5 Reasons I Love Simply Novel Literature Guides

11140016_10153365833464357_1287371046499769264_n-2Did 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!

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5 Ways to Use Magazines in the Classroom


With a push in the common core to incorporate more informational texts and a teenage audience that is becoming more globally aware than any previous generation, I have found that using high quality magazines in the classroom can help capture young minds in relevant reading and writing.  I especially like The New Yorker, but the same strategies below can be used for Time Magazine, National Geographic, your local newspaper, or many other options.  (Be sure to vet articles carefully and get approval where appropriate.)  Many newspapers and some magazines also have an educator’s discount! Below are some ways that I’m using magazines in my classroom.  I’d love to hear your questions, comments, or suggestions below!

1. Engage students in high interest pieces. Instead of reading the same stale opinion pieces from the anthology, I find that students respond well to pieces like “The Case for Banning Laptops in the Classroom” or “Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind“.  In every week’s edition, I find something that I’m excited to share with my juniors.

2. Use pieces as a model for a student assignment. This week, I read “The Secret Fantasies of Adults” as a model for my AP juniors, to write “The Secret Fantasies of AP juniors”.  It was a great lesson in creative writing and the importance of understanding the speaker, audience, and subject relationship.

3. Use pieces for close reading and prose analysis. Last week there was a story entitled “Voting by the Numbers,” which started with a beautifully written analogy and continued with an argument full of logical appeals and other rhetorical devices.  It was great for teaching argumentation and close reading.  If we want our students to be sophisticated writers, we must expose them to sophisticating writing.

4. Connect to other classes and disciplines.  There was a piece this week about life behind the Berlin wall that I bookmarked to teach later in the year when students are studying the topic in their history class.

5. Use pieces to teach the art of writing other than essays.   In every issue there are artfully written reviews of restaurants, books, movies, and other entertainment. These can serve as excellent models for students to write real life applications.

I can’t fit magazine articles into every week of my curriculum, but when I can, students love it.  An added benefit is the enjoyment I get from curling up with my magazine and a hot cup of coffee for some “planning” and “professional development” time!  What do you think?  We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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Common Core ELA Question Stems for Grades 11-12

Common Core Question Stems Grades 9-10

Common Core Question Stems Grades 9-10

Common Core Question Stems Grades 11-12

Common Core Question Stems Grades 11-12

Are you having problems finding Question Stems to ready your students for Common Core Assessments?  I’ve searched everywhere to find sample questions, but when I actually did find questions posted, they turned out to be the same ones over and over–the same extremely vague, “one size fits all” questions.  I found it insulting that teachers were being provided with questions like, “What inferences can you make?”  Huh?  About what? Who? So frustrating.  So, like I often do, I created my own.  I have spent hours creating these questions, and I hope that they can provide teachers with some solid direction of how to formulate test questions or even create their own lessons to align with the rigor of Common Core.

Common Core Question Stems for Grade 8

Common Core Question Stems for Grade 8

I started with Grades 11-12, and have now created questions for grades 9-10, 8, 7, and 6.  Grades 5-3 are now available in our Elementary Solutions Store on TPT.  These questions are for sale on our site at www.4secondarysolutions.com and on TeachersPayTeachers.

Here are a few to get you started on Grades 11-12.  Hopefully, you can get more ideas to create your own based upon these, but if you want more already done for you, our Common Core ELA Question Stems for Grades 11-12 includes literally hundreds of questions! Enjoy!




Sample Question Stems from the Grades 11-12 SmartFlip Guide

RL.11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • Which sentence best supports the idea that                                     
  • Based on this passage, we can infer that (the character) is feeling                           
  • From the narrator’s description of                                            , we can infer that                                                   

RL.11-12.2. Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • Which sentence contradicts the main idea of the passage?
  • How does the (central theme) in the text advocate that                                                   
  • How does (paragraph, sentence, line) reflect the theme that                    
  • The (line, sentence, paragraph) seemingly contradicts the theme of                     

RL.11-12.3. Analyze the impact of the author’s choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

  • The primary purpose of this paragraph is to                                        
  • What evidence from the text supports the author’s claim that                                                        

RL.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)

  • By including an allusion to                        , the author has emphasized that                 
  • The following analogy helps the reader understand the comparison between                                     
  • The analogy helps to contribute to the theme of the text by                      
  • The (sound device, figurative language) in the passage helps to create a sense of        
  • The (expression, idiom, etc.) refers to the                                           
  • As used in (sentence), the word                                               most likely refers to the narrator’s                

RL.11-12.5. Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.

