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!

Halloween Tips and Tricks for Secondary ELA

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.

I'd love to hear what you're doing in your classes this Halloween.  

Happy Halloween!

Back to School Classroom Management


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.

Enjoy and have a fantastic year!

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.

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 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-- 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. 

My Top-5 Go-To Sources for my Digital Classroom

It’s 2016 and there’s no doubt that schools have entered the digital age.  Paper orders are being reduced, copy allowances are being cut, and students are bringing their laptops or ipads to class, rather than notebooks and pencils.

As teachers, it’s our responsibility to roll with the tides and adapt to the changes that we see happening.  Those pen and paper lessons that we’ve been in the habit of assigning need to be revamped to appeal to our digital learners.    

So, what do we do?  Short of reinventing all of our tried and true units, we need to find apps, sites, and already-created digital lessons to help us out.  Here’s where I come in with a few of my favorites.  Have a peek at my top 5 go-to sources for great digital content: 

      1. – It’s so important to familiarize our students with current topics, and this site provides a plethora of timely, interesting articles.  Even better, you, or your students, can adjust the lexile levels to fit individual student needs, making differentiation a snap.  Additionally, each article provides a writing prompt that can be completed online, as well as a quiz.  Creating text sets is super-easy and teachers can create classes, assign specific articles, and track progress.  I think this site is amazing, can you tell?

      2. – I’ve been lucky that in the 10+ years I’ve been at my current school, we’ve always had a subscription to  Yes, it is an online plagiarism checker, but it does so much more than that!  Students can digitally submit their papers for the revision assistant which offers immediate feedback, as well as putting them in a group for peer editing.  Online grading is available for teachers, and you can either use the provided rubrics and comments, or upload your own.  Can you imagine just clicking a button to comment on a student essay?  It’s amazing, and I haven’t collected a hard-copy student paper in years.

 3. – If you don’t have a kahoot account, you must get one right away! This site gives teachers a fun, interactive way to engage students in learning. You create games with multiple choice questions, pictures, videos, and more, and then students can answer on their devices, all while the responses are being shared on a classroom screen.  Believe it or not, my 3rd-grade son is the one who introduced me to this site, and I’m so glad he did.  My students love it, too!

4    4. Crash Course channel on – OK, let’s just put it out there.  I’m a high school English teacher, and as such, I have a great, academic crush on John Green.  Not only does he get teenagers and turn reluctant readers into page-turning fiends, he’s just so nerdy-cute!  His youtube channel that he shares with his brother, Hank, is fantastic.  I love the Crash Course Literature series, but there are so many other areas that different subject areas can use, too.  I can assign the link to a video for homework, and have no problem getting students to tune in.

 5. – Where else can teachers find such a variety of high-quality, teacher-created resources?  And now, the digital take-over is underway! Many teachers are creating top-tier lessons that can be shared and completed using Google drive, Microsoft One Drive, and more.  I have a section in my TpT store devoted to my digital resources.  Here’s one that is perfect for any class that has students analyze arguments.  The can open the resource on their device and compile their evidence by typing it right online.

I hope you find some of these to be helpful to you and we continue to embark on the digital voyage.  Let me know some of your favorite sites in the comments!