Skip the Romance: Study the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Valentine’s Day in the secondary classroom is a far cry from candy and card exchanges. The emphasis on romance can put a lot of pressure on students– students in relationships may feel pressure to make the day special and students not in relationships may feel left out or irritated. The romantic aspects can certainly be a distraction.

It can take a powerfully engaging activity to get the attention off romance and on school work. The St. Valentine’s Massacre does a good job of getting students attention– bonus, it fits the holiday theme!

Some activities for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre:

Read the historic New York Times Article about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre from February 1929. It’s a lengthy article, but fully of good information about the massacre and Capone. Good for informational text reading and can be used with reading questions or graphic organizers.

Evaluate arguments in passages or web pages about Al Capone. An interesting topic can make it easier to engage students in the process of analyzing. The evaluation task is similar to the task seen on standardized tests. I’ve written some Al Capone Informational Text Analysis Activity that include one passage that is slanted towards untrue claims– that can help students practice disagreeing with the author’s argument– and one that is slanted towards generally recognized claims, to help students analyze arguments with an interesting topic.

Complete a web scavenger hunt or research activity. Students look up information about Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre using reliable websites. Can be paired with the New York Times Article or can stand-alone. When searching pictures, students can be taught how to cite images (and not just “Google images”.)

Have students make a Wanted Poster for Al Capone. Fill in details about Capone from the New York Times Article or internet search. Students can also create their own wanted poster– works well as a get-to-know you activity for new terms, too.

Have students create their own mob as a tie-in. Students can create a criminal or positive group, with a variety of real-life writing, including public relations, group history, and a poster board. Can be restricted to positive groups if necessary for school climate. Glorification of illegal activity is prohibited in the assignment (mentioning it as fact is different and may be acceptable.)

Complete a Villainous Terms Word search puzzle. Free, fun activity that can go with any bad-guy, or work around assemblies and other activities.  Includes a variety of 39 villainous words from bad to malefactor.

I prefer to keep the romantic stuff in with poetry, anyway, so I that’s a bonus, too.  Not that I particularly like poetry. 

Posted in Holidays, Teaching Ideas | Leave a comment

Culminating Activities For Use With “The Raven”

Culminating projects are a good way to engage students in digging deeper into a text. “The Raven” is a good text for engaging reluctant readers, with the dark tone and descent into madness.

Here are some culminating projects for “The Raven:”

Make a gravestone for Lenore. Include an image or symbol on it, plus an epithet (short comment).  For further textual analysis, have students reflect on what they included, with textual support.

Write an obituary or eulogy for Lenore. This activity combines real-world writing with creative writing and textual evidence. Students might choose the narrator as the point of view for the obituary (written description of the deceased) or the eulogy (speech given at the funeral).

Write an analysis of how the narrator interprets the responses of the Raven. Students can examine how he asks certain questions and how he views those answers.  Students might include how the “conversation” could have gone differently if the narrator asked different questions.

Research Poe’s life and relationships, then compare them with the poem for possible influence. A multimedia project is a nice way to present the research findings, as it can include images of Poe and his life that students find.

Write a prequel to the poem about the relationship with Lenore.  Could be written as a narrative or as rhyming poem in the same format as the original.

These are available as part of the Raven Culminating Projects Set— plus the Prequel is available as a stand-alone project, complete with rubrics.

Read more here about other ideas for teaching “The Raven.”

Check out other Culminating Projects to use with The Raven, or other poe  ms.

Need help teaching poetry? Read about ideas to help teachers and students with poetry

Posted in Teaching, Teaching Ideas | Leave a comment

The Best Part of Back to School

I’ve always looked forward to back to school. From those early school days– including the first day at Kindergarten when I jumped off the bus steps in my joy– to, well, this year.  The classrooms have changed. The students are still students, though there are shifts in the issues and interests.

But back to school is my favorite part of the school year.

