5 Activities for Early Finishers in the ELA Classroom

Differentiating instruction in your high school ELA class can be overwhelming. You have learners that need assistance navigating complex texts and writing papers while others are devouring books before the final deadlines and writing papers with little to no help. The latter group shouldn’t be given “busy” work. Activities for early finishers in the ELA classroom can help your advanced students have meaningful tasks that will deepen their learning.

Start a Book Club.

Use Google Classroom, Flipgrid, or Padlet to have your early finishers gather together and discuss the books they are reading. Whether they are reading the same title or just teasing or reviewing their own favorite reads, your students who love to read will love engaging with each other in a virtual book club that can be done on their own time, in and outside of the school day. Encourage your readers to choose some YA Golden Sower books or books on their AP lists. Take it a step further and allow them to start their own Book Club YouTube channel!

Research and write scholarship applications.

When I ask my students what is holding them back from applying for more college scholarships, a common complaint is lack of time. Between the school day, homework, and extracurriculars and/or an after-school job, students are finding it difficult to navigate the web to find and apply for legitimate scholarship opportunities. Help your students know which opportunities are safe and give them time to apply when they finish their work early! Utilize your high school counseling department to help find scholarships for your students.

Black Out Poems

Art meets poetry with this incredible “found poetry”. You’ll need some old books (that you can tear pages from), pencils, and black markers. Have your students choose a random page from a book. They may hesitate to rip a page from a treasured old novel at first, but assure them it’s for a greater good. Have them circle or box their favorite “kept” words on the page. The rest of the words will be blacked out so only the newly found poem will remain. Some students may go beyond the blackout form and create intricate, colorful designs on the page, still leaving just the words as the final linguistic form.

Network, read, and review on Goodreads 

Encourage your students to make a profile on Goodreads. You can even start your own class or group for students to join. Students can create “want-to-read” shelves, mark and reviews books that they have finished, and even share their progress on books they are “currently reading”. There are places to chat and discuss books and even giveaways of newly released books directly from authors and publishers. Goodreads is a great way for your early finishers to discover and discuss books.

Start a blog.

There are so many free blogging platforms for students. Weebly, Blogger, Wordpress, Edublogs, and even Google Sites allow your students to create their own platforms and share their voices. Let your students shine by creating their own content about what they care about. Whether it’s movie reviews, social commentary, fashion blogging, or a food blog, the world is theirs when it comes to blogging. Talk to them about online etiquette, elements of a blog post (images, text, and call to action), and let them share with the world!

These activities for early finishers in the ELA classroom may inspire even your reluctant (but proficient) learners to work hard in order to participate in these educational enriched activities. Use technology and differentiation to help your learners enjoy their extra time in class.



6 LGBTQ Books You Should Add to Your Classroom Library


June is Pride Month but many schools in the U.S. are already on vacation. Other schools are winding down the school year. Here in NY we're preparing for state exams. School librarians are doing end of the school year inventory. June might not be the best time to make a book display or book talk LGBTQ books for all of these reasons. 

ELA teachers should make sure that their classroom libraries have diverse books to meet the needs of their students. Every student should be able to find a book that they can relate to. Students are constantly being assigned books that we deem classics, independent reading should be full of choice. Here are six LGBTQ books that will make a great addition to your high school ELA classroom. We should celebrate diversity throughout the school year and not just certain months of the year.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour


This book tells the story of Marin who is a freshman in college. Marin grew up in California and the only relative she had was her grandfather who died right before she started school. She left home and went to New York for school and has shut out the world. She hasn’t talked to anyone about his death and she’s fallen into a deep depression. Her friend Mabel that she had an LGTBQ relationship with comes to visit her and she slowly opens up and talks about what happened the previous summer. The main character is not only dealing with the loss of a loved one but also, she’s questioning her sexuality. The book ends on a hopeful note that Marin can stay with Mabel’s family during school breaks. 

