These are a Few of My Favorite (Back to School) Things:

sound of back to schoolMove over Von Trapps, it’s time for the sound of school:

New sharpened pencils and fresh ink in pens
Bright stadium lights and warm woolen letterman’s
Brown paper lunch bags tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite back to school things

With all of the stress, busyness, and seemingly endless meetings that greet teachers at the beginning of each school year, I thought that today would be a good day to reflect on some of my favorite parts of the back to school season.  Feel free to share yours in the comment section below!

1. Shopping for supplies: I absolutely LOVE going shopping for school supplies (even if I do have to foot the bill myself).  I like freshly sharpened pencils, white board markers that write brightly, and pens that still have matching caps.  I like tape rolls that are new and easy to use and fresh butcher block paper that is just calling out to be used for mind mapping and student presentations.  Hands down, my favorite thing to shop for is a new academic planer to fill with to do lists, which quickly transform to lists of accomplishments and proud moments. I also always splurge on fun post-it notes like the ones shaped like arrows or apples. What are your favorite supplies to purchase or receive?

2. Setting up the space: Decorating and creating functional spaces for learning is another exciting part of the back to school season.  I can get lost for hours in the sea of amazing ideas on pinterest (<- click to follow us)! And there is something beautiful about a room all freshly set up to expand the minds of today’s youth.  For some ideas, here are links to a literature based classroom decoration and a grammar bulletin board idea that I have shared in the past.

3. Trying out new tech: Although new tech can be added during any point in the school year, the new year gives me the guts to try out new apps, software, and hardware. Here are some of my favorite classroom technology posts: Google DriveGrammarlyCollaborize ClassroomQuizlet, and more!  (Click on the tag “technology” in the right hand margin of this page for a full list). I can’t wait to try out some new things this year and share them here.  If you have suggestions for cool tech tools I need to try out, please leave them in the comment section.  ;)

4. Getting back into a routine: As much as I enjoy sleeping in, using the bathroom whenever I want, and losing track of which day it is, my body always appreciates getting back into the structure of a new school year. Even with the craziness of my teaching schedule, I find that I eat healthier, sleep more soundly, and drink more water when the school bell rules my day.

5. Starting fresh relationships: Every new school year is an opportunity to reset relationships, raise expectations, and let go of frustrations. I frequently have some of the same students during their freshmen and junior years, but even then conscious effort can allow us to find new appreciation for each other and our collective growth since our last classroom experience.

What are your favorite things about back to school?  We wish you the very best school year yet! Don’t forget to stock up on great resources at

Challenged and Banned Books – By the Numbers – Infographic

BANNED BOOK INFOGRAPHIC - SIMPLY NOVELWith the start of the new school year, and Banned Books Week quickly approaching – typically held the last week of September (this year, it is Sept. 27 – Oct. 3), it is time to remember how important our freedom to read is.  I decided to create this infographic to help teachers broach the subject of challenged and banned books and get a quick visual to some of the interesting facts surrounding banned and challenged books.  Information was gathered via

Here are the top ten challenged books for 2014:

1)      The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie – Reasons: anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”

2)      Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi – Reasons: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”

3)      And Tango Makes Three, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-family, homosexuality, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “promotes the homosexual agenda”

4)      The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison – Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “contains controversial issues”

5)      It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris – Reasons: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group. Additional reasons: “alleges it child pornography”

6)      Saga, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples – Reasons: Anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group. Additional reasons:

7)      The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini – Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited to age group, violence

8)      The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky – Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. Additional reasons: “date rape and masturbation”

9)      A Stolen Life, Jaycee Dugard – Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group

10)  Drama, by Raina Telgemeier – Reasons: sexually explicit

Out of 311 challenges as recorded by the Office for Intellectual Freedom; remember – 4 out of 5 challenges go unreported!

Banned Books Week 2015

For posters and other promotional materials, check out the ALA Banned Books store.

What are your thoughts on this top ten? What do you do for Banned Books Week in your classes?  Please share!

The Literary League Back to School SALE on TPT!

Oh, HOLY MOLY!  While I shake my head, wondering (yet again) where the summer went, I am excited to be a part of the TpT Back to School Sale!  I am a part of an amazingly talented community of Secondary Sellers on TpT, many of whom I have had the pleasure of getting to meet in person in Vegas this summer!  Because we all believe in our products, and we believe in the power of the Secondary element of TpT, we are determined to be sure everyone out there who needs our resources, knows about TpT!  Of course, especially when there is a SALE!

August 3rd and 4th, TpT is having a site-wide sale, and both of our stores will be discounted to the fullest!  That means, with the TpT discount applied, you can save up to 28% on all our products throughout the sale.  USE BTS15 at both our elementary store and our secondary store (which also now has some elementary products as we make the transition to one store) to save 28%!

