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6 Inclusive Short Stories for Secondary ELA


6 Inclusive Short Stories for Middle and High School

Are you looking for new and inclusive short stories for middle and high school? The teachers from the Secondary English Coffee Shop have you covered! Here are some short story recommendations that we've loved teaching in our classrooms.

1. "The Space Between the Stars" by Geeta Kothari

My favorite short story is Geeta Kothari’s “The Spaces Between Stars.” Maya, the protagonist of the story, is struggling with her identity and a fishing trip with her husband acts as a catalyst for her to examine the choices she’s made in her life. It deals with the struggle that people often have between assimilating into the dominant culture and embracing their own. It’s also full of symbolism and metaphor, so students can practice their close reading skills with a story that always leads to great class discussions.

-ROOM 213

2. "Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains" by Tim Tingle

It’s so fun to do storytelling activities with students, and one great short story about storytelling is Tim Tingle’s “Choctaw Bigfoot, Midnight in the Mountains.” In this story, Turtle Kid and their dozens of cousins listen to a story from Uncle Kenneth, and everyone knows you can’t believe a word Uncle Kenneth says. Kenneth’s story will keep your students on the edge of their seats, as he uses several red herrings to build suspense. He also uses humor and charm. The frame story can help us have great conversations with students about how stories are told and transformed, and how listeners participate. The dozens of cousins make predictions and ask questions, and our students can, too. If you’re looking for more recommendations for inclusive short stories and ideas for standards alignment, I have a huge list here!

-Nouvelle ELA

3. "The Seventh Man" by Haruki Murakami

It’s so tough to select just one favorite short story, but if I had to choose, it would be Haruki Murakami’s short story “The Seventh Man.” When I first read this short story in the HMH Collections Close Reader for tenth graders, I instantly fell in love. This story has it all: strong symbolism, suspense, and a strong theme. While this short story is on the longer side, I find that my students really enjoy it. Another reason why I love “The Seventh Man,” is that I can use it to discuss important topics in my classroom like mental health and climate change. 

-The Daring English Teacher

4. "Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan

I love Amy Tan’s short story “Fish Cheeks” and teach it every year in my middle school classroom, though it’s perfect for high school as well. Students like it because it is short and has accessible vocabulary, but its theme of being proud of yourself and your culture resonates deeply with everyone. It’s a great story to use to teach indirect characterization and inference as well.

-Secondary Sara

5. "Borders" by Thomas King

It’s so hard to pick a favourite short story isn’t it?! However, if I had to pick one I’ll pick “Borders” by Thomas King. Told from the point of view of a 12 year old boy as he and his mother travel from Alberta to Utah to visit his sister.  However, the pair run into some trouble at the border when his mother refuses to identify as either Canadian or American and instead says she is “Blackfoot”. It’s a fabulous story to include in an identity unit as it explores the idea of citizenship vs cultural background vs personal identity.  King is a gifted writer and has many other fantastic short stories and novels to explore.

-Addie Williams

6. "The Jade Peony" by Wayson Choy

One short story that I absolutely love is "The Jade Peony" by Wayson Choy. In this story, the narrator describes his childhood relationship with his grandmother during her final days. Through the symbolism of the peony flower and wind chimes, the story reflects on the importance of family and the fragility of life. It also has a powerful message about the value of celebrating identity. The language is beautifully descriptive, but it is still accessible. I have found this one to be ideal for ELA students in grades 9 & 10. While students at these grade levels will likely get a little more out of the story, I also think that it could work well for the middle school ELA classroom. It’s also a great story for teaching a lot of core ELA concepts like figurative language and theme. I highly recommend reading this with your students!

What are your favorite short stories? Let us know and be sure to follow us on IG @secondaryenglishcoffeeshop

Happy Teaching!

Engaging Review Ideas for Secondary ELA

Engaging Review Ideas for Secondary ELA

When starting a new school year, one of the most important and beneficial things a teacher can do in the classroom side from building classroom community is to take some time at the start of the new school year for review.

Review is not only crucial because students might have forgotten some of the content the learned before summer break, but it is also critical to determine precisely where students are. Plus, when teachers review essential content and ideas at the start of the new school year, students have a more uniform understanding of the ELA content.

