Powered by Blogger.

Easy Ways to Use Photos in an ELA Class

I love to take photos, look at photos and be inspired by photos.  And I especially love to use photographs in my English classes as a way to teach short story elements, mood, point of view and as inspiration for all types of student writing.  Here are five easy ways you can use photos in your class.

There are so many ways to use photos as writing prompts for students in your class. Here are a few of my favorite prompts to use with photos.

  •  If I were there I would…
  •  What happens next?
  • What happened just before this photo was taken?
  • Who took the photo? Why did they take it? Describe the photographer.
  •  Describe the photo to someone who can’t see it.  Use vivid and clear language to paint a picture with your words.
Grab a FREE copy of a writing planner & writing paper to use 
with any photo HERE!

When teaching students about point of view I love to incorporate photos and I love to find photos that show people from different places and different time periods. I often buy vintage postcards at antique shops or buy sets of photo cards from places of historical significance. The photo cards / post cards can be used as task cards at a writing center or stations.  

As practice for writing in different points of view you can use the following prompts.
  • Tell the story from the point of view of one of the people in the photo.  Use first person. 
  •  Tell the story from the point of view of one of the people in the photo. Use third person.
  •  Tell the story from the point of view of one of the objects in the photo. (You may not tell it from the point of view of a person). Use first person.
  •  Tell the story from the point of view of one of the objects in the photo. (You may not tell it from the point of view of a person). Use third person.
    I find vintage photos especially fun to use for point of view practice - a great way to get students to think historically, put themselves in someone else's shoes and to think from a perspective that may be a bit challenging for them. I picked up these vintage photo cards when I was in Alaska! I've had them for over 10 years and have used them every year since I bought them!

Find photographs of people from all over the world, of different ages and backgrounds. Use them as the inspiration for a character in a short story. Print them out and ask students to use them as their protagonist or antagonist.

Look for photo of places – use them as a setting.  Photos could be of a bookstore, landscape, a castle in France… be creative and imaginative as you are looking.  Use photographs from different time periods to add an extra creative element.  I took this photo on a hike this winter... I love the light and would use this photo as inspiration for the setting of a short story.  You could even assign students different genres of writing.  This photo could be used as a setting for a science fiction story, a fantasy, a romance, a mystery... 

Find a photo of a problem – it could be a broken down car, people arguing, a terrible storm, a shipwreck and use is as an inciting incident in a story or the main source of conflict.

Source photos that represent different moods – they could be somber, creepy, dark, or uplifting.  Students can brainstorm different words to incorporate into a short story to help create the mood of the story using the photo as inspiration.

Check out my Photo Prompts Resource - it includes 48 photo prompts that can be used for creative writing, point of view practice, shorty story inspiration and more!  Click HERE.

Just as photos can be used as writing prompts, they can also be used to inspire a poem. Photographs are a fabulous way to encourage use of imagery and other figurative language as students paint a picture with their words. Use photos of objects and ask students to write a poem personifying the object or have students use a vibrant photo of a street scene to practice writing with imagery.

With the increased popularity in fun fonts and inspirational quotes there are so many beautiful posters available on line to use as classroom d├ęcor. However, why not use your own photos or your students’ photos to create your own! Source a quote online and then create your own poster in Canva or in one of the many free apps for a smartphone. I used Photo Collage Maker for the photo below. Send them to yourself and then print them out and decorate your room!

  • Take Your Own – I am always on the lookout for photo opportunities for use in my classroom – it might be funny, quirky, interesting or beautiful… but if I can use it I will.
  • Your Students – chances are your students have 100s, if not 1000s of photos on their phones – ask them to submit one with their own writing prompt!
  • Vintage / Antique Markets – look for old photographs and postcards… my students have always loved working with vintage pictures from our local museum. (Check with your local museum to see if you can access their collection online.
  • Online -If you are only planning to use the photographs with your own students in your own classroom you can find endless photographs on the internet.  Some of my favorite websites for sourcing photographs (and they allow commercial use) are Unsplash and Morguefile.
For more fun photo ideas in your ELA classroom check out the following resources from my Coffee Shop Colleagues!

Nouvelle ELA - 5-Minute Journal Prompts
The Daring English Teacher - Descriptive Writing Mini Unit
Room 213 - Descriptive Writing Learning Stations

7 St. Patrick's Day Activities For English

You're in LUCK! If you're stumped for ideas on how you can incorporate St. Patrick's Day activities into your English Language Arts class, here are seven ideas to help you get started!