But we are not the only ones, of course!  First, I introduced many of these sellers the other day for our Back to School Linky, but I want to give a shout out to THE LITERARY LEAGUE!  AH-MAY-ZING group of talented secondary ELA sellers – be sure to check out their stores as well (links are below the image)

lit_league_sale_BTS Click the seller’s name or store to be taken directly to their store! Of course, be sure to visit us! Secondary Solutions-Simply Novel Danielle Knight (Study All Knight) Darlene Anne- ELA Buffet Mrs. Spangler in the Middle Created by MrHughes The Classroom Sparrow The Daring English Teacher ELA Everyday Juggling ELA Nouvelle Literary Sherri Making Meaning with Melissa 2 Peas and a Dog Addie Williams Linda Jennifer Fisher Reyna Education The Creative Classroom Stacey Lloyd Room 213 Brynn Allison Open Classroom Perfetto Writing Room Secondary Sara Tracee Orman James Whitaker The Superhero Teacher Created for Learning Brain Waves Instruction

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.



5 Things I Won’t Be Doing On The First Day Of School

first dayJuly is almost gone and so it is officially time to start (or continue) thinking about going back to school. For a long time, the first day of school was one of my most dreaded days. It isn’t just the students who have the nightmares about forgetting their pants and their locker combos! I worried and stressed about making a perfect impression, coming up with the perfect activity and forgetting to cover all the procedures that would set us up for a perfect school year. I also felt some pressure from the administration over the years to enforce and reinforce school rules on the first day.  Luckily, over the years the first day has gotten easier and I have learned what doesn’t work for me.  I am sharing my list below and I’d love to hear what you will or will not be doing on the first day of school!  Leave a comment in the comment section below. ;)

On the first day of school, I will not be: 

1. reading my syllabus. I give a pretty detailed syllabus and I really want the students to appreciate all the hard work that I put into creating it; however, I have to realize 3 things about said syllabus.

  • Reading this detailed document is boring and sometimes insulting to their intelligence. I do not want either sentiment to be my first impression.
  • Referring to the syllabus continually over the semester is a much more practical and effective way to teach students about the value of a syllabus in a long-term way that will help them succeed in my class and beyond.  I can also fall back here on the old adage about college professors expecting students to read and understand the syllabus on their own, but I do plan to discuss it at length through small conversations throughout the semester since they are not in college yet.
  • The highlight reel is plenty for the first day of school.  I can spend a maximum of 5 minutes enthusiastically going through the overview of the semester’s content and most engaging projects to whet their appetite without overwhelming them or causing them to tune out.

2. going through every rule. I used to think that if I didn’t outline the rules specifically, I would have no control and things would spiral out from there.  As it turns out, students know the basic rules about being on time, being prepared for class, and being respectful.  5 minutes about the most important things followed by a general air of high expectations can go a long way.  The other rules and procedures can be discussed over the coming weeks.

3. spending the whole period on non-subject related icebreakers. I enjoy the process of getting to know my students.  I like to know their stories, their hobbies, and their motivations. These authentic relationships develop over time. There is also a pretty good chance that they are doing icebreakers in multiple classes, which can leave them feeling like it was a throw away day.  Instead, I think it is a better plan to jump into a high interest, high participation lesson that is content specific and will leave students with a sense that their time was well-spent in meaningful curriculum.

4. talking a lot about myself. I want the students to know and respect me, and I LOVE to tell a humorous story when the moment is right, but I also don’t want to distract from the real reason we are gathered together, which is to discover the beauty of Fitzgerald, argumentation, MLA, and so much more. I’m ashamed to say that not talking about myself is one of the most difficult lessons I have learned over the years.

5. doing all the back to school set up. Yes, books must be passed out, seating charts must be made, other work must be done, but it does not all have to happen on the first day. I will not let the first day be overtaken with all that busy work!  I will prioritize it and spread it out with real curriculum!

What will you be doing or not doing on the first day of school?

10 Pinterest Boards Secondary Teachers Should Be Following

10 Top Secondary Pinterest BoardsAfter seeing a recent post by Emily at Education to the Core featuring 20 Teachers to Follow on Pinterest, I found myself disappointed by the lack of secondary teachers on the list.  (Please don’t misunderstand me – Emily has a fabulous blog and is doing great things!!  Her audience is just not secondary teachers, so it makes sense that she would focus on the elementary and not the secondary level.) As a champion for secondary teachers (a former high school English teacher myself), I immediately wanted to be sure that Pinterest audiences – especially secondary teachers – knew that there are some AMAZINGLY helpful and relevant boards and pinners out there that teachers should be following.   I decided to spend the day researching helpful boards that were not all about products and sales, but the promotion of best-practices, innovative ideas, and helpful resources.  While many of these boards do have products pinned, the crux of each is not about advertising.  The results? Here’s what I found:

20 Secondary Teacher/Pinners You Should Be Following on Pinterest

1.  Simply Novel Teaching Ideas that’s me, of course (formerly Secondary Solutions) – I have boards featuring everything from Teaching Writing to Teaching Funnies to my Teaching Shakespeare board, specifically for the ELA teacher from upper elementary to high school.  My most popular secondary-specific collaborative board at the time is Top Secondary Teachers, featuring the best of the best secondary teachers from all subjects.

