5 Fresh Poetry Ideas for Middle or High School Students

It can take a lot of work to get students excited about poetry! Here are five fresh poetry ideas you can use to inspire students to write their own poems.

1. Pet Peeve Poetry

Many students find writing poetry very intimidating: they get stuck for an idea, and they think it has to rhyme or be filled with deep meaning and emotion. Students succeed best when given a template or a prompt for inspiration. One of the strategies I use in class is using students' pet peeves as a starting point for poetry. It is easy to get students talking about what irritates them and makes them angry! Once we get started on a class discussion, it quickly becomes evident that students have many pet peeves and that they can talk for hours about them.  Why not channel that anger and frustration into a Pet Peeve Poem? Grab a copy of the activity either in PRINT or DIGITAL, and get started on this activity today. Everything is included!

2.  Personification Poetry

Students have always loved this activity, and I get such a giggle from seeing what they come up with.  Years ago, I found a sticker pack of "googly eyes" at the dollar store and thought they would be fun for something at school... just wasn't sure how or what I could use them for.  It wasn't until a student stuck a pair on the pencil sharpener that an idea was born. Students use "eyes" to create a character on an inanimate object and then write a poem personifying that object.  It's amazing how "alive" something comes with a pair of eyes.  If you can find "googly eyes" at your local dollar/craft store, they work really well, but I've had just as much success with students drawing eyes on paper and cutting them out.  The advantage of cutting out paper eyes is that they can create emotion depending on how they are drawn. Students love sharing what they come up with for their poems!

3. Imagery Poem
I love to have students think about imagery when reading and writing.  I use Wordworth's poem "Lonely As a Cloud" as inspiration (and a lesson) to help students write their own imagery poems about a favorite place. This is the perfect activity for spring, as Wordworth's poem draws on the season in his famous piece. You can grab a copy of the activity HERE.

4. Out My Window Poetry

Many of us have been at home more than ever during the last few years, and we have spent more time in our backyards, porches, balconies, and neighborhoods.  What do your students see when they look outside? A busy city full of the sounds of a bustling community? A quiet farm field? Suburban streets? Why not use their home environment as inspiration for a poem?  If students are not comfortable sharing about their community or home, they can make up a view that they might like to see from a window.  Grab a FREE copy of this activity HERE.

5. This is Just to Say Parody

I love the poem "This Is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams, and I love to have students write a parody of the poem. Click HERE to read the original poem.  As the poem is thought to have been written as a note left in the kitchen for his wife, why not have students write their parody as a note?  Students at school could pin them to a bulletin board for others to read, and students at home could take photos of where they would put the note. Students could also use a photo or image as a background to their poem, as I did below.

For more fun and fresh poetry ideas, check out these resources from the ladies of the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

For all of my poetry activities, check out my Poetry Bundle HERE.

Poetry Mini-Book - The Classroom Sparrow

Writing Poetry Presentation - Tracee Orman

Poetry Digital Escape Room - Nouvelle ELA

Digital Poetry Analysis Task Cards - The Daring English Teacher

I hope you and your students have fun with the activities!


Incorporating Netflix into your English Language Arts Classroom

I've never really thought of Netflix as a teaching resource per se, but it is definitely a great resource for information. It's fairly simple to incorporate various shows that stream on Netflix into your classroom, as the majority of students have an account at home and/or some schools offer wifi capability for this service to be streamed into classrooms. If you're lucky enough to have Netflix right in your classroom, then some of these ideas will be fairly easy to implement. 

 1. Incorporate a Trending Show

What's the best part about incorporating a trending show into your classroom? Netflix tells you what's popular at that time, so it's just a matter of scrolling to see what's hot right now. One way that I incorporated Netflix into my classroom was using the popular, limited series, Tiger King. Now, I know what you are thinking. I would like to note that I did not show this to my students in class, nor recommended that they view it, but the likelihood that they did watch it, was quite high. At least, that's what I was banking on. 

So, how did I incorporate this Netflix-exclusive series into my class if I didn't tell my students to watch it? The series depicts several different scenarios where exotic animals are being exploited for financial purposes. The print & digital versions of the Exotic Animal Ownership resource that I created for my students got them thinking about a species' welfare in both the wild, in public and private zoos, as well as in sanctuaries. 

The worksheets and activities within the resource do not reference the characters within the show or the ideas that were presented. Rather, the assignments are a reflection of one's own personal feelings on the general notion of the exploitation of exotic animals. They can, however, definitely refer to some of the ideas within the show to prove their points (if they had a chance to view it).  