A great way to establish a routine in any classroom is through the use of daily writing prompts/bell ringers. Not only are students practicing their writing daily, but they are also developing a standard in your class, which might also encourage students to arrive to class on time, prepared to write!

Here are five themed writing prompts that you could use with your students:

1. Write a 50-100 word story using the first line, "It was March 17th, just another day of the week. I got dressed, looked in the mirror and saw that my face was completely green..."

2. What's the difference between luck and fate? If someone were to win the lottery, would you think they were lucky or that it was meant to happen? Give reasons to explain your answer.

3. Write a 10 line St. Patrick's Day poem using the following words: green, four leaf clover, rainbow, a pot of gold, March, leprechaun, lucky, Irish, shamrock, and magic.

4. The four-leaf clover is one of the most recognized good luck charms. Identify some positive and negative factors of those who might rely on charms. What are some other examples of good luck charms? What or who is your lucky charm?

5. Was there ever a time in your life that you can recall relying on that lucky penny you found? If you found a penny today, would you still consider it to be lucky? Why or why not?

Use these fun St. Patrick's Day-themed topics to practice public speaking and debate-style skills in your classroom! Get your students moving by hanging up four signs that indicate the following: strongly agree, agree, strongly disagree, disagree. 

Present the following topics and let the discussion begin! Students should be prepared to share their reasons for their opinion selection, so they should choose their decision wisely.
  • Discussion topic #1: There is no such thing as good or bad luck.
  • Discussion topic #2: St. Patrick's Day or St. Paddy's Day?
  • Discussion topic #3: Number 7 is a lucky number.
  • Discussion topic #4: St. Patrick's Day should be a holiday.
  • Discussion topic #5: There is nothing 'lucky' about the four leaf clover.
Often, we forget how truly lucky we are and it's during times of reflection when we only realize this. If you're looking to incorporate a themed activity into your teaching, but do not have a lot of spare time with current, ongoing lessons, consider using this FREE 'Reasons Why I'm Lucky' one-page worksheet with your students. Grab the worksheet HERE! It will give students an opportunity to reflect on reasons why they are lucky, and even better, it won't take up a lot of your class time.
St. Patrick's Day is not all about leprechauns and rainbows, give your students an opportunity to learn more about this day by going on a WebQuest! There are many online sources to find the information, so here are a few questions that you may have them research:
1. Where and when was St. Patrick born?
2. Why is St. Patrick's Day celebrated on March 17? 
3. Where did the first St. Patrick's Day parade occur?
4. What is the significance of the color green to this day?
5. In what country did this celebration originate?
6. Was Saint Patrick actually Irish?
7. What is the legend about the snakes and Saint Patrick?

One of the most beneficial real-world activities that I have incorporated into my English classes are career education activities. Honestly, students will be having so much fun they will forget they are even learning! In order to help prepare students for life outside of the classroom, I have them create career projects based on specific holidays, depending on the time of year.

This St. Patrick's Day Career Project is a fun way for students to learn basic skills and requirements for a job or career. This is also a great way to bring the St. Paddy's Day spirit into the classroom, while practicing writing skills and allowing students to be creative. Students do not necessarily have to complete all of activities in the project; you can pick and choose what would work best and depending on the time available.

First, students will pick a random St. Patrick's Day themed job out of a hat. Next, students will reflect on that job as to what skills would be required for that particular position. Finally, students will learn the formats of these real-world documents and complete a variety of tasks for that role: job application, resume, cover letter, reference letter, and how to properly address an envelope.
An editable rubric and templates for the resume and cover letter have been included. You can find a copy of this week-long project HERE!

If you're looking to try something new with your students, consider these Irish-inspired books for young adults! This might be a fun addition to a classroom library and these would be a perfect way for students to explore a new author.

1. Green by Laura Peyton Roberts
2. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
3. The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O-Shea
4. The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan\
5. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

A fun and easy way to get all students in involved in poetry are to write and share a limerick. Most people associate this type of poetry with St. Patrick's Day because of a place called Limerick in Ireland.

Elements of a limerick:
  • 5 lines long
  • Rhyme scheme of "AABBA"
  • End the first line with a name of a person or place
  • The last line should be humorous
If you are short on time (or teach younger students), check out this online limerick generator to help your students get started!

In addition to writing limericks, you might also take this time to consider a short lesson on a famous limerick poet, Edward Lear. 

