4 Types of Summer Reading (and How to Assess Them)

As English teachers, we romanticize the idea of curling up with a book poolside... but our students probably don't. Even if they do, they likely do not appreciate the required reading books that we (or our department heads) choose for them. Further, more research seems to support reading choice books than reading teacher-assigned novels, but the latter practice persists anyway.

So how do we make summer reading assignments meaningful, if not enjoyable, for everyone?

I believe part of the answer is choosing the right TYPE of summer reading task, not to mention the form of assessment we will use with the book afterward. Based on our incoming students' talents and needs, what sort of reading will promote the most growth? Do they need an increased love of reading, or just a boost in comprehension? Is your goal to block the summer slide, or to prep them for the specific course you'll be teaching them soon?

As an English teacher and a survivor of MANY summer reading programs as a student, I've seen four common paths of summer reading assignments. Choosing the right one depends on your students' abilities and your eventual goal for that reading.

What it is: NOT just for elementary grades! Students read several books to meet a goal, such as a total number of books, a total number of hours spent reading, etc. The goal is usually to achieve growth as a reader (or at least to prevent the dreaded summer slide). Since the emphasis is on quantity, usually the students get to pick their own books (within reason).

Best for: Either teens who need challenge (i.e. An honors class) or those who need growth (like a middle school or lower-ability class).

Setting it up: First, see if your public library already has a Summer Reading Program that you can capitalize. (Here's my local one as an example.) If not, decide if you want students to log hours spent reading, total quantity of books read, or another metric.

Back to School: Your first goal is to confirm that they actually did it, whether that's asking for parent signatures or assessing their knowledge of the books. Then, decide what grade or course-appropriate way you want to celebrate that reading! (Why not with a Tower of Books?)

What it is: Choice reading again, but quality over quantity this time. Perhaps students choose one grade-appropriate novel from a list, or read one that meets certain criteria (such as, "anything that's a memoir" or "any contemporary fiction"). Choice reading can mean one book, or choosing several (like in #1 above).

Best for: English classes with a specialization, theme, or year-long essential question

Setting it up: Make sure you have a guidelines sheet that clearly explains what they can read, what the purpose of the assignment is, and what they'll have to do with the book upon return to school. (Pro tip: Proofread that letter from the perspective of the parent who is taking the student to the bookstore or library, and make your directions clear!)

Back to School: Use a broader assessment type or activity that can be applied to any book. For example, try this FREE Summer Reading Scavenger Hunt activity as a diagnostic or formative assessment (to see if students can find literary devices in their own novels)!

What it is: The teacher assigns one book (or a small set of texts) for mandatory reading, usually as a prerequisite assignment for the upcoming course; the text might be related to the course's theme or difficulty level (such as reading Shakespeare before a Brit Lit class).

Best for: Specialized or advanced English classes, the ones for which students might benefit from early exposure.

Setting it up: After making sure that the school supports your choice of novel (and will have your back in the event of protesting parents), make sure all upcoming students know what book to go find. (The bookstores and libraries might appreciate some forewarning, too!)

Back to School: Either collect student homework (such as an essay that was written over the summer), or begin a novel unit based on the text that they have (supposedly) read.

What it is: Whether it's choice OR a mandatory text, the novel is just a means to an end, such as examining the American Dream, identifying symbolism, collecting vocabulary, or finding a theme.

Best for: Any English class!

Setting it up: Frame your directions by defining and explaining the skill or concept you're looking for. (Perhaps your assignment sheet will include a mini-lesson on theme or active reading?) Make fully clear what you're looking for and why!

Back to School: Have students lead the discussion of how their book(s) did or did not fit the concept, or use self-assessment to see how they grew.

My FAVORITE way to keep the summer reading ball rolling (and get other assessments into my gradebook) is to expand summer reading to vocabulary, writing, and NON-fiction!

I use this mini-unit as a stepping stone to get students ready for DBQs, evaluating different source types, and thinking more about opposing viewpoints. (What do teachers, parents, booksellers, and others think about summer reading? How will we refute their viewpoints in an argument?)