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


This book is about a teenaged boy named Simon that is gay, but he hasn’t told anyone. He fears that his friends and family will alienate him when they find out. Simon starts emailing another guy at his school who uses the name Blue online and ends up falling in love with him over email. While Simon is trying to find out the true identity of Blue, a classmate of his Martin sees his emails on a school computer and blackmails him. Eventually, Martin reveals Simon’s secret. Despite the fact that his friends and family are accepting, Simon wanted to come out when he was ready. Simon does face some bullying at school, but his friends stand up for him and he eventually finds out who Blue is. The book is about Simon’s emotional journey and the difficulties that gay teens face today.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson


This book is told from the point-of-view of Jude and Noah who are twins living in California. Noah’s chapters are told when they are 13 and 14 years old before their mother passed away. Jude’s chapters are told when they’re 16 years old roughly two years after the death of their mother. When they were 13 Noah was bullied a lot and he was dealing with being in love with his only friend Brian. When they were 13 Jude was very popular. At age 16 the roles have reversed, and Jude has no friends and Noah is very popular. Both twins are hiding their true selves and working through a lot of issues dealing with the loss of their mother. Both their mother and their grandmother’s ghosts meddle in the lives to make things a little more complicated.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas


This book is about sixteen-year-old Bri who is dealing with poverty and racism. Bri thought that a rap career would be the answer to all of her problems. Bri pours her frustration into her rap music but her first song is misinterpreted, and she finds herself in the middle of controversy. There are several LGBTQ characters including Bri’s aunt who is one of the few adults she confides in and one of her best friends.

Odd One Out by Nic Stone


The book tells the story of Courtney and Jupiter (Jupe) who are best friends that grew up together and their new friend, Rae, that just moved into town. The book explores the dynamics of this complicated, messy love triangle. Courtney is in love with Jupe but she’s a lesbian. Rae is attracted to both Courtney and Jupe but at one-point, Jupe realizes she’s in love with Courtney as well. The book is about identity and discovering your true self. All of the characters are multicultural and there are several LGBTQ characters.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo 


This book is written as a series of poems and it tells the story of Xiomara and her twin brother Xavier who are first generation in American and growing up in Harlem. They’re 15 when the book begins, and their parents are extremely religious. Xiomara expresses herself through her poetry, but she feels like she has to hide it from everyone. Her brother is gay but in the closet. Both teens feel like their parents wouldn’t understand them and both start secretly dating someone. There are a lot of parent/child conflicts in the novel because of the cultural and generational differences. 

ELA teachers should have a wide range of books in their classroom libraries to meet the needs of their students. These books would work well with either literature circles or independent reading

Saying No Is Self Care, Here’s How...





You are a busy, busy person. You get up early in the morning and start your day, and end your days grading papers and planning for your next day. You have to grade papers, write lesson plans attend meetings, contact parents, do report cards and that's all outside of actual teaching. When does that leave time for family, friends and most importantly YOU? How many teachers neglect the important people in their lives and themselves because they work around the clock?

Your dedication makes it possible for people to learn everything that they need in order to be successful in their next phase in life. But what about you? Besides your normal responsibilities, you have so many other obligations. There are family needs to take care of, there are committees to serve on and after school activities that need to be organized and supervised. There are so many things to do. But what about you?

When is the last time you took a step back and asked yourself if you were getting what you needed? When is the last time you evaluated if what are doing with your life makes you happy? We are not meant to only work, come home, and tend to duties. We are built for joy as well as duty. That means that you are going to need to find another way to be. But how do we find our way back to joy? One of the best places to start is by saying no to the things that don’t bring us joy.

How do we get to a place in life where we are able to say no? We love the idea of making the people around us happy. The disappointment in their faces when we see that our no has let them down in some way is hard to bear. But you have to learn how to say no. It is essential for self-care, and here is why:

  1. You are only one person - you cannot be responsible for saving the entire world. You have minds to shape, lessons to teach. You need as much energy as possible to make that happen. You are one person, so you cannot do it all. Sometimes you have to know your limitations and just say no.
  2. There is probably someone else who can help - Most of the time, though we like to believe we are the rescuers of everyone, there is usually someone else who can do what we are being asked to do. If you don’t have space in your life to fulfill the request your person is making of you, let them move on to the next person.
  3. You don’t want to grow resentful - if you are the type who always says no, never wants to let anyone down, and always shows up, you are going to eventually grow resentful. I know that this feels unlikely to you right now, but trust me, it is the truth. You are going to be tired, and you’ll find that not everyone who you have helped is going to say yes to you, and you are going to be very angry at them for it. Remember, we do things out of the kindness of our hearts, and while it is ok to help from a sense of obligation, that should not be so burdensome that you cannot enjoy your life.

