Activities for Teaching “The Monkey’s Paw.”

This short story about wishes-gone-wrong is a fun creepy story for Halloween.  It can also work well as a study of wishes at any time of the year!


Here are some activities for engaging and examining the story:

Write a prequel for the story.  There are two other people who made wishes– and regretted it– the story ominously foreshadows.  Students can choose one of those people and write a prequel about their experience, using details from the text combined with creative writing.


Reading Questions can help guide students in the reading, helping them look for specific information and to think about the text as they read.  Part of a close reading process, this can be used during reading, after reading, or as  a re-reading strategy.

Graphic Organizers provide another method to explore the text, which includes a visual component.  Compare the wishes.  Analyze life before and after the wishes are made.  Analyze different literary devices used in the story, such as foreshadowing and conflict.

Personal Writing about a time when it didn’t work out.  In the story, the wishes appear to be granted, but in a way that is disastrous for the characters.  As an anticipatory set or a culminating writing, students will write about a time when something didn’t work out as they wanted.  (Also works as a stand-alone writing activity.)


Movie vs. Book— there have been several film versions of this story over the years.  Choose one or part of one to analyze and discuss.  It’s a great method of engagement.  Having students evaluate, with support, is good higher-order thinking.  There is even a Simpson’s version.

Compare the wishes in “The Monkey’s Paw” with wishes in “Aladdin.”  Both are short stories, so it’s not too challenging to work in the partner story.  They each approach wishes in a completely different way, which is a fun and engaging comparison to make.

Write a 5 paragraph essay on “3 Wishes.”  This is a fun but effective short essay.  It works for writers of all levels as it’s structured to support lower-level writers while also helping higher level writers to practice form.  Works great with any story about wishes– and it’s free!  This goes well with the 5 paragraph essay model, which is a fill-in-the-blank template to guide students.

Check out some other stories good for Halloween time!

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Activities for Teaching The Raven

What a fun poem of darkness and madness.  Maybe those should go together, but I do find this tale of a midnight dreary has high engagement, in spite of the length and language.  There are a lot of activities to do with “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe to help students dig into the text.


Activities for the Raven:

Prepare for the poem by defining challenging words and allusions first.  One great way to do this is to create a list of vocab terms and phrases in order of the text for students to refer to while they are reading.  Like a make-your-own annotated version.

Guiding students with reading and inference questions is a useful way to make sure they are engaged and processing.  Good questions can also help draw their attention to certain parts of the poem to review and think about.

Watch a video version of the poem or listen to an audio version for some differentiation.  The Simpsons did a version of The Raven, once, which gets student’s attention.  It’s the Simpson’s, but it’s accurate to the text and includes images to help with understanding- and discuss if students agree with Bart’s commentary.  Or read the poem dramatically for students to help them hear the increasing madness (bonus for really getting into it!)


Tweet the poem!  My students really enjoyed the “Raven Tweets” activity where they had to retell the poem in short ‘tweets’, like on Twitter.  Then we discussed (or wrote, depending on the class) how that format affected the mood.  It was part of ongoing discussion of media and literature.

Analyze the literary devices in the poem by putting them on sticky notes on the board.  There are a number of literary devices used, giving lots of choices for sharing.  Can also lead to discussion about the use of those devices.

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.


Also check out 5 Creepy Stories for Halloween!

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Activities for Teaching “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (Now part of a Secondary ELA Seasonal Blog Hop!)

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a ghostly story that commonly shows up in classrooms around Halloween.  There are a lot of ways to work with the text in the classroom.  It’s possible to stretch this story over a week with projects that analyze and examine the text as well as reach beyond it.


Activities for teaching “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:”

Reading questions and graphic organizers provide a structured method of analysis.  The text can be challenging because of the old language and vocabulary.  Study the different ghost stories, compare Ichabod’s race with the horseman to the tales, or compare characters.

Include some differentiation by reading aloud to the class, finding an audio book version, or having students create a dramatic reading of the text.  (Bonus, have student’s create an audio version that you can use in later years.)

