Pre-Holiday Lesson Plans for the Days Before Break: The Year in Review, My Favorite Things, and Current Events

So I thought, since (of course) the expectation is that we’re conducting meaningful activities and learning in our classrooms through the 23rd (despite pep rallies and holiday parties and other distractions), that I would compile some options that might take the thinking/research/planning off of your plate after benchmarks are completed.

Option 1: The Year in Review

The New York Times’s Learning Network features an article “Looking Back on 2014″ with 15 ideas (with links and resources) for having students think about and reflect on 2014.  It also includes “retrospectives” linked from the New York Times and around the web for the biggest stories of 2014.

Included in the links are some resources that could be great sources of inspiration for discussion, Socratic Seminar texts, or Writing Workshop prompts including TIME and CNN’s “Top Ten Pictures” & “The Year in Pictures;” “16 Memes that broke the internet,” TIME’s 2014 Person of the Year, and “The Year in Ideas: TED Talks in 2014.”

There’s also Time’s “29 Instagrams that defined the world in 2014,” shared by Bonnie!

There are a lot of great ideas here that can be literacy-based and meaningful for those last two days of school in 2014! Check them out. 🙂

Option 2: A Few of My Favorite Things

Brainpickings creator and author, Maria Popova recently highlighted Maira Kalman’s My Favorite Things on her site. She includes screenshots from the book that often combine text with art and it might be fun to have students create a visual (with text explanations or titles) “My Favorite Things.”  This could easily be worked on Monday & Tuesday and displayed on bulletin boards and walls.  Have them share and discuss.

You could even create a class, “Our Favorite Things,” where you roll out big paper and have each student choose one of their favorite things to add to the class visual-list as they draw and write together on the floor or wall of your classroom.  It would almost be a class infographic on everyone’s favorite things.  This could springboard from or into a discussion or writing workshop activity where students reflect on the class-list and determine what this list tells them about their class or something that surprises or intrigues them.

If students have to provide a visual with their title and explanation, this could be a really fun and dynamic piece of your classroom decor.

Popova even references and links Barthes’s favorite things – and not favorite things (scroll down for the visuals) and Susan Sontag’s (scroll down for visual).  Lots of fodder for mentor texts here!

Option 3: Current Events (Caution: Heavy): The Taliban’s Murder of 132 Children at School in Pakistan

Here’s the Reuter’s article: Taliban go on killing spree at Pakistan school, 132 students dead.

My goals in sharing this and opening up a dialogue about it would be creating awareness of others  and self, including how lucky they are to be provided an education without question or issue.  The other interesting topic of discussion here could be the power of education.  Why would they target school children?  What is so “dangerous” about a school and children learning?

Of course, we know that education is perhaps the single greatest weapon in history, but our students don’t have any such appreciation for it.  Pair this current event with excerpts from I am Malala or a news story about her fight for the education of young girls and the price she paid for it.  In fact, here is her response to the attack.

This might also be fascinating paired with the TED Talk from Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, the filmmaker responsible for the documentary, Children of the Taliban, Inside a School for Suicide Bombers, which explicitly shows how the Taliban uses and manipulates the educational system to its political and religious ends.

I know this is a rather heavy option right before the holidays, but it’s engaging and important also.  It reminds me how important the season’s cry of “Peace on Earth” is in the world in which we live.


Infographics of the Week: December 15-19; It’s All About the Holidays

This final installment of infographics for 2014 is all about the Holidays.  Check back at the beginning of January for the first installment for the new year.

6 Ways to Green Your Holiday Holiday panic holidays by the numbers top-xmas-films

To turn infographics into valuable teaching tools, Allison McCartney recommends:

1. Choose the right infographic

2. Create some context (or have them identify it, depending on the level)

3. Have students analyze the infographic (on their own or in small groups).  Allison provides these guiding questions for analysis:

  • What surprises you about the information you are seeing? Are there points in the graphic where there are sudden shifts in the information/data?
  • What story can you pull from the information/data you are looking at?
  • What is the role of the narrator, or the person making the graphic? What is their perspective and what are they trying to tell us?

4. Debrief  (What conclusions can we draw? What makes this a reliable or unreliable resource? How does the organization affect our understanding [Reading standard 5!], etc.)

5. Evaluate (practice writing arguments based on the infographic or practice writing analysis through structured analysis paragraph writing).

