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.

10 YA Books You Should Add to Your Classroom Library

As ELA teachers we’re always trying to add books to our classroom libraries. Ideally every child that walks into our classroom should be able to find a book that he/she can relate to. Here are a few books that I think would make great additions to any secondary ELA classroom.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Fabiola Toussaint 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. This heart-wrenching book is well-written and depicts the struggles of many young people today.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Being Native American is hard enough in a racist society. Our main character Junior is born with an array of health issues. Even as a teen he has a lisp, he wears thick glasses and he has a stutter. He jokes about being part of the “black eye of the month club” because he was always being beaten up. He rarely left the safety of his home because he didn’t want to be beaten up. Everyone on the reservation is poor and he is often the subject of ridicule and cruelty. To make matters worse, his parents are both alcoholics. Junior escapes the trauma of being bullied, and his life of poverty through his drawings. The book is well-written and it is semi-autobiographical.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

The book starts out like a scene from The Breakfast Club: you have the jock, the prom queen, the nerd, the delinquent and the kid who ends up dying. Did one of them kill him? They all claim innocence, but someone had to do it. Right??? Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? Someone must be behind this, but it’s not what you’d expect in this teen mystery. Everyone has something to hide, but who is the murderer?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Starr Carter hasn’t seen her childhood friend Khalil in a long time when she runs into him at a neighborhood party. Starr goes to a private school in the suburbs because she lives in a rough neighborhood. When a fight breaks out at the party Starr gets in Khalil’s car to get away from danger. She thought that she was safe, but they get pulled over by a police officer and Khalil ends up getting shot and killed. Starr is the only witness, but will they believe her? She feels like she’s being pulled between two worlds. How can she stand up for her friend’s rights and not turn her world upside down?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The book is set in a future where everyone would rather be plugged into the internet 24 hours a day than deal with how depressing reality is. The world is overcrowded, unemployment has sky-rocketed and life in general is just not the way it used to be. Therefore, everyone plugs into the Oasis and lives the life they wish they had in real life. Wade Watts is poor, he lives with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend, he’s overweight and he has no friends. In the Oasis he’s better looking, and he has good friends. The creator of the Oasis created a contest that started when he died. The person that wins the contest gets to control the Oasis. Everyone dreams about the fame and fortune, but 5 years have passed, and no one has solved even the first part of the contest.

Auggie Pullman was born with a rare condition. He is 10 years old and he’s never been to school because he’s had numerous surgeries. Auggie fears going to a “real” school after being homeschooled his whole life. The book deals with issues such as fitting in and bullying. Every student should read this book so that they can get a better understanding of bullying and the painful effect of words.

Every teenager makes some bad decisions.  Unfortunately, the main character Andy makes a decision that ends up causing the death of one of his best friends. The guys were just celebrating winning the basketball game with a few drinks. He didn’t think he was that drunk…

Susie was only 14 years old when she was raped and murdered (that isn’t a spoiler because it happens on page one). The rest of the novel is uniquely narrated by her ghost. From up in heaven Susie observes her family, her friends and the rest of her suburban neighborhood. Susie gets to see things that normally she wouldn’t get to see like her sister’s first kiss and what happens to her murderer.  This book is beautifully written, and students thoroughly enjoy it.

Melinda went to a party the summer before entering high school. She calls the police during the party and as a result she starts her 9th grade year with no friends. The book follows Melinda over the course of the entire school year. The book deals with issues such as bullying, depression, and sexual assault. I think this is a book that every high school student should read. This book has now been adapted into a graphic novel.

Steve is 16 years old. He should be watching cartoons with his brother, playing basketball with his friends or making films for his school project, but he can’t because he’s in jail. Was Steve part of the robbery or is he innocent? This book is about Steve’s trial. Will he get a fair trial, or will his race stand in the way of justice? You’ll have to read the novel to find out.

Some of these books I’ve used with my whole class and others I would use either in literature circles or independent reading. Some of these books deal with controversial topics but these are topics that many of our students are already dealing with.

