The Easiest Sub Plans Template You Must Have!

Sub Plan Template

What is a sub plan? Why do teachers need emergency sub plans?

Emergency Sub Plans ELA is Emergency sub plans English Language Arts. Sub plans include work, instruction, direction, logistics, and key information that is needed when a regular teacher is out sick or for an emergency. Teachers need emergency sub plans when they are sick in the middle of the night, or have something come up that is not expected. It’s important to have an emergency sub plan ready prior to an emergency waiting on your desk in an emergency sub plan folder. What is an ELA substitute lesson? An ELA substitute plan is an English Language Arts substitute plan. The following are the best way to organize emergency sub plans.

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Emergency Sub Plans!

Sub Plans Template: Experience

Organize emergency sub plans takes some experience. This experience can come from: teaching, subbing, or covering others classrooms while other teachers are out. These experiences can make you become an expert at how to organize emergency sub plans. As a teacher of 14 years, I have had all of the above experiences and I have the designing a sub plan down to a science…so let’s get started! For a full lesson on emergency sub plans, click on the following, Dead Mountain, Titanic, Food Fight, Murder He Wrote (Full lessons on Teachers Pay Teachers)

Fright White (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers).

The cardinal rule to organize Emergency Sub Plans ELA is that they must be simple, simple, simple! Think back years ago from the perspective of the sub. They rush in the front school doors, after trying to figure out where to park on a busy morning. The sub now has to deal with the staff (who are in no real hurry to help them) as they discuss their weekend, and set themselves up for the day etc. etc. They give the sub a thick emergency sub plans folder with, keys, and a plethera of information the sub will never have a chance to get to. The sub is given little to no direction on the emergency sub plans ELA, other than where it might be (typically on the desk). The office assistant points in the general direction of the classroom the sub then needs to find, and wishes them off. The sub gets to the room but not before answering the myriad of questions about “why is the teacher is out?” from the numerous students gathered around the teacher’s door. Once the sub finally gets to the desk, the sub notes they have approximately 9 min. until the bell rings. Sound familiar?

Organize your tasks for the sub and leave them visibly on your desk

Sub Plans Template: ORGANIZATION!

Make sure that your desk is cleared of everything that is not needed by the sub. Ensure that the Emergency Sub Plans ELA are laid out visibly on the desk and organized! The sub has a few minutes to look over the logistics, and a few minutes to look through the entire plan for the day. This knowledge is essential during the process of how to create emergency sub plans.

I lay my plans out in the following piles, facing up, so the sub can see and identify:

1. A seating chart with table numbers that match the makeup of the room, WITH pictures of student faces

2. A condensed list of classroom policies and procedures, usually confined to policies in regard to: seating arrangement, bathroom procedures, behavior procedures

3. Bell Schedule for the day and where the sub needs to be during those times

4. Script for start of class: “take a seat, say here when I call your name, take out your pen and pencil, listen to the directions, complete assignment, place assignment in basket, read your independent reading book when you are done (or leave an additional assignment-crossword puzzle etc.)”

5. Printed copies of the assignment: one per student.

6. List of directions for students (on board, or overhead)

This is not the time to differentiate. This is NOT the time to offer different assignments for different classes. This is not the time to pick up where you left off (probably in different places). It should be a fresh, new assignment that the sub is in charge of for that day. This way you avoid the, “but we were in this place….that’s not how we do that…that’s not what Ms. B said to do with that…” Trust me! Students will be fine if they take the day off from “Fahrenheit 451” or whatever book you’re reading at the time. They will still be covering standards. The rule again for Emergency Sub Plans ELA is that they are simple, simple simple!

Sub Plans Template: Print and Go Sub Plans?

Print and go sub plans are the type of Emergency Sub Plans ELA you want to leave a sub. It means the plan is print and ready including all directions for the sub and the students. The best emergency sub plans use an engaging non-fiction story that will hold the students’ attention for the duration of the hour. Some examples would be stories like, “Dead Mountain, (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) where “6 college students go camping, never to return-possible paranormal activity suspected”, or “Crocodiles on Ramree Island“, (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) where “500 out of 1,000 Japanese soldiers were eaten by crocodiles not shot by their warring, opponent soldiers”. These are both non-fiction, entertaining stories that are not too over the top gory. And let’s face it-these are the kinds of stories that students love! This way the sub brings in fresh new material. If a sub has to continue a unit that you and your students have been working on and the sub hasn’t read the book, they are automatically at a disadvantage and students will recognize that immediately.

Make sure students have an engaging reading task

Sub Plans Template: Emergency Sub Plans and Reading Task

The reading task is extremely important in the how to create an emergency Sub Plans ELA. Pass out one article per student with instructions to perform a close reading on the assignment.

Instruct students to:

  1. Circle keywords
  2. Underline main idea
  3. Place question mark next to words you do not understand
  4. Write questions you have in the margins

Now you have an engaging article, specific instructions on what they need to do while they are reading, and quiet time because in order to complete the close reading task, they have to actually read, and concentrate.

Follow-Up Questions

Follow-up questions are crucial for the process of how to create emergency Sub Plans ELA. Make sure the directions are up on the board or an overhead projector so students know what to do when they complete the reading task and do not interrupt the class to ask the substitute. If they do yell out, “what do I do next?” the sub need only point to the directions on the board. Have a set of follow-up questions that requires critical thinking and answers that are not yes/no, or one-word response. Ask students questions about how they could relate to the topic they felt when they read about…if they were in the situation, what would they do?...To write about a time when they related to….

Make sure the “early finishers” have something to do

Early Finishers (you know who they are)

For the students who either work through assignments quickly (because they are ahead), or those who complete just the right amount (to pass), you need a task for those who finish early. Do not call this assignment extra-credit to the sub or students. If you call it extra credit, the “early finishers” will simply pass their paper to those around them to copy and commence conversations that will interrupt the rest of the class. Have the sub tell the students that the teacher will speak to them about the second assignment more specifically when he/she returns. Once you return, you can make it extra credit, or whatever your heart desires. Be sure to include this extra assignment in your emergency sub plans.

It is crucial to make the back-up plan simple, yet time consuming. You do not want to pile on a difficult task once they have just completed the assignment. If you do, they will likely opt-out, and do what I mentioned in the paragraph above. This is a great time for creativity-especially if they have their own colored pencils or crayons. If they do not, then have them draw something using the materials they already have. You always want to keep the assignment materials necessary limited to what they have on them, and the article they are to read. This limits the amount of disruptions, pencil sharpening, walking around, and excuses not to work. You can have them draw the setting, characters, a scene. Or if there is a lot of time, create a one-pager. This gives students a creative outlet, and if they are chatting at the end of the assignment while drawing that is o.k.

What is an Emergency Lesson Plan: Wrap-up

Always have students turn in their assignment in a basket, near the door, on the way out of the room. Students should know at the start of class that they will not be allowed to take their assignment home with them. This way they work through the class time and do not stuff it in their backup, and resume chatty time.

Let’s recap! In order to create a successful sub plan the cardinal rule is simplicity! You must organize all information, laid out visibly on the teacher’s desk with nothing else. Students must have a direction sheet, a article sheet, and a list of basic procedures to run the classroom. The teacher must create a close reading assignment for an engaging non-fiction or short story assignment (not relating to previous curriculum). There must be a follow-up activity for the early finishers! No one can take the work home, and must submit what they complete on their way out the door. I have found that these strategies work in the best interest from the perspective of the student, the teacher, the substitute, and the administrator.