Technology for the Teacher

This post is an idea-gathering space to expand on the thinglink infographic created for the third installment of Tips, Tricks, & Treats. Click here for access to all of the links from this workshop.

And here’s the handout Stephanie created for great websites.

Click images to make them larger.

Technology to Streamline your Life

  • Evernote (app & online)

Below is what a “shared” note looks like.  This means you can share notes and notebooks with students and colleagues. easily.

evernote share a noteBelow is what your Evernote account will look like online and from the app:

updated online


  • Notability (app)

Use Notability to take handwritten notes on your IPad or other device.  You can change the color, you can highlight, add a lined page for easier writing, and can even transfer your notes to evernote or some other source for easy viewing and organization later.  It allows you type notes as well, if you prefer.


To get the most out of Notability, be sure to click the magnifying class at the bottom, which allows you to write larger, but for it to appear smaller on your notes page.


  • (app & online): Use turnitin to catch instances of plagiarism, to assign specific peer review and self review assignments, and to grade essays. You can even import your own rubric, and on the app, you can leave voice comments!!
    • Sign in to and access “Staff Resources” and then “Technology FAQ” for information on how to register for
      • Turnitin

Technology for the Classroom 

  • TED (app & online)
  • Thinglink (app & online): Create interactive images where you link text, videos and images from the Internet.
    • You could create one for students as a review, an introduction to a unit, or a unit-long resource.
    • You could begin one (or let students begin) and build on it together throughout a unit.  Students could be individually responsible for linking a current-event article, historical background, a song that relates, a video that demonstrates a related concept, etc . . . Together you build and learn all the connections that can be made.
    • Students build their own interactive image as a project, unit review, or even in lieu of standard notes.
  • YouTube (app & online): Use the link above to access an article on the best youtube channels for education.  Students can also use youtube to upload videos for projects that can then be easily viewed for presentations and later by you.
  • Discovery Education (online):  Stream educational videos in all subject areas from this great resource.  And never wonder . . . “Is this school appropriate?”
    • Sign in to and access “Staff Resources” and then “Technology FAQ” for information on how to register for discovery education (listed as “United Streaming” on the FAQ page)
  • Prezi (app & online): Create dynamic presentations or ask your students too.  Creators can co-edit in real-time, which means students (and teachers) can work on the same prezi.  No more . . . “Well my partner has our project and he’s not here today,” and much more productivity when working in-class on presentations.
    • Another great feature of Prezi is the “Explore” tab.  Search for anything you may be teaching to see if you can borrow & steal instead of reinventing the wheel.
    • If the Prezi has a recycle symbol, you can save a copy of it into your own Prezis to make any changes or additions you’d like.

explore tab

  • (app & online)
    • Add a text (literary, informational, musical) and have students annotate it.  They could do this individually or in pairs/small groups.  Each student might get a paragraph, a page, or a chapter of text that they are responsible for annotating.  You can add text to the site or they can.
    • Close read together, at home or in the computer lab.  Share the work; expand the understanding.

Poetry Genius

  • TedED: Find and create lessons centered around a video from TED or YouTube.  The already-created lessons could have questions (MC & open-ended) as well as resources for learning more.  You can create your own video-centered lesson so that students can learn at home (Flipped-classroom style) on their own or in class.
    • Can you just imagine the future when students have computer access when a substitute teacher is there and they can still follow your planned lesson??


TED Ed screenshot 2

  • Twitter: Use Twitter in the classroom by creating a hashtag (make sure it’s not already being used!) that your class can use when responding before, during, or after reading text, watching a video or film, listening to a song, etc . . . .  You can simply search the hashtag on Twitter to gather all of the responses.
    • Here’s an example from Jessica Evans’s and Kristy Johnston’s English 4A classes last year. Students had to tweet to #troy4A while watching Troy.