Advice for New Teachers From a Veteran Teacher

I just finished my 18th year of teaching. For me the summer is time for reflection and rejuvenation. I'm in several social media groups where new teachers are often asking for advice from experienced teachers. When I started teaching social media didn't exist yet, but luckily I was given a mentor my first year of teaching. I'm grateful that my school did this because there are many things that college never prepared me for. In this post I'm going to list things that I've learned over the years. I'm not going to talk about subject specific things in this post. This post is for any new teacher. I hope that this post is beneficial.

Items That Every Teacher Needs:

1) Hand Sanitizer: I've always been a fan of hand sanitizer but I used to just keep a small little bottle in my bag for myself. When I started teaching I was using chalk which was messy. Even after I switched to dry erase markers I still needed to clean my hands constantly. As a high school teacher I have kids in and out of my room all day long. There are germs everywhere and in the beginning of my career I got sick quite frequently even though I never used to get sick. I started buying a large pump hand sanitzer (BJ's and Costco sell them) and I left it on my desk. All day long I have kids come up to my desk and use it. With 100+ students (sometimes as many as 150 students) I buy one of those big bottles about once a month. My kids always tell me that other teachers don't have one. I want my students to have clean hands because the more clean hands in my room, the less likely I am getting sick. Not every child is going to wash their hands in the bathroom and then they touch your doorknob, touch their desk and touch the work that they hand to you. If you think about it, it's gross. I think it's a small investment that benefits every person that walks into your room. If you want the bottle to last longer you can put a rubber band on it and less sanitzer comes out.

2) Comfortable Shoes: I like to wear cute shoes but when I'm standing most of the day I need something comfortable. I know there are some teachers that wear heels every day but I am not one of those teachers. I'm trying to save my legs and back from hurting. Here are a few brands that I find very comfortable: Easy Spirit, Nautralizers, Aerosoles, and Sketchers. I'm sure there are many other comfortable brands but those are my go to. A good, comfortable pair of shoes can make a huge difference in your day.

3) Advil: This is for you because you're going to get headaches. I'm sorry but it's inevitable. Keeping a small bottle in your bag, a desk that locks or a locker is important.

4) Vitamins: You get up early, you're on your feet all day and you're dealing with a lot of different people. You're going to need vitamins for energy.

5) An Insulated Lunch Bag: Every school is different but you might not have access to a fridge or the fridge might be tiny. I'd get a good bag to put your lunch in. I also meal prep on Sundays and make my lunch for the week. This way if I'm too tired after work or I have an after school commitment (running an after school club, grad school, an appointment, etc.) I don't need to worry about making a healthy lunch for the next day. With all the stress and work that comes with teaching it's easy to gain weight.

6) Bandaids: When you're in a classroom kids need bandaids quite frequently. I remember early in my career I was teaching on the 3rd floor and the nurse was in the basement. I sent a kid to get a bandaid and he didn't come back for the rest of the period. It's a far walk and her office was busy. The kids have to sign in and talk to her about what happened. It's a big ordeal. I'd rather just buy a box of store brand bandaids a couple of times a year so that time doesn't get wasted.

7) Water Bottle: Teachers talk a lot and many schools have no air conditioning. Both schools I've worked in have no air conditioning and in the warmer months the vending machines sell out of water. It is very important to have a good water bottle to stay hydrated. Of course there are water fountains but all you have to do is walk down the hallway and you're bound to see some kid spit in the fountain. That's enough to deter me from using them.

8) Healthy Snacks: You might stay late at work to get copies done, work on some grading, finish a bulletin board, etc. Keep some healthy snacks in your room or in your bag. You'll be much happier that you packed the fruit, the carrots, the yogurt, the granola bar, etc. than hitting the vending machine for a candy bar. Trust me it's very easy to eat junk food when you're busy and many teachers gain weight.

9) Febreeze: If you have kids in your room all day things will get smelly. I once had a class of 28 boys and 3 girls. That was the smelliest class I've ever encountered. They had my class right after lunch. I don't need to get specific about why that class smelled but let's just say I always had the bottle of Febreeze handy that period. I have bad allergies. I can't deal with most spray cleaners and I'm highly allergic to plug ins. Febreeze is hypoallergenic and you can spray the room and not worry about kids having issues. Spend one period in a room with teenagers that just came back from gym class or just ate school food and you'll understand why this is a necessity.