Have a wonderful summer of reading!
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3 Types of Puzzles & Games for ELA

Have you tried incorporating puzzles and games in your ELA classroom? Well, I’m here today to talk about my favorite ways to do so, and the benefits I see in students. Using puzzles and games in the high school classroom is a great way to build collaboration, critical thinking, and a growth mindset. Puzzles can be particularly powerful in the ELA classroom because they allow students to approach words logically, mathematically, and visually, creating cross-brain connections.

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

I’ve talked before about my love of puzzles at my blog, and how I’m good at some (jigsaw puzzles, woot woot!) and terrible at others (tanglement/mechanical puzzles… you know, the metal or string ones that supposedly pull apart? Yeah, those are tough for me), and today I want to extend that conversation and offer up some new ideas.

1.       Word Games

Word Games are the easiest thing you could possibly integrate in ELA, and they have so many benefits! They foster critical thinking, extend student vocabulary, and create multilingual connections. I’m a huge fan of word games, such as Taboo® or Scattergories®. These can be great as filler games, but they can also be incorporated into your teaching, too. They make fantastic reviews.

You can use the Taboo® set-up to review any list of vocabulary words, characters, or actions in a novel or short story. Simply create five words that students aren’t allowed to say when giving their clues. You can also have students create these for another team or group. For example, I split my class into groups of four or five, and have each student create five cards. Then, I have them duplicate the cards, creating two piles. Their whole group combines the cards into two duplicate sets. Then, they pass these sets to two other groups. Now, each group should have two sets of 20-25 cards, for a total of 50.

I also LOVE sharing Cryptograms with students. A Cryptogram is a single puzzle (often a quote or a list) where a cipher has been used to encrypt the message. Generally, this is a simple substitution cipher (A transforms to F, B transforms to X…) and the player must figure out the message. These are incredibly powerful in the classroom because students have to think about common letter clusters (t-h-e, s-t) and common double letters to begin unlocking the code. They have to develop a sense of patterns and possibilities and rarities (h-h isn’t a possible double letter in English, and the letter j is pretty rare).

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

Download these free literary-themed Cryptograms to get started using these in your classroom today. :)

2.       Team Bellringers

I’ve also introduced Team Bellringers in my classroom.

I love going to play trivia each week at a local restaurant, and they have an ongoing competition where our points add up for the whole month. Our team members are committed to coming every week because we know the group is counting on us to win the grand prize.

I decided to introduce the same concept in my classroom. I created two sets of forty mini-quizzes (similar to one round of trivia) to be used as bellringers, and students split into teams of 3-4 and keep a running score over the course of a month. Each mini-quiz is focused on literature, movies, and music, and has some sort of word game twist to it. For example, one mini-quiz asks students to identify classic novels and authors based only on their initials. Another asks students to identify the children’s book depicted as a cake. There’s also a literary math puzzle that I love (“The number of Winnie the Pooh’s friends minus the number who are female…”)!

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

These mini-quizzes can be used as daily bellringers or exit slips, a closing activity on a Friday, or as an entire reward day. They encourage collaboration and challenge students to think critically. They are also engaging and make use of everyone’s expertise.

You can grab these bellringers at my TeachersPayTeachers store: Volume 1 and Volume 2.

3.       Escape Rooms

Lastly, I am planning on incorporating Escape Rooms in my classroom next year. In a traditional Escape Room, you are led through a series of puzzles that eventually culminates in you receiving a key (to “escape the room”). You can also play Breakout Boxes, with the end result of the puzzles being a key to access a box that has some sort of prize.

I recently developed an Escape Room Review Game for Romeo & Juliet to use with my students in the fall. As a test review, I wanted to make sure that each puzzle focused on a different element (Plot, Character, Conflict, Figurative Language, Quotes, etc.) of the play.

Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)

Making a “room” takes a lot of work (luckily, there’s TpT!), but students are engaged and motivated throughout the review. You’re not exactly fooling them (they know they’re reviewing), but you’re giving them stakes for the review beyond the grade. Also, it’s exactly what I would have liked to do when I was a student, so there’s always that. ;)

What are your favorite tips for teaching with puzzles and games? I’d love to hear more from you in comments!

Also, check out these great resources from the other Coffee Shop teachers.

