Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought

The Importance of Reading for Pleasure

I think that as English teachers we have much more power than we realize. We can create lifelong readers or individuals who hate reading based on the books we choose and the methods we use in the classroom. Not every book will mesh well with every student. I think that’s why it’s so important to use a wide range of texts in the classroom and to encourage independent reading.

Independent reading. Isn’t that something we have elementary school students do? And then don’t we slowly but surely phase it out because we don’t have the time or there are other things we need to do or something like that? I think it’s time to bring it back. I think it’s time to carve out pockets of time that are exclusively for reading. Reading is important, and I really don’t think we give it enough credence the higher we get in education.

I worry that especially at the high school level we aren’t encouraging independent reading enough. Often there isn’t time set aside for independent reading. We encourage reading for assignments, but we don’t necessarily encourage students to go out and find books to fall in love with. If the only books students read are the ones we assign, it’s no small wonder some of them hate reading. We aren’t allowing them to find the books that speak to them.

Books do speak to people. The stories and characters become entities we can relate to. We fall in love with the stories because there’s something familiar in them. But if we don’t let students seek out their own stories and reading material they don’t have those opportunities to connect with stories and fall in love with reading.

I think we need to find a 10 minute chunk in our time with students and let them read. Every day. We need to foster a love of reading so our students can understand all that books offer. We need to be willing to recommend books if students can’t find one. We need to teach students that there are more books out there than what we have time to teach; we need to teach students to want to explore and discover.


Posted in Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

Bringing Social Media Into the Classroom

In my experiences, social media is one of those tricky things. It’s everywhere right now. Everyone has social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr – especially students. Students have social media. Students understand social media. They know the formats and how to use it. It’s a major part of their lives. Social media isn’t something that’s going to go away any time soon; we as teachers should see if we can find ways to embrace social media and use its powers for good.

I know this might sound crazy. Generally we’re trying to keep social media out of the classroom. It’s one of those teenage evils like cell phones and the internet (depending on whom you talk to.) But I’m not talking about letting students go on their social media accounts during class time. That’s really the last thing I’m advocating. Allowing students to do that would most likely end badly. I’m talking about finding ways to build lessons around social media and the text being read in class.

Yes. This is something that can be done with some creativity and ingenuity. It’s something I’ve done before, and it works well. I think that using social media in the ways I’m about to explain is a great thing to do because it’s something that students can connect with, even if they aren’t necessarily connecting to the text being read.

What I’ve done with social media has students going nothing with computers or their phones or technology in any manner, shape or form. Unless, that is, you give them permission to do so.

What the wonderful world of Pinterest has provided me with is social media worksheets. Yes, they are a real thing, and I think they’re pretty fabulous. And there’s a lot of them. They have them for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’ve also found them for cell phones (smart phones) and iPads. These are all things that students are familiar with. And now they can be used in a fantastic way in the classroom.

I’ve used these worksheets for characterization, and I’ve only done one or two activities with them. (I have lots of plans though.) I think that these worksheets are great for characterization, and I also think that they would work really well for plot sequencing and creative writing activities. The truth of the matter is, though, the possibilities are probably endless. You’re only limited by you.


Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought, Teaching Techniques

The 5 Paragraph Essay and a Complicated Relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with the 5 paragraph essay. Before I continue, you have to know that it wasn’t always this way. I used to give the 5 paragraph essay about zero thoughts. It was what I had always known, always used, and it worked well. It was, and still is, a great basic format to use when writing a literature analysis essay. It’s a great first essay structure to teach students who are just learning about writing essays and need a solid form to work with. Even though my thoughts on the 5 paragraph are more complicated now, these basic facts haven’t changed, and I doubt they ever will.

My thoughts on the 5 paragraph essay changed slowly and all at once. Remember, for about 12 years it was all I had really known. Then my last semester of undergrad I took a class called “Advanced Expository Writing.” I wasn’t sure what to expect from the class, but it turned out to be a great class. It was taught by a professor who became one of my favorite professors, and it was absolutely a class I learned a lot from. And on the first day of class my professor told us that we wouldn’t be writing 5 paragraph essays.