And that is all during a normal school year. Again, like last year, this current school year is nothing like a normal school year, and that is why it is so important to go back to the basics, teach the essentials, and really make sure that our students have a good foundation before we move forward.

Essential ELA Review

One of the easiest ways to review quite a bit of essential ELA content at the beginning of the year is to stick with a review unit in your classroom. Recently, I created my Essential ELA Review Units to specifically address review in the secondary ELA classroom.

My Essential ELA Review units include five weeks of daily ELA review in a bell-ringer format, and all of the units include a wide variety of essential ELA standards. From argument, informational and narrative writing to language skills to reading analysis and inference, these ELA Review units hit on all of the major ELA standards.

With the Essential ELA Review Unit, students review content on the instructional slide and complete just a few exercises every single day for five weeks. I am currently using this program in my classroom with my sophomores, and it is helping me guide my instruction for the year.

Currently, I have Essential ELA Review units available for grade 8 (which reviews the grade 7 standards), grades 9-10 (which reviews the grade 8 standards), and grades 11-12 (which reviews 9-10 standards).
Engaging Review Ideas for Secondary ELA
Grades 9-10 ELA Review

ELA Review Stations

Another way to review important ELA content in the classroom is to set up review stations, and what’s so great about this activity is that you can tailor it to your class’ specific needs. One of the easiest ways to set up review stations is to use a combination of a computer-based program and task cards. For example, for one station, I might have students complete a grammar or punctuation review activity on their Chromebooks, and for the other stations, I might break up a set of task cards for students to work on.
  • For a digital review station, my Digital Grammar Review Activities are a perfect fit for a digital review station. This teaching resource includes four mini-lessons: parallel structure, semicolons, hyphens, and colons.
In an hour-long class period, I’ve found that review stations work best as either a one-day, three-station, or two-day five-station activity. Usually, I like to give each group of students about 15 minutes at each station. When planning for a station-type activity, I also plan to review the procedures at the beginning of the class. Then, at the end of the class, we review the content in a whole-group setting.

Escape Room Review

Another fun way to review essential content in your classroom and also build classroom community is the same time is to group students into teams and have them compete in an escape room challenge. While I typically use escape rooms in the classroom as an end-of-the-unit review, escape rooms can also be beneficial as a stand-alone review activity to help your students remember information they’ve learned in previous years.

In an escape room review activity, student groups will work together to solve a series of related tasks. While every student in the group might not have the answers or know the content, each group member will work together and pool their knowledge to solve the challenge.

My favorite ELA escape room activities for review are my Elements of Fiction Escape Room and my Parts of Speech Escape Room.

Gamifying Review Activities

In addition to the review activities mentioned above, there are lots of fun, digital ways to gamify classroom review. If you are pressed for time or need to grab a review activity quickly, you can choose from one of the premade activities. From Kahoot! To Quizlet Live, the options are really endless, and it adds a sense of fun and excitement to the classroom. And, there is already user-generated content to choose from.

If you are looking for more review activities, you’ll want to check out the short story collaborative review activity I have my students complete at the end of our short story unit. You’ll also want to check out this strategy to make any review activity an engaging experience.

More Review Activities and Ideas:

6 Ways to Gamify your English Language Arts Classroom

6 Ways to Gamify your English Language Arts Classroom Feature Image

By Presto Plans

Some of the most memorable moments I've had as a teacher—and as a student—were class activities that had competitive elements to them. Maybe you've had a similar experience. Games in the classroom not only serve to entertain and build connections, but they also help students retain important information.


Gamification is the pedagogical strategy of bringing elements of games into a learning environment in an intentional and thoughtful way in order to improve student skills. This kind of game-based learning helps students to become further engaged in the content while also developing their critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, it provokes students to become more accountable for their own learning, seeing themselves as important members of a team. 

Here are 6 ways that I like to bring gamification into my English language arts classroom.


I find competitive challenges to be a really effective way to hook students into important concepts. A healthy dose of competition challenges students to become a little more invested in any given topic. This is especially useful when the topic is something that is traditionally viewed as "boring," like grammar, literary devices, or reading skills. 

