Authentically Teaching Greek & Latin Roots for Secondary Vocabulary

Greek and Latin roots are sometimes the evil stepsister of vocab. Middle schools that use the Common Core (or any variation of it) must teach affixes, but high schools aren't required to, even though it’s valid vocabulary building.

Affixes don't initially look glamorous to students, either; at first glance, affixes seem boring (a.k.a. memorization), and teachers are wary of how to teach them well (without just lecture and flash cards).

Therefore, instead of viewing affixes as literary molecules - the building blocks to like, everything - classes often just go through the motions (or worse, ignore them completely).

But what if you could teach prefixes, roots, and suffixes in a small amount of time, with higher student buy-in?

Truth be told, I’ve done the full spectrum of bad to good with affix instruction: not enough of it, too much of it, successful flipped classroom, unsuccessful flipped classroom, too much in isolation, etc. Finally, I’ve got a balance that I’m happy with and that is starting to raise student awareness of the words they encounter while reading.

Here's what that process currently looks like in our classroom.

Yes, pretests are dry, but here’s the fun part: when my seventh graders bombed their pretest, they realized that they really DO need this instruction, and now they’re open to learning more about it. There are no egos in the way, and more students are willing to learn. (Steal my editable pretest here.)

Side note: No, I don’t want students to fail or take a hit to their self-esteem… but many older teens and tweens assume they know or remember content that they do not.

Next, we built flip books that contained essential lists of affixes AND practice for EACH chunk of them. Students rotated through stations to do things like…
  • Complete the pages in their flipbooks
  • Practice listing words that USE each affix
  • Talk through how they could remember each one
  • Play with a premade Quizlet set
  • Pick up pre-made flash cards and start quizzing each other

Yes, repetition is necessary, but practice can come from more than just index cards.

Once students start to have a handle on some affixes, it’s time to do something creative (alongside your method of memorization) to make sure these meanings really stick. Start with an intermediate activity like this FREE puzzle challenge!

The application level will look different, depending on your grade level and the extent of your students’ mastery. Here are a few ideas:

  • Mixed Levels of Readiness: My 10-pack of application activities for affixes contains easier activities for students who are still acquiring roots AND more challenging ones for students who are ready, including pages about test prep and Harry Potter! (Try one for FREE here.)
  • Embedded into Vocabulary: Start noticing the roots, prefixes, and suffixes in the vocabulary you assess elsewhere in your class. For example, in my Word of the Day program, we identify at least one affix and/or the language of origin for each word. 
  • Delve into REAL Latin: Don’t run from this idea! Do your students know common “English” phrases that are actually Latin, such as ad lib, per se, nota bene, pro bono, pro tempore, and status quo? If not, then maybe it’s time to build literacy with these common phrases.

The REAL payoff...
...will come in that cute moment when a student raises her hand because she’s just noticed an affix in the text… or when a reluctant reader correctly zeroes in on what “agribusiness” means in a nonfiction article because he knows that “agri” means “farming”... or when a class tells you that they saw a root in their Science class and knew what the word meant.

If students don’t get these affixes from us now, they never will, and it’s one of the best literacy graduation gifts we can give them.

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10 Tips to Inspire Reluctant Writers

You introduce a writing assignment to your students and are met with two reactions.  Some students grab their pencil (or computer) and without hesitation begin brainstorming ideas, outlining, or even diving immediately into the writing process.  Some students, on the other hand, stare at the blank page or screen and utter the same phrase teachers know all too well: “I don’t know what to write.”

Below are some strategies and activities you can use to help reluctant writers get ink on the page or words on the screen while also turning the writing process into a more enjoyable experience.

Giving students a basic prompt like “Describe your summer vacation” isn’t likely to have them engaged or inspired to get to work.  Shake up your prompts by making them wacky, silly, engaging, or thought-provoking to get students’ brains swirling with ideas to put on paper.   One of my favorite ways to do this is with a bundle of highly-engaging video assignments that I created with the talented John Spencer.  John creates hand-drawn videos to hook students into the assignments that are INCREDIBLE.  The bundle that we created has 5 custom video prompts, presentations to explain the writing assignments, as well as all of the pre, during, and post writing handouts, assignments, checklists, and rubrics you need so that each and every student can be successful in each of the writing assignments.  Check out a sneak peek of the videos he created below (the full videos are in the bundle).