2.  Jason’s Online Classroom – There are so many awesome resources are available out there, and Jason’s boards Grades 6-8: Ideas and Resources and Grades 9-12: Ideas and Resources are home to most of them!  These are general secondary boards for all subject areas.

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3. Another great board, specifically for middle and junior high teachers of all subjects is Middle/Junior High Teaching Tools.  Over 8000 pins of general ideas, advice, and support, hosted by Learn with Watts.

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4.  For Secondary Math teachers, Scaffolded Math and Science is host to a great collaborative board called simply Math Grades 7-12.  With nearly 300 teacher/pinners, ideas and resources abound – specifically for secondary math.

Math 7-12

5. Secondary Science teachers will appreciate Stupendous Secondary Science Lessons, featuring nearly 4,000 pins highlighting experiments, activities, and relevant products, geared for the middle and high school classroom and hosted by Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy

Stupendous Secondary Science Lessons

6.  Another hugely popular board for Secondary Science teachers is hosted by Amy Brown at Science Stuff, featuring a collaboration of teacher/pinners contributing to the Science for Secondary Grades: Biology, Chemistry, Physics & More!  With over 8,600 pins, this board really is a “science teacher’s utopia.”

Secondary Science

7. An awesome board focusing on high school level classroom management and organization (because we can’t simply use those cute rote sayings to get our kids’ attention!) is the collaborative board High School Classroom Management, Inspiration, and Organization, hosted by Danielle Knight.  This board features tips, links, resources, ideas and inspiration to keep the secondary teacher organized and motivated.

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8. For Special Ed teachers in middle and high school, a board you should be following is Awesome Secondary Special Educators, a collaboration of special education teachers hosted by Christine Reeve.  Excellent ideas, motivational articles, and resources on this collaborative board.

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9.  Designed for History and Social Science, Smart Apple has a fabulous board called Secondary Social Studies includes over 7,000 related pins chock full of ideas, tips, articles, and more.

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10. Of course, Pinterest created Teachers on Pinterest has created specific boards for each grade level and subject area.  The boards High School English, Middle School English, and High School Science are awesome.

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I do realize I am missing foreign language and other electives, the arts, physical education, and other, more specialized teacher/pinners and boards.  Innately, secondary teachers have a difficult time finding their “people.”   Any suggestions?  I would love to hear from you to put together a list of the best specialized boards on Pinterest, helping those secondary peeps find and connect with their tribe!  Leave a comment, and be sure to check and follow out these fabulous boards.

Reasons to Pay Attention During Grammar Lessons (Bulletin Board Idea!)

grammar bulletinDecorating the secondary classroom can be a bit of a challenge because many teachers want the room to look appropriate for the maturity and age of the students, but much of what is on the market and pinterest caters to a younger crowd. Displaying student work can have pit falls when the student/teacher ratio starts climbing and some older students get more reticent about seeing their work displayed.  (Note: I do think there is value to displaying great work with older students, but that is a post for another day!)  Last year, I shared an idea for an American Literature timeline, and today I want to share another idea for classroom décor that may have the added benefit of inspiring a little extra attention during grammar lessons!

The basic idea for the bulletin board is to showcase real life news stories about the importance of grammar. You could go with a simple sharpie on butcher paper technique or go wild with construction paper backings and die cut letters.  No matter how you dress it up or down, the content of the bulletin board is fun and functional!

Possible Bulletin Board Titles: 

  • Reasons to Pay Attention During Grammar Lessons:
  • Know your grammar, or else!
  • When am I ever going to use this grammar lesson?

Possible Articles to Attach:

These 3 articles (all from July 2015) were the fruit of a quick google search, but I think that they engage secondary students in areas that they care about.  Depending on how much room you have to display, you can add or subtract from this list.  You could also assign students to find similar articles to share with the class.

What do you think?  Would you display something like this?  Would it work as an interest piece in your room?  We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

5 Classic Books that are Great for the High School Classroom


ClassicsI 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 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 offerThe 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 offerThe 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?

Tips For Helping Students With College App Essays

college helpTis 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.