Can you make a sub plan for a substitute teacher? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Here is a list of Non-fiction Sub Plan Lessons:

Dead Mountain


Fright White

Food Fight

Murder He Wrote

For a blog post article on teacher burnout click

Teaching Theme Using Short Films

Why Teachers Are Teaching Theme Using Short Films

Teaching theme using short films is an engaging, entertaining way to grab and hold students’ attention. Once you have students’ attention it makes it much easier to teach a lesson. I use film to teach students about theme. I have a list of 6 short film favorites, and six common themes that go with the films that you can easily pick up and replicate in your own classroom for just about any novel. For a full lesson click HERE for a lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers

Teaching Theme Using Short Films: Snack Attack

Theme and Short Film

Teaching Theme Using Short Films: Watch, “Snack Attack” and View Perception

Snack Attack“, which is featured in the image above is about a short film that I link to perception, or point-of-view. In other words, “Walking in Another Man’s Shoes”-Atticus Finch. This is a crucial theme and can be used in almost all novel reads. In this particular video, this elderly woman attempts to grab a snack from a vending machine. The snack gets stuck (as has happened to us all) and because she is so hungry she runs at it, knocking the snack down and successfully places it in her purse. She goes to the bus stop where she sits next to a “deviant” young teenager (as featured in the image above), and she begins to eat her snack. He grabs the cookies from the bench and before she can say anything he pops one into his mouth. Naturally she is angered and the two go-back-and-forth pulling the cookies. In the end he hands her the last cookie which she crumbles in her fist to express her disdain for him. She boards the bus and looks out the window at the deviant teen. It is at this point that the woman notices her cookies are still in her purse and it was his cookies she was fighting over all along. She is suddenly humbled, especially as he waves to her, puts the dirty wrapper in the trash can and rides off on his skateboard. There is a shift in her perception about this young teen. We have all been there! It’s important to talk to students about pre-judging, or judging in general until we have “walked in another man’s shoes“, as learned from Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird Lesson. Teaching theme using short films can help students learn about empathy.

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Teaching Theme Using Short Films: “The Present

Adversity and “The Present

Teaching theme using short films can teach students about adversity. Adversity isn’t always easy to teach in the classroom because many students haven’t built up a strong sense for what it means to be compassionate yet. They tend to be a bit self-involved in the teenage years so you need to relate to them at their level using their interests. If I teach a book like Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird” they may say, “hey, yea that sucks” when Tom Robinson is unjustifiably found guilty but they quickly forget about it, or they can’t actually relate to how that might feel.

The video that I show to teach students about adversity is called, “The Present“. In the short film “The Present“, it opens with a young boy playing video games. He is crabby and when his mom comes in the room to offer him a present, he grumbles. He opens the box, and in it he finds a puppy missing a leg. He gets angry, throws the puppy, and goes back to playing video games. The puppy, despite having just been tossed, remains happy and begins struggling to run around the room, playfully entertaining himself, and staying positive despite the fact that he is missing a leg. The boy who is distracted by video games eventually becomes curious about the dog’s behavior. With the boy’s mood enlightened, he grabs a ball and heads for the door with the puppy. It is at this point that we see that the boy himself is missing a leg. He heads out the door and the two of them together play fetch. It is an adorable, heart-warming film that students find easy to relate to. They understand animals, video games, and can imagine what it may be like to lose the use of one of their limbs. Teaching theme using short films is a great way to teach students compassion.

Romper Paradigm

Romper Paradigm” and Social Outcasts

Romper Paradigm” is a short film that complements multiple movies, novels, science fiction we view in today’s world. One that comes to mind that matches the theme for this short film is “The Giver“. It is a film about an alien planet where everyone is exactly the same. Adults and children look the same. All aliens participate in the same activities and have the same day at school and similar experiences at home. In this film the young alien boy “colors outside the lines”. He is not satisfied with the menial playground business. He wants to zip around and needs more to be stimulated than being mildly pushed up-and-down on a swing. Others begin to notice and are alarmed by his differences. He is then given drugs at the direction of the “elders” as is the case in so many books, movies, and for a bit this works. The medication wears off or for some reason stops working for him and he comes back as a child in a tornado running to and fro across the playground.

It is at this point that the parents and everyone say goodbye to him. He is placed in a capsule-like, deportation device and sent to the planet earth. Students relate to this video because they always have to conform to the norms of society beginning at home, and in the classroom. They also understand that if they do not “fit in” or “belong”, they will become a social outcast. Social outcasts is the second theme I teach in the classroom. If we are to use the example from, “To Kill a Mockingbird” again, it would be the Ewells who are social outcasts. We see how they are treated by the townspeople, and we see the lengths the Ewells go to-in order to “fit in” or deny that Mayella Ewell made a pass at a African American man. Even the Ewells think there is a line to be drawn during this contentious time-period of vicious racism in the South. Teaching theme using short films can teach students the importance of not bullying or social out-casting.


Teaching Theme Using Short Films: “Scarlett” and Belonging

Belonging is a big part of a students’ lives. Most spend all of their time simply trying to “fit in” or find their place in the world (which tends to be confined within the walls of the school). Many students will even sacrifice their values, or personal interests for the opportunity to fit in with the “cool crowd”. For this reason we talk about belonging, or not belonging (as listed in the prior example) multiple times in a year. Not belonging can also tie into other critical topics such as bullying etc.

In the short film “Scarlett”, we learn about a young girl who has also lost a leg. She wants nothing more than to take and perform ballet. She is teased at school, starred at outside of class, and treated different than others. She gets a prosthetic limb and begins to practice ballet. Eventually she is able to perform ballet, and is accepted into society. It may seem a bit backwards in that she isn’t accepted until she is more exceptional but the real message is at the end when she sees a boy crying on a park bench, who we can only assume does not fit in either. Because of Scarlett’s adversities, she goes up to the boy, puts her arm around him, and they are now friends. The message is that people’s adversities can lead them to become more compassionate people. There are many sufferers in all walks of life. Teaching theme using short films can help further teach students how to empathize with others.


Teaching Theme Using Short Films: “Alike” and Family Heritage

“Alike” is a short film that includes a father-son relationship. Similar in theme to “Romper Paradigm” this short film is about a young boy who is much different in personality from his father. He is experiencing the pressures from his father to be something that he is not. The father has a desk job that he goes to everyday to file papers, and the son and father walk home and carry out the same routine every night. The young boy doesn’t want to grow up to file papers, which is his father’s expectation. He wants to become a violinist. The father thinking he is doing the right thing continues to break down the spirit of the young boy, who finally conforms and turns depressed. Upon the realization of what the father has done, he reverses his idea of what the son should do and buys his son a violin. The boy becomes alive, and passionate again about life and the future. The theme I pair with this film is how family heritage shapes who we are as people and the harmful consequences of such ideals. Teaching theme using short films can help support students who may not be getting support from home.

Teaching Theme Using Short Films: The Right Way

Teaching Theme Using Short Films: “The Right Way” and Adults as Hypocrites

This is a film that would make any adult chuckle. It is the reason many adults do not share all of their mistakes and history of their past with their children. Here is a mom who cooks her daughter broccoli, forces her daughter to play the violin, teaches her to put her clothes away, brush her teeth, not watch television etc. The child is unhappy and gets up one night to find her mom, in a “woman cave” or in an attic where she is eating junk food, watching T.V., rocking out to music, and the best part is the Justin Bieber poster hanging behind her on the back wall. The room is a mess, and the child is shocked when she sees this different side of her mom. If you are a parent, you can probably relate to this. I know I can. We all want the best for our kids but sometimes our high expectations cloud our judgment. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this theme is a “do as I say, not as I do” or simply stated being a hypocrite. For Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”, I use it as a lesson on the theme adults as hypocrites“.