There are so many things about back to school that I enjoy:

  1. New school supplies. There’s something magical about new packages of pens and pencils, new notebooks, folders and other odds and ends. Even as I’ve gone more digital in life, I just love getting new pens, with different tips and ink. Fresh notebooks waiting to be filled.
  2. The fresh start for students. The students are (generally), clean, sober, and ready to make it a good year. Attendance is usually good– better than it will be most of the rest of the semester. Students come ready to work (for the most part).  If I can hook the students early with engaging activities, I can build momentum through the first half of the semester. I try to strategically choose which texts and activities will get their interest, while still also holding some of the best stuff for a little bit later– lure them in, so to speak. Also, we get to begin building our classroom atmosphere, learning it’s individual flavor based on it’s occupants as we get to know each other (without ice breakers!). And we all know how two classrooms can be so different based on who is or is not part of it.
  3. New opportunities for the teacher. I can start a new rapport with this batch of students, learning and tweaking how I approach situations, classroom management, and procedure. I am ready to adjust projects and activities to reduce or remove pain-points from last year that interfered with student success. I have new ideas and new energy. I’ve been tweaking and collecting materials over the summer, reflecting on last year’s outcomes, and am ready to tackle things anew. While the craziness of the first week is unusually exhausting, once we start settling into what will be our normal routine, while students are still engaged, it’s like it all comes together. Move-moment teaching– or as close as I’ll get to it.

Back to school is full of possibilities.  New students, new assignments, new year. The chance to be even better than before.


Posted in Secondary Education, Teaching | Leave a comment

How to Waste Students’ Time with Binders and Notebooks

Binders, notebooks, interactive notebooks, portfolios and other tools can provide a method to showcase student learning, collect reference materials and teach organization.

Or they can be a time-consuming process that fails to do more than provide a sporadic grade.

Here’s how to waste students’ time with binders and notebooks:

  1. Require students to follow a specific format and structure, then provide a grade for organization.  Rather than teach students how to create organization, provide them a set list. This way, they will only know how to organize that class notebook, rather than how to apply organization to their own files and papers beyond that class.
  2. Do not provide, or reinforce, use of the reference materials. Do not create activities or opportunities that require students students to use the reference materials on repeated occasions. This will help show how useless the notebook and its contents are.
  3. Require students to collect past work with an ill-defined or inappropriate purpose. If all assignments are required, penalize students twice– once for missing the assignment submission, and again for it being missing in the binder or notebook. If “Best Work” is to be showcased, then make sure that students are given specific assignments that count as their best work– such as the only writing assignments or projects in the course.
  4. Surprise students with notebook checks to ensure they are lugging the thing to class each day– especially if it’s a massive 4-inch binder or an interactive notebook made fat with added pages that isn’t used daily or regularly for meaningful tasks. When they make the decision to prioritize based on the information (such as not being used), penalized that budding decision-making skills.
  5. If used daily, make sure that most tasks are stand-alone bell-ringers or similar activities that may relate tangentially, at best, to the rest of the day’s tasks. This will reinforce that the notebook is just another receptacle for tasks that could be done on any paper, without the need to carry and keep track of the binder or notebook.
  6. Since you, the teacher, never ever forget anything important, make sure to penalize students if they forget their notebook, even if it’s not being used that day. Do not have back-up or alternate activities to accommodate a student without their notebook.

If those things don’t appeal to you, then consider some of these:

  1. Be clear and consistent on your purpose of the binder and notebook. Make sure that the activities included are meaningful and relate to that purpose. If the purpose includes “teaching organization” then students will need opportunities to learn and practice their own organization rather than follow a checklist.
  2. Ensure that the notebook or binder is used regularly for reference. Recording new information (bell-ringers or daily activities) can be a useful purpose, but there should be some reason why the tasks must be done in the notebook as opposed to on separate paper.
  3. Be realistic. Students are not likely to refer to reference materials in their notebook if they think they already know it, if they find it to be more effort than asking or online or in a printed reference, or if they don’t find the notebook a useful reference (including if they find their own handwriting difficult to read.) Students– people– are unlikely to refer to practice exercises to review a process. Handwriting is rarely as easy to read as printed type, and this is exacerbated by those who read a lot of printed type (as many people do online, on phones, etc.)
  4. Be considerate of student needs when ordering the notebook or binder to be lugged around each day. Even an interactive notebook can get fat with added activities, and can have parts sticking out or off if (folded wrong, or tabs), which can be an irritation to some groups of students. Consider storing in-class if possible, or limiting how much is added to the notebook (goes with the above purpose– can bell-ringers be done on paper if they are daily practice of writing or grammar?)
  5. Have a process to support students who are absent, who have missed an assignment/ activity to be included in the notebook, and who have forgotten their notebook.  Keeping in mind that students are human, and that they have not only their set of classes, but also other priorities and issues at home, with friends, and with any activities they are involved in.

