Monday, July 21, 2014

Back to School- 7 Reeling in the Students Activities +Teacher Bonus

Middle School Students Lesson Plans/High School Lesson Plans

Welcome back to another school year!

Teachers' most important objective for the First Day of School is to reel in the students. Whether the topic is General School Rules, Classroom Rules, or Reviewing the Course Syllabus, educators know that they must bait their students with an activity or two that will lure them into becoming life-long learners.  Here are 8 activities-4 Free and 4 Priced- that will snag students' attention and present a warm and inviting learning environment.

Teaching Tip: offer one of these activities for your students to dig into while you take attendance. Save the rules and syllabus discussions for a bit later in class - after you have baited their brains with a fun and subtle writing and critical thinking activity.

First Day Writing Assignment
First Day Writing Assignment

Since writing is an integral part of the majority of language arts lessons, it's a good idea to obtain an idea of each student's writing skills the very first day of school.  This writing exercise will help you to focus on the writing elements that you will need to cover, and also serves as a smooth transition for the students from the summer break to the new school year. The First Day Writing Assignment gets the students thinking in an analytic manner.

Language Arts Comprehension Check:Ten Sentence Format

Ten Sentence Format

NOTE: This freebie is NOT an activity, but an invaluable teaching tool. I placed it here so you can consider handing it out as a pre-writing exercise for the First Day Writing Assignment.  Students can start working on it while you take attendance, and then complete it after you present and reinforce the behavior and academic expectations for the year.

This Ten Sentence Format reinforces students' basic understanding of the elements of a good paragraph while they practice writing about literature It also empowers them to write and develop more in-depth essays. Perfect for clarifying and reinforcing the parts of an essay, you may also use it as an announced or unannounced quiz when you wish to check reading and writing comprehension, and for general writing practice or warm-ups. (Free)

(Note:The Ten-Sentence Format is a part of the Writing Module of my book, The House of Comprehension. You can check out the book on the publisher's site, or on their Teachers pay Teachers site

Comprehension - It's Good to be Me...It's Good to be You

Comprehension - It's Good to be Me...It's Good to be You
These engaging activities will hook students into reading and writing about any text. The two activities engage students in their character exploration of the people they meet in their reading, but they will also allow your charges to reveal their own personalities and thoughts. This is a great way for young people to turn their private "The Me You Don't Know" traits and thoughts into their "The Me I Want You to Know" word pictures that they are willing to share publicly. 

Also, these FREE activities will jump start students' higher level thinking skills and give them a chance to exhibit their thinking in their writing. Although these work as great activities at the beginning of the year for you to get to know your students and for them to learn about each other, they are comprehensive activities throughout the year. (Free)

Writing (First Day) What About Me?

Writing (First Day) What About Me?
The first day of school is often filled with so much administrative detail and introductions to the class that teachers don't get a chance to really introduce themselves to the students and vice versa. This product, What About Me?, offers teachers and students a chance to reveal their thoughts and feelings about school and themselves to each other. 

With this activity, students will find out what their teachers expect from them, and teachers will understand what impacts their students academically. Teachers should fill out their separate sheet ahead of time, but not hand them out to the students until they complete theirs. If there is time in class, students can start their sheets, but might feel more comfortable completing them at home. Teachers should require them to be finished within the first few days of school so they can get to know their learners as soon as possible.

Language Arts Activity - "This is My Future"

Language Arts Activity - "This is My Future
Here is a beginning of the year ice breaker that helps the students get to know each other and offers the teacher a chance to learn about them- as young people and as students. In this activity, students consider their futures. What is their dream career? Where do they see themselves in five, ten, fifteen or twenty years? This thinking and writing assignment allows them to ponder who they are now, where they are going, and what they need academically to help them live their dream.

On this first day of school, ask them to start this activity by designing a poster that depicts their dream career. If class time permits, they now should write a paragraph explaining the school subjects and necessary skills that they will need to master in order to help them attain their goals. If you want to move on more quickly, have a few students summarize their designs and then complete the writing aspect at home. When they have finished this activity, pin up the posters around the classroom so that all of the students can look into their peers' futures. These make a fascinating bulletin board and visual for parent night.

Critical Thinking & Writing Lesson: Four Corners Activity

 Four Corners Activity
Engage your students the very first day by getting them on their feet where they can share their opinions on a variety of contemporary topics. After that, give them time to express their thoughts in writing. 

