Free Download: End of the Year Teacher Survey!


I remember the terror of handing out my first end of the year survey to my students.  I was thoroughly convinced that they would come back completely extolling all my virtues or completely destroying the last shred of dignity that I had as a young teacher in May.  To my utter shock, I have uniformly had the opposite situation.  Students have been incredibly honest and fair with me. Some things they love, some things they hate, some things just needed a little tweak.  Since I have found student surveys so beneficial to honing my craft, today I want to share with you my simple survey along with the reasons why I suggest you give a similar one.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Reasons to Give an End of the Year Survey: 

  • Learn what to edit out or change. We all have these grand plans that sometimes fizzle out.  No matter how amazing the assignments, projects, or methods sounded in our head, the bottom-line must be student learning.  I don’t think that we have to make everything a carnival ride, but we should know if some assignments are doing more harm than good.
  • Learn what necessities need to become more palatable.   Every student on my survey can write about the challenge of the research paper or the unsatisfactory ending of The Great Gatsby, but that certainly does not mean I will edit them out of my class.  What I can tweak based on student feedback, is the presentation and timeline of events.  Again, it is all about student learning.
  • Create continued equity. I want to know if students don’t think I’m not fair or if I get positive reviews only from girls with As.  Equity in education is paramount.
  • Validate the good. I’m not going to lie.  I love reading my glowing reviews.  In my humble opinion, teaching is one of the hardest careers and it can really wear a person out.  Sometimes we need confirmation of the good we suspect we are doing.
  • Consider other perspectives.  Of course students cannot dictate curriculum with their surveys because they come from a limited perspective.  By the same token, we  will be much more effective educators if we take the chance to walk a mile in our students’ moccasins.

Tips for Proctoring the Survey:

  •  Make a list of the class readings and major assignments/procedures/methods and write them on the board during the survey so students can remember what has been covered and how.
  • Consider using Google Forms so you can easily see the data and run some analytics. (More on Google Forms in the classroom here!)

Click here for the FREE DOWNLOAD of my simple survey that you can make your own!  Feel free to leave questions, comments or concerns in the comment box below and check back every week for more teacher tutorials, tips, and tirades!

Teacher Tips: Writing Letters of Recommendation (Free Form Download!)

Letters of Rec

I teach primarily juniors and seniors this year and so I have three main waves of recommendation writing: junior enrichment opportunities, senior college apps, and senior scholarship apps.  Many of these opportunities ask students to obtain a letter of recommendation from an English teacher who can give insight into student reading and communication skills.  Whether you are sitting down to write one letter or fifty letters, here are some tips to get you through:

1. Be authentic.  Sometimes you have to be honest with students and decline to write a letter of recommendation when you feel that you don’t have the time to complete the task, you don’t know the student well enough, or you don’t think that you can write a positive letter.  Allow yourself to make the professional call either way so that you can avoid writing an untruthful ode to the student constantly cheating and disrupting class or a boring form letter about that extraordinary student in dire need of a scholarship.

2. Consider starting with a few general form letters. Every student is exceptional, but letters of recommendation may come in batches.  I have general templates for categories like: the student athlete, the most improved, the extra-curricular star, the service oriented, and the consistent hard worker.  I then fill in the general template with the specifics of the student so that I can quickly, but accurately get the letter done.  In my 10 years writing letters, I’ve had a few every year that break all molds and require me to break out all of my rhetoric skills from scratch.

3. Ask for a brag sheet and the details of the opportunity. Even if you know your students well, give them an opportunity to fill out the whole picture.  The form below is a tremendous help to me and it helps to keep students accountable.

4. Quote students. I like to include quotes from student essay writing or brag sheets in order to show and not just tell the student’s strengths.

5. Put on the finishing touches.  After you have spent time writing this letter, be sure to proofread it, print it on letterhead, and sign it.  These letters are important and you want to honor them.


What recommendations do you have?  Is my form helpful?  I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

Simple, Effective Essay Rubric

A few weeks ago I wrote about the 10 struggles that surprised me in the classroom and one of those was the crazy number of hours I spend outside of the classroom grading papers!  Then, I wrote a post about how I get through all those papers and a couple of people reached out to me to ask about the rubric that I use.  Although I have no miracle cure that will shrink the papers, I have found that a simple, effective rubric reduces the time that I spend writing feedback, so I’m sharing it today!  

