4 Ways to Help Students Deepen Their Text Connections

If your students are anything like the ones I teach, they struggle to make deep and meaningful connections to the text.  They can all find a superficial link to a character, theme, event, or plot, but it's often surface-level.  For instance, writing that they have had a crush on someone is hardly a deep text-to- self connection to Romeo & Juliet.  Or that they too have connected with a character because they have both experienced sadness is not exactly what we are looking for at the middle-high school level.

Model the Strategy

I often read aloud to my classes (even my seniors), and if I am working on deepening connections, I will stop and explain my connection to the text as I read.  I show students how I look for and find connections in any text - it could be a novel, short story, or non-fiction article.  I would only do this with a text I'm familiar with and have pre-read so that I have time to figure out where I'm going to stop and what I'm going to say.  As I read, I model my thinking out loud and give deeper detailed connections rather than surface-level connections.

I emphasize to students that we all have different experiences and different backgrounds, so naturally, our connections will all be personal, and all be different.  I want students to know there is no right or wrong way to connect with the text.  My hope is that they can find something in the text to relate to and that they can explain it with some detail and evidence of deeper thinking.  

Visual Aids

I use text connections posters in my classroom to remind students of what they should be looking for as they read.  My posters provide not only the meaning of each text connection but also questions to ask themselves as they read and a series of sentence starters to use in their response.  I love seeing students look at them as they work through a novel study, short story, or non-fiction article.  Check out my resource here - it also includes a student reference sheet, graphic organizer, and four types of bookmarks!

Bookmarks & Sticky Notes

I encourage students to use sticky notes and bookmarks to keep track of connections as they read.  I stock up on sticky notes from the dollar store and have had students use different coloured sticky notes for each type of text connection.  

I also give students a text connection bookmark to remind them of what they are looking for as they read.  Grab a FREE set of bookmarks HERE!!

Find Articles, Short Stories, Movies, and Videos 

I think it is important to help students find connections, especially text-to-text and text-to-world connections.  Wherever I can, I find articles, poems, videos, and other media that may link to a text we are reading.   For example, if we are reading Romeo & Juliet, I will find articles that link to child marriage, family feuds, or arranged marriages.  For more modern books it can be easier to find articles related to world or local events that may be similar to the themes in the book you are reading.  So many modern young adult texts deal with present day issues such as racism, homophobia, sexism, and other tough topics... the more I can relate these topics and connect them to our community, and their lives, the better they will understand their importance.

Looking for more ideas?

Check out the following resources from the ladies of the Secondary English Coffee Shop.

Reading Connections Foldable - The Classroom Sparrow

Making Text to Text Connections Blog Post - Room 213

5 Ways to Analyze Non-Fiction & Rhetoric Blog Post - The Daring English Teacher

Happy Teaching


Creative Writing Prompts Across Your Curriculum

 Creative Writing Prompts Across Your Curriculum

How do you teach creative writing in middle and high school, when there’s so much else to be done? There’s so much pressure to teach other skills that it can be difficult to find time for creative writing activities. Here are some ways to incorporate creative writing prompts as you hit your standards.

Student completing creative writing prompts next to a stack of books. Text says creative writing as a response to other texts.

Hey, y’all! It’s Danielle from Nouvelle ELA! Today, I’ll share activities for teaching creative writing that show understanding of other ELA topics and skills. This is one of my favorite ways to get students out of a “rut” on a particular topic and instill a sense of fun into my lessons. Kids love creative writing, but it often gets lost in the shuffle.

Build Classroom Community with Creative Writing Activities

Since creative writing can be so fun, the stakes feel low to students. Shy students can display their senses of humor and otherwise reluctant students can buy into an activity. That’s why I love to use creative writing prompts to build classroom community and collaboration. 

One of my favorite writing activities is this Round Robin. Students work together to write a timed story. This is fun because it helps them stop self-censoring so much (or else they’ll run out of time!). This activity is scaffolded with an introduction to the “Somebody Wanted But So Then” (SWBST) structure. That means that students are practicing writing, having fun with each other, AND reinforcing their story structure skills. Awesome!

Student completing a round robin creative writing activity with small writing prompts

Also on this blog: Building Collaboration and Critical Thinking

Using Nonfiction to Inspire Creative Writing

Writing activities are also an excellent way for students to react to nonfiction and extend their understanding of a topic. While students need to write analytical responses as well, creative writing prompts can be an outlet for students to process an informational text.

Consider starting with a nonfiction list, like 10 Abandoned Places or 10 Maritime Mysteries, and having students do some creative writing after they read. For example, with Abandoned Places, students can choose to set a story in one of the places. Both of these resources are an opportunity to share writing prompts with pictures, and students LOVE PICTURES.

You can grab a sample of the Abandoned Places activity here, including a free brainstorming worksheet for writing a short story.

Creative Writing Activity displayed on a desk

Also on this blog: Using Nonfiction to Engage Reluctant Readers

Connecting to Literature through Creative Writing

I also love using creative writing prompts to help students engage in literature. This approach helps students think more critically about what they’re reading and gives them some ownership over the story.

When I introduce any Shakespeare play, I have students write Shakespeare a friendly letter introducing him to one of our modern technologies. One of my favorite letters a student has ever written described text messaging as “an invisible message delivered by an invisible rider on an invisible horse.” How creative!

I’ve also had students use creative writing to make a major change to a story. This is an excellent way to highlight the author’s craft and purpose. For example, students can rewrite the ending of Much Ado About Nothing as a tragedy to help understand how Shakespeare crafts an ending. They can rewrite a spooky story like “The Monkey’s Paw” in a different mood to help deepen their understanding of mood and tone.