Grammar Games Bundle by Room 213
Grammar Races by The Classroom Sparrow
Word Puzzles by Presto Plans
Board Game for Any Novel by The SuperHERO Teacher

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Using Puzzles and Games in ELA helps engage students, foster critical thinking, and build collaboration. At the Secondary English Coffee Shop blog, we talk word games, team trivia, and escape rooms in the secondary classroom. (blog)


Minimizing Stress at the End of the Year

Helpful tips for minimizing stress at the end of the school year.

The end of the school year is near, and that means it is time to start thinking about final projects and final exams. Usually the last few weeks of the school year are a whirlwind or stress. Between trying to squeeze in the rest of the curriculum, grade final papers and projects, and maintain our sanity, and maintain our sanity, it's easy to get caught up in the end-of-the-year madness. And let me tell you, it is entirely okay and entirely normal to feel stretched a little bit too thin right about now. We've all been there. Here are some tried and true ways to minimize end of the school year stress.
Helpful tips for minimizing stress at the end of the school year.

Now, I am not ashamed to admit it, but I always plan a student work day toward the end of each semester or grading term. By the end of the term, I totally need this day. Yes, I tell my students that the work day is to help them prepare and study for final exams, and yes, it really does help them, so that’s a bonus. However, the day is for me. I use that day to finalize any grading that I still need to do before the final round of grading begins. I use that day to get caught up with all of my work that’s piled up as I made my way through the end of the year rush.

When I give final exams, I always let my students bring one page of notes to use on the test, and I dedicate a day in class for them to write their notes. While some educators believe this might not be the best practice for final exams, I truly believe that it helps the learning process. In creating and writing their notes, students review the content, write the content, study the content, and learn the content. I get a day to grade, and students get a day to study. It’s a win-win for everyone!

In addition to planning for a student work day, teachers can also minimize stress by administering a multiple-choice final exam. To help stressed out teachers during the end of the school year, I have a premade, 100 question test with a student study guide that is completely formatted and entirely editable. Actually, there are two different versions of a 100 question test in this resource, so teachers have more than 200 questions to choose from! It is ideal for final exams because it covers standards and skills for middle school and high school English language arts classes. And since this test is a Word document, teachers can easily change questions and answers to suit their needs, all while keeping the formatting and answer key to save time. I’ve used this test (and various versions of this test) for many years.

Another way to minimize stress while maintaining high standards in class is by holding a Socratic Seminar or Fishbowl Discussion as a final activity. These activities can be graded in class as students participate in the activity, and they require students to practice their listening and speaking skills. When I hold a Socratic Seminar or Fishbowl discussion, I will usually give the students a list of comprehensive questions that require evidence to support their answers about a week before the seminar. I encourage students to work on a few questions each night so that they produce thorough answers that are complete with examples and analysis.

Free Socratic Seminar questions to help students review at the end of the year.
You can download this FREE list of end of the year Socratic Seminar questions that are ideal for reviewing an entire semester’s worth of content. For English and literature classes, I also have a Socratic Seminar resource that works with any novel.

During the Seminar, students discuss what they learned the most, what content stuck with them, what challenges and obstacles they faced and overcame throughout the year, and more. It’s a good review of the semester.

Another way to minimize stress is to plan backwards and make sure that you give yourself enough time to grade final essays. During my first year of teaching, I made the mistake of having large research papers due the Friday before final exams. I gave myself less than a week to grade more than 150 research papers. I was a ball of stress that weekend. Since then, I’ve learned from this mistake. All of my final papers are due at least two weeks before grades are due. Planning for adequate grading time at the end of the year is essential for your mental health. Here is what my final week of school typically looks like now. Between the student work day, using a multiple-choice final exam, and scheduling my final writing projects beforehand, the end of the year isn't as hectic as it used to be.

As the end of the year draws near, don’t fret. Have some fun with you students and try out various end of the year activities and end of the year growth mindset activities to end the year on a positive note. And if you find yourself stressing out, just know that you are in good company. Teachers everywhere are tired and overloaded with grading. You've got this. Summer is right around the corner.

