Simply Novel Goes Back to School!

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 8.51.48 AMWelcome baaa–ack!  (Almost!)  You know Back to School is quickly approaching when the kids get squirrelly and bored even doing their favorite things, and Target is readying their shelves with aisle after aisle of empty storage bins holding the place for the incoming barrage of school supplies.  I have to admit, while I no longer need to buy supplies for myself and my classroom, I have already begun to stock up on my daughter’s supplies, plus a few extra for donations to her classroom and for needy children.  You have to admit, a shiny new pen, a few clean composition books and a spiral notebook with an adorable kitten can give you a rush!

With these preparations, teachers everywhere (most straddling the emotional spectrum from thrill to dread) are getting ready for school, planning out their days and looking for practical new resources for the new year.  So, Simply Novel has jumped on board with a little blog hop, as several bloggers go Back to School with some fabulous back to school tips!

First, who is Simply Novel?  Usually Emily does our blog posts (and a FABULOUS job, I might add), but occasionally I (Kristen) will jump in for a promo or something like this. As many of you know, we have been in the process of rebranding – from Secondary Solutions and Elementary Solutions to Simply Novel.  Why?  Let me tell you, trying to keep track of two different companies is rough.  Long story short: it just became too difficult to manage, and I felt that our products and service would ultimately suffer by trying to handle the two companies separately but equally.

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Me and my 6 year old daughter on our recent trip to Big Bear, CA.

I taught for 7 years before I had my daughter and decided to work from home to be with her.  I taught high school English: freshman, juniors, seniors, Creative Writing, CAHSEE prep (High School Exit Exam), Honors prep, SAT prep – you name it.  (Never did teach a full sophomore only class, though!)  I am currently running Simply Novel full time while I write, train and support other writers working for us.



Me several years ago at a small conference.

Simply Novel with me TPT

My TPT Store image with the new Simply Novel logo

My favorite novel to teach is To Kill a Mockingbird, but I especially like teaching Shakespeare (yes, I know – not a novel, but go with me on this).  I majored in Theater, and my heart is in Shakespeare since I did a lot of work deconstructing his plays, especially in my junior and senior years in college.  I have a way of understanding Shakespeare that kids seem to love – I am sure because they can sense how much I love him and his writing.  I cannot help but infuse my passion for his words in my teaching, and I some of my fondest moments in teaching – the “AHA” moments, the entire class engaged, the entire class involved, and the entire class laughing with understanding – all happened while teaching Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Macbeth.  I always told my freshman before beginning to study Romeo and Juliet that if more people actually understood Shakespeare, he would certainly be on the banned book list every year!  That always gets them totally hooked, of course.

Early in my teaching career, I had already planned out my first month and new how many things I needed to accomplish, so I would quickly run through the syllabus and rules on the first day of class. (Oops!)  The last year or two, I decided to take things a bit slower and try to let them know a little about me  before jumping in the the rules.  One thing they loved is when I showed them pictures of me when I was their age.  Letting them know a little more about who I was and who I am now allowed them to see that I did understand what it was like being a teenager, and I did have their best interests and a positive future for them in mind.


Me in 1992 at my Senior Prom

I was honest with them, and shared that it was tough for me in high school, and that high school was not the be-all-end-all, and once you leave it, there is so much more of the world to see.  I would leave that picture up all year right behind my desk with other treasures and family pictures to remind them, that A) even though it seems like I am pushing or being strict with them, it is because I want them to realize their potential, and B) that even though high school (or middle school) drama can seem like the end of the world, they can make it through, and they can flourish and become what they want to be.  Of course, share only what you feel comfortable sharing.  I didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about myself, nor did I go into a diatribe about high school versus the real world.  I spoke a bit to make a spark, then put the picture on my board and moved on to talk about all the amazing things we would be reading about that year.

first-day-of-school-pin1For more of my recommendations for the first day of school, check out my First Day of School Tips, or Emily’s recent post on Five Things I Won’t Be Doing on the First Day of School for another perspective.  Of course, definitely be sure to check out some of my other favorite ELA teachers for more ideas for a productive and successful Back to School!

Have you ever used personal pictures and stories to help connect with kids?  How did it work for you?  I’d love to hear your story.



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What Teachers Really Do – Winter Break Version

For the teachers who work hard throughout the year to take care of our nation’s children every single day, we honor and salute you.  Most of all, we wish you a well-deserved break doing what you love!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you from Secondary Solutions!

