March 22, 2017

Liven up your test prep with games

As a high-school English teacher, I work hard to provide engaging, thoughtful lessons that involve students in critical thinking and problem solving.  I don’t like boring lessons and I work hard to ensure that students find relevance in our class activities.

But, then testing comes around.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m confident that we spend the year prepping for the skills the students will be tested on, so I don’t devote too much time to test prep, but I do feel like it’s important to review.  Not only do students need to see what the test will look like, but they also need a confidence booster to prove to themselves that they’re ready.

So, how to do all that in a way that’s meaningful, but still light and fun?  Test prep games!
Of course, there are tons of ways to approach this, but I have nearly 200 students across five classes, so I like to keep it simple, yet fun.  Here’s what I like to do.

The first thing is to get a copy of released test questions.  These are readily available for all of the different tests.  This guarantees two things: one, students get a feel for the format and content of the test (of course the actual questions will be different, but now they’ve seen a sample and we all know how students work better with models), and two, you’re not reinventing the wheel.

Prep the stations:  For this round, I picked two reading passages that each had seven text-dependent questions.  I typed up the questions and copied each question on a separate sheet of bright paper (and laminated them for posterity, of course!).  Also, I made copies of each reading passage.

Post the questions:  I split the questions by article and posted them around the room.  One half of the room got the first set and the other half got the second. 

Create your teams: With classes of 40 students, I divided my classes into four teams each.  My favorite way to randomly group them is to hand them a color-coding sticker as they walk in the door. Then, I group by color.

Read and Answer:  I pass out the first article to half the class (two teams) and the other half (other two teams) get the second.  I set the timer for seven minutes for everyone to read their article.  When the time is up, students rotate to each question, making sure to take the article and a paper to answer the questions with them.  After about twenty minutes of rotations, I stop the students, have the kids switch articles with someone from the other half of the class and start the reading and answering process again.

And that’s it for day one.  Day two is where it gets more fun!

On day 2, I have the games set up (In this case, I have two Connect 4 games, but it can also work with Tic-Tac-Toe frames drawn on the board, trash cans and nerf basketballs, or any other game).

Students come in and sit with their assigned teams.  I redistribute the articles and questions, and give students about 15 minutes to go through questions, debate their answers, and come to a consensus about what the correct answer is.

When time is up, I pass out small white boards and markers to each group and ask one student from each group to stand.  I ask the first question and ask the standing students to write the answer on the board.  At the count of three, students show me their board.  The students who answer the question correctly, get to place a Connect 4 checker on the board.  The white boards are given to the next student on each team and I ask the next question, and so on and so on until the questions have all been answered. 

At this point, there are usually two winners, one from each game.  Those teams get a small treat and will play for the championship the next day. 

On the third day, I post additional test questions, ones that are not dependent on a reading passage.  After students rotate and decide on their answers, the two winning teams go head-to-head for the championship, and the other two compete for a consolation prize.

While it’s simple and easy to set up, the students enjoy the competitive aspect of the games and feel better knowing what to expect on the big test.

I hope you try this in your classroom.  Let me know how it goes!

November 1, 2016

Making Meaning with Melissa shares the Best of the Best ELA Lesson

As a teacher, don't you love planning a lesson that just blows the students away?  When it just works?  A lesson that is challenging, relevant, and rigorous. A lesson where the kids are engaged, learning, and having fun. When this happens, life is good!  

As a teacher, don't you also know that these lessons don't happen daily? 

Today, we should celebrate our successes, so I'm joining with my friend Secondary Sara, as well as some other fantastic English teachers to show you the Best of the Best, giving you some ideas that you can try tomorrow.

I'm sure that you've heard of primary teachers who use mentor sentences and texts to help their young students learn how to become writers.  But did you know that Mentor Sentences and texts work wonders with older students, too?  For over a decade, I've been using Mentor Sentences to help students improve their writing and I'm convinced that it creates strong writers who take ownership and pride in their work.  And look who agrees:

To see how I use Mentor Sentences in my high school English classes, you should check out this post.  Never a fan of traditional drill and kill grammar instruction, I struggled to find ways to teach important writing skills in a way that would have direct transfer to their writing.  With my resource, students learn one sentence pattern a week, practicing it daily until it becomes second nature.  Not only do I offer strong mentors when I teach the lessons, I also provide stimulus pictures to help my reluctant writers to get started. Additionally, we look for examples in texts we're reading, giving students more practice and a greater buy-in.  The best part about this method is that students are able to incorporate new sentence patterns into their writing for English class, but also for every other class, too.