The bundle contains tons of supporting documents that can be used to scaffold the writing process for your students (see picture below). The 5 included assignments are:

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFEStudents will create a mix-tape for their life by choosing ten songs that they connect with or that represent them.

MY GENERATIONStudents will write an open letter discussing misunderstandings people have about their generation and why they are different than the way people perceive them.

MY LIFE IN TEXTURESStudents will use persuasive and personal narrative writing to talk about their life using three textures. 

GEEK OUTStudents will share information on a topic they geek out about in the form of a listicle.

INVENT YOUR OWN SCHOOLStudents will invent their own school, write about their first day, and develop a promotional advertisement to recruit students.

Many times, reluctant writers have lots of creative ideas, but they struggle with the physical act of  getting their ideas onto the paper/screen.  Using technology (or even a scribe if your school doesn’t have a lot of tech) is not cheating.  You aren’t assessing the physical act of writing, but rather the content and structure that students are implementing.  In this case, I would suggest allowing students to use one of the following strategies:

1. Have students use a voice-to-text software to tell their story or provide their content.  I personally know this helps because I often voice text the first drafts of all my blog posts. In fact, I am doing it right now!  I use the notes app on my iPhone and the voice text feature to talk about everything I know about my blog topic.  Is it ready to publish after I voice text it? No.  Does it give me a place to start and make the process of writing less daunting?  Heck yes!  

2. Have students record themselves telling their story or listing the things they want to write about or include.    Have them use this recording as an outline of sorts.  Because it is recorded, students can go back and listen to their own words, pause, skip ahead, go back etc. which will help them to develop their physical written piece.

Conferencing is such an important strategy to encourage reluctant writers, and it is especially important to make time to have them one-on-one.  Now, I know what you are thinking.  Finding the time to meet with every single student sometimes seems like an impossible task.  I think this is because when teachers hear the word conference, they think they should meet with each student for an extended period of time.  Instead, teachers should think of conferences as a quick check in with students to address only on one area where students could improve their writing.  This is a basic outline of a 2-3 minute conference you could use.  

1.  Briefly examine the text and find one area where the student has done incredibly well and one area where they could improve.  

2.  Take a moment to compliment the student on what they did well. 

3. Find an area where the student needs some work and show them how they could improve through modelling.  

4.  Encourage and urge the student to make a specific improvement in this area.

Teachers also must remember that during a conference, they need to make a conscious effort to promote positive attitudes about writing and motivate the student by praising what they have done well.  While they still must provide support and encouragement in the areas where the student needs work, it should be done in a non-critical and supportive way.   Below is a free writers conference form that you can use to track your meetings with students.  Use the template as a way of tracking progress or as a way of grouping students for more focused instruction.  Download it HERE

The writing process is important, BUT it shouldn’t  be used in every single assignment.  A sure-fire way to make students hate writing is to always require them to brainstorm, outline, draft, edit, revise, and make a good copy.  Develop opportunities for students to write for fun with no marks attached and no pre or post components.  Using the full writing process should be reserved for major summative assignments.  Other writing in your class should be considered formative and doesn’t need to include all of these steps. 

Make a conscious effort to create an environment and atmosphere that is comfortable for students when they are writing.  This may look different for each student.  Some may want to sit at their desk with their ear buds in listening to music.  Some may want to sit by themselves in the hall on the floor.  Some may want a comfy chair with a notepad.  Some may want to be with others to bounce ideas off of them.  Remember that your process of writing may look different than that of your students, and that is okay!  Get to know what works best for them and do your best to create an atmosphere that helps to engage them.

When I reflect on my time in middle and high school, I can’t recall a single time that a teacher shared their own writing with the class.  When I took a Master’s course in writing instruction, I was surprised the professor shared her own examples for each of the writing assignments she introduced. She didn’t only share the polished final piece.  She showed the messy parts too.  Share your writing with students.  Share the struggles you faced while writing and empathize with the challenges they may face.  This will have such an impact on them to know that it’s okay to make mistakes and face challenges, because their teacher did as well.

I am a huge advocate for collaborative writing.  As teachers, we sometimes forget the lonely and uneasy feeling of staring at a blank page, not knowing where to begin.  When we allow our students to work with each other, it provides a there a sense of comfort in that they have someone to discuss, collaborate, and share ideas with. If you’d like to try out some collaborative writing activities, you can check out this post I wrote that shares my favorites to use with students.
Let students write about what they love.  Giving freedom and choice in writing assignments whenever possible is an important key to engaging your reluctant writers.  If a student already doesn’t like to write, giving them a topic they don’t have interest in or a genre they hate will not make your life any easier.  There are standards to meet, but often times the topics and genres have some flexibility and that can make all the difference.

