Welcome to Day 11 of the Literary League's 12 Days of Christmas Blog Hop! We know that the holiday season is busy for both teachers and students, and it never seems to slow down after that. To help you make it through the rest of the year, you need a stock pile of lessons that can be easily implemented at any time. Today you'll find a resource that you can use any time of year in your classroom.

From Making Meaning with Melissa: "Thank You, M'am" Mini-Unit - Emergency Sub Plan, Middle, High School
I created this mini-unit when my principal asked me to attend a 4-day training on only the third week of school. Because we had not yet gotten far into the curriculum, I didn’t want to rely on a substitute to teach a new skill. I wanted something that students could work on independently, yet still be critical thinkers. Thus, I created this packet for the story “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes and a companion film, Finding Forrester. Whether you use this for an sub plan or not, the mini-unit is full of thoughtful activities, including color-marking and annotation, critical thinking questions, writing prompts, graphic organizers, and more. Depending on your situation, you can choose to complete only the story materials, or you can also purchase the movie Finding Forrester, to add a few extra days to the unit, particularly helpful if you plan to be out for more than a day or two. Directions are included for either option, and if you choose to leave out the film, just don’t print those pages.

Making Meaning with Melissa Goes Back 2 School

The Literary League, a group of exceptional secondary English Language Arts teachers, is hosting a Back to School Give-Away. Enter to win a choice of gift cards, middle school and high school ELA resource bundles, and shopping sprees to middle and high school ELA TPT stores.

By the time I grab my books and I give myself a look I'm at the corner just in time to see the bus fly by. It's alright’ cause I'm saved by The Literary League! That’s right, we are at it again! It’s one of the biggest back-to-school give-aways courtesy of some of your favorite ELA sellers. 

We’re teachers too, so we know that feeling of going back to school.  Cure those back to school blues by entering this HUGE give-away. Not only multiple prize packs, but also multiple winners!

The give-away will run Monday 8/31 to Monday 9/14. You’ll see some familiar and maybe even some new faces, so follow our stores and our social media accounts, and stay updated with what’s new! Winners will be announced Tuesday 9/15.

The Literary League, a group of exceptional secondary English Language Arts teachers, is hosting a Back to School Give-Away. Enter to win a choice of gift cards, middle school and high school ELA resource bundles, and shopping sprees to middle and high school ELA TPT stores.

Prize # 1: Gift Card of Choice
Win a $50 gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers, Amazon, Staples or Target.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Prize #2: Middle School Resources
Win all of the resources listed below for your middle school ELA classroom.
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Prize #3: High School Resources
Win all of the resources listed below for your high school ELA classroom.
Close Reading: Guide Your Students Through the Process
Interactive Notebook Bundle
Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasion
Common Core Literature Bell Ringers for Secondary English
Found Poetry Packet
Introduction to Close Reading for Middle and High School - Model and Practice
Critical Thinking: What is Textual Analysis #2
Fiction and Nonfiction Test Passages
Short Story Starters Task Cards 

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Prize # 4: Middle School TpT Store Shopping Spree 
Win a $10 shopping spree to one of the TpT Stores listed below.
2 Peas and a Dog
The Creative Classroom
Literary Sherri
Mrs. Spangler in the Middle
Darlene Anne
Fisher Reyna Education
Brain Waves Instruction
Stacey Lloyd
James Whitaker's Sophist Thoughts
Created by MrHughes
ELA Everyday

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Prize #5: High School TpT Store Shopping Spree  
Win a $10 shopping spree to one of the TpT Stores listed below.
Room 213
The Daring English Teacher
Making Meaning with Melissa
Linda Jennifer
Brynn Allison
Juggling ELA

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Plan Ahead for the Best School Year Yet

For the last sixteen years I've been a teacher, (and, likely, my seventeen years as a student before that), I have had a love-hate relationship with August.  I love the carefree nature of summer break. I hate that I will actually have to know what day of the week it is...and, gasp, the date, too.  I love the sunshine and the opportunity to travel with my family.  I hate that once school and fall sports start, we are locked down at home until my boys' football and soccer seasons are over.   I love seeing school supplies make their way to Target, and choosing fun new items to use in my classroom. I hate the idea of spending so much of my money on said items.

Love it or hate it, August comes every year.  For some of you (like me) school has already started, and for others, it's coming up quick.  So, again, using my many years of experience as a teacher, here is my best tip for starting the year off right...


