I think it can be nice to switch up the reading list every couple of years or so. Sometimes we are forced to change because of school/district policies, and sometimes we just want to change to keep students (and ourselves) engaged in the curriculum. Today I want to share 5 of my favorite books for the high school classroom so that next time you are approached about changing the book list, you have some place to start. I’d love to hear your suggestions/reasons in the comment section below! I’m also including links and helpful information about the Simply Novel Reading Guides that will get you ready to teach these books in no time! (Simply Novel reading guides are aligned to common core and are available in print and pdf from simplynovel.com. Check out the website for these titles and much more.)
If you are not already reading these titles, you should consider adding:
1. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros:
- Why your classes should read it: This novel is a series of vignettes that tell the story of a young Latina named Esperanza. The concepts are mature, but the reading level is accessible for struggling readers. So many times students with lower reading levels get stuck reading banal selections that hardly inspire deep thought or a love of reading. This novella bridges the gap perfectly. It is also a quick read so it is friendly to already crowded curriculum maps!
- What the Simply Novel Reading Guide has to offer: The House on Mango Street guide includes guided reading questions/answers, vocabulary development, and formative/summative assessments as well as work on slang, colloquialisms, historical context, sentence structure, and more!
2. 1984 by George Orwell:
- Why your classes should read it: Advances in technology make this novel more relevant to teens every year (unlike other novels that struggle to hold on to relevance for today’s teens). Just trust me on this one; they get it and it is amazing to watch.
- What the Simply Novel Reading Guide has to offer: The 1984 guide includes guided reading questions/answers, vocabulary development, and formative/summative assessments as well as work on propaganda, censorship, word origins, dystopian literature, and more!
3. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe:
- Why your classes should read it: First, many schools are lacking in great African literature and this one really hits the mark. Second, students can definitely grasp on to the universal conflict of family dynamics and overbearing parents. Plus, it offers great insight into how cultures change, which can be the beginning of some amazing iSearch and research papers!
- What the Simply Novel Reading Guide has to offer: The Things Fall Apart guide includes guided reading questions/answers, vocabulary development, and formative/summative assessments as well as work on proverbs, allegories, historical context, and more!
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley:
- Why your classes should read it: This novel offers so much more than the pop culture understanding of the monster with screws in his head. I’ve had so many students who feel like they are part of an exclusive club of intellectuals after reading this novel, especially when they find a moment to correct an adult or media post referring to the Creature as Frankenstein instead of referring to Victor as Frankenstein.
- What the SimplyNovel Reading Guide has to offer: The Frankenstein guide includes guided reading questions/answers, vocabulary development, and formative/summative assessments as well as work on genre (Science Fiction, Gothicism, Mythology, and Romanticism), allusions, mood, archetypes, and more!
5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare:
- Why your classes should read it: Most students leave high school having read a few Shakespearean tragedies and zero comedies. This comedy is packed full of thought provoking text and the typical beauty of Shakespearean language.
- What the Simply Novel Reading Guide has to offer: The Midsummer Night’s Dream guide includes guided reading questions/answers, vocabulary development, and formative/summative assessments as well as work on drama conventions, Shakespearean language, and extensive work on character development.
What would you add to this list and why? Do you teach any of these? What has been your experience?
Tis the season for proofreading college application essays! As a junior English teacher, I receive dozens of essays and revisions each summer and fall, not as a part of my class, but as a trusted proofreader. I try to stress to students the importance of writing in their voice (and not mine), and I also tend to give the same advice over and over. Today, I want to share the pieces of advice I give to students in hopes that they can help your students too. What advice would you add? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below!
Dos and Don’ts of College App Essays:
- Be 100% grammatically correct. Don’t wait until the last minute:
- You get one chance at this first impression. Make sure to proofread yourself and have a trusted friend, teacher, or other proofreader go over it also.
- Be interesting. Don’t be trite:
- College admissions departments will read thousands of application essays. Don’t write the McEssay that anyone could get from the dollar menu. Make your essay special by telling your story in an interesting and fresh Think about what sets you apart from others. Avoid clichés!
- The majority of applicants had a supportive grandma, struggled through an AP class and had tireless dedication to a sports team. These topics should be last resorts.
- Be specific and concise. Don’t be vague.
- You must show and not tell. For example, you should not wax rhapsodic about how amazing you are for overcoming adversity. Show your readers how you fought and won the battle with bullies, serious conditions, learning disabilities, etc. Don’t spend a paragraph on how much you believe in community service. Instead, spend that paragraph detailing the impact of participating in a specific community service project.