Set up an area in your classroom that has writing support documents that students can refer to independently to improve elements of their writing.  Consider including examples of figurative language, lists of strong verbs, adjectives, or adverbs, graphic organizers, or handouts with tips for writing different genres.

Gather pictures that might inspire creative writing and pass them out to your students.  Set a timer and have them free flow write for 10 minutes.  Tell them that this is stream of consciousness writing where whatever story pops into their head based on the picture must go onto the page.  

They shouldn’t think; they should only write, and their pencil should not leave the page.  Also explain that there is no editing or revising permitted during the 10 minutes.  It is a brain dump of absolutely whatever is in their head (it might not even have anything to do with the picture at first).  The thought process behind this is that it is easier to start a writing piece with something rather than staring at a blank page.  After the 10 minutes is done, students can use what they have on the page to start developing a more comprehensive written piece.
Thanks so much for reading! If you want other resources to help inspire your reluctant writers, check out some of the resources below from the other ladies of the Coffee Shop!

Paragraph Writing Task Cards from Stacey Lloyd
Motivational Monday Bell-Ringers from Tracee Orman
How To Get Students To Write More by Nouvelle ELA
Writing Prompts With a Twist by Room 213

Espresso Shot: Setting the Scene for Halloween

BOO! Halloween is almost here and the ladies of The Secondary English Coffee Shop have come together to share some creative ideas on how WE set the scene for Halloween in our classrooms! Here are a few simple, but fun ways how we like to incorporate Halloween into our classrooms.

To bring a little Halloween spirit into the classroom, I give each of my students a Halloween-themed bookmark! If you can print them out on card stock paper, they will last longer! I also use orange-colored paper, too! These FREE bookmarks are a simple and easy way to get your students excited for the upcoming season!

I love to play spooky Halloween sounds and dim the lights as we work on Halloween Writing! If you can find electric candles that flicker they can be a fun and safe addition to your room. I also make a trip to the dollar store to grab some Halloween pencils and erasers. I print out some themed paper and we have fun writing Halloween haikus, coming up with the worst opening line for a scary story and creating spooky settings using vivid words. Even my senior students have fun!!

Get students' spooky creativity flowing with "Scary Six-word Horror Stories." Simply hand out appropriately fall-themed scraps of paper (think oranges and reds) along with thick markers. Then instruct students to think of a truly horror-story-worthy situation (you can even hint that these could be humorous). Instruct students to then write this out in exactly six words: no more, no less! Stick them up for a fun Halloween week display!
A fun activity for students to complete during the Halloween season is rewriting one of their favorite horror stories, but for an audience of children. This activity forces students to think about their audience and make conscientious writing decisions that are specifically targeted toward children. Students might need to change a character or conflict slightly, or they might need to make adjustments to the setting. However they alter the story though, students will be thinking about plot, characterization, conflict, setting, and audience while having a ghoulishly great time.
We love dressing up at our school for Halloween. The students love to see their teachers in a different light and it's a great way to show our creativity. If your school doesn't allow dressing up, try approaching the idea from a curriculum standpoint: famous characters from literature day! One of my favorite costumes to construct and wear was Scout's ham costume from To Kill a Mockingbird. We also had a lot of students dressing up as characters from The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and even some Stephen King novels (both Carrie and IT have made appearances). It's a fun way to promote literature while getting the students excited about Halloween.
Help your students improve their descriptive writing by bringing in some Halloween candy, chocolate, and/or chips. Give each student an item and have them write a paragraph that uses strong imagery to describe the appearance, taste, texture, and smell of the treat.

You can also make this a competition by putting students into groups and having them write a paragraph collaboratively. Each group can present their paragraph while YOU eat the snack they are describing. Whichever group you decide described the treat most accurately gets to have the leftover treats. They practice their writing and you get to eat Halloween candy; it sounds like a win-win to me ;).

I'm not as headlong into holidays as some of these other fabulous Coffee Shop ladies, but I have to do at least one thing, right? ;) One of the ways I work a little Halloween in is reading "Masque of the Red Death" and teaching about symbolism using Tootsie Roll Pops. It's pretty much the best lesson of the year when you give students candy and tell them it's time to ANALYZE it. Hah!
I always get my kids to write a scary story - it's an engaging way to get them to work on their narration and description skills. To set the scene and give them some inspiration, I begin with a few short YouTube clips that you can access HERE. Grab my FREE Spooky Story Graphic Organizer HERE to help you get started!