Here are the things I like about the rubric that I have been tweaking for the last 10 years:

  • I give this rubric with the prompt at the beginning of a writing assignment, which makes grading clear for students from the outset.
  • I create the rubric on a full page so there is plenty of room to add short comments in boxes when needed.
  • I can easily just circle issues in the category box to explain my score if no comment is required.
  • There is a place for self-assessment, which helps students to go through a more effective proofreading before turning it in.
  • There are only 7 categories, which represent the overall areas of emphasis in my class.
  • The final category can be changed with each paper to reflect mini-lessons during the unit or other skills I want to emphasize.

You can download and edit this rubric here! 

(The above link should save as a word document in your downloads folder, but if you have any issues accessing it, here is the PDF version)

SS RubricI’d love to hear your feedback so I can keep refining this rubric.  Thanks so much for stopping by! 



Teaching Students to Determine Credibility of Online Sources (Free Student Handout!)

Credible Sources

Two important revolutions have come together to make online source credibility testing an important skill to teach our students:

  • The Common Core emphasizes research and informational texts. 
  • Our students have incredible access to online sources.

Even though most of my students walk around all day with the internet in their pockets, they do not know innately how to determine the credibility of a source for my research paper, infographics, and other assignments.   More alarmingly, they consistently report bad habits including the use of fast information sources that they know are not reliable and the use of copy/paste functions to get homework done in a hurry.  In order to send students into college and into the world with valid research habits, I consciously teach students a checklist to determine the credibility of a source.  I  go through the list with them a few times and make them use it regularly in the hope that they will internalize the information for future use.  Here is my credibility check list:

I’d love to hear your tips, questions or suggestions to add to the list!  Leave a comment below and add to the conversation.

Determining the Credibility of Online Sources:

When using online sources for formal research, you must determine credibility in order to validate the reliability of your own research.  Keep in mind: Articles from peer reviewed online journals like those found in JSTOR, EBSCO Host, and other databases include all citation information and can easily be found credible.  Sites like Wikipedia, blogs, and social media are open forums for non-experts and while they may be great brainstorming tools, they are not credible sources for formal research.  With so many sites in the spectrum between JSTOR and Wikipedia, it can be difficult to determine credibility, so here is a checklist to go through when making an evaluation:

  • What is your topic?
    • You should always look for sources appropriate to your topic.  For example, if you are researching heart disease, you should look at sites run by The American Heart Association and not a side note blog post from Huffington Post.
  • What is the URL?
    • Always be sure to record the entire URL.  You will need this information and more to cite properly.   Be sure you are aware of the root site of the page you found.
  • Is the extension appropriate to the content?
    • .gov and .mil are government run sites, .edu means it is an education site, and .com/.org/.co can be purchased online.  This does not mean that .com/.org/.co are not reliable, but you should make note of the extension for overall reliability testing.
  • Who is the author?
    • You should use sites that have a stated author.  Sometimes the author’s name will be on the article or page, and sometimes you will have to dig a little deeper to an “about the author” page or a link on the main site.
  • Is there contact information for the author?
    • Credible authors will have some type of contact information. It may be in the form of an email, phone number, address, or online submission form.
  • What are the author’s credentials?
    • Look for authors who hold degrees, experience, titles, or memberships to recognizable professional groups relating to the topic.
  • Does the site appear to be professional?
    • Look for sites that are professional, clean, and organized. For most research, personal blogs are not a reliable source.
  • Are there typos and other errors?
    • Grammar, spelling, and other errors are a hint that the information has not been reviewed carefully and may be suspect.
  • What is the purpose of the site?
    • Are they trying to persuade? educate? preach? other?
  • Is there bias?  If so, what is it?
    • For example, if you take medical information from a cigarette company or sports information from a particular college, understand the bias.  Bias does not mean you can’t use the page; you just have to be aware and use the information accordingly.
  • Is this a primary or secondary source?
    • The closer to the primary source a page is, the more reliable the information.
  • Are there citations or a bibliography?
    • These will help you determine the legitimacy of secondary sources.  Ask yourself if the bibliography shows quality research material.
  • Is there a date for the publication/revision of the page?
    • You will need this information to cite properly.  It is also important to know that your information is current.  You don’t want to research current educational trends and use high school drop out rates from 1990.
  • Does the information seem in depth and comprehensive?
    • You want to look for sources dedicated to the information you are looking for, not a source, which briefly touches on your topic.
  • Overall Evaluation:
    • Based on this list, do you find this source to be credible?  Be sure that you are able to justify your evaluation with evidence.