These activities allow students to show their analytic and critical-thinking skills in speaking and writing. Also, they offer teachers a good writing baseline, so they can assess what areas of writing their students will need to focus on during the year.
This is an excellent activity because it:
1. Makes the students think
2. Teaches them to express themselves verbally in a non-argumentative manner
3. Requires them to listen to others’ opinions
4. Gets the students actively involved on the first day of school.$)

Writing Activity: My Life's Journey

My Life's Journey
This activity lets students create a pictorial life map from their birth to the present day. Students should complete the project totally with images and brief captions. Continue the concept of this lesson with your first reading selection that the students will study. Although I have used this assignment in conjunction with teaching The Odyssey, it can accompany any story that involves a journey. It complements a variety of books-fiction and narrative non-fiction- for grades 6-12.$)

Timing is most crucial at the beginning of the school year. Snag students' attention and feed their learning appetites with one-or two of these offerings as appetizers.  Try this sequence of activities:

  1. Choose a writing activity as students settle in and you take attendance.
  2. Ask a few students to share their responses for this exercise.
  3. Review rules, the course syllabus and complete other administrative duties.
  4. Select an activity that gets the students moving and talking, i.e. the Four Corners Activity.
  5. Close the class with any instructions re completing the writing activity.

Teacher Bonus:

Back to School Freebie- Teacher CLASSMART List

Teacher CLASSMART List
This Back to School FREEBIE list is comprised of 12 supplies that will save teachers' sanity during the school year. Three of the Items included are:
1. Hand cleanser (extra-large). Classrooms are Free-Range Germ Zones.
3. Antiseptic cleaning spray. This is a must in Germ Warfare Defense to use with students who sneeze or cough on their homework/ tests and then try to hand in the tainted papers. When they do, smile, hand them the bottle and tell them to go into the hall and de-germ those weapons of mass congestion. This is also a necessity for desk cleaning and purifying the air. and
10. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Just like burgers need fries and eggs need bacon, grading that stack of essays calls for the fruit of the cocoa bean…in any form.

Although this isn't a First Day Activity, if you fill your supply closet with these items, you will enjoy a year that is as germ-free, stress-free and headache-free as possible.
Preparing your Back to School First Day Agenda now will guarantee you a good sleep the night before Opening Day. Bait your teaching hooks now with any of these 7 activities as well as your CLASSMART List.

Happy Teaching,

Monday, July 7, 2014

English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"

English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"
Frank Sinatra was famous for crooning, "I did it my way." The characters in the stories students are studying should sing the same lyrics. 

This English Language Arts Lesson Plan, "Conflicted by Conflict" will enable middle and high school students to show how a character of their choice from a story that they are studying should respond to a conflict that appears in a different venue, i.e. movies, another book, a news piece, a song lyric on a contemporary life situation.

For each venue, the students will:
1. Summarize How the Conflict is Revealed in that selection
2. Reveal the character’s Antagonist in that specific genre
3. Show the Character’s Action/Reaction to this conflict.

Students should use details from the story they are studying to support their character’s response(s) to the conflict as it is shown in the new venue. 
Here's an example how they can accomplish this:

Story The Hunger Games Author Suzanne Collins
Another Book/Story Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Character: Katness Everdeen Antagonist The wilds of Alaska
Conflict: Katness faces dying from starvation due to the isolation and hardships of an Alaskan winter (Character vs. Nature)
Character’s Reaction:
Katness Everdeen’s understanding of poisonous plants would have saved her if she had been faced with starvation like Chris McCandless. Because she had spent years foraging for food for her mother and sister, she never would have mistaken the toxic sweet pea vegetation for the safe wild potato plant. Also, as a savvy and accurate hunter, she would have been able to trap or kill animals for much needed protein.

In Conflicted by Conflict, middle and high school students will flesh out characters from their reading to show their understanding of the element of character as well as their analytic and critical-thinking skills.
English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"
 English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"

By analyzing a character of their choice, students will exhibit their understanding of this person’s characteristics, emotions, and other attributes through comparing and contrasting his/her actions and reactions to the same conflict, but which exists in other literary and life venues 

This activity should be introduced when the characters have shown enough depth to analyze. Although both Common Core Standards and active verbs from Bloom's Taxonomy Learning Domains are included, you should use these given standards as guidelines, adapting them to the benchmarks that your state follows.