  • Piktochart: Create infographics or ask your students to as culmination of a research assignment, to re-organize notes or analysis, etc . . .
    • Combine Piktochart with Thinglink if students will be presenting!
    • Just looking to have your student analyze infographics?  Check out Daily Infographic.
  • (app & online): Use turnitin to catch to assign specific peer review and self review assignments and hit writing-technology literacy standards while you’re at it!
    • Sign in to and access “Staff Resources” and then “Technology FAQ” for information on how to register for

Technology for Professional Development

  • Zite (app): Create your own “newspaper” on topics that meet your professional development interest.  Once you select subjects, Zite will scour the Internet for articles related to those topics and compile them neatly and nicely for you.
    • Give articles a “thumbs up” if you want to see more like them and a “thumbs down” if you don’t to see them.  This will help Zite zero in on exactly what you’re interested in.
    • Share these articles with others by posting them on Twitter.

photo photo_1

  • Podcasts: Podcasts are online “radio shows,” for lack of a better description.  You can find them on just about any topic.  Check out the thinglink for an article about which are the best for 21st century educators.
  • Webinars: Take a seminar online – often for free!! Check out the links on the thinglink for some great free Webinar options.
  • Pinterest: Collect and organize resources! Use Pinterest’s educational boards or search for your own educational-interest and start building resources on specific topics.  I have boards on literacy, Writing Workshop, Genius Hour and Project-Based Learning, that I’m slowly filling to contain numerous resources on all of those topics.

writing workshop screen shot

  • Twitter: Twitter is fast becoming the go-to place for professional development.
    • To get the most out Twitter, you need to do two things:
      • 1. Follow the right people for your interests.  (Linked the Thinglink is a list of recommended folks for educators to follow.)
      • 2. Search the hashtags you’re most interested in.  (Linked to the Thinglink is a list of education-related hashtags).

following on twitter


“Heaven or Whatever” by Shane Koyczan, a Spoken Word Video

So, it’s Monday.

And I’ve found that the best break for assessment-writing on any Monday morning, is poetry (or a poet) that inspires you.

So when I saw that Shane Koyczan, author of “To This Day,” penned and compiled another spoken word mini-film, I couldn’t help myself.

There are a few ways this poem/video can connect to what you’re teaching.  It can begin or engage a discussion about respecting beliefs (before or with any text where there is a difference in beliefs), serve as a nice intro to The Five People You Meet in Heaven, be a mentor text for Writing Workshop for memoir, personal narrative, or just a creative piece about someone they’ve lost or something someone important taught them, an example of a creative-writing/film teacher’s choice assessment from their perspective or a character’s, as a cinepoem example if you have them create their own (a project I used to do with Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, if you’re interested), and . . . plenty more.

So here’s the video.  It’s worth every second of your day that it’ll occupy while you’re watching it and all those seconds it’ll resonate with you afterwards:

here’s the accompanying blurb from youtube: As a kid I was a terrible Catholic… as an adult I’m an okay atheist. I’ve seen religion do good. I’ve known people who were able to turn their entire lives around because they found God. That just hasn’t been my experience. I think, in this life, we search for what gives us comfort. For some people it’s a concept like Heaven, for others it’s something different. I make no claims that what I believe is the truth… it’s simply what I believe. I’m grateful that I was able to find some small measure of harmony with my granddad despite our conflicting spiritual paths… I guess that’s how I’ve learned to define respect.

Infographics of the Week, December 8-12: Black Friday & Cyber Monday

These are certainly timely and could bring up all kinds of discussion after analysis.  However, in the research marking period, they can also be a great tool for assessing the reliability (date of publication, source of data, etc.) of sources.

Also, here’s a recent post from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, The Best Simple Tools to Create Infographics for Your Class, should you want to create your own or ask students to create their own.


Black Friday 2011 Black Friday Hacks and Scams Black Friday Black-Friday-Cyber-Monday-Infographic

Black Horse Pike NCTE 2014 Presentation Materials

Our trip to NCTE in National Harbor, MD was a great success (and quite a lot of fun!).  Looking to attend next year?  Check out the call for proposals due January 14, 2015.

We’ll be turn-keying some of the great ideas we gathered for our department, but we also wanted to share our presentations and materials for our reference and for those who attended our sessions.

**Friday morning, Bonnie Brady, Jessica DiVietro, and Beth Marks presented on Close & Cloze reading.  (#ncteclozeclose)

Empowering Readers Through Personal Interactions with Text Prezi

Handouts: NCTE Book Thief Resources BradyNCTE Resources MarksNCTE Resources DiVietro


**Friday afternoon, Abbe Elliott, Marcie Geyer, Kelly Wierski, and Tara Wood presented on Writing Workshop. (#ncteww)

Writing Workshop in Motion Prezi

Handouts are available on the Writing Workshop page of this blog.


