Powered by Blogger.

4 Ways to Help Students Deepen Their Text Connections

If your students are anything like the ones I teach, they struggle to make deep and meaningful connections to the text.  They can all find a superficial link to a character, theme, event, or plot, but it's often surface-level.  For instance, writing that they have had a crush on someone is hardly a deep text-to- self connection to Romeo & Juliet.  Or that they too have connected with a character because they have both experienced sadness is not exactly what we are looking for at the middle-high school level.

Model the Strategy

I often read aloud to my classes (even my seniors), and if I am working on deepening connections, I will stop and explain my connection to the text as I read.  I show students how I look for and find connections in any text - it could be a novel, short story, or non-fiction article.  I would only do this with a text I'm familiar with and have pre-read so that I have time to figure out where I'm going to stop and what I'm going to say.  As I read, I model my thinking out loud and give deeper detailed connections rather than surface-level connections.

I emphasize to students that we all have different experiences and different backgrounds, so naturally, our connections will all be personal, and all be different.  I want students to know there is no right or wrong way to connect with the text.  My hope is that they can find something in the text to relate to and that they can explain it with some detail and evidence of deeper thinking.  

Visual Aids

I use text connections posters in my classroom to remind students of what they should be looking for as they read.  My posters provide not only the meaning of each text connection but also questions to ask themselves as they read and a series of sentence starters to use in their response.  I love seeing students look at them as they work through a novel study, short story, or non-fiction article.  Check out my resource here - it also includes a student reference sheet, graphic organizer, and four types of bookmarks!

Bookmarks & Sticky Notes

I encourage students to use sticky notes and bookmarks to keep track of connections as they read.  I stock up on sticky notes from the dollar store and have had students use different coloured sticky notes for each type of text connection.  

I also give students a text connection bookmark to remind them of what they are looking for as they read.  Grab a FREE set of bookmarks HERE!!

Find Articles, Short Stories, Movies, and Videos 

I think it is important to help students find connections, especially text-to-text and text-to-world connections.  Wherever I can, I find articles, poems, videos, and other media that may link to a text we are reading.   For example, if we are reading Romeo & Juliet, I will find articles that link to child marriage, family feuds, or arranged marriages.  For more modern books it can be easier to find articles related to world or local events that may be similar to the themes in the book you are reading.  So many modern young adult texts deal with present day issues such as racism, homophobia, sexism, and other tough topics... the more I can relate these topics and connect them to our community, and their lives, the better they will understand their importance.

Looking for more ideas?

Check out the following resources from the ladies of the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

Reading Connections Foldable - The Classroom Sparrow

Making Text to Text Connections Blog Post - Room 213

5 Ways to Analyze Non-Fiction & Rhetoric Blog Post - The Daring English Teacher

Happy Teaching


Creative Writing Prompts Across Your Curriculum

 Creative Writing Prompts Across Your Curriculum

How do you teach creative writing in middle and high school, when there’s so much else to be done? There’s so much pressure to teach other skills that it can be difficult to find time for creative writing activities. Here are some ways to incorporate creative writing prompts as you hit your standards.

Student completing creative writing prompts next to a stack of books. Text says creative writing as a response to other texts.

Hey, y’all! It’s Danielle from Nouvelle ELA! Today, I’ll share activities for teaching creative writing that show understanding of other ELA topics and skills. This is one of my favorite ways to get students out of a “rut” on a particular topic and instill a sense of fun into my lessons. Kids love creative writing, but it often gets lost in the shuffle.

Build Classroom Community with Creative Writing Activities

Since creative writing can be so fun, the stakes feel low to students. Shy students can display their senses of humor and otherwise reluctant students can buy into an activity. That’s why I love to use creative writing prompts to build classroom community and collaboration. 

One of my favorite writing activities is this Round Robin. Students work together to write a timed story. This is fun because it helps them stop self-censoring so much (or else they’ll run out of time!). This activity is scaffolded with an introduction to the “Somebody Wanted But So Then” (SWBST) structure. That means that students are practicing writing, having fun with each other, AND reinforcing their story structure skills. Awesome!