For an anticipatory set, students can discuss and/ or write about whether they believe in ghosts.  An expository essay about their own views– providing support on one side of the issue– is good practice at short, opinion-based essays (sometimes referred to as argumentative essays, as they lack research.)  Good practice as essay formation as well as making strong arguments.

Since there are many film versions of the story, comparing with all or part of one of the movies is an engaging higher-level-thinking activity.  The Disney version is a short, comical, animated film that fits well in the class.


Have students create a mobile or diorama of the food at the Van Tassel’s part or map the locations in and around Sleepy Hollow using details from the text.

Students can research then-and-now ideas related to the story, such as the town of Sleepy Hollow New York, or one-room school houses vs. modern schools.  Create a multimedia project their findings.

Analyze or discuss whether the story is a ghost story or a tale of a prank by Brom that ran Ichabod from town.  Students can take sides and argue their position.

The Headless Horseman’s Story is a fun writing project.  Students write from the point of view of the headless horseman, himself.  They’ll retell the chase with Icahabod but have creative freedom beyond that.  They may even decide if the horseman is a ghost or is Brom Bones playing a prank (both possible from the text.)


Group project ideas together to create a Choice Board or make Task Cards to provide student choice and engagement.  Or assign a whole-class project with resources and time available.  It’s a fun story with lots of opportunities to explore and examine.

These activities, and more, can be purchased in the money-saving bundle Legend of Sleepy Hollow Activity Bundle at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

Studying Rip Van Winkle?  Compare the two stories for similarities and differences.  Such as use of the supernatural and impact of setting.

Need other creepy stories for Halloween?  Or looking for a massive, money saving bundle full of Halloween activities?  Gotcha covered.

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“You Knew Teaching Had Low Pay”

Sometimes, a teacher might mention their low pay.  One of the most common responses is, “Well, you knew what you were getting into when you became a teacher.”

Wait.  Let’s look at this.

When I was 18, I knew that teachers got “low pay.”  But I did not, and could not, have fully understand the implications and far reach of that “low pay.”  And I honestly thought it would be “okay” since I’m a frugal person– I don’t bother with the latest gadgets or shiny, new cars.  I have no interest in buying shoes or handbags or even racks of clothes.  I rarely eat out, etc.  I figured I’d be fine on that low teacher salary.

At 18– even at 22 when I accepted my first teaching job– I did not, and could, not have understood what that “low pay” really meant.  Because at the time, that was more money than I’d ever made in my life!  It seemed like it would be enough.

Except, those wages basically don’t keep up with the rising cost of groceries or gasoline.  They don’t leave much room to replace an old computer or even a pair of work shoes when I’ve walked the soles off from laps around the classroom.  Or buying even a used economy car when the last used car finally gave up for the last time.

And those low wages don’t leave much room for adding a child or two. Those wages don’t leave much room to buy a house with a yard for a family.

I simply could not have understood what those wages meant at 18 or 22.  I did not have the perspective on the cost of life– even a frugal one– and how it compared to the low pay of being a teacher.  I may have thought I knew, but I didn’t.  I love teaching.

Even though it’s hard to provide the life I want for my family.  Quite frankly, it’s not fair that my children have to sacrifice because I get paid so little to teach other people’s children.

Teaching does have low pay.  Without perspective, it’s hard to truly understand what that means now, and for the future.


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Stories with Dreams

One way to encourage students to think deeper is to have them make connections across texts.  Building thematic units using unusual pairings based around a shared idea is one way to encourage that thinking.  It also allows opportunities to compare and analyze, such as how a literary device is used in the text(s) or how a theme is approached.

The use of dreams in stories varies greatly and can be a fun topic of exploration.


Some stories with dreams (plus activities and ideas for them):

Rip Van Winkle (Washington Irving)— quintessential story of a super long nap.  Students can study the events and decide if they are intended to be a real story or supernatural.

Activities and Projects: Write a Rip Van Winkle- style story where someone sleeps long enough to miss major changes.  Create projects to compare different uses of the Rip Van Winkle idea and nap.  Study Flemish poetry or research old Danish legends.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (James Thurber)— the titular character spends a lot of time day dreaming in this slice-of-life story.  Students may examine why he does it or whether it’s an issue.