For years, I've dutifully photocopied my mini-books for students, giving them a handheld resource that they could hold onto forever.  And it still works. But, then I got a class set of chromebooks, and I knew that I could adapt my favorite lessons to incorporate technology.  

Now, instead of holding onto a mini-book, students are able to store all their lessons in the Google drive, accessing them whenever and wherever they need to.  Plus, they can type directly into the files, adding additional practice pages as needed. And let's be honest, what teenager doesn't like doing their work online? 

Both versions are available in my Teachers Pay Teaches store here, and you can even purchase the Mega Mega bundle which includes the paper and digital versions to meet all your needs.  Did I mention that they're also on sale now through November 2?

In all the years I've been teaching (17!), I've not found any other lesson that has the immediate results that Mentor Sentences do. These lessons just work, and I really hope that you decide to give them a try.  You won't regret it!

Thanks for stopping by.  Now hop on over for some more awesome lessons.

October 16, 2016

Secondary ELA Seasonal Blog Hop: Making Meaning with Melissa Shares Tips and Tricks

Don’t you just love fall?  The crisp air.  The changing of the leaves.  Pumpkin spice everything.  OK, OK, I live in a sunny Southern California beach town, so my imagined fall is always better than my fall reality, but that’s alright. 

With fall here once again, I'm joining up with some amazing secondary ELA teachers for a seasonal blog hop, Halloween Style.

For me, part of the fun of fall is Halloween.  Not only do I love to see my own kids dressed up for trick-or-treating, but I love to teach spooky stories around this time, too.  And how better to celebrate this season than with Poe and the Dark Romantics. 
Come on! How cute are my pirate and parrot in this oldie but goody?  Back when they still let me dress them in themed Halloween costumes.

Now, once fall hits, I’ve already been in school for several months.  Routines are established, procedures are down, and our classroom environment has been determined; students are now willing to show a little more of themselves and take a few more risks than they would at the start of the school year.  What better time than now for spookiness?

For my younger students, I love teaching “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe.  Not only is this an amazingly creepy story, there are so many great supplementary resources to use.  I absolutely love the audio of the story read by Iggy Pop.  It was recorded for the album, “Closed on Account of Rabies,” which was a compilation of Poe short stories read by celebrities, but you can find this story on youtube HERE.  The background noises are haunting and Pop’s voice takes on the crazed persona of the narrator.  I turn off the lights and use flickering battery-operated candles and the kids LOVE it.  After that, I use my Close Reading unit for the short story, where after reading, student have to complete a Police Report to fill in the details of what happened.  The original film adaptation from 1941 is a great wrap-up for this short 2-day plan.

For my juniors, I love to teach about the Dark Romantics in the fall.  Again, Poe, Hawthorne, even Dickinson, plus contemporary tie-ins?  The 11th-graders get sucked right in.  For this unit, I introduce the unit with an informational powerpoint, allowing students to use my CLOZE notes organizer.  They then analyze two short pieces, Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “The Raven” by Poe.  I show them a presentation of Dark Romanticism in contemporary culture, focusing on music, architecture, fashion, film, literature, and pop culture (they LOVE this presentation and get so excited to see pieces they’re familiar with).  Finally, students are assigned a group project where they present their findings after reading two more pieces of gothic lit and analyzing two pieces of pop culture.  These projects are interesting and unique, and allow students to take charge of their learning.

If you're interested in using either of these resources in your class this Halloween, don't delay!  They'll both be on sale for 2 days, October 16 and 17.  Enjoy!

I'd love to hear what you're doing in your classes this Halloween.  Don't forget to check out the other great ideas in this hop, too!

Happy Halloween!

August 1, 2016

Back to School Classroom Management Tips and Resources

Hello!  I'm joining up with some awesome English teachers who are excited to Hop Back to School.

Summer is winding down and I’m counting the days until I’m back in my classroom.  This year will be my seventeenth in the classroom (holy moly that makes me feel old).  Summer lasts one more week for me and I’m in full-on planning mode, as, I’m sure, you are, too.

