Skip the Book Report! Analyze and Create Instead!

After finishing a novel reading, whether whole group or individual, it’s great to have an activity to wrap up.  While book reports and other retelling projects, are a common choice, especially when dealing with multiple or student selected books, they don’t provide the higher level thinking that is preferred in secondary classrooms.  Instead, push students towards going beyond the text to predict, analyze, create and evaluate.

Here are some fun, flexible projects to use:

  1. Write Friendly-Letter(s): Students write a friendly letter from a character in the story.  Expand the activity by having students respond to the letter, either responding to their own letter or to a classmates.  Students can explore and address characterization, explore point of view, and evaluate importance of events.
  2. Design a Tattoo or Tee Shirt: students examine the story for theme or other literary elements and design a tattoo or tee shirt to depict it.  Draw free-hand or provide templates.
  3. Create a How-to Brochure: students will analyze a task or lesson from the story. Then, using details from the text, they will create a how-to brochure.  Good way to evaluate one or more choices of characters, as well as re-read the text for information. 
  4. Write a Sequel: Students predict what could happen next based on details of the original text.  Challenge students to keep true to the original characters to practice point of view exploration.
  5. Write a Prequel: Students examine key events and characterization of the story in order to write a prequel.  Prequels explain why the character or events in the original text are they way they are.  It’s a fun creative endeavor that’s rooted in details of the original text.
  6. Design a Book Cover: students examine the text for images, symbols, and motifs to design a catchy book cover.  Fun creative project that doesn’t take much time.
  7. Design a Movie Poster: This project addresses application of medium– in this case film– as compared to text.  Students consider how to depict the concept of the story in visual format, including images or symbols.  Students can research actors and actress to play the roles, requiring examination of the characters and their roles.
  8. Create a Soundtrack for the Text: Students will find (or write!) songs to fit select parts of the story.  Music in a soundtrack reflects or enhances the mood of the scene, so students will need to analyze the mood of the scene and of the music selected.
  9. Write Your Own: this project has students identify themes and major elements of the story to apply to their own version.  Students will be challenged to not just retell the story, but to create a new version.  Similar, in a way, to how Hollywood may “re-imagine” a classic story, with a new twist. 
  10. Write an Alternate Ending: Students apply understanding of elements of the story, including conflict and characterization.  They’ll predict and explore the effects a change at a key event of the story.  Student- or Teacher-selected event is chosen as the point to change, and students write a new ending.

Because the projects vary in content, they may not fit all books chosen.  This issue can be addressed by offering students a choice in their project.  I like to offer a variety of projects and let students chose– this may be accomplished with task cards, choice boards, or the old-school method of laying out stacks of photocopied assignment guidelines for students to choose from.  Student choice is a great way to increase engagement, which is helpful in pushing students into that higher-level thinking.

Plus, if you ask me, it’s a lot more fun, as a teacher, to grade the different creative projects than to read multiple regurgitation of the novel.  I’m frequently amazed and impressed by the creativity AND the level of depth I see in student projects.  It’d make me all warm and fuzzy, if I was that sort of person.

That said, the Literary Analysis Essay is always a fitting approach to any story, as it requires analysis (it’s in the name, after all) and students can be directed to select their own topic.

Posted in Assessment, Fun Projects, Secondary Education, Secondary Writing, Teaching, Teaching Ideas | 1 Comment

Skip the Book Report: Try these Creative Projects Instead

Book Reports area  common sight, still, in many classrooms, including secondary classes.  They’re easy to implement, for both whole-class reading, but also for the increase in small-group or individual book choice selections.

In fact, book reports (and their close cousin, the book review) are an answer to the challenge of allowing group or individual book choice selections.  How to have students demonstrate understanding of all the different texts?  Book reports are easily used with any book to (hopefully) have students demonstrate that they have read it.

At it’s a core, a book report is largely a retelling of the book.  One of the problems with book reports at the higher grades is that it’s quite easy to scavenge enough information about the book online, without having read it.  More so, they don’t include much analysis, if any.  Even a review may only require a cursory opinion with nominal support beyond, “I liked it!”  Assuming students don’t pretend they’re trying to avoid spoilers.