It’s been [redacted] years since I was a high school student, but I still remember resenting those massive binders, and the utter uselessness of them. I had as many as four binders to carry around and keep track of, the purpose of which, if even given beyond “teaching” organization, were rarely matched by the tasks included. As a “good student” I hated losing points for my binder– including for absent work I hadn’t completed or, at least once, that I was told “not to worry about” since it was completed in class. The above lists represent both my student-perspective from high school AND college, plus experience teaching and collaborating with colleagues.

What’s your take on binders and notebooks?

Posted in Smooth Classroom, Teaching, Teaching Ideas | Leave a comment

How to Plan for Back to School… When You Don’t Know What You’re Teaching

Summer is a great opportunity for teachers to rest, relax… and prepare for next year.  The more that can be prepared ahead of time, the more likely class will run smoothly.  There will be less last-minute lesson planning– and more time for appropriate minor tweaks (to meet classroom challenges or needs, for example.)

But what if you don’t know what you are teaching?  Maybe you are between jobs. Maybe your school doesn’t assign until closer to the school year, for some or all teachers.  Maybe there is rumor of a shake-up that is as-yet unconfirmed, but could move you from what you have taught before.  Whatever the reasons, it certainly puts a wrinkle in preparation time.

That wrinkle can be a bit trickier to navigate if you’re at risk of moving content areas.  I’ve been shuffled to teach History from time to time, along with or instead of English.  The planning can be different, but there are still ways to find some overlap or repurpose materials.

Here are some ways to prepare what you can without minimal risk of lost time:

Gather general use materials and projects.  Writing a research project is a solid stand-alone activity that can be used in most classes, especially ELA, but also in other content areas, if needed.  Personal writing is another area that can either stand-alone or frequently be tied into other texts. Themed essay writing is a short stand-alone option, and can be based around holidays (even in Secondary classes).

For English classes, one area of preparation is to collect projects that can be used for Any Text.  Then tailor the activity or the text to the class once assigned.  Any text can use a Literary Analysis, as can writers of all levels (especially if scaffolded.)   Many types of projects can by used for different texts, especially if the project includes an element of analysis of the original text.

Find Primary Sources and Informational Texts. Many primary sources and informational texts can function in any ELA class, as well as other content areas.  Questions can be tailored to the needs of the class or unit– though most texts can support general reading questions or graphic organizers to help students to focus on reading for content and analysis.  Projects can further tie the text into a theme or unit.

One text that I applied this idea to was materials for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Originally, the newspaper article and study were part of a history lesson.  Later, it was re-purposed for an English class.  The same text was able to fill both roles with little revision of task and project.

Experiment, explore, and practice with new tools, apps, or programs.  Perhaps it’s a program you’ve used before, but would like to be more comfortable with.  You might try a new task in an old program.  Or test out a new program to become familiar with it before you’re under pressure in the classroom.  If possible, set up sample students– and better, log in as the student to test the process and procedure.  What were difficulties for teacher or student with a program or activity, and how could they be addressed?

One summer, between classes, I spent time exploring the processes in Microsoft Word, particularly the Compare Documents tool.  I practiced how to use the tool to compare what changes were made between versions of a document, a process that I later implemented to check how much revisions students were doing in papers.  I adjusted how I treated– and graded– revisions between draft and final, since it was easy for me (and for students) to see them.

If all else fails, spend time reading.  Reading books about education and social theories, and featuring  culture and lifestyles different from my own, and full of stories and poems and novels you might teach (or not!).  I find that whether reading to develop as a teacher, or reading just because it’s fun (not counting the bonus part of building empathy through fiction reading), I know that my time spent reading is valuable time spent.

But most of all, summer is a good time to spend relaxing and recharging. Especially with those you enjoy.

Posted in Secondary Education, Teaching | Leave a comment

Activities to Teach “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka.

It’s a cultural reference.  It relates to a sudden and unexpected change– something teenagers can usually relate to.  It’s an odd and dystopic story.  Any one of these things make “The Metamorphosis” a good choice.  Even if the language is a bit dense and old-fashioned at times, it still holds up well as a teachable text.