  • The author of the (passage, text) chose to structure the beginning of the story in the middle of                                                     
  • Which of the following conclusions might leave the reader (confused, sad, angry, reassured, etc.)?
  • How does the (flashback, foreshadowing, etc.) help to                                                   

RL.11-12.6. Analyze a case in which grasping a point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

  • From whose point of view is the third paragraph written?
  • How does the (paragraph, statement, passage) reflect the author’s (background or cultural experience)?
  • How does the use of understatement in the following (paragraph, statement, passage) reflect the theme of the text?

RL.11-12.7. Analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem (e.g., recorded or live production of a play or recorded novel or poetry), evaluating how each version interprets the source text. (Include at least one play by Shakespeare and one play by an American dramatist.)

  • Which of the following descriptions describes the character                        as seen in the movie                                           
  • 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                           
  • What element of the story is lost with the movie interpretation?

RL.11-12.9. Demonstrate knowledge of eighteenth-, nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century foundational works of American literature, including how two or more texts from the same period treat similar themes or topics.

  • Which era best describes the setting of the novel                          
  • In which texts is the concept of the American Dream a major theme?
  • Which (paragraph, passage, text) best presents the themes of (societal freedom, dangers of wealth, role of a restrictive government, etc.)?

RI.11-12.1. Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • Which sentence best supports the idea that                                     
  • Based on this passage, we can infer that (the author) is feeling                                 
  • From the author’s description of                                               , we can infer that                                                   
  • In this passage, the author’s tone reveals that                                                                      
  • Based on                         the author’s tone towards                                  can be described as        

RI.11-12.2. Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • Which sentence contradicts the main idea of the passage?
  • How does the (central theme) in the text advocate that                                                   
  • How does (paragraph, sentence, line) reflect the theme that                    
  • The (line, sentence, paragraph) seemingly contradicts the theme of                     

RI.11-12.3. Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

  • 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                                
  • How does the author of this (article, passage) attempt to persuade his audience to                          

RI.11-12.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).

  • By including an allusion to                        , the author has emphasized that                 
  • The following analogy helps the reader understand the comparison between                                     
  • The analogy helps to contribute to the theme of the text by                      
  • The (sound device, figurative language) in the passage helps to create a sense of        

RI.11-12.5. Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.

  • All of the following statements support the author’s claim that                                                        except the statement                                         
  • The last paragraph serves the author’s purpose by                                         
  • How would the (article, passage, story) have changed if the author had left out (Idea, information, event, individual)?
  • What aesthetic impact does the author attempt to evoke in the beginning paragraph?

RI.11-12.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.

  • What is the purpose of this (article, passage, story)?
  • The author uses a series of short, choppy sentences to gain the reader’s attention.  What effect does this style choice have on the reader?

RI.11-12.7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

  • What important event was left out of the movie version?
  • The director of this piece chose to show                                                rather than                             .  Why do you think the director made this choice?
  • In the film, the director chose to show                                                     .  How could the director also have portrayed this (process, event)?

RI.11-12.8. Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).

  • 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.11-12.9. Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.

  • Which of the following statements supports the idea that the (text) is considered an argumentative text?
  • Which of the following statements best articulates the purpose behind the text?

W.11-12.1. 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                                  
  • Which organizational structure would best enable you to convey your argument?
  • Which of the following would not be an effective counterclaim for (claim)?
  • Which revision most clearly combines the two sentences without losing the validity of the argument?

W.11-12.2. 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                                       
  • Which of the following would be the best to illustrate the information found in paragraph 7 of the article?
  • Which of the following statements would best introduce the concept in the previous passage?

W.11-12.3. 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.11-12.4. 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.11-12.5. 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                          
  • How can the author connect the final paragraph to support the introduction of the passage?
  • Which information best fits in II.A.1. of the outline?

W.11-12.7. 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                              
  • What further questions could be added to the following research question to help narrow the focus of the question?

W.11-12.8. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source 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?
  • Which of the following statements are not useful in answering the research question                     

SL.11-12.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • To prepare yourself for 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                               
  • What is one question could you ask your opposition in order to have them clarify their position?