How Do Short Films Help Students?” Because film is engaging, fun, and it works! Use the following films to pair with the following themes: “Snack Attack” to cover perception, “The Present” to cover adversity, “Alike” to cover family heritage, “Romper Paradigm” to cover social outcasts, “Scarlett” to cover belonging, and “The Right Way” to cover adults as hypocrites.

I would love to hear how you use short films in the classroom. Please leave in the comments below!

For a List of Essential Teacher Topics See Below:

How To Plan a Writing Group

Teach Mentor Sentences

Books To Read For Teens

How Do Graphic Novels Work

5 Top Middle School Reads

5 Steps To Teach Poetry to Students

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5 Best Ways to Teach Mentor Text and Sentences You Must Know! Product on Teachers Pay Teachers

Mentor Text and Sentences!

Mentor Text and Sentences

Why do I love using mentor sentences? There are so many reasons why using mentor sentences are great for students. I love using mentor sentences in my classroom because they give students the chance to observe quality writing up close. How to teach mentor sentences by allowing students to breakdown a sentence down and see how the author created it in order to create a meaningful sentence for readers. There is a lot of flexibility with how to teach mentor sentences: scavenger hunts and other games, or good ole’ fashion close reading, with colored pencils and a partner. I will stick to the basics on how to use mentor sentences and give examples of mentor authors that I use. These are 5 Best Ways to Teach Mentor Sentences.

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Mentor Text and Sentences: Write as You Read

While I am reading a novel I plan to teach, I always write down the sentences that are amazing! This way I do not have to go through books trying to piece together some sentences. I find the best quality sentences and it doesn’t waste or take up extra time. A great practice is to also use the first sentence in novels if it is a dynamic one. Some of the best, most progressive authors who write sentences that include figurative language are: Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, Dashka slater, Jewell Parker Rhodes, and more.

How to teach mentor sentences

Mentor Text and Sentences: What Are Mentor Sentences?

The first question is, what are mentor sentences? A mentor sentence is a superbly written sentence. Instead of finding what is wrong with a sentence, students imitate what is right about the sentences grammar, structure, and style. Students will:

1. Observe the sentence

2. Identify the components

3. Analyze their impact

4.Write their own version.

In my mentor sentences product, (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) I use multiple mentor sentences for an opening paragraph, I use popular author’s and best-sellers today that students can relate to. An example by Walter Dean Myers in the book called “Monster(Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) opens with the following sentence: “The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.” Right away Walter Dean Myers captures the bone-chilling environment of what it is like to be a young man or teen in prison. Students obviously will not relate to what it is like in a prison environment, but they can write about when the best time to cry is. They have also seen movies and prison comes with a natural fear. Students will then mimic the structure of the sentence and create their own. Another mentor sentence similar to this one is by Alan Gratz in “Refugee “ (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) when the SS troops break down the front door to take the family to their death, “CRACK! BANG! Josef Landau shot straight up in bed, his heart racing-that sound—it was like someone had kicked the front door in.”


In addition to establishing the setting for the novel, mentor sentences will convey mood. The following is a mentor sentence by Kwame Alexander in “The Crossover“: (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) MOVING AND GROOVING, POPping and ROCKING”. This sentence shows that “The Crossover” has a fun, upbeat mood. Another quote from the same book is as follows: “Gameplay-on the pitch, lightning fast, dribble, take, then make a dash” Note, there are no periods in this poem, in “Booked(Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by, Kwame Alexander.

The book is also about basketball and this sentence is the main character on the court. The structure is easily visible in that Kwame Alexander doesn’t follow a specific structure and he doesn’t follow the conventional rules of grammar. This engages the atypical reader who struggles with reading. POPping is written in this format to look like the word is actually popping up. Product on Teachers Pay Teacher

Set Time Period

Mentor sentences also set the time period for the setting. The following is a quote from “Rebound(Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Kwame Alexander, which is set in the 90’s. You can also hear the nostalgia for simpler times in the author’s voice: “It was the summer when Now and Laters, cost a nickel and The Fantastic Four, a buck.” Instead of simply stating that it was the time period of the 90’s, he explains popular items and uses the lower cost of items to identify the time period. Later in the book he alludes to Michael Jordan, The Harlem Globetrotters and more.

Figurative Language

Jason Reynolds also crafts sentences that are relatable to students. Here is a sentence that uses figurative language, “Dear Diary, because your back, because I brought you back (after spiraling your backbone back into place)-backity back back back.” in Sunny (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Jason Reynolds. Students may not relate to the habit of writing in a diary but they can certainly relate to using a notebook in school until the binding or metal comes apart. They may also relate what it’s like to put it back together. For this reason they can create a sentence of their own in relation to Reynolds.

Jason Reynolds references culture and siblings often in his track series, “Patina(Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) in particular: “TO DO: Everything (including forgetting about the race and doing my sister’s hair)”. “Patina” is an African American-as is her younger sister Maddy and Patina has to struggle to comb her sisters hair on a daily basis. Several students can relate to helping take care of a younger sibling, or having an older sibling take care of them. If they do not have a sibling I come up with a different topic such as a pet, or their chores, grandparent, sick parent, etc. We can always find something for them to write about.

Teach Mentor Sentences

Another reason Jason Reynolds appeals to students is because like Kwame Alexander, he does not follow the conventional rules of grammar, (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) and students enjoy mimicking his sentences. For example from his book “Lu(Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) he crafts the following sentence:

“I am

    The man.

    The guy.

    The kid.

    The one. The only.”

This is a fun structure, and students enjoy writing about why they are “the man” or “the woman”. When they share with classmates they also learn something about each other that they may not have previously known. It helps to create a safe-collaborative environment for the class.

Teach Mentor Sentences

In this blog post I shared why I love using mentor sentences. This is how I teach mentor sentences. Share how you use them in the comments below!

For Other Topics You May Find of Interest, See Below:

Teaching Theme Using Short Film

How To Plan A Writing Group

Books To Read For Teens

How Do Graphic Novels Work

5 Steps to Teach Poetry

5 Top Middle School Reads

Teachers Pay Teachers Shop

5 Benefits of Group Writing Exercises You Must Know!

5 Benefits of Writing in a Group. Students work collaboratively together to complete the essay process.

Group Writing Exercises

Group Writing Exercises

Group Writing Exercises will benefit students in practice with collaboration, building teamwork skills, support from classmates, quality work over quantity work, more focus from teacher. What is a group essay assignment? or What is group essay writing? They are the same process as how to write a 5 paragraph essay with the exception of doing it in a group. The focus of this blog will be the literary analysis essay (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers).

Group Writing Exercises

How to write a writing plan for essay is the most important steps to writing an essay. If you do not plan properly it can be a chaotic waste of time. Prior to writing or beginning an essay students receive graphic organizers to fill in about the steps in the essay process. We watch videos as students fill out their graphic organizers. We cover all the parts of the essay process: attention getter, summary of essay, thesis statement, topic sentences, transitions, evidence, commentary, concluding sentence, and writing a conclusion. Schmoop or John Green videos are an engaging and effective way to cover each of these topics. They have short entertaining videos that hold students attention long enough to learn about a less than enthusiastic topic such as transitions. They truly do a great job. If I have a lot of students who are in special education, in the process for how to plan a writing group I decide if I want to allow them to use head phones and work independently on this part of the process. This way they can pause, rewind, or forward the videos as many times as necessary to really grasp what each part of the essay process is and to allow time to fill in their graphic organizers, which they will next be taking to their assigned group.