Activities for Metamorphosis Kafka 1

Here are some ideas for teaching the story:

Reading questions and Graphic Organizers are a good way to push students into examining the text, helping them to practice reading for content and retention.  It can also be a way to promote accountability– and proof of it– for actually reading the story.  For dense or difficult texts, I like to spend time together in class reading, while students fill in their short answer questions (helping them have a reason to stay awake, too.)  Graphic organizers can be used to reinforce concepts of the story or differentiate for students who prefer more visual formats.

Write Your Own Metamorphosis Story is a fun writing activity to tie into the story.  I like to make students explore the literary devices and then match the original story in theme or main idea.  They get a lot of flexibility, while still examining literary devices and the original text.

Activities for Metamorphosis f Kafka 3


Personal Metamorphosis Writing is a great tie-in activity.  Students in the middle and high school level have usually all gone through some event or situation that related to their own personal growth.  This activity gives several options to reflect and write about those changes.  Works nicely as an anticipatory activity.

Grete’s Transformation is another area to explore.  While the story, in it’s painfully matter-of-fact manner, spends most of the time on Gregor’s metamorphosis, in the background, Grete is transforming into a young woman.  Students can dig through the story for evidence to write an essay or story about how Grete is changing.

Clerk’s Report Activity is a fun short writing activity that is great for middle of the text.  That poor clerk from Gregor’s employer has to go back to the boss with an absurd report.  How does he even tell it?  Students might practice dialogue writing, point of view writing, or even formal, objective writing.  Not gonna lie, these are usually fun to read, too– bonus!Activities for Metamorphosis f Kafka 2

Because it’s an older text, it’s often helpful to spend some time studying the vocabulary. I like doing vocab first, so students have, essentially, a personal dictionary for that story– in order of the text– that they can use to look up words while reading.  Sometimes, they actually do, so that’s nice.

Looking for other stories to pair with “The Metamorphosis”, consider “The Birthmark” (Nathanial Hawthorne) as it deals with changing a person, and “The story of an Hour” (Chopin) which, taking a different approach, is another character who is victim of their circumstance.

Buy all of the activities listed here, plus more, in the money saving Metamorphosis Activity Bundle at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

Posted in Fun Projects, Secondary Education, Short Stories, Teaching Ideas | Leave a comment

Useful End of the Year Activities

The end of the year can bring special challenges.  Students are wearing down, distracted by summer, or pulled away by testing or other special events.  Seniors may get out early, which can disrupt any class with a senior.  It may be a time of heavy review and wrap-up in some classes, which can also make it hard for students to remain engaged (such as if they think they already “got it”).  It can be tough to keep students on task and make the most of that valuable class time.

Here are some ways to make the most of the end of the year class time:

  • (Linked resources are specifically ELA, but the ideas can be applied in other subjects, too.)

  1.  Create a company.  This real-world activity is highly engaging.  Students in groups or individually can design a company, with goods and/ or services.  Use different real-world writing, and practice ‘selling’ the company.  (Subject areas may challenge students to make a specific subject-themed business, like environmentalism or math-based services.)  This project can be offered as a poster displaying the company, goods/services, and information for small scale, or add additional activities, such as business-letter writing, commercial creation, flyers and more.  Minimize for students with less class time due to activities or early-release, build up for others.
  2. Have fun with review.  Challenge students to create review posters and documents for important concepts.  Maybe include a contest over the best poster or memory device.  Using crosswords and word searches are good ways to reinforce concepts, like literary terms, science vocabulary, or history events.  Review games are good, and you can even have students create their own games to review as well (keep the good ones to use again.)
  3. Challenge students to a retro-active culminating project. They must return to a previous story or concept and create a project about it.  It forces students to return to an earlier part of the course to review and refresh.  Allow them to design their own culminating project, or choose from a set appropriate for the story or poem or concept.
  4. Have students do a short research project on a concept or idea from earlier in the course that they want to learn more about.  It can be a person, author, or even a reference from a story.  Consider taking some of the pressure off the research by relaxing some of the normal requirements– such as number of sources, length of written response, or even format, with allowing their preferred format (including PowerPoint or photo essay.)  Using templates for guidance and scaffolding is another way to practice, even at the end of the year.
  5. Have students Plan a Trip for their summer.  Do some real-world research.  Subject areas can even add the requirement of making it subject-related (nature related for sciences, for example, or history related for social studies.)  This can be a fun way to work in research, as well as writing and presentation of ideas while they create their brochure.

