Friday, May 29, 2015

This I Believe!

I love doing "This I Believe" essays with my students. Listening to the amazing radio clips from NPR from essayists all over the world is a wonderful experience for them. There is so much variety - humor, poignancy, incredible written detail that comes through aloud. Some of my students have even had their essays posted online by NPR - a wonderful culmination for them.

If you've never heard the series or taught this type of essay, be sure to check out the amazing resources at NPR. I've been so impressed by their efforts to create curriculum.

One of the resources available at the above link is the poster shown here, which you can download and print for your own classroom.

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Here is one of my best resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. I'm giving it away for the next 24 hours.

Use these 15 fun activities to kick off discussions as you start the next school year. You won't be sorry! Your students will be warmed up and ready to go instead of stuck thinking about the last period and whatever is going on with their friends.

I'm giving this away so more people can see what kind of products I design and consider following my store. Please consider following along if you enjoy the product! Or take a moment to review the product so others will know what it is like. Thanks!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Why not try a new kind of final exam?

The ELA exam is time-consuming to create and so arduous to grade. Why not try something new this year with my Graduation Speech final exam? My students and I had a blast with this. 

And while you're checking it out, follow my store! Just click on the green star at the top. There are lots of great differentiated projects, discussion starters, outside reading materials, and more for the 7th-12th ELA teacher. Not to mention lots of freebies. As a follower, you'll be the first to find out about new freebies and sales. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Cool Books Project

Do you know about NAIS's Cool Books Project? You can send in your recommendations for great nontraditional classroom books and share them with teachers across the country. Here's mine from the NAIS website:

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
In a canonical curriculum, students rarely have the chance to read non-fiction. Like most English teachers, I believe they can address life's biggest questions and issues through connections to fictional characters and situations, but for a teenager in the throes of identity construction, there is nothing quite like reading about a teenager experiencing the same thing. A real teenager. Holden Caulfield will do the trick for some, the Garcia sisters for others, a few will fall for the Bennets or Hemingway's young travelers, but when I introduced my junior American Literature students to Christopher McCandless from Into the Wild, they almost all found a way into the book.
I liked reading Into the Wild after a unit on Transcendentalism, in which students considered Thoreau's call to the wild and Emerson's push for self-reliance. Chris seemed a young and modern cousin of these two interesting gentlemen, practically their P.R. person for the new generation. Students enjoyed debating the extremity of Chris's response to the literature he was reading, his responsibility towards his family, the possibilities and dangers inherent in a decision to stray off the path laid out for an independent high school student. I was glad to be using Harkness, the student-based round table discussion method, as we discussed the book. The students needed very little guidance from me to engage with Krakauer's text. 
One final note: despite my students avid lobbying, I refused to show the movie. If kids wanted to see it, they could do it on their own, and many did. I felt it took major liberties with the text, and though interesting, did not suit my classroom needs. 
—Betsy Potash, The American College of Sofia (Bulgaria)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

ELA Teachers: Need something fun for free at the end of the year?

At my Teachers Pay Teachers store, you can grab one of my favorite series of activities for free here. If you are struggling for fun activities to keep your students interested for the final buildup to the end, you'll find it here. Have students tweeting, blogging, programming smartphones for, and writing radio essays inspired by characters from any novel at any upper level.

And while you're there, consider following my store. I'm relatively new to Teachers Pay Teachers, but not to educational writing or teaching. There's a lot of good stuff there, and as a follower, you'll be the first to hear about great freebies and sales.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

From a Newbie to the Newbies (2 months In): Getting Started on Teachers Pay Teachers for a HIGH SCHOOL teacher

It's been about two months since I started trying seriously to share my curriculum on Teachers Pay Teachers. It's slow going, but so interesting. I have always loved creating lesson plans and project designs, and since I am currently staying home with my little one, it feels great to access this part of my brain again.

I've read A LOT of posts about getting started on Teachers Pay Teachers lately, but many of them seem to come from the perspective of very experienced folks on the site, and they gloss the details a bit. Here's some advice from a newbie to the newbies, with as much detail as I can pack in. 

#1 Create all of your material in Powerpoint. As soon as you open Powerpoint, go to page setup and change your paper to 8 1/2 X 11. Now you are basically creating Word documents as far as anyone knows, since you'll be saving the work as a PDF to export at the end. The difference is that it is wildly easier to shift your graphics around in in Powerpoint. You can easily add shapes, layer clipart, put in colorful backgrounds and dink around with text in small boxes without changing everything else on the page. I thought Powerpoint was just for Powerpoint slide shows, but it turns out it's for EVERYTHING you want to look good. 

