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6 Tips For A Successful Lit Circle In A Secondary Classroom


I love doing Lit Circles or Reading Circles in my classroom and at my school we have a well established routine that works well across all of the grades. We don't all read the same novel, instead we offer 5-6 titles to the class and students are grouped by the book of their choice.  I believe strongly that students be given the opportunity to pick their book so I give a quick book talk about each book and then give students time to sample several books before picking the one they want to read.  Students usually end up with a book that they're quite happy with!  (Our librarian does a great job of creating themed book kits for each grade level.)

I also don't assign students roles - students are all given the same guidelines and requirements for each Lit Circle Meeting where they are required to come prepared with discussion questions and more!  Here are some tips and tricks I've picked up along the way for running a successful Lit Circle with secondary students when using ANY NOVEL and when student groups are reading different novels.
I allow students to pick a book from a selection of 5-6 titles that are all based on a similar theme. Some students pick titles based on what their friends pick, but most will pick based on their interest.  I have 5 copies of each title so I end up with groups of 4-5 students depending on class size.  We have spent time at my school working together to create kits of books that we are confident that students will enjoy at each grade level.  For example our 9th Grade Kit is themed around "Overcoming Adversity" and includes the following very popular books:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie
Moon at Nine - Deborah Ellis
Zero - Diane Tullson
A Little Piece of Ground - Elizabeth Laird
Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
Monster - Walter Dean Myers
It is crucial to be organized when running the lit circles, especially if you have groups reading different novels.  My Novel Study Activities for Any Novel has everything you need to run a successful Lit Circle - student reading schedules, organizers, final projects and chapter summary templates are just a few of the things that can be found in this package - be sure to check it out HERE.  I have run Lit Circles for many, many years using the schedule and reading logs included in this pack!
I typically give students 4 weeks to complete a novel study and therefore it's crucial I create a strict reading schedule.  Within their 4 week study they complete activities for each Lit Circle Meeting and then a final project.  Students divide the number of pages in their book by four and come up with the number of pages they must read per week.  For the most part however, students complete their books well before they need to because typically they really enjoy them.  I do however, monitor their reading through their Lit Circle Meetings - I make sure to stop by each meeting, engage in the discussion, check that all work has been completed and that students are on task.  Student reading schedules are included in my Reading Journal resource!
With Lit Circles my students meet 1-2 times per week as a group to discuss the book.  Students must come to the meeting with a favorite quote, three questions for their classmates and having read up to the designated point in the book.  Students share and discuss their quotes, answer each others questions and generally share ideas they have about the book.  I allow students about 30 minutes for their meeting - although there have been many days when we've gone longer due to some awesome discussions.  
Students are given ample reading time in my class.  I know that many of them have after school jobs, compete in sports, are active in clubs and generally quite busy.  Allowing students to complete some of their reading in class means there is less pressure on them to squeeze it in among everything else. It also emphasizes the importance I place on reading.  If the weather is nice, we'll read outside. Sometimes we'll read in the school library using their comfy chairs and quiet spaces.  Creating a quiet space for my students to ready comfortably is important to me so I've added reading lamps (softer light) to a few corners of my room and some cosy chairs the kids rotate through.
Hopefully your students have enjoyed the books they've read so much that they want to share with their classmates.  Grab this FREE book review template to use with your students... have them work on it individually and then complete one collaboratively as a group.  I have asked each book group to present their novel to the class (being sure not to give away the ending or anything too juicy!).  Often students want to read the other books, and if I'm lucky I can use the same set of books twice with each class.  Students just read a different book the second time!

For more awesome resources that will work with ANY novel please check out the links below from my fellow Coffee Shop ladies.

Independent Novel Study - The Classroom Sparrow
Learning Stations for Any Novel Study - Room 213
50 Creative Activities for Any Novel - Presto Plans
The Novel - A Unit for Any Novel - The Daring English Teacher
Chapter Study Guide for Any Novel - Secondary Sara
Editable Reading Guide for Class Novels & Independent Reading - Nouvelle ELA


Using Interactive Bulletin Boards to Transform Your Classroom


Hello, teachers-- The SuperHERO Teacher here! If you're reading this, my hope is that you're interested in learning a bit more about interactive bulletin boards and how they can drastically improve your classroom atmosphere.  Interactive bulletin boards serve SO much more than just classroom decor-- they can actually improve your students' skills. Keep reading if you want to learn how! PS: I include a free classroom bookshelf resource, too! 