Keeping students busy seems to help the days go by smoother for them, and me.  Plus, using projects allows me a lot of flexibility as students are pulled.  I’ve even allowed students to spend some of that project time on missing work– for my class, or other classes– if they need to prop up their grade.  And, bonus, while they work, I can steal some time to keep up on grading, so that I’m prepared for the end of the school year as well.

What are your favorite strategies and activities for the end of the school year?

And if you’re teaching summer school, check out my summer school strategies.

Posted in Fun Projects, Secondary Education, Smooth Classroom, Teaching Ideas | Leave a comment

Engaging Activities for Practicing Literary Analysis

Literary analysis is an important activity, requiring students to dig into the text in a thoughtful way, finding support in the very words and phrases and ideas of the text.  It’s different from research writing or opinion-based papers.  Students, at times, struggle with explaining why they feel the text is saying something– especially if they’ve fallen into a heavily reader-perception based approach to texts.

Repeating literary analysis writing helps reinforce the process of finding support and, well, analyzing the text.  However, students can start to resist completing another literary analysis, or worse, begin to see the task as “busy work.”

Here are some strategies for engaging approaches to the Literary Analysis:

  1. Song Lyric Literary Analysis— students examine a song for use of poetic devices.  Can be done as a whole group, such as with a teacher-selected song.  Students can also work in small groups, each on a different song, teacher and/or student-selected.  Another option is for students to chose their own (school-appropriate) song.  Any song should have enough variety in lyrics to provide opportunity for analysis– very repetitive songs would not be a good choice.  (I have let students choose a song that includes select profanity and let them “bleep” the profanity out in the copy of the lyrics turned in, as well as the analysis.  This allows otherwise good choices for analysis to be used, in spite of the occasional swear word.)
    • This activity also works great around Christmastime, when Christmas carols and winter songs proliferate.  A Christmas Carol Literary Analysis is a fun way to include holiday-themed work even in the secondary classroom.
  2. Movie Literary Analysis— movies share many of the same literary elements as texts do, from characterization and theme to mood and allusion.  Using some or all of a movie is another way to work on literary analysis.  Students examine the movie and use the same sort of support as they would with a poem or (print) story.  There is an added challenge of not having passages of the text to refer to, but instead needing to explain what they are analyzing.  Pixar shorts work very well for this activity.
  3. Have students do a “Write Your Own” story or poem– students examine the text for several literary or poetic devices.  Then, using those same devices, plus a similar theme or main idea, students will create their own version.  This has students apply the literary devices found in the text, for a different sort of higher-level thinking about the text.  Short stories and poems are good choices, such as Casey at the Bat or After Twenty Years.
  4. Literary Essay Writing Printables– break the process into bite-sized pieces with fill-in-the-blank printables.  This can help reinforce the steps of analysis for both strong and weak writers.  Sometimes, taking the emphasis off the essay writing portion is a good approach: instead, students work on just the analysis.  Can also be used to scaffold the process for individual, group, or whole class, focusing on the areas where students need the most support or practice.
  5. Tweet the Text— fun activity that has students examine the use of language by turning a text (passage or poem) into Tweets, like on social media and microblogging.  Students then reflect on the impact, including effect of literary devices in the mediums.  Fun reinforcement, though less in-depth analysis of literary devices than the above options.Literary essays make a great way to wrap up a text.  If you’re looking for other ideas for culminating projects, consider these Retelling Projects and these Creative Culminating Projects for your next text.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reasons to (Still) Use the Five Paragraph Essay in High School and Beyond (Even for Advanced Learners)

The five-paragraph essay is a formulaic, bland, rigid model.  But it is also an incredibly structured, challenging guide.  It is a tool that can either stifle a writer or push them towards growth.   I have something of a love-hate relationship with the five-paragraph essay.  Students even can see it as a challenge or busywork, with the quality of essay and opportunity for growth that results.

But how can one little structured essay be all these things?  That relates to why it should still be used in the high school classroom, and beyond.