This was a class that was all about writing essays. And we weren’t supposed to use the 5 paragraph essay format.

I almost cried. There was definitely a shock factor involved. I really wanted to curl up and give up. I’m not a quitter by any means, but how is one supposed to write an essay and not use the 5 paragraph format? All I knew was the 5 paragraph essay format. I thought that was the only essay format, and that it was just modified depending on how many things I wanted to say in my essay. I love to write, and I hate unexpected change.  I wasn’t sure what kind of combination this scenario was.

But I’m not a quitter. Especially when it comes to writing. Writing is a big part of who I am; I’m not about to walk away from a challenge. So in the beginning I struggled. I wrote some really bad drafts for my first essay. I got a lot of good feedback. But then I began to find my style, which turns out isn’t really a 5 paragraph style. It’s more of a vignette, put the puzzle pieces together, style. Writing got better and writing these “nontraditional” essays became a lot easier.

The point of this anecdote isn’t to ramble on about undergrad. I learned a lot from that class. It taught me more than I could have imagined about writing and about myself. (I find that I can learn a lot about myself through writing.) I learned that the 5 paragraph essay isn’t the only way to structure an essay. I learned that it isn’t always the right way to write an essay. This is information that I want to be able to teach my students so that they can go forth and determine for themselves how they might want to write some of their essays. Because remember, sometimes the 5 paragraph essay is best.


Posted in Uncategorized

Top 10 Ways To Get Students Talking about their Reading by Tammy Mulligan

This is a great article about reading and interacting with students. I can’t wait to try some of these strategies in my classroom and see which ones are the most successful.

Nerdy Book Club

My grandmother was a kind and gentle person who only spoke when she had something important to say.   Although she didn’t carry on lengthy conversations, her words were full of wisdom.  As a young girl, I remember walking in the woods with her after arguing with my younger brother.  She stopped along the path, bent down and looked me in the eyes, “You know – What we say really matters.  It shows what we care about.”

Now many years later, I think about her message every time I sit beside a reader.

If what we say shows what we care about, then our conversations with readers are priceless.    When sitting beside a reader, I want readers to talk about what they are reading and about the process of reading.  I want to know what is working for them, what they are thinking about and what plans they have as readers.

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Posted in Classroom Ideas, Food for Thought, Regular Update

Bulletin Board Real Estate

I think that bulletin boards are highly underestimated pieces of classroom real estate. I know that I underestimated them until I began my internship this year. I think part of the problem is that when I (and I assume others) think “bulletin board” I think elementary school. And I want to teach at the secondary level (grades 7-12). So I don’t necessarily want a board with cute art projects because that’s just not where my students are. (I do love a good art project though.)

This year though, I’ve seen two bulletin boards that I’ve fallen completely in love with, and they really couldn’t be more different. Let me tell you a little bit about them.

bulletin board 1:

Bulletin board 1 showcases a million different cool things. I know that “a million” sounds like some serious hyperbole, but I assure you it isn’t. This bulletin board is full of so many cool posters – movie posters, book posters, quote posters. I literally go into the room that houses this bulletin board and stare at it. I want all those posters. I want them for my classroom. I want them to be in my life even when I can’t go visit this bulletin board anymore. This is a bulletin board that I find inspiring because it makes me think about how all these things can be applicable to an English classroom (where this bulletin board lives) and to students. I really want to know how all these posters ended up together and what the students think of them. And I think it would be great to have this type of bulletin board one day because it’s a great use of bulletin board real estate.

Bulletin board 2:

Bulletin board 2 is great for different reasons. This is a bulletin board that showcases student work. I think that right there regardless of what that work is is great. Showcasing student work really makes the students a part of the classroom. They have ownership of some real estate because it’s their work that’s on the wall. I think that aspect of this bulletin board alone is fabulous.

I also really like that every marking period the work on the board changes to reflect the theme of the quarter. This isn’t a stagnant board. It’s constantly changing and becoming something new. And it’s giving students the opportunity to grow and evolve throughout the year and see that reflected and showcased.

What do you do with your bulletin board real estate? What do you dream of doing with your bulletin board real estate?