If I was teaching how to determine words in context, for example, instead of teaching it the traditional way, I would incorporate an interactive escape room-style challenge to make it more interesting. I'd tell students to imagine they are on a field trip visiting an Egyptian library when, suddenly, they get lost in the stacks and need to replace words in an ancient Egyptian text to escape and get to the airport before they are left behind. You can grab this specific vocabulary in context activity for FREE by clicking here. 

I also like to use challenges for grammar. When I'm teaching how to properly use commas in a series, I engage the students in a narrative where they imagine themselves as world-renowned anthropologists in search of Mayan ruins and treasures in the jungle who find themselves stuck in a maze of stone tiles in a Pyramid. They will need to count how many commas are missing from various small manuscripts in order to escape without harm. Grab this FREE grammar challenge by clicking here. 

I like to really incorporate a lot of group challenges into my curriculum, and I recommend two programs, in particular, to carry you through the school year if you want to use lots of challenges to engage your students:  
The Reading Challenge Full-Year ELA Program


We often tend to think that escape rooms entail high-tech supplies and a lot of preparation, but really, all you need to have for an escape room is paper. At their core, escape rooms are stations with puzzles, challenges, or games. They don't have to be more complicated than that. 

ELA escape rooms are great tools for developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the classroom. Students move around the classroom in groups, and they use their ELA skills to decode challenges or solve puzzles to get a code or a mystery word related to the skill that they are learning. 

For example, I love to use escape rooms for things that have correct and incorrect answers, such as figurative language, grammar, commas, parts of speech, and more! 

Figurative Language Escape Room Activity for ELA


Having students solve a mystery helps them with thinking differently. They will need to read between the lines, use their background knowledge, and think critically to come up with a solution or a theory. My two favorite inference activities are: 

  • Free Inference Mystery: Your students will love the opportunity to get to play detective at a fictional crime scene. For this Who Kidnapped the Principal Activity, the students arrive at school to learn that their principal has been kidnapped. The students infer evidence and interviews to try and help the superintendent determine who the culprit might be.

  • Ship Mystery: This activity is especially interesting because it is based on the real mystery of a 1978 construction crew discovering a ship buried underground in the middle of downtown San Francisco. For this one, students watch a hand-drawn video that tells the backstory and speculate on the purpose the ship once served and on why it remained buried for so many years without being discovered. You can grab this activity here. 

Who Kidnapped the Principal Inference Activity


Review games have been used forever as a way to prepare for assessment and there is a reason they stand the test of time: they're fun...and they work! I remember, back when I was in school, we used to play Jeopardy as a way to review material in class. It was SO fun! Everyone was so engaged, and there was so much enthusiasm for what we were learning. 

We can still do this in the ELA classroom by taking classic games like Pictionary, Scrabble, Jeopardy, or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and find ways to tweak these games to make them ELA skills-based. Now, in the digital age, there are so many more options as well, such as Kahoot!, Quizizz, and Quizlet Live. 


Board games can be used effectively in two different ways in the ELA classroom: for review or for students to create their own board games. 

Board games for review:

I've created board games for students to review important elements of a text we've read or to practice a skill. When I read The Most Dangerous Game in my class (which has "game" in the title), it felt especially appropriate to make a related game for the class. So, I created a board game where students had to answer basic comprehension questions, analysis questions, vocabulary questions, and I added parts of the plot into the game board. For example, "Zarroff is injured in a trap - move ahead two spaces."

Having some ready-made game board templates for this is also always a great idea.

The Most Dangerous Game Board Game Resource for ELA

Have students create their own:

After learning a new concept or reading a new text, have students create their own. Through the process of creating their own game, they will learn the content more deeply without even realizing it. You could have them focus on the overall story or focus in one one specific element.  For example, students could create a figurative language-based game, which would cause them to dive more deeply into the examples of this—and the effect they have—in the text. 


Competition amongst individual readers doesn't always work as well because of the disparity in reading levels within the classroom. With that said, classroom competitions between your different ELA blocks can be an effective way to inspire community reading goals where you're all working together to compete against the other classes. You can hype up the competition by having...