  1.  It’s very structured.  While the five paragraph essay can be very formulaic, the structure should be considered a positive.  For students who struggle with structure, the five paragraph essay provides additional practice and review of the basic essay structure.  Once this structure is mastered, it’s easier for students to expand the essay– add more body paragraphs using the same focused paragraphs and structure.  On the flip side, for students how are competent at longer essays with regards to content, students may get more lose with the essay and paragraph structure.  A return to the five paragraph essay can help them practice and review organization, with the reminder that the same guidelines of organization are the same, regardless of essay length (intro, focused body paragraphs with topic sentence and link to thesis, plus conclusion that provides no new information.)
  2. It’s very organized.  The five paragraph essay relies on the three pieces of support, along with the details or explanation of that support to form the body paragraphs.  Students who struggle with organization get practice focusing on one topic in their body paragraph, and can work on strengthening their ability to explain and analyze support in the body paragraph.  Most students will benefit from the review of using a main idea to start a paragraph, as well as keeping one topic per paragraph.
  3. It can be used to differentiate the focus for improvement.  No, really, I was surprised as I started working with this format more closely.  Partly because the format is almost fill-in-the-blank, the focus for improvement, or even grading, can be differentiated for students.  For students still working on complete sentences, the low content requirement can help move the focus.  Students can focus on clear, concise, and organized writing, down to sentence-level.  For students who are proficient writers, it can be tempting to just give them a ‘pass’ on the sentence-level development– HOWEVER, one great way to push the at-grade-level and above-grade level writers is to encourage them to add more content without adding more sentences.  This requires using complex and compound-complex sentence structures: longer sentences, but accurately structured and punctuated.  So, for high and low level writers, there is development of structure and mechanics, but differentiated.
  4. They can be quicker to review and grade, for faster feedback.  Feedback on the writing process is important.  More so, if students have the opportunity to see and track recurrent errors and work on them.  A series of short essays can build that portfolio of practice and review.  With short essays, it may be easier to work in workshop on conferencing time– there is less time needed to review the five paragraphs than a longer paper would need.  This allows time for the teacher to help review errors and corrections with more depth than can be done in margin comments.  Or, the short form, I find, works great for quick student conferences in class. 
  5. It’s good practice for demand-writing (and standardized testing.)  The five paragraph essay’s short length makes it quicker to write.  For students, this means they get practice writing texts of different lengths– sometimes I think there is too much focus on longer writing, to the point I’ve seen teachers focus on one or two BIG writing assignments, with little or no structured essay or research writing beyond the Big Writing Assignments.  Shorter writing is a good skill to keep sharp, especially if we recognize that much daily writing for most students will not be long-form research papers, but short, concise and direct.  Demand writing also has the element of limited revision, where students must write accurately the first time– no “sloppy copy” or rough draft where students don’t correct even basic errors they know need fixing.  Standardized testing gives little time for revision, especially if the student struggles with topic development before starting, and it’s good to practice this under-pressure short form to help students see and improve their weak areas long before the test.  We’d do a disservice to not spend some time writing short essays regularly.

One of my favorite tools for working with the Five Paragraph Essay is the use of support documents.  I like the Five-Paragraph Essay Model as a rough draft for students (even the proficient ones) and it’s easy to me to review and give fast feedback.  I’ve also expanded my toolbox for the Five-Paragraph essay materials to include Quick Guides (some may call them “Cheat Sheets” that walk students through process.)

With several levels of support documents, I might require that some groups of below-grade level writers use the models and reference guides, even referring to them myself in conversation.  For at grade level writers, I would provide and encourage the reference guides while working.  Lastly, for above-grade level writers, I might deny them the support guides during the writing process, to push them to independent work, but use them guides to discuss with the student what they achieved and what they did not, as compared to the guides and templates.

The Five Paragraph Essay, in my opinion, should not be left behind as students progress in grades, or even in writing ability.  It is a tool that has a place in any classroom to help review and reteach, but also to challenge and to check.


Posted in Assessment, Secondary Education, Secondary Writing, Testing | Leave a comment

Texts and Activities for Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month.  The month may also include the end of a marking period (or trimester), state testing, and/ or spring break.

While it may not be possible to dedicate time to a whole unit related to texts about or by women, it’s a good idea to include one or more, perhaps in a mini-unit.  Since women were often forgotten in history, it’s important to me to take at least a little time out to examine women’s issues, with female writers and characters.