10) Paper Towels: Whether it's to clean a spill or to clean desks with spray cleaner I find it important to have some paper towels in the room. You can get the cheap kind in the dollar store. I find them handy to have. Also they can be used if you need a tissue. I used to buy tissues but I found that the kids wasted them so I stopped buying them.


Every school should give teachers school supplies but let's face it many schools keep them locked up and teachers have to fill out request forms to get things. More often than not teachers bring their own supplies. Here's a list of things that I think are essential in the classroom.

1) A Good Stapler and a Box of Staples: Many kids are going to need to use your stapler because their work that they're turning in is more than one page and they don't have a stapler at home. You'll also need your stapler if you hand out packets (some copy machines staple but not all of them) and when you're doing a bulletin board.

2) Good Grading Pens: You're going to need colorful pens to grade. In the beginning of my career I always used green pens. I was told in college that I shouldn't use red pens because there was a negative affect with the color red. Later in my career I switched to purple pens. What brand you use is a personal preference but make sure you have a few pens for grading because you'll be grading a lot and if you leave them on your desk they could disappear.

3) Tons of Pens and Pencils: Kids forget to bring pens and pencils. It happens all the time. Some teacher will give a kid a pen if the kid gives them collateral. All of a sudden you have student id cards, hats, a sneaker and who knows what else. It wastes time. You can either resign yourself to buying cheap pens and pencils and going through hundreds of them every school year or you can buy a box of golf pencils. I stumbled upon this piece of advice accidentally. One year I was filling out a request form for supplies and I asked for pencils. I was given a box of golf pencils. When a student asked for something to write with I gave them a golf pencil. Most of the kids did not want to keep the golf pencils and I ended up getting most of them back. That one box lasted a very long time.

4) A Calendar: Whether it's a physical calendar or an electronic one you will need one. There will be meetings, events, and deadlines (report cards, progress reports, etc) and you need to keep track of them all. I prefer a physical one. I like having a planner and a wall calendar. If your school uses gmail there's a calendar there as well.

5) A Big Binder: As a secondary teacher you will teach more than one class. I have always had to write 3 or 4 lesson plans a day. I find it easy to keep my lesson plans in a binder with dividers (a section for 11th grade ELA, a section for 12th grade ELA, etc.) Some teachers use planbooks but I type up all of my lesson plans so I don't see a point in using a planbook.

6) Digital Storage: I used to keep a binder for each unit I taught but I'm more of a digital person now. I back up all of my files on Google Drive and Dropbox in case something happens to my computer. There are other options and you should pick the best one for you. External hard drives and and computers can have issues so cloud storage is the way to go.

7) A Hole Puncher: If you require students to use a binder (I always do) you'll want a good hole puncher in your room.

8) Dry Erase Markers: I like to have different colors so that I can underline or circle things in another color. I mostly use a smartboard but I write important things on the dry erase board.

9) Markers, Colored Pencils and/or Crayons: I like to do creative assignments and they always come in handy. I like to give each group chart paper and they'll need markers for that.

10) Tape: You're going to go through a lot of tape because you're going to be hanging things up in your room quite often.

Many of these items will be cheaper in the summer at Staples with their weekly back to school deals. Target also has some great back to school sales.

There are many other supplies you'll probably want in your room but many of them are a personal preference.

Here's a link to another post that I wrote about the first week of school: First Week Jitters

6 Ways to Have Movement in the Secondary Classroom

When I was in school our desks were always in rows and my teachers always lectured. I am an auditory learner so I excelled in school with this type of traditional teaching. Educators today vary their teaching methods to fit a variety of needs. Our students all have different learning styles and we need to adjust the way we teach to fit their needs. I like to vary my activities and one way to "shake things up" is to have movement in your classroom. It's not easy to sit still through an entire class and moving around is one way to combat boredom. My examples are for an ELA classroom but they can be adapted for other subject areas. I hope that these suggestions are beneficial. If you have any questions or suggestions leave me a comment or email me.