Citing an online source:

Please refer to the Owl at Purdue for information on citing electronic sources in MLA or APA format:

What would you add, take away or ask about this list?  I’d love to know!


A Look at Common Core Aligned Performance Assessment

Performance Assessment

Both formative and summative assessments play important roles in the learning outcomes of our students.  In any given unit of study, as teachers we check our Common Core standards, map out our benchmarks and embark on the journey. However, if you are like me and you’ve been doing this for a while, sometimes our favorite assessments deserve a second look to make sure that they are lining up with the Common Core.  If you are in the market for Common Core aligned resources, check out this article to be sure you are getting what you pay for!

Today, I want to focus on summative assessment, which comes at the end of each literature unit. As part of my philosophy of education, I believe in multiple means of assessment.  For example, at the end of Romeo and Juliet, I love to give an objective test, a process essay, and some type of performance assessment or alternative assessment.  It takes a little extra planning to be sure that staggered deadlines are achievable and appropriate without prolonging the unit more than necessary.  For me, the return on investment makes any extra effort on my part completely worth it. Luckily, the process is simplified when I use a secondary solutions literature guide to inform my instruction as they all come with quizzes, tests, essay prompts, tons of creative assessment ideas and more! I love the Romeo and Juliet guide, which I use with my freshmen. Although my examples on this post all come from Romeo and Juliet, they can easily be adapted to any other literature unit.

Recently, I went through some of my performance assessments to specifically align them with the common core standards and create fresh rubrics based on those standards. The annotated Common Core standards for grades 9-10 and grades 11-12 were incredibly helpful in this process. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Write an song that retells the narrative of Romeo and Juliet. Songs may be in any genre including rap, country, pop, blues, etc. The narratives must be an accurate retelling of the drama. Include 5 verses (one for each act and a refrain)

  • Common Core Standard: W.9-10.3. Write narratives using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • Student sample from my class: Click here!
  • Why I like this assessment: This project allows students to incorporate their own musical talents and aesthetics, while summarizing and retelling a narrative in a fresh way.  I tell students that Shakespeare did not come up with the original story for Romeo and Juliet, but he certainly used his wordsmith talents to bring it to life in a whole new way!  This is their chance to do the same.  The student sample that I provided here was from a very unmotivated student who loved his computer and music software.  Knowing this project was coming kept him engaged for the whole unit so that he could come up with this modern flow!

2. Create an infographic that takes a look at Elizabethan culture. Research topics like gender roles, class stratification, marriage, family dynamics, mortality rates, health care, music, popular culture, etc. Be sure to create a work cited page in proper MLA format to cite your sources. 

  • Common Core Standard: W.9-10.7. Conduct short  research projects to answer a question; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Student sample from my class: Click here!
  • Why I like this assessment: Infographics are beautiful pieces of visual rhetoric and are becoming prevalent in the online world that students live in.  They are also an easy, fun way to present research.  Of course, you still have to teach about reliable sources and flow of ideas, but I’ve found that if you just point students toward an infographic generation site, they can handle the tech with ease.  The student sample that I provided is not the best example because it lacks a logical flow of data and is limited in information, but it gives a basic idea of what students can create  with free online tools like picktochart.

3. Film a video that presents research about your given topic from the Elizabethan era.  Be sure to create a work cited page in proper MLA format to cite your sources.  (For this project, I jigsaw topics for different groups like health care, fashion, family, class structure, etc)

  • Common Core Standard: SL.9-10.5. Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
  • Student sample from my class: Click here!
  • Why I like this assessment: Students never cease to amaze me with their video skills!  This is a great option for the computer savvy student. The student sample here is about the plague, which started well before the Elizabethan era, but impacted the plot of Romeo and Juliet when Friar John is quarantined and unable to deliver the letter to Romeo sparking some hasty decision making! (This video is actually from a different project, but it represents a potential topic related to Romeo and Juliet.) There are an endless number of research possibilities around any given piece of literature.