Teens can get stressed at the end of the year, too. Jackie from Room 213 shares ideas here on how to help teens manage their stress.


Celebrating the End of Year with Middle & High School Students

Hello, hello, hello-- The SuperHERO Teacher here to talk about wrapping up the end of the year with a celebration!  Whether you're teaching 8th graders and they are moving on to high school or 12th graders and they are entering the "real" world, a celebration can do wonders for your students' excitement and motivation for the future.  Okay, have a celebration, but how do you do that while teaching a lesson, too? I have the perfect free resource for you, so keep reading below.

I'll admit it. I LOVE puns. We see them everywhere for teacher and student gifts, but do the students really understand the deeper meaning and humor behind their gift?  This is a perfect learning opportunity and the students *probably* won't even realize it! I've created this free resource that includes five pun-themed gift tags and, most importantly, includes an activity in which students will decode the puns.  How should you use this in your classroom?
  • Step ONE: Choose a day to celebrate.
  • Step TWO: Select the gift-tag you want to use and print the appropriate amount.
  • Step THREE: Print the "Decode the Pun" worksheet for your students. 
  • Step FOUR: Hand out the student gift and quickly become their favorite teacher (LOL). 
  • Step FIVE: Discuss the deeper meaning of the pun and then hand out the worksheet.  Give students 20-30 minutes to complete the assignment,  Discuss the answers as a class. 
Here are some photos of the puns in action! You can download them for FREE HERE

PENCILS: "You're NO. 1 in my book." 
This is probably the least expensive gift.  You can find a pack of 144 pencils for less than $10 at Office Max or fun, bright pencils in packs of five at the Dollar Spot in Target.  There are tons of puns that work with pencils, but I chose to use "NO.1" instead of "NO.2" to make students think a little harder about the pun itself! 

CANDLES: "You're a SCENT-sational student." 
Last year, I had five students that I mentored on a weekly basis (they weren't actually in my class).  I wanted to do something a little *extra* special for these students as they were graduating.  I used this candle pun as a gift and they absolutely adored it!  While it may be expensive to do for a whole class, it's definitely doable for a small number.  In fact, I found the candle in the picture at the Dollar Spot! 

POPCORN: "Just POPping in to say you're fabulous." 
Another inexpensive option!  Whether you give them individual packs of popcorn, set up a popcorn bar, or buy a few bags to share, your students will be so pumped to have food in the classroom (proven fact)! BONUS: See how many puns your students can come up with related to popcorn.

ANYTHING BRIGHT: "Your future looks BRIGHT." 
This one is great because you can use it with anything brightly colored (for example, highlighters).  I used these little gift bags from the Dollar Spot and filled them with Skittles. 

FLOWERS: "You're BLOOMING with knowledge." 
This is my personal favorite.  I did this last year with one of my classes and they were SO excited.  You can find SUPER inexpensive flowers at Wal-Mart or Kroger and just give one per student.  This gift always seems like more of a special occasion gift to me-- like a graduation.  

If you're looking for something that you can simply print, you might want to check out my end of year, interactive awards!  They are editable, so you can customize them for your students to make them a bit more personal.  In addition, you can print them double sided and have students complete the questions on the back about their future.  Check out the pictures below.  You can find these Interactive Awards here

For other products related to the end of year celebrations, look here: 
Interactive End of Year Awards by The SuperHERO Teacher
End of Year Awards by Presto Plans
Summer Countdown Paper Chain by Secondary Sara
End of Year Writing Activity by The Classroom Sparrow

Enjoy the time with your students! You deserve a celebration, too. 


Collaborative Writing Activities

A few years ago I became a part-time student and enrolled in a master's course called Writing Instruction.  The professor took a unique approach by having us, a group of English teachers, write our own poetry and fiction.  It was an eye-opener.  I realized that somewhere between high school and my first teaching job, I forgot the lonely and uneasy feeling of staring at a blank page, not knowing where to begin. 

When the professor allowed us to work with another teacher on the next writing piece, there was a sense of comfort in that I had someone to discuss, collaborate, and share ideas with.  Collaborative writing not only broke down my reserve and hesitation, but also allowed me to foster a relationship of trust and partnership with my co-author. I wanted to bring this experience into my own classroom, so I made a point to allow more opportunities for students to write creatively with a partner or a group.  Try 5 of my favorite engaging, low-prep collaborative writing activities that you can use in your class tomorrow.