Some Texts for and about women:

The Story of an Hour:  by Kate Chopin.  Short story of a woman, with a ‘weak heart.’ facing sudden, but inaccurate, news of her husband’s death, and her unexpected reaction to the information.  This story has great opportunities for a variety of projects, such as alternate ending or prequel writing, along side literary essays and discussions about love, loss, and freedom.

The Yellow Wallpaper: by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Story of a young woman suffering from mental illness (likely postpartum depression) who is locked alone, in isolation, away from her baby as her treatment.  This story raises the question of mental health, but also the question of whether a man would ever be shut-up for days without contact to “treat” mental health issues.  Or even issues of class– would a Black woman or a poor woman have the luxury of suck treatment?  The story also includes a narrator of dubious reliability.  Alternate point of view writing would make a good companion activity.  Dig deeper into the implications of the story by reading more about the impacts of isolation.

A Rose for Emily: by William Faulkner.  A good, creepy story that relies heavily on inference as to what happened with Emily and her lover.  Discussion can include how the story might be different if the main character was a man, rather than Emily.  Would motivation of the main character change if it was a man?  The story also can include discussion of what is romantic… and where is the line between romantic and creepy (or abusive, though that might get heavy, so know your audience.)  Prequel writing would be a good companion activity, as would alternate ending writing.

My Mistresses Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun (Sonnet 130): Shakespeare pokes fun at all the normal romantic ideas, presenting his lover as being anything but beautiful, raising questions of what is beauty and how does love affect perception?  For comparison, Diella Sonnet 3 by Richard Linche is an interesting companion.  Students can write their own poem, or sonnet, about someone or something that they love.


Ain’t I A Woman, speech by Sojourner Truth: short speech shows contrast between white and Black (or colored) women, and the expectations and behaviors of both.  This speech can be challenging to read in dialect, but hearing it can help, such as read by Alice Walker.  It also highlights class differences– how were Black or poor women expected to behave or perform, as compared to their white counterparts.  Pair with the expectations and treatment of the women in The Yellow Wallpaper or The Story of an Hour.  How would those stories be different if expectations of women were different?  Students can discuss or write about what does it mean to be a woman and how does that definition change– in history, or in class or race.  Can make a good topic for a five-paragraph-essay, forcing students to be focused and structured (and thinking hard about what is their best support).  Have students compare their definitions, and consider discussion.  (Can also relate to discussion of what does mean to be a man, or manly, as men also face stereotypes on behavior and expectations that can be damaging.)

Susan B. Anthony’s Speech on Women’s Suffrage: students can be challenged to answer Anthony’s question of whether or not women are a ‘persons’?”  Why would they be defined otherwise?  This would also include discussion of context– and for a long time, women were considered property (either of their father or their husband).  And why would property vote…?  Can also relate to discussion on how ideas and norms change.

Other Activities to examine women and related topics:

Examining Male and Female Specific Products:  Send students (online or as homework) to find examples of products marketed for men and for women– some include pens (such as the Bic for Women), body wash for men, Lego sets for girls, and razors.  Compare ingredients/ features, scents, color, price, and more.  Then report: are they different products?  Does their need to be different versions?  Write a persuasive essay or a real-world business or complaint letter addressing the product choices.

Do Boys Read Female Writers?  When Harry Potter was first published, the author was encouraged to use her initials, because their was concern that boys wouldn’t read a book written by a female writer.  Is this true?  What would a female author write that would be different than a male author (assuming that the protagonist is still a male, like Harry Potter is)?  Good activity for a lead-in to studying female-centric stories or authors.  Can also lead into discussion or literary essay about what topics are more likely to interest male or female readers, and which are more universal.

Women’s History Month Essay: Students might write classifying jobs by gender (like nurse or secretary).  Another option is for students to write a woman marginalized in her work or about a woman that the student admires for her accomplishments.  A narrative essay on a time the student (or someone they know) was dismissed or discounted based on gender.

Research a Woman from History: students dig into a forgotten (or lesser-known) woman from history.  Find research and practice writing a research paper with analysis: why does this woman matter?  Or simply a timely practice of research writing.  Short research writings are good practice of form and structure, as well as a a method of allowing student-direct learning.


High school may not have the time, or interest, in heavily themed months, but there is value in taking the time to include holiday-themed activities.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment