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.

Posted in Secondary Education, Teaching, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.)

Posted in Secondary Education, Teaching, Uncategorized | 1 Comment


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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How to Differentiate With Literary Essay Writing

There they sit.  Some twenty to thirty students, just finished with a piece of literature and ready to receive instructions for writing a literary essay.  While, in theory, they should all be writing at or around grade-level, in fact, students may be all over the place with how proficient they are– or are not– in writing an essay, or specifically in writing a literary essay.  This situation may be compounded if you have a high population of at-risk learners.  Students may range from inability to write a cohesive paragraph to polished literary analysis.  And everywhere in between.

One strategy is to require, provide, or exclude support documents on an individual, group, or classroom basis.  In the beginning of the year, I might put everyone on the support printables as I better learn where they are in writing. Struggling writers will get some of the scaffolding they need from the support printables.  Proficient writers get some reinforcement that doesn’t hurt anything, even if they don’t need it.    Later essays, I may assign some groups (or individuals) support documents while others are optional.  Other essays, such as at the end of the year,  support documents may be offered to all to use, or not, as they wish.



Support documents for differentiation with a Literary Essay:

–Worksheet to support finding literary devices and drawing conclusions from the devices.  A solid first step to any literary essay is examining the literary devices used and drawing a conclusion from it.  A premade worksheet that walks students through the process is effective support.  As they work, I can also walk around the room visually seeing who is making progress and who is mocked by the blank page.

–Formal Pre-writing sheet to identify thesis and provide support before beginning.  Some students do not need formal pre-writing and can jump into the writing, and may even prefer it.  They can still be encouraged to jot some notes even if it’s not a formal pre-writing worksheet as most students benefit from the thinking process of writing out their pre-writing.  Adding a grade to the pre-writing process can help ensure students use it.


–MEAL Plan for Paragraph Writing templates and printables: I originally saw this for younger grades– usually with cute graphics like hamburgers or something.  But, honestly, the acronym is a good reminder and can easily be adapted to include high school level paragraph writing requirements.  Plus the addition of “one or more sentences” for each item helps older students to follow the guide without being too rigid on it.  Students who need additional support can write directly on a template with prompts for each part of the paragraph– a good visual to guide them.  This can be used as the drafts for their body paragraphs.  I also have a guide that can be used without the template, for students who need less support than the fill-in-the-blank template, but are not quite proficient at paragraph writing.

–Introduction and Conclusion paragraph writing template and guide.  Introductions and conclusions tend to be an area where students struggle.  In my experience, even students who are solid with the introduction still struggle with the conclusion (and the fact that is can very well be repetitive.)  A set of templates helps those in the most dire need for support.  Others may use the guide to help them through effective intros and conclusions.  Those ready to fly solo may not use either.


–Topic/ thesis selection guidance and essay reminders are generally good for most students, including the proficient.  My standard essays include these reminders to help students stay on track, usually including topic selection reminders.  For more proficient students, I may provide a version with minimal reminders, more similar to what a standardized test provides to help them practice without it.  All students work form basically the same assignment sheet, complete with rubric.  (The rubric is a reminder of sorts, as well, as it delineates what they are graded on.)

–Quick Guide to Literary Essays: a handy reference sheet (others may call it a cheat sheet) to help remind students of what to include and what to avoid in their literary essay.  Even proficient students can benefit from a reference sheet should they want to clarify or refresh their memory.

It’s kind of like training wheels, for essays.  When they are ready, they won’t lean on the training wheels much, or at all.  In fact, advanced learners can be pushed to work without the supports, to see if they understand the concept.

I usually offer support printables to all ranges to help keep the struggling students from feeling as if they are standing out as being deficient.  Since some students will self-select, it covers the ones who I may require to use the support documents.  Image can be a powerful thing in the secondary classroom.

Some fun literary essay variations to try in your classroom: Movie Literary Essay and Song Lyric Literary Essay.




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Back to School as a Nomadic Teacher

Back to school means setting up the classroom.  Pinterest is already full of amazing ideas for desk arrangement, alternate seating options, bulletin board ideas, and themed decorations.  It’s an exciting time…

Unless you are a Nomadic Teacher (or Cart Teacher).  We’re the teachers that don’t have our “own” classroom.  Due to issues with budgets or space, we have to share classrooms.  Often, we “borrow” another teacher’s classroom during their prep period.  We don’t get to decorate.  We don’t get much or ANY say on seating arrangements, alternate or otherwise.  We may not even get a place to hang our coat and hat (or lock up our purse).

Slide1Back to school for the Nomadic teacher is less about decorating and preparing the classroom.  It’s more about defining the survival strategy and making nice with the teachers whose territory we are involuntarily invading. Some teachers are generous and understanding of the plight of the Nomadic teacher.  Others are a bit more territorial of their space.