Student completing a round robin creative writing activity with small writing prompts

Also on this blog: Building Collaboration and Critical Thinking

Using Nonfiction to Inspire Creative Writing

Writing activities are also an excellent way for students to react to nonfiction and extend their understanding of a topic. While students need to write analytical responses as well, creative writing prompts can be an outlet for students to process an informational text.

Consider starting with a nonfiction list, like 10 Abandoned Places or 10 Maritime Mysteries, and having students do some creative writing after they read. For example, with Abandoned Places, students can choose to set a story in one of the places. Both of these resources are an opportunity to share writing prompts with pictures, and students LOVE PICTURES.

You can grab a sample of the Abandoned Places activity here, including a free brainstorming worksheet for writing a short story.

Creative Writing Activity displayed on a desk

Also on this blog: Using Nonfiction to Engage Reluctant Readers

Connecting to Literature through Creative Writing

I also love using creative writing prompts to help students engage in literature. This approach helps students think more critically about what they’re reading and gives them some ownership over the story.

When I introduce any Shakespeare play, I have students write Shakespeare a friendly letter introducing him to one of our modern technologies. One of my favorite letters a student has ever written described text messaging as “an invisible message delivered by an invisible rider on an invisible horse.” How creative!

I’ve also had students use creative writing to make a major change to a story. This is an excellent way to highlight the author’s craft and purpose. For example, students can rewrite the ending of Much Ado About Nothing as a tragedy to help understand how Shakespeare crafts an ending. They can rewrite a spooky story like “The Monkey’s Paw” in a different mood to help deepen their understanding of mood and tone.

Teaching creative writing doesn’t have to be a “stop everything and write fiction.” It can be woven throughout your curriculum. While each piece of writing is its own text, you can use writing as a tool for demonstrating understanding of any other text.

Also on this blog: 4 Creative Reading Activities to Spark Engagement

Deepen an Understanding of Poetry

Poetry can be intimidating for students, so I like to try as many approaches as possible to aid in engagement. One way I help my students access poetry is through creative writing. Snippets of poetry and song lyrics become creative writing prompts to inspire short stories.

Open notebook shows a mind map brainstorming a creative writing response to a snippet of song lyrics

Also on this blog: 3 Ways to Teach Creative Writing Anytime

Key Takeaways

  • Students should write often - both creatively and analytically

  • Align creative writing opportunities with other standards and learning targets

  • Lower the stakes by using collaborative or timed writing

You don’t need a whole Creative Writing Unit to leverage the power of this type of writing activity. Instead, you can use it as one type of student response.

What are some ways you get “creative” with creative writing? Let us know in comments or on Instagram!

Check out these Creative Writing Activities from other Coffee Shop teachers:

Happy teaching!

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

By The Daring English Teacher 

With school now back in session, it is the perfect time to focus on creating and fostering a positive, healthy classroom culture. These past two school years were so challenging, and with school in session again, there seems to be a better, more positive and exciting vibe on school campuses nationwide. This is the year that we’ve been waiting for.

To help capitalize on these exciting back-to-school vibes, here are 5 things you can do to help create and maintain a healthy, positive classroom culture.

Tell Me Something Good Monday

When you start the week by celebrating students’ successes, victories, and accomplishments, the entire classroom vibe starts on a positive note. One habit I started several years ago was starting each class period on Monday with a small celebration. Essentially, I asked students to share their good news on their bell ringer sheet. The news could be any kind of good news -no matter how big or small. Students could share successes on a recent math quiz, something they did over the weekend that made them happy, and anything in between. With high schoolers, you also get a mix of really big good news announcements like passing the permit test or driver’s test, being accepted into college, or getting a job.

After students take a quick moment to record their good news, I call on volunteers to share their good news aloud with the class. After they share, I ask them some questions about the good news, and then the entire class celebrates with the student who shared. I chose to have students celebrate with congratulatory statements and applause. Usually, I would ask about three or four students to share their news aloud each Monday, and I would try to ensure that everyone shared at least once. Starting the week by celebrating each other's good news, successes, and victories, creates a welcoming and positive classroom culture.

