6 Reasons Why the Public Library is a Teacher’s Best Friend

I know so many teachers who spend their own money on books, movies and an array of other materials for their classroom. Despite being paid a low salary and being on a budget, teachers often dig into their own pockets because sometimes it’s just easier and faster to just buy it.

There are many ways that the public library can be a teacher’s best friend. Here are a 6 reasons why every teacher should use the library.
  1. Seasonal/holiday books. Many teachers that teach primary grades like to use seasonal and holiday books. This might take some planning but if you’re organized you can utilize your local library for all of your seasonal/holiday needs. Just don’t wait until the last minute.
  2. Movies: My school always blocked youtube because there are some things on there that are not school appropriate. I used to use Netflix in my classroom but one day my school decided to block it because it was slowing down the server. Even if it wasn’t blocked, Netflix is constantly changing the content and you might find that a movie you want to show your class has disappeared. I don’t know about other schools but we’ve had plenty of days when the internet went down. I’d rather get the DVD from the library than have to deal with all of these issues. If your library doesn’t own the movie you need, they will interlibrary loan it for you. One time I wanted four different versions of Hamlet and my library got them for me.
  3. Audiobooks: We all have reluctant readers in our classes and audiobooks are a great way to help struggling readers. You can have them listen individually or you can use the audiobook with the entire class. You can get traditional CD audiobooks (I use the CD drive on my computer which is hooked up to the smartboard so the audio is excellent) or you can use the Libby app and play them on a device (iPad, phone, etc.)
  4. Summer Reading: Obviously every library is different but my local library collaborates with the schools in the area for summer reading. The library pulls the books that are on the summer reading list and keeps them on a cart for the convenience of the students. This way students can easily access the book(s) they have to read over the summer break.
  5. Databases: Your school library will have databases but the public library tends to have a better budget so they will have more databases. You can use these for your own research or have students use their own library card to use them. (If your school collaborates with the local library usually they bring library card applications to the school.)
  6. Collaboration: There are many ways that schools/teachers can collaborate with the local library. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Class projects
  • Library card applications
  • Library Visits 
  • Summer Reading
  • Author Visits
  • Other Events

Celebrating Holidays in the Classroom: Thanksgiving Edition

This is my first year as a Library Media Specialist and my first year working with younger students. I wanted to share some Thanksgiving books with my students but when I started reading picture books I found that some were historically inaccurate. Some of the books were portraying a one-sided story. I don't want to get into the gory details about what happened because the students are very young, but I didn't want to give them inaccurate information either. I figured if I was having issues finding good resources, others might be having the same issue as well. Here are some of the resources I've been using in my library.

If your school subscribes to BranPop, they have an excellent video about Thanksgiving that gives an accurate story without going into gory details. I showed this short video to some of my older students and then I received an email from BrainPop about the video that made me feel even better about the video. This is what BrainPop said, "Developed in collaboration with members and scholars of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, our new Thanksgiving movie brings you the messy, fascinating, and sometimes painful roots of the classic American holiday. Watch the movie to share with students the real story of Thanksgiving." What I love about BrainPop is that they give you activities to go along with their videos. I've used a number of their videos in the classroom and in the library. 

One of the best books I found was from my local library, it was called Peppa Gives Thanks. No author is listed in the book but it's a Scholastic Book. I used this book with both Kindergarten and first grade. This book is not specifically for Thanksgiving but it talks about being thankful for what we have. I brainstormed a list with the students and I wrote everything that they said on the board for them to copy. I had students pick 3 things from the class list to put on their paper and I had them draw pictures of each of the items/people that they're thankful for. They came up with some really cute answers. 

Another really cute book that I found was called Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano. In this book, a turkey is trying to disguise himself as other animals in an attempt to not become Thanksgiving dinner. It was a funny book and my kindergarteners really enjoyed it. I created this handout to go along with the book. (Everything linked in this post is free). I like to have my kindergarteners trace words so that they can practice writing. The fonts I used are KG Fonts that are available here free for personal use.

With the middle grades (2nd and 3rd) I used the book Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet. This is a book about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Before reading this book I asked students how many of them have watched the parade on TV. I was very surprised that many of them didn't know about it. I showed them some pictures of the balloons on my smartboard. I teach in NY so I was very surprised that they weren't familiar with the parade. For students who are unfamiliar with the parade, this book is a great way to introduce it to them. I have several students that now want to watch the parade on TV because of this book. After reading the book I had students design their balloon as a makerspace activity. 

