New Year, New Resolutions, New Goals for My Students

It's been a tough start to the year for my students and I have never seen so many kids struggle with time management and school stress.  I am hopeful that the Winter Break will give them a chance to recharge and refocus in the new year.  However, I know they will need a helping hand once we get back to school in January.
1.  Start off the year with a fun goal-setting activity.  I know the first day back after a break is hectic and busy - my students want to visit and chat with friends they have not seen and share their highs and lows of their time off.  I always spend some time talking about what we all did over the break and sharing some laughs.  And I always spend some time with an easy and engaging activity.  Grab a FREE copy here of the goal setting worksheet I use with my students.  I like to allow them time to work on it on their own and then give them time to share with each other.  Finally, I ask everyone in the class to share one or two of their goals - they can pick which ones and how many.  I always share one or two with them too!
2.  When we start back in January, we have 6 months left of school in my district. It's a long slog to Spring Break in mid-March and then another long slog to the end of June.  So I like to lay out my plan for the remainder of the year.  I give my students a calendar for January / February printed on colourful paper - there are lots of free ones available online - and we fill it out together.  I let them write in our holidays, professional days and other important school dates (report cards, parent-teacher, etc).  I also outline what units we're going to tackle and when we're going to get to them.  I keep the calendars posted in my classroom as a reminder of what's coming up.  Click HERE to grab a fun printable calendar or HERE for a more standard calendar.

3. I teach several senior classes and mixed in with the fun and excitement of graduation and prom is the stress of applying to colleges and other post-secondary programs.  I make time every week to check in with my classes to talk about where they're at with scholarship applications, who has heard from what college and what they all need to do to get it all done by the end of the year.  I let them know about big deadlines and have a section of my classroom dedicated to posting deadlines for their applications.  I like to review this in January so that they know I'm here to help with their final school year. (And I love to see pictures of their prom dress purchases!!)

4. If you have not done so already, the new year is also a great time to change up your seating plan.  Depending on my students, I have assigned seating that I change up every so often... and the new year is one of those times.  If I can, I even change up my desk arrangement in my class.  It's a fresh start, a new perspective, a new neighbor to chat with and a different view of the room.  I also change out some of my posters and try to make my room look fresh and new.  It's amazing what a little refresh does for everyone's mood!

5.  Reflect on what you have already done together as a class or last year!  Not only do I like to look forward, but it's fun to look back and come up with the highlights of the previous year.  There are a ton of Top Lists for each year - why not show a few related to your subject of study and see if students agree.  Here are a few -Top Teen Books, Science Stories, Sportsperson of the Year,  and there are many, many, more! Have your students create their own Top 10 Lists - here's a link an activity I use in my classroom every year and my students always enjoy it!  

6.  Lastly, I like to start off the new year with an honest conversation about work habits, study skills and the importance of staying organized.  "It's easier to keep up than catch up" is written on my whiteboard and it seems many of my students need a reminder! I know the importance of reviewing study techniques, organizational skills and handing out a new assignment log (see my blog post HERE on The Secondary English Teacher Blog about helping students stay organized).  I ask students to set a homework plan for themselves and remind them that the calendars I pass out, their planners and their phone apps can help them manage their time.

I'd love to know what you do to set your students on a good path when you get back from a long break!

Happy New Year!


The Best ELA Lessons from Addie Williams

What's your best lesson? Is it also your favourite?  What part of  ELA do you enjoy teaching the most?  It seems that I say every unit is my favourite on the day I introduce it to my students! It's hard to pick... and my enthusiasm knows no bounds. I'm thrilled to be linking up with some awesome ELA teachers to learn more about their favourite or best lesson ideas - we can learn so much from each other!  Thanks to Secondary Sara for putting this all together and organizing us!  

I love teaching English and in particular, I love to teach students how to enjoy and improve their writing.  I know that writing can be challenging for students and it's frustrating to grade their essays and paragraphs and see the same errors over and over again.  I also know it can be frustrating for students to constantly lose points for the same errors over and over again as well. 

Make it FunStudents need to write and write often.  The more they write and read other's writing the more comfortable they will be with the writing process.  I try to make writing as fun as I can... I use engaging writing prompts at least once a week.  Try using the writing prompt "Would You Rather?"  Would you rather... live in a bathtub for a week or live on the couch?  Would you rather be Scout or Jem? Would you rather eat a bowl of spiders or a bowl of ants?  Relate your question to the novel you're reading, a holiday or just make up one that's guaranteed to get your students talking. Here's a link to a huge selection of FREE "Would You Rather?" question prompts on TeachersPayTeachers - I have used them with students from 5th-12th grade with great success!