What is an interactive bulletin board? Great question! Interactive bulletin boards are pieces of purposeful classroom decor that can help students strengthen their skills and provide reinforcement and enrichment opportunities.  Students can physically get up from their desks and interact with the bulletin board-- whether it includes engaging tasks or movable pieces! 







Imagine this: You're teaching a creative writing unit and a few of your students have writer's block.  We've all been there and we know how frustrating it can be!  You can use an interactive bulletin board like my Creative Writing BINGO to spark ideas and eliminate writer's block.  Or maybe you have a few students who are struggling with vocabulary or reading comprehension... Using an interactive bulletin board to reinforce the content is a great way to help students strengthen those skills! 









Do you have some students who breeze through the lesson and need a bit of a challenge? Use an interactive bulletin board to encourage that challenge! Instead of sitting there, waiting for others to be done, they can further strengthen their skills by participating in an extra activity that is purposeful.  This prevents students from being bored or, even worse, not having anything to do! Seriously, it is a GAME CHANGER! 






I've designed this FREE interactive bulletin board to encourage independent reading and strengthen reading fluency skills.  Give each student one of the bookshelf pages and each time they finish a book, they can color it in for a bonus point on a homework assignment or quiz! If you aren't a huge fan of bonus points, you can explain that the bookshelves serve as book recommendations for their peers.  Check out the other students' books to see what you'd like to read next! Download the free resource here.











Okay, THIS is where the transformation comes in!  Can you imagine an entire class being productive because there are absolutely no excuses not to be? #dreamcometrue Seriously, though! With interactive bulletin boards, students will always have an activity to complete and your entire classroom becomes purposeful. This phrase will forever be eliminated from your classroom: "I have nothing to do *plays on phone*" ;)







One of my favorite ways to incorporate interactive bulletin boards is to encourage kindness and growth mindset.  When I designed bulletin boards for Extreme Makeover Classroom Edition (2017), I created this motivational bulletin board to create a classroom atmosphere that is warm, open, and inviting to all.  Students can take a Polaroid card with an inspirational quote, but they have to replace it with their own quote!  By the end of the school year, all of the cards will be quotes from students.  What better way to build relationships?  





Here are some more fabulous interactive bulletin board ideas for your classroom:
Growth Mindset Bulletin Board Display by Presto Plans
Growth Mindset Collaborative Quilt by The Daring English Teacher
Shakespeare Word Wall and Posters by Room 213



6 Halloween Ideas & Resources for your English Language Arts Class

Halloween is a fun time for all involved, including teachers! If you're stumped for ideas on how you can bring the Halloween spirit into your English Language Arts class, here are a few 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! You can easily incorporate the Halloween theme into an English class, by having your students respond to a Halloween themed prompt during the weeks leading up to the holiday!

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

1. Write a 10 line Halloween poem using the following words: black cat, pumpkin, dark, graveyard, death, witch, gloomy, haunted, clown, and spooky.

2. Of all of the costumes you have ever worn on Halloween, what costumes are among your favorite? What makes these costumes so memorable? Describe what the costumes looked like.

3. Write a 50-100 word story using the first line, "It was all fun and games until we saw something move in the Haunted house."

4. Write a recipe for a magic potion using five items you see around the classroom. In addition to the ingredients list, provide cooking directions and explain the purpose of the magic potion.

5. Imagine you are hosting a Halloween party. Identify three people (dead or alive) that you would invite to your party (aside from your friends and family). What makes these guests so special? Why do you think they would make a great guest at your Halloween party?


Another way to bring the Halloween spirit into your middle and high school English classes could be through the use of spooky short stories and books during the month of October. I typically complete my short story unit around this time of the year anyway, so it works for me to incorporate these 'spooky' stories into my unit.

Here are a few spooky short stories you could use during the month of October:

• The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irvine)
• The Tell-Tale Heart (Edgar Allan Poe)
• The Fall of the House of Usher (Edgar Allan Poe)
• The Monkey's Paw (W. W. Jacobs)
• The Landlady (Roald Dahl)
• If Cornered, Scream (Patricia J. Thurmon)

TIP: Turn the lights off and have creepy music playing in the background to help set the scene when reading short stories around the Halloween season (a shout out to The Daring English Teacher for the tip!)  

 Here are a few spooky books you could use during the month of October:

• World War Z (Max Brook)
• Patient Zero (Jonathan Maberry)
• The Reapers Are the Angels (Alden Bell)
• The Walking Dead series (Robert Kirkman)
• Feed (Mira Grant)

• Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)

Click HERE for some FREE Halloween-themed bookmarks!
If you are looking for a creative way to teach the elements of plot, as well as short story writing around the Halloween season, this Halloween Short Story Flip Book is not only fun to complete, but also a convenient size that can be stored in a desk, binder or interactive notebook for quick reference when writing. Follow the directions and prompts in the flip book and have your students successfully write a SPOOKY short story from start to finish! 