Check out these other St. Patrick's Day Activities:

Focusing on Grammar to Improve Student Writing

I remember my first “ah-ha” moment as a teacher. I was young, inexperienced, and quite naive. It happened during my teacher credential program when I was also long-term substituting in a ninth-grade reading intervention classroom. I was struggling to manage my class. I was struggling to deliver engaging lessons. I was struggling to be the teacher these kids needed. It wasn’t until I wrote a paragraph frame on the board with fill-in-the-blank spaces for their thoughts that I was able to get these students to write.

These weren’t unruly or ‘bad’ (as some people might say) kids who were completely uninterested in learning. These were students who were tremendously behind in school. How could I expect them to write an analytical paragraph when they couldn’t put two complete sentences together? These kids needed scaffolding and support. These kids needed a patient teacher who understood their abilities. And at that moment, the very first moment during my long-term sub experience, when every single student was engaged, working, and on-task, I realized something that has always stuck with me: sometimes we need to take many steps back to help our students truly succeed. And that is just what I did. I went back to the basics of grammar.

Since then, I’ve worked closely with many English language learners and underprivileged students. When I grade writing, I look at content and grammar separately. I know many of my students still need to learn how to write their thoughts so that they follow correct grammar conventions, but what I’m looking for when I grade their papers is what they have to say. Grading writing primarily for content is so critical, especially when some students might not have the necessary grammar and English language background that they need. Below, I've written about how I structure my grammar instruction in my classes to help my struggling students gain more confidence and become better, more confident writers.

Once I had students of my own, I found that so many of my freshmen did not know the parts of speech. They did not understand the difference between nouns and verbs, much less the difference between adverbs or adjectives. Understanding the parts of speech and how they function together is essential for writing. So I found myself going back to the basics and teaching my students about the parts of speech. After doing this, I saw an immediate improvement in their writing! When students know the parts of speech, they write better sentences.

This FREE interactive notebook download that covers both the parts of speech and sentence structure is ideal for helping students identify the parts of speech. After completing the sample exercises (there is one each for simple, compound, and complex sentences), have students use these sentences as mentor texts. Students can use these sentence to write their sentences utilizing all of the different parts of speech. Completing this activity frequently, and even over and over again with new student content, will help them become stronger writers.

Even if students have a firm understanding of the parts of speech and how they work together, students might still write with a few incomplete or run-on sentences. It is quite a common mistake, and sometimes students need to spend some time focusing on dependent and independent clauses to make sure that their writing is free from these errors.

One way I focus on this in my classroom after teaching it is by having students identify subjects and verbs and then highlight dependent and independent clauses in sample writing. This activity can also be done during peer or self-editing, especially if it is a skill you’ve just taught.

To improve my students’ writing and help them gain more confidence in their own writing abilities, I then teach them about sentence structure and varying sentence structure in their writing. This has such a tremendous impact on their writing because when students write as they think about sentence structure, they are actively thinking about and planning their sentences as they wrote. This is the growth we want to see!

An additional benefit of teaching sentence structure is that it helps reduce the amount of consecutive simple sentences that students write.

An engaging way to teach students about sentence structure is to assemble a mini flip book. This is also great because serves as a reference with mentor sentences for students to reference throughout the year. I have my students save their books in their binders and refer back to them as we encounter new writing assignments.

In addition to a physical reference flip book, students keep in their binders, I also like to utilize online tools. One handy online tool I like to use to help students see if they wrote with enough sentence variety is the Hemingway App. When I use this in my classroom with my students, I want to know that they have a few complex sentences sprinkled in throughout their writing!

Even though we might assume our students have this background understanding of the English language, it benefits all of our students to review grammar basic grammar concepts. Teaching the parts of speech, dependent and independent clauses, and sentence structure is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to teaching our students about grammar and usage. However, these three concepts help students gain confidence and improve their writing skills.

Additional resources for teaching grammar:
Grammar Escape Room Activity by Presto Plans
Grammar Learning Stations Bundle by Room 213
Grammar Usage Mini Book by The Classroom Sparrow

Using Podcasts in the ELA Classroom

Teaching today’s teens necessitates that we integrate technology into our practice. We get that. This is not new. But how? Sure, it does mean going digital, and many schools are making the move to 1:1 classrooms; that’s a great step in the right direction. Yet we cannot simply place laptops in front of students with digital versions of paper-based worksheets and feel as though we have that 21st-century-skills-box ticked.

No; it cannot be an add-on. We as educators need to find ways to interweave our instruction with digital experiences, to infuse our lessons with social media interactions, and to permeate our practice with new media elements. That’s how we make learning relevant and instructive with the technology we have at our fingertips.

