10 Ways To Use Quotes in the English Classroom

Log onto your favorite social media platform, and you are bound to be met with at least one inspirational quote.  Why do people share these with such frequency?  It's because we can relate and see ourselves in the words shared by another.  Your students are no different, and there are many ways to use relatable quotes by famous people, authors, or historical figures as a way to not only inspire your students, but to launch student writing and discussions, help students make connections, and practice and improve ELA skills and standards.

Below are ten of my favorite ways to use quotes in the middle and high school English classroom.

1. Writing Prompts

Quotes make thought-provoking writing prompts, so you might consider using them as weekly bell-ringers.  Project or write the quote on the board and have students make a personal connection between the quote and their own life or to current events in their school, community, or world.  They could also evaluate the quote to share why they agree or disagree with the statement.

For example, you could share the quote: “Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero.  This is a statement that would work well for evaluation as there should be a good mix of those who agree and those who don't. 

2. ELA Skills-Based Activities  

Quotes can also be used to help students practice ELA skills-based activities and meet standards in your curriculum.  They can be used to help students grow their vocabulary and improve their understanding of figurative language, grammar rules, sentence types, and parts of speech.

Figurative Language: 
Give students a quote that includes figurative language like "Failure is the condiment that gives success it's flavor." and have students properly label and explain it's use as a metaphor.

Share quotes with challenging words in them and have students infer its meaning in context (or look up the words if they need to).  For instance, you might have students infer the meaning of the word obscure in this quote: "There's a world of difference between truth and facts.  Facts can obscure the truth." - Maya Angelou

Intentionally insert grammar errors that your students are struggling with into quotes and have them edit and explain the changes they make.  For example, you might use the quote: "The future belongs too those who believe in the beauty of there dreams" - Eleanor Roosevelt.  Students would correct the two errors (too = to / there = their) and explain that these are common homophone errors.

Parts of Speech: 
Share quotes with students and bold different parts of speech, and have them label which part of speech is highlighted.  For example, you might share the quote "Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light" - JK Rowling and students can label the word Happiness as a noun.

Sentence Types: 
Share quotes with students and have them label the type of sentence that is used: simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex.  For example, you could share the quote “The only way to do great work is to do what you love.” —Steve Jobs and have students label it as a simple sentence.

3. Inspirational Classroom Decor

Quotes can serve double-duty in your classroom as decor for your walls or bulletin boards and also as a way to speak to the challenges that students may be facing. You could choose to set up a bulletin board with multiple quotes that relate to what students might be going through, or instead share a quote of the week.

I also love using rules quote posters to remind students of my classroom expectations.  For example, you might use a Shakespearean quote like “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late” to remind students of the importance of being punctual.  Or,  the quote, “saying nothing sometimes says the most” might remind students to pay attention and not speak out of turn in class.

4. Text-To-World Connections 

Have students find a quote that relates in some way to a non-fiction article on a current news event and explain its connection.  The quote will help them formulate or extend on their own opinions.  For example, if there is a violent crisis happening in the world, a student might choose the quote, "An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind." - Gandhi and explain the connection and their own opinions on violence as a means of resolving an issue.

This activity forces the student to think more deeply about current events and make connections between what they are reading and how it applies to the world around them.

5. Silent Discussion Starters

Using the silent discussion method allows everyone (even your most reluctant students) to share their ideas.  It gives time for students to reflect on their own thoughts as well as learn about the perspective of others before sharing out loud.  You can read all about how to use the activity here and grab a free template here.  The activity works perfectly when you use quotes as the prompts.

How it Works:

  • Collect a variety of quotes that will get students thinking and write them or project them on the board. If you have 25 students, you’ll probably want at least 12 different quotes
  • Number students off and have them write the quote connected to their number on a piece of paper, or you can use this free template: Silent Discussion Template.
  • Students respond to the quote by considering what it means to them, whether or not they agree with it, or a connection they make with the quote.  When they are done, they get up, circulate the room at their own pace, and find an available seat with a new quote.
  • Students read the new quote, the responses already made to it, and add their own thoughts to the “discussion” in writing.
  • This continues for as long as you like.  When you are done, you can have a whole-class open discussion on all of the quotes, or put students into small groups to discuss.

6. Story Elements

Quotes can also serve as a way to evaluate story elements.  Students can relate quotes they find to a character, theme, and conflict in a short story or novel they are reading and explain the connection between the two.  For example, in the novel, The Giver by Lois Lowry, students might make these choices:

The Character of Jonas: "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Person vs Society Conflict: "The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant." - Maximilien Robespierre

Theme: "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." - Maya Angelou

You can have students share the reason for their choices and provide text evidence to support how the text connects with the quotes.  Grab this free activity here to use with any story.

7. Debate Topics

There are many controversial quotations that will allow students to practice their debate skills by taking on the side of either the affirmative or the negative.  Quotes are an easy way to host mini-debates in preparation for a class debate.  You can put students in pairs and assign one the affirmative and one the negative side. Give them five minutes to prepare their speech and then they deliver it to their partner.

A few examples of controversial quotes you might use:

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” —Mahatma Gandhi
“We can not lead anyone farther than we have been ourselves.” —John Maxwell
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” —Mark Twain

8. Credible Sources 

Proper quote attribution online is a pervasive problem.  In fact, you may have even seen this meme floating around:

Quotes are often misattributed, and it can sometimes be challenging tracking down who the original author or speaker was. This provides an opportunity for you to show students the importance of using credible sources to find their information.

You might consider giving students some quotes that have been attributed to more than one person, and take them through the process of trying to narrow down who actually said it. You can show them proper research techniques, how to know which websites are credible, and cross-referencing information.

Here are a few sample quotes that have been attributed to more than one person that you could use as examples:

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” —Henry Russel “Red” Sanders  (often misattributed to Vince Lombardi)

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” —Andre Gide (sometimes misattributed to Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, and even Adolf Hitler).

9. Compare and Contrast

Comparing and contrasting skills can be improved by giving student two quotes that give either opposite advice or similar advice.  You'll want to ask students to describe how the quotes are similar or different in their meaning and evaluate both quotes to see what they think provides better advice.

For example, you might have students compare and contrast these two quotes:

“Don't fake it till you make it.  Fake it till you become it.” - Amy Cuddy and

“Don’t ever trade your authenticity for approval.” - Unknown

10. Artistic Projects

Break out the markers and have students select a quote from their independent novel (or something you are reading in class) that they felt was important or inspiring.  Allow them to create a classroom poster that features their quote prominently.   Do keep in mind, though that you shouldn't grade students based on their artistic abilities. Simply give them creative control and let them have fun with it. You’ll end up with inspiring art for your classroom walls, and maybe discover some undercover Picasso’s in your class!  If you need to attach a grade to the assignment or connect it with a standard, consider having students write a paragraph on the back of the poster explaining the significance of the quote.

Looking for more ways to incorporate quotes into your ELA classroom?  Click below to see what the other members of the coffee shop have to share:

Quotes for Kindness Writing Prompts by Addie Williams
Reading and Writing Advice Posters by Stacey Lloyd
Motivational Mondays Quote Bell-Ringers by Tracee Orman
Growth Mindset Bell-Ringers by The Daring English Teacher
Women's History Quotes Posters by Nouvelle ELA
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