Community Bell Ringers

Another way to help foster a positive and inclusive classroom community is to include these classroom community bell ringers in my curriculum. With 40 days of bell ringers includes, these community bell ringers are great to get your students thinking with open minds and open hearts. Each bell ringer includes a quote about love, acceptance, tolerance, or diversity and a brief writing prompt. In the classroom, I like to give my students the first five minutes of class to read and respond to the prompt. Then, I’ll call on volunteers to share their responses.

You can try a sample of these bell ringers. This Classroom Community Bell Ringers Sampler includes five community bell ringers that you can use in your classroom this week!

Classroom Community and Culture Bell Ringers
Classroom Community and Culture Bell Ringers

Growth Mindset Escape Room

Students love working together to solve puzzles and tasks. The collaboration builds strong connections and creates a healthy classroom community. That is why this Growth Mindset Escape Room is such a hit in my classroom. With this escape room, students work together to solve a series of tasks all while they learn about growth mindset.

This Growth Mindset Escape Room includes four tasks for students to work on and solve together, and it also has activities to use in your classroom before and after the escape room as well! Whenever it is escape room day in my classroom, I always have complete and total engagement from my students. There is excitement in the air, and the activity is a welcomed break from the usual curriculum.

Growth Mindset Escape Room
Growth Mindset Escape Room

Stacking Cup Challenge

Another great collaborative activity to have your students complete in your classroom is the stacking cup challenge. This challenge really shows students just how important communication and collaboration are. I always have my students complete the stacking cup challenge toward the beginning of the school year and also when we move seats to allow students to get to know and work with their new table mates.

To facilitate the stacking cup challenge in your classroom, you will need plastic cups (the red plastic ones work really well), rubber bands, and string. Each team will receive six cups, a rubber band, and however many pieces of string you’ll need so that each student grabs onto one piece of string. I like doing the challenge in groups of four. However, grouping students in groups of six provides an extra challenge. Tie each piece of string to the rubber band, and then have students work toward stacking the cups in a pyramid using only the strings.

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

Daily Attendance Questions

Finally, another way to help facilitate classroom community (while also getting to know your students and their interests) is to have a daily attendance question. I use my daily attendance question as a way to take attendance. At the start of my class, I will announce to my students what the question is. I will also ensure that I check in with the first person on my roster to ensure they are ready before beginning. Once I make it all the way through the roster, I then answer the question myself. An added bonus to this classroom community strategy is that you’ll never forget to submit your attendance again!

Here is a brief list of some of my favorite attendance questions:
  • What is your favorite candy or sweet treat?
  • Who is your favorite superhero?
  • Who is your favorite villain?
  • What was your favorite childhood cartoon?
  • What is your favorite fast food restaurant?
  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
  • Where would you go if you could travel to any place in the world?
  • What is your favorite season?
  • Would you rather visit mars or the moon?
  • What is your favorite animal?

For even more classroom culture ideas, check out our previous post by Presto Plans about Five Ways to Build a Positive Classroom Community and this post about Teambuilding Tuesdays by The Daring English Teacher.

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

Additional resources for building classroom culture:

Favorite Lessons for Back-to-School

After Labor Day, the back-to-school season is complete. Summer is over for everyone, fall is in the air, and it's time to think about sweaters, pumpkin-spice lattes, and the lessons you will need to keep your students engaged and learning.

To help you with those lessons, we've assembled some of our favorites. Check them out!

Establish a classroom routine and provide a helpful reference point for you and your students with these editable daily agenda slides for Google™ Slides and PowerPoint. These agenda slides will help you communicate clear learning goals and simplify classroom procedures. They are perfect for back to school, as they are a great way for your new students to stay organized and up-to-date.

Nouvelle ELA

This Creative Writing Round Robin writing activity is great any time of year, but it’s especially excellent for building classroom community during the Back to School season. Students collaborate to write a short story with the SWBST elements (Somebody wanted but…so then…), but the catch is that they can only see the person’s writing just before theirs. They continue to swap stories until each group has five collaborative tales. This ends up being such a silly and fun activity, even as students practice low-stakes writing.

Room 213
Get your students actively engaged in the learning process with these exercises - all you need is some paper, sticky notes, markers and/or colored pencils. Then, you can choose from one of over THIRTY activities that will get your students thinking critically as they collaborate with their classmates. Just download, choose an activity, and get your students excited about learning. The best part is that the activities can be used with any text!