  • Quarterly prizes for the most books read per class.
  • Reading points, badges, or levels. 
  • Colored rings for each class that gets extended with each new book read. 
  • Paper bookshelves that keep the score of what's been read by each class so far.
  • Perks for both classes when reaching reading milestones (i.e. class outside).
  • Pizza Party for the winning class. 

Incentivizing your students in any of these will make a positive impact on their reading throughout the year. 

When adding gamification to your ELA classroom, it's important to remember that not all games are created equal. Skill development needs to be at the heart of the game, and the purpose needs to be clear.
Hopefully, now having read these suggestions, you and your students will be able to enjoy the many benefits of adding more play to the classroom. 

Looking for other ways to bring games into ELA?  The Coffee Shop bloggers have you covered!

Game Board Templates by Secondary Sara
Reading Activities Escape Room by The Classroom Sparrow

Our favorite back-to-school activities

It's that time of year again, and some of you are getting ready to go back to school. To help you with that transition - and hopefully save you lots of time - we're sharing our go-to resources for the first days of school.

Secondary Sara

Some of my favorite activities and diagnostic tests are listed in the blog post 7 Ways to Get to Know Your English Classes.

In addition, I love getting started with public speaking by doing our “15 Minutes of Fame” project, because it’s the least scary, most fun speech we do all year; it becomes a group bonding experience as well as an individual confidence booster! Plus, the real-world relevance draws in students who might not normally care about ELA. 

The Daring English Teacher

One of my all time favorite lessons to teach at the start of a new school year is my
email etiquette lesson. Teaching email etiquette at the start of a new school year is a great way to dive into content and teach your students all about proper email communication -a skill they’ll be using a lot as more and more schools switch to a 1:1 classroom. When I first start this unit, I briefly use the included presentation to directly teach the essential content. Then, the fun begins! As a whole class, we review really bad email examples (all inspired from student emails I’ve received in the past) and point out the errors and suggest ways to correct them. From there, I like to assign my students an introductory email where they briefly introduce themselves to me while practicing all of the email etiquette they just learned. You can read more about how I teach email etiquette in this blog post

Room 213

Because I always begin with reading workshop, most of my mini-lessons at the beginning of a semester focus on literary elements. I use these lessons to introduce or review the ways writers use them in fiction writing:opening lines, setting, point of view, tone, characterization, theme and author style. After each mini-lesson, students explore each concept in the novels they are reading.

Creative extensions also allow students to extend their understanding by experimenting with each concept in their own writing. You can check out these lessons here.

Tracee Orman

While I spend the first day of school doing icebreakers and getting to know my students, I make sure the next day (or few days) I thoroughly go over rules and procedures. Just handing students a syllabus isn't enough. They will tuck it away and next thing you know, they are asking you, "Can I chew gum in class?" "Do you accept late work?" "Do I have to wear a mask?" "Can I listen to music while I work?" and so on. That's why I created my "Can I Chew Gum in Class?" Beginning of the Year Rules & Procedures Activity. It will help you thoroughly answer all those questions in a less boring way than simply reading a class syllabus. It's completely editable and shareable in both Word and Google Docs, so you can customize it to suit your needs. I also included sample answers so you don't have to work as hard. It's especially helpful for new teachers who might not think of half the questions students come up with! 

The Classroom Sparrow

I usually begin my new classes with some sort of getting to know you activity, but as I don’t enjoy the pressure being put on me to answer personal questions in an oral group setting, I avoid giving similar types of activities to my students! For this reason, I created a DIGITAL back-to-school flip book. The various parts of the flip book comprise a different element, such as goals, favorites, a quick questionnaire, this or that prompts and two truths and a lie component. This resource is a great way to make connections with your students during the first few weeks of school. Also, because this is paperless, students who want to share this with their friends or new classmates, can easily do so!

