Sunday, November 27, 2016

ELA Winter Holiday Activities for Secondary English Students

I absolutely love the holiday season, and since I don't have children of my own yet, I use this time of year to project my over-zealous Christmas spirit onto my 75 seventeen and eighteen-year-old "kids." ;) 

Here are few ideas to bring some holiday cheer into your secondary ELA classroom: 

1. Give a little gift. I think that elementary teachers do a fantastic job of making their students feel loved around the holidays. While I don't have time to make 75 perfectly crafted gifts, I do have time to make something quick that my students will appreciate. Like all block scheduled high schools, the last day before winter break will be the last time I will see my students until graduation, so I want to make sure to leave them with a little gift that will remind them of how much I enjoyed having them in class. This year's quick and easy gift is a Donut ZenDoodle Bookmark. All I have to do is print, cut, and pick up a few boxes of donuts. :) 

You can download these for FREE here: Donut ZenDoodle Bookmarks 

Want to see even more quick and easy gifts? Be sure to check out my round-up post here

2. Have a book party the day before winter break. The school I teach at allows parties, but I don't want to have a day of complete partying because my classes are  90 minutes long. What would we do with the other 80 minutes after food and drinks? Depending on the class period, they have already watched two or three Christmas movies that day by the time they get to me, so I can't really play that card either. Because of this, I always schedule our edible book project for the day before winter break. We still get to have a party, but there's a little reading love thrown in as well. :) Students must bring food that symbolizes character or theme and present it to the class before we sample food item. I use this for their free-choice reading, but you can also use it for the novel they are ending before break or for their favorite story of the semester. 

Our edible book project display 
Works with nonfiction too!

To make sure they are digging deep into the text, I give them this handout for inspiration (you can grab this for FREE using the button below!):

(see below for the link to this FREE handout with a Harry Potter writing Example!) 

You can get a more readable/printable version of this handout, a Harry Potter example, and other food-related project choices (for those who might not be able to afford to bring in a dish) for FREE by signing up for my English teacher monthly newsletter (see form below). If you are already on my newsletter and would like a copy of this, please email me so that I can send you one! 

3. Decorate your room. In just 10 minutes, you can make your room special for your secondary students. It doesn't take much, but they will it not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I always keep a little tree in my closet at school and simply pull it out of the box and throw some lights on it. I don't even do ornaments. Even though it's simple, I love how it adds a touch of holiday ambiance to my room. 

Along with my tree this year, I  have added Christmas posters that only an English teacher could love. Ha! Some are pun-tastic and others serve as a beautiful reminder of our magical the winter season can be! 

I got on a roll and ended up making over 20 of the author-inspired holiday decorations. 
They can also serve as Christmas cards for your students. I hung most of them as posters, but I'm saving a special Shakespeare one to give out as cards since I'm teaching British literature this semester. 
You can find these in my store here: Literary Christmas Cards and Posters 

4. Use my favorite FREE website, StoryBird, to create festive and artistic poems. Storybird's new poem maker feature is SO fun and addicting. Basically, you select artwork and generate a poem based on the words it gives putting together a poetry puzzle. 

Here are the directions for the desktop version: 
Step 1: Go to "Create" (don't worry about where it says "Longform".. you will change that later)
Step 2: Search for holiday inspired art. I used the word "winter" to get to the art I wanted. 
Step 3: Find the art you wish to use and click "use the art" then select "poem" 
Step 4 : You will then be taken to a platform where you can drag words on top of your picture. This is where you can add in standards for students such as: Create a poem using parallel structure or create a poem that contains personification. 
Here's the one I came up with. :) Once students finish, they can save and email you the final. Or, you can create a classroom account where you will get your students' creations under your account. 

5. Rock ugly Christmas sweaters. I'm an avid thrift-store shopper, so I love having an excuse to browse for Christmas outfits that I know my students will get a kick out of.  

I'm really just in the minor leagues though when it comes to wearing festive outfits to work. You have to check out The SuperHEROteacher on Instagram because she wears a holiday sweater to work for like the whole month of December. This makes me giggle so hard. 

I love holiday sweaters so much that I even designed a lesson around them so that my students can join in on the fun. This lesson works for ANY text, and my students love doing it so much that they don't even notice all of the writing I sneak in ;) 

You can find this fun activity here: Ugly Christmas Sweater for ANY Text 

New this year, I made this resource compatible with Google Classrooms as well as all other digital learning systems. You can check out how students can design their character's sweater digitally, by viewing this YouTube preview: 

Here's an example for Angela's Ashes

You can find this fun activity here: Ugly Christmas Sweater for ANY Text 

6. Play some holiday-themed ambient sounds. My husband found the best YouTube station in the world. It's made up of Harry Potter themed ambient noise, and she has a few that are perfect for winter background sounds in your classroom. They aren't distracting and add a perfect touch of whimsy for holiday lessons. Here are a few of my favorites for the Christmas season: 

7. Write Christmas Cards to Books. With careful planning, I normally wrap up a novel right before winter break. For a festive end end-of-novel reflection activity, I have my students write a Christmas card addressed to their book. This can work with free-choice reading books as well! 

For lots of letter-writing prompts and design templates that can be printed or used digitally, check out my resource here: Letters to Books

8. Promote Kindness. Kindness is cool year-round, but it is especially important to promote kindness during the holidays when examples of goodwill can be found around every corner. Therefore, I teamed up with teachers who want to help you promote kindness in your classroom this holiday season! You can a round up of all of our classroom kindness freebies here: Classroom Kindness Ideas for the Holiday Season

While most of the kindness ideas are student-centered, my contribution helps students show kindness to teachers. Last year I posted this picture of my husband on Instagram, and it struck a chord with a lot of secondary teachers. Here he is pictured with gifts and notes from his 7th graders while I didn't get so much as a card from my 12th graders.

Follow me on Instagram @BsBookLove
This post was meant to be funny, but the truth is that it did hurt my feelings a little. I cherish the rare tokens of appreciation I get from students, so I wanted to create something that helps students express kindness toward teachers. I designed these prompted letters to help older student gift their secondary teachers with words of kindness.

Here's to a wonderful holiday season with your students and an even better winter break!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Teachers Pay Teachers Feedback Tips, Tricks, and Etiquette

In response to some recent reviews, I feel compelled to write a post about all the things I wish every Teachers Pay Teachers patron knew about giving feedback.

Before I get into the tips though, I want to say that I truly appreciate ALL of the feedback I receive --whether it be good or bad--because that means that another teacher somewhere in the world took a chance on something I created to use in their own classroom. This means that another teacher voted with their wallet and said, "I value the teaching profession and feel that teachers should be compensated for their creativity and after-hours work just like any other profession." This means that another teacher decided to "shop small" and support a fellow teacher rather than a big box educational textbook company. For that, I want to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. It blows me away to think about what an impact Teachers Pay Teachers is making in the educational community.

As a precursor to these tips, trick, and etiquette rules, here are a few things to consider.  Teachers Pay Teachers is made up of a community of teachers, and your feedback goes directly to their inbox. We are real teachers who get your feedback sent directly to our email and phone app. There's nothing more nerve-wracking than seeing a little green "feedback" notification pop up on my phone. I read EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. On other sites that are feedback driven such as Amazon, there's somewhat of a disconnect between the inventor of the item or author of the book that you are reviewing. On those sites, it seems unlikely that the person who poured their heart and soul into their work will ever see your opinion of their product. Teachers Pay Teachers is different. By cutting out educational publishing companies (and their markups), you get a direct link to the TEACHER that designed the lesson you are buying. This means that the TEACHER who spent hours and hours of afterschool time designing a lesson to help you in your classroom will be the one reading your feedback.

That said, here are a few tips, tricks, and etiquette rules to consider the next time you leave feedback. 

1. Think about your purpose for leaving feedback. 

Purpose 1: To get TpT credit so that you can cash in for future resources. Some people still don't know this trick, but it's super easy to build up your points and get other resources for free! Simply go to "My Purchases" then click on the "provide feedback." When you go to check out again, you just apply those credits to your total.

Purpose 2: To contact the teacher who designed this lesson for various reasons. Many of the people who leave me feedback actually just want to ask me something, and they don't know another way of contacting me. The way TpT is set up, teacher authors on this site don't have access to teacher emails or ways of contacting buyers. I can't tell you how many times I have wished that I could reach out to a buyer and let them know something important about an update to a lesson. I know that my buyers feel the same. I try to remember to leave my email in each product, but when a teacher is in a hurry, this might be hard to look up. However, there is a better way to contacting teacher authors when you need a typo fixed or have a question. If you go to the "my purchases" that I showed you above, you can click on the Q&A tab. This too is a direct way to contact sellers if you don't have their email. We are notified immediately with the question but can respond only once. If you know this question will take multiple back-and-forth responses, then please leave your email. 
As I mentioned above, it's always nerve-wracking to get the feedback notification, but something that is 10x more nerve-wracking is the Q&A notification because this most likely means that a teacher who purchased my lesson is having problems with something. This is the absolute worst because I know the feeling of thinking you have everything prepared for a day's lesson only to find out too late that something isn't working. I really hate it when this happens, but I'm always so appreciative when someone contacts me via Q&A before leaving feedback. I and most sellers I know respond very quickly to these because we want everything to be correct for you. 