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Collaboration and Teamwork are Key to How to Write a Good Essay

The first of 5 benefits of writing in groups is collaboration. It needs to be strategic collaboration. I strategically place students in assigned groups when I begin how to plan for a writing group. An example of being strategic would be to not put three extremely shy students in one group, or not putting three students who do not typically work in the same group. The second of the 5 benefits of writing in a group is honing teamwork skills. If you do not set the teams up strategically, they will not work well as a team. It’s crucial to place them into groups of 3. The reason I choose groups of three is so that each student will be given the task of writing a body paragraph and there are three body paragraphs. They also cannot skate by on someone else’s work. In addition the pressure of your grade being a contributing factor in the group’s grade as a whole is enough to encourage full participation and effort. During this assignment, I receive more tutorial visits from students than any other time of the year. Students do not like letting their peers down, nor feeling like they do not fit in. I give them as much support as they need until they get their paper to the level that they want.

In How to plan a writing group, use small intimate groups to provide the right amount of pressure for students to put in the full effort for the group essay grade. I have the most tutorial visits during this assignment than any other assignment all year.

Once students are in groups they will be given a poster paper and colored pencils. Color coding will allow them to see the different parts of the essay clearly. It will also provide clarity for the different parts of the essay when they share with their classmates. They will be color coding the introduction: attention-getter, summary of essay, and thesis statement.  Once settled into their group the real work begins. We review themes from the novel-as they were covered throughout the unit and students already have a completed graphic organizer for theme.  I use videos to cover the theme from a novel. These are short entertaining videos from Pixar, or created by students in a video class that the kids love and remember. An example would be “Family heritage defines perception in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and a short Pixar video I show is called, “Snack Attack “, where an elderly woman’s perspective of a young teen is grossly skewed. It isn’t until the end of the video that she realizes that what she perceived as disrespectful behavior was actually respectful behavior.

In How to plan a writing group, be sure to have prior lessons and graphic organizers for students to use during the essay process. Above is snack attack: a teen is trying to share a snack with an elderly woman who believes he stole her snack. In the end she finds her snack in her purse. She carries on getting angry with him and he remains respectful and calm the entire time. He even waves to her as her train pulls away. Students have a graphic organizer with all different themes from the novel and this is listed under perception.

Group Writing Exercises: Support of Classmates

The group decides on a theme for the essay. The theme is chosen from the novel we have completed. It’s important that they have a clear picture of what the theme means in relation to the novel in order to complete a successful essay.  The third of the 5 benefits of writing in a group is the support students receive from their classmates. For example, students are less likely to choose a theme that isn’t going to work for a 5 paragraph essay, because it has to pass through three students for approval. From there they write a thesis statement in color on their poster paper. In writing their thesis statement they add an opinion to the theme. It’s essential to choose an opinion and theme for which they can find several pieces of evidence to back up this theme plus opinion. An exercise that can take place at this stage in the essay process is to have them look up three pieces of evidence that will back up their thesis statement. This is to ensure essay success because if they cannot prove their thesis statement, they will not be successful in writing the essay.

At this point I put up all posters around the room and pass out sticky notes for each group. They will now perform a gallery walk where they write four comments on sticky notes for each poster. They are to write two things they like about the thesis statement, and two suggestions. Once they have completed the gallery walk, posters are returned to groups, and groups are to share their thesis, comments, and are to then improve their thesis statement.

The next step is to write an attention-getter, which can be one of three things: an interesting fact or statistic that relates to the topic; a famous quote that relates to the topic; an anecdote, a short story about themselves that relate to the topic. If they are to write an interesting fact, statistic, or quote, they are to look it up and site it correctly. If they write an anecdote, I provide a prompt to support them through the process. An example of a prompt would be, “tell me about a time you were sure of something, even argued about it, and later found out you were wrong. What did that look like, describe how you felt when you learned you were wrong. What did you learn from the experience?” Students would then share these stories with each other and a couple would share out with the class. This would be in keeping with the theme about perception. In the groups they would choose the best story and use it as an anecdote: attention-getter.

In How to plan a writing group, have students choose a theme from the book such as perception.

Tips for Writing an Essay: Quality Over Quantity

From there they will write their introduction together as a group. Students will then write the topic sentence for each body paragraph as a group. In addition they will review the parts of a body paragraph as a group. At this point each student will choose the body paragraph they want to complete independently. The 4 out of 5 benefits of writing in a group is that there is quality over quantity. More often than not, students will spend the evening prior to due date, putting together a 5 paragraph essay. Only having the task of writing one body paragraph, ensures quality work over quantity. It’s important to have this part of the group essay project be independent to ensure two things: that students understand how to write a body paragraph independently and to ensure all students are participating in the essay. Once students have completed their body paragraphs, they share them with the group and the group works collaboratively to revise as necessary.

Group Writing Exercises: How to Write the Conclusion

The next step for the group essay process is to write the conclusion as a group. The conclusion is a simple process because they repeat the thesis statement in different words, repeat all topic sentences in different words, and write a lesson learned in the essay process. The introduction and the conclusion can go on the poster and typed versions of the body paragraphs can be attached to the poster. The fifth out of 5 benefits of writing in groups is that there is more focus from the teacher. A teacher who typically has 140 students, will now be able to support 45 during the essay process.

Group Writing Exercises: How to Organize Peer-Editing

Students will then exchange essays and perform a peer edit. In order to complete a successful peer edit, I provide a worksheet that gives step-by-step instructions. These are passed back to the group who make changes as they see fit. Students create a polished copy of a new poster for the introduction and the conclusion as well as each group member revising their body paragraphs. Once they have this all together, I collect them, grade them with a rubric and post them around the room. Student names are on the back of the poster for those who are painfully shy about their work being displayed. A final step can be a prompt for a individual reflection: what worked, what didn’t work, and how to change things for next time.

In How to plan a writing group, students write essay on poster and share with the class.

In this blog post we went over a step-by-step process in how to plan a writing group. If you follow these steps, you will have a successful, collaborative, essay process. As mentioned in the introduction it is crucial to plan in advance in order for this to work. If you do not plan, it will be a chaotic waste of time. The plan includes: graphic organizers and videos for each step in the essay process, assigning groups, walking students through the introduction step-by-step. Planning for a gallery walk. An instructional sheet for the essay, a peer edit form, rubric, and self reflection sheet. How to write a reflection on a group work essay? Have them write one independently and as a group. If you put this plan into place you will have an effective lesson that students have the opportunity to work on collaboratively and cooperatively. Let me know how you plan group writing in the comments below! If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about writing essays, take a look at me How to Write a Narrative Essay blog post.

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15 Top Middle School Books You Must Read!

Books to Read for Teens

Top Middle School Books

Top Middle School Books

Top middle school books are not always easy to find. Especially when students proudly self-proclaim, “I’ve never finished a book in my entire life”. There is never going to be a book that you teach in a class that all students are going to approve, especially considering they all have different interests. But it’s still important to aim for the majority of students and to choose books that teens will relate to. The following is a list of the top 15 books I have found through much trial and error that your teens will love! 

A teacher can only teach so many books in one year, so consider having these books on your book-shelf for independent reading. A great way to get students excited about different books is to have them watch a book review on YouTube. Other students put them together with music, graphics, and video. It not only informs students about the book but it peaks their interest and reveals what teens will connect with.

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Top Middle School Books: Ghost Boys

1. Ghost Boys (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Jewell Parker Rhodes: is a perfect read for today’s political climate. The book is about a young African American boy named Jerome who is shot and killed by a white police officer who gravely mistakes a toy gun for a real gun. There is a trial, and the police officer is released with a slap on the wrist. “Ghost Boys”, visits the unfortunate, criminal issues that have been highlighted in our news. The Ghost Boys Gang includes Emmett Till as the ghost boys’ leader and Jerome goes on a journey of self-discovery, the awakening to American history, and healing.

