Favorite Lessons for Back-to-School

After Labor Day, the back-to-school season is complete. Summer is over for everyone, fall is in the air, and it's time to think about sweaters, pumpkin-spice lattes, and the lessons you will need to keep your students engaged and learning.

To help you with those lessons, we've assembled some of our favorites. Check them out!

Establish a classroom routine and provide a helpful reference point for you and your students with these editable daily agenda slides for Google™ Slides and PowerPoint. These agenda slides will help you communicate clear learning goals and simplify classroom procedures. They are perfect for back to school, as they are a great way for your new students to stay organized and up-to-date.

Nouvelle ELA

This Creative Writing Round Robin writing activity is great any time of year, but it’s especially excellent for building classroom community during the Back to School season. Students collaborate to write a short story with the SWBST elements (Somebody wanted but…so then…), but the catch is that they can only see the person’s writing just before theirs. They continue to swap stories until each group has five collaborative tales. This ends up being such a silly and fun activity, even as students practice low-stakes writing.

Room 213
Get your students actively engaged in the learning process with these exercises - all you need is some paper, sticky notes, markers and/or colored pencils. Then, you can choose from one of over THIRTY activities that will get your students thinking critically as they collaborate with their classmates. Just download, choose an activity, and get your students excited about learning. The best part is that the activities can be used with any text!

A great way to start the school year is with a close reading short story unit! Packed with lessons, activities, and writing prompts for seven short stories, this unit has everything you need to teach your short story unit. First, students will read the stories. Then, they will go back and closely read and carefully selected passages. Along the way, they will identify quotes to use for their writing. Finally, students will use the quotes from their close reading to work on a literary analysis prompt!

Tracee Orman

I don’t know about you, but I hate decorating bulletin boards throughout the year. But I have found that even secondary students love seeing something new each month. So I designed and created these fun interactive bulletin boards you can use ALL YEAR LONG! The best part is they are SO EASY! Just print, fold, and post! They will keep your students engaged and excited for a new one each month!

Presto Plans

If I had to pick one English teaching routine that totally transformed my classroom, it would be bell-ringers. They jump start student learning, calm classroom chaos, reduce uncertainty, and make transitions smoother, all the while allowing the teacher to maximize their time and maintain their sanity. They also can buy you an extra 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each class to do attendance, check in with students, and maybe even take a moment to yourself. My bell-ringer sets include a unique daily activity that helps students improve their ELA skills like grammar, vocabulary, writing, and figurative language in a high-interest way.

Addie Williams

I love to find ways to connect with my students at the start of the year and one of the best ways I have found to connect with kids is through music.  My goal at the beginning of a new year or semester is not only to get to know the students, but also to assess their writing skills and identify early on where I need to focus future lessons.  One of the ways I can do this is through my Soundtrack of My Life (or Summer) activity which is available in both print and digital formats.  This resource asks students to create the music that best represents their entire life or just their summer (I let them pick which one they want to do).  Not only is it fun to hear them talking about their music picks, but I can easily share their favourite songs with the class as they’re working.

That's all for now! We wish you all the best as you start (or continue) your new year.

5 authentic ways to teach grammar


By Jackie from ROOM 213

If you're tired of teaching endless grammar lessons and still getting assignments full of errors, read on! I've got five authentic ways to teach grammar, ones that can lead to fast results.

The red pen has gotten a bad reputation since I began my teaching career thirty years ago. It used to be a symbol of the English teacher who would use it like a weapon, finding ways to slash marks from students. Now of course, that wasn’t always the case, but those of us who were students or teachers during this time remember that a great deal of feedback on our papers was focused on mechanical errors.

When I was in high school, I took a full semester “writing” course on grammar. And yes, I knew what a dangling participle was, and I could diagram a sentence with the best of them. However, I remember the course being deadly dull.  The worst of it was, however, that we did very little writing in that class. It was all about the grammar.

Was that so bad? Perhaps not. Surely students can handle a dull class if they learn something valuable, right?

But what if a student can identify and fix a fused sentence or a fragment in an exercise but can’t do so in their own writing? 

These are questions that we struggle with when planning our instruction, and while  I don’t think there is one “correct” way to teach mechanics, I have strategies you can try that have lead to great results with my students.