Back to school time is busy for everyone, especially teachers.  Not only are we dealing with all the new students and trying to learn their names and faces ASAP, we have mounds of back to school paper work to fill out, assessments to give, supplies to organize, procedures to teach, and lessons to start.  And that's just at school.  Add in your own kids going back to school, and general family life, and this season is nuts!

So the best thing to do is plan ahead.  I teach English to freshman and juniors.  I had my first month calendars planned in July.  I have my units sketched out for the remainder of the year.  Before school had even started, I had made all the copies I would need in the first month, too.  I know that scheduling changes happen, and I may end up with a few extra copies, but having what I need without the stress of having to wait in copy room lines is worth it.

Another requirement many teachers have is to write content and language objectives. These got popular after I had been teaching for nine or ten years, and I have to admit, writing my objectives this way still does not come naturally to me.  So what do I do? Write them up ahead of time?  I make up a page or two of objectives that I know I will be using, and then I just plug them in as necessary.  No on the spot pressure for writing objectives before class starts.

Also,if you're not already back in school, set up your classroom early.  Make it as user-friendly as possible, and make sure that everything has a place.  Teach your students where each zone is and stick to it.  Buy necessities like hand sanitizer, tissue, and extra pencils and paper in bulk and keep them in your classroom, so that when these items start running low, you don't have to make a mad dash to the store to replace them.   Read on to see how I do this and for a peek at my own room.

At home, plan ahead, too.  Plan your outfits for the week.  Then, plan your kids' outfits for the week (let them do it, but give it the once over).  I use sweater racks like this one in my closets, labeling them by day of the week.  For my boys, I put everything they'll wear that day, including essentials like underwear and socks.  For me, since I usually keep my outfits hanging, I'll add accessories, proper undergarments, and shoes.  It is so nice to get up and know what I'm going to wear and to have everything ready for me.

On that note, make lunches in advance, too.  Mornings are too busy to add lunch-making to the mix.  Make sandwiches (or whatever) the night before, and have your kids grab all the extras, like drinks and snacks, and load their lunchboxes.  

Finally, this last one is a tip I am still working on, but I'm including it here because it's important and I'm hoping that my continued efforts will help it to stick in my mind.  Get gas in your car before the light comes on!  I know this is a no-brainer for many, but it's my downfall.  I put if off, then discover, usually on days that I'm in a rush, that I need to get gas to even make it to work.  I drive a Suburban--filling up takes a while, and it's so much less stressful to do it when I'm not in a hurry.  Hopefully, you already have this one down.

Now, as promised, I'm including some photos of my own classroom and how I planned ahead for back to school.  Enjoy, and have a great year!

My favorite spot in my new room--my library!  I moved into a former band room and it has an office.  I made it into a library and reading room and I LOVE it!

I got the idea for this cute direction sign from The Daring English Teacher.  Can you guess figure out which books we'll be reading this year?

Literary Elements posters from Stacey Lloyd.
My spot for storing my extra supplies, including toilet paper, which is cheaper and easier to buy in bulk than Kleenex.
My desk and personal computer station.

Why I Use Mentor Sentences to Teach Writing in my High School English Classroom

Come see why I teach writing using mentor sentences in my high school English classroom.

This fall marks the sixteenth year that I will be returning to school as an English teacher.  Every summer I start planning for the year... what will I keep, what will I change, what will I try for the first time?  Of course, after so many years there are bound to be many things that I ditch, and even more that I tweak and adjust to better fit the needs to my students. But, after more than ten years of use, I have a favorite strategy that I always make time for -- teaching writing with mentor sentences.

Now, I can see what you're thinking, "Mentor Sentences...isn't that something used in elementary school?"  And I have to admit, some people seem surprised when I tell them that I use these in high school, but stick with me here. If we want students to be good writers, we have to model good writing and that's all there is to it.  Giving students strong models and plenty of opportunity for practice just makes sense.

So how do I teach using Mentor Sentences in my own classroom? With mini-books focusing on a specific skill.  I like to create mini-books for several reasons.  One, mini-books are just that -- mini.  For whatever reason, that makes them more special for students.  It could be the novelty or the fact that it's not just another worksheet, but students really like the half-sheet size and they hold onto them!  Next, mini-books allow for only so many pages, keeping them focused and well-organized. Finally, mini-books create a set of resources for students; they don't have to flip through pages and pages of notes to find what they're looking for.  If students need a reminder about sentence variety, they just pull out their first Sassy Sentence mini-book and there it is.