Luckily, there are several creative project choices that require students to not just retell the text, but process and manipulate it.


Here are 6 Creative culminating projects that build on retelling:

  1. Write a Newspaper Article: retell a major event of the story through the medium of a newspaper article.  For added depth, students can use standard newspaper article structure, too.  Can be expanded to cover all of a short story or a series of articles for several major events.  Students can also be challenged to consider what information would a journalist or reporter know from the text, and what information would be unknown– just as with other point of view examination.
  2. Create an Infographic: students retell the major events, characters, and themes in the form of an infographic, using images and limited text to convey the information.  Challenges students to consider organization and used of symbols and imagery. Use online infographic makers, PowerPoint, or paper and collage images.slide2
  3. Write from an Alternate Point of View: students retell the story through the point of view of another major character.  Challenge students to match mood while retelling the major events.  However, the change in point of view can affect what information is known or how it is learned, so students will have to analyze the element of point of view.
  4. Modernize It! Great to use with many classic stories as students examine the impact of one or more modern technology items (like the cell phone or GPS) to the events of the story.  How would the major events, themes, and ideas be represented in a modern retelling.
  5. Recreate in a different medium: students will ‘translate’ the story into another medium, such as film, stage play, graphic novel, or audio book.  Students have to dig into the text and evaluate how the selected medium would convey information, and even what would be included versus left out.
  6. Retell in a Rap or Rhyme: students will turn the events, characters, and themes into a catchy rap (or rhyme).  How will they make the lines rhyme? How will they convey the information succinctly, but accurately?  Great to put on poster board and hang in the hallway!  slide3

Offering one of these fun project options will increase engagement as students dig into the text and analyze the elements to create their specific project.  In addition, several projects can be offered for student choice, such as with task cards, choice board, student menu, or other methods (like having the separate requirement sheets available.)

Literary essays are another sound choice for the classroom.  Read more about how to Differentiate With Literary Essay Writing, making it accessible to all students and all texts.

Another option, though, is to get away from retelling, and instead, challenge students to Analyze and Create.

Posted in Secondary Education, Teaching, Teaching Ideas, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Ways to Group Students (and when to use which)

Group work is a regular activity in many secondary classrooms.  It offers many benefits, including collaboration and cooperation.  Students show increased learning in well-structured group work, related to the discussion of content and problem-solving.  There are also benefits in division of tasks into parts, time management, and general communication skills.

Group work, because it includes the need for additional communication and coordination of ideas can take longer to complete than individual work.  As such, it’s important to consider how the structure or design of a project, and the desired end goal.  Plus, different assignments of group members can affect the success of the project, and the learning for students.


There are many ways to group students to help achieve the goals of group work, or to accommodate individual student needs.

  1. Random or patterned grouping.  Students are assigned a group based on where they sit or their alphabetical position in the class.  Perhaps the teacher numbers off: 1, 2, 3, 4 and all the students who were numbered a 1 gather to form a more or less random group.
    • PROS: Quick and easy.  Allows students to work with new individuals that they may not have worked with before.
    • CONS: Does not take into account ability, interpersonal relationships, or student interest
  2. Student-selected groups for same content work.  Students pick their group members, selecting those they want to work with.
    • PROS: Students will likely have already established positive communication with their group, lowering the barrier.  They may be familiar with each others work preferences and easily assign roles they’re ready to complete.
    • CONS: Students may have trouble staying on topic.  Students may not move out of their comfort-zone to take new positions, unless pushed.  May result in uneven groupings or teacher-assigned filler members in groups, resulting in some happy groups and some enthused groups.
  3. Students select the topic or content of the group.  Students are assigned the group based on interest, which may be set-up before hand with rated-choices or assigned on the fly.
    • PROS: Students may be engaged with content that is of interest to them, and work with other students who share that interest.
    • CONS: Students may try to game the results to end up with friends.  Students who have only one favorite may end up in a group that is not of much interest, thus negating the advantage of having choice.  Lacks ability grouping.slide2
  4. Ability Grouping: After review of the grade book or selected assessments, students are placed in ability groups with similarly leveled students.  Project requirements or roles would be differentiated to ensure each group is challenged appropriately at their level.
    • PROS: Students are appropriately challenged with modified group work and requirements, which may increase on-task work for high-achievers taking advantage of the challenge.
    • CONS: Additional time required for differentiation of materials and tasks.  Final projects not uniform during presentation, with a risk of struggling student groups appearing to be “easy work” and high-achieving students having “busy work.”
  5. Mixed-Ability Grouping: After review of the grade book or selected assessments, students are put into groups with students of different levels, usually high-achieving students placed with struggling students, with the goal of the high-achieving student supporting the struggling student.
    • PROS: the struggling student may get additional, individualized support from their classmate.  The high-achieving student may benefit from review and teaching the content to a classmate.
    • CONS: If used regularly, the high-achieving student(s) may feel stifled.  Rather than getting to be challenged and explore, they are placed in a teaching role they may not want or care for.  Condescension or frustration may hamper collaboration.  The high achieving student may take over parts of the project to just get them done to their standard.slide3
  6. Group of One: Select students may be permitted to work solo while the rest of class is assigned in groups.
    • PROS: Supports students with barriers to successful group work.  Barriers may include: attendance issues, anxiety issues, bullying or other contentious relationships, or ability well beyond classroom range (very high or very low compared to other students).
    • CONS: Student lacks the opportunities for collaboration or communication growth (assuming they would not be excluded or bullied in a group).  Should be used sparingly, but considered as a valid option.

Ultimately, no one grouping strategy should be used for all group work.  As with other education choices, the type of group should align with the outcomes and activity.


Speaking of Group Work, one of my favorite real-world writing activities is the group Company Project.  Great fun, and requires the sort of collaboration that any business would need.  (And since we’re on the subject, for this project, I usually allow self-selected student groups.  One of the few times they get to!)


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5 Activities for Studying Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” Speech

Most secondary students are familiar with the speech, or at least the main idea, by the time they are in a secondary ELA classroom.  And that’s actually an advantage.  That means that additional study can scaffold on what they already know, or think they know, about the speech.  Plus, secondary students can examine the speech in several ways, from medium to message, which adds depth and higher level thinking.


Here are some activities, including some short ones, great for working in study of the speech even if otherwise juggling exams or semester change:


  1.  Analyze the Analogies in the Speech: works great also as general practice for studying analogies and meaning.  Students explain the phrases in their own words and consider the impact of the use of the analogy.  Can be done in a single class period.(Available as a free item!)
  2. Graphic organizers are a great way to dig into the text without taking a lot of time.  One engaging activity that is short but useful is to map the locations mentioned in the speech.  Diagramming the key ideas in the speech is also a good way to review the content.  And, since it is a speech commonly referred to in early grades, a KWL can be an engaging way to get into the text. slide2
  3. What if the speech had been delivered on YouTube?  Or posted on Twitter?  Media can have a profound impact on message.  Students, who are used to online media, can really get into examining and considering how the different media would impact the message, such as in the speech.  Include conclusion analysis for students to practice providing support for their reasons.
  4. Tweet the speech. Students will retell the speech in Tweets of 140 characters or less, then analyze how that impacted the message.  Good way to introduce exploration of media or works as a stand-alone project and discussion.slide3
  5. Critical Thinking questions: students examine the text, take a position and write short responses.  Practicing with short responses, over essays, can help them refine and focus their argument on a topic. This skills can be carried over to focused essay paragraphs.  Plus, using a short response can help fit in the activity in a short time span. I noticed an improvement in simple paragraph writing with regular use of short paragraph responses and the paragraph model (required at first, then just heavily encouraged.)

Studying the “I Have a Dream” speech is a good way to include analysis of non-fiction and informational text.  Another good option is to read about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre!  Or check out my list of Winter Reading for some additional non-fiction ideas.


Posted in Secondary Education, Teaching, Teaching Ideas, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Fresh Start for Second Semester (for year-long or new classes)

Second semester is a dividing point in many secondary classrooms.  More so if the second semester class is separate from first semester.  Maybe you have new students from schedule changes or adjustments around semester-based classes.  Maybe it’s a whole new class– which is what I’ve dealt with all my years.  (With frequently transient populations, making even ‘year long’ classes set up on a semester-basis helps juggle the changing schedules.)