Top Middle School Books: Hey Kiddo

2. Hey Kiddo (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Jarrett Krosoczka: If you have readers who struggle this is a great graphic novel pick! It is also a very healing book for students who have parents that suffer from addiction. The story is a coming-of-age novel about a young boy named Ja who is forced to live with his grandparents after his mom is checked into a rehabilitation center. We quite often see the journey of the primary character as the addict, but this novel’s protagonist is about the addict’s son. The secondary characters are the grandparents and the family that suffer as a result of Ja’s mother’s addiction. It is also a journey about adversity, resiliency, how history doesn’t have to repeat itself, and healing. The main character of the book is in fact the author himself who turns out to become a famous-successful author.

Books to Read for Teens

Top Middle School Books: The 57 Bus

3. The 57 Bus (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Dashka Slater: A must-read as one of the books to read for teens. This is a non-fiction novel about an agender high-school student named Sasha and his journey through adversity, hatred, homophobia, and pain. Sasha is lit on fire by a student named Richard who attends a low-income, high-crime high school where students either end up as gang members or die by violence before graduation. Sasha and Richard are on the 57 Bus one afternoon when a friend of Richard’s provides and nudges Richard with a lighter to ignite the skirt that Sasha is wearing on the bus. What was intended to be a crude joke quickly turned into a near-death-nightmare experience. Richard ignited a tweed skirt that burst into flames engulfing Sasha in it. Fortunately Sasha lived but not without excrutiating pain from third degree burns. Richard is tried for a hate-crime as an adult despite the fact that he is only 16 years old causing much controversy.

Top Middle School Books: New Kid

4. New Kid (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Jerry Craft: A graphic novel about the struggles of everyday life in middle school. Jordan, an African-American student at a privileged-primarily-white-private school finds himself not only one of the few African-American students in attendance but the subject of intended and unintended prejudice from staff and students. For example, when Jordan enlists on the soccer team, the coach states, “I bet you can run…not because, well…you know. I truly believe that all people are equal Jordan.” Jordan deals with an additional layer of adversity that other middle school students do not, and let’s face it-middle school is hard enough as it is! Despite these additional adversities, Jordan manages to find his way, make friends (black and white), and begins to find his place in this world.

Books to Read for Teens

Top Middle School Books: Class Act

5. Class Act (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Jerry Craft: A graphic novel in the “New Kid” graphic novel series. This is one of the books to read for teens. Once again Jordan returns to middle school finding himself in 8th grade where he faces new challenges. This is a sequel to “New Kid” focuses slightly less on Jordan and includes more secondary characters and their struggles. The class clown and bully has become isolated, and bullied in this version. I would not be surprised if the next book has a focus on him, and the effects of bullying.

Top Middle School Books: Track Series

6-9. Track Series (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Jason Reynolds: A 4-part-series referenced as the “Track Series” by Jason Reynolds. Patina is one of the four characters among Ghost, Lu, and Sunny. Each book is written from the perspective of each character as their lives intertwine with one another. They all suffer through different hardships and the one thing they have in-common, and is their grounding force-is track, and their track coach. Patina and her sister Maddy live with their adopted parents because their mom lost her legs due to diabetes; Sunny lives with his father and without his mother because she passed away. Ghost lives with his mother and no father because his father tried to shoot Ghost and his wife with a rifle and is in jail. Lu lives with both mom and dad but struggles greatly with his identity because he is an African-American albino and he doesn’t feel like he fits in either world. 

Books to Read for Teens

Top Middle School Books: Sheets

10. Sheets (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Brenna Tummler: A graphic novel about a young girl named Marjorie who runs a dry cleaning business on her own. She lost her mom in a drowning accident and claims that her father “died” (metaphorically) at the same time. Dad spends most of his time in bed depressed. A deviant man is trying to pull the business out in order to put in a hotel and Marjorie spends her time alone, trying to save the place. A young ghost named Wendell appears to help Marjorie save the business, which together-they do. It is a great story about friendship, pain, and healing.

Top Middle School Books: This Was Our Pact

11. This Was Our Pact (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Ryan Andrews : a graphic novel adventure that takes two unlikely friends on multiple fantastical journeys. They begin on bikes with a large group of boys as one-by-one, the boys tire out and head home until there are only two boys left. The last two left end up in the beautiful wilderness chasing lanterns for the Autumn festival and become friends as they come across a talking bear, a mad scientist woman, and multiple other creative characters that talk and share their traditions of the Autumn Festival, and what the lanterns, stars, mean to them and to their ancestors. The end takes a bit of a dark twist in that it states that the two boys on their adventure “never to return home, never to look back”, suggesting that they died in the wilderness. However, the author somehow still manages to end the story as a fantastic adventure rather than as a tragedy.

Books to Read for Teens


12. Booked (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Kwame Alexander: is a crafty novel that makes the topic of books interesting. Kwame uses poetry, and a lot of imagination to draw the reader into the topic about a young boy whose father forces him to read. This boy is influenced by some amazing mentors: a teacher, librarian, and a new girlfriend and he is led to reading books and even joins a book club by the end of the novel.


13. Rebound (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Kwame Alexander: a book about a young teen who has lost his father and is trying to find his way in a world he doesn’t feel he belongs in. After Josh gets into trouble his mom decides to drop him off at his grandparents for the summer where Josh is able to find his smile and his confidence. Basketball is his sport and the author uses several allusions as well as graphics to show the sport of basketball and all its historical glory, including the Globe Trotters and Michael Jordan. It’s a great book for teens who love basketball and aren’t crazy about reading.


14. Hatchet (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Gary Paulsen: a book about a young man named Brian Robeson who is stranded in the middle of the wilderness in Canada when the pilot of his helicopter is struck with a heart attack. He slowly tackles nature one weather or animal crisis at a time, and makes it through to the end. It is also a book about healing in that his parents have made the decision to divorce because his mom is having an affair. By the end of the novel, Brian has reconciled that.


15. Monster (Lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Walter Dean Myers: a book about a young man who is on trial for his life for a crime he did not commit-or did he? Either way, if he had committed the crime of staking out a mini-mart to allow a robbery to take place, he should hardly be tried for capital murder. He unequivocally claims throughout the book that he was never in the store that day, however at the end there is a hint that he did in fact stake out the store that led to the death of a grocery clerk owner.

In this blog post I introduced you to books to read for teens and if you offer them as curriculum or as independent reading they will love these books as much as my students did. Times are changing and so is the reading becoming more diversified and adventuresome. It is simply time for districts to catch up and put funds into updated resources. I hope your district/school is doing this for you.

If you would like to read more about five of these books in more depth, click on the following blog post: 5 Top Middle School Reads. Also, I would love to hear about your favorite top middle school reads! Please leave them in the comments below!

5 Characteristics of Graphic Novels You Must Know!

5 Characteristics of Graphic Novels

5 Characteristics of Graphic Novels You Must Know!

5 characteristics of graphic novels you must know are essential to teach students prior to reading the graphic novel. What is a graphic novel? A graphic novel is a compilation of graphics and text structured on pages at the length of a novel. How long are graphic novels? Anywhere from 100-500 plus pages. The difference between a graphic novel and a novel is that the graphic novel has graphics (images). The difference between a graphic novel vs comic book is the length. Graphic novels text features are different than a novel just like nonfiction text features. The 5 characteristics of a graphic novel are: shapes, perspective of frame, angles, structure, and layout.

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There are different types of graphic novels just like there are novels with different genres. Some popular graphic novel examples are: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, New Kid by Jerry Craft, American Born Chinese by Gene Luan Yang, The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank, Edgar Allen Poe graphic short stories. Graphic novel books are a great way to engage students who are not particularly interested in reading, or students with special needs; however, anyone and every age group can read and enjoy graphic novels.