Here are a few suggestions of things I've done in the past:

1) Station Work

I've done station work several times and I find that in an ELA classroom it works well when you're starting a new work of literature. For station work you will need to set up your desks in groups. I usually do 5 or 6 stations but you can do as many as you want depending upon the length of your class and the level of your students.

This is an example I used when starting the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Before beginning the station work every student gets a handout with questions. There are 5-6 questions for each station.

Station One: An article about Puritans in America.
Station Two: The article "How to Spot a Witch" (This can be found online.)
Station Three: A biography of Arthur Miller
Station Four: An article on  McCarthyism.
Station Five: Pictures of puritans showing how they dressed and portraying their every day lives.
Station Six: Laptops or iPads with an excerpt from the film Witchcraft in America showing on it. (Use headphones if you want this to be a quiet activity.)

2) Group Work Using Chart Paper

I like to do group work that involves chart paper so that 1) students can move around a little and 2) I can display student work in my classroom. In an earlier blog post I wrote about using the SIFT Method for analyzing poetry.

After going over the SIFT Method I break up the students into groups. Each group gets a different poem, a sheet of chart paper and 2 or 3 markers. When I do this activity I use poems that have been on the ELA Regents Exam or the AP Literature Exam. This activity will work with any poems. Using the SIFT method they analyze their poem and write it out on the chart paper. If you want even more movement you can have them present their poems to the class. If you do presentation this could end up being a two day lesson. I also have a short free video on TpT about the SIFT method. (If you watch it I apologize ahead of time for looking like a mess in it. I'm VERY nervous about videos and that was my first one.)

3) Presentations

Once upon a time my school thought it was a good idea to force every child to take one semester of public speaking. I tried to make the class fun, but not every kid likes getting in front of the room. I had students who would rather fail than stand in front of the room.

Whether you do group presentations or have every student present you 1) get them to move in the classroom and 2) have them practice a useful skill. I always tell my students that it's better to practice public speaking in high school where they know everyone than to do it for the first time in a large college class.

The first time I taught Oedipus the King, I was shocked that many of my students were unfamiliar with the Gods and Goddesses of Greek Mythology so I designed a project where they each picked a figure from Greek Mythology out of a hat and did a presentation about that figure.

This activity is FREE in my TpT store listed here: Greek Mythology Research Assignment.

You can do what I call a mini speech (under 5 minutes) where they have to interview a classmate. You can also have them do a "How To" speech where they model how to do something. Another fun public speaking activity is an Object Speech. I always model this assignment by bringing in my old teddy bear. When I taught public speaking my favorite type of speech to have the students do was an impromptu speech. Students would pull a topic out of a hat and they'd have to give a speech on the spot about that topic. They were usually hilarious.

4) Library Scavenger Hunts

This is an alternative to station work. I will simply give my students a list of questions to answer and they are not allowed to use the internet for this assignment. You can have them work individually, in pairs or in groups for this assignment. The person or group that completes that scavenger hunt the fastest (with accuracy of course) gets a prize (either candy or a free homework pass). I have a FREE Shakespeare Scavenger Hunt in my TpT store.

5) Using the SmartBoard

There are a variety of ways you can get students out of their seats to answer questions on the Smartboard (or the traditional chalkboard/dry erase board). I ask students to write on the board all the time. If they're reluctant I tell them that their handwriting is better than mine.

6) Interactive Word Walls

My school loves word walls but I don't want students to see a vocabulary word and not know what it means. I started having them make interactive word walls. I will give each group a list of words to look up in the dictionary (I always have a few dictionaries in my room. I have at least 2-3 per group. If I have less dictionaries than students that means that the students need to work together and interact.) Students take a sheet of paper and fold it in half. On the outside they write the word and on the inside they write the definition. These words get hung up on the wall or on a bulletin board. When other students see the word and they want to know what it means they have to lift the flap to see the definition. This works well with SAT vocabulary or vocabulary for a novel that you're teaching. If your school has a word of the day you can use it for that as well. Not only do your students learn new words but if you give the students colorful markers they're making classroom decor for you as well.