Activities and Projects:   They can compare the impact of the daydreams in this story with other day or night dreams to see if they are portrayed positively, negatively, or neutrally.  Students can also write their own day dream for Walter Mitty.

Pairing: Study Rip Van Winkle and Walter Mitty together.  They both deal with dreams, but how are they different?  How are they the same, such as in escaping their charming wives?


A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)— the visits of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future– dreams or true supernatural events.  Another story that as invaded popular culture, which provides additional study and opportunity for discussion.

Activities and Projects: Students can study how the ghosts are used in popular culture or compare the text with one of the many, many film or play versions.  Other options include researching ideas from the text, such as the workhouses, and evaluating them– should workhouses be used today?

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Ambrose Bierce) the story takes a turn at the ending, revealing that the big escape was just a dream.  Students can discuss the impact of the twist ending.  They can also compare the purpose of the dream to another story with a dream– how does a dream of physical escape compare to, say, daydreams of virtual escape.

Activities and Projects:  Students can write a prequel.  Another activity would to be write an obituary– would an obituary from his family be different from one written by the solider?  Students might also research the war along with similar crimes and punishments.

Pairing: Christmas Carol with Owl Creek.  How is the dream used as a plot device in each one?  Could the story be told without the use of the dream?  What does the dream reveal?


Other Texts for Unit Building:

Thematic units need not be limited to short stories.  Other texts can be used as well.  Poetry is a good addition to a unit on dreams.  “Land of Nod” by Robert Louis Stevenson is one example. “Dreams” and “Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe are other choices of poems about dreams that can be read and studied to answer questions, such as, “How are dreams treated in literature?”  Students can also write their own poems on dreams.  Another addition is for students to write about and/ or illustrate a (school appropriate) dream.


Looking for more ideas for thematic units?  Consider stories of Science Gone Wrong!

Also see my lists of 5 Creepy Short Stories for Halloween for more story and activity ideas.




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Stories about Science Gone Wrong

As with any theme, it can unify stories that might otherwise not be grouped together.  By pairing less obvious stories, teachers can guide students in examining deeper meaning and comparing texts beyond superficial traits.  This can be a good basis for a thematic unit.

One fun theme is Science Gone Wrong.


When examining Science Gone Wrong, readers may explore several approaches.  Is the story about the dangers of playing god or using something not fully understood?  Is it the fear of change or progress?  Is it a cautionary tale or a fantastical one?  How does modern understanding of science affect the reading of the story?

After selecting your stories, see what other connections you– or even better– your students can draw between them.  The main theme is science gone wrong, but what other ideas do they share?

Here are some of free texts that include the idea of Science Gone Wrong:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  Science drives Victor to create life, but the consequences destroy him and everything (and everyone) he loves.

Activities and Projects: Write an alternate ending where Victor does finish the female monster.  Compare the cultural version of the story to the text.  Personal writing about the idea of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ or a person by their appearance.  Watch a movie version (such as the 1931 Boris Karloff version!) and compare it with the text.

Pair with Jurassic Park to look at the consequences of creating life.  Or pair with The Birthmark to look at how a person (creator or spouse) shows love or care.


The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  By way of science, Dr. Jekyll is able to become an evil version of himself and go out to act on base impulse and desire with no consequence.

Activities and Projects: Write an alternate ending where Jekyll makes a different choice about the potion.  Write a police report about the search for the elusive Hyde.  Compare the text with a movie version. Write an epilogue to the story.

Pair with Frankenstein to study how culture has shaped what people “know” of these stories differently.

The Birthmark by Nathaniel Hawthorne. A respected man of science marries a woman with a birthmark of a hand, but comes to hate that mark.  He sets off to remove it, through any means necessary.

Activities and Projects: Write a story from the point of view of the earthly assistant Aminadab (Who says he’d never get rid of the birthmark).  Write a newspaper article about the death of a prominent scientists lovely wife.  Personal writing about being unappreciated, as Georgiana was.