There are arguments against graphic novels. However, I have found that I can refute those arguments. The main argument is that students are not able to use their imagination to picture characters and setting. However, there are activities that can be supplemented to fulfill this standard. For example, providing text for a scene in a graphic novel and having students create an image of the scene based on text description. Another argument is that the length of words is to short in the graphic novel. However, Students can read more graphic novels, which beats the alternative of not reading at all.

Characteristics of Graphic Novels Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Graphic Novel Basics

How do graphic novels work? When teaching a graphic novel, it is essential to teach students the basics. I pass out a graphic organizer and use a PowerPoint to go over the 5 characteristics of graphic novels

Characteristics of Graphic Novels

The first out of the 5 Characteristics of Graphic Novels is:

Basic Shapes

1. Basic Shapes

Vertical=signals strength 

Horizontal=a calm and stable atmosphere 

Circles=signal unity 

Movement Triangle=a stable and unified atmosphere

Whole Diagonals=signal action

The second of the 5 characteristics of graphic novels is:

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Perspectives of Frame

2. Perspectives of Frame

Close ups=establish an emotional relationship between the viewer (you) and represented subjects or characters

Medium Shot=establishes objective (without judgment) relationship between viewer (you) and represented characters or subjects.

Long shot=a long shot establishes a relationship between represented figures or characters and surrounding environment

Below is a long shot from the graphic novel, “New Kid” (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Jerry Craft. What is being represented is students on campus having various conversations. This perspective allows the reader (you) a glimpse into the characters and their perspective relationships. The subject in this particular scene are students speaking about the various vacations they took over the holiday break.

Examples of graphic novels: “New Kid” by Jerry Craft

The 3rd of the 5 characteristics of graphic novels is angles:

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Angles

3. Angles

Vertical Angle=situates the reader (you) and the subject/character on an equal level.

Low angle=situates represented subjects or characters in position of power. Imagine being down low, looking up high.

High angle=situates the reader in a position of power, omniscient view-point. Imagine being up high looking down as we are in the image above. We are situated as the “all-knowing” figure to what is happening on campus.

The 4th out of 5 characteristics of graphic novels is:

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Structure

4. Structure

Left-Right Structure

Given=information that is known to the reader, and taken for granted or not given much thought. An example would be the main character in “Smile” having braces in her mouth. This is not a surprise because we/the audience accompanied her to the dentist.

New=information that is previously unknown to the reader and therefore catches the readers attention. For example, when George Takei’s family is picked up by the American police and placed in a concentration camp in, “They Called US Enemy”. This would be new information in the book.

The 5th out of 5 characteristics of graphic novels is

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Layout

5. Layout

Layout Panel:

A distinct segment of the comic, containing a combination of image and text in variety. Most graphic novels have consistent panels with mixed-in-single panels.

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Panels

Panels: offer a different experience than simply reading text:

-The spatial arrangement allows an immediate juxtaposition of the present and the past. On one page we can see a character thinking about the past while being in the present, and looking forward to the future.

-Unlike other- visual media, transitions are instant and direct, but the exact timing of the reader’s experience is determined by focus and reading speed. In the traditional novel we have foreshadowing and hints of what is to come in the future, whereas in a graphic novel, at times we can see what is coming right around the corner, even when a character cannot. This is really helpful for struggling or young readers.

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Frames


The lines and borders that contain the panels; akin to a picture frame that lines around a picture.

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Gutter


The space between framed panels. The thin space that separates the frame or metal from the actual picture. In the case of an actual picture, this would be the cardboard space.

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Bleed


An image that extends to and/or beyond the edge of the page, this can include a single image on one page.

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Foreground


The panel closest to the viewer. The author may structure the foreground in relation to importance of what he wants the audience to focus on. The background may contain the small details, less important to the plot.

Below: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Note: the clever way the author separates the main character from the panel on the right to the panel on the left. The author also notes that we won’t be able to recognize her although all characters look the same. At-this-time in the novel everything is orderly, at peace-hence the  straight lines and perfect panels, gutters, frames, etc. Also note that the panel on the left would be considered the foreground-it is closest to the reader because it is slightly larger than the other images.

Examples of Graphic Novels: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Midground


Allows centering of image by using a natural resting place for the reader’s vision. The artist deliberately decides to place the image where a viewer would be most likely to look first. Placing an image off-center or near the top or bottom can be used to create visual tension but using the midground permits the artist to create a more readily accepted image.

Below-“American Born Chinese(Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Gene Luan Yang: Note- the hand is placed at the top, slightly off-centered to the right. The coloring is also brighter in lighter tones than the rest of the images on the page. In the novel there is an emphasis of power by the wizard to the monkey, which is noted on the face of the monkey.

Examples of graphic novels: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Background


Provides additional, sub-textual information for the reader. For example the way characters may be described by how they look in the background. A class-clown wearing a hat sideways, a unique character holding a dummy, etc.

Characteristics of Graphic Novels: Graphic Weight

Graphic weight:

A term that describes the way some images draw the eye more than others, creating a definite focus using color and shading in various ways including: The use of light and dark shades; dark-toned images or high-contrast images draw the eye more than light or low-contrast images do.  Colors that are more brilliant or deeper than others on the page.

Figures Faces

Figures Faces:

Faces can be portrayed in different ways. Some depict an actual person, like a portrait; others are iconic, which means they are representative of an idea or a group of people. Other points to observe about faces include:  They can be dramatic when placed against a detailed backdrop; a bright white face stands out. They can be drawn without much expression or detail; this is called an “open blank” and it invites the audience to imagine what the character is feeling without telling them.

The Diary of Anne Frank: (Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers). This is a particularly dreary image of the sister of Anne Frank being taken to Auschwitz by train. Note the fire on top, and fire and smoke ahead. What makes it quite dramatic is her white face and how it glows in the backdrop of the firey hell that is to come.  Even from a distance you can see the terror in her eyes and on her face.

Examples of Graphic Novels: Anne Frank’s Diary



The positioning of hands and feet can be used to express what is happening in the story.


Hands that are raised with palms out suggest surprise or confusion.

The wringing of hands suggests obsequiousness or discomfort, or confusion.

-Hands over the mouth depict fear, shame, shyness or surprise.

Turned in feet may denote embarrassment-think Goofy in most pictures.

Feet with motion strokes can create the sense of panic, urgency, or speed, example, Speedy Gonzalez.

New Kid” by Jerry Craft: in this image the author uses a malapropism of a movie, as a light-hearted way to introduce each chapter. Note the character on the right. She is floating which is an indicator of her as a very flakey, unique, really out there character. She also has one palm up and open facing upward which suggests surprise. Meanwhile her puppet which makes her a “weird” student on campus lies heavily and exaggerated on her left hand. A student that is considered “cool” and collected, has his feet firmly planted on the ground with hands in fists.

Examples of graphic novels: “New Kid” by Jerry Craft

Text Captions

Text Captions:

These are boxes containing a variety of text elements, including scene setting, description, etc.

Speech Balloons

Speech balloons:

These enclose dialogue and come from a specific speaker’s mouth; they vary in size, shape, and layout and can alternate to depict a conversation.

Types of speech balloons: External dialogue, which is speech between characters Internal dialogue, which is a thought enclosed by a balloon that has a series of dots or bubbles going up to it

Special-effects Lettering

Special-effects lettering:

This is a method of drawing attention to text; it often highlights onomatopoeia and reinforces the impact of words such as bang or wow.