Snowball writing is an activity that your middle and high school students will always remember.  It can be used with almost any writing genre and is highly-engaging for even your most reluctant writers.  I use this method for narrative, poetry, descriptive, and essay writing.  I even use it as an introductory icebreaker activity during back-to-school or a semester change!
How It Works:

- One student starts the writing process for a timed period decided by the teacher.

- When time is up, the teacher tells students to crumple up their work into a “snowball” and throw it somewhere else in the room.  Get ready to see lots of confused faces J. 

- Students retrieve one of the snowballs, smooth out the paper, and continue the writing process! (Tip: have students use a pen to make the writing easier to read for the next student)

This process is repeated as needed.  When all parts are completed, the paper goes back to the original writer who creates a final copy. If you want to know more about how I use this for narrative writing, read this detailed blog post that gives the step-by-step process in more detail. 

Have your students write a descriptive paragraph using vivid imagery with an activity called Shared Sensory Writing.   
How it works:

- Put students into groups of three and give them an object to describe. 

- As a group, they decide which of the 3 senses they will focus on (sight, taste, smell, touch, hearing).  Each person is assigned a sense, and they write a short paragraph describing the object based only on the sense they receive.

- The group combines elements from each of the paragraphs to create a final descriptive piece.

Download this activity for FREE by clicking here --> Shared Sensory Writing

One of the challenging parts of creative fictional writing is developing the story elements that will form the plot. Use the graffiti fiction brainstorming technique as a way for students to work together  to spark fictional writing. 

How It Works:

- Set up 4 chart-paper stations around the room with the following titles:  Conflicts, Character Traits, Settings, and Themes.  Break the class up into 4 groups and have each group go to one of the stations. 

- The group members work together to “graffiti” the page with potential conflicts, character traits, settings, and themes that could emerge in a fictional story.  I fill in a couple of my own examples to get them started. 

- Have each group spend 3-4 minutes filling the chart paper up with their ideas.  Then, have them all circulate to the next station to repeat the process. 

- When they are done, have each student select one character trait, conflict, setting, and theme from the graffitied pages to develop a unique narrative.  You can choose to have them write independently or with a partner. 

Tapestry poetry was developed by Avril Meallem (of Israel) and Shernaz Wadia (of India).  The two women started writing tapestry poetry collaboratively via email. The form consists of two authors writing a 9-line poem based on the same title, and then working together to meld it into one seamless finished product. 
How It Works:

- Put your students into pairs (or let them choose a partner).

- Have one of the students select a title for the poem.  This student who selects the title is the only one who has the option of using it in the poem (to avoid repetition).

- Both students write a 9-line poem. 

- When they are done, the pair works together to interlace the poem into one.  All 18 lines must be included.  Students are permitted to make grammatical changes (singular to plural, verb tenses etc.), and adjustments to adjectives and adverbs, but the majority of the poems should remain the same.

Download this activity for FREE by clicking here --> Tapestry Poetry

Sketch and scribble writing is meant to be used with descriptive/narrative writing and will particularly appeal to those artistic students in your classroom.   

How It Works:

- Have students form a group of three.  Give each of the students a picture as a writing prompt.  The picture prompts below are the ones I use. The images should allow them to use a narrative voice to describe a scene. They should keep the prompt hidden from the other members of the group. 
- Once the time is up, each student passes the writing to another student in the group who will read it and draw the scene based on the description (no words allowed). 

- When the drawings are done, they are given to the final student who must write a paragraph based on the drawing.   In the end, have students compare and contrast the drawings to the original picture writing prompt as well as the two pieces of writing. 

Want even more ideas for collaborative writing?  Check out these activities from some of the other Secondary English Coffee Shop bloggers! 

Tandem Writing from The SuperHERO Teacher
Group Writing Challenges from Room 213
Two Truths and a Lie from Secondary Sara
Round Robin Writing from Nouvelle ELA

Have other ideas for collaborative writing?  Click the comment button at the top of the post to join the conversation!  