With my older students, I used this free writing activity from Laura Candler. I also used this holiday-themed word search as an extension activity for students that finished early. After spending 17 years working with secondary students in the classroom, TPT has really been a lifesaver for me this year. 

Let me know what you do with your students for Thanksgiving in the comments below. Happy Holidays.   

5 YouTube Channels to Help Review Language Arts Concepts

The teenagers in your class are online more than any other generation before. Sure, they’re reading articles and consuming ebooks, but more and more, their medium of choice is video. Video demonstrations of important English and reading ideas help this generation of visual learners.

Share these 5 YouTube Channels to help review language arts concepts with your high school students.

Crash Course

Brothers Hank and John Green (you know, The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns. . .) have their own YouTube channel with tons of educational content for a wide array of subject areas. One of my favorite playlists for high school English students is the Literature playlist. Popular high school reads like The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Things Fall Apart are just a few titles on the list of videos focusing on literary concepts like theme and character. Check out all the channel has to offer, and share with your non-ELA colleagues as well!

Vancouver Poetry Slam

Slam Poetry is one of the most powerful things you can introduce to an English class. Slam is more than just a free verse poem. Introducing this spoken form of poetry, performed on stage (often competitively), allows students to share their voices in a powerful, innovative way. The Vancouver Poetry Slam channel showcases poetry from the weekly Vancouver, British Columbia poetry slam. Make sure to review videos before sharing with your class. Some have sensitive topics or may be triggering for some students. After viewing some slam poems from the channel, encourage your students to write their own slam poetry. Have a poetry cafe or showcase to allow your students to share their own unique voices. What a perfect way to review the elements of poetry and create original works with your students.

Intelligence Squared

Whether you teach a debate course or integrate into your ELA class, this channel is perfect for teaching and reviewing argumentative writing, the art of the argument, or debate. The channel is nonpartisan and pairs two teams of experts arguing for or against public policy issues in the United States. In a world where our students are trying to stay informed of current issues while avoiding left or right-wing media bias, this channel does an excellent job of providing both sides of issues ranging from fake news, social media regulation, international trade and more.

Khan Academy

Oh, Khan Academy. The channel that has helped many an advanced math student get through calculus and stats has expanded to include more subjects than you can count on your fingers and toes. The Grammar Channel makes it easy to review parts of speech all the way through relative clauses. Grammar has never been so much fun!

Grammar Girl

Need more grammar review? More than 11,000 subscribers can’t be wrong! While Khan Academy rocks at reviewing parts of speech, homophones, and sentence parts, Grammar Girl covers just about everything else as well. You can even kick it old school and teach your kids how to diagram sentences - Grammar Girl style! Grammar Girl helps with precise language in writing by addressing word choice and the differences between different phrases. These 5 YouTube Channels to help review language arts concepts will help your students learn more about literature, review argument and debates, and get more help on grammar and writing concepts. Bring video to your high school ELA classroom!

7 Reasons Why You Should Download the App Libby

As an English teacher, one could imagine the amount of money I’ve spent on books in a lifetime. Take that number and multiply it by 3. I have a bookstore problem, which about 10 years ago became an ebook problem, and about a year and a half ago it became an audible problem. Books are expensive and most of the time I read a book only once. I do frequent my local library but the popular books always have a waitlist and I can be impatient. Also, it’s so convenient to download a new book on my Nook (I’m supporting a bookstore instead of a website) or on my audible app anytime I want.

About a year ago I was introduced to the app Libby. Libby is a free app that you download and create an account with your library card. You can use the Libby app or you can view the books on your Kindle or the Kindle app. There’s a workaround to get the books on your Nook but it involves your computer and a program called Adobe Digital Editions so I generally don’t do it. It’s faster to just use the Libby app. With the Libby app, you can download ebooks and audiobooks for FREE using your library card.