We teachers often wonder what are students actually know and understand from their reading. The singer, Alesana addressed the understanding necessary to make a decision in her song, "Second Guessing"
'Tell me are you second guessing?
Because you honestly seem to have it all
Are you under control or questioning how this all ends?'

After they complete this activity, students will feel confident about the character that they have evaluated, and will proudly say, "No second guessing for me. I have it under control."
Download it from
 As with all of my products, this one includes detailed Teacher Notes.
English Language Arts Lesson Plan - "Conflicted by Conflict"

Happy Teaching,

Teach it Write
Building Powerful Academic Homes

Monday, June 23, 2014

Language Arts Activity - Characters Just Keep on Dancin'

Language Arts Activity - Characters Just Keep on Dancin'
No matter their age, students love music and dancing. In this FREE handout, Language Arts Activity - Characters Just Keep on Dancin, Middle and High School students will select characters from the literature that they have studied throughout the year for a dance competition.

They are to reveal their comprehension of these characters’ personalities, emotions, and moral fiber in their writing and speaking.

This language arts activity should be introduced when the characters have shown enough depth to analyze. Students will flesh them out by showing their understanding of the element of character as well as their analytic and critical-thinking skills. 

Here are the Students' Directions:

Language Arts Activity - Characters Just Keep on Dancin' Students' Directions
Students- for this activity, you are to
1. Choose three pairs of characters (6 characters, total) to team up for a dance competition (Based on the Dancing With the Stars Television show). 
2. These characters may be from any stories that you have read in class this year. Do not be concerned that the dancers in each pair are from the same setting or historical period. Also, the characters in each pair do NOT have to be from the same story. 
3. Each pair will compete against the other two pairs, so your choices for each duo must have similar dancing skills and abilities.
4. Once you have chosen your pairs, you must explain the reasons for your selections, and defend your explanations with details from the stories that support your thinking. Be sure to analyze each duo’s competitive dancing strengths and weaknesses.
5. Next, choose the type of dance (Ballet, jazz, hiphop, disco, fifties-or any decade, etc.), and the music for each pair’s competition dance. The music must fit the dance genre as well as each dancer’s skills and abilities.
6. Choose three criteria that the dancers must meet-examples: Technical Merit, Difficulty of Routine, and Showmanship. Ten points should be allotted to each of the criteria, and the pair that wins must earn the highest score out of 30 points. NOTE: You will have to go back and score each pair’s dance routine after you select the three criteria.
7. Select the winning team. Here you will have to justify your choice by determining how each pair met the set criteria. Write each analysis in sentence form.
8. When you are finished, the teacher will divide you into teams of three. Here, you will read the analysis and decision of your two team members. Finally, you will show whether you agree or disagree with that peer’s choice by writing an explanation on that student’s paper.
9. Finally, write a brief news item for the Entertainment Section of an online or print newspaper revealing the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of this dance competition.
10. Teachers will collect the papers and grade them according to their pre-set criteria, i.e details, supporting material, analytic depth, grammar, spelling etc.
11. Teachers should have you orally share your choices and justifications.
12. At the end of this part of the activity, the teacher will collect the papers.

This product supports Common Core Standards and Bloom's Taxonomy. Use the given standards as guidelines, adapting them to the benchmarks that your state follows.

Students' brains will boogie to the learning beat with this FREE activity. When the music flows and the characters dance, students will be engaged and motivated. Download Language Arts Activity - Characters Just Keep on Dancin' from

Language Arts Activity - Characters Just Keep on Dancin' DAncer and Music Selection
Language Arts Activity - Characters Just Keep on Dancin' Team Member Analysis

Happy Teaching,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Language Arts Activity - Oh My WORDs!

Language Arts Activity - Oh My WORDs!
Vocabulary study will become meaningful to Middle and High School students when they make the words an integral part of their writing and speaking. We teachers must offer them a variety of ways to think about the word’s definition, as well as its connotative meaning so that they can make logical inferences about its usage.

The key to word ownership is to offer students a variety of opportunities to use the words repeatedly in order to remove any aura of isolation that remains when they just memorize the meanings for a test. This multiple exposure will help the students become more comfortable and confident with how to use the words.