In some ways, second semester is like a new first day of class.  But, not really.  It’s very different in that students have already established themselves for the school year.  They’re not fresh from the growth and changes of summer.  They’re not necessarily clean, focused, and sober– ready to tackle the new year with optimism and eagerness.  (Or some teenage-tempered version thereof.)

But, I find that the breaking point between terms (semesters, or even trimesters) provides a nice chance for a clean start.  And more so, that students often appreciate a chance to start fresh.


So, there a some things to consider for making a fresh start in second semester:

Start fresh with students.  Even if there is overlap, make it clear that this is a new semester, a new class.  This allows students a chance to turn over a new leaf, without grades or even choices from the previous semester affecting them.  I find this is important in supporting students who want to try again or make improvements, to give them another chance. High expectations from a teacher— such as expecting a change, rather than expecting more of the same– can be motivating for students.  I’ve certainly seen it work where, finally, that student turns over a new leaf– though it does happen that they turned over the same old leaf instead!  (In my experience with at-risk learners, sometimes that second, or even third chance, is so important.  Because sometimes, that’s the one the ‘sticks’ and results in lasting change!)

Take some time to do beginning of the year and getting to know you activities.  But keep them brief, and really try to tie them into the content.  Concept review or jumping into a short story are good ideas so the time is more meaningful.  Students are generally already into the swing of things, and if you have overlap the get-to-know you’s may not reveal much about students.  Content-based or personal writing, however, can pull double-duty, and may even tie into the first text(s) for the class.  I’d skip “ice-breakers” though (I mean, even aside from the fact that I refuse to use them anyway!)

Take a bit of time to focus on specific class rules and routines, though students may feel that they already “know the drill.”  However, it can be useful to instead take the time to review routines and procedures as needed, rather than the first day.  Another benefit here is  a chance to discuss with the class what you, as a teacher, found didn’t work well.  This is a great opportunity to improve any particular procedure or routine, as well as admit that you made a mistake or even that you’ve just reflected on ways to improve.

Start the grade book fresh (if possible).  If it’s not possible to start fresh in the grade book– policy, perhaps– consider ways to not further penalize students for mistakes in first semester.  Weight first semester less, perhaps.  Or allow late submission of first semester projects (possibly only accepting work of a certain caliber to avoid shoddy, last minute work).

While it can be a little stressful to face a room full of students, again, like the first day of class, again, it’s also a possibility for a fresh start, which doesn’t just have to come with a new school year.

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The Value of Teacher Mistakes

Growth mindset.  It’s okay to fail.  Grit.  There’s a lot of talk these days about helping students to make mistakes, to try things and fail, to persevere.  And these are definitely important lessons for our students.

But they’re also important lessons for us, as teachers.

We all remember the teacher(s) who were “never wrong.”  The ones who would never conceded a student was right or that they had made a mistake.

Of course, we’re not like that.  We accept our mistakes… right?  We should.  We should also take these learning opportunities to model growth mindset, failure, and grit for our students.


Here is the value of teacher mistakes:

  1.  It reinforces the concept that it’s okay to fail.  Even teachers, with all our knowledge and expertise, even we can make mistakes.   Big and little ones.  Typos, forgotten tasks, or things (lessons even) that just don’t turn out how we expect them to.  And that’s okay.  Which goes with the next point…slide3
  2. It can provide an opportunity to problem solve.  I have invited students to discuss why they think a planned lesson or activity went awry.  They tend to enjoy having a voice (sounds a little like some Danielson sort of thing with student involvement) and getting to share their thoughts.  And quite often, they can see factors that I may not have in implementation or even classroom dynamics.  In addition, the process of discussing it is modeling problem-solving and reflection.
  3. We can model for students ways to accept mistakes in healthy and appropriate ways.  We can show how to use humor and laugh at our selves, like with typos on a lesson not carefully proofread, not that I do THIS regularly! More importantly, we can model for students how to accept responsibility for choices and consequences.  For a starter phrase, I have come to like the phrase, “My bad.”  It accepts responsibility (it is mine) but doesn’t have to dwell on it (which can help with some saving of face or pride issues.)  Or we can address it simply, “I am late because I couldn’t find my phone.  I should be more careful where I put it while getting ready for work.”  It addresses the problem and notes a reflective solution, showing students the way.  We don’t have to dwell on it– and if you have one of those students who tries to, a curt reminder that we have moved on can be effective (as can ignoring.)  slide2
  4. We can also show how to apologize for sub-par performance or results, such as telling students, “I’m sorry.  This lesson was supposed to this other way, but it didn’t work out as I had planned.  Thank you for your understanding.”  It’s useful to acknowledge high expectations, of our selves and of our position.  You can even note to students that, chances are, they will too, in a job, fail to meet expectations, and it’s nice to be prepared with language to appropriately handle it.  (This can also be helpful for students who struggle with perfectionism– by giving them some rudimentary tools for addressing failure to meet high expectations.)  In an era full of celebrity non-apologies (that are more like “I’m sorry I was caught” than “I’m sorry I made poor choices and hurt people”), we can model another option, with more integrity.
  5. Lastly, it can help show that teachers are human.  While many of us are better at this than teachers we recall from our formative years, it’s still an important factor.  Not just that we smile before Christmas or have interests or a sense of humor.  But that we make mistakes, dust ourselves off, and continue on.

Of course, we should still strive for those high expectations and work to minimize preventable errors (like those silly typos…), but there’s great value in the teachable moments when we do make a mistake.  And we all make mistakes.

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Using the Grade Book for Data-Based Teacher Reflection {with Freebie}

The end of a term is a good place to pause and reflect as a teacher.  Maybe it’s the end of the semester, trimester, or even marking period.  Maybe you have most or all of the students again the next term, or maybe you get a fresh batch.  Regardless, the term provides a good reflection point.

If you’re entering student grades for progress reports, report cards, or otherwise catching up on grading, it’s also a good point to take a closer look at the grade book to get some data for your reflection.

Data and evidence are big trends in education right now.  And there’s something to be said about having numbers (to back up what we as teachers already know.)  The grade book shows us how many students successfully submitted an assignment and how well, overall, students scored on an assignment.  So, taking a pause to look at specific assignments by the numbers can provide some data worth reflecting on.


What grade book items should you look at?  Here are a couple ideas, with reflection questions:

  1. Grade book item with the MOST successful submissions.  This is the item that most students were able to submit, but also to complete successfully.  Looking at scores, most students would have at least a passing score, but you may even see most students in the A or B range.
    • Reflections: what was different about this assignment as compared to other, less successful assignments?  What support did students have in completing the assignment? What may account for high levels of engagement?  Looking at the submissions, were there any pain points?  In particular, you may see the pain points mainly on the lower scoring submissions.  And what can you take away from the success of this item that could be applied to other activities and assignments?
  2. Grade book item with the lowest grades/ most low grades.  This is the item that had the lowest scores from the most students that submitted.  It may be that many students submitted, but scores were overall lower than normal or even lower than expected.
    • Reflections: what were the pain points?  Where were students stuck or confused?  What question or part was skipped or incorrect most often?  What support would students need that they did not have in completing the assignment?  Was there a prior knowledge issue?  Was time, schedule, or interruptions as factor– short week, snow day, substitute teacher, local or school even affecting focus and community? Was there confusion in assignment requirements– possibly noted by students clearly trying, but missing the mark?  (For example, is students are answering a question on central idea by explaining theme– that might indicate a reteaching or prior knowledge issue.  If they demonstrating a misunderstanding of a text, that might indicate more time, scaffolding, or support in reading and analyze the text in class.)
  3. Grade book item with the MOST MISSING submissions.  This is one where students are not even turning anything in!  It’s not that they are getting low scores, but they are not even submitting the work.
    • Reflections: Is there an issue with students getting started?  Perhaps they get overwhelmed with the requirements and would benefit from chunking of the activity, or additional scaffolding. Are they lacking the prior knowledge needed, including but not limited to understanding how to complete the task?  (I saw an assignment where students were supposed to correct the errors in a passage, but they didn’t understand how to do so– in this case, demonstrating the task improved outcomes).  Are the instructions lengthy and students are not taking the time to read them?  Is there a ‘late penalty’ issue that may have discouraged students from submitting– perhaps related to a schedule or distraction issue?  If not too late, can students be offered an immunity to increase submission?