Reasons Why You Need Libby:

1. It’s FREE!!!! I’ve spent a small fortune on ebooks and audiobooks and I rarely read/listen to them more than once. Audible is great and if you’re a teacher and you want to use the audiobook every school year you might want to own the audiobook. If you’re reading/listening for fun you should consider Libby. It has definitely saved me some money in the past year.
2. It doesn’t use data. I have a bit of a commute to work and I listen to audiobooks in the car. I simply download the audiobook when I’m on wifi and then it simply plays on my phone without using data in the car. It does use my battery of course but I don’t have to worry about going over my data.
3. You don’t have to worry about late fees. After 14 days the book disappears from your device. Just like regular library materials you can renew them if no one is waiting. If there is a waitlist (this is mostly for newer materials and best sellers) they email you when it’s your turn.
4. You can’t lose or damage an ebook. We’ve all lost a book or damaged a book. We’re human. Last year I had a water bottle open in my bag and ruin a $30 library book. With Libby, you don’t need to worry about replacement costs.
5. If you want a book in the middle of the night you can get it. You don’t have to worry about library hours, bookstore hours or waiting to get a book in the mail. That’s great news for my fellow insomniacs.
6. You always have your phone on you. How many times have you been stuck waiting for someone or something? Instead of wasting time, you can pull out your phone and continue reading/listening to your book. You are more likely to have your phone on you than that bulky 500-page book you’re reading.
7. It’s great for traveling. I love to read on flights and who wants to take 2 or 3 books on vacation? With airlines charging more for luggage than in the past, we’re all trying to pack light. Having a small device is more convenient than carrying a few books.

Some people might say “Libby doesn’t have every book” which is true but you can always make suggestions for books at your local library. If it’s a 50-year-old book that no one has ever heard of they might not order it but you don’t know unless you ask. I’m not saying that I spent $0 on books since I started using this app but I have cut down tremendously on my spending.

5 TED Talks to Share with High Schoolers

You may have seen an inspirational TED Talk floating around social media. Whether you have caught Sir Ken Robinson’s thought-provoking talk, ”Do schools kill creativity?” or Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk, ”Your elusive creative genius”, you know the power of TED Talks in your own professional life. Did you also know that there are thousands of inspirational TED Talks you can present to your high schoolers? Share short talks as bell ringers, assign as out-of-class viewing in a flipped classroom, or use as an integral part of a lesson.

Here are 5 TED Talks to share with high schoolers. 

”Why the pencil is perfect”

This talk is about something very simple, a pencil. Pencil shop owner Caroline Weaver tells the story of a pencil. Use this under four-minute talk as a bell ringer in your ELA class or inspiration for a writing prompt about objects or inventions.

”How fake news does real harm”

“Fake news” is a real problem with adults and young people alike. Social media and instantaneous breaking news make it easy to spread false information. Journalist Stephanie Busari reminds viewers of the 2014 story of the 200 girls from Chibok, Nigeria, kidnapped by the terrorist organization Boko Haram. Because the story was called a hoax by the Nigerian government and because of the transmission of fake news during this time period, lives were endangered. This talk provides a powerful testament of what makes fake news so dangerous when real problems exist. Use this talk (right around six minutes) as a discussion of how to determine the credibility of news stories and the responsibility of those who provide the news and the audience that consumes it.

”The art of choosing”

High school students are faced with trivial as well as enormous choices. Everyday choices like what to eat for breakfast, whom to sit with at lunch, and what book to read are fairly simple and inconsequential. As they enter the brink of adulthood, they’ll face choices on whether or not to go to college, where to go to college, what major to choose, and whom to date and marry. There are hundreds of other choices, often fueled by our own cultural assumptions and bias. Sheena Iyengar talks about the choices people make and the assumptions around them in this longer TED Talk (around 20 minutes) that is a great piece to share before having conversations about graduation and college.

Why some of us don’t have one true calling

How often have our students been asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” in their young lives? This loaded question is difficult for those who have a wide array of interests and aren’t ready to make a decision on their future career at a young age. Share writer and artist Emilie Wapnick’s talk and allow it to become a conversation about your students' passions, not necessarily the things they show they are good at on assessments but the things they truly love.

What adults can learn from kids

Even though Adora Svitak is just 12 years old, this TED Talk is highly recommended for high school students who struggle to find their voice in a world where they’re on the bridge between child and adulthood. Svitak reminds students of the childhood ideals they should hold onto as adults, including creativity and hope. These 5 TED Talks to share with high schoolers can be put into a YouTube or TED Talk Playlist for whenever you need an inspirational talk or motivation for your older students. From a focus on writing and reading to finding purpose after high school, these talks are helpful and great media to use in your ELA classes.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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.


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