4 Shakespeare Plays To Teach This Year

William Shakespeare died more than 400 years ago, but his plays still resonate today. Most of the themes from Shakespeare’s (at least) 37 plays can be found in modern literature today and even reflect modern concerns of today’s youth. Here are 4 Shakespeare plays to teach this year and the resources to help you share them with your secondary students.


Othello, the title character of Shakespeare’s tragedy, is a rare person of color in 17th-century literature. Bringing diversity into your classic literature curriculum is so important.

The themes of the dangers of jealousy and racial prejudice are also present in this story that could easily have been a television soap opera with secret marriages, accusations of adultery, murder, and drama. Your students will be on the edge of their seats!

Speaking of on-screen drama, Othello pairs well with the movie, O, after reading the play. Check out my handout to use with the movie O and everything you need to teach Othello from character charts, Shakespearian background, task cards, writing assignments, projects for the play, and more in this Othello bundle.

The Taming of the Shrew

Sibling rivalry, as well as issues surrounding marriage and gender equity, are at the forefront of this Shakespearian comedy. Your students will love the interplay between the seemingly sweet agreeable Bianca as opposed to her sister Katherine, the “shrew”.

Differentiate instruction for struggling readers with scene by scene summaries of the play along with movie handouts to go with the play. One of the favorite modern adaptations is 10 Things I Hate About You.

Prepare your students for culminating tests and essays with this all-inclusive bundle for The Taming of the Shrew


To be or not to be? Should you teach Hamlet this year? With these awesome Hamlet resources, the answer is definitely YES! Hamlet has themes that focus on revenge and action v. inaction.

One activity I love to use with my advanced readers during Hamlet is a mock trial when Hamlet goes on trial for the murder of Polonius. Of course, there are many movie adaptations of Hamlet that you can use after the play.I've used this play with both regular 12th graders and with AP Literature students.


Ask 10 English teachers, and more than half will probably say that Macbeth is their favorite Shakespeare play to read and teach. Despite the violence and “double, double toil and trouble”, Macbeth teaches about fate and ambition.

The characters in Macbeth are layered and complicated, which is why I’ve included characterization webs and maps in the Macbeth unit bundle. Incorporate games like Macbeth bingo, task cards and more!

These 4 Shakespeare plays to teach this year should be on your list because of the modern themes, media connections, and in-depth analysis opportunities. Stretch your students’ understandings of classic literature with my Ultimate Shakespeare Package including these four and other Shakespeare plays you can teach this year!

Here's another blog post I wrote about Shakespeare's Birthday which most people believe is April 23rd.

“Well, That’s a Funny Name!” And Other Culturally Insensitive Things to Avoid

With the beginning of the school year upon us, many of us have painstakingly spent time decorating our classrooms to be warm and inviting places and we're planning how to move students deftly through the curriculum. We are ready to welcome students back for another successful year. Throughout all of our preparations, it is important that our classrooms are culturally responsive and attempt to avoid actions that can come across as culturally insensitive.

Avoid Judgement

Without fail, we have all come across that one name on the roster that gives us pause. We stare at it, trying to break it down by syllable, sound it out phonetically, all to no avail. We stumble through it, hoping that the student, whose name we are butchering, will step in and save us. They do. Rattling off how to pronounce it correctly, saving us from further embarrassment.

Our first instinct may be to make a comment that points out the “otherness” of their name: it’s funny, it’s different, it’s interesting (in a way that shows we’re really saying something else), we’ve never heard it before. While seemingly innocent, making these comments points out the fact that the name is “different” or “funny” can potentially and unintentionally alienate students.

Don’t Force Assimilation

While you may continually trip and stumble over students’ names, please avoid asking students to call them by a nickname that makes things convenient for you. Names are significant, and many students whose names are “different” have meaning assigned to those names. Don’t minimize the importance of their name by shortening or nicknaming without the student prompting, to make things easy. Instead, engage students in a conversation about the significance of their names. Even if a student says it doesn’t matter what you call them, make clear to them that it does matter. It’s their name, and they are important to you and matter.

Check Biased Comments from Other Students

As ELA teachers, we try to make our classroom and curriculum representative of the diverse cultures students will encounter in the world. Our bookshelves are stocked with books to expose students to other cultures, and we attempt to build empathy for others and build students’ cultural awareness through our instruction. All of our good intentions can be undone if we don’t address culturally insensitive comments students make. When students make fun of others’ names or accents or mimic languages, it’s not enough to just make students stop. It’s important to address why these actions are offensive and provide an opportunity for students to learn more about a culture they need exposure to.