I’ve been a Nomadic teacher my entire career.  Here are my survival strategies for back to school:


  1. Establish one or more base of operations.  This may be in the classrooms where supportive teachers allow me space to store things and work.  It may be a spot in the teacher’s lounge or even copy room. Having a place to store things means that I do not have to carry as much around, plus it helps with a sense of belonging.  Bonus if one or more of those spaces is in a classroom where I do teach.
    • Ideally, I establish a space in every room where I am teaching.  A small two-drawer file cabinet is great and relatively unobtrusive.  I prefer space that I can lock up myself– but I do not leave any sensitive material in other rooms.
  2. Plan my route and routine.  Evaluate where my classrooms are and what route(s) would be fastest or best during passing time.  Since I will be fighting my way through the crowd, I need to plan quick and effective routines for end of one class and start of the next.
    • Ending routines: I clean and pack my things early.  Ideally, I only get out what I need, keeping the rest ready to travel.  I aim to collect the last items into my mode of conveyance and be out the door with the last student.  And I’m honest with my students about that I have to be ready to go with them.
    • Slide2Beginning routine: Before moving rooms, I have my beginning routine ready to provide to students immediately upon arrival.  And my arrival may be as the bell rings, if I get caught my students, staff, or slow moving hall-traffic.  Bellwork is crucial in my survival as a Nomadic teacher– I provide the students with an activity they are expected to start upon entry (or at least by the time class starts), and while they are working, I have time to set up the remainder of our class activities.  Half-sheets of paper with assignment directions pre-made are faster to set out than writing things on the board (plus easy to give to absent students later.)
  3. Establish access to computers and printers.  This will depend on what the technology set up is.  In some cases, I may need to share the computer with the teacher whose classroom you are using– such as a desktop– and will need to establish that I will be able to log in as needed.  I prefer to use a laptop, which also ensures I have access to my own files, which, combined with printer access, means I may be able to print off another copy of an assignment or do other prep while students are working.  I also try to establish access to projectors or other media.  Knowing what’s in each room also helps with lesson planning later as I know my resources– from internet to projector to printer.  At times, I do teach things differently for the same course simply because the classrooms I am in have different access.
  4. Slide3Prepare and obtain my modes of conveyance.  I may be provided with a cart– often a two-tier cart better used for transporting audio-visual equipment than stacks of teacher supplies, but hey, at least is has wheels.  Bonus if all wheels roll smoothly and quietly.  Extra bonus if the floor is smooth and not tile-with-grout that is both dreadfully noisy but also excellent at toppling delicate stacked materials… A cart is not guaranteed, though, say, if it is reclaimed for use with audio-visual equipment.
    • I try to make the best of any available cart, includes using different totes and storage.  I’m not afraid to use rope or bungy cords to corral my stuff for travel on uneven terrain or through crowds.  Zip-ties can also be used to hold small storage onto the sides.
      • Hanging Storage File Tote for carrying assignments to classrooms where I don’t have dedicated storage space.  Work best on the bottom, especially since it gets heavy.
      • Art/ Cleaning Caddy for teacher supplies: pens, pencils, staplers, paper clips, etc.
      • Use grip shelf liner to keep stacked totes from slipping on your travels OR totes designed to fit together.
      • I like a small tote, big enough for papers on the top to toss miscellaneous things into between classes.  I can move the tote to a lower position if I need to stack additional items on the top– such as novels when we start a new one, or a box of short stories.
    • A heavy-duty, roomy back-pack or other bag works great for taking home papers to be graded.  I can collect them all day in my classes, stuffing them into the back pack, to deposit at a base of operations for grading, or even just carrying them straight home.  I also use the laptop pocket– standard on most bags these days– to carry my laptop, rather than a separate bag.
    • I am prepared to store and carry everything I will need, down to scissors and art supplies.  While other teachers may offer to share their supplies, they might one day forget to leave them unlock.  Other teachers are a bit more territorial about the supplies they have gathered for their room (and rightfully so if they purchased them), so I generally just bring my own.  A box of regular craft supplies can suffice– I’ve been known to use a copy paper box from the copy room and fill it with scissors, construction paper, a couple rulers, glue, tape, and at least several boxes of 16 count Crayola crayons.  Markers and color pencils are nice choices, if I can get my hands on them.  A set of decorative edge scissors can be fun, too.

Being a Nomadic teacher has its challenges, but with careful planning and storage, it’s manageable.  The important thing is that, while it’s not “My” classroom, I am still in A classroom with my students.  And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.


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5 Back to School Activities– with an ELA Twist

I enjoy getting to know my students.  But I also feel pressure to make sure all activities are learning something.  My time is limited– and in the alternative classroom, there was little or no homework: assigning it was pointless because it never came back.  My students had other priorities than school.  Unfortunate, sure, but I have to work with what I have.  And with what time I have.


So, I found ways to make sure each activity had some value, such as reviewing or reinforcing concepts.  Including those quintessential get-to-know you activities the first day of class.  I snuck in descriptive writing, symbolism, even theme and genre into different get-to-know you activities.

Here are my five favorite get-to-know you activities that include ELA concepts in them.  Each of these is also available in my TPT store a pre-made activity, ready to print and use.