Presto Plans 

After the first week get-to-know you activities, I like to get my students to write a personal narrative essay. Having them write about their own lives at the outset gives me insight that will be useful throughout the rest of the semester. By giving them the choice of what to include, I can immediately learn more about each of their unique perspectives and backgrounds without being too intrusive.  It also gives me the opportunity to examine their individual writing abilities and serves as a benchmark from which I can plan some of my curriculum. I share information on how to write a personal narrative, do an activity that allows students to consider brainstorm different topics to choose from, and provide them with a planning page to scaffold the process for students who might need more support.  

Nouvelle ELA

I read Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain in early 2020, and it totally transformed the way I want to start off the semester. Now, I’ll start with this Asset-Based Profile activity. Students begin by reading a story about three gamers. They assess each gamer’s soft skills (creativity, flexibility, problem-solving, etc.). Then, they move on to examine their own character traits. I will have students present their profiles to help build classroom community. If you want to know more about this activity, check out this blog post about using Asset-Based Profiles to help students value their soft skills. 

Addie Williams

I love to find ways to connect with my students at the start of the year and one of the best ways I have found to connect with kids is through music.  My goal at the beginning of a new year or semester is not only to get to know the students, but also to assess their writing skills and identify early on where I need to focus future lessons.  One of the ways I can do this is through my
Soundtrack of My Life (or Summer) activity which is available in both print and digital formats.  This resource asks students to create the music that best represents their entire life or just their summer (I let them pick which one they want to do).  Not only is it fun to hear them talking about their music picks, but I can easily share their favourite songs with the class as they’re working.

Thanks for reading! We hope you've found something to ease your transition back to school.

Weaving Art into the ELA Classroom

Weaving Art into the ELA Classroom

Teaching during the pandemic was something different.

After 11 years of teaching in the secondary ed English classroom, I found myself at a roadblock in trying to figure out how to effectively teach during this season. However, I soon found out that authentic teaching never fails. Whenever you give your students relevant and authentic opportunities to create and to learn, you will see great impact. I wasn’t as confident about that as we approached the 2020/2021 school year with the hybrid and all digital classes. I felt the same with my face-to-face class too because of the pandemic protocol, but there was a component that brought about an effective year for us.

I’ve always loved teaching ELA because the possibilities are endless when it comes to what other subjects we can incorporate in the classroom. ELA has always served as the backbone of education with its strong hand in literacy and voice. Unfortunately, worldwide, we have seen fairly low percentages in student proficiency in reading and writing. I often refer to middle schools and high schools as the 3rd and anchor leg of the education journey or race. Whatever ‘batons’ were dropped with the 1st and 2ng leg ‘runners’, we have to figure out a way to go back and grab the batons and help our students finish the race. It’s a tough job. I know that not all educators have the same experiences, but the incorporation of this component in the ELA classroom will help all students.

This element is a very foundational yet authentic way to learn, but it has been written out of some ELA curriculum. It has been forgotten. As we’re headed towards the new school year, I want to encourage you to add this to your bowl of Classroom Teaching Gumbo. The Classroom Teaching Gumbo is just another way to say Teacher Toolbox. I just like the idea of talking about ingredients. Every educator has their own way of making ‘gumbo’- of creating their classroom experience. This is just a simple ‘ingredient’ to think about as I have used it in ELA general education courses, ELA honors courses, adult ESOL courses, community courses and juvenile detention center ELA courses. And I can’t explain the wonders it did for my students and the Classroom Experience.

The Beauty of Art in the Classroom

There are a few ways you can use Art in the classroom, concerning learning THROUGH Art. One way you can use it is by placing a Google image of a piece of art on the Smartboard or projector and have the students write about the first thoughts that come to mind when they see it. They can write about the meaning of the image. I do this quite often during journal time for the first 3-5 minutes of class. It is a timed assignment, but it really helps them get into the mode of ‘thinking’. It can be an image used to introduce a topic or continue a topic.

