middle School Classroom

4 Ways to Review a Novel With Your Students

Reading a whole novel over the course of a few weeks can leave students drained and exhausted. By the time students complete the book and go to take the final exam or quiz over the book’s contents, they may have forgotten some essential elements. Take the time to review each novel with your class before assigning the final test. When I plan my schedule, I usually have students take the test after they turn in their essays. Not only does this help students review, but it also gives me a class day to grade essays! Here are four critical topics to cover in your class novel review.

Plot Sequence
Analyzing the specific order of events in a narrative will outline some specific points in the plot. Identifying the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution will help students review and remember the critical incidents of the novel’s plot. One way I like to do this is through a jigsaw activity. Students will work together in small groups, and each group will identify key events from a specific part of the novel. For example, the exposition group will come up with the five most important events that happen during the exposition and share them aloud with the class.

Know the Characters
Being aware of the central and supporting characters of a novel will help provide context for the plot.  Readers should know descriptions of characters and the relationships that exist between characters. How does each character play a unique role in the novel? How do the actions of a character advance the plot? Do any characters fit a specific literary archetype? In the classroom, you can answer these questions with your students. Or, if you are looking for a little more movement in the classroom, students can complete a gallery walk review. Write the names of all of the major characters on butcher paper or chart paper, and have students circle throughout the room in small groups. Each group will need to add several details and a quote about the character. (This is also an excellent time for an impromptu direct vs. indirect characterization mini-lesson).

What’s the big idea?  What purpose did the author have in writing this novel?  Asking questions like these will help students think about the sequence of the plot.  They can assist with analyzing character development and any lessons learned. Having a strong sense of a book’s central theme will help in writing a coherent essay on the novel. To help students review themes, I love assigning Mind Maps. Students identify the theme and add in quotes, words, and illustrations that help to show how the author developed the theme.

Final Class Discussion
Give your students a final chance to talk about the book together.  This last discussion should be a time to weed out any lingering confusion while giving students the opportunity to ask questions.  Student engagement will help you gauge the level of understanding held by your students, and it will give you the chance to assert any last minute clarity or instruction. One classroom discussion activity that I love is a fishbowl discussion.

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