The Cask of Amontillado(Full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers) by Edgar Allen Poe emphasizes the cough of Fortunado by use of onomatopoeia in the bottom right corner. That is quite a cough and alerts us to two things: his health is vulnerable, his willingness to seek out the amontillado coupled with arrogance turns out to be his hamartia in the end.

How Do Graphic Novels Work: Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe

By teaching some basics: basics of shapes, perspectives of frames, angles, hands and faces, structure, layout panels, and text captions, students and teachers alike can effectively complete a graphic novel unit. If you teach students and teachers the basics the graphic novel experience can be a great one!

I would love to hear about your favorite graphic novels! I’m always looking for the next graphic novel read. Please share in the comments below! To learn more specifics about the popular graphic novels mentioned above check out my blog on the top 15 teen reads.

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5 Top Middle School Books You Don’t Want to Miss!

5 Top Middle School Reads

5 Top Middle School Books

5 Top Middle School Books

5 Top Middle School Reads are novels that students couldn’t detach from even after we finished reading them. Before I go over this list, I have some advice for how to engage students in reading. This is going to be a bit unconventional-but it works. When you are about to read a book to students, have students gather around the classroom in a circle-campfire style (no books, no notes). Now, in your best storytelling voice, tell students the story of the book. Tell the story well, or not at all. Allow students to ask as many questions and answer their questions with enthusiasm.

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5 Top Middle School Books: We Punish Students

Think about it. We punish our students with novels by assigning reading quickly followed by gauging them with questions, underlining, analyzing etc. Imagine the level of engagement from the start if you could tell the story of lets say, “Lord of the Flies”-a book that doesn’t gain engagement until Simon dies.  We seem to think that students are going to have the same experience we did, BUT we are English teachers and they are bored. Telling a story (without expectations) is exciting, and students are pumped after. Then move into close reading of a short passage or read longer more engaging scenes. The first objective is for students to read. Set it up in such a way that allows for that to happen with ease. And let go of the idea that students must read everything-They really don’t need to!

5 Top Middle School Books

It’s difficult to find engaging books for middle school students, because they have grown out of elementary school topics, but aren’t quite ready for high school topics. Plus, middle school teachers are requested, candidly, to stay away from high school books. 5 top middle school books are:Ghost Boys”, by Jewell Parker Rhodes; “Hey Kiddo”, by Jarrett Kraskosca; “New Kid” by Jerry Craft; “The 57 Bus” by Dashka Slater; and “Rebound” by Kwame Alexander.

“Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“Ghost Boys” has one of the most powerful openings I have ever read in a book-and that was all it took to hook myself and my students.

“How small I look. Laid out flat, my stomach touching ground. My right knee bent and my brand-new Nikes stained with blood.

I stoop and stare at my face, my right cheek flattened on concrete. My eyes are wide open. My mouth too.

  I’m dead.

  I thought I was bigger. Tough. But I’m just a bit of nothing.

  My arms are outstretched like I was trying to fly like Superman.

I’d barely turned, sprinting, Pow, pow. Two bullets. Legs gave way. I fell flat. Hard.

  I hit snowy ground” (Rhodes 1).

POWERFUL!  RIGHT? The novel includes all topics that middle school students deal with such as: bullying, diversity, adversity, death, racism in the US, and friendship. The book is about a young boy whose life is cut short by a police officer. This story is different in that there is healing in the book rather than just revenge, or a lack of justice. Jerome the boy who was murdered becomes friends with Sarah, the police officer’s (who killed him) daughter.

5 Top Middle School Reads

It’s also important to talk about generalizations, and as a class we make a commitment not to generalize. Having said that, we do not ignore the fact that African American males are killed in high numbers, and we look at examples in the distant and near past. Lesson suggestion. Watch Vinson’s “I Pledge Allegiance” poetry slam on YouTube and have students have a class discussion about whether-or-not athletes should be forced to say the pledge of allegiance.

Top Middle School Books: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

“The 57 Bus” also has one of the most engaging openings I have read in a book. “In a moment everything will be set in motion. Taken by ambulance to a San Francisco burn unit, Sasha will spend the next three and a half weeks undergoing multiple surgeries to treat second and third degree burns running from calf to thigh. Arrested at school the following day, Richard will be charged with two felonies, each with a hate-crime clause that will add time to his sentence if he is convicted…But none of that has happened yet. For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school. Surely, it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus. There must be something you can do.” Sasha considers themself agender; neither female nor male, or both female and male. Sasha wore a kilt to school most days and it was lit on fire by Richard, who did not intend for it to light up the way that it did. Sasha went to private school and Richard to a public school in a dangerous neighborhood in Oakland. Richard had been in trouble before and worked hard to stay out of trouble now. What started as a prank turned into a felony hate crime. The controversy in the case is that the judge chose to try Richard as an adult, and added a hate crime clause to the charge. People felt that Richard should be charged for the crime as a minor and that it did not meet the criteria of a hate crime. Lesson suggestion: Use a newspaper article about this true story as the centerpiece of a lesson. Ask questions, have a class discussion.

Hey Kiddo by Jarret Krosoczka

Reasons to read Hey Kiddo: 1. It’s a graphic novel and middle school students love graphic novels, 2. A coming-of-age book so students relate to it, 3. The book is about healing and our world could use more healing. A young boy who has to live with his grandparents because his mom is a heroine addict. The book looks at addicts through a different-more compassionate lens, and at those who are hurt by addiction. The book also has some awesome allusions such as “Wayne’s World”, “This is your brain on drugs”, and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No To Drugs” campaign. It is beneficial to teach the basic elements of a graphic novel and talk about shapes, and the colors the author chooses to use in the book. The best part is that although the boy’s mom eventually dies young, the main character turns out to be the actual author of the book: a successful, graphic novel author and artist. It’s fascinating how the book takes a look at the family history which helps to give some context as to why Ja’s mom ended up as an addict. There’s one line in the entire book that is very telling. It discusses how Ja’s  grandma had a miscarriage and it states, “it threw her”. In the book she sits slouching, in the dark at a table smoking while she set the kids in front of the tv to keep them busy. It foreshadows how Ja’s grandmother had a lack of coping skills, why his mom may not have gotten the attention and love that she needed, and how she may have ultimately ended up using drugs. This is a mature and essential revelation for teenagers. Lesson suggestion: Do a ‘Just Say No” to drugs campaign and choose different images, commercials, and slogans for today.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

“New Kid” another graphic novel, yet much lighter than “Hey Kiddo” is a student and teacher favorite. It’s about a boy in a new-private-middle school who deals with many of the issues that students deal with in middle school: bullying, fitting in, relationships, friendships, puberty, and racism.  What I really like about this book is that the themes just mentioned make an impact on students without bringing them down.  What I mean by this is that there is teasing and unkind words exchanged between classmates, but there isn’t a degree of bullying that students have to eat their lunch standing on a toilet, (like there is in other books (Ghost Boys)).

The main character, Jordan goes to an almost all-white-student body school as an African American, and he deals with students and teachers making comments such as, “I bet you’d be good at basketball”, followed with “I didn’t mean that because, well, you know”. Other than these frustrations the book is light-hearted, each chapter is a malapropism for a movie, and portrays the average middle school student’s day-to-day life. The good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s important to first begin by teaching students how to read a graphic novel: thought bubbles, gutters, panels, etc. prior to reading a graphic novel. Some ideas during teaching is to cut out a scene, mix them up, and have students decide how to put them in order. You can delete dialogue from circles, and have students predict based on the images, what is being said. Lesson suggestion; I have heard teachers talk about how students are not able to practice critical thinking by imagining up a scene in a graphic novel. You can give the students the dialogue and have them draw what they imagine the scene to be.