Another way you can use Art in the classroom is through an Art Gallery Walk. I have a Creative Writing assignment I do towards the beginning of the year, and this is when I do the Art Gallery Walk for the first time in the classroom. For the digital students, I had to upload pictures, but throughout the years and with the face-to-face students, they were able to look at the actual paintings. I connected with our school Art teacher, and she let me borrow about 7 paintings to bring into my classroom. I placed them around the room to give my students a ‘museum’ type experience, and they walked around to look at the pieces. They had to write a response to the painting. They wrote about their perceived meaning and even gave it a new title. At first, some of the students found it hard to ‘think’ about a piece of art. There were no words there to TELL them what to think. It was so abstract, but it tugged at their brain. It wasn’t long before my students who disliked writing started to look forward to those exercises. We would later use those paintings to connect with texts that we read in the classroom. I remember that my friend gave me an old picture she found in her garage. It was a picture of an old man in a rocking chair. I brought it in as one of the paintings. Later in the weeks, some of the students connected that painting with a poem we were reading entitled, “The Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike. It was a great learning moment.

In the ELA class, students can also create stories from paintings. They can connect significant quotes to paintings as well. During this past school year, while there were some challenges with absenteeism, these were the assignments that I found most of my students to be fully engaged. These assignments were great primers for what was to come in the curriculum.

Throughout the year, we move to a more ‘structured’ way of looking and analyzing the paintings by using the OPTIC chart. 

This is a pretty thorough process of analyzing the painting. Again the connections that the students can make with poems and speeches and quotes and music lyrics and stories are endless after dissecting Art in the ELA classroom.

On the other side of this, students can also display what they’ve learned from ELA content creating Art. I’m going to be honest. Over the past 2 or 3 years, I haven’t come across as many student artists like I used to. I actually talk about this more in my latest book entitled The TV Broke My Paintbrush: A Book for Educators, Parents and Youth Advocates.

The concept of the book is really about how the overload of entertainment has diminished the value of creating and thinking and exploring in the eyes of some of our youth. Through analogies and research, I share some insight and ideas for educators on how to tackle this in the classroom. Using Art in the ELA classroom would definitely be a major help in igniting that innate ability all students have to create and think. There are many factors to consider with this issue, but sometimes it’s just about giving students the opportunity to use Art in this way, whether it be stick figures or not. In the beginning, the students may be hesitant because they feel that they can’t draw or paint well. However, that’s the beauty of Art. It’s really not about perfection. It’s about the students being able to creatively display what they’ve learned through drawing or painting. It’s a reversal of the Art Gallery Walk. Now they can take excerpts or quotes and create from there.
I will never forget this story. About 6 years ago, I had a student in my 5th period class. He was considered the class clown. He was very funny, and it was great to have him in class. We did have a slight issue. He wouldn’t really complete classroom assignments. I would notice that he would start getting into his jokes after I gave instructions. I had a conversation with him after class one day. He admitted that he couldn’t do some of the assignments. He talked about how he was often compared to his older brother who took AP classes. He just felt that he wasn’t smart, but he believed that his humor was all he had. His mother eventually placed him into another school to make up his credits. About three weeks before he left, we were well into another round of the Art Gallery assignment. And he did the assignment. I watched him. And when it was time for the students to discuss their observations, he listened. Then he raised his hand. A couple of his classmates started to laugh because they were expecting him to say something funny, but he didn’t. He gave a very profound and unique response to the chosen painting. I certainly celebrated his willingness to put a voice to his thinking, and he spoke again and again. I may never know, but I believed the activity showed him that he does have the ability to think. This is what education is all about so I just want to encourage my fellow educators to think about these ideas for your classroom, even for the first day of school. Weave Art into your curriculum, and watch your students create ART, whether it’s by the pencil or the marker.

You can find Darrian on her website and Instagram!

Weaving Art into the ELA Classroom

5 Ways to Get Your Middle School Students Excited About Reading

By Presto Plans 

For some of your students, the love of reading might come naturally.  They are the ones in your class squirreling away novels under their desk and reading them during class or the ones who always have a book tucked under their arm in the hallway. But, not all your students feel this way.

One of my middle school students once informed me, “I don’t really do books.”  So, how do we get our middle school students who do not really “do” books excited about reading? 

The first place to look when you want to solve student reading apathy is your independent reading program.  Student book choice is crucial to create good reading habits in students. 

Here are five ways I was able to provide a more engaging, responsive, and fun culture of reading to create excited readers. 