While I’ve taught 9th and 11th grade English for the last 10 years, I’m excited to be working with juniors only this year.  Not only do I love the curriculum, but I love the humor, maturity, and passion for justice that seventeen-year-old have.  I’m excited to use some of my newly created lessons, and I can’t wait to bring in current events as we near the election to teach them about rhetoric.  I know those will spark impassioned discussions and I love to see my students take a stand and pay attention to our world outside the school boundaries.  As usual, I will be using Mentor Sentences to help students improve their writing and learn grammar without all the boring parts.  And, of course, I’ll be looking forward to teaching The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye and to sharing my favorite novels with them to check out during our independent reading time.

As for the beginning of the year, there are a few things I always do to set the tone for the year.  I make sure to greet students at the door and introduce myself as they walk in.  That way, when I start talking later, we’ve already met.  I also make sure that I learn student names before the first week is over.  The students are always happily surprised that I know who they are and it makes our classroom much more personal and safe.

As an English teacher, I also get them writing early and often, and not just academically.  My students write at least three times a week and the topics are varied, both fun and academic, personal and professional.  I like to give them topics that challenge them, like my Writing Prompts, which incorporate song lyrics and thought-provoking prompts, helping them gain writing fluency while writing about their favorite subject…them!

And finally, I always rely on my row leader system of classroom management to teach student responsibility and alleviate some of the heavy paperload that collects.  You, too, can make your life easier by delegating some tasks to students.

To help you get ready for back to school, I want to offer you one of my resources to help get your students writing.  This set of Quote of the Day Task Cards has 40 different prompts and can be used as bell-ringers, quick prompts, or even exit tickets. They will be free until 8/8/2016, so I hope you grab them and enjoy this freebie!

Enjoy and have a fantastic year!

February 29, 2016

Making Meaning with Melissa Leaps into Literature

Here at the Literary League, we’re a group of English teachers who truly love literature (we bet you already figured that part out). Given free time, we can all agree that there’s nothing better than leaping into a good book. But, even as avid readers, we have to admit that those spare minutes tend to be few and far between, especially during the school year, and there are times that we just have to …
  • leap into a book recommended by a friend, a colleague, or especially a student, who is anxiously awaiting our review
  • leap into a new novel we’re teaching, whether or not we’ve had time to fully prepare a complete unit
  • leap into a classic, maybe not one of our favorites, but something we know students need to sit with in order to grow as a reader

For those instances, the Literary League is teaming up to share some of our favorite resources to help you Leap into Literature. These are resources that are not tied to a particular book, but ones that can be used over and over again, both with your favorite novels, as well as with new texts or classic pieces you’re trying to breathe new life into.

A favorite resource I use to engage my students in literature is Reading Response Task Cards.  This is a set of 40 task cards with reading response prompts for students to think and write about what they are reading. These prompts work well with Independent Reading or SSR, as well as any other reading of fiction. 

These prompts are geared toward the middle and high school classroom. Cards are included both in color and in black and white. 4 blank cards are also included.

You can read about other engaging literature resources from the other Literary Leaguers linked up below and also enter in the rafflecopter below for a chance to win them all.

February 12, 2016

Hop Into Digital Learning Day 2016!

Digital Learning Day 2016--Why Should You Try Something New? Because Your Students Will Thank You.

My students thank me all the time for the new “stuff” we are doing this year. Go ahead--take the plunge! Believe me, if you have access to any sort of technology (even one device), then do it. That one tablet or laptop can open up a window to a universe of instructional opportunities. Your students will want to get to that tech center. 

Digital Learning Day, February 17, 2016, is ultimately about bringing equal opportunity to our classrooms, regardless of location or socioeconomic status. It is about the importance of having access to Wi-Fi and up-to-date technology in our schools. Many schools have technology that is not working or that is out-of-date. State and local governments are now focusing on getting it all fixed so that our school children can succeed in the 21st century.

Here's the challenge--On February 17, 2016, try a new lesson that focuses on discovery, analysis, and exploration. Give your students the gift of a new opportunity by using Google Classroom, MS OneDrive, or an App. And don’t forget to share what you are doing in your classroom on social media to celebrate Digital Learning Day with #futureready. To help you get started, we’ve teamed up to share an amazing selection of blog posts and classroom activities that are designed to propel you and your students into your digital learning adventure.