Rebound by Kwame Alexander

 The last of the top 5 middle school reads is “Rebound” by Kwame Alexander-a brilliant author and poet! It’s a new and different way to read a novel in that it is multiple poems strung together through the duration of an entire novel. It’s a bit like a string of dreams, or memories. Kwame is a master at writing and uses multiple literary devices on each page. He shapes his poetry to match the topic of a poem, and he engages middle school students in ways that most poetry cannot. The main character, Charlie, in “Rebound” is dealing with a lot. He has to deal with the loss of his father as well as puberty and all that it entails for a boy in middle school. Charlie is struggling to get along with his mom, who doesn’t seem to relate to him on any level. The person who can is gone-Charlie’s father and Charlie misses him deeply. After Charlie gets into trouble a couple times, his mom decides to send him to his grandparents for the summer. Charlie is unhappy about it, but it seems to be what he needs to get his smile and his confidence back.  It’s a coming-of-age book that includes: family, friends, death, and sports: exactly what he needs after his painful loss. Lesson suggestion: take one poem and have students turn it into the parts of a short story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

5 Top Middle School Reads

I believe if you try these books in the classroom you will find as much success as I did. For a full lesson to these titles, look up the following: “Rebound” by Kwame Alexander, “Hey Kiddo” by Jarrett Krosoczka, “New Kid” by Jerry Craft, “Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes, and “The 57 Bus” by Dashka Slater.

5 Steps To Teach Poetry To High School Students You Need to Know!

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5 Steps to teach poetry to high school students that work! For Real!

Presentation about Poetry

5 Steps to teach poetry to high school students is more simple than you would think. Do you know the familiar sigh of students when they first hear the words, “we are learning about poetry today?” Typical teacher response, “When we are done with this unit, you will love poetry”. Now when I say this, I know they really will.  I will teach you 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students that will lead your students to love poetry too. If you have had similar experiences and are looking for some strategies to make poetry fun, I have 5 steps that work when it comes to teaching poetry to high school students after many years of trial and error. Below are 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students that really work! For the full lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers click

1. Step 1 Out of 5 Ways to Teach Poetry: Start With Simple Grammar

I’m telling you, this really works!

Are you supposed to pause at the end of a line of poetry? The answer is no. Not without a period, comma, or other punctuation mark that signals for it. I begin by teaching students not to pause at the end of every line. Students see the end of a line and they automatically think they need to pause: making the simplest of poems near impossible to understand. In fact, many teachers do the same.  I teach students to pause when they see the comma, the hyphen, semicolon, colon and the period. Easy enough, right? This solves most of the struggle students have understanding poetry. Once students practice this skill, the rest is simple.

I review a few more easy grammar rules that they already know, and next I give them the rules for how to read their poems aloud.

How to read your poem aloud 1. Read in thought groups, not just ends of lines 2. Read loudly enough, changing your volume as needed for the thought groups and punctuation 3. Vary your rate (how fast, slow you go; emphasis) 4. Pay attention to punctuation—it signals meaning:

Period = stop, Exclamation = emotion, Question =upward inflection, Comma or dash =pause, Parenthesis =lowered voice, White space =keep going…or, pause, Capitalization =important, Colon =set up what is coming

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2. Step 2 out of 5 Ways To Teach Poetry: Model Reading the Poem

I model by reading a poem and ask them to note how the punctuation signals what I do with my voice. I use a poem that is fun and entertaining to them such as “The Egg Horror Poem” by Laurel Winter, or “Incident in a Rose Garden” by Donald Justice. I then pass out different poems while students are in small groups and students practice reading poems to each other. Once they have practiced, one student per group reads their poem out loud to the rest of the class.

3. Step 3 Out of 5 Ways to Teach Poetry: Provide Students With Engaging Poems

It’s important to provide students with poems they will connect to. The poem I read, “Egg Horror Poem” is about terrified eggs huddling together in a dark refrigerator just waiting in agonizing anticipation for the refrigerator door to open as one of them is whisked away to their death to be mixed in an omelette. In order for real engagement and learning to happen it is essential to pass out a long list of poems to choose from, allowing students time to go through and decide which poem they want to present to the class. 

A list of poems that students love:

“The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe,

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost,

“Incident in a Rose Garden, by Donald Justice

“Death” by William Butler Yeats

“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke

Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

 “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare

 “The Gift” by Li Young Lee

“The Rose that Grew from Concrete” by Tupac Shakur

“Egg Horror Poem”, by Laurel Winter

“400 Meter Free Style” by Maxine Kumin

“Grape Sherbet” by Rita Dove

“Ode to My Socks” by Pablo Neruda

“The Seven Ages of Man” by William Shakespeare

“’Hope’ is a Thing With Feathers” by Emily Dickinson

“For Poets” by Al  Young

“A Voice” by Pat Mora

“Rosa” by Rita Dove

“from Mauda Martha” by Gwendolyn Brooks

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

“The Sharks” by Denise Levertov

“The Sun” by Mary Oliver

 “My Father’s Song” by Simon Ortiz

“Oh What is That Sound” by W.H. Auden

“My Heart Leaps Up” by William Wordsworth

“Elegy for Giant Tortoises” by Margaret Atwood

“The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe

“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson

“Spring is Like a Perhaps Hand” by E.E. Cummings

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4. Step 4 Out of 5 Ways to Teach Poetry: Allow Choice and Give Challenging Assignment

Students choose and sign up for their poetry presentation. The first task in the presentations is to read the poem aloud-correctly. Second to analyze the different parts of the poem using a clear prompt and a rubric.

The analysis will begin with, source, name of poem, poet, number of lines and will also include:

List the pluses (what’s good about it) and minuses (what’s not-so-good about it)

Questions (about things you don’t understand, about things you do understand but are still thinking-about, about the value of the ideas and images and so forth, about…whatever)

Personal Connections—why you chose the poem, what matters, where is that link that spoke to you, what’s going on in the poem, why did the poet do this or that…and so forth.

Word choice—three areas here, so complete each one

•Two words I looked up and why 

•Two words I think are important to the literal (denotative) meaning of the poem

•Two words I think are important to the bigger (connotative) meaning of the poem

Structure—how is the poem organized

•Thought groupings and their role

•Punctuation and its role

•Significant pauses and their role

•Literary features and their effect (metaphors, similes, alliteration, allusions, personification, repetition etc.)

•Beginning as compared to the end and their effect

5. Step 5: Have Students Create something

The final step is having them create something that captures the “essence” of their poem. Students will paint, draw, sing, play an instrument, perform a puppet show, bake, bring in a song, sculpture, perform a mini-readers theater create a graph and more. I have had a student come in and perform a belly dance, another crank out a heavy metal song on his electric guitar, a student graph out whether or not Odysseus is a hero, and many more talented creations. This is my most favorite time of the year because they are so creative and students make a huge effort in their performance. This lesson brings the class closer together as they learn about each others similarities and differences.


*Bonus: This is a great lesson for the start of the year so you learn all those details about your students in the beginning that you usually learn in sprinkles throughout the year.

As an assessment you can give students a poem with a list of literary devices (repetition, personification, imagery, allusions, figurative language, diction, symbolism, etc.), and have them write-up a poetry analysis. I find my students are successfully able to perform this task, once they have completed their poetry presentation.

In this blog post we covered the following 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students:

  1. Start with a simple grammar review
  2. Model reading a poem
  3. Provide poem choices students can connect to
  4. Allow students to choose a poem to present
  5. Have students create a project that captures the essence of their poem.

Follow these 5 steps to teach poetry to high school students and you too, will find success!

5 Steps to Teach Poetry

How do you teach poetry? I would love to hear back in the comments below. If you enjoyed this blog post check out my blog post on graphic novels

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