2. Book vs. Movie

Another easy way to incorporate Netflix is to compare and contrast a book and a movie, providing the book is able to stream from Netflix, of course. 

Here's a few YA book adaptations that you can check out on Netflix:

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • The Maze Runner
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • P.S. I Love You
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • The Great Gatsby

Grab a FREE Compare and Contrast Essay Organizer HERE!

3. Watch a Documentary 

Watching a documentary is a great way to learn more about an individual in a relatively short amount of time. 

Here are a few ideas on how you could utilize a docuseries:

1. Research project on the individual
2. Written reflections on various themes within the series
3. Use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the individual and the student

Here are some examples that could be incorporated into an ELA class:

  • The Last Dance: This series shares the story of Michael Jordan's career. It gives a great outlook on what it takes to be a true athlete and this series is a great way to teach students more about focus, perseverance and determination. 
  • Miss Americana: This series gives a first-hand look into the day in the life of popular singer, Taylor Swift. She shares a lot of her insecurities as a young adult, which most do not realize she likely had. Students would be able to make a lot of connections with Taylor, not realizing she shares similar teen struggles. 
  • Gaga, Five Foot Two:  This series gives fans an inside look into the life of Lady Gaga. She shares personal struggles about her health and trials and tribulations of what it takes to be a famous entertainer.

4. Using Documentaries as Life Lessons

One of the most powerful and memorable teaching moments I have ever had is when I told all my students to write one wish on a piece of paper. The majority of the wishes they wrote down were all very materialistic. After they all wrote down their wishes, I showed them a quick video about a man named Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs. I had most of my class nearly in tears. Now, making them sad was not my intention. However, making them aware of others and people with real struggles was. For this reason, I am sharing a few documentaries that are worth watching and a great way to discuss one's life goals and values. 

You might consider a similar activity of asking your students questions prior to watching, like in the example I shared above. It's a great way for your students to reflect on their original response, once they've viewed an episode or entire documentary. 

Check out the trailers for these Netflix documentaries:

5. Use Kids' Movies as a Way to Reflect

A fun, nostalgic way to think about past books that your students might have previously experienced would be to share a list of books that are currently streaming on Netflix. Hopefully, with the list given, every student would have either read the book and/or at least be familiar with the book in some way. 

Once students select a past book that they have read from the list, you can ask them to go watch the movie (or at least part of the movie) and reflect on some elements of the story. While, they may think it's silly to watch a "kid's show" the purpose of the activity is for them to reflect on what made that story so memorable to them at that time in their life. After all, they picked it out from the list!

Here is a list of popular books that are currently streaming on Netflix:

  • Holes
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Harriet the Spy
  • Charlotte's Web

Here are some reflection questions that you can use for this activity:

  1. Watching the movie now, as a young adult, what do you think drew you to the original book?

  2. What memories do you have about the book of choice? Did you read it at home? In a classroom?

  3. Did the movie do the book justice? Explain your reasoning.

  4. What was different and/or the same in the book and movie?
  5. Would you recommend the book and/or the movie to a child? Why or why not?

I hope you found a few ideas on how you can incorporate Netflix into your classroom! If I missed any popular titles, please share them below!

Check out these other great resources that would work for incorporating books and movie adaptations into your classroom.  

 Movie Review / Film Review Writing

 Bad Movie Adaptations: What's so Good About Them?

Making a Murderer Teaching Bundle

TV Episode Review


Using Short Stories in the ELA Classroom

Do you use short stories in your curriculum? I love using them for their versatility. 

Short stories are a perfect way to incorporate reading, writing, language, vocabulary, grammar, and even speaking skills into your curriculum without having to spend several weeks on the same piece of literature. 

To take advantage of using short stories this year, here are some tips and ideas:

📚 Use short stories at the beginning of the year to introduce key literary elements such as plot, setting, characters, point-of-view and perspective, and figurative language. It’s much easier for students to grasp and review these concepts through short stories. I have a literary elements pack that can be used with any story that helps students identify and explain the key concepts. It’s offered in both digital and print formats for your convenience. They are both included in my short story bundle.

📚 Many short stories are readily available in the public domain, making it easier for you to share paperless versions with your students. Project Gutenberg offers stories in both html format (just share the link with your students) or downloadable versions. Feedbooks offers free short stories in ePub format that is compatible with tablets and digital readers. This is great for remote or distance learning or for avoiding book dispersal and sanitization.