12.2. Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

  • 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.11-12.3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

  • 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 speaker’s conclusion?
  • What was the purpose of this particular speech?

L.11-12.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • Which of the following demonstrate how language can be adapted from encounters with other languages?
  • Which of the following depicts how language changes throughout history?

L.11-12.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • Which of the following sentences shows correct use of the hyphen?
  • Which of the following sentences includes a misspelled word?

L.11-12.3. 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.11-12.4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grades 11–12 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.11-12.5. 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                            


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Weigh-In on Opting-Out of Common Core

Opt Out Common Core

It seems all of the sudden, my Facebook feed blog reader, and email are full of fliers and commentary on opting out of the common core.  I’ve had this sudden onslaught of discussion mostly due to the fact that one of my local districts (in Southern California) is planning town hall style meetings to discuss a new common core opt out form.  However, a quick google search revealed that the debate over an opt out policy has been raging around the country for some time.  So the question arises, should students and/or schools be able to opt out of common core?  In what cases?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

First, a general overview of the arguments for and against allowing opt-outs (from my very limited, humble high school teacher perspective):

  • Against Allowing Opt-Outs:
    • The standards create continuity across states and districts.  This continuity is predicated on near universal implementation and the quest for a level-playing field in education.
    • The College Board is retooling the SAT to reflect common core.  Since SAT scores still play such a large role in college acceptance, common core alignment is a step toward college admissions.  (The college entrance test debate is a whole other story!)
    • The standards were created by a diverse group of teachers, experts, and parents, to reflect goals for student achievement and the realities of the American classroom.
    • The common core is evidence based, oriented toward 21st century technology, and balanced in terms of content and application.
    • The standards lend themselves to tweaking for local flavor or needs. States must adopt at least 85%, but the rest can be altered.
  • For Allowing Opt Outs (in general):
    • Education should not be federally regulated as tightly as the vision of common core.
    • Some schools, districts, and states will not be able to afford to implement the federal guidelines associated with the new standards. Common core creates an unfair financial burden on some schools.
    • Common core brings states to a middle or average achievement, which will bring down academic achievement in some schools, districts, and states. 15% allowable tweaking does not adequately reflect the diversity in American education.
    • The standards focus on higher order thinking without emphasizing the building blocks students need to make the leap to critical thought.
    • Common core standards distract from a real need to change the pedagogical approach of many teachers.

The case of opting out in cases where the school’s philosophy doesn’t match the philosophy of the school:

Should schools that follow a progressive bent in teaching and learning without emphasis on testing, have to follow common core?  Charter schools, magnet schools, and private schools have enjoyed freedom of pedagogy in the past.  If they can prove their achievement in alternative assessments, should we demand they change to align with common core?

The case of opting out in cases of uniformly high achieving schools:

The argument here surrounds the idea that some schools uniformly out-perform the common core standards.  Should those students be forced to spend academic time taking tests that do not even reveal their full potential?

Opting out on a student level versus and school, district, or state level:

In my local debate, the idea is that students should be able to opt out on an individual level.  As a teacher, I am heavily invested in what happens next in our educational landscape. While I am undecided about the merits of opting on a school, district or state level, I am definitely opposed to the individual student option. How can I effectively do my job with one more wrench in the gears?  I am already in over my head in differentiation and I just don’t see how I can add one more option.  Am I missing some glaring solution to the logistics here?

I’d love to hear you weigh-in on opting-out of common core!

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Create Classroom Engagement and Collaboration with Google Presentations!

Google Presentations

Today, I am excited to bring you a tip for using google presentations to create classroom engagement and collaboration.  This idea is a combination of a project that a colleague of mine has done for years, the inspiration of Catlin Tucker’s vocabulary instruction (she is really amazing), plus of course, my deep seated love of socratic seminar, novel study, and google drive (full tutorial here)!  This project puts ownership in the hands of students and frees up a lot of my time for meaningful writing feedback instead of a ton of prep for teaching a novel.  Check out the Youtube video below for the specifics of my project:

How could you tweak this to use google presentations in your classroom?  I’d love to hear your feedback and ideas! For other amazing resources in writing and novel study, be sure to check out Secondary Solutions!

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