I hope you can find something that helps!


The mini-lesson will always be an excellent way to introduce and teach grammar concepts; however it's what happens after the lesson that matters when it comes to student learning.

Teachers have long used a mini-lesson to teach grammar. However, these lessons were often followed by a session of diagramming sentences, or fixing a series of ten or so sentences that were full of errors. And while students can actually be successful with these activities, research has shown that there is not always much transfer to their actual writing.

What really helps is when students use what they learn in their lessons in more authentic ways. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:

✅  First, make a list of the most common errors you are seeing in your students' writing. My bet is that fragments, fused sentences, and punctuation errors will top the list. Start with these. Then, later in the year, create lessons around the common errors you see in your students' work.

✅  Keep your lessons short and focused on the reasons why writers make the error, so students can see why/how it happens - and how to fix it.

✅  In the lesson include a few sentences that demonstrate the errors and ask students to figure out how to fix them.

✅  Follow up with an activity where students look for this concept/rule in their own reading and writing. For example, ask them to look for properly constructed sentences in their reading - how and why did the writer use commas? Semicolons? Colons? Or, instruct your students to read over a piece of their own writing (a journal entry or a paragraph or longer piece they haver written) and find any fragments, comma errors, etc. and fix them.

Teaching grammar

✅  At the end of class, assign an exit ticket for quick assessment. Just ask students to write one sentence that demonstrates they know how to use the grammar concept you introduced in your mini-lesson. They can pass this in at the end of class and then you can quickly assess whether they got it or not.


Traditionally, when we want to work on mechanics with our students, we teach them the “rule” then give them worksheets that contain error-ridden sentences that they have to fix. This approach, however, presents students with multiple sentences that are incorrect, and that is what they get used to seeing. The theory behind mentor sentences is that students may be more apt to learn the rules when they see models of well-written sentences. They also use a process of discovery to discern why the mentor sentences work.

The mentor sentence approach does not take away the necessity of a "lesson," it just puts the focus on students trying to figure out why, for example, a semicolon is used in a sentence instead of a comma. Basically, your lesson will start with the correct way of doing things, your students will figure out why it's correct, and then they will learn "the rule."

teach grammar with mentor sentences

👉🏻 Grab a PDF with a free mentor text lesson on commas.


One of the most effective ways to improve your students' grammar is by embedding opportunities to do so into their reading and writing regularly - not just during specific "grammar time." This is because, when you do this, students will begin to see grammar as a very powerful tool in their writing toolbox, one that will lead to greater clarity in their writing (and a higher grade if that's what motivates them).

Present grammar lessons when they make sense, from learning about capitalizing people's names when you are teaching lessons on character to learning when to use a colon when you look at modern forms of epistolary fiction. If you are working on getting your students to provide more detail and variety in their writing, it's the perfect time to look at how and why authors use commas. If you want to put an end to fragments and fused sentences, do so while doing readings on the fragments and connections in our lives (I've got this one all ready for you!)

Teaching grammar

You can also teach your students the habit of revision by always asking them to read over short pieces that they write in class to look for places where they can improve both the content and their mechanics. This doesn't have to take long: after they write a prompt, instruct them to read over what they wrote and look for places that could use a semicolon, need a comma, etc.

If you like the idea of combining your instruction and activities when you do reading and writing, click here for ready-made resources that do just that.


In my experience, this is the most authentic and effective way to help students improve their writing. That is because you are giving them just-in-time feedback that can help them fix the errors that they are actually making, not the ones that you focus on in a mini-lesson for the whole class.

One way to do this is during student conferences. Conferences are a powerful strategy for helping students improve their writing as you are able to talk to them one-on-one and can give them fast, targeted feedback. If you have ones that are focused on particular grammar errors that you have been covering; then students can apply what you have been teaching in an authentic way.

And, if used properly, conferencing can actually reduce your time spent grading. Click here to find out how! Or if you aren't sure how to fit them in, I explain how here.

Another way to give targeted feedback is when students pass in an assignment. Look at the image below. In this case, the student was making multiple comma splice errors. In the first instance, I highlighted it and named the error. Then I highlighted the subsequent ones and asked "what's this?" 

When the student gets the assignment back, I ask them to respond to my questions and fix the error and resubmit. You can see the response in the second image.