Begin your lesson with the short story elements handout included. The handout reviews 15 items necessary to any short story including the explanations and definitions for effective leads, dialogue, direct speech, protagonist, antagonist, mood, tone, literary devices, plot structure (diagram), exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion. An answer key has been provided!
Next, get writing! Once your students have a better understanding of what's required in the various elements of plot, they can begin to brainstorm their short story ideas using the step-by-step instructions in their six-tab story flip book! The final page in the flip book includes 100 Halloween-themed words.
 

Add creativity to the short stories by having students randomly select characters and setting prompts (12 provided for each category). Simply, cut out the character and setting prompts, place face down on a table, and have students randomly select some Halloween-themed ideas to incorporate into their own stories. 
Finally, to ensure your students' tales are full of the details that are required in a short story, an additional full-page short story writing organizer has been included, as well as a character building handout, which will review and expand the elements plot and character again, but in more detail.

Visuals are another way that Halloween can be incorporated into your daily writing routine. This type of writing gives students the opportunity to focus on the five senses, incorporating the Halloween theme into their writing using a picture prompt. Try this Descriptive Halloween Photo Activity for FREE!

Use these fun Halloween-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: Are high school students too old for trick or treating?

Discussion topic #2: Should schools be allowed to celebrate Halloween?

Discussion topic #3: Are costumes necessary when trick or treating?

Discussion topic #4: Should trick or treating be an all-day event?

Discussion topic #5: Should non-sugary candy be mandatory on Halloween?
If you're in the neighborhood for a quick and simple Halloween activity for your class, have students write their own two-line ghost story. While the writing itself may not take a long time, thinking of the clever idea may take a few minutes! Consider letting your students work in pairs or small groups. Once students write their two-line ghost story, they can share it with the class, then the stories can be displayed on a bulletin board. Find more examples of two-line ghost stories, HERE!

Looking for more ideas to bring the Halloween spirit into an ELA classroom? Check out these activities and posts from other Secondary English Coffee Shop bloggers!


7 Ways to Teach with Sticky Notes

7 Ways to teach secondary ELA with sticky notes
Hands-on and engaging activities help students learn and remember important concepts and key ideas. One way to get students actively engaged in learning is to use sticky notes in the classroom. Here’s a list of seven ways to use sticky notes in the classroom and what to do with the sticky notes at the end of the lesson.


1. Book flags for close reading and novel study
I cut up sticky notes in thirds and distribute them to my students to use as book flags for when we read novels as a class. As we read the novel, I encourage students to write notes on the sticky notes and to jot down of any important ideas. Since the novels we read in class are checked out from the school library, this is a way that I can model and teach text annotation and active reading to my students without destroying school property. For longer sections of text or after you finish a chapter, you can provide students with larger sticky notes. Instruct students to write a brief summary of the text on the note and then place the note in the book so that it flags the end of the chapter. This will help students remember what they read.


2. Collaborative Brainstorming and Gallery Walks
Sticky notes are great for collaborative brainstorming activities and gallery walk exercises. Students participate in these activities by writing information on the sticky note and then posting the notes on chart paper or the whiteboard. This can be done as a jigsaw activity where students in different groups complete various aspects of an activity and then share their findings with the rest of the class.


3. Peer Editing
For however many papers you would like your students to peer edit, provide them with that many sticky notes. For each paper that students peer edit, I have them write what the author of the paper did well on the front of the sticky note and how he or she can improve the paper on the back of the sticky note. Once they are done with that essay, they place the sticky note on the back of the paper and move on to their next peer editing task. This activity provides students with positive feedback and constructive criticism on how to improve their papers.
7 Ways to teach secondary ELA with sticky notes

4. Literary Analysis
Using sticky notes for literary analysis is a fun way to closely read fiction and gain a deeper understanding of the text. Whenever I use sticky notes for literary analysis, I only focus on one or two literary elements at a time. I have my students draw a picture of the literary element or device on the top of the note, write a supporting quote underneath the drawing, and explain the significance of the device underneath the note. I use this same method with this Sticky Note Literary Analysis Unit and Literary Analysis Mini Flip Book.
7 Ways to teach secondary ELA with sticky notes

If you would like to try using sticky notes for literary analysis with your students, download this free, one-page organizer.
7 Ways to teach secondary ELA with sticky notes