Show Your Students GOOD Writing - It's hard for students to see the errors in their writing... it's challenging for them to see where they are going wrong with their organization, their voice, and their structure... so showing them examples of what you're looking for can be very helpful.  Mentor texts can be found online, can be examples of student work from previous years or examples from another teacher.  Share the mentor texts with students, talk about them, read them, assess them with the same grading rubric you use.  Many of my writing activities include mentor text for students and I ask them to assess the mentor texts using the same grading rubric I use. 

Peer Edit - I believe strongly in the power of Peer Editing.  It allows students to share their writing with others and lets others see what their peers are capable of writing.  Students will learn from each other and perhaps in providing feedback to others, will see how they can improve their own writing. To see how I run peer editing in my classroom, check out this blog post HERE.  Like the mentor texts, I have students assess their peers using the same grading rubric I use to assess their writing.  

Direct the Writing Process - Students need to learn that there is a writing process and that there are steps to ensure writing success.  From the first seeds of a brainstorm to the final edits, students need to be shown and guided and I love showing students their growth after they've followed the process. I require that all students complete all of the steps and I like to check in with them at every step of the way. If we're all working on the same prompt or topic I like to do a group brainstorm and have students share ideas with each other and the class.  I might even provide a topic sentence/thesis to help get them on their way.  Sometimes all the students need is a nudge in the right direction.  I know how long it can take to grade student writing - it can take hours!!! But... the value in providing good feedback can't be overlooked... so I often will look over their rough drafts and spend most of my time on the first page.... it saves me time and I know that the remainder of their work will probably be similar.  With good peer editing, I am hopeful that students will avoid many of the more common writing errors.

Check out my FREE Expository Writing Activity - The Town Times HERE for a look at how I organize a writing activity... it's a small sample of the writing activities included in the pack.  
My most popular resource is my Writing Pack - it includes everything you need to guide students through Narrative, Persuasive, Descriptive and Expository Writing and includes all brainstorming, planning, editing and peer editing activities for writing success.  I have managed to use these activities with students from 5th - 11th grade and have designed them all to be easily differentiated for varying ages and abilities.  Over 50 pages of mentor texts, rubrics, planning pages and more!


Remembrance Day Lesson and Ideas for Middle / High School Students

As Remembrance Day draws near, it can be challenging for students to truly understand the impact that the World Wars had on Canadian families.  I don't think I truly understood the enormity of it all until I stood in a World War II cemetery in Normandy, France.  It wasn't until I stood and read the sweet messages of love that were carved into the gravestones that I could really appreciate the sacrifice of each of the young men.  Although I don't have children of my own, I looked at the high school students I was with on a field trip and tried to imagine sending them off to war and then the heartbreak of finding out that they had died serving their country.  The memory of that moment is etched in my mind forever... and I know that it sticks with my students as well.

Although I can't take every student I teach on a field trip to the battlefields of Normandy I can share my own experiences and photos of my trip with them.  If they say a photo is worth a 1000 words then I will share as many photos with my students as I can.  Here is a resource I have used with my students over the years that I created using photos I took at various memorial sites in France. Combining the photos with quotes makes for a powerful writing exercise for students.  Click the image below to check out the Writing for Remembrance activity in my TpT store - it includes a PowerPoint of each photo with a quote and unique writing paper templates.  Makes a great classroom or hallway display.

There are also many emotional and powerful images available online that will help your students imagine what it was like to fight in years past or to be a member of the Canadian Forces now.  

The Canadian War Museum has an impressive collection of photos you can use as writing prompts in your classroom - click HERE to check out their WWI collection.

For a different spin on things why not show your students examples of Canadian War Art and talk about the difference in seeing a photo versus a painting.  Click HERE to see examples.  
Some questions to ask your students about the art could include - Why did artists feel it was important to capture the images of war?  How does the use of color change your idea of the wars as most photos are black and white?  

For a more modern look at Canada's Armed Forces check out this collection of 

Be sure to check out the official website (full of amazing resources) from Veterans Affairs Canada - they have an incredible library of resources.  Be sure to download the annual poster for your classroom and bookmarks for your students.

Highway of Heroes - Music by the Trews set to powerful images of our Canadian soldiers.