OK, so how do you actually teach using Mentor Sentences, you ask?  I like to teach each book over several weeks, breaking down one skill at a time to give lots of time for practice. I have students assemble the books (an easy process because there's no cutting necessary), and then we go through the book one spread at a time.  For each set of pages, there is a section for notes, mentor sentences as models, and space for students to write their own sentence. There are also examples in print (from popular books and short stories), space for students to search for examples in print, and space for more practice. I provide photo presentations to serve as stimulus, rather than having students think up their own sentences, relieving some of the pressure to be creative and instead letting them focus on the writing.

Finally, there are two pages for students to practice writing longer paragraphs, incorporating the mentor sentences they have learned.  Again, I provide a stimulus photo (and occasionally some notes about a topic), and students write at least seven sentences, three of which must be incorporate the new sentence rules they have learned.  This takes students from the task of just writing individual stand- alone sentences, to developing their writing style and stamina, creating a more sophisticated paragraph.

So what makes this my favorite strategy?  It's easy: every year I have students tell me that they can't believe how much better their writing has gotten!  It's exciting for all of us when they see their improvement and are proud of themselves. For that reason alone, I can't see ever abandoning this strategy.

If you'd like to try this strategy for free, download this mini-unit which teaches Sentence Structure with simple, compound, and complex sentences.  

And when you love it, click here to check out all my other Mentor Sentence resources.

I can't wait to hear what you think.  Give them a try today and let me know!

**UPDATE** I've now converted these resources to digital format, too, so if you're transitioning to a blended learning approach, you can use these resources on electronic devices.

Back to School is Here and the Literary League is Ready!

It's time to go back....

I know where I'm shopping for Back to School!  The Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale is here and I can't wait to shop for resources from The Literary League.  Get everything you need to start your year off right!

Up to 28% off the entire site –August 3rd and 4th, 2014 – Promo Code at Check out- BTS15
-Participating Stores:

Danielle Knight (Study All Knight)
Darlene Anne- ELA Buffet
Mrs. Spangler in the Middle
Created by MrHughes
The Classroom Sparrow
The Daring English Teacher
ELA Everyday
Juggling ELA
Literary Sherri
Making Meaning with Melissa
2 Peas and a Dog
Secondary Solutions-Simply Novel
Addie Williams
Linda Jennifer
Fisher Reyna Education
The Creative Classroom
Stacey Lloyd
Room 213
Brynn Allison
Open Classroom
Perfetto Writing Room
Secondary Sara
Tracee Orman
James Whitaker
The Superhero Teacher
Created for Learning
Brain Waves Instruction

This Back to School Giveaway RULES!

Back to School time is here and some amazing secondary teachers have put together several HUGE prize packs to make your year easier.  

Good luck and have a fantastic year!

Making Meaning with Melissa Goes Back to School

Hey, there!  I'm so excited to be joining  my fellow Literary League members for a Back to School Blog Hop. I'm beyond excited to have you here, and for us to unveil the team.

First, let's get acquainted.  I'm Melissa, mommy to 3, wife to Scott, English teacher, book lover, TPT teacher-author, sun worshipper, wine drinker...you're starting to get the idea. I'm lucky to live in sunny Southern California, Surf City, USA, to be exact, and when I'm not creating engaging classroom resources, you can find me on the beach or at the river. 

I'm a busy sports mom with my two youngest guys, Tyler and Ryan, playing football, soccer, and baseball throughout the year.  Our eldest son, Kyle, is in his second year of college at Cal State Long Beach and is also pursing his pilot's license.