Looking for a resource to guide your data collection and reflection?  The Teacher Grade Book Reflection includes 2 pre-printed pages with guided reflection, plus and open sheet.  Fully editable. slide2

Other factors to consider:  Where was the assignment from (home created, found or purchased online, school provided, curriculum vendor)?  Can you create or find similar items OR should you do your best to avoid?  Is revision necessary?  Would scaffolding be more effective?


Done reflecting and ready for the next semester?  Check out these resources for Start of the Year (or Semester) Get-to-Know-You Activities.  Plus, check out tips on how to make students HATE poetry and how to survive teaching it!

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Culminating Project Ideas for A Christmas Carol


A Christmas Carol is a timely text for Christmastime, though it can work in other places as well– especially given Scrooge’s new-found desire to “Keep Christmas all year.”  There are lots of options for related culminating projects to expand on or analyze the text.


Here are several Culminating Project ideas to use with A Christmas Carol:

  1.  Scrooge makes reference to the workhouses as an option for the poor.  Students can research workhouses and poverty.  In addition, students can analyze the impact of poverty on the story.  Another research topic is Dickens’ own past and how that may have influenced the story.    slide3
  2. Create a wreath or other Christmas symbol and decorate or incorporate key quotes from the story.
  3. Compare A Christmas Carol with How the Grinch Stole Christmas (either movie or book work well).  How are they similar?  Why is this theme of a grouch getting reformed at Christmas so appealing?  Create a multi-media project with screenshots or movie clips.
  4. Examine the idea of “Keeping Christmas all year” (Or a similar belief from another religion or belief system.)  What does that mean?  How would it be shown or done?  Create a poster or PowerPoint.slide2
  5. Retell the story as a children’s story.  How would it be adjusted for the younger audience while still keeping the main ideas?  Illustrate it.


Each of these projects, plus more, is included in the A Christmas Carol Culminating Projects resource– with options for Task Cards, Choice Boards, or Student Menu for deployment.  Rubrics provided as well.  Assign select projects or let students self-select from the full set of 16 projects or from a condensed 12 project set.

Culminating projects can be a great way to warp up a text with tasks like researching, retelling, reflecting, examining or going beyond the story.  Projects also provide hands-on learning, and can be student-directed, with options like Choice Boards or Task Cards.  Plus, they can help stretch time and budget by spanning several days.

Check out Activities for Teaching a Christmas Carol or Winter Reading for the Secondary Classroom for more ideas.

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5 Ideas for Christmastime in the Secondary ELA Classroom

December is a challenging month.  Even in the secondary classroom.  There are only a few weeks, sandwiched between Thanksgiving and Christmas (Winter) Breaks.  Thanksgiving causes disruptions with a short week, or even a whole week off.  Then there are a few “normal” weeks before the allure of Winter Break– along with holidays, travel, and just time off– distract students again.

One way to engage is to use Holiday-themed materials— a strategy that is fun and effective for students and teachers.


Here are some Holiday themed materials and ideas for those fleeting weeks in December:

1. Read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  In the story, Christmas is treated almost entirely as a secular celebration.  Research workhouses and discuss Scrooge’s position on workhouses or why Scrooge was, well, a Scrooge.  Or compare one or the film or play versions with the original text– which is a great way to spend the last day or so before break actually begins.  Depending on the classroom, you can discuss ideas about “The Christmas Spirit” and what that means.  Culminating projects can work nicely around holiday parties or general distraction.  Not time to read the story?  View one of the movie versions for discussion or analysis– or have students write a literary analysis on the film same as they would a text.


2. Create a multi-media project about their Christmas/ Holiday time traditions.  Students can share their experiences.  They can discuss the similarities and differences between their traditions and that of their classmates.  This is a positive activity in diverse classrooms; in addition, it can work well in classrooms that appear more homogeneous as it helps students see that we all have differences and similarities.