  1. Animal Mash-Up: Students use animal traits to share who they are.  Then they design an animal mash-up with parts of those animals.  ELA tie in: analogies, comparisons.  Fast as a cheetah (and might draw cheetah legs or spots on their mash-up.)Slide3
  2. Move of My Life: Students imagine a movie version of their life (or a part of their life).  The pick actors/ actresses to play the roles, summarize main events in the movie, identify theme and genre of their movie.  ELA tie in: Theme and Genre.  Also summary.Slide4
  3. Wanted Poster: Students introduce themselves with a drawing of themselves and what they are wanted for.  Can be wanted for Good or Bad reasons.  Also includes bonus printable for use with any person or character from any text.  ELA tie in: Wanted poster for a character or person in a text and description of a person.Slide6
  4. Welcome to My Island: Students design their own private island and tell what’s on it using descriptions and location words.  ELA tie in: descriptive writing and location words (around, next, nearby etc.)Slide5
  5. Coat of Arms Project: students create a coat of arms with symbols and colors that identify them and their values.  Also ties in with “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe– which is an engaging short text that makes a good, flexible start to the year.  ELA tie in: Symbolism.Slide2

How I use these:

While these can be put on the board, I like to have students take a printable since it means they can work on it immediately upon arriving while I greet others and get the class rolling that chaotic first day.  Then they can share with the class.  Some classes I let students choose from two or more of the activities, while other classes get assigned.

Given that adult coloring is a thing, it also reinforces what I saw with my students and how much they would enjoy drawing and coloring.  Good relaxing task for the first day for students, different than the common get-to-know-you activities, and can avoid any issues with Ice Breakers.

Once we have gotten to know each other, then it’s time to figure how to deal with my roster still being in flux the first week(s)!  But at least the first day is generally a solid start with these activities.

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

Strategies For A Flexible Start of the Year

If your roster is ready, then you know you can jump right into your course content.  Most everyone who is in your class is already on your list– and probably even in attendance the first day or so of school.


Not gonna lie– I do envy that!  Being in an alternative school or in other places with a high amount of at-risk students and a transient population, my roster was never complete the first day, or week of school.  In fact, I could expect a good deal of variation through the first month of school, sometimes even up to count day before things settled down.  That doesn’t even address the attendance issues in this same population.

So, I had to get flexible.  Late arriving students felt punished if I made them do the work from the first week(s)– before they were registered.  Or at another school. Or in another classroom until teacher conflict or review of grades/ credit.  Or whatever the reason was.  But at the same time, it would send the wrong message to the students in attendance if we just did fluff or busy work– things that they might construe as merely filler.

I had to get creative to strike a balance in making the work useful but also easily dropped from the grading and expectations for those coming in late to the class.  Here are my best strategies for a flexible start of the year:

  1. Use short texts.  Can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry.  We would delve in and study the texts same as any in the year.  But they were generally stand-alone texts.  A late arrival to my classroom could be easily exempted from the whole set of  activities surrounding a poem like Casey at the Bat or a short story like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Similarly, if they were present for any part of that, the texts are short and I could choose which assignments to require and which to exempt.   While they were catching up on reading, I could exempt one project and require another once they finished reading.
    1. Most subjects have informational texts as well that can be used in a similar fashion.  Introductory study, but easily dropped from the grade book.  A recent article or finding.  A fascinating discovery.  A humorous essay.


2. Review important concepts.  This can have added value for the at-risk population. Because of the issues with attendance and transience in these populations, a good solid review can be help start the class.  Late comers can generally miss the review with minimal impact overall.  They could also be assigned a shortened version of a review activity.  Classmates can help support their late arriving peers, especially if the class relies on group work and teams (also good strategies I’ve found for working with students who are at-risk or have attendance issues.)

  • In order to get the semester off on a positive note with review, the review should be fun and engaging.  Not “you don’t know this so we need to review” but a let’s refresh your memory on these important concepts. For example, literary terms or poetic devices are a solid ELA choice for review.  Have students jigsaw the terms, complete or create a crossword puzzle.
  • Review games tend to work great.  Break concepts into related groups for different review games.


3. Have students teach each other the important concepts of the course with projects they have created.  Students can create posters (such as Word Walls), videos, rap/rhymes to share, and more.  Students learn from the process of creating the resource.  Plus, late-comers can benefit from the student-created resources with minimal loss from not being present for the creation.  (Bonus: use these projects for review materials and differentiated learning).

  • Have students create the review materials (see above) for important concepts to the course or area of study.
  • Have students create materials to introduce new, important concepts.  They do the research to learn the information, then share with classmates.
  • Have students create resources to teach or reinforce the rules of the class.


4. Work on stand-alone real-world projects.  Projects engage students.  A real-world project can also emphasize the relevance of the class while still being fairly easily dropped from the grade book or course requirements.

It’s important to work with the students I have, even if my roster keeps changing and my students are absent.  What helps me have a smooth start of the year can also help my students to be successful in my class.


Posted in Secondary Education, Smooth Classroom, Teaching, Uncategorized | 1 Comment