- When showing your reader, be concise. Detail the life event enough to understand it, but don’t go over the word limit and don’t spend so much time on the event that you leave out the impact it left on your life!
- Be real. Don’t be a liar.
- Readers do not want the Instagram filter version of your story. They want the real deal. Using your real voice and your real life experiences in this essay will pay real dividends.
- Using hyperbolic or pedantic language makes your essay a caricature (and that is not a good thing).
- Disingenuous essays are obvious, even if you don’t think they are. Major integrity points lost here, so just don’t do it.
- Be versatile. Don’t be a lister.
- You want to convey your worth above the numbers and letters on the rest of the application. Show that you are a versatile, well-rounded person.
- Do not simply list your extra-curricular activities, sports, and awards. These things are already on your application.
- Do not simply list a series of obstacles you have overcome or accomplishments you have achieved. Pick the most salient, vivid example.
- Be long-term. Don’t throw yourself a pity party.
- For some prompts, you may choose to write about a time in your life that was difficult for you. Not making the JV soccer team sophomore year is probably not significant in the long view of your life and should not be the focus of an essay like this.
- Serious physical or emotional trauma may make a powerful essay, but be sure not to include vulgar details or lewd language.
A few weeks ago, my dear friend and fellow Bruin alum teacher, Carmen shared pictures of her students reenacting scenes from Romeo and Juliet. The students seemed so engaged in owning their unique spins on the Shakespearean classic that I had to ask her if I could share her class photos to inspire our English teacher community here at Simply Novel to try a similar project with any drama on next year’s reading list. We are all about adding to the collective tool boxes of secondary English teachers and I think this is definitely a fun one to file away!
The Lesson in a nutshell:
This lesson is intended to be a culminating project at the end of a play. After students have read a play, they are assigned small groups, which are tasked with reenacting a particular scene in a cultural or chronological context other than that of the original play. Group sizes, group formation (teacher or student assigned) and scene choices depend on class size, maturity level, and choice of play. For older or more advanced classes, students can pick their own cultural/chronological adaptions, which would probably help them to get into the spirit of the project. If that seems like a difficult task for a particular class, the teacher could make a grab bag of contexts for groups to draw from, which could include things like: 1920s Chicago mobsters, The Wild West, A Mars Colony in 3015, Beverly Hills in 2015, Gotham during Batman’s heyday, The Dust Bowl, The deep South during the Great Depression, The USSR during the Cold War, or any other interesting context the teacher can think of! Students should focus on ways in which language and action would change in their given context while remaining true to the spirit of the original scene and being careful not to oversimplify or stereotype any particular group of people.
Teacher Tip from Carmen: If you have access to a couple professionally directed versions of the play, it can be very helpful for students to systematically contrast the choices different directors made in style, language, and other dramatic conventions. For example, after reading Act 1, students can watch 2 versions of Act 1 taking note of cinematic techniques and their intended effect on the audience. Continuing this process of contrasting each interpretation for each Act can help students understand how to make the scenes their own: make it personal, make it fun, make it a representation of their views and style.
This lesson should have students dig deep into the author’s purpose for the scene and inspire them to research or think critically about the adapted context. They should be encouraged to take creative ownership over dialogue, props, costumes, casting, and other dramatic considerations. Doesn’t it sound like so much fun? Check out the pics below:
Note: This lesson was inspired by SpringBoard; details of the lesson and program can be found here. Photos used with permission for the purpose of teacher instruction and inspiration. Carmen’s class was located in the Los Angeles area and worked on scenes from Romeo and Juliet, but I think this lesson could easily be adapted for almost any play in almost any educational context. My wheels are already turning thinking about how I could use this for Death of a Salesman next year!
Would you adapt this lesson for use in your classroom? What play(s) would you try?
Now that summer is officially here, let’s talk summer reading and professional development! Most people know how hard teachers work during the school year, but not many people know how hard we work during our summers. We attend conferences, teach summer school, work on our credentials, read, prepare, and do countless other things that help us to be better teachers every year. Today I want to share five suggestions for teachers looking to do some relaxing, yet thoughtful summer reading this summer. I’d love to hear your further suggestions or reviews in the comment section below!
1. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci
- Official Description: “When students believe that dedication and hard work can change their performance in school, they grow to become resilient, successful students. Inspired by the popular mindset idea that hard work and effort can lead to success, Mindsets in the Classroom provides educators with ideas for ways to build a growth mindset school culture, wherein students are challenged to change their thinking about their abilities and potential. The book includes a planning template, step-by-step description of a growth mindset culture, and “look-fors” for adopting a differentiated, responsive instruction model teachers can use immediately in their classrooms.”
- Why teachers should read this book: So many teachers fall into the mindset that their students can’t or won’t succeed at high levels due to a variety of factors. During the summer, we should work to re-frame that mindset to consider the positive growth potential. This book offers practical solutions that can recharge us, inspire us, and help us make a plan before we hit the frustrations that will inevitably come in the fall.
2. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
- Official Description: “Forget everything you thought you knew about how to motivate people—at work, at school, at home. It’s wrong. As Daniel H. Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others) explains in his paradigm-shattering book Drive, the secret to high performance and satisfaction in today’s world is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”
- Why teachers should read this book: Although maybe not as practical in terms of teaching strategies, I think this book will leave us with some really important things to think about in terms of motivating students and motivating ourselves as professionals.
3. Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative by Ken Robinson
- Official Description: “It is often said that education and training are the keys to the future. They are, but a key can be turned in two directions. Turn it one way and you lock resources away, even from those they belong to. Turn it the other way and you release resources and give people back to themselves. To realize our true creative potential—in our organizations, in our schools and in our communities—we need to think differently about ourselves and to act differently towards each other. We must learn to be creative.”
- Why teachers should read this book: As teachers, creativity (and flexibility) are key job skills. Even though I have never considered myself particularly artistic, this book helped me (and can collectively help us) to change the way we approach creativity in our craft and in our assignments.
4. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
- Official Description: “In Lean In, Sandberg digs deeper into issues, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to cut through the layers of ambiguity and bias surrounding the lives and choices of working women. She recounts her own decisions, mistakes, and daily struggles to make the right choices for herself, her career, and her family. She provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career, urging women to set boundaries and to abandon the myth of “having it all.” She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women in the workplace and at home. Written with both humor and wisdom, Sandberg’s book is an inspiring call to action and a blueprint for individual growth. Lean In is destined to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can.”
- Why teachers should read this book: Many teachers are women and almost all teachers teach young women. I think this is an empowering read that can help us to be aware of the gender dynamics in our own classrooms and our own lives.
5. The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning by Tom D. Whitby and Steven W. Anderson
What books would you add to this list? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!
Did you hear the news that Secondary Solutions and Elementary Solutions are now Simply Novel? This week, I want to take a break from essay grading tips, tech tool reviews, and free lesson ideas to discuss the reasons that Simply Novel literature guides have been a mainstay in my classroom for 10 years. We’d love to answer your questions and hear your experiences in the comment section below!
1. So many titles available: I love that when my grade level assignments and novel lists change over the years, I can trust that Simply Novel will very likely have the affordable and complete resources available in print and pdf so that I can get my unit rolling right away. (The pdf version is especially awesome when my to do lists get the best of me and I need immediate resources!) To see complete title options, check out the following links:
2. Flexible and clear alignment to standards: Simply Novel keeps up with changing standards without losing sight of best practices and the solid English teaching experience of Kristen and the other writers. Simply Novel literature guides are aligned to common core, but can also be used very easily and successfully in classrooms that are opting out of common core. For teachers re-focusing their classrooms for common core, Simply Novel also offers Common Core Question Stems and Annotated Standards designed for grades 3-12.
3. Systematic chapter work and assessments: Units support student learning with systematic comprehension and critical thinking questions followed up with connected formative and summative assessments. Students know what to expect and the criteria for success, but the work still challenges them in critical thinking and keeps them interested in the text.
4. More than just comprehension: Literature guides include more than comprehension questions. They also include resources like pre-reading activities, author studies, genre work, literary/rhetorical devices, note taking strategies, essay and project prompts/rubrics, grammar, vocabulary, and more! I love having so many options to engage students in successful novel study.
5. Planning time saved means more time for other important teacher responsibilities: Simply Novel guides save me so much time in planning that I am able to spend more time working directly with students, providing meaningful and timely feedback, communicating with parents, and thinking up creative supplemental activities based on my students’ needs. Simply put, Simply Novel helps me be a better teacher and have a better work-life balance.
Have you used Simple Novel (Secondary Solutions/Elementary Solutions) literature guides in your classroom? We’d love to answer your questions and hear your experiences in the comment section below!