Here are some pictures from my Shakespeare Interactive Word Wall

Literature for Women's History Month

Although March is Women's History Month, I don't like to just celebrate women in the month of March. I feel that traditionally mostly white male authors are taught and that's not fair. I like to incorporate a variety of authors throughout the entire school year.

I know that some schools have very rigid book lists. If you work in a school like that I encourage you to incorporate as many multicultural and female authors as you can into your classroom library. Even if you can't teach these books as whole class novels, you can incorporate them into independent reading. If you don't have a classroom library maybe you could add some female authors that have written poetry or short stories.

Here are some female authors I've incorporated into my classroom:


Mary Shelley: The novel Frankenstein is either taught in a 12th grade British Literature class or AP Literature because of the complexity of the text. I've only taught this novel once in an AP Literature course but I hope to delve deeper into the novel in the future.

Sylvia Plath: I love to teach the semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar. I've used this book a few times with seniors. Even though the book was written many decades ago I feel like some of the internal struggles that the narrator has are still struggles that people today have. I've also taught many of Plath's poems when I taught a creative writing course.

Laurie Halse Anderson: I've taught two of her novels in the past: Speak and Catalyst. Speak is a great novel to use with 9th graders as the protagonist is their age. The protagonist of the novel Catalyst is in 12th grade and she's dealing with the stress of applying to college. I think that teenagers like seeing characters their own age because it's more relatable.

Lorraine Hansberry: I've taught the play A Raisin in the Sun numerous times with both 9th and 10th graders. I think that this play is important to teach because of the historical context of racism in the late 1950's.

Sandra Cisneros: I've taught The House on Mango Street a few times. I've used the book in entirety with 9th graders and I've used pieces of it with a creative writing class. My students really enjoy this book. There are some controversial topics in the book but these are topics that students need to talk about.

Alice Sebold: I've taught the novel The Lovely Bones several times with both 11th and 12th graders. Although the book is very sad, it is well-written and unique. My students enjoyed it and they really liked the movie version of the book.

S.E. Hinton: I've taught the novel The Outsiders a few times with 9th grade classes. This book can be used with both middle school or high school students. Working in the inner city I found that my students could relate to many of the issues in this book.

Sharon Draper: I've taught the novel Tears of a Tiger with 9th grade classes but this book could easily be used with middle school students as well. The characters are teenagers and the situations they face are situations that students can easily relate to.

R.J. Palacio: The book Wonder can be used with a variety of grade levels. I've used this book with 9th graders but it is usually taught with younger grades. Wonder is a great book to use when discussing anti-bullying.

Suzanne Collins: The book The Hunger Games can be taught with any grade 7-12. Some people might be cautious about using the novel with younger students because there is a lot of death in the book but most students are probably familiar with the book already because of the popularity of the film.


Maya Angelou: I've taught the memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings once with seniors. It's both heart-wrenching and well-written. I would use this book with older students because there is a lot of abusive situations in the memoir. I also love teaching many of her poetry both in conjunction with the memoir or as stand alone lessons.

Short Stories

Shirley Jackson: I've taught both the short story "The Lottery" and the short story "Charles" by Shirley Jackson. Both stories can be used with a variety of grade levels and have interesting themes.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: I've taught the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper a few times. I think it works well with either 11th or 12th graders because of the level of vocabulary. I usually pair this short story with the short story "A Rose for Emily" (not written by a female author but still deals with feminist issues) and the poem "Barbie Doll."

Flannery O'Conner also has a lot of great short stories for upper grades.


This is a list of some female poets I like to incorporate into my curriculum:

Emily Dickinson
Sylvia Plath
Anne Sexton
Maya Angelou
Nikki Giovanni
Marge Piercy

I have a few other female authors listed in this blog post I wrote about Literature for Black History Month.