I love “The Raven”, but it’s not an easy poem at first, so I’m using stations to help students identify literal and figurative meanings in the text, including allusion and structure. I can’t wait to introduce my middle schoolers to Poe!

Share your favorite ways to set the scene for Halloween below!                    
We'd love to hear from you!

Simple Steps for Effective Lesson Planning

Whether your lesson plans are detailed multi-page documents submitted to your administration each week, or they’re mostly post-it notes with concise bullet points, effective lesson planning requires strategy and intent. Great lessons need clear direction, purpose, pacing, and solid pedagogy. (Side note: If you are looking for engaging step-by-step lesson plans for the ELA classroom – especially for sub plans – check out my ELA Lessons Bundle with over 60 individual plans). 

While planning such successful, well-balanced, dynamic lessons takes time (think of all those observation lessons), if you get into a strong habit of working through a few key steps, it simplifies the whole process. And, as with all habits: the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Soon you internalise the steps and find yourself doing them without even realising it. 

Below are the four simple steps - G.A.D.E - I go through in my mind every time I plan a lesson. Do I always write them out in detail? Nope, but I still always work through them as I plan.

What do you want students to be able to do, know, or understand by the end of the lesson?

The most effective way to plan a route for a journey, is to start with knowing where you are trying to get to, right? Instruction is most effective when you, and your students, have a firm idea of the goal. When they know what they are working towards, the lesson is far more purposeful. Your goal should be able to be expressed in a single sentence or two: the more focused it is, the easier it is for students to digest and understand. I even suggest writing this on the board at the start of the lesson, for students to be able to see and reference.

Examples of Goals:
- Students will understand the impact of varying sentence patterns, in term of creating tone.
- Having read chapter 5 of The Great Gatsby, students will be able to explain how an author develops a character in a narrative through the use of indirect characterization.
- Students will be able to effectively back up their thoughts and ideas with appropriate textual evidence.

How are you going to break down the substance of the lesson, to help students reach the goal?

This is the nuts and bolts of the lesson: the lecture, activities, exercises, etc. Ask yourself: What are the most effective methods to help guide students to the goal: A lecture? A group discussion? A reading exercise? Worksheet practice? A video? A writing exercise? Station work? The key here is breaking the lesson down into varied, manageable chunks: rarely should you plan a 60 minute lesson with just one single activity. You want to think about dividing the class up into 10-20 minute segments with varied activities and modes of learning: all geared towards the overall goal. 

Examples of Segments for a 60 minute lesson:
5 min: Provocation - some sort of hook for the lesson to pre-test knowledge, or incite intrigue and interest. 10 min: Paired work 15 min: Teacher-led lecture and discussion 20 min: Individual work to practice a skill 10 min: Reflection and assessment of learning

How will you, and your students, know if they have achieved the goal? 
This does not always have to be a large assessment task: that would perhaps be a unit goal. However, you should be able to place small milestones in every lesson to assess whether or not students are gaining knowledge, or developing their skills, and this need to be intentional. It may be a summative assessment task, but in the daily lesson it would likely be formative assessment. This should be a conscious decision when planning the lesson.

Examples of Opportunities for Demonstrations of Learning:
- Ask strategic questions: “How do you know that? Why did you write that?”
- Use exit slips
- Have students produce something which requires them to use what they have learned
- Anonymous class polls or quizzes (or Kahoots!)
- Self-reflections or evaluations
- Written work / Projects

What do you physically need to do, to facilitate the learning?  
Once you know the purpose of the lesson, and have a firm understanding of the activities and elements of the lesson, think about what you need to do to prepare. While this might be gathering resources, photocopying, finding passages, etc., it also should be about the space of the classroom: how best to facilitate the most effective lesson for your purpose. Think about desk layout, visual displays, seating arrangements, etc. 

Example of Environmental Elements
- Move the desks into groups / pairs / individual etc.
- Print, layout and organize materials
- Have a specific song playing which relates to the lesson, for when students enter.
- Create spaces around the room for station work or gallery walks etc.

If you are looking for a template for lesson planning:
Do also check out:
If you are looking at planning a whole unit of study, read this great post by The Daring English Teacher.

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