A great way to start the school year is with a close reading short story unit! Packed with lessons, activities, and writing prompts for seven short stories, this unit has everything you need to teach your short story unit. First, students will read the stories. Then, they will go back and closely read and carefully selected passages. Along the way, they will identify quotes to use for their writing. Finally, students will use the quotes from their close reading to work on a literary analysis prompt!

Tracee Orman

I don’t know about you, but I hate decorating bulletin boards throughout the year. But I have found that even secondary students love seeing something new each month. So I designed and created these fun interactive bulletin boards you can use ALL YEAR LONG! The best part is they are SO EASY! Just print, fold, and post! They will keep your students engaged and excited for a new one each month!

Presto Plans

If I had to pick one English teaching routine that totally transformed my classroom, it would be bell-ringers. They jump start student learning, calm classroom chaos, reduce uncertainty, and make transitions smoother, all the while allowing the teacher to maximize their time and maintain their sanity. They also can buy you an extra 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each class to do attendance, check in with students, and maybe even take a moment to yourself. My bell-ringer sets include a unique daily activity that helps students improve their ELA skills like grammar, vocabulary, writing, and figurative language in a high-interest way.

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.

That's all for now! We wish you all the best as you start (or continue) your new year.

5 authentic ways to teach grammar


By Jackie from ROOM 213

If you're tired of teaching endless grammar lessons and still getting assignments full of errors, read on! I've got five authentic ways to teach grammar, ones that can lead to fast results.

The red pen has gotten a bad reputation since I began my teaching career thirty years ago. It used to be a symbol of the English teacher who would use it like a weapon, finding ways to slash marks from students. Now of course, that wasn’t always the case, but those of us who were students or teachers during this time remember that a great deal of feedback on our papers was focused on mechanical errors.

When I was in high school, I took a full semester “writing” course on grammar. And yes, I knew what a dangling participle was, and I could diagram a sentence with the best of them. However, I remember the course being deadly dull.  The worst of it was, however, that we did very little writing in that class. It was all about the grammar.

Was that so bad? Perhaps not. Surely students can handle a dull class if they learn something valuable, right?

But what if a student can identify and fix a fused sentence or a fragment in an exercise but can’t do so in their own writing? 

These are questions that we struggle with when planning our instruction, and while  I don’t think there is one “correct” way to teach mechanics, I have strategies you can try that have lead to great results with my students.

I hope you can find something that helps!


The mini-lesson will always be an excellent way to introduce and teach grammar concepts; however it's what happens after the lesson that matters when it comes to student learning.

Teachers have long used a mini-lesson to teach grammar. However, these lessons were often followed by a session of diagramming sentences, or fixing a series of ten or so sentences that were full of errors. And while students can actually be successful with these activities, research has shown that there is not always much transfer to their actual writing.

What really helps is when students use what they learn in their lessons in more authentic ways. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:

✅  First, make a list of the most common errors you are seeing in your students' writing. My bet is that fragments, fused sentences, and punctuation errors will top the list. Start with these. Then, later in the year, create lessons around the common errors you see in your students' work.

✅  Keep your lessons short and focused on the reasons why writers make the error, so students can see why/how it happens - and how to fix it.

✅  In the lesson include a few sentences that demonstrate the errors and ask students to figure out how to fix them.

✅  Follow up with an activity where students look for this concept/rule in their own reading and writing. For example, ask them to look for properly constructed sentences in their reading - how and why did the writer use commas? Semicolons? Colons? Or, instruct your students to read over a piece of their own writing (a journal entry or a paragraph or longer piece they haver written) and find any fragments, comma errors, etc. and fix them.

Teaching grammar

✅  At the end of class, assign an exit ticket for quick assessment. Just ask students to write one sentence that demonstrates they know how to use the grammar concept you introduced in your mini-lesson. They can pass this in at the end of class and then you can quickly assess whether they got it or not.