I've been teaching since 2000, after I graduated from the University of Miami with my degree in English literature and secondary ed., and my teaching credential.  Remember I said I was a sun-worshipper -- well, that was a huge part of my college-choosing process and Miami fit the bill!  I've worked in both junior high and high school settings, but I'm going on my 11th year teaching at my current high school, where I teach freshman and junior English, as well as inclusion classes.  I also have a master's degree in educational administration, but I don't see me leaving the classroom for awhile - teenagers are too fun to work with!  Plus, there's no way I'm ready to leave my class library behind for a small admin office!
Wouldja just look at all these books!!  LOVE!
Books!  Now there's a subject I could go on and on about, but for now, let's narrow it down.  Asking an English teacher to pick a favorite book is like asking a fashionista to pick her favorite pair of shoes...it's nearly impossible!  So here are a few of my favorites in different categories: for personal reading, I've loved Beach MusicMe Before You, and Leaving Time.  For reading to my boys, I've enjoyed Charlotte's WebThe One and Only Ivan, and Wonder (and I can't wait to start reading Harry Potter together).  To teach, I love To Kill a MockingbirdThe Hunger Games, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.  And to recommend to teenagers, I love anything John Green, the Maze Runner series, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, and my absolute favorite, All the Bright Places.  Because I have such a large class library (the picture above is from my old room. My new class has an office that I've converted to a library), and I read and recommend so many YA books to my students, they are willing to trust my choices and end up enjoying many of the same books that I do.  

When school starts up, I like to do a quick getting to know you activity right away, something that is low-risk and fun, yet doesn't put the new students on the spot.  This year, I'll be doing an this FREE getting to know you activity, where students will create an instagram post about one fun activity they did over the summer.  They can add a short summary and hashtags to sum up the fun. This is easy and fun, and makes for a great Back to School bulletin board.  Once a few days have gone by and students feel more comfortable in class (my little freshmen in particular), I like them to complete this focus-finding essay that tells me lots about who they are as people. Plus, it's super informative and thought-provoking for the students.

How ever you start your new school year, I hope that it's one of your best ever.  Now, don't forget to stop by the rest of the Literary League's blogs and check out their awesome ideas!

Start Your Year with Close Reading

As a busy teacher, and really, do you know a teacher who isn't?, I look forward to summer vacation starting in about March of each school year.  It's not that I don't love teaching, or my students, or English for that matter.  But, the appeal of relaxing in the sun, hanging out with my boys, and forgetting what day of the week it is are all powerful sirens calling to me.

So, why is it then, that once summer hits, I start shopping for my classroom, dreaming up new lessons, and planning for the school year to start.  It's a mystery, I tell you.

With that, I've now entered full on back-to-school mode.  I start up again in about three weeks, so my clock is ticking down.  Which is why I'm teaming up with Sara from Ms. Fs Teaching Adventures for a blog hop about the first lesson of the year.

One of the things I do most often in my English class is read complex texts with my students.  I expect them to close read  and annotate for important details that might be missed from a one time read.  But, I'm sure you know that students are often reluctant to read anything again, much less read it the first time.  That's why I teach Close Reading right away.
I begin with cartoons, as students consider this "easy" reading.  I model several cartoons, and then give them time to practice independently.  From there, we pair-share, and ultimately move to whole class discussion.  This process is very risk free, and students are able to share as they are comfortable.
Model that I use to teach the process of close reading to my high school English students.

After students feel comfortable with cartoons, we move to media ads, historical photographs, nonfiction, poetry, and eventually longer pieces of literature.  
Another model that students enjoy when practicing the close reading process.

By the end of the week (and of course, we continue the practice after the week is finished), students are confident and prepared for my rigorous expectations.

If you'd like to try this out, I have a FREEBIE! that provides my close reading strategy sheet. It is taken from my larger resource, Introduction to Close Reading.

However you start, I hope that you have a fantastic year!

TPT ELA Teachers Celebrate Harper Lee

If you poll a group of American readers, asking them about their favorite book, you'd be bound to hear To Kill a Mockingbird repeated time and again.  Now, after 55 years, we are about to reconnect with Scout, Jem, and Atticus again.

Let's celebrate the release of Harper Lee's second published novel, Go Set a Watchman, released tomorrow, July 14, 2015. 

Together with an awesome group of English teachers, I'm throwing a sale in my Teachers Pay Teacher's store.  For one day only, most of us will be offering up to 20% off.  Check out the ELA teacher authors on TpT in our link up. Most stores will be discounted up to 20% off.

TPT Makeover Madness Challenge

On my way home from a long river weekend last Tuesday, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and saw photo after photo of stats with a TPT Seller Challenge headline.  Curious, I started investigating and realized that I wanted to join in.   Read more here.
By the time I signed up, there were over 900 TPT sellers signed up to participate in the 4 week challenge to make over our store and brand.  Challenge 1 was Makeover Madness, where sellers update old products and covers and make them look fresh and new.  I decided to start with my top seller, a short story unit on "The Most Dangerous Game."  Not only did I go through and update the resource, switching it from the original Word file to PPT, and then updating some material, I also updated the cover, changing the portrait orientation to a crisp, square shape and cleaned up the graphics and fonts.I definitely like the new cover better.