I find that showing student samples to my class usually inspires them to create even more amazing projects.  Feel free to use my samples if that would help you.  When I assign these projects, I try to stretch students to create something meaningful and beautiful without taking the easy way out.  However, I do usually include a non-computer related option like creating a hand-drawn graphic novel, costumes, or a replica Globe theater.  Those option allow students who do not have access to computers to still be successful and creative.

What are your favorite performance assessments?  I’d love to hear your ideas and answer any questions you may have!

Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition.  She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students.  She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at

Literature Circles for High School Students

Today’s strategy spotlight is on literature circles.  I’ve used this technique in my 9th grade English classes to differentiate lessons in order to meet the needs of students struggling to keep up and those needing an extra challenge.  There are many ways to implement literature circles to accommodate for a range of reading levels, class size issues, English learners, and other common classroom needs.  I’m going to share the way it works in my classroom based on my needs, but I’d love for you to leave a question or comment at the end of this post to continue the conversation as it relates to classrooms across the board!

High School Literature Circles

What are literature circles?

Why I use literature circles:

  • I teach 9th grade English in a school that has an average of 50 feeder middle schools.  Students come to me with a wide range of experiences and abilities.  (I know I’m not alone here, right!?!). Literature circles help me to differentiate curriculum without compromising the academic rigor of my class.
  • I find that giving students choices in what they’re reading leads to increased motivation and engagement.

How I use literature circles: 

  • Step 1: Lay the groundwork. This is an optional step that I find useful for younger students.  I read a single novel with the class and in the course of teaching, go over the literature circle roles as a whole class.  I use To Kill a Mockingbird as my initial novel and once a week we all do one role.  In other words,
    • Week 1: All students write discussion questions and practice leading a discussion with a small group.
    • Week 2: All students look for literary devices and present them to peers.
    • Week 3: All students create art based on the novel and then a few students volunteer to justify their pieces to the class.
    • Week 4: All students look for vocabulary words.
    • Week 5: All students do contextual research.
    • Going over the roles as a class helps to scaffold the expectations for the real literature circles coming up. With older or advanced students, this type of preparation may not be necessary. The literature circle roles are not the major focus of the initial unit, but they pop up about once a week as a homework assignment so that the next unit flows smoothly.  For the majority of my TKAM unit, I use a variety of activities and assessments from the Secondary Solutions guide.
  • Step 2: Pick literature circle books and introduce them to the class.  I like to work around a theme and give a variety of texts that will be accessible for some and challenging for others.  I use books related to the themes of racial tension and injustice in order to build on the To Kill a Mockingbird unit (Here is my list). Before students select novels, I give a brief overview, including disclaimers for some of the more controversial topics.  For example, I let students know that The Color Purple deals with abuse in case some students aren’t emotionally ready for that content.  I also give them an idea about which books are more challenging to read so that they can select a book that is appropriate to their own level.  Very rarely I have to directly suggest that a certain pupil select a certain book.  For the most part, they understand which level and content is right for them.
  • Step 3: Students set up a schedule and pick roles.  After students have selected a book, I help them join groups of 3-5 students who selected the same book.  If I have a situation where only one student selects a particular book, I require them to switch.  When there are more than 5 students interested in a particular book, I break them into 2 groups.  When the groups are formed, students must make unanimous decisions about their reading schedule and roles for each meeting.  They must have both parts approved by me prior to the first meeting.  Here is a free Word document that you can edit to suit your own reading lists, dates, and requirements!
  • Step 4: Have the meetings!  Each meeting day, students pull desks into small groups and present their roles to their classmates.  I walk around and listen in on conversations and collect all work at the end.
  • Step 5: Since all students are reading books around a theme, you can create writing prompts, class discussions, and other projects that relate to the overall theme of the unit!

Are you using literature circles in your classroom or considering them for next year?  We’d love to hear your version, roles, questions, or comments.   Leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to start our own discussion right here!  Be sure to check back all summer long for more teaching strategies and fun freebies from Secondary Solutions!

Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition.  She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students.  She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at

How to use Socratic Seminar:

As English teachers, we are always looking for different strategies to engage our students in the core literature that we’re teaching. Today’s strategy spotlight is on the Socratic seminar. I’ve used Socratic seminar with low and high level classes with tremendous success and it is always one of the high points on my annual student evaluation forms. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox along with the other amazing resources and assessments from Secondary Solutions. Be sure to check back all summer for more strategies and freebies from Secondary Solutions!