Traditionally, when we want to work on mechanics with our students, we teach them the “rule” then give them worksheets that contain error-ridden sentences that they have to fix. This approach, however, presents students with multiple sentences that are incorrect, and that is what they get used to seeing. The theory behind mentor sentences is that students may be more apt to learn the rules when they see models of well-written sentences. They also use a process of discovery to discern why the mentor sentences work.

The mentor sentence approach does not take away the necessity of a "lesson," it just puts the focus on students trying to figure out why, for example, a semicolon is used in a sentence instead of a comma. Basically, your lesson will start with the correct way of doing things, your students will figure out why it's correct, and then they will learn "the rule."

teach grammar with mentor sentences

👉🏻 Grab a PDF with a free mentor text lesson on commas.


One of the most effective ways to improve your students' grammar is by embedding opportunities to do so into their reading and writing regularly - not just during specific "grammar time." This is because, when you do this, students will begin to see grammar as a very powerful tool in their writing toolbox, one that will lead to greater clarity in their writing (and a higher grade if that's what motivates them).

Present grammar lessons when they make sense, from learning about capitalizing people's names when you are teaching lessons on character to learning when to use a colon when you look at modern forms of epistolary fiction. If you are working on getting your students to provide more detail and variety in their writing, it's the perfect time to look at how and why authors use commas. If you want to put an end to fragments and fused sentences, do so while doing readings on the fragments and connections in our lives (I've got this one all ready for you!)

Teaching grammar

You can also teach your students the habit of revision by always asking them to read over short pieces that they write in class to look for places where they can improve both the content and their mechanics. This doesn't have to take long: after they write a prompt, instruct them to read over what they wrote and look for places that could use a semicolon, need a comma, etc.

If you like the idea of combining your instruction and activities when you do reading and writing, click here for ready-made resources that do just that.


In my experience, this is the most authentic and effective way to help students improve their writing. That is because you are giving them just-in-time feedback that can help them fix the errors that they are actually making, not the ones that you focus on in a mini-lesson for the whole class.

One way to do this is during student conferences. Conferences are a powerful strategy for helping students improve their writing as you are able to talk to them one-on-one and can give them fast, targeted feedback. If you have ones that are focused on particular grammar errors that you have been covering; then students can apply what you have been teaching in an authentic way.

And, if used properly, conferencing can actually reduce your time spent grading. Click here to find out how! Or if you aren't sure how to fit them in, I explain how here.

Another way to give targeted feedback is when students pass in an assignment. Look at the image below. In this case, the student was making multiple comma splice errors. In the first instance, I highlighted it and named the error. Then I highlighted the subsequent ones and asked "what's this?" 

When the student gets the assignment back, I ask them to respond to my questions and fix the error and resubmit. You can see the response in the second image.

This does add another layer onto you giving feedback, but in my experience, if you just ask students to respond to a few things on a returned assignment, it takes very little time to assess - and it leads to a lot more learning.

👉🏻 Click here for more Tips for Fast, Effective Feedback


Another way to review and fix grammar errors is through learning stations. You can do a full review of a concept and send students though a rotation that has them hit each one. Or, you can group students according to need and send them to the stations that cover the errors that they are actually making.

For example, group one may go to a station that reviews pronoun errors while group two is working on sentence fragments. This way, instead of each student listening to a review of an error that other students are making, they are getting extra practice with the ones that they need to improve.

You can check out my grammar stations here. (note: these are all in the process of being updated. Currently, the ones for pronouns and fragments are complete. Fused sentences are next).

So, those are 5 authentic ways to teach grammar. Try at least one of them and see if it leads to improvements in your students' writing. And, if you need some help in teaching grammar, check out the resources below:

✅ Pronouns Errors Mini-lessons

✅ Avoiding Fragments Mini-Lessons & Activities

✅ Comma Mini-Lessons & Activities

✅ Fragments and Connections

✅ Avoiding Awkward Wording

Get more strategies from ROOM 213:

My talented friends from the Coffee Shop have some ideas for you too: 

The Classroom Sparrow: Grammar Mistakes Interactive Flip Book

The Daring English Teacher: 5 Fun Ways to Incorporate Grammar


Career Education Activities for English Language Arts

Are you stumped for ideas on how you can incorporate career education into your classroom? Through my personal experience, I have discovered that it is very easy to connect career-related activities to an ELA curriculum. In addition, it is relevant to each student and a great way for them to explore their interests during middle and high school. 