This does add another layer onto you giving feedback, but in my experience, if you just ask students to respond to a few things on a returned assignment, it takes very little time to assess - and it leads to a lot more learning.

👉🏻 Click here for more Tips for Fast, Effective Feedback


Another way to review and fix grammar errors is through learning stations. You can do a full review of a concept and send students though a rotation that has them hit each one. Or, you can group students according to need and send them to the stations that cover the errors that they are actually making.

For example, group one may go to a station that reviews pronoun errors while group two is working on sentence fragments. This way, instead of each student listening to a review of an error that other students are making, they are getting extra practice with the ones that they need to improve.

You can check out my grammar stations here. (note: these are all in the process of being updated. Currently, the ones for pronouns and fragments are complete. Fused sentences are next).

So, those are 5 authentic ways to teach grammar. Try at least one of them and see if it leads to improvements in your students' writing. And, if you need some help in teaching grammar, check out the resources below:

✅ Pronouns Errors Mini-lessons

✅ Avoiding Fragments Mini-Lessons & Activities

✅ Comma Mini-Lessons & Activities

✅ Fragments and Connections

✅ Avoiding Awkward Wording

Get more strategies from ROOM 213:

My talented friends from the Coffee Shop have some ideas for you too: 

The Classroom Sparrow: Grammar Mistakes Interactive Flip Book

The Daring English Teacher: 5 Fun Ways to Incorporate Grammar


Career Education Activities for English Language Arts

Are you stumped for ideas on how you can incorporate career education into your classroom? Through my personal experience, I have discovered that it is very easy to connect career-related activities to an ELA curriculum. In addition, it is relevant to each student and a great way for them to explore their interests during middle and high school. 


In English class, speaking is one skill that should be explored. Believe it or not, students tend to take this activity quite seriously. After reviewing what a 'good' and 'bad' interview might look like, using this Mock Interview Activity, I can begin completing interviews with my students. Sometimes, if you have enough classroom support, you can complete these in a separate room (so it feels more like an actual interview!) 


Nobody understands time like a teacher. There is only so much time that we can spend on certain things, so the more efficiently we can plan things, the better! For those teachers who may be short on time, but want to incorporate career exploration into their classroom, try using career-related bell-ringers to start your day! You could do this once a week, daily for a few weeks, or even sporadically throughout a semester. 

In situations where I was short on time, I used these Bell-Ringer Career Exploration Prompts with my students. You can either project the prompts on a SmartBoard for students, print out the prompts in a journal-style format, or use the prompts in stations (if you would like to keep your students moving!) They are a win-win for students and English teachers. Students will have an opportunity to think critically about their interests and potential career choices and teachers can evaluate writing skills and teamwork.

Career Bell-Ringers


An easy way to get your students thinking about what types of jobs or careers that are both best-suited to them and readily available, are through the use of discussion prompts. You can prompt your students by sharing these 10 questions with them and seeing where the discussion takes them!

  • What would be the worst type of job?
  • What would be the best type of job?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are you weaknesses?
  • What is the difference between a salary and a commission?
  • What types of jobs or careers have salaries?
  • What is your most valuable skill or talent?
  • What are your short-term goals?
  • What are your long-term goals? 
  • If you could have any job in the world, what would it be and why?


I created this one-page Dream Job Worksheet, so that you can begin exploring careers in your classroom TODAY! This print-and-go activity is an effective way to begin some preliminary research on a job or career of interest. 

The 14 questions on the worksheet will prompt students to select any job or career, so that they can begin to formulate whether or not that job is a suitable fit for them or not. 

This is an easy way to incorporate career exploration into your English Language Arts classroom. Click HERE to access your copy!


One of my favorite ways to incorporate career exploration into my ELA classroom is using this Career Exploration Bingo Activity. Students can explore some fun, new careers (some that they may have never even known existed!) 

Career Exploration Bingo
The object of the activity is to find the answers to career-related questions and prompts based on a variety of different categories. Three flexible ways to share this resource with your students are included: print, digital (PowerPoint) or via Google Slides.

I am hoping that you found some useful ways to incorporate career exploration into your classroom. It's never too early or too late to do so!

Here is another great resource to take a look at:

Resume and Cover Letter Writing
Career Research Paper

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