Socratic Seminar in the Classroom

Reasons to use Socratic Seminar:

  • Student led questioning leads to meaningful reflection and connection.
  • Higher-level analysis questions engage students in critical thinking.
  • Supporting answers with textual evidence is an important underpinning to good writing.
  • Lively dialogue can bring even the most reluctant student into the lesson.
  • Students learn etiquette for polite conversation in which multiple viewpoints are expressed, which is an essential life skill.

Step by Step How to Facilitate a Socratic Seminar:

  • Step 1: Assign students to read and annotate a particular text or section of text. All students must read the same text. (Click here for a free printable and editable assignment sheet with all the details)
  • Step 2:When students come into class on the day that the assignment is due, start by discussing the norms of the seminar. (Here’s another great free download with sample discussion norms!)
  • Step 3: Have students form 2 circles with their desks: one large circle on the outside and one smaller circle in the inside. Each person in the inner circle should have 2 supporting speakers in the outer circle. See diagram at the bottom of this list for a layout with 30 students. (Teacher Tip: I found that arranging the desks before class or marking the floor with painter’s tape helped expedite this process)
  • Step 4: Have one of the students in the inner circle volunteer to pose the first question.
  • Step 5: Allow students in the inner circle to have a couple of minutes to discuss the question with their supporting cast in the outer circle.
  • Step 6: Give students in the inner circle the opportunity to discuss the question, citing textual evidence. At any point, students in the outer circle can pass notes to their counterpart in the inner circle to help continue the discussion, but they may not participate verbally. This keeps everyone engaged and the discussion organized. It also supports struggling students and developing English learners.
  • Step 7: When the question has been exhausted, have students rotate in their triad so that the student in the inner circle switches with one of the two supporters in the outer circle.
  • Step 8: Continue the process with questions from other volunteers.

Sample Classroom Set-up (Click for larger image)


Socratic Seminar Example with Lord of the Flies:

Recently, I read Lord of the Flies with my college prep sophomore class. In addition to the comprehension check questions, literary analysis activities, and assessments from Secondary Solutions, I also held Socratic seminars at the midpoint and end of the novel. One of the gems that came from the midpoint seminar was from one shy sophomore girl who asked:

“In chapter 5, the group discusses the beast at a meeting and Simon suggests that maybe the boys only have to fear themselves (Golding 96). Should they be more concerned with internal or external forces?”

This sparked a spirited conversation about the dangers of island life and the perils of adolescent bullying as seen in the novel up to that point. In the final Socratic seminar, the topic arose again and this time the students knew how the book ended so it brought a whole other layer of understanding complete with comparisons to Fahrenheit 451 and Julius Caesar which we read in the first semester. It was one of those heart warming moments as an English teacher when I realized that they were really getting it.

As a facilitator, I took notes on the questions posed and used them to guide later instruction. I used student questions to form the options for the end of novel essay. After participating in the seminars, students found it much easier to form a clear thesis and support it with evidence from the novel. Their essays reflected the deeper, critical lens that they gained from participation in the class discussion.

Are you using Socratic Seminar in your classroom? We’d love to hear your advice and answer any questions you may have! Leave us a comment and we’ll be sure to start our own discussion right here!

Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition.  She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students.  She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at

Attacking the Common Core Standards: Informational Texts-Part One

The Common Core State Standards are quickly becoming a reality for the vast majority of the country.  Many teachers in the U.S. are being faced with the task of aligning teaching materials to the Common Core Standards beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, and while many teachers are just trying to make it through the end of this school year in one piece, most are beginning to feel the pressure to find and/or create practical, usable, and appropriate materials that meet the rigors of these new standards.

This article is the first in a series about how teachers can address the Common Core Standards and to align their materials to the rigors they are being faced with through the implementation of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.  In this series, I will explore several options for addressing the Common Core Standards to help English Language Arts teachers like you to learn to seamlessly align your teaching materials to the Common Core.