Pair with 2BR02B and further examine what cost their is for “perfection.”

–2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut.  Aging and dying have been solved, but there is a cost.

Activities and Projects: Create an advertisement for the Ethical Suicide Studios.  Write a sequel or epilogue with the mom or the triplets, later.  Propose an alternate way to find ‘volunteers’ when one is not available.


–The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.  A man uses science to turn himself invisible and is prepared to go on a reign of terror.  Things don’t work out as planned, as being invisible is not as advantageous as expected.

Activities and Projects: Personal Writing about a time when something didn’t work out as planned. Write Your Own to give the power of invisibility to a character with different motivations (could also be done with modernizing it).  Sequel project with what happens to the notes Marvel kept.

Pair with Jekyll and Hyde to examine the idea of a person doing evil things with little or no risk of being caught.  Is man inherently evil?

BONUS: Movies about Science Gone Wrong

(Use a movie like a text for analysis and discussion)

–WALL-E.  Humans leave a filthy Earth behind to be cleaned by robots and take to space until it’s time to return.  What happens when their utopia is upended by a rogue robot?

Activities and Projects: Write the major events from EVE’s point of view. Evaluate why everyone was so willing to give up the life they had on the Axiom.  Analyze how technology creates, hides, or solves problems, such as the ones in the movie or in one’s personal life.

Pair with The Birthmark.  Do people ever really understand what they have until they lose it (or nearly lose it.?)

— Jurassic Park.  (Original movie version).  Using ancient DNA from amber combined with modern frog DNA, dinosaurs are cloned.  But then things go very wrong.

Activities and Projects: Advertise the Jurassic Park.  Write an alternate ending, such as the storm not coming or the bad guy not taking things off line to cover his theft.  Evaluate the techniques in the movie, analyzing it with the same tools and process of a literary essay.

Unusual pairings can really help students to think outside the box, examining the text for connections beyond the “obvious.”  And, to me, even just labeling a unit “Science Gone Wrong” is more fun and engaging than “Science Fiction Unit.” 



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Personal Writing Topics for Back to School

Personal writing is a good way to get to know students a little better (and safer for certain students than many ice breaker activities.)  Another bonus to using personal writing at the start of a year or semester is using these initial writing activities to better gauge where students are at in writing and narrative ability.

Personal writing can be done as a narrative- just telling the story.  For added complexity, students can be directed to write a narrative essay, which includes a thesis (or at least main idea) and reflection along with the actual narrative.

In addition, personal writing can be used as a way to get students to relate to a story.  At the beginning of the year, or semester, if your roster is still in flux, then a personal writing compared with a short story can work as a flexible beginning to the year.Slide1

Here are some thought-provoking personal writing topics, and short stories they pair well with:

Personal Metamorphosis: Oh, how middle and high school students are in a state of change, figuring out who they are and who they want to be.  Even if they don’t feel they have changed much, they may have a friend who has changed drastically that they can write about and reflect on.  Also pairs nicely with Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.


Unappreciated: Teens frequently feel they are not appreciated for their efforts.  It can be useful for them to not only reflect on how they felt, but also on how the situation could have been avoided.  Pairs well with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”

It Didn’t Work Out: Students reflect on a time where things did not work out as they wanted or as they expected.  This can be a good pair with many stories, including “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.

Unheeded Advice: This can be a challenging one, since students may not always be ready to admit the consequences of when they didn’t listen to advice (or why they ignored that advice.)  Pairs well with “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.


My Personal Time Machine: An opportunity for students to reflect on what they could change, if they had a time machine.  How would changing that event effect where they are now?  Pairs nicely with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

Importance of Honest Communication: As teenagers are learning the values of communication, this can be a good opportunity to reflect on importance of honest communication and how it impacted a situation in their lives.  It can be something they didn’t say, or something not said to them.  Goes nicely with “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant.

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Thinking About Online Learning

Maybe you’re thinking about taking online classes for professional development or to work on your master’s degree.  Maybe your school is interested in adding online learning options for at-risk students or to expand your electives.  Maybe you’re considering work as an online teacher to supplement a regular teaching job or to be your primary job.

