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Engaging End of Year Activities for Middle & High School Students

 As the end of the school year approaches, and the weather warms up, keeping students focused on their school work can be increasingly challenging.  I know for my students, the promise of longer days, sunny skies, and the freedom that comes with summer vacation makes for a difficult few weeks before the end of the year.  Here are three activities to keep students focused during these last few weeks!


Why not have students reflect on their school year through music? Have them create a playlist that         includes songs that cover the following ideas:

            - What song best represents the best moments of the year?
            - What song best represents your most challenging moments of the year?
            - What song best represents this class?
            - What song best represents one of the themes of a novel you read this year?
            - What song best represents how you feel about the summer? Next year? Your future?
            - Any other ideas?

 Have students write a short paragraph explaining their thinking about each song pick.  I have students present this as a PowerPoint / Slideshow at the end of the year, and it has been a huge success!  You can create this project on your own or grab the templates and organizers I have created as part of my End of the Year Activities Bundle, which you can find HERE.


Ask students to create a one-pager that represents their school year.  This is a great way for students        to show their learning and allow them to be creative at the same time!  I ask them to include ideas around the following big ideas.

        - What did you learn? How did you improve in certain aspects of school?
        - What successes did you have at school? With a hobby? A sport? 
        - What were some challenges?
        - What are you looking forward to next school year?
        - What were the most significant news stories of the year in your school? Community? World? 
        - Other ideas? 


Looking for a print-and-go bundle of activities for the end of the year?! I've got you covered with this set of resources that you get started with tomorrow!  It includes 18 different activities - some are quick, and some are more involved, but you can pick and choose the ones that will work best for you and your students!  Check it out HERE!

Here's a quick FREEBIE you can also enjoy!  It's one of the activities included in my End of the Year Activities Bundle!  Check it out HERE!

Check out more resources from my ELA colleagues!

The Classroom Sparrow - End of the Year Escape Room

3 Lessons on Making Inferences - Teaching Inferencing in Middle and High School

3 Activities for Teaching Inferences

What are inferences?

Inferences are conclusions or interpretations that are made based on various pieces of evidence or observations. They are usually logical, evidence-based deductions that are drawn to help understand something that is not explicitly stated. 

If you’re teaching students to understand author’s purpose, making inferences is an important skill. Authors do not always explicitly state characters’ intentions, yet understanding these can be key to understanding literary texts. 

In the nonfiction world, making inferences is often a reader’s path to sussing out credible sources, sound reasoning, and biases.

Inferences are an essential component of critical thinking and reasoning skills, and they play a critical role in reading comprehension, problem-solving, and decision-making. 

Why teach inferencing?

Inferencing is one of the essential skills required for high-level reading comprehension and critical thinking. When we teach inference, we help students move from a surface-level understanding of a text and hone their ability to find implicit meanings and nuance.

Since we want our students to be good problem solvers and make good decisions, inferencing is a key critical thinking skill. Additionally, this skill can help students identify facts and opinions as well as synthesize different sources of information.

How to teach inferences in middle school

One of the best ways to teach inferences in middle school is by having students put on their detective hats! At this point, we want students to do sustained reading and critical thinking, so longer simulations are the perfect opportunities to help students learn inferencing.

Check out this Lamb to the Slaughter Pre-Reading Simulation as an example.

Before reading the story, present students with the events in four chunks. In this scenario, students play the young detective coming to the Maloney house. After each text, students create a list of inferences based on evidence and questions they still need to answer. Then, they’ll read the actual short story to figure out whether their inferences about Mrs. Maloney are correct.

Making inferences worksheet

If you need to review making inferences with students or you need inferences practice to leave as a sub plan, this making inferences worksheet is for you.

In each text, students encounter a familiar scenario made unfamiliar with wordplay. 

They’ll use the evidence they have to make an inference as to the event being described. This is excellent practice citing textual evidence. Also, students finish by writing their own “puzzle paragraphs” to share with classmates.

How to teach inferences in high school

Teaching inferences in high school needs to be both more sophisticated and more foundational. So often, students come to us without this skill, and it impacts their reading and thinking.

That’s why I put together my digital adventure series, Terminus. Terminus is a post-apocalyptic adventure and blends the storyline of a novel with the puzzles and engagement of an escape room. In each chapter, students find clues, read found texts, and make inferences to solve puzzles. They use the information they find to save the day!

Terminus helps students build skills they may have missed in lower grades while also challenging your more advanced students. Everyone wins.

Use the coupon code innovate to get 50% off of game 1.