Experience Doesn’t Always Equal Expert

Remember that having experience with students who come from different cultures does not make you an expert on the culture. While you may have some level of understanding, it is important that you continue to check your assumptions about how students feel in your classroom simply because you think you understand their cultural background. We know each student is unique, so our practice needs to reflect the fact that we respect each student’s unique ties to their culture and not let our limited expertise overshadow their own.

Ensuring that our teaching is culturally responsive is not an easy task. There will be times when we make mistakes. However, if our students know that we are making a real effort to incorporate who they are into the fabric of our classroom, those mistakes can be powerful lessons that will carry into the future. What better teachers to have than the students who fill our classrooms every day?

How to Prioritize Your Time Before School Starts

As summer is winding down, thoughts turn to the upcoming school year and how teachers can be getting ready. There are back-to-school sales, back-to-school rallies, back-to-school ads everywhere, and I’m pretty sure I saw a cupcake decorated like a pencil somewhere. With all of the hype around this time of year, it is easy to get drawn into the excitement and anxiety that seems to be in the air. For teachers especially, this time of year is fraught with emotion, as all the unknowns of the new school year loom large in front of them. In my 17+ years in the classroom, I have learned that these last few weeks of summer can be one of the best times of the year, second only to the joy of actually meeting and getting to know my new group of students. This process has not been by accident, however. Over the years I have learned that there are things I can do to help get me ready to put my best foot forward. I would love to share what I do with you by showing you how to prioritize your time before school starts. 

I know I feel better when my classroom is set up and ready to go. The question is, does your classroom really have to be ready four weeks before school starts? Probably not. There are other, more fulfilling things you can be doing to help fill your bucket before the beginning of a new year. One way to prioritize is through reflections and questioning. I get out a journal to help me figure out what would be most effective for me in the last few weeks before school starts. Here are a few questions you may want to reflect upon before the year begins.

1. If I were to say I was stressed about something right now, what would it be and why? Is this something I have control over?
2. What kind of self-care is most meaningful to me? Is there any way to work that into the next few weeks so that I am able to be my best for my students?
3. What can I do to improve myself as a teacher? Can I take any small steps towards that goal in the next few weeks?
4. What books have I read recently, and did any of them strike a chord? If so - why? If not - what would I change to make the book more impactful?
5. Have I helped to put a smile on someone else’s face recently? Is there anything I can do to give back to my community?

I find that answering one or more of these simple prompts often helps me to be more reflective and thoughtful. From this point, I would look at my calendar, and actually, put events on there. For example, at 10am on Friday, August 16th, I will be going to the library to look for a new book to read. I purposefully plan this so that I have something new to dive in to over the weekend. I also have time blocked out to go work in my classroom. One of these things is no more important than the other, they carry equal weight. Getting my classroom ready is important, so is getting myself in the best mental and physical place possible.

We all know that a teacher’s greatest commodity is time. So why would we spend the precious little time we have each summer back in our schools and classrooms? I am a better teacher when I have prioritized some time for myself, and I bet others are as well. Take this time to be proactive about rejuvenation in whatever way works best. As for myself, between now and Labor Day, you will probably find me prioritizing my time lost in a good book.

5 YA Suspense/Thriller Novels You Should Add To Your Classroom Library

A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena is a young adult thriller. The book is about a married couple living Upstate New York. One day Tom comes home and his wife Karen is missing and the house is unlocked. After calling the police Tom finds out that Karen was in a terrible car crash. Although she survives the crash, she’s lost her memory. What was she escaping from?

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl is a young adult suspense novel. The book is about a girl named Beatrice that is trying to find out the truth about her boyfriend’s mysterious death. It’s been a year since his death and she feels like everyone she thought she knew has changed. Does she truly know her friends? Did she really know her boyfriend?

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus is a young adult suspense novel. In this novel a group of students all get detention for having cellphones in class (which they claim aren’t their phones). During detention one of the students ends up dying from a peanut allergy. Who killed Simon? They all had a motive. They all had something to hide. Who did it?

Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes is a young adult suspense novel. The protagonist of the novel is Embry woods and after saving a man’s life everyone declares that she’s a hero. Soon after someone starts blackmailing her. She has some very deep secrets. Why was she at the hotel the night of the fire? What really happened that night? Who else was there?

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas is a young adult suspense novel. Sunnybrook High hasn’t had cheerleaders in five years because within one month five cheerleaders died. Two cheerleaders died in a car accident, two were murdered, and one committed suicide. Monica lives in the shadows of her perfect sister that died by her own hand. Were these tragedies a coincidence or are they all connected?

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.


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