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 you...like 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 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 find 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.


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!

Bonus Idea: If you are like me and like to plan for the new year before you leave for break, here's a post with New Year lesson plan ideas! 

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!