  1. Increase your book inventory.

The first place to start is providing enough selection, diversity, and reading interest in a class library.  I know that this can be a challenge, especially when you are a new teacher. My school library often didn’t stock stories geared toward grade 7/8 and funds were short. How did I boost my library? Some of my favorite places to shop were thrift stores and online marketplaces. In thrift stores, books are often multiples for one price, no matter hardcover or softcover. My local store also had certain days when all books were reduced. In the warm months, I stacked my arms full of yard sales on people’s lawns. Often, when speaking to an individual, rather than a store, you can get a great price when you are using them for a classroom. I’ve had many people selling online offer me entire boxes of young adult reading material. I love sorting through the piles to see what gems are in there! 

Sometimes, the used selection may not have the hot new middle school read. When you really want a shiny, new copy to wow your students, fundraising can be a great help. Certain book companies, like Scholastic, will give teachers back a certain percentage of book sales. This is a wonderful way to get new books in your room, as well as more books in the hands of your students. 


  1. Survey your class interests.

Once you’ve added new books, now what? I like to survey what I have in my class library to ensure I’m providing books my students want to read. This could change year to year. I’m always looking to see if the titles 1) match what my students are interested in 2) show the diversity represented inside and outside my classroom 3) are appropriate reading levels. I always encourage students to choose books for themselves, so by presenting books they will be drawn to, I increase the chances they will enjoy it and finish!  Use this free student interest survey to get to know your students better, so you can choose reading material that they will be drawn to: 


  1. Create excitement with gamification

One way I’ve “gamified” my independent reading program is to have the class work toward reading goals. After reading each day, students report the number of pages they’ve read (this can be done with any level of text) and add it to the class tally. Once the class hits their page goal, it’s a party! This has helped my students be accountable each day, and more likely to pick up their book when the bell rings.  It's also great that it is a collaborative effort rather than a competitive one.  Students are working together towards a common goal.  The challenge helps keeps them motivated, as does the party at the end! 


  1. Develop opportunities for low-stakes reading.

Often, finishing a novel requires some sort of assessment or follow up activity. Students can come to dread the work that will follow the reading, and soon reading for pleasure is a thing of the past. It’s important to build in time to read for enjoyment, but also to develop an enjoyment of talking about books. I do this by creating opportunities for low-stakes reading. These are activities that come with very little strings attached, and the students are told this from the very beginning! I have often forgone reading logs and quizzes, and added in activities that are lower pressure, such as book clubs (without assignments) where students simply have to talk about their book. I sometimes will use general discussion questions that can be used for any novel that really get students talking about literature in a low-stakes way.  Things such as a peer book recommendation board also create a classroom that values reading for fun, and puts the power into the student reader’s hands! 

  1. Give options for post-reading tasks

To continue low-stakes, low pressure reading, I needed to adjust my assessments. Often, students are dreading the traditional book report or test when a novel wraps up. I have found one way to do this is to create more open-ended culminating tasks. Giving students a choice of how they present what they took from the book or what they enjoyed about a character, relieves some of the stress of doing an assignment they have no interest in. 

I have over 100 options for reading responses that students can choose from on hand that work for any novel.  This way,  I can quickly provide my students with lots of options and they can easily see which one speaks to them. My artistic students loved the art based options, such as “Character Tattoos” which blends both art and comprehension. Activities like “Litflix” and “Character Selfies” got kids excited as the world of entertainment and social media is what they already were talking about! This really helps to break the read-book report- repeat cycle and helps make leisure reading much more fun!


Click the links below to start using these assignments in your classroom: 

50 Assignments for ANY Novel or Short Story:  Volume 1 Print / Volume 1 Digital

50 Assignments for ANY Novel or Short Story:  Volume 2 Print / Volume 2 Digital

All these things have helped me encourage young readers to dive deep into a story and find enjoyment in their books. A few small steps can transform attitudes about reading for fun, and help boost an independent reading program in your middle school classroom. 

Looking for more resources  and ideas to help your students get excited about reading?  Click the link below!