Purpose 3:  To give your stamp of approval (or disapproval) for other teachers who are looking to buy this resource.  There's nothing more powerful or persuasive than the opinions of fellow teachers when it comes to trying a new app, game, or resource. Think about why you have given anything a go in your classroom's probably because another teacher enthusiastically recommended it to you,  you saw it in action on social media, or you read about it on your favorite teaching blog. Your feedback on Teachers Pay Teachers resources carries more weight than you might realize, so make sure your grade and your words match what you want to convey to other teachers around the world. 

An example of nonhelpful feedback: 

This is the first feedback I received on a unit that literally took me 100+ hours to create. I worked two to five hours EVERY DAY after school for two months on this single novel guide. It's quality work and highly engaging. My students loved it, and so did hers. Yet, now this unit's one-and-only feedback (so far) is a 3.8 which means that other teachers might skim right past it search because they would need to click it to see that the rating doesn't match what this teacher thought about my work. If this teacher would have listed details (or better yet, emailed me first), then I would have been happy to change anything that she needed. I strive to make sure every teacher that supports my store is completely happy with their purchase. I take all constructive feedback into account and constantly improve my resources.

An example of helpful feedback: 

As you can see in this next example, this teacher told me and other teachers exactly what she found helpful and explained why she marked me down for thoroughness. Sure, she could have asked me for a rubric before giving feedback, but I know that most teachers don't have to time to wait or to ask for something they needed and expected to have, and I'm ok with that. I would much rather see feedback like this than the vague example above. 

2. If a teacher uses your feedback to improve the lesson, consider changing your feedback to reflect the newly updated resource. 

This is asking for a lot since you already took the time to leave one review, but it's just something to consider and a little trick that some people don't know about. For example, on the feedback below, this teacher was absolutely correct. Since this feedback, I've added 5 more devices and keep adding more. 
She is able to get to her new files by going to the "my purchase" and seeing that the file has been updated. This is what it will look like: 
If you never knew about this trick, then you are in for a treat! Depending on what you have purchased, it can be like Christmas finding all kinds of newly added material to things you already own!! 

If you feel so inclined to revise your review based on newly added material, you can go back to "my purchases," click on the resource, then find your review and click "edit" 

3. NEVER, I repeat, NEVER give anything less than all A's for a free resource.
This has never personally happened to me, but I see it happen to my teacher author friends and just shake my head. I just don't get why someone would go out of their way to leave negative feedback on something FREE that another teacher designed and gave as a gift so that their life would be a little easier. First off, it's kind of hard to even get to the spot where you leave feedback for free times. You have to go to "My Purchases" like I showed you above, but then you have to find the "free" tab and go from there. Secondly, you don't get any credits for leaving feedback on free items. Thirdly, it takes all of two minutes to search for a free lesson, download, skim it, and decide if it's worth using or not. If you don't like it, move on to a different lesson; don't leave feedback. If you do like it, then show your appreciation for a FREE gift by leaving all A's. 

4. Don't take your "buyer's remorse" out on a fellow teacher.  
Ah, the dreaded buyer's remorse; it happens to us all. You are caught up in the moment, enticed by a sale, or overlook a key description. Buying those Halloween Lularoe leggings comes to mind....

Think about all of the times you have impulsively purchased something that you later regretted. What did you do about it? Did you try to get your money back even though you had already used the item? Did you write the proprietor a letter stating all the reasons why you regretted making a purchase? Or, did you simply chalk it up to a few lost dollars and move on? For me, it's the latter. This is how I treat my digital TpT purchases as well. Every time Teachers Pay Teachers has one of their rare sales, I always end up with a cart full of AMAZING clipart and teaching resources for things that I have no desire to create on my own (*cough* Julius Caesar *cough*). Without fail though, there is always something that I purchase that I could have lived without, wasn't what I thought it was, or I just never ended up using. That's ok. I either don't leave feedback, or I leave all A's. It's not their fault that I bought something that I didn't fully read the description on or fully consider the practicality of it fitting into my classroom. 