Final thoughts

These making inferences activities help a wide range of students become more critical thinkers. What are your favorite ways to teach inferencing? We’d love to hear from you!

Espresso Shot: Freebies for Teacher Appreciation Week


Freebies for teachers

For Teacher Appreciation this year we want to share some of our favorite FREE resources with you. We hope you know just how much we value and appreciate each and every one of you. What you do MATTERS. Thank you!

Tracee Orman

Free One Pager Use with any book

This FREE One-Page Fact Sheet can be used with ANY book, short story, play and/or some poems. It is a versatile handout and is differentiated for several grade levels. The prompts allow students to analyze the characters, main events, setting, point of view and perspective, narration, plot, and character motivations. It also includes a prompt for students to create their own ONE PAGER, additionally exploring symbolism and theme. 

Presto Plans

Commas in a Series Free Grammar Challenge from Presto Plans: Have students use their knowledge of using commas in a series to escape the Mayan temple! This free commas grammar challenge is a new and fun way to engage your students in grammar instruction and assessment. The resource includes everything you need to teach, assess, and practice commas in a list with your students. Start by assigning the quiz to check your students’ understanding of the topic before you begin. After teaching the grammar concept with the included slideshow, read the back story to set up the challenge and put students into groups to work together to complete the challenge!

Addie Williams

Why not use a view from a window as inspiration for a poem? Grab this freebie and lead students through a fun poetry activity using their bedroom window, classroom window, or any other window as the subject of their poem. Includes both print & digital versions.

Room 213

Jackie from ROOM 213 loves to get students engaged in active learning with exercises that put the responsibility for thinking in their hands. This resource is one she often used with her students when they were trying to analyze the important elements of a novel or play. It’s a free activity you can download and use your students as you can apply it to any text. You’ll get a lesson plan and a handout for students.

The Daring English Teacher

Christina likes to help students become stronger, confident writers by providing them with this free essay writing checklist that helps them look over their essays and build confidence. She uses this checklist once students have completed their first drafts.

Nouvelle ELA

Danielle's students rate this introduction to symbolism and allegory as one of the most memorable lessons of the year. Why? Because it starts with candy, of course! With that attention grabber as a reference point, this lesson helps students understand the intellectual jump from the concrete attributes of a symbol to the abstract ones. This free lesson includes a digital and paper vesion.

We hope you enjoy these free resources and have a wonderful rest of the school year!

Teach writing skills without grading essays


There are many English teachers who insist that students must write multiple essays every year so they can master the skills needed for post secondary writing. I used to be one of these them. However, assigning too many essays can be hard on not only the students who need to write them, but on those of us who have to do the grading. So, after years of trying to figure out the most effective way to help my students learn (while I stayed sane), I found ways to teach writing skills without grading essays.

This might seems like a wild - even irresponsible - idea. After all, students going to college and university need to be prepared. Yes, they do. And my students did write essays in my classes. However, I learned, with lots of trying and tweaking, that there are many effective ways to teach students the skills they need that don't require a full paper.

It is very true that students need to practice the skills they need for success. And they need lots of feedback from us. But they will build those skills more quickly when they can learn them in a way that they engages them and keeps them from getting overwhelmed.

If students have not been successful with essay writing in the past, the thought of diving into yet another one is not that appealing. But a fun, collaborative activity just may be. And while participating in that activity students will have the opportunity to hone their skills and build their confidence, making them more ready to be successful with the next writing assignment. You can also give students lots of just-in-time feedback during these activities, rather than taking home a pile of papers that take you days or weeks to grade.

How? Read on for specific activities you can use for teaching the skills for writing the literary, persuasive, argumentative, and research essay.

Strategies that build essay-writing skills

I have read too many poorly executed essays from bright students in the past, ones that left me scratching my head over why they couldn't get the job done well.

And then I realized that many were skipping the most essential step before they started their first drafts - they wanted to just pick up their pens and write to get it done. They did not take the time to think and plan and organize.

This began at the prewriting stage where they might do an outline just to get it filled in - rather than approaching it thoughtfully. One of my favorite class activities was showing them how to do this right with the "human outline." It takes a good portion of a class, but the focus and organization of my students’ essays went up exponentially after doing it. That's because they all got feedback on how to approach this prewriting step - and I didn't have to take their outlines in to give it to them.

If you’d like to try this exercise with your students, click here.

Teaching students to outline

This activity was so successful that it lead to me planning more collaborative activities that slowed students down so they could focus on the skills they needed to write an essay.