Since I liked the look of the square covers so much than the smaller-looking vertical or horizontal ones, I started changing covers.  I've gotten through the first 4 top sellers, but plan to do more.

What do you think?  I'd love to see your makeovers, too!

Sailing into Summer...to Make Returning in the Fall Much Easier

The countdown is officially on!  While some teachers are already out for summer, I still have three more weeks.  I have to tell you that although I love my students this year, I am still more than ready to trade in my teacher clothes for a bathing suit and my lesson plans for vacation plans.  That's why I'm teaming up with Julie from Faulkner's Fast Five and Lauralee from Language Arts Classroom to bring you the Sailing Into Summer Blog Hop.  Hopefully some of these ideas can help you transition from teaching time to summer time, too.

With the end of the school year being so busy, I like to simplify my final exam process.  First of all, I teach in a school that does not require teachers to give a final if we have another educational plan, so I may have a little more leeway than some in this area.  Rather than have a standard scantron or paper test, I like to end the year with a project, finished up the week before school gets out.  That gives me enough time to grade the work, as students are doing something else.  For the last several days, I like to show a film that relates to the literature unit we’ve been studying.  For my freshmen who are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I like to end with The Help, giving them a comparison chart to complete and keep them busy as they watch.  My juniors are reading The Great Gatsby, and will be watching the Baz Luhrman version of the film and again, completing an assignment to be turned in on finals day.

Next school year, I want to do my “You Be the Teacher” project again.  This year, I broke students into nine groups and assigned each group a chapter of The Great Gatsby to teach to the class.  Each group had to create a quiz to give, conduct a class discussion, model a passage analysis focusing on a literary aspect of the chapter, and develop a classroom learning activity for the students to complete.  They had the whole period to “teach” their lesson to the class.  If this sounds like something you’d like to try, I have the resource listed HERE in my TPT store.  The students really like it and the quality of there lessons has been fantastic!

This year, I started my freshmen with a nonfiction unit.  After many years beginning with short stories, and reviewing literary devices and plot structure, I felt that this year’s students were lacking in those areas once we started our first novel unit.  Next year I plan to go back to my original plan.  I will still incorporate lots of nonfiction, but I will also make sure they are competent in literary devices to make the rest of the year go more smoothly.  This unit on "The Most Dangerous Game" is my #1 seller, and works great for introducing a short story unit.

I like to show my appreciation in many ways, but who doesn’t like receiving gifts to brighten up their day.  This year, I plan to give my student teacher (who will be returning to my class in the fall) a gift card to Staples and a copy of Teach Like a Champion 2.0.  Another cute idea that I did for my own children’s teachers this year, is to buy mini bundt cakes from Nothing Bundt Cakes and attach a note that said “With you as my teacher, school’s a piece of cake” (of course, I made the cute tags using clip art I purchased from TPT!).  Switching up the wording a bit, can make this a cute gift for anyone you want to recognize.

Next school year I will be moving classrooms, from one end of campus to the other.  Right now I am caught up in a giant mess of organizing and packing.  I did two things that I think will be a big help.  First, I tackled my filing cabinets.  I blogged about this earlier HERE.  I took a copy of every single paper in by files and organized them into binders by subject.  Then, I recycled all the extra papers.  I have a tendency to hold onto extra copies of everything, and then not go back to reuse the extras.  Recycling all those extra papers took a ton of extra weight out of my cabinets, and made looking for my files a lot easier.  The other thing I did was to buy clear plastic containers for special extras.  Every year I have my students act out the trial scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.  I put my props, including a judge’s robe and gavel, character name tags, and the scripts inside one tub.  Another tub holds props for my class’s Great Gatsby party, including printed quote signs, streamers, and photo booth props.  For now on, every time I need these items, I will easily be able to locate them in the clear tubs that I can file in my cabinets.

If you're like me and still have a bit to go, take time to enjoy your last days with your students.  If you're already out, go sit in the sunshine and have a drink on me, you lucky dogs!  Enjoy sailing into summer...