📚 Reading short stories can help students with writing short stories. I love having students read a series of different stories as mentor texts. They can study the text structure and dialogue to help them structure their own original creations. I like to have them read a wide variety of different stories so they can see just how much writing varies in a single genre. I use my Narrative Writing presentation and handouts to walk them through writing their own. After they’ve written their stories, I post them online (anonymously on our school website) and we take a week (or more) to read every story in class and give one another compliments. The students love reading their peers’ stories and the quality of writing is always better knowing they stories will be shared (even if they are anonymous).

Regardless of which story you are using with your students, you can use this FREE one-page activity. Download it to print and go, or use the TpT digital activity to share it virtually.

You can also utilize these great activities by my blog mates:

Lamb to the Slaughter Short Story Activity by Nouvelle ELA

Short Story Interactive Notebook Flipbook by The Classroom Sparrow

Short Story Complete Unit Plan by Presto Plans

Thank You, Ma'am Short Story Activities by The Daring English Teacher

Digital Short Story Bundle by Addie Williams

10 Changes to Make When Your Classroom Reopens (Blended Learning)

My school is about to reopen full time, and due to the need to spread out for social distancing, I'm setting up in a different classroom. (Imagine my heavy sighs here.)

After a spring of teaching under COVID-19 lockdown, some schools are preparing to reopen with full or half-capacity (hybrid) numbers of students. As much as we want to imagine that the 2020-2021 school year will eventually return to normal, we are also bracing for the possibility of our classrooms being entirely closed again. (I love this blog post by Cult of Pedagogy for a preview of what schools could look like.)

So as some of us begin to set up our classrooms under district and/or state guidelines, which non-required changes should we consider making? Other than being six feet apart and using a lot of cleaning products, how else should the layout, setup, or decorations in our rooms look and feel different? 

I'm currently on my school's Task Force to prepare plans for different learning scenarios. Based on what I'm learning there, this post contains a few suggestions that I foresee as being useful to secondary classrooms. 

DISCLAIMER: Information on what is and isn't safe to avoid the coronavirus is constantly changing. This post obviously does not replace actual medical advice, so be sure that anything in your classroom adheres to CURRENT local guidelines. (Here is what the CDC is advising for schools at the time of this posting.) 

1. Decentralized Supplies
If you have one counter, box, cabinet, or space where students can go to get the supplies they need, consider splitting it up so that fewer students are touching them. You might consider a miniature cart of supplies per row or in several corners of the room. 

(Or, you can remove extra paper and pencils from student access entirely and require students to ask you for them. However, then you might be running around a little more to give students what they need.) 

2. Mailboxes, Cubbies, and Passing Out Papers
Assuming you will still be printing, distributing, and collecting papers (instead of going all-digital), consider how you currently collect or pass back student work. 
  • Do you want students to turn in their work to a bin first instead of handing them to you?
  • Can you implement mailboxes, hanging files, cubbies, or another method for students to get their papers back from you with more distance? 
  • Are you going to wait for a certain number of days before touching turned-in papers? If so, how will that affect the speed of your grading and feedback?

3. Ways to Ask for Help
You may have already seen the ways many elementary schools are asking students if they want a high-five, hug, wave, or other greeting in the morning. That menu concept may need to apply to the way we let older students ask for help. For example, could you...
  • Use a hand signal system to more quickly ask for help (or the bathroom, etc.)?
  • Heavily encourage students to email you their concerns, including during class, if they have a private question (instead of writing you a note or pulling you aside)?
  • Put a literal mailbox in your classroom where students can confidentially leave you a note? 
  • Use desk flips or signs so a student can indicate if they need no, some, or urgent help?

4. Rethinking Bulletin Boards
While you don't HAVE to change your bulletin boards, they do present an opportunity, especially if your classes are cut in half or if every student isn't in the building every day. 

To build community, I'm considering possible displays like...
  • Student of the Day/Week
  • Leave a Message: designated spaces/squares for each class period to write encouraging messages to each other
  • Even more anchor charts and "trails" of learning (see #5)
  • Technology Tips and Reminders to get help

5. Making Progress Visual: Anchor Charts 2.0
Although I'm normally a digital to-do list kind of girl, I've become obsessed with this article by Jocelyn K. Glei about How to Feel Progress. Her basic premise is that we get more satisfaction when we visually chart our tasks and cross them off. 

This raises good questions for us if our classrooms are even partially online: how will students know where we are in a unit (and what we've learned) if they're feeling disoriented between school and home? 

I plan to continue working with my game board templates (see below) and other formats of charting what we've learned and where we're going next. For more information, you might like these blog posts:

6. Making the Digital Realm "You"
If your district has a required LMS like Schoology, Digital Academy, Canvas, etc., then you might not have a ton of control over what your digital presence looks and feels like. However, some teachers are creating virtual classrooms in Google Slides with their Bitmoji, and it's pretty adorable. 