What Teachers Do - Holiday Version via

What Teachers Do – Holiday Version via


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Save 15% from now until August 31, 2014 at both our Secondary Solutions and Elementary Solutions stores!  HURRY and SAVE today!

Back to School Sale until August 31, 2014


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Common Core ELA Question Stems for Grades 9-10

910CoverAre your students ready for Common Core assessments?  If you’re like most teachers out there, you have been struggling to find quality materials and sample assessments to help your students get a taste of what they will soon be facing.  To help, I have spent hour upon hour creating Common Core Question Stems to help you create lessons and assessments that are up to the rigor of the CCSS.  I posted Grades 11-12 previously, so here are Common Core ELA Question Stems for Grades 9-10.  Keep your eye open for Grade 8, Grade 7 and Grade 6 to be posted soon!

To get you started, here are a bunch from the Grades 9-10 compilation.  Hopefully, you can get some of your own ideas from these, but if you are stuck, I have created 390 questions for Grades 9-10 for you!

RL.9-10.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • Which sentence best supports the idea that                                              
    • What evidence from the text clarifies the author’s claim in (line, sentence, paragraph, etc.)                   
    • The overall purpose of the description in the fourth paragraph is to                                 
    • The following statements include explicit information about the (characters, plot, setting) except for                                                    , where the reader is required to infer the information.

RL.9-10.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • Which of the following statements does not provide an objective summary of the text?
  • Which words or phrases should be removed from this paragraph in order to make the summary more objective?
  • The author has organized the action in this passage to develop the                                

RL.9-10.3. Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

  • How does (character) act as a foil to (character)?
  • Which character reveals more than one motivation?  Explain.
  • Which of the following (statements, actions) represent a shift in the action of the story?

RL.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

  • The word                                                    deepens the meaning of the (paragraph, sentence) by                      
  • The author’s use of the phrase                                         emphasizes                                           
  • The (expression, idiom, etc.) refers to the                                                    
  • As used in (sentence), the word                                                        most likely refers to the narrator’s                

RL.9-10.5. Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

  • The author of the (passage, text) chose to structure the beginning of the story in the middle of                                            
  • In which paragraph does the climax occur?
  • How does the author create suspense in paragraph 9?
  • Which two plot lines are evident in this passage?

RL.9-10.6. Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.

  • What sentence best reveals the author’s background/cultural experience?
    • Which era best describes the setting of the novel?
    • Which of the following examples reveal that this text is not a work of American Literature?
    • Which (paragraph, passage, text) best presents the theme of (societal freedom, dangers of wealth, role of a restrictive government, etc.)?

RL.9-10.7. Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).

  • Which of the following descriptions captures the character                                   as seen in the movie                                           
  • The movie                                shows the character of                      quite differently than in the book                 .  What are the most significant differences between these two interpretations of the character?
  • Why do you think the director chose to portray                          rather than                            ?
  • What important scene or character was left out of the movie version?
  • How is the setting of                                              in the movie more or less effective than the setting of the novel?
  • How does the painting                                         reveal the suspense that is found in                           

RL.9-10.9. Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

  • How is the concept of a folktale similar to the text of                                                 
  • Which of the following archetypes from the                                 period are found in                            
  • How does the treatment of (archetype, character, theme, topic) compare with the treatment of (archetype, character, theme, topic) in the texts                                and                                    
  • Many books give indications of similar characters or plot lines found in ancient stories.  What indications might an author use to reveal these similar characters or plot lines?
  • Which of the following stories is taken from the popular children’s tale                           
  • How does the story stray from the typical morality lesson?

RI.9-10.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • Based on                                  the author’s tone towards                                  can be described as                          
  • Based on this passage, we can infer that (the author) is feeling                        
  • Based upon (speaker’s) speech, all of the following can be considered a part of (speaker’s) agenda except                                    

RI.9-10.2. Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • Based upon the theme of the article, which of the following could be an alternate title for the text?
  • How do the themes                              and                            provide an account of                      
  • How does (paragraph, sentence, line) reflect the theme of                                                   

RI.9-10.3. Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.

  • How is the information in the article organized?
  • Based on the excerpt, each of the following events had an effect on the (individual) except               
  • Once the (individual) learned of                     , his ideas were clearly changed to                                

RI.9-10.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).

  • By including an allusion to                                 , the author has emphasized that                 
  • The following analogy helps the reader understand the comparison between                            
  • Which quotation from the text best reflects the meaning of (sentence, quote, line, paragraph, etc.)?


RI.9-10.5. Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).

  • All of the following statements support the author’s claim that                                               except the statement                                         
  • The last paragraph serves the author’s purpose by                                                  
  • Which of the following statements helps to clarify the author’s meaning in paragraph 7?