Saying no feels like one of the hardest things you can do sometimes. Take a deep breath. Though it will take some getting used to, you are going to find that your world and your schedule will open up to make time for the things that matter to you.




Book Review: American Street

American Street by Ibi Zoboi is a coming of age novel that will work well for grades 9-12. Fabiola Toussaint, the protagonist grew up in Haiti and hasn’t spent a day away from her mother. Their plan was to move to America and live with her aunt and her cousins in Detroit. Unfortunately, Fabiola was allowed in the country, but her mother was detained.
Fabiola is thrust into a world she doesn’t understand with people she barely knows. She thought that her life was rough in Haiti, but Detroit is full of violence, crime, and drugs. Fabiola is trying to help her mother, but can she also help her family with all of their issues? This heart-wrenching book is well-written and depicts the struggles that immigrants face including assimilation. Can one adapt to a new environment, and hold onto their own cultural identity? The characters are authentic and believable. The novel is emotionally-intense at times. Anyone who is into culturally diverse urban books would like this novel. The book contains some strong language. This novel would make a great addition to a high school classroom library. 


Poetry Books to Inspire a Love of Poetry


The announcement of a poetry unit may elicit groans from your students, but when we start to broaden our view of poetry beyond the classical ballads and patterned rhymes, our students may learn to appreciate even love the genre. Add these poetry books to inspire a love of poetry to your shelves, and watch your students find a newfound appreciation for poetic verse.



Tupac (2Pac) was a well-known rapper until he lost his life by gang violence at the age of 25. His music has lived on, but what’s even more impressive is his poetry. Without the explicit lyrics of some of his rap songs, The Rose that Grew from Concrete provides a look a personal metaphorical poems that students can use to inspire their own lyric poetry. Images of rough drafts in the poet’s own handwriting help your students understand poetry writing as a creative process. Show your students that poetry is modern, filled with voice, and that music is poetry! Try using the SIFT strategy mentioned in this blog post to analyze the title poem, “The Rose that Grew from Concrete.” You’ll be surprised with what your students come up with!

Love that Dog by Sharon Creech 

You can introduce your students to classic poets like Robert Frost, William Blake, and William Carlos Williams without having them scratch their heads in confusion. Jack, the main character in Love that Dog learns to connect with poetry (which he does not like in the beginning) through a personal event in his own life. He writes versions of popular poems he learns about in school. Use the text to show the models of these famous poems, and have your students write their own versions, just like Jack did.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein 

Although Silverstein’s poetry books may seem a little elementary, I’ve never met a secondary student that couldn’t appreciate Shel Silverstein’s fun rhymes, imagery, and quirky speakers. Bringing back some of their childhood favorites will help them remember what they loved about poetry as a younger student. Use some of the rhymes to teach literary concepts like point of view, similes, and personification. You may also focus on imagery by having students draw new illustrations to go with their favorite poem. Silverstein poems are also perfect to practice recitation and memorization. One of the first texts I memorized as a child was from Where the Sidewalk Ends!


Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson 

For students that love to read novels or narrative nonfiction, verse novels are one way to introduce poetry. Woodson tells the story of her life through verse in this powerful memoir that earned her a Newbery Award and National Book Award. The story begins in the 1960s, a time of racial inequality and segregation in the South. Woodson’s story is relevant still today and is a powerful way to teach real, authentic narrative poetry. Poetry books are not just textbook anthologies filled with hard to understand language and iambic pentameter. Beautiful free verse poems, lyrics from musicians and artists, and novel length memoirs and narratives are some poetry books to inspire a love of poetry with your secondary students. Try some of these titles out in your classroom.