So many teachers are doing this incredibly: teachers right here on this blog. For example, I have aimed to really do this with my music videos lesson plans which have students analyzing currently videos to help teach a range of ELA skills; Sara, from Secondary Sara has a year of multimedia poetry lessons which you really need to check out; Presto Plans has a great resource for using videos as writing prompts; and Nouvelle ELA uses webquests to help bring Shakespearean language to life.

Here is another way to integrate technology and new media in your ELA classroom: PODCASTS.

Ok, so there are a world of incredible podcasts out there, yet how exactly might they be used in the classroom? Here are just a few ideas for when/why I use them.

1. To teach LISTENING SKILLS: So much of communication is listening, and this really is a vital skill for students to learn. Podcasts are a great way to teach this skills as students really have to think about what they are listening to, and try to comprehend, engage with and respond to the contents. 

2. To teach NOTE TAKING SKILLS: It is vital that we help our students learn to take notes and make sense of the information with which they are engaging. Therefore, having them listen to podcasts and try out different note taking strategies, is a really important part of the ELA skillset. 

3. To help MAKE CONNECTIONS ACROSS GENRES: I love using podcast to pair with my novel studies: for example, when studying The Great Gatsby we might listen to a podcast about desire or the American dream. This will help students synthesise information across text and types of texts to provide more meaningful engagement and learning. 

4. To facilitate PROJECT-BASED LEARNING: Why not have students create their own podcasts? Not only does this help teach new media skills (editing, recording, designing etc.) but it can also be great for collaborative work, as well as helping student to think about communication of information and skills of delivery.

1) Hand out large pieces of paper and lots of colorful markers. 
2) Play an engaging podcast and instruct students to draw, write keywords, link ideas, make connections etc.

1) Instruct students to listen to a podcast for homework and to come to class with questions for discussion. 
2) In the next class, facilitate a discuss / complete a comprehension exercise / have students write an essay as a response.

1) Instruct students to listen to a podcast and take notes (You could use this FREE worksheet for this purpose) 
2) Hold a socratic discussion in response to the podcast: this hits both listening and speaking goals! 

1) Instruct students to find the podcast on their phones (if allowed). 
2) Go outside on a beautiful day to have them listen and breath in some fresh air! 

1) Have students listen to a podcast and just write down words and phrases, lots and lots of them that they pick up on. This could be a list, or sketch note.
2) Then have students write found poetry from these words noted: a great way to turn non-fiction into poetry, and scaffold the process of writing poetry.

If you are new to podcasts, you may be wondering how to even select one to use in the classroom. So here are just a few of my current favorites; yet I encourage you to get listening to find others that will work for your students.

TEDtalks are awesome. We all know that. But did you know that they also make fabulous podcasts? What I love about them is that often take a concept or idea, and then pull from a variety of talks on the stage, and weave them together with interviews and ideas. For example, their episode “The Hero’s Journey” would be an excellent addition to a mythology unit. 

This American Life
If you haven’t listened to This American Life yet, grab a coffee, put it on, go for a walk and listen with joy (while thinking about all the classroom possibilities!). Woven together through the iconic voice of Ira Glass, each episode follows a theme, and then in 4 acts this idea is examined from varying angles. My absolutely favorite episode is 3 Miles: a story of two schools divided by huge class disparities. This episode has sparked many a lively and meaningful debate in my classroom.

If you are looking for a way to collaborate across subjects, ask the science or computing department what the currently teaching, and then head over to Radiolab and look for something on that topic: indeed, they weave stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries which would be great to integrate into the classroom. A great starting place is the episode, Super Cool.

Looking at the invisible forces around us in the world, the two female presenters (yay!) of this podcast present some really thought-provoking stories and concepts. For example, I recently played the episode on Fear during my Lord of the Flies unit as we discussed the fear the boys experience on the island: we did this while sketchnoting and my students made connections between the contents of the podcast, and the theme of the novel.

The Allusionist
This one is great specifically for the ELA classroom: the host, Helen Zeltzman, explores words and phrases of the English language - the weird and the wonderful. Each episode is only 20 minutes long, and will be sure to spark an interest in the way we communicate with each other every day.

There are many great teaching resources out there for this one! I would be surprised if you hadn’t even heard of Serial as it certainly created quite the buzz and even made listeners out of those who had never even heard of podcasts. It is investigative journalism which tracks a true story over many episodes. One of the great parts of this is that you can listening to the whole season over many classes and really get into it as you would with a novel study. 

Do you use podcasts in your classroom? We'd love to hear which ones and how you use them!

Back to Top