3. Read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” and analyze the poetic devices.  Have students write a persuasive essay on whether–or not– children should be told about Santa Claus. Students can write their own Night Before Christmas poem, imitating the elements of the original, then share with the class.

4. Practice Literary Analysis by examining a Christmas Carol (or Winter song) for literary and poetic devices.  Christmas and Winter songs take over the radio stations, store muzak, and even show up in Christmas commercials.  This activity is a fun way to use that seasonal sound.


5. Create literary character Christmas lists or New Year’s Resolutions.  Choose one or more characters from texts read in class.  Students can write a Christmas list for the character based on details from the text.  Alternately, students can create a Wish List if they or the character do not celebrate Christmas.  Another option is to write New Year’s resolutions for the character.  Include reflection for students to explain their choices and thought process, and help in objective grading.

Done with Christmas?  Check out some Winter themed texts and ideas!

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5 Ways to Survive the Days Before Thanksgiving Break (And Still Engage in Learning)

Maybe you’ve managed to keep the momentum of learning and engagement up to this point.  You may have even survived Halloween— perhaps with some timely creepy stories.  But now, it’s November.  And there are breaks around the corner, tempting students with distraction.

Depending on your school schedule, Thanksgiving Break may present an additional challenge.  All the schools I have attended and worked at had a partial week the week of Thanksgiving.  Classes were held Monday and Tuesday, sometimes Wednesday as well, before the long weekend.  While engagement may be tentatively possible, concentration remains an issue.  (Throw in any holiday parties, and you might be down to just Monday for attempted instruction!)

Of course, we want to make the mots of our instructional time.  But sometimes, I think, it’s good to pull a few tricks from the bag.


Here are 5 ways to Survive the days before Thanksgiving Break (and still engage in learning.)

1 . Show a movie and treat it as another text to practice and reinforce literary analysis.  Students can examine literary elements as used in the movie, including symbolism, mood, foreshadowing, and character development.  They can even write a literary analysis essay about the movie, same as they would a novel, short story, or poem.  Remind them to focus on the literary elements.  A scene from a movie can work, as can a short film, such as any of the Pixar shorts or others like “The Present“.


2.  Show a movie or part of a movie adaptation of a story read in class to compare movie vs. book.  Students can watch and record difference between the two.  Conclude with higher-level thinking, by having students evaluate which version was better.  Have students focus on the events or include medium in the discussion.

3.   Since Thanksgiving often includes travel of some distance to visit family, have students work on real-world writing by Planning an Exciting Trip.  Students research and plan a trip (tourist visit), either in their town or another location.  Make it Thanksgiving themed, by having students plan a trip related to their family’s travel, or leave the project open ended.  They can research locations and prices, plus make a real itinerary.  Real-world writing can help with engagement, even in challenging times.


4. Put students to work writing about Thanksgiving with a fun, creative writing activity.  Students write Thanksgiving Rap or Rhyme which can include personal writing about what Thanksgiving means to the student and/ or it can be done as a more general, expository writing.  But in rap or rhyme format (I use both terms, because many of my students would work on a rap, but balk at “rhyming.”  Marketing is a thing….)  It’s a change of pace, but also requires a lot of thought to present their ideas in a rhyme.  Also can include discussion of different rhymes, along with end-rhymes.  In addition, students can present to their rap or rhyme to the class, like an open mic or poetry slam.  Presentations work well around holiday parties and other food.

5. Practice thanksgiving themed demand writing.  Push students to focus for a short chunk of time– consider a challenge like a 30 minute prompt to push them through.  This works well for a single day activity.  Students generally can focus their attention– even just before break– on a short burst of activity, like a demand writing.  Remaining class time can be used for students to review their essay to reflect out loud or in writing on how to improve their timed prompt.  Or take the time to discuss the topics they wrote about in groups or class.  Provide topics for the students, brainstorm ideas together, or let students loose with the theme of Thanksgiving (which may include gratitude, Black Friday, family visits, and more.)

Of course, once you get through Thanksgiving Break, it’s time to deal with Christmas/ Winter Break looming over the horizon!  Remember, holiday-themed materials can work well at the secondary level, too.

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