Skill-building activities for literary analysis

I spent more time brainstorming ideas for teaching students how to do literary analysis than anything else in my career. That's because it was the area where they struggled the most (and hence the most painful essays to read).

We did two activities that were very successful because they took students through the thinking, planning, and organizing stages of writing literary analysis essays. The first involved these character strips:

teach essay skills without grading papers

I began with the question How is Jane Austen using this character to critique a convention of her society? Note that the question focuses on how the character is used in the story, and pushes the kids beyond a basic character sketch.

Then students were grouped and assigned one of the characters. They had to look at the evidence they had in their notes, have lots of discussion and debate, and finally, come up with a topic sentence that answered the question I posed. Once I ok'd their topic sentence, they got chart paper and markers, wrote the topic sentence at the top and had to present their evidence (in logical order) below.

Essentially, each group created a detailed outline for a paragraph that would be in a focused literary essay. A group rep presented their information to the class, and then we discussed the best order for each paragraph in an essay.

The activity took a couple of days, but by the time they were done, my students knew a lot more about the process they needed to write a good, focused, well-developed essay. Read more about this activity here (and grab a template for the strips)

We did a similar activity with another full class text. I like to talk about theme as a giant puzzle. Students don't have the picture on the box of this puzzle they are doing, so they need to collect the pieces as they read in order to fit them together at the end.

So when my IB class finished reading The Merchant of Venice I wanted them to discuss Shakespeare's overall message in the play.  I gave them actual puzzle pieces where they filled in what they knew about certain aspects and characters in the text. Then, they worked together to see how all of these pieces fit.

The visual aspect of the activity really helped them figure out the essential themes of the play, and allowed them the chance to organize and support an argument they would like to present.

And once again, they learned essential essay writing skills and got to practice the prewriting steps for a literary analysis without having to write the whole essay. They did write one later in the semester, and these two activities gave them the skills and confidence they needed to write it well.

Get more detail about the puzzle piece activity here.

Building skills for persuasion and argument

Another area that I worked hard on improving was persuasion and argument. If you teach teens, you know that they can be very passionate about their opinions, and they sure do love to argue. However, this ability did not always transfer well to the essay.

Once again, our students need guidance in the process of collecting, focusing, and organizing their ideas. So I started doing activities that honed these skills in the weeks before my students wrote persuasive or argumentative essays. Here's what I did:

  1. Started with an engaging topic and an initial reflection
  2. Provided relevant mentor texts – on both sides of the issue
  3. Gave students an opportunity to discuss ideas with their peers
  4. Required groups to come to a consensus & support it during full class discussion
  5. Gave students lots of feedback during the process

Because we were using interesting and debatable topics, students were engaged and learning important skills for persuasion. And, I was able to give a lot of on-the-spot feedback during the process, instead of giving it after the fact on an essay (Find out more here).

persuasive and argumentative writing skills

To teach them the difference between persuasive and argumentative writing, we did the Argument Challenge where students learned the process in an activity they found quite fun. And because they were engaged, they learned. And because they learned they built the skills they needed to write when the time came.

Teach writing skills

If you'd like to grab some lessons and activities that are all ready for you to use, I've got you covered. Click here to get one for persuasion and here for argument.

Building skills for research essays

Research essays can also be a hard slog to read when students don't have the skills to do them well. In order to build those skill, as with any type of writing, they need practice. And you don't have time to practice with multiple essays.  

A very effective strategy that allows students to hone the skills of focusing a topic and collecting evidence to support it is the one-pager or one-slider. They need to pick a point they'd like to explore and find quotations and images to support it, just like they would in the paragraph of an essay.

There's something about the visual and digital aspect of this activity that pulls students in in a way that no writing assignment ever does. Mine were always so proud of their finished product and it was much more enjoyable to grade too!


Ask yourself this question:

When a student finishes your class, is it better that they write four or five mediocre essays or a couple of really strong ones? The answer was clear to me, and that is why we spent so much time on skill building activities.  And you know what? If this hadn't worked, I would have gone back to writing more essays. However, luckily, I saw the difference it made in my students' abilities.

So there are ways to teach writing skills without grading essays. You just need to take a close look at the areas where your students struggle and create opportunities for them to practice in class when you can give them on-the-spot feedback. Give it a try!

Check out more activities for skill-building:

Quotable Quickies: very short writing activities that allows students to learn to write analytically

Hexagonal thinking - an excellent skill-building activity for making connections in texts

Snowball Writing from Presto Plans

Creative Ways to Teach Students How to Find Text Evidence

Using text evidence to support claims does not always come naturally to our students. When students answer a question or write an essay, they often will make a claim, but fail to back it up with sufficient evidence. This is such a critical ELA skill because we require it of students in so much of their writing. The problem is that having students find text evidence isn't always the most exciting task, but there are some creative ways that you can have students practice this important skill.  Below, you'll find my favorite ways to help students go back to the text to find the evidence they need to support their claims.

1. Give Them a Reading Challenge

One way you can get students to practice finding text evidence is with a reading challenge activity. A reading challenge is a short escape-room style challenge that requires students to work together to solve a mystery.

I always begin a reading challenge lesson with some direct instruction to show students how to find text evidence. I explain what constitutes text evidence and show examples of the different types (i.e., direct quotes, paraphrasing, summarising). Then, once they have a foundation, I have them demonstrate their skills with a fun, escape-style text evidence challenge. 


For the text evidence reading challenge I use, students assume the role of an avid explorer and anthropologist who is exploring the jungle in search of fabled Aztec ruins and artifacts. They have to imagine they are walking on a thin path enshrouded by thick, impenetrable vegetation when they discover a pack of snarling and vicious-looking jaguars is on their trail. 

I hook the students students into the challenge by having them read an original narrative backstory that sets them on the path to becoming text evidence hunters! They will examine the writing in an old leather-bound journal to find text evidence to support six given claims about what’s written inside. To escape danger via a gondola, they will need to find out how many pieces of text evidence there are to support the claims, revealing a mystery code. 


The text evidence reading challenge is an extremely comprehensive and entertaining way to refine these skills!

2. Introduce the RACE Strategy 

The RACE method is a reading response strategy formed out of the acronym R-A-C-E, which serves as a helpful mnemonic device to use when formulating a response. A strong response will (R)estate the question, (A)nswer the question, (C)ite evidence, and then (E)xplain the connection. Here’s what this looks like in more detail… 

  • (R)estate: During this part of their response, students should use the question stem to write their topic sentence. This means that they will turn the question asked into a statement. 
  • (A)nswer: After students have restated the question, they should answer ALL parts of the question, keeping in mind that some questions may have more than one part and that they may need to separate the question into two responses.
  • (C)ite: It is at this point that they must support their answers by citing text evidence. This can be an explanation of an event from the text or specific quotations that support their answer.
  • (E)xplain: Finally, they should explain or expand on how the evidence from the text supports their answer. They can also use your own background knowledge here to make connections.

I like to teach students the RACE method to help them see the role that textual evidence plays within a well-constructed response. Then, I give them the opportunity to practice using this response method. My favorite story to use this with is Raymond’s Run by Toni Cade Bambara. Given the story is itself about a race, it makes for a particularly fitting context to learn the RACE strategy! 

3. Have them Solve a Reading Mystery  

Another creative way to get students to practice finding and using text evidence to support their claims is with a reading mystery. For these, students work together in small groups, using text evidence strategies to solve high-interest mysteries, like the Mystery of the Missing Garden Gnome, which you can try for FREE by clicking here. Here’s the backstory…

Mrs. Henry lives alone with her dog in a small South Florida home. Her most prized possession is her garden gnome which she has named Gerome. After returning from groceries one night, Mrs. Henry notices that the garden gnome is missing from her yard. Someone stole Gerome, and your students need to figure out who did it.

Along with the narrative backstory itself, students are given various pieces of evidence to draw on to support their claims about who they think did it, such as a social media profile, a package delivery information page, an airplane ticket, a customer feedback form, a newspaper article, and much more! This makes for a great hands-on way to practice reading between the lines and finding text evidence. It’s also extremely fun—and free!

4. Send Them on a Text Evidence Scavenger Hunt  

A text evidence scavenger hunt is a fun and easy-to-implement activity that will help your students get good at finding text evidence. To do this, simply put up pieces of chart paper around your room, and write a different claim about the text you are reading on each one. For example, if you are reading “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, one claim could be “The narrator of the story is unreliable. 


Then, in small groups, students will circulate the room with the story in hand. They will need to find text evidence that supports each claim and then write it underneath. Tell students they cannot use the same text evidence that was used previously by another group. This makes the activity increasingly challenging as they get to one claim which has, say, 4 examples of text evidence already used. 

5. Ask Them to Color-Code Responses

Instead of having students write out their responses, we can isolate the skill of finding text evidence with a color-coding response activity. For this, students will be given a list of comprehension questions. To answer each question, they will simply highlight the text where the evidence for the answer is. 