Like my Vocabulary: 31 Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary
(,  this FREEBIE, Oh My WORDs!,  also has 30 exercises for students to show that they understand how the vocabulary words should be used in context. 

In their writing, students will have to actively think about four elements in order to use them correctly: the word’s definition, its contextual and or connotative meaning, its part of speech, and which, if any, inflectional endings (i.e. –er, -ed, -ing-, s) are necessary when they include them in this piece. 

Language Arts Activity - Oh My WORDs!
Through this reinforcement, each student will add some of the words to his or her oral and written language repertoire.  Reading comprehension will also improve, not just due to the inclusion of teacher-generated words into their personal vocabularies, but also because they are learning to think about how writers choose words to express their thoughts.

I have grouped the exercises as: Warm-ups Writing, Short Writing, and Shared Writing. For the most part, the topics are general enough to be used in conjunction with any word list. Students should complete the Warm-up Writing in 15-20 minutes and the other two categories in twenty-five to thirty minutes. My intention is not to turn these into major writing assignments, but to offer enough depth for the students to develop their thoughts and to include as many words as they could without turning the writing into a contextual word list.

Teaching Idea:

To insure that the students are studying how the words are used and are not just memorizing the meanings, assign a Short Writing the night before the quiz.  The day of the assessment, collect the writings, put them in a stack on your desk, and, while the students are completing the quiz, check off that they are complete.  You can review these pieces quite quickly if you choose to only circle any words that are used incorrectly or are unclear. 

When the students have turned in the quiz, they should choose a peer’s Short Writing and write their reactions to the content of the piece.  Have them underline any vocabulary words that they use in their 100-150 word responses for extra credit. When the time is up, stroll through the room, check that the assignment is completed and note any extra credit that you may add to their quiz grade.

Happy Teaching,

Monday, June 9, 2014

Language Arts Activity - Fiction's Physique

Readers enjoy rating the books that they read whether this analysis occurs in their heads, on line, with a friend or in book group discussions.

Language Arts Activity - Fiction's Physique
This English Language Arts activity- Fiction's Physique- enables Middle and High School students to develop their comprehension and reasoning skills as they show- in writing and orally- a story's buff or flabby qualities.

Teachers should offer this lesson after students have finished reading the story. When they have completed this activity, students will reveal the buffness of their thinking skills from knowledge through evaluation.

This activity allows them to show their understanding of all aspects of the Elements of Strong Fiction as well as their comprehension of the various aspects of the story.
Here is the How the lesson should be taught from the Teacher Notes:

·         Introduce the activity by reviewing each Element of Strong Fiction (Vivid Details, Depth of Character, Descriptive Settings, Captivating Plots, Realistic Dialogue, Unpredictability, Originality, Emotions, Believable Endings and Purpose).
1.       Before class, write each of the ten elements on the board, leaving space for student responses.
2.       Give each student a card with one of the ten elements written on it.
3.       Allot them five minutes to find an example of their element and to write it on the board under the corresponding topic.
4.       Discuss the answers
·         Review the activity’s directions by reading them orally and then checking for understanding.
·         Give students time in class to work on this activity.  Suggestion- 30 to 45 minutes, depending on their skills and abilities.
·          Students may either finish this activity in class the next day or as a homework assignment. Teachers choose their desired option, depending on their students’ skills and abilities and their objective(s) for the activity.
·         The day that the activity is due, write the elements of strong fiction on the board again, randomly assign each student two topics, and then ask them to write one of their examples under each of their assigned elements.
·         Alternate Lesson: divide students into pairs or trios. Give them class time to complete this activity, instructing them to divide up the elements as they choose. Follow the previous bullet for sharing.
·          Each student must complete the Fitness Analysis segment.
Language Arts Activity - Fiction's Physique
 Language Arts Activity - Fiction's Physique

Happy Teaching,

Monday, June 2, 2014

Language Arts Activity - You & Me: Mirror Images or Polar Opposites?

Language Arts Activity - You & Me: Mirror Images or Polar Opposites?
Sometimes students meet characters that seem like their alter-egos; other times they feel that these people are their polar opposites. 

In this FREE Language Arts activity, You & Me: Mirror Images or Polar Opposites?, Middle and High School students choose the character from the story that they are currently studying or from any book that they studied in class this year with which they most identify.