End of the Year Ideas for Secondary Students

The end of the year is fast approaching, and although it’s generally an exciting time of the year, it can also be chaotic and stressful as teachers and students try to wrap everything up.   

1. Get Organized
If your school is anything like mine, there is sooo much going on at the end of the year! If you’re teaching seniors, you know how wrapped up they get with Graduation and Prom events  and for everyone else there are award ceremonies, wrap-up events, final exams, library books due and more!  I keep track of major events on my classroom whiteboard and try to help keep my students on track with everything.  An easy way to do this is to give them a calendar of the last 1-2 months of school—that means I give my students a May/June calendar.  I mark ALL of the important dates for them, add some age appropriate clip art and then photocopy on to brightly colored paper.   They are so popular with my students that I often have kids who aren’t in my classroom come and ask me for a copy so I always photocopy extras.  I encourage my students to refer to their calendar often and ask them to add to it as dates and events pop up.  Use these FREE editable calendars with your students during May and June.

2. Collaborative Review
In British Columbia, where I teach, we do not have formal province wide exams or testing anymore,  however, many teachers still provide some sort of final assessment for students based on their year’s work.  My school requires a final exam for all ELA classes and so review exercises are a part of my end of the year wrap-up.  I love to use online games like Kahoot to review literary terms but I also like to ask students to work together to write a final exam.  They work in teams to create a final exam and then switch with another team.  The teams work collaboratively to create the questions and then work collaboratively to answer the final exam given to them.  My students LOVE to challenge each other and love to work together!  You can set the criteria for the test—the topics, the vocabulary and the number of questions.  For another review activity check out a Review Freebie HERE - help students organize their studying by tagging their work with their level of understanding!

3. Teacher Feedback
I like to review and reflect on my own teaching practice at the end of the year so I always ask my students for feedback.  I have done this a variety of different ways over the years and have always appreciated the feedback students have provided.  For a truly anonymous student survey you can use Survey Monkey to ask for feedback—students may feel more free to provide honest feedback if they know you won’t see their handwriting.  The advantage to Survey Monkey is that students can easily access the survey at home or through their phones if you don’t have access to a class set of computers.  If a digital survey does not interest you, here's a FREE END OF YEAR SURVEY you can provide your students to give you feedback on your teaching.  I always have my students type out their answers to encourage more authentic feedback - they always worry I am going to recognize their handwriting.  Looking for more feedback ideas? Check out this freebie from Nouvelle ELA - End of Year Student Survey - Editable.

4. Make a Meme
My students still think memes are hilarious and I have a few displayed around my classroom to inject a little fun!  Why not have your students create their own meme to represent their school year?  Use Memegenerator or their own photos to create a meme to represent their learning or the funny events that happen during the school year.  My kids love to tease me for a few funny things I routinely say or do and they love to make a meme about me!  What do you say that your students find funny? or annoying?  What do you find yourself saying over and over again?  I'm guilty of saying "get 'er done" in a silly voice... 

5. Musical Memories
Music plays a big role in my classroom—I often have it on when students are working quietly, we look at song lyrics during poetry and I try to find ways to incorporate it into our learning whenever I can.  A fun activity to wrap up the year is to ask students to come up with the songs that best represent their year in your class.  I have done this a few different  ways—as a group activity where we collaboratively  decide on the sound track of the year or as an individual activity.    Either way, my students really enjoy talking about the music that represents their year.  This activity is included in my End of the Year Activity Pack for Teens & Tweens if you would like activity sheets to help students plan our their songs as well as many other end of the year activities! 

My song of this school year is "Scars to Your Beautiful" by Alessia Cara - my students and I watched the video and had an amazing and powerful discussion.  I was so proud of them for their ideas and the writing that came from it.  It's an incredible song to use as a launching point for writing and discussion. Whenever I hear this song I am immediately transported back to my favorite class activity of the year.   

What's on your playlist?

For more End of Year activities be sure to check out the following resources from the other members of the Secondary English Coffee Shop!

The Daring English Teacher - End of Year Activities for the Secondary Classroom
The Classroom Sparrow - End of Year Writing Activity

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