A Pittance of Time - by Terry Kelly - song and video about taking time to remember.  Would be great to use as a discussion start or journal prompt.

History of Aboriginal People in Canada's Military - a look back in time at the important role of Aboriginal people

I hope you and your students take a moment to pause and reflect about what Remembrance Day means to Canadians and the sacrifice that many have given.

Be sure to check out the great posts from more Canadian bloggers - there are some amazing ideas to share.  Big thanks to Two Peas and a Dog for organizing all of us!

Remembrance Day Resources For All Grades
Primary Teaching Resources by Nicole
The Primary Patch
Teacher Talk
Diamond Mom's Treasury of Teaching Resources
That Fun Reading Teacher
Reading With Miss D
Teaching Elementary and Beyond
Dancing into First

Tips & Tricks for Halloween

If I haven't said it before... I'll say it now... I LOVE Halloween!  I love dressing up, the decor, the season, the fun, the candy corn, the pumpkins... there's nothing I don't LOVE.  So... I'm thrilled to be hooking up with a bunch of fantastic secondary ELA teachers to share some tips and tricks for the Halloween season. 

My high school has a lot of fun with Halloween and the staff and students embrace the holiday fun with a Halloween Dance, costume contest, and of course dressing up!  I love to see what the students and staff can come up with - their creativity knows no bounds! As an English teacher it's the perfect opportunity to incorporate a little spooky fun into our writing activities.  Here are some of the ways I help my students with Halloween themed writing.

Set the Scene Visually
Add some Halloween decor to your classroom - it's cheap and easy to find at your local dollar store and I know my students enjoy seeing a few elements up in my room to help them create a spooky scene.  Fun and funky images and decor can also help spark their imaginations as they write!  You can even have students use your decor as a writing prompt! Why not have them free write and include two of the spooky Halloween elements in your room in their writing. A few Halloween treats also go a long way in motivating students. #iwilldoanythingforcandycorn   My students also love writing on themed paper - lots of free Halloween templates to be found online!  And it's amazing how excited they all get about a Halloween themed pencil from the dollar store!!

Create a Spooky Mood
Play some creepy music while your students work - it's a fun way to get students thinking about how they can set the mood in a story using vibrant and vivid verbs. How can they create the same eerie feeling with their words, that a musician creates with music?  It's easy to find a spooky or eerie playlist on Youtube - here's one to check out -  Halloween Music.  If it's easy to dim the lights or use floor lamps to dimly light your classroom I am sure your students will appreciate it! Or use flashlights to read. I also recently thought of using the "candles" that are lit with batteries as a mood setter too!!  I am fairly certain I can't use real candles at school #accidentwaitingtohappen

Spooky Pictures
Use creepy photos to help students with descriptive writing.  A quick image search on Google will yield some spooky results.  Brainstorming descriptive words can be a fun and helpful writing exercise.  Here's an example you can use!

Spooky Read Aloud
Despite the fact that my students are in high school, they still LOVE to have a short story read to them. I also love to read to's win-win in my classroom!  One of my favourites to read at Halloween is Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" - such a great story and so many elements to chat about with them.  You can also show them this short video of the short story narrated by James Mason (he has THE most perfect voice to tell the tale!)  If you're studying "The Tell-Tale Heart" be sure to check out my accompanying creative newspaper assignment HERE

Halloween Mystery Story Writing Activity
My students have always loved my Halloween Mystery Activity - it's got everything you'll need to help your students generate ideas for a spooky story, activities to help them plan their writing, peer editing guidance, grading rubrics and more! Everything is included so you can get started writing today!  I have it in a traditional paper version and a Google Drive version! Click the images to check them out!! 

Check out all of my HALLOWEEN RESOURCES HERE - there's even a fun freebie to grab!

I hope you have a spooky, fun and safe Halloween with your families and your students.


How to Encourage Students to Do Their Best Work

Are you tired of students asking you if their work is "good enough"? Or asking what grade they would receive if they turned their work in "even if it's not all done?". Or students asking why they received a poor mark because they "did it"? After a few years of teaching I came up with an easy way to explain it using a PIZZA ANALOGY. I knew my students could relate to pizza!!

So I started talking about their work in terms of a pizza and lo and behold they totally 'got it'! Here's how it works... I ask my students to imagine that their assignment is to make me a pizza. Seems simple enough right? Just make a pizza and turn it into me. However, once we start to delve into it a little more my students realize that there were several options available when making the pizza. They could simply turn in a basic cheese pizza or they could turn in a deluxe pizza and even throw in a soda for a little extra. We talk about how the person who makes a deluxe pizza (with the soda!) has done more work, put in more effort and gone beyond the basics! We even talk about the fact that some students would not even get their pizza finished in time or would have only gathered the ingredients... but not put the pizza together. It does not take long for them to realize that I'm relating their effort in class to the number of toppings they put on their pizza!

I created a series of posters to help students relate their work effort to the toppings on a pizza and the posters have made a huge difference in my class and how my students talk about their work. They often come in to the class and ask each other where they are on the pizza rubric and I hear them talking about how many toppings they included! Or where they are on the rubric... "Dude, I made a deluxe pizza, my project is totally topped up!". I often have to turn away and have a little giggle... to hear my high school students (mostly boys) talking like this just puts a smile on my face!

 The nice thing about the pizza rubric is that it works for any assignment and any subject - I teach a variety of classes (ELA, SS, and Science) and have used it successfully in all subject areas! In fact, many other teachers have my school are using it too and so the students have really bought into it. It's a great way to introduce a Growth Mindset and the idea that putting forth their best effort will yield good results. I often ask the students to self assess their work before turning it in and explain to me where they think they should be on the rubric. Here's the link to the poster set in my TpT store - I hope you find this as helpful in your classroom as I've found it in mine!


End of the Year - Calming the Chaos

The countdown is on for THE END OF THE YEAR and it still seems so far away!  I am in session until June 30th this year... I can do it... I can do it!!  Thrilled to be joining into this Calming the Chaos Blog Hop hosted by 2 Peas and a Dog!  Not only is there a great blog hop, but you can ENTER TO WIN A $60 GIFT CERTIFICATE TO TPT!!  (Contest is now over)

We've had some spectacular spring weather in Vancouver, Canada where I live and it's made my students much more "squirelly" than usual... the clear skies and beckoning city beaches make sitting in a classroom more challenging.

Here are a few fun and easy tips to help you make it through the chaos that always comes with the final weeks of the school year.

Ask for Feedback - I know this can be a scary thought... but I give my kids a chance to evaluate me and my teaching for the year with a quick survey.  I used to use a print version, but kids were hesitant to write things because I am so familiar with their writing.  Last year I used SurveyMonkey (free online survey tool) to get feedback... it was great! Kids loved the chance to go online and were more comfortable sharing their ideas anonymously.

Have Fun - Yup... it's true... it's the time of year when my students are stressed about final tests, graduation, final projects and more.  Take a few minutes to play a review game, watch a funny YouTube video, or just talk about summer plans.  My students LOVE to play Kahoot!  - it's free and students get to use their phones /devices!  What a blast we have!!

End of Year Literacy Activities - I often need quick, educational, and engaging activities for those awkward last few days of school... so I created a pack of ready to use activities for the end of the year! Click HERE to check it out!  Here's a sample page!


Addie Education Leaps Into Literature

Here at the Literary League, we’re a group of English teachers who truly love literature (we bet you already figured that part out). Given free time, we can all agree that there’s nothing better than leaping into a good book. But, even as avid readers, we have to admit that those spare minutes tend to be few and far between, especially during the school year, and there are times that we just have to …

  • leap into a book recommended by a friend, a colleague, or especially a student, who is anxiously awaiting our review
  • leap into a new novel we’re teaching, whether or not we’ve had time to fully prepare a complete unit
  • leap into a classic, maybe not one of our favorites, but something we know students need to sit with in order to grow as a reader
For those instances, the Literary League is teaming up to share some of our favorite resources to help you Leap into Literature. These are resources that are not tied to a particular book, but ones that can be used over and over again, both with your favorite novels, as well as with new texts or classic pieces you’re trying to breathe new life into.

A favorite resource I use to engage my students in literature is my NOVEL STUDY - READING JOURNAL FOR ANY NOVEL.  I have used these graphic organizers with students from 5th-10th grade with success with many, many different novels!  Combine the graphic organizers with standard chapter questions or use them in different combinations for different chapters or sections of the novel.

You can read about other engaging literature resources from the other Literary Leaguers linked up below!

Test Prep to Reduce Test Anxiety

We are coming up to the time of year that most students dread.... final exam time!  I currently teach secondary students and I see their anxiety and hear their fear.  The more they talk about their test anxiety the worse it gets... it's a vicious cycle!  I taught a student last year who spent more time fussing about a test than ever doing anything productive.  Over the last 20 years of teaching, I've come up with a few ways to reduce their anxiety.

1.  Talk about it!  Address student fears and concerns by asking them what aspect of the test they're most worried about.  Ask them to share their concerns with each other... sometimes just knowing that others feel the same way is enough to make my students feel better.

2.  Create a plan!  Students at my school write a series of final exams over a week in June and my students can find that very overwhelming.  I give them a blank calendar and they write in the exams they have and then I ask them to schedule their study time.  Just seeing it all laid out on paper and creating a study plan can be helpful to reduce anxiety.

3.  Make sure there are no surprises.  I give students clear lists of what they are expected to know for their test/exam.  I provide a checklist of topics and skills they will be assessed on.  Rather than saying "You have an astronomy test next Wednesday." I give them a specific list of vocabulary and concepts they will be tested on.

4.  Review, review and review some more!  Practice makes perfect!  We play review games (see this blog post for a fun review game!), we do crossword puzzles (my kids LOVE these as a take-home study guide - I make mine using and I give them practice test questions.

Here's a fun and easy review activity for you and your students - FREE in my TpT Store!

5. Test Day Fun!  On the day of a test I always give my students a candy to suck on... a lollipop/sucker or a hard candy.  They love the candy of course... but there is something soothing and relaxing about having a sucker in their mouth.  Perhaps it's a throwback to being a baby?!?  But it's a very calming technique for my students... and it's an inexpensive, fun and tasty treat for them.

6. Teach Test Taking Skills.  I teach my students throughout the year little tricks to help them write a test.  I tell them to skip questions they're not sure about... and to go back to them later.  I tell them to never leave anything blank... there are a ton of tips and tricks we pass on as teachers.  Vocabulary associated with tests can also be taught.  I have a set of Exam Key Word posters that I use to teach keyword vocabulary to guide students in test writing.  You can purchase a set in my TpT store HERE.

Would love to hear of any other test-taking tips below to help reduce student anxiety!


Easy and Inexpensive Bookmarks

Looking for an easy reading incentive for students?  Here are some quick and easy bookmarks to make to give to your students.

Okay... so I know that I'm not the first person to have ever figured this out and it's clearly not rocket science... but I can't believe how easy it is to make my own bookmarks with scrapbook paper!

My students love bookmarks... like really love... I had no idea that they would be so popular. However, buying bookmarks online is expensive "like $1.50-$2.00 each expensive" which is over $50 per class!!  As well, most of the bookmarks I see would not appeal to my middle/high school aged readers.

While wandering the stationary aisles of Micheal's Craft Store one day trying to think of something I could make with the beautiful stacks of scrapbook paper, I realized I could make bookmarks!  There are tons of teen-friendly papers and when I buy the books on sale I can make 200-300 bookmarks for less than $15!

And it turns out my students love them!  They ask for themes (they can't wait for the Valentine's Day bookmarks I've promised!) and love when I add new ones to my box of bookmarks.

I usually use a 12"x12" book and I can get 10 bookmarks per page.  For the Valentine's Day bookmarks above I used a 6"x6" mini-book and got 5 per page.

I just got this awesome pad of comic book themed paper on sale!! Can't wait to cut these up into bookmarks - my students are going to LOVE them!!

Have fun making bookmarks!!


Secondary Sub Plans

Ugh... we've all been there! You wake up in the morning and realized you're not going to make it in to school. I know I've dragged myself in to school on many days (when I really should have stayed home!) because the thought of coming up with a plan for the day can seem overwhelming!

Here's a fun linky to collect some ideas from other Secondary teachers to have on hand.  Thanks again to ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for organizing all of us!

Here are a few ideas I have for last minute ELA plans:

Here's a FREE and fun writing activity that can be used just about any time during the year in an ELA, Social Studies or Science classroom.  Students must create the front page of a newspaper to practice expository writing.  Includes assignment sheet, graphic organizers and a marking rubric!

In the middle of a novel study?  Adapt it to be about an event in the novel!
Why not have your students write about an important historical event?
Teaching science?  Students could write a news article to summarize a current topic!

Great review for writing, editing and more!  Just click the image above to grab a copy!

Another handy pack to have on hand is my Poetry Package!  It includes 7 individual poetry activities that students could easily work on with a substitute teacher.  Each activity includes everything needed to get started right away and is "print and go" ready!

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