Here are the directions for each aspect of this multi-layered lesson:

Directions Part 1: Choose the character from the story that we are studying or from any book that we
studied in class this year with which you most identify. Fill out the following by comparing and contrasting your similarities and differences with this person.

Language Arts Activity - You & Me: Mirror Images or Polar Opposites?
 Language Arts Activity - You & Me: Mirror Images or Polar Opposites?

In this part of this packet, each student is to relate the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and moral similarities and differences between the character that he/she chose and him/herself.

After they complete this, they evaluate their information for the qualities that they are glad that they share with the character, those that they never want to share, and those that they wish they shared.

Directions Part 2: Use your information from Part 1 of this activity as notes for the following essay outline. 
After you complete this page, use your Hook, Overview Statement and Thesis Statement to begin a full-length essay showing 
• how you are similar to and different from the character that you chose, and
• how you feel about these similarities and differences.
Detail your main ideas, backing them up with specific facts and opinions from the book and from your own thoughts to develop this essay. 

Language Arts Activity - You & Me: Mirror Images or Polar Opposites?
Essay Criteria:
1. Minimum 500 words; no maximum- write until you have fully developed your points.
2. Type your essay – double-spaced- in the font style and size set by your teacher.
3. Essay Packet: Behind the final typed draft of the essay, attach all of the Part 1 and Part 2 pages of this activity.

Teachers, use this comprehension-developing lesson with the study of any story, or as a culminating end-of-the-year assessment. By the time that they have completed the notes, outline and essay, students will have exhibited their range of thinking skills from knowledge through evaluation. 

Also, this activity allows them to exhibit their understanding of all aspects of the character element of literature as well as their analytic and critical-thinking skills.

Best of all, they will figure out if this character is their mirror image or their polar opposite.

As always, specific standards and Bloom's Taxonomy choices are included in the detailed Teacher Notes. Download this FREE activity from

Happy Teaching,

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Language Arts Activity - Road Trip Time

Language Arts Activity - Road Trip Time
No matter the time of year, road trips often fill the daydreams of students-and teachers. This language arts lesson for Middle and High School students, Road Trip Time, allows students to live vicariously through the character that they select. These characters may be from:
1. The teacher's pre-made list using stories they have studied in class
2. The student's choice from stories they have studied in class, or
3. Students' choices from their independent reading.

The teacher chooses when this activity will enhance lesson content and will develop reading comprehension as well as writing and higher level thinking skills.

By the time that they have completed this activity, students will have exhibited their range of thinking skills from knowledge through evaluation. These handouts allow them to show their understanding of all aspects of the elements of literature as well as their analytic and critical-thinking skills in their writing and talking.

Here are a few of the requirements from the Directions that students must address:
Language Arts Activity - Road Trip Time
• Where this character goes depends on his/her age, personality, likes, dislikes, and physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
• What is the purpose of this trip- a vacation, a work/vacation combination, a quest, some other reason?
• If the story takes place in this world, the place(s) the character visits on this Road Trip should actually exist.
• If the story takes place in a made up world, create places that could exist and that are true to the story.
• Research and analyze the real or make-believe world Road Trip places to make sure that they fit the real or imagined setting, and all aspects of the character you chose as well as his/her purpose for the trip. 

Students are to complete all three of the Teacher Required Components - 
Language Arts Activity - Road Trip Time

1. Travel Agent Survey - See handout
2. Road Trip Itinerary- See handout
3. Character’s Road Trip Journal- See requirements
as well as one Student Component Choices- See explanations
1. Facebook Road Trip Fan Page
2. Road Trip Tweets
3. Road Trip Scrapbook
4. Road Trip Slide Show
5. Student’s Idea
Note: helpful links for free templates, etc. are given for both the Character's Road Trip Journal and for the Student Component Choices.

Language Arts Activity - Road Trip Time

Whether teachers use this as to end the school year, to begin the new term in the fall, or during the year, at some point, everyone needs Road Trip Time's "Ahh I needed that" interlude. 

This language arts activity is based on specific standards (see the Teacher Notes), assesses Middle and High School students' comprehension, thinking and writing skills and engages students on all of the Bloom's Taxonomy levels.

Happy Teaching,