RI.9-10.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

  • What is the purpose of this (article, passage, story)?
  • How does the use of understatement in the following (paragraph, statement, passage) support the author’s argument?
  • Which of the following (paragraph, statement, passage) contains the use of situational irony?
  • If the following statement was added to the (paragraph, statement, passage), how would the point of view change?

RI.9-10.7. Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

  • Compare the two videos.  Which video gives a more clear description of                    
  • Which version of                                  shows a more positive representation of                                    
  • How could the relationship between (characters) have been better represented in the movie version?

RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

  • The technique of (argument, propaganda, including assertion, bandwagon, glittering generalities, card stacking, stereotyping, circular reasoning, logical fallacies), are used in the text to                                   
  • According to the article, all of the statements below are reasons why                                               except                                                       

RI.9-10.9. Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts.

  • What is the purpose of this (article, passage, story)?
  • The tone of the following (paragraph, statement, passage) could be described as                                  
  • Which of the following best describes the author’s view of                                                  

W.9-10.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • Which of the following statements would best introduce the claim in the previous passage?
  • What would be the best counterclaim for the following                      

W.9-10.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

  • Draw a chart that best synthesizes the information from paragraphs 3 and 4.
  • Which of the headings below would be appropriate for introducing the information in paragraphs 7 through 9?
  • What information would logically come after                                              

W.9-10.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • What statement best clarifies the problem the author is attempting to solve in the passage?
  • How does the use of dialogue in paragraph 3 contribute to the narration?
  • All of the following plot lines are presented in this narration except

W.9-10.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)

  • Which of the following formats would be best for an argumentative essay?
  • Bias is acceptable in which of the following essay types?

W.9-10.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

  • What is the best way to revise the underlined sentence in paragraph four?
  • What three questions would help you to narrow your focus on the topic of                                 

W.9-10.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

  • Each of the resources below would be helpful in researching the idea of                                      except:
  • Which of the following websites might be useful in providing information on the research topic of                                     

W.9-10.8. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

  • Which of the following websites most likely would not be considered an authoritative source of information?
  • Pull the three quotes from the article that would best suit your research project on                                 
  • Which of the following source of information does not need to be cited in a research project?

SL.9-10.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • To participate in a class discussion, what might you have done to prepare yourself the night before?
  • Which of the following statements would best support your argument in favor of                    

SL.9-10.2. Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.

  • What important step was left out of the presentation?
  • This piece chose to show                                                  rather than                             .  Why do you think the (creator, director, presenter) made this choice?

SL.9-10.3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.

  • After hearing the speech                                , what word could best describe the tone of the speech?
  • What elements of rhetoric were you able to hear in the                      
  • Which of the following was not mentioned in                          ‘s speech?

L.9-10.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • In which of the following examples is there an error in parallel structure?
  • Identify the type of phrase in the sentence below.

L.9-10.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • Which of the following sentences shows correct use of the semicolon?
  • Insert a semicolon in the correct spot in the sentence below.

L.9-10.3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

  • How could the sentence below be written to make it more powerful?
  • Which of the following reference sources could you refer to if you need help with your style when writing?

L.9-10.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 9–10 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • Which words help identify the meaning of the word                             
  • Which sentence employs the correct part of speech for the word                                   

L.9-10.5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

  • The author uses hyperbole to emphasize                               
  • Which of the following meanings is closest to the correct connotation of the word                                   
  • Which idiom most clearly expresses                          
  • What is the best reason the speaker repeats the (word, phrase, line)                             in the speech?


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Secondary Solutions’s “Pin It to Win It” Pinterest Contest


We’re thrilled to share our very first “Pin It to Win It” contest! We’d love to see how you use Secondary Solutions or Elementary Solutions products, so we’ve created this “Pin It to Win It” contest to see not only how you use our products in your classroom, but what products you love, would love to own, or would love to see Secondary Solutions or Elementary Solutions write for you!  To see what you can pin, feel free to follow our Pinterest boards, check out our main stores at Elementary Solutions or Secondary Solutions or our Teachers Pay Teachers pages at and

Now through Thursday, October 24, create your “Secondary Solutions Must Haves” Pinterest board for a chance to win a set of TEN products of YOUR CHOICE. Once you’ve pinned your classroom moments, favorite products, or your product “wish list,” visit our contest submission tab on Facebook. After filling out a quick form with your name, email address and a link to your “Secondary Solutions Must Haves” Pinterest board, click “Continue” to complete your entry.


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