Reading Workshop: Where Do I Begin?  by Room 213

Digital activities that are keepers for in-school learning

 Technology that enhances learning

by Jackie from Room 213

Ok, at the risk of jinxing it, it looks like many of us will be back to a close-to-normal school life in the fall. However, we will go back having learned a lot of things from our time with distance learning. While I hope to never have another class over Google Meets again, I realized that there are many digital activities that are keepers for in-school learning.

Using Jamboards for Formative Assessment

I was so excited when I discovered Jamboard, Google's online digital whiteboard. At first, I used it to create bell ringers that served as a way for me to take attendance for my remote learners. The students had to answer a short question on one of the built in sticky notes; then I did a quick scan to see who showed up and who was missing.

They worked so well that I made ones to use for formative assessment, entrance and exit tickets I could use to check for understanding. It is these that I continue to use in the classroom.

Why? I know I could do the same thing with actual sticky notes, and I have in the past. Students would write a response on a sticky note and put it on the wall. However, this electronic version is paperless and provides a level of anonymity for the students that allows them to be more honest - so Jamboards are a keeper for in-school learning.

👉🏻 You can grab my free Formative Assessment Jams here. And, if you'd like some fun digital bellringers, check these out

Interactive Slideshows for Skill Building

Going online required me to be creative in how I presented my lessons and in how I had kids show me their work. While doing this in class is always better, there were some activities that I still use now that we are face-to-face, because of how well they worked online.

One of these was my use of interactive slideshows. I have always used them in my own mini-lessons, using color and images to help the students "see" things more clearly. However, online learning made me realize just how helpful it was for students to use slideshows to review and practice skills.

For example, the slideshows I made for Distance Macbeth became invaluable when we were in school. Students liked being able to see the highlighted quotes on the screen and many asked me to post the slideshows on classroom, so they could review it at home. 

I also made use of interactive slides when my seniors were writing rhetorical speeches last December. They were working from home at the time, so I sent them this slideshow to practice their delivery (you can grab it and make a copy for yourself).

DIgital activities worth keeping

They had to write a few sentences that included repetition and parallelism, and then record them as though they were delivering a speech using Vocaroo. It's a very simple tool they can use to record their voice and it gave them an easy way to practice speaking. Some of my students had so much fun with it that they sent me multiple versions!

practicing speaking assignments

So, this semester, even though we were in school, I assigned the same activity for homework - and had the same success with it. My students also practiced delivering their speeches to a partner in person, and the combo of these activities lead to some of the best speeches I've listened to in my whole career!

Offering more freedom and choice

During distance learning, we gave ourselves permission to loosen the reigns a bit, giving our students more freedom and choice in the hopes that they would engage with our classes. For me, this opened up so many possibilities and lead to more creativity - and learning.

We were studying Animal Farm when we were sent home last December, and I decided to give one-sliders a try. I put students in small groups and assigned each one a character and a chapter. I wasn't sure what to expect, but most of them blew me away with their creativity. When I asked them about it, they said it was way more fun than a written assignment.

I'd have to agree. And, they still had to do the critical thinking that they would have to do with an analytical paragraph. The best part, though, was it was a lot more enjoyable to grade! For that reason alone, one-sliders are keepers for in-school learning. (You can read more about this process here).

New ways to write an essay

The success of the one-sliders lead me to try something new with research writing. I decided to allow my students more choice and freedom with the research process too, and let them choose a magazine format if they wanted to, even though we were back in school. Some of them still went with the traditional route, but the ones who did the digital versions created some amazing work.

The research magazine

The research magazine has all of components of the traditional paper, but it can include images, graphs, and videos to enhance the writer's points. They are visually appealing and the students find them a lot more fun to create. For that reason, the magazine option will definitely find a permanent spot in my classroom. You can read more about the research magazine here.

So, those are just a few of the digital activities that will be keepers for in-school learning for me. What about you? Let us know in the comments.

My friends here at the Coffee Shop have some digital favorites too:

The Daring English Teacher: The Graphic Essay

Nouvelle ELA: Terminus - Digital Escape Room Series

Presto Plans: Grammar Escape Challenges

Thanks so much for reading!

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