Online learning is a wide and varied field of options for teachers and students these days. Everything from computer-graded credit recovery systems to teacher-lead synchronous courses to self-paced teacher-guided programs and anything in between falls under the umbrella of online learning.

I’ve been in online learning as a teacher, instructional designer, and student (sometimes at the same time) since 2009.  And while the name “online learning” fits many different programs, the fact is that online learning can look and function very different depending on how it is used and run.


Here are my observations on online learning:

  1. Online education is largely affected by how it is run.  This includes the administration, the goals of the program, and the teaching staff.  Some programs have great support for the students– and staff.  Some teachers are responsive and exceptional communicators in the online environment.  Some good schools can end up with teachers or staff that are not a good fit for online learning.  Students may still be successful in the less supportive settings, based on what the student requires. Overall, a positive online learning experience includes accessible teachers and supportive staff.Slide1
  2. Online education is not “easier,” but it is usually at least, or sometimes more rigorous than other formats.  For most students, the work is usually comparable to the expectations of a brick-and-mortar setting .  For some students, however, the courses may be more rigorous, as they are not adjusted for the community as can happen in certain areas, such as at-risk populations.  Online learning environtments usually build and sell their courses on rigor and high standards.  For online teachers, there is usually less prep-work as far as preparing a daily lesson for one or more classes.  The institution will usually determine if and when there are live lessons.  The rest of the time, though, teachers will be working on grading and engagement.  There is no re-using last year’s lesson or other short cuts when it comes to making phone calls or trying to elicit responses when email disappears into digital black holes.Slide3
  3. Engagement is crucial in online education, but it is also a huge issue at all levels.  (I’ve taught high school and post-secondary career training, both for required courses and self-selected.)  Online learning requires a great deal of motivation and self-direction.  It can be very easy to blow off working “today” (and today becomes several todays, until a student is falling or has fallen behind). This often happens at a higher rate than students would normally “skip” attending a face-to-face class.  In order to engage, students and teachers have to do more than show up– they have to reach out.  Students have to reach out with questions rather than raise a hand, look quizzical or hang around after class until the teacher asks if they need help.  It’s a different process and can be daunting.  Teachers, then, also need to reach out to disengaged online learners, helping to take that first step– and do so delicately to avoid being accusing about absences or lack of participation. A student who just sits in class will likely get something, if only that they are making the effort to be present.  There is no digital equivalent to “just showing up” in a virtual classroom.
  4. Online learning can be lonely, but it can also open up other avenues for collaboration and friendship.  Students and teachers who use online learning should make sure to find other avenues for socialization.  Students often socialize– heavily at times– in school with classmates and friends.  For staff who move to online learning positions, it can be useful to find other opportunities to get out and meet with or make friends.  How much a person needs to get out and find people to interact with and things to do will vary– some introverts may need vary little beyond their family on a regular basis.  Others will need to find book clubs, home school groups, gaming groups (Euchre, Pokemon, Magic) or meet-ups of similar interests.  On the plus side though, this can be the impetus for an online student or teacher to explore activities and social groups of like-minded people, perhaps finding friendships they would have missed by sticking to the familiar.  Slide2
  5. Online education is not for everyone.  Students who enroll in online learning often struggle with the tools initially, which usually include navigating a course, submitting attachments (similar to with email), and taking online assessments (which really are like those What Celebrity Do You Match? online quizzes).  Students that are unable to overcome the hurdle to using online learning tools can quickly become disengaged and discouraged.  Even “Intro to Online Learning” modules do not always help ensure students have the ability to find and submit their work as needed, unfortunately.  This is compounded by issues with motivation and perseverance.  Students may not realize what it means to sit at the computer all day for school or to be in complete control of their school access and work completion.  Some do much better in a more directed environment, whether they want to admit it or not. (As an online teacher, I focus on cheer leading and providing resources, even if I’m thinking a student would be better off in an environment that fits them better.)Slide4
  6. Online learning does provide some great opportunities for certain students– of all ages.  It can offer additional electives beyond what the school normally offers, which can help keep and engage students not interested in the normal electives.  It can offer flexible attendance options for students with barriers to attendance, such as jobs, children, and health issues– and this also applies for adult learners.  It can provide credit recovery options where students can test-out of material they know and focus on the material they don’t, speeding up the process of earning credits and helping to graduate in a timely fashion, rather than risk dropping out from being too far behind.
  7. Online learning can be very satisfying.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get attached to people you “only” know online.  After all, those names are not just words on a screen– they are attached to living, breathing people on the other end of a keyboard.  Students who may be experiencing success in school after too long without it.  Teachers and staff that care and want to support their students.  All people.  Supporting students in any setting is rewarding.