Literature for Black History Month

February is Black History Month. In honor of Black History Month, I like to incorporate literature written by African Americans into my ELA classroom. The type and length of literature depends upon various factors including what grade I’m teaching, if my class is an annual class or a half year course (in NY we start a new semester the last week in January), and if I’m in the middle of a longer unit. In an ideal world I’d have time for a full-length novel, memoir or play.

My favorite book to teach during Black History Month is the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Although the play was published in 1959 the topics and themes of the play are still relevant today. When I teach 9th grade I love to use the young adult novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers. The protagonist of the book is a 16-year-old boy that’s on trial for felony murder. Students always enjoy this novel. I find that my students enjoy any book by Walter Dean Myers.

If I don’t have time for a longer work of literature, I like to teach a few poems by African American authors. Two of my personal favorites are Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou but there are many poets you can incorporate into your curriculum. If you’re in the middle of a unit, you can tie in a poem or two thematically.

Below is a list of some of my favorite works of literature written by African American authors. This is not meant to be a definitive list. This list is simply a list of books, authors and poets that I think work well in a secondary classroom. Some of these books work well as full class books while others would make a great addition to a classroom library.

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

This play was published in 1959 and deals with an African American family struggling with poverty and racism in Chicago. I’ve taught this play with both 9th and 10th grade but I know other teachers use it in 11th grade as well.

Kindred by Octavia Butler
This is a science fiction novel about a woman who travels back in time from present day to the time-period of slavery. She goes back and forth several times between the two time-periods. This is a great book to put in your classroom library or to use with literature circles.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This book deals with a lot of controversial topics including racism, misogyny and abuse. I taught this book in AP Literature and Composition. The topics are very mature so I wouldn’t use this book with younger students.

Fences by August Wilson
This play deals with family relationships and racial inequality. If you teach the play Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller you can draw a lot of comparisons between the two plays. I’ve taught this play to 11th graders.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The book deals with one woman’s search for love amid a racist, misogynistic society full of gossip hounds. This book works well with 11th and 12th graders

Beloved by Toni Morrison
The protagonist of the novel Sethe was born into slavery. When the book starts she is no longer a slave but her background story is pieced together through memories. The book portrays the horrors that the slaves faced daily. The book is very graphic so it would probably should be used with upper grades.

Night John by Gary Paulsen
The novel is set in the 1850’s on a Plantation. The main character of the novel is a young girl named Sarny. A slave named Night John teaches Sarny to read despite the fact that the penalty for teaching a slave to read was dismemberment. This is a great book to use for middle school students or lower level high school students.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is a recent young adult novel that deals with racism and poverty. Starr Carter is a 16-year-old girl that lives in a poor neighborhood but travels to go to a fancy school in a better neighborhood. When one of her childhood friends get killed in front of her, her world turned upside down. This is a great book to add to your classroom library.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This memoir discusses the author’s childhood in the 1960’s. The book is written in free verse. The book shows racism and segregation in the south. This book (or any of Jacqueline Woodson’s books) is a great addition to a classroom library.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers
This book is about a 16-year-old boy who is on trial for felony murder. The book is written as a screenplay and it shows the entire court case. The book deals with poverty, racism, gangs and peer pressure. I’ve taught this book several times with 9th graders but it will work well with middle school students as well. Walter Dean Myers has a lot of YA books that students love. They’re a great addition to a classroom library.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
This book is Maya Angelou’s memoir about her childhood. She dealt with being abandoned by her mother, racism, poverty and sexual assault.The topics are very mature so I would use it with 11th or 12th grade. I’ve only taught this memoir once and I used it with 12th graders.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
This non-fiction book is about Frederick Douglass’ life as a slave in the south. Although the book deals with the harsh reality of America’s dark past, it shows how one man outsmarted his masters and learned to read. He eventually escapes to the North but he doesn’t reveal how. I taught this book once with 9th graders. The book would also work well with middle school students.

Below is a list of African American poets that I think work well in secondary classrooms. In my experience most of my students are familiar with Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou but they don’t really know the other poets listed below.

Maya Angelou
Langston Hughes
Countee Cullen
Claude McKay
Lucille Clifton
June Jordan
Nikki Grime
Nikki Giovanni
Audre Lord
Robert Hayden


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