In English class, speaking is one skill that should be explored. Believe it or not, students tend to take this activity quite seriously. After reviewing what a 'good' and 'bad' interview might look like, using this Mock Interview Activity, I can begin completing interviews with my students. Sometimes, if you have enough classroom support, you can complete these in a separate room (so it feels more like an actual interview!) 


Nobody understands time like a teacher. There is only so much time that we can spend on certain things, so the more efficiently we can plan things, the better! For those teachers who may be short on time, but want to incorporate career exploration into their classroom, try using career-related bell-ringers to start your day! You could do this once a week, daily for a few weeks, or even sporadically throughout a semester. 

In situations where I was short on time, I used these Bell-Ringer Career Exploration Prompts with my students. You can either project the prompts on a SmartBoard for students, print out the prompts in a journal-style format, or use the prompts in stations (if you would like to keep your students moving!) They are a win-win for students and English teachers. Students will have an opportunity to think critically about their interests and potential career choices and teachers can evaluate writing skills and teamwork.

Career Bell-Ringers


An easy way to get your students thinking about what types of jobs or careers that are both best-suited to them and readily available, are through the use of discussion prompts. You can prompt your students by sharing these 10 questions with them and seeing where the discussion takes them!

  • What would be the worst type of job?
  • What would be the best type of job?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are you weaknesses?
  • What is the difference between a salary and a commission?
  • What types of jobs or careers have salaries?
  • What is your most valuable skill or talent?
  • What are your short-term goals?
  • What are your long-term goals? 
  • If you could have any job in the world, what would it be and why?


I created this FREE Dream Job Worksheet, so that you can begin exploring careers in your classroom TODAY! This print-and-go activity is an effective way to begin some preliminary research on a job or career of interest. 

The 14 questions on the worksheet will prompt students to select any job or career, so that they can begin to formulate whether or not that job is a suitable fit for them or not. 

This is an easy way to incorporate career exploration into your English Language Arts classroom. Click HERE to access your free copy!


One of my favorite ways to incorporate career exploration into my ELA classroom is using this Career Exploration Bingo Activity. Students can explore some fun, new careers (some that they may have never even known existed!) 

Career Exploration Bingo
The object of the activity is to find the answers to career-related questions and prompts based on a variety of different categories. Three flexible ways to share this resource with your students are included: print, digital (PowerPoint) or via Google Slides.

I am hoping that you found some useful ways to incorporate career exploration into your classroom. It's never too early or too late to do so!

Here is another great resource to take a look at:

Resume and Cover Letter Writing

End of Semester Board Game Review Activity

Are you tired of marking tests? Do your students need a break? Why not give them this board game project instead? This end of semester review project allows students to reflect on what they learned, while at the same time, presenting the information they learned in a fun and creative way! This could be used as an end-of-unit review or even as an end-of-semester project. Even the smallest details are important to this project. 

This project can be completed individually, in pairs, or even small groups! There's a lot of flexibility within this project, so it's a great test-taking alternative! The best part? This project is applicable to a variety of grade levels AND subjects. Click HERE for a closer look!

How to use this project in English class?

  • Create a game board based around an author 
  • Create a game board based around a time period within a novel study 
  • Create a game board based on terms learned within a unit
  • Create a game board based around all of the units studied in a semester
  • ...the possibilities are truly endless!

The project requires students to make insightful connections and discuss important elements that stood out to them as a student or reader!

Here is an example of a completed game (while not English-related, it gives you an idea of what it can look like!)

During the presentations to the class (optional) you can also involve the entire class by creating 'live' challenge cards. Another way to evaluate the comprehension level of not only the students who are presenting, but the students in the audience!

I can assure you that your students will not only have fun completing the board game project, but they will also enjoy listening to the other presentations!

In addition, it's a great evaluation tool, as students get to reflect on what they think was important (or stuck out the most). 

You can also create board games on large poster paper and have students 'play' the games if time allows!

Click HERE to grab a copy of your own!

Back to Top