Case in point:
This buyer obviously had vehement buyer's remorse. Sadly, if she would have just downloaded my preview to see pictures of students (and my good-sport husband) wearing the glasses, she could have saved herself $3 and saved me a good cry. This feedback was written over a year ago, but I still cringe just looking at it. Feedback hurts the most when it unfairly criticizes something in which you take the most pride in. For me, this is my creativity. Ouch. 
Here is the preview of the lesson that she had such a strong reaction to: 

4. If you really loved a lesson, take a moment to say a word of thanks. 
Even though giving feedback earns TpT credits,  it's still hard for busy teachers to remember to leave feedback.  However, there's NOTHING better than getting a heartfelt review from a peer, so if you can, take the time to leave a review. I mentioned the negative review above that made me cry, but thankfully, far more positive reviews have brought tears to my eyes to make up for it. Teachers are easy to please--give us a pat on the back or a word of praise, and we can run on that positivity for weeks.

Leaving feedback is a way  to say "Thank You" to a teacher who spent hours and hours of their time to create something that allowed you to save yours. What were you able to do with those extra hours you weren't searching, brainstorming, and writing for a lesson to use in your classroom? Maybe you actually had a free weekend for once. Maybe you got to spend some extra time with your own children rather than giving all of you to other people's children. Maybe you binge watched Game of Thrones because it's the only thing that is more unpredictable than a day in the life of a teacher. Whatever it is, this is your chance to show your appreciation for something that has helped you.

Feedback like the ones below are my go-to's for when I feeling low or uncreative.
Feedback for my Tiny House Transcendentalists  which inspired my move to little cabin in the woods. 

Feedback for my Beowulf Unit . I love this one because I always want to be the type of teacher this person is by being willing to try new things.  I never want to get set in my ways; students are always changing, and I want to adapt with them. 
Feedback for this project. Not only did I get this teacher's words of praise, but she also let me know what her students thought of it too. I was absolutely blown away by this. 
Lastly, I will leave you with my all-time favorite. Maybe it's because I had such a rough start in teaching (that's a story for another day), but knowing that I played a small part in helping out this new English teacher, makes all the extra hours I put in so worth it. I was this teacher nine years ago, and I can't imagine how much less stressful my life would have been if I would have had TpT back then. This is why I do what I do. 

Thank you for reading. If you want to follow along with me on this crazy full-time teacher and full-time TpT life, then check out my Instagram @Bsbooklove 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Creative Ways to Teach Critical Lenses

I feel that it is essential for every English literature student--whether that be honors, regular, or support level-- to have the ability to read a single text through a different critical lens. This skill teaches students how to have an open mindset and view the world through someone else's perspective--which is one of the fundamental purposes of reading.

Here are some fun activities for teaching critical lenses for ANY learning level! 

(***Make sure you read all the way to the bottom of this post for a special giveaway and link up!***) 

1. Start out with a fairytale picture book. 

Storybooks are perfect for scaffolding complicated concepts, and I especially love fairytales for teaching critical lenses because all of the major ones contain gender stereotypes and social class issues. My go-to is "Little Red Riding Hood" because Roald Dahl has an amazing and hilarious twist to this story which flows right into looking at a single story from different points-of-views. In the original, Red is vulnerable, gullible, and weak; in Dahl's version, she is sassy, strong, and violent. When I teach sophomores, I use this lesson as a segue into our first short story-- "Lamb to the Slaughter" also by Roald Dahl 

***Side note: Please tell me that I'm not the only 80's baby to have one of these CREEPY Little Red Riding Hood dolls pictured above!? I love to use it to freak my students out because underneath her dress is a two-sided grandma and wolf. Ha!

2. Use well-known movies for examples 
There are lots of examples out there for The Lion King including this teacher's website and this student project, but since I have a Harry Potter obsession (see my classroom here: High School Harry Potter Classroom, I tend to always use HP related examples. Here is a visual of Harry Potter Critical Lenses (click to enlarge):

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you should follow my Harry Potter Classroom board where I pin all the ways I add a little HP magic into my classroom every day! :) 

3. Use tactile "lenses" to physically teach the concept of looking through different lenses at a single piece of text 
This one is my favorite because it adds an element of fun to the really challenging concept of understanding critical lenses. Either by using the glasses as group roles or having each student do a multi-read of a single text, students physically wear a critical lens to help them remember how they should be viewing the text.

They really get a kick out of anything silly like this!
Follow my Instagram for English class shenanigans like this! @Bsbooklove 

Even though there's an element of fun, this activity isn't all fluff. By wearing the different lenses, students have a kinesthetic way of comprehending a text through multiple views. If you would like a set of these lenses along with full explanations of the Harry Potter critical lenses, check out my lesson here: 

This is MY best of the best lesson in my classroom, but if you want to see lots of other bests from amazing ELA teachers, then follow the links below. We have all teamed up to write about the best of our classroom, so the content is English teacher vetted and approved!