As a high school English teacher, I assign my students many  writing assignments over the course of the year. Some assignments are quick 3-sentence responses , some are literary analysis paragraphs, some are narrative responses, and some are complete, multi-paragraph essays. In addition to assigning and assessing individual writing, I also assign several collaborative writing projects throughout the year. While it is essential to assess student writing on an individual level, collaborative writing projects are extremely beneficial for students...and even teachers. 1. Built-in peer editing When students work together to produce one well-written piece of writing, they take each other's’ best ideas and incorporate them into the final piece. Not only do students have two (or more) sets of eyes looking at the paper, but students also draft and revise as they go. 2. Less grading When students partner up to produce one paragraph or one essay, that reduces the grading load in half! As ...
Much like short stories , poems are great analysis fodder because they can usually be read within one sitting and there is often a surprising amount of meaning hidden within a few scant words. Written below are three poems which I believe every English class should analyze. Each and All by Ralph Waldo Emerson The speaker of this poem observes both society and nature and realizes the truth that, “Nothing is fair or good alone.” The speaker supports this conclusion by reminiscing about how the sparrow’s singing and the delicate seashells he found by the shore were beautiful in nature yet seemed to lose their immaculateness when he took them home, away from their original context. Within the final stanzas of the poem, the speaker relents that logic and experience are not enough to understand nature and yields that true beauty can only be found within the “perfect whole.” Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson The speaker of this poem embarks on a coach r...
As an English teacher, I find few things more cringe-worthy than looking over a student’s paper and seeing they’ve made easily avoidable mistakes. Such errors might include forgetting to capitalize a name, using “your” when they meant “you’re”, or even misspelling the title of the book they spent several days reading. I feel that the reason that most of these problems arise is that students place all their energies in getting the assignment finished and avoid investing time in the art of revising. Here are three tips I hope you will pass along to your students on how to become better editors and turn in more polished papers. 1. Read for a specific error I speak from personal experience from back when I was a student that a lot of grammatical errors are overlooked because students only rer ead their writing once. They place too much trust in themselves that they can find every error in a single scan. While it is likely they will find the majority of errors that first time,...
Whoever coined the term, “Brevity is the the soul of wit” must have had short stories in mind. I love teaching and reading short stories in class because talented authors can create truly powerful messages and themes in just a few scant pages, all of which can be read and discussed within a single class period. Here are three short stories which I believe every high schooler should read. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’ Connor This short story revolves around a recent college graduate, Julian, who is escorting his mother to her exercise classes because she is too afraid to take the bus alone after integration of African Americans into white society. O’Connor masterfully portrays the perspectives of the two generations: the mother’s blatant racism and how her views are stuck in the past and Julian’s more progressive, yet still superficial rationalization of reality. What makes this story so compelling is how it reveals to the reader how liking or “respecting...
I recently assigned my students a project for Lord of the Flies where they had to compile evidence from the novel to create a map of the island setting within the novel, and it was one of the most magical days in my classroom so far this year. I gave my students only one day to complete this map project in class, and every single student was participating, thinking critically, and looking for clues within the text to help with the project. In order to create such a successful day in the classroom, I front-loaded this activity quite extensively. About a week and a half before the map making activity, I instructed my students to record quotations about the setting and layout of the island. They recorded quotes and page numbers, and they also sketched out some of the setting as we read. As a bell-ringer on one of the days before the assignment, I assigned a couple pages from the novel as close reading and had my students write down two examples of imagery that vividly describ...
After reading thousands of essays, quick writes, and classroom assignments throughout my teaching career, I’ve noticed a trend in student writing: students have a difficult time with proper punctuation their papers. This is especially true for punctuation that goes beyond end marks and commas. Here are the most commonly misused forms of punctuation I have found while reading student papers along with suggestions for how to best use them. Colons : Colons can do so much more than separate hours from minutes. They bring emphasis to a word or phrase while cutting down on clutter. As an example I could write: There was only one thing that could make Mary happy today: a tub of Ben and Jerry’s slathered with chocolate syrup. The colon makes the reader take notice of what comes next and even helps keep down my word count by taking place of the word “namely” or similar transitional phrases.  But it can still do more: it can separate a title from a subtitle, it can provide emp...
When I was younger, I never thought I would be a teacher. Sure, I used to play school with my younger cousins and siblings when I was younger. I would even draw out worksheets and write questions for them to answer about books I read or PBS shows I taped on a VHS cassette especially for my “school”, but I never gave a thought to teaching as a profession. Not once in high school, or college, or even in my first couple years after college did I ever think I would be a teacher. I wanted to work in media and communications, and I began my professional career in public relations working the high-tech circuit. I had many big-name tech companies as clients. I wrote press releases and organized media tours. I even traveled throughout the US and abroad assisting my clients in their media need. I loved working in this demanding field, but it didn’t fulfill me in the way that I always dreamt a career should. After working for a few years in the private sector, I decided to make a cha...
Although what is considered to be “good” writing is lofty and subjective, we wouldn’t be English teachers if we didn’t try to improve our students’ writing skills. Here are some general tips and suggestions that can help polish any paper. 1. Use just and that sparingly Most writers have words which they repeat without noticing throughout a paper, much like how some teenagers will say ‘like’ every other word or how an inexperienced public speaker will pepper their speeches with ‘um’s. For students, I find the most common, ineffective words they repeat are just and that . You might suggest your students do a ctrl + f  search for these words on their computers before they turn in a piece of writing and weed out as many of them as they can. 2. Place emphatic words near the beginning and at the end of the sentence The eyes of readers tend to be drawn towards the white space at the beginning as well as at the end of a sentence. As such, it is natural that the most exci...
One of my favorite novels to teach is Lord of the Flies because of how it exposes the raw brutality of humanity. In the very beginning, the boys do their best to create and maintain civility, but as the novel progresses the boys slowly degenerate into savages. To help my students understand this concept as it plays out in the novel, I have them complete a scenario-based introduction activity that naturally pits the students against each other. In some of my previous classes, students have either alluded to or directly stated exactly what happens in the book just by completing this introduction. To begin, I inform the students that they are stranded on a tropical island that seems to be deserted and have them record their initial thoughts. I slowly reveal additional information to my students about their predicament and ask them to record their thoughts along the way. For example, I reveal that there are no adults and that they are accompanied by their classmates. Wi...
As hyperbolic as it might sound, everything an English teacher teaches their students is in preparation of them writing their college admissions essays. While the stakes for all prior written works were just letter grades, a well written admissions essay could very well be the stepping stone for a student to achieve their goals and dreams. As such, it is our duty to prepare high school juniors and seniors for these pivotal prompts and give them every advantage for starting the next stage of their lives. Here are 4 ways to help your students write their college admissions essays. 1. Teach what colleges don’t want to read.  Avoid the cliches! Just like with a resume or a cover letter, a college admissions essay has to “sell” the student. As obvious as this may sound, too many students fail to promote themselves properly, which leads to the admissions officer being unable to differentiate them from the thousands of other “sales pitches” they read that week and subconsciously ign...