Book Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation starts out like historical fiction but then come the shamblers (zombies). The library classifies this book as a thriller, but it can also be classified as alternative history. Jane McKeen is the daughter of the richest white woman in Kentucky and her father was one of the “help.”  Since the day she was born someone was trying to kill her, but she’s a strong female protagonist. She’s smarter than most of the people around her. She even makes references to Shakespeare that no one gets.
Jane was born during The Civil War and two days after her birth the dead started rising from the battlefield. The states ended the war quickly because they saw that they had a much larger problem to deal with.  Jane goes to Miss Preston’s Combat School in Baltimore where African American girls are trained in both fighting and etiquette to protect rich white women who are now known as survivalists. Despite the end of slavery, for people like Jane there’s a new form of servitude.
The book is an allegory for life in the 1800’s. We see racism, classicism, feminism, sexism and bigotry. Although the book is primarily about African Americans and their struggles in a post-Civil War, zombie-filled world, we also see a glimpse into what the life of a Native American was like back then too. The Natives were also sent to combat schools but it sounds more like they were beaten and forced to forget their culture.
Despite some historical flaws (she goes back and forth between Native and Indian when only one would be used at the time) I enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to grades 9-12. I think that teens who enjoy historical fiction or teens that enjoy thrillers would like Dread Nation.

Ways to Use Flipgrid to Showcase Books

Flipgrid is a free resource where students can engage in a classroom or global community through short videos. Teachers start by creating grids for each class or content area and then topics for the different activities within the grid. If you’ve never used Flipgrid, this Educator’s Guide is the best place to start. In the ELA classroom, there are so many ways to use Flipgrid to showcase books. Try a few of these engaging activities on your classroom Flipgrid.


Literature Circle Book Discussions 

Literature circles are a fantastic way to differentiate instruction in your classroom by having your students read novels from different genres and reading levels. Create a topic in your ELA class grid for each of the novels being read in class. Have each group discuss the book freely in the topic. You may also want to create a grid for each book and separate topics for each discussion question.


Independent Reading Book Talks 

Let your students share the books they are reading on their own by creating their own book talks. When you post your Book Talk grid or topic, you may want to upload your own book talk as a model for students to use. Check out my book talk blog posts for what students should include in their book talks.


Read Alouds 

Use Flipgrid to practice reading fluency by showcasing first chapters of novels. This is one topic you may want to make optional as some students may struggle reading an entire chapter aloud to their peers. You may also exercise the option of monitoring the videos before posting them for the whole class to view. That way, each student may practice reading aloud for you, but you can approve the students’ videos that feel comfortable reading aloud. Videos can be up to five minutes long, so for some books and readers, they may choose to read just part of the first chapter.


Character Interaction 

Why not try a little creative acting with Flipgrid? Have your students answer questions as a character from a novel they are reading. For example, you may post a question such as, “What are your hopes and dreams?” Your students would answer as a main character from their novel while introducing the title and author of the novel in case other classmates are interested in reading it. Take it a step further and allow students to interact with each other as their characters, posting their own questions and responses.

Flipgrid is an incredible tool to use in your ELA classroom to build community and inspire young readers. These ways to use Flipgrid to showcase books can help your students find new titles to read and engage with their own independent reading novels. Try a few in your classroom.


Best Places to Find Ebooks for Your Classroom


Middle and high school students seem to be attached to their phones. More and more classrooms are going to 1:1 devices, utilizing laptops or tablets in daily instruction. As educators, we can fight the battle to keep our kids reading books instead of spending time on their screen, or we can embrace technology by finding electronic books to use for instructional purposes and independent reading.

Here are some of the best places to find ebooks for your classroom.

Overdrive

You may already know about this popular interface to check out free ebooks from the public library, but did you know that many school districts now use Overdrive with students? Check with your media specialist or librarian to see if Overdrive is being used as a delivery and check out system for ebooks in your school. Encourage your students to also get a public library card if available. Not only are their thousands of popular titles available for your readers, they’re absolutely free! Overdrive is especially helpful for voracious readers than can devour a text in less than a week. Most checkout times are up to two weeks per text. If your students use tablets, try the Overdrive or Meet Libby app to easily check out and read books.

Project Gutenberg

With more than 58,000 free ebooks today, Project Gutenberg was the first provider of free electronic books. The copyright has expired on these classic texts, so they are available to all users without registration. Students can enjoy any text available on the site for free, and your class can read them as a whole group or in literature circles. Some popular texts often taught in secondary schools are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Use Project Gutenberg to introduce your students to classic texts at no cost!

Library of Congress

The United States Library of Congress has an archive of physical and digital resources including electronic books that your students may use for research or free reading. Secondary students may also find illustrated children’s classics housed through the Library of Congress website to be beneficial in creative writing or reviewing literary elements such as theme, characterization, and plot. The scope of the site is broad enough to use in any content area. Have your students explore to see what they can find to suit their interests!