#2 Make a template for all your products in powerpoint with the second page filled in with your store/blog/facebook/twitter/instagram information. On this page you can thank your customers, invite them to e-mail you with questions, and include lots of lovely graphics and screenshots of your other products to entice them back to your store. Reminding them to follow you can't hurt either. This way, every time you make a sale, you know the person who bought your product will know how to get in touch with your line again. I also included a third page in my template called "Educator Info." It's just a nicely designed background and header with a text box waiting for my instructions to teachers on how to use each product. With this template, I don't have to keep copying and pasting from my other products when I start something new. 

#3 Buy a little bit of clipart. I wan't sure if I'd ever find some appropriately classy and understated clipart for my secondary products until I stumbled onto Paula Kim Studio. But I've been really happy with the few frames and papers I have purchased from her. I also use Pixabay (free!) for more specific graphics if I want something to really match a product. Pixabay doesn't require you to cite in your products, as almost everything there is public domain (unless the clip is specifically listed as private, which I've only run into once in months of browsing). If I end up making a hit of it on Teachers Pay Teachers (which would be fun!), I'll probably invest in more clipart, because I really enjoy graphic design. But until I am making more money from my products, I don't want to pay too much to create them. I'm sure you can relate. 

4. Browse the popular stores in your area. I've learned a lot about what teachers are looking for by checking out popular middle and high school ELA stores like Laura Randazzo and Tracee Orman. I don't want to copy their products, but I want to see what thousands of teachers are choosing to follow and like, so I can get an idea of the types of assignments and formats that make other teachers happy. Then I use my own material from years of teaching to craft the types of bundles and activity sets I see that people want. 

5. Use the forums sparingly. Boy, is it easy to waste time on the forums when you could be creating products. Try as I might, I haven't found anything on the forums that leads to much in the way of advertising or sales. You can connect with a few other bloggers and facebookers, get your products pinned to Pinterest (which seems to be of dubious merit since Pinterest changed the way they do pin feeds), and slowly watch the little phrase below your name go from "Becoming Active" to "Active" to something like my current status, "Collaborator Extraordinaire." But do you have more followers? Not really. Bottom line in my opinion, it's a nice thing to do when you are totally burnt out on creating products but want to feel productive. 

Good luck! Feel free to post questions below and I'll respond as best I can. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Teachers Online

I love the site, Web English Teacher. Whenever I'm about to teach a new unit, I go there and browse through some of the ideas linked to whatever book or poems I'm beginning. It's inspiring to see all the ways other people have taught whatever I'm about to teach, and I often learn something I didn't know about the text.

I was thinking about this today after looking back over an article I wrote a while ago for NAIS about technology in education. Though I haven't given my classroom over to the iPad just yet, I see a lot to love about teachers sharing their ideas online, and connecting with information they might never have been able to share before. If you're interested in the article, here it is. 

What's your favorite online resource?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Check it Out

I'm happy to introduce my latest Teachers Pay Teachers product, 15 Discussion Warm-Up Printables. It has some of my most fun ideas from years of teaching. Each of these 15 activities will give students a great way to review their reading, so they begin the discussion with plenty to say instead of awkward silence. If you buy this packet, you'll have fifteen well-designed handouts that you can use for any of your classes (7th-12th) with any novel.

This is the 35th product I've posted, and the one I'm most proud of. It's taken me months to get the hang of the Teachers Pay Teachers system, but now I'm starting to feel that I have. It's an interesting idea to let teachers write the curriculum for each other - almost like an educational version of Wikipedia. After years of browsing Barnes and Noble unsuccessfully for educational material that is actually engaging instead of stuffed with dry research useless to my classroom, I think Teachers Pay Teachers is on the right track. Will it catch on for secondary teachers? I don't know. But I'm all in for now.

Introducing Harkness for Discussion

I created a video a while ago about the Harkness method of discussion, my favorite way to discuss literature with my students. I used it to introduce the model to some fellow teachers. Imagine my surprise the other day when I searched "Harkness" on youtube and discovered my video was the first hit.

I thought I'd share the video here, and give a plug to the Exeter Humanities Workshop, an amazing professional development opportunity to consider.

Art / English Interdisciplinary

Does your school do any English/Art crossover? I used to work at a school with a humanities program, but art was the most silent partner in the group. And yet, I see a million ways that art plays a role in understanding and processing writing. Above, I am posting a few pictures of student projects that used art to help interpret their understanding of writing and literature, and I could post dozens more that I love. I always enjoy assigning projects that access students' artistic abilities, but I am also mindful that some of the students hate to be forced into art projects. So I try to create differentiated assignments, leaving room for a wide variety of intelligences. I either assign options that do not include art, divide students into groups only some of which pursue something art-related, or try to clearly show that it is the thinking behind the art that matters, and that the artistic representation can be just as brilliant in pencil or computer generated graphics as in watercolor or oil paint, etc.

How do you incorporate art into your curriculum? Or don't you?