Teaching creative writing doesn’t have to be a “stop everything and write fiction.” It can be woven throughout your curriculum. While each piece of writing is its own text, you can use writing as a tool for demonstrating understanding of any other text.

Also on this blog: 4 Creative Reading Activities to Spark Engagement

Deepen an Understanding of Poetry

Poetry can be intimidating for students, so I like to try as many approaches as possible to aid in engagement. One way I help my students access poetry is through creative writing. Snippets of poetry and song lyrics become creative writing prompts to inspire short stories.

Open notebook shows a mind map brainstorming a creative writing response to a snippet of song lyrics

Also on this blog: 3 Ways to Teach Creative Writing Anytime

Key Takeaways

  • Students should write often - both creatively and analytically

  • Align creative writing opportunities with other standards and learning targets

  • Lower the stakes by using collaborative or timed writing

You don’t need a whole Creative Writing Unit to leverage the power of this type of writing activity. Instead, you can use it as one type of student response.

What are some ways you get “creative” with creative writing? Let us know in comments or on Instagram!

Check out these Creative Writing Activities from other Coffee Shop teachers:

Happy teaching!

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

By The Daring English Teacher 

With school now back in session, it is the perfect time to focus on creating and fostering a positive, healthy classroom culture. These past two school years were so challenging, and with school in session again, there seems to be a better, more positive and exciting vibe on school campuses nationwide. This is the year that we’ve been waiting for.

To help capitalize on these exciting back-to-school vibes, here are 5 things you can do to help create and maintain a healthy, positive classroom culture.

Tell Me Something Good Monday

When you start the week by celebrating students’ successes, victories, and accomplishments, the entire classroom vibe starts on a positive note. One habit I started several years ago was starting each class period on Monday with a small celebration. Essentially, I asked students to share their good news on their bell ringer sheet. The news could be any kind of good news -no matter how big or small. Students could share successes on a recent math quiz, something they did over the weekend that made them happy, and anything in between. With high schoolers, you also get a mix of really big good news announcements like passing the permit test or driver’s test, being accepted into college, or getting a job.

After students take a quick moment to record their good news, I call on volunteers to share their good news aloud with the class. After they share, I ask them some questions about the good news, and then the entire class celebrates with the student who shared. I chose to have students celebrate with congratulatory statements and applause. Usually, I would ask about three or four students to share their news aloud each Monday, and I would try to ensure that everyone shared at least once. Starting the week by celebrating each other's good news, successes, and victories, creates a welcoming and positive classroom culture.

Community Bell Ringers

Another way to help foster a positive and inclusive classroom community is to include these classroom community bell ringers in my curriculum. With 40 days of bell ringers includes, these community bell ringers are great to get your students thinking with open minds and open hearts. Each bell ringer includes a quote about love, acceptance, tolerance, or diversity and a brief writing prompt. In the classroom, I like to give my students the first five minutes of class to read and respond to the prompt. Then, I’ll call on volunteers to share their responses.

You can try a sample of these bell ringers. This Classroom Community Bell Ringers Sampler includes five community bell ringers that you can use in your classroom this week!

Classroom Community and Culture Bell Ringers
Classroom Community and Culture Bell Ringers

Growth Mindset Escape Room

Students love working together to solve puzzles and tasks. The collaboration builds strong connections and creates a healthy classroom community. That is why this Growth Mindset Escape Room is such a hit in my classroom. With this escape room, students work together to solve a series of tasks all while they learn about growth mindset.

This Growth Mindset Escape Room includes four tasks for students to work on and solve together, and it also has activities to use in your classroom before and after the escape room as well! Whenever it is escape room day in my classroom, I always have complete and total engagement from my students. There is excitement in the air, and the activity is a welcomed break from the usual curriculum.

Growth Mindset Escape Room
Growth Mindset Escape Room

Stacking Cup Challenge

Another great collaborative activity to have your students complete in your classroom is the stacking cup challenge. This challenge really shows students just how important communication and collaboration are. I always have my students complete the stacking cup challenge toward the beginning of the school year and also when we move seats to allow students to get to know and work with their new table mates.

To facilitate the stacking cup challenge in your classroom, you will need plastic cups (the red plastic ones work really well), rubber bands, and string. Each team will receive six cups, a rubber band, and however many pieces of string you’ll need so that each student grabs onto one piece of string. I like doing the challenge in groups of four. However, grouping students in groups of six provides an extra challenge. Tie each piece of string to the rubber band, and then have students work toward stacking the cups in a pyramid using only the strings.

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

Daily Attendance Questions

Finally, another way to help facilitate classroom community (while also getting to know your students and their interests) is to have a daily attendance question. I use my daily attendance question as a way to take attendance. At the start of my class, I will announce to my students what the question is. I will also ensure that I check in with the first person on my roster to ensure they are ready before beginning. Once I make it all the way through the roster, I then answer the question myself. An added bonus to this classroom community strategy is that you’ll never forget to submit your attendance again!

Here is a brief list of some of my favorite attendance questions:
  • What is your favorite candy or sweet treat?
  • Who is your favorite superhero?
  • Who is your favorite villain?
  • What was your favorite childhood cartoon?
  • What is your favorite fast food restaurant?
  • If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
  • Where would you go if you could travel to any place in the world?
  • What is your favorite season?
  • Would you rather visit mars or the moon?
  • What is your favorite animal?

For even more classroom culture ideas, check out our previous post by Presto Plans about Five Ways to Build a Positive Classroom Community and this post about Teambuilding Tuesdays by The Daring English Teacher.

5 Activities to Create a Positive Classroom Culture

Additional resources for building classroom culture:
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