They can color-code their responses by using a variety of highlighter colors and highlighting the corresponding question the same color as the answer. This is just a creative and unique way to practice this skill that will make it interesting for students while also emphasizing the importance of finding text evidence. It's also an activity that takes less time, but still allows students to practice the skill.


There you have it! If you are looking for more creative ways to teach students how to find text evidence, check out the links below.  

Tips for Teaching Students How to Show Evidence from the Text by Tracee Orman

3 Tricks to Get Students (and YOU!) Excited for Poetry

3 Tricks to get your students (and you) excited about poetry


By Tracee Orman

Do your students groan when they think of poetry? Do you? I know that not everyone is excited about poetry and some people really, really struggle with it (including teachers). I have come across so many teachers in my career and as a curriculum writer that really hate poetry so they either skip it or speed through it. But it honestly doesn't have to be that way. 

So what do you do–how do you find excitement so your students will be excited, too? 

If you follow these three tricks, I guarantee you will find your unit more exciting and your students much more engaged!

My first step was to start with SONG LYRICS. Honestly, there was nothing more off-putting to students than having to read pages of verse...unless it’s from a favorite song! Use song lyrics to introduce the basics (rhyme, figurative language and devices, etc.) hooks them. Don’t believe me? Try it out and see! I guarantee your students will be excited to keep going if you start with songs. Besides, what are songs but poems set to music?

How to do it: 

Play a song in class, from start to finish. Let students just listen to it. (If you use a song like Wake Me Up by Aloe Blacc, they may want to get up and dance, and that is OK! Let them express themselves.) 

2. After listening to the song, introduce the lyrics by either projecting them or copying them onto a worksheet. Ask students what they think the song is about and why? Most songs will have a straightforward meaning but some may not. 

3. Next, ask students to identify a rhyme scheme. Again, most songs will have a clear one but some may not have one at all.

4. Have students identify any figurative devices. Obvious ones include similes, imagery, and personification. But also have them look for metaphors, hyperbole, symbolism, paradox, allusion, synecdoche, and onomatopoeia, to name a few.

5. After this deep dive into the song lyrics, ask students if they think the meaning of the song has changed at all. Chances are it will stay the same but maybe they will see it in a different way. This will help them when they start to analyze poems where the meaning is more complex.

You can also use song lyrics to talk about theme. Choose songs that have a similar theme to a poem. It’s much easier for students to practice with theme on a song first then pick out clues to that same theme in a poem. 

If you need help or further guidance, check out my bundle of song lyrics to teach poetry here.

When I transitioned from reading (and listening to) song lyrics to reading (and listening to) poems, I started with short poems. If you start with a longer poem, it may be too overwhelming for them. Stick to shorter poems to keep your students’ attention.

Some great short poems include: 
“The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams
“We Real Cool” and “Cynthia in the Snow” by Gwendolyn Brooks
“Fog” by Carl Sandburg
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” and “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell
“Hope is the Thing With Feathers” or any other poem by Emily Dickinson
“There Will Come Soft Rains” and “I Love You” by Sara Teasdale

Think of these as bite-sized ways of ingesting poetry. Keeping them short makes the analysis not as intimidating. And I found that reluctant teachers actually prefer shorter poems, as well.


Finally, after we analyzed the short poems, I had students write parodies of the short poems. Again, using the shorter format makes it much easier when we are writing poems.

To execute this, use light-hearted short poems (for example, from the list above I would definitely NOT use “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”). Then have students mimic the poem, line-by-line, with their own “take” on it. Because students are mimicking the poem, they are practicing essential skills in syntax, reinforcing parts of speech, rhyming, and structure. (And CREATIVITY!)

For example, when using a poem like “The Red Wheelbarrow,” keep the first two lines “So much depends /  upon” then have students replace the rest of the poem with another item.

The Sharpened Pencil Poem

You can decide how much or how little of the original poem you wish to include for the parody poems. 

I have an excellent guided presentation (offered in both PPT and Google Slides formats) that provides the short poems (and even some history on the poets) and step-by-step instructions for writing the parody poems. It includes more poems than you may ever need! And I promise it will make teaching poetry so much easier and fun for you!

Numerous teachers have told me these tricks have helped them make an intimidating genre fun. Just remember, you don’t have to love poetry to teach it effectively. 

I hope these tricks are just what you were looking for and you have a successful unit!

Check out these great resources from my colleagues:

Poetry Writing and Analysis by Addie Williams

Poetry One-Pagers by Presto Plans

Poetry Bell Ringers by Nouvelle ELA

5 Ways to Make Poetry Fun & Accessible by Room 213

How to Teach Blackout Poetry by The Daring English Teacher

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