To get started, check out these articles by Hello Teacher Lady or WeAreTeachers. You might also like the Facebook group Bitmoji Craze for Educators

7. Go as Digital as Possible (and Print Ahead)
On one hand, I personally want to make as many self-grading, no-touch, digital modes of learning as humanly possible for this year. However... I also know that our school Wi-Fi could go down at any minute, and that not every student has reliable internet at home. 

One thing I plan to do is print ahead ALL my grammar guided notes for the year and send them home early so that students HAVE the notes even if we go partially or entirely closed later. 

I plan to print other things ahead of time for my students as well, such as: 

8. Stations & Labels
Label. Everything. This. Year. 
If in doubt, put a label on it. Or a sign. Or masking tape. Or a chart, or a big red X in marker, ha!

In addition to decentralizing supplies as in #1, start thinking about...
  • Anything you want to label as "no touch" or "do not open"
  • Permanently numbering stations or locations, such as "this row can visit bucket #1 for extra paper" or "it's your turn to visit Station #1"
  • Reminders to wash hands

9. Classroom Libraries & Books
As of the date that I'm writing this post, it's uncertain to what extent the coronavirus can live on books and paper, but my school is moving forward with assuming that we will distribute books to students this year. 

My hope is to gather all the novels I plan to teach this year and pass them all out at once. If I send them home now, then school closures may affect me a little less. 

This could also look like...
  • Taking turns going to your classroom library (and cleaning shelves/edges more often)
  • Taking turns to go to the school library
  • Bringing the librarians to you
  • More in-person and virtual book talks so that students can find out about books while also touching them less

10. Fidgets & Getting Out Energy
If students are more confined to their desks than usual this year and are limited in where they can go and when, then some of them will go a little stir-crazy. (Imagine the winter "cabin fever" starting as early as September...)

That might mean teachers can consider...

Bonus: Protect the Teacher
What boundaries do YOU want to protect yourself, literally or metaphorically? You've got to take care of both your mental and physical health in this uncharted territory. 

Do you want to...
  • Protect your own supplies more so students don't touch certain items? 
  • Lock up more than you used to? 
  • Wear a teacher apron, a different lanyard, or even a fanny pack to keep certain items more handy?
  • Create different limits about when you will check your email?

You might also like these blog posts...
Do you have additional suggestions or things you're trying? 
Tell us in the comments!

9 Must-Have Back to School ELA Resources

It's hard to imagine, but it's back to school season again! As teachers, we are all in the same boat right now. To help ease some of the pressure of the start of a new year, we have compiled our favorite resources!

This DIGITAL back to school-themed escape room is a blast and the perfect way to start off a new school year! You have a lot of flexibility with this resource - use as a whole escape room or individual activities. This resource is 100% paperless. No printing. No locks. Just send the links and go!

Memes are a fun way to engage students! It's so much fun seeing the students' expressions when they read them and they are perfect for orientations, an open house, classroom rules, and more! In order to keep these current, a bunch of new memes were just added this year: social distancing, hand-washing and wearing a mask.

Do you need your students to work independently during distance learning as they learn how writers develop characters? This bundle includes a series of short lessons and activities that your students can do on their own, without you there to guide them.

Looking for a resource to use with ANY novel? This bundle of activities is perfect for lit circles, independent reading, or a whole-class novel. There are opportunities for students to analyze characters, respond to the text, create projects, and more!

Making grammar fun can sometimes be a challenge. The Grammar Challenge is a full-year, 40 week grammar program for middle and high school English language arts teachers that includes assessment, instruction, narrative stories, and weekly escape-style challenges to improve student grammar, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills!

Secondary Sara and The SuperHERO Teacher recently collaborated on a Grammar Bell-Ringer Journal for Grades 6-8! It has prompts for 190 school days and teachers all the grammar CCSS topics for middle school. They are so excited to teach it this year since it comes with printable and digital versions! Their Grammar Journal for Grades 9-12 is coming soon.

A favorite resource for teaching students how to write an essays is this Mastering the Essays Teaching Unit. This resource, which also now includes digital Google files, breaks down the essay writing process into step-by-step instructions for each paragraph complete with color-coded instruction and examples.

Collaborative Bell Ringers are a great way to start off each class period. Students work in teams to solve ELA-themed puzzles, about books, movies, TV shows, songs, poetry, and more. You can even keep a running score to encourage collaboration and friendly competition throughout the term!

We enjoyed sharing our must-have resources with you. Wishing you a wonderful start to the new school year from all of us at The Secondary English Coffee Shop!

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