**Saturday morning, Jessica Evans and Sherrie Erickson presented on student-centered assessments: (#nctepba)

Performing Beyond the Assessment Prezi

Handouts and materials are available at their site.


And, for funzies, our Penny Kittle selfie:

penny kittle

Discussing Ferguson in the Classroom

As we see history continue to repeat itself after the verdict in the Michael Brown case, I think it is important to use text to engage our students in the issues surrounding the verdict, the case, and the riots.  In doing this, I can only hope that our students may find ways to understand different perspectives and think about what their role is now and could be in the future as our society continues to deal with similar issues.

Since Ferguson is a hot news item at the moment and arguably a pertinent one for American society, I’ve compiled some resources you could use in your classroom to discuss the underlying issues and the riots that erupted last week.  You could easily work these in for Socratic Seminar, practice with informational text, creative writing and/or writing prompts, or even a performance assessment.  And it would be interesting (I think) to see what parallels or connections might your student be able to draw to history and literature they know and/or have read with you.

Hopefully you find something here that is helpful to you.  If you want a brainstorming partner to work out ways to connect this to your 2nd marking period curriculum, you know how to find me. 🙂

1. The Learning Network: A blog post from from the New York Times Learning Network, “The Death of Michael Brown: Teaching about Ferguson” has some great nonfiction resources including article links and photographs.  It even has a section on preparing students for a difficult discussion.

2. Poetry (spoken word and written):series of poems on a blog from Words Dance Publishing that deal with some of the issues coming up in the Ferguson trial and result.  You could choose poems (spoken word performances as well as links to poems) to annotate or analyze in class (if you’re doing expository and/or text analysis), you could analyze the author’s compilation — why did she choose these poems? What is her bias? slant? (if you’re doing argument), and with any of them, you could have students connect these poems to current events and use the current events to work on analyzing informational text.  If you’re looking for a creative writing assignment, you could also ask students to write their own poem about the case and the riots. (Don’t forget our Writers’ Tea in the Spring!! Would be great to have some student thoughts & commentary on social issues and current events).

3. Leonard Pitts’s Commentary: One of my favorite editorial authors (great for analyzing structure and teaching/modeling kids how to analyze structure – reading informational text standard 5 and also for bias/slant and argument), Leonard Pitts has had a few things to say:

4. 1992 LA Riots & Rodney King: There’s also the connection to the LA Riots from 1992, covered in this article with before and after pictures of LA during the riots and today.  This might work great with a poem by Wislawa Szymborska, “The End and the Beginning,” which includes this final stanza:

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.
This pairing could encourage discussions about “war” and perhaps some a Writers’ Notebook prompt where they imagine what the “someone” is seeing as he gazes as the clouds or continue/create a narrative from that perspective (Writers’ Tea?)  (FYI: In another translation of this poem, “gazing” was translated at “gawking,” which I think is a dramatic difference also worthy of discussion).
I also am intrigued by this idea of grass overgrowing causes & effects, and I think the before and after photos in the article linked above demonstrate it.  What does that mean? Is it positive/negative?  I think this says something about Szymborska’s attitude about war, but it could also inspire a discussion about the implications of this overgrowth.

5. King vs Malcolm X: Nonviolence vs. Force.  These two men’s writings and philosophies could easily help start the discussion about how to deal with injustice.  Is nonviolence enough?  Have the riots in Ferguson overshadowed injustice?  Which makes people stand up and pay attention more?  Which might achieve the goal more effectively?  If you want to work in technology, you could read King (Letter from Birm. City Jail?) and watch a clip from Malcolm X.

6 The Justice System: Twelve Angry Men: And, of course, there’s always Twelve Angry Men (film and text), which could easily be a performance assessment when paired in part or full, but can also be a Socratic Seminar text in clips.  I don’t see it listed on the Scope & Sequence, so it’s fair game.

If you’re using other resources or have additional ideas, feel free to share them in the comments section below for all to see.

7. History Repeating: Robert F. Kennedy’s Remarks on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is both a great tie in and another way to do language and structure analysis through these current events and their connections to the past.  And, of course, there are great options for pairing text.  Thanks Karyn Miller for this text and great idea!