Barnes & Noble

Believe it or not, the popular book store has thousands of free Nook (ebook) books available for kids. Many of the books are young adult novels, appropriate for middle level and early high school readers. Although there are many full length novels, some are previews that students can read while they wait for popular books from the library to be available. Students do need to register with an account to read the books but may login using Google credentials. Make sure this is in compliance with your school or district’s Children Online Privacy Protection Rules (COPPA), especially for students under age 13. Some favorite books that are currently available include National Book Award Finalist The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (first 11 chapters) and Caught in Between by Alison L. Perry. Browse the free ebooks on Barnes & Noble for yourself!

Your 21st century learners are using their devices more than ever before. Teaching them how to find engaging, accessible reading material online will help them enjoying reading even more! Check out the links for the best places to find ebooks for your classroom.


Book Review: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

One Day Can Change the Course of Your Whole Life

“People spend their whole lives looking for love. Poems and songs and entire novels are written about it. But how can you trust something that can end as suddenly as it begins?” (Yoon 58)
Was it fate or coincidence? If Daniel hadn’t left the house early that morning, he wouldn’t have seen Natasha. If she hadn’t been delayed by the security guard she wouldn’t have been there. If they hadn’t met she might have been hit by a car. Is it coincidence that her lawyer was also the man conducting Daniel’s college interview? If you’re a hopeless romantic that believes in fate The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is the book for you.
The book is a modern version of Romeo and Juliet but instead of Capulets and Montagues you have Koreans and Jamaicans. Instead of banishment, we have deportation. They’re only 17 and from different backgrounds. Natasha is science-minded, and Daniel writes poetry. Many believe that opposites attract.
The book deals with social issues such as immigration (legal and illegal), interracial relationships, the American Dream, parent/child relationships, sibling rivalry and trying to fit in. Both Daniel and Natasha have parents that want them to date people within their own culture. Daniel’s parents have mapped out his whole life for him and Natasha’s father disrupts her life by getting the family deported. Even though they only spent one day together, their career paths and mindsets have forever been changed.

Avoid Being Overwhelmed By Avoiding Overcommitting



Life is a juggling act. There is so much to accomplish, and so many things to do that sometimes it can just become too much. We get sad, we get scared, we become anxious that all of the work we need to do might never get done. When that happens, we get overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed isn’t something that happens overnight. It is a process that can take place over the course of days or weeks or months, and before you know it, we are there, and we are desperately in need of relief. For us teachers, this can present a particular challenge: we want to be able to do everything we possibly can to shape our kid’s lives while continuing to have time for our own. How do we achieve this balance? Well, to start we need to become very clear about what we are capable of. One of the best ways to avoid being overwhelmed is to avoid being overcommitted in the first place.

Plan from the worst case scenario

Many times we accept invitations (Will you sit on this committee? Will you join this organization? Will you come to this event? Will you run this after school activity?) based on the best case scenario. We assume that everything will go smoothly, that our personal lives will remain simple, and that we will have plenty of time to do everything we normally do plus manage this new commitment. Instead of doing that, you want to plan from the worst case scenario. What happens if lots of stuff goes wrong? Will this new commitment still be important enough for you to pursue it? If not, you might need to reconsider your involvement in the activity.

Watch out for guilt trippers

Everybody does a little bit of guilt-tripping now and again. It is a way for people to move us toward doing something that they really want or need for us to do. It also makes us feel terrible. When you feel like you are being guilt-tripped, create some space between you and the person trying to pressure you, so that you can evaluate what is really important to you and whether you can take on the task you’re being asked to do.


Don’t be afraid to say no

We as a society spend a lot of time focused on making the people in our lives happy, but sometimes this isn’t something we can accomplish. It is important to realize that there is no harm in saying no. Sometimes we have to say no to the people who love us in order to preserve our own energy. There is nothing wrong with doing that. Saying no frees us to tend to the obligations we already have. Saying no allows us to be who we need to be instead of who others are expecting us to be.

Being overwhelmed can happen to anybody. We spend a great deal of time trying to cram as much as we can into our schedules and stay busy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but instead of wearing ourselves out with busyness, it is just as important to spend some time making ourselves happy and taking care of ourselves. Avoiding being overcommitted takes care of all of that.



 

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