After a decade in online learning, as teacher and student, I’m glad that it’s an option.  I enjoy participating in it.  And I think it’s important that everyone finds a good fit, whether online, or not.

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Icebreakers and the Bullied, the Introverts, and the Outcasts

Who I am as a teacher is greatly shaped by my experiences as a student.  And my experiences as a student were largely negative.  Oh, I loved learning– still do!  But as the school years ground onward into the years grouped as secondary education, I came to increasingly dislike school.


One of the worst parts of school was the first day of school.  I’m a creature of habit, so learning new routines was always a unpleasant.  I’m also a strong introvert and was dreadfully bullied.  These two issues tend to come to head in the form of ice breakers and get-to-know you activities.  Oh, how I hated Ice Breakers.

As a teacher myself now, I better understand the teacher’s desire to get to know students.  Maybe even try to build classroom community.


As a student, I was NEVER going to be part of that “classroom community.”  Same with the other outcasts, those of use who were different.  My classmates would not allow that.  Instead, ice breaker activities had the high chance of giving my adversaries new ammunition.  If I shared with the teachers the things I wanted to, I was likely to also be supplying information to the enemy when we would share before the class.  So I would stick with safe, generic answers and hope for the best.


I still remember, nearly 20 years later, the teacher who did not warn us our details would be shared with the class– I remember the mortification knowing that the things I thought I was sharing with my teacher were to be public information.  And, oh, yes, my classmates made use of that until they got bored with it.

Moreover, these ice breaker activities required me to speak to classmates or in front of the class.  Speak to or in front of my tormentors.  We were a rather insular community and I went to school with pretty much the same students.  Many in elementary, then we all poured into the middle school and the high school.   We already knew each other– a classroom activity was not going to change that.  It wasn’t going to build new bonds between the bullies and their victims, the cheerleaders and the geeks, the stoners and the preps.

Are ice breakers in the secondary classroom, then, solely for the benefit of the teacher?  Could the getting-to-know-you be accomplished without speaking in front of the class?

In my own classroom, recalling my experiences, I have chosen to use a written activity for students to complete to share a bit about themselves. I make sure they know if they are expected to share with the class– which is never.  No one has to be uncomfortable in order for me to get to know them.  Younger me would have appreciated this so very much.

If you’re going to use Ice Breakers– activities that students will need to share in front of others– please, choose carefully.  Understand and be aware that you may have a bully and their victim or even just someone who has to choose between being honest with who they are and not standing out as different.  You may not be able to make a “classroom community” because student groups may already be impenetrable, and trying to force it may only alienate the kids who could really use a sense of belonging and safety in the classroom. For a change.

(Ice breakers in the workplace are different and somewhat more tolerable.)

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For back to school, a bunch of Teachers Pay Teachers sellers, including myself, have gotten together for a give away.  Read more about it at as well as about how to enter.

2016 back to school 1

I have contributed one of my products for the give-away: a copy of my Company Project.  In the Company Project, students will complete real-world and creative writing as they design a new company, related products, and several business writing tasks.  Robust choices of activities to develop a whole unit but flexible enough to fit in any classroom.  Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun for the students.  This is included in the High School English Prize Pack #1 (and on sale for the TPT Sitewide sale August 1st and 2nd).

Company Project Long Pin

(Actually, these are old images of the materials– the whole unit was recently overhauled and expanded– so if this image looks fun, you’ll really love the update!)

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