5. Exit Ticket
One fun and easy way to use sticky notes in the classroom is to use them as an exit slip or a ticket out the door. I hand each student a sticky note and have them write their names and the answer to a question on the note. As they leave class for the day, the students place the notes on the door.
7 Ways to teach secondary ELA with sticky notes

6. Class Survey
I recently used sticky notes with my seniors to get their opinion about which rhetorical appeal was most effective in the speech we were analyzing. I gave each student a sticky note and had them answer the question before posting the note on the board in its designated area. Once we were done with the task, I had my students look at the results and discuss them as a class.
7 Ways to teach secondary ELA with sticky notes

7. Multiple Close Readings
When I told my seniors that they were going to read an article four different times, they looked at me as if I was a space alien. They were reluctant to believe that they would gain any additional information or insight from subsequent reads. After my students read the article once for understanding, I then had them read it three more times, each time analyzing the article for something specific: good arguments the author made, weak points in the author’s arguments, and the author’s use of emotionally-charged words. I had my students document their findings on a different sticky note each time they read the text. Once the exercise was complete, they were surprised to see just how much they gained and how differently they read the article each time by looking at it through a different lens.
7 Ways to teach secondary ELA with sticky notes

What Do I Do with These Notes?
Once my students are done with the sticky notes, I always have a difficult time tossing the then in the trash. Instead of throwing the notes away, I take pictures of the completed project and post the pictures onto a Padlet. A Padlet is similar to an online bulletin board which can be posted on Google Classroom. Posting the sticky note work on Padlet and Google Classroom is especially helpful if students are absent or if you wish to return to the content later on in the year.



Looking for more ways to incorporate sticky notes in the classroom? Check out these ideas and resources!




Using Instagram to Teach Poetry


Last year, in my first class with my all my Grade 9s, I did a quick quiz to find out what they enjoyed about studying English, what they struggled with, and what were their areas of weakness. As you would expect, their answers varied. Yet there was one resounding finding: they hated studying poetry. 

I was devastated. Poetry made me fall in love with language: beautiful nuggets of human experience, wrapped in delicious words and stunning imagery. How could one not love it?

My work was cut out for me... and Instagram helped me out. 


I tried many things last year to inspire my students, but by far the most successful was Instagram. This is no surprise: my students love social media, and poetry is having a mini-revival on Instagram. Indeed, if you delve into the depths of poetry on Instagram, you will find post after post of simple, block-colored, squares images with a few lines of verse. Sometimes even just a few words. But they pack a punch.


Take, for example, this poem by the extremely talented and enigmatic Nayyirah Washeed:



There is SO much here to analyze when teaching poetry: 


  • Discuss at the effect of the repetition and how it contributes to the imploring tone.
  • Analyze the punctuation and discuss the effect of the caesura in the fourth line. 
  • Examine the word choice and discuss the impact of the word “seducing.”
  • Delve into the imagery inherent in the deliciousness of something dripping down your chin – like a juicy mango.

All this in just six lines.

I get why my students love this: it is manageable, succinct and accessible. And a great hook into more complex poetry.





One of the bonuses of using Instagram in the classroom is the ability to introduce your students to current poets from across the globe: diverse perspectives from a variety of voices, writing about issues which are relevant to the world today. 


I have compiled a free Google Slides presentation of just a few great accounts which I recommend to students; this is a great way to introduce students to the concept of using Instagram for reading poetry, then you and you students can find more!

Personally, I start with this presentation and then we spend some time exploring the work of these poets and discussing students' reactions. 

Please Note: As these pages are constantly being added to, I cannot say that it will all be appropriate, always. It is important that you check the content to make sure that it is appropriate for your students, when you recommend. 



There are so many ways in which you can create activities which incorporate Instagram poetry in analysis and assessment in the classroom. Below are just a few ideas, but I would love to hear if you have more. 




  1. Use this FREE WORKSHEET for students to find examples of poetry on Instagram, and then answer questions prompting deeper analysis.
  2. Set up your own classroom Instagram page – have students write their own poems and collate them throughout the year on a class IG page.
  3. Have a "IG post of the day" projected on the board as students walk in and start the class with a 5 minute analysis and discussion of the poem. 
  4. Have students compare and contrast an IG poem with a famous piece of work. 

So, there you have it. Instagram is not just for the Kardashians. ;-) 

If you are looking for more engaging materials for teaching poetry, please do check out my resources, and click the comment button below to share your thoughts and questions. 


The other Coffee Shop gals have some fabulous resources for using Social Media in the classroom; check them out: 



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