Starting With Informational Texts
As I travel the country at teacher conferences, ELA teachers continually express their concern and stress over the thought of providing access to and teaching Informational Texts within the Common Core Standards.  Many teachers are under the assumption that in order to “make way” for these Informational Texts, it is at the sacrifice of fiction—novels, plays, and poetry.  Understandably, English teachers are appalled at the thought of forsaking fiction for a seemingly “unbalanced” emphasis on non-fiction.  By nature, we love our literature—especially a great novel!

It is imperative that ELA teachers realize that it is NOT the English Language Arts teachers’ sole responsibility to address this aspect of the Common Core Standards.  According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s Myths versus Facts section:

Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.
Fact: With the Common Core ELA Standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary non‐fiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.
Myth: The Standards don’t have enough emphasis on fiction/literature.
Fact: The Standards require certain critical content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are left to state and local determination. In addition to content coverage, the Standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.


In other words, it is not necessarily up to ONLY the ELA teacher to take on the rigorous task of providing and studying Informational Texts alone.  Savvy and educated Principals and Department Heads should be aware that it is not only up to the ELA teacher to fulfill this task of providing and teaching informational texts.  In fact, it is up to Social Studies/History, Science, and even Math teachers to provide and teach non-fictional literature according to each subject area.  Similarly, all disciplines should be responsible for helping to improve literacy for all students.

Now that some of the pressure and fears may have been assuaged as you realize you should NOT be on your own teaching non-fictional “Informational” texts, let’s look at some of the ways you can address this strand, and still keep the novels, plays, and poetry.  You CAN have your cake, and eat it too.

One very simply, straightforward way (and we will focus on other ways in subsequent articles) to address the Informational Text aspect is to have students study biographies.  If you are going to be reading To Kill a Mockingbird, why not read a biography on Harper Lee?  If you are studying The Crucible, then you should have students learn about Arthur Miller.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg as far as biographies are concerned.  To use our example of To Kill a Mockingbird, why not have students do research on/read a biography of Homer Plessy (Plessy v. Ferguson), Truman Capote (Lee’s neighbor upon whom the character Dill was based), or Emmett Till (killed at age 14 for allegedly flirting with a white woman).  Even if the literature does not have a historical aspect, biographies can still be an option.  For example, in the novel When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, the author mentions Dick Clark.  The protagonist, Miranda, reads A Wrinkle in Time, which provides the opportunity for students to read a biography on A Wrinkle in Time’s author Madeleine L’Engle.

But simply reading the biographies may not be enough to fully address the standards of Informational Texts.  Students should also be prompted to answer questions or complete an activity to analyze the intent and purpose of the biography.  Some generic questions that can help you address these standards are:

  • What is the purpose of this text?  How do you know?
  • What loaded or biased language do you notice?  
  • If there is a good amount of loaded or biased language, what do you think is the author’s purpose? If you cannot find any loaded or biased language, why do you think that is?  
  • How is the information in this article arranged (cause/effect, chronological, order of importance, compare/contrast, etc.)?
  • What details/support can you find that indicates how this person’s upbringing and education has ultimately affected his later life?
  • Briefly summarize the important milestones in this person’s life, including dates.
  • Write an original one-sentence thesis based on the information in this article.
  • Write a list of 10 unknown, technical, or subject-specific words from the article; define each.
  • How does the use of these words affect your reading of the article?

While biographies are a simple way to keep students interested in a novel while still addressing the strand of Informational Text, they are effective, and can be a brief exercise that when added to your curriculum not only help to provide support for a novel, but can reassure you that you are taking steps to integrate those non-fictional standards.  Additionally, by providing another medium (i.e. a video) on the person of interest and having students analyze the text in comparison to the video, you also address an additional aspect of these standards.

If you like the idea of integrating biographies into your curriculum, I have put together a collection of Ten Author Biographies – Popular High School Authors for $7.99, available on TPT.  I also have a smaller, FREE version simply called Author Biographies.

Keep checking back for more ways to integrate Informational Texts in your curriculum and lesson creation!

Thanks for stopping by!


Using Appropriate Tone in Writing

Using Appropriate ToneOne of the most difficult literary devices to recognize as well as convey is tone.  Helping students to identify tone in literature can be daunting, and helping students create the appropriate tone in their own original writing can also be a chore.  The following are some tips to help students grasp the concept of tone.  I have also created a free activity called “Using Appropriate Tone” to help students grasp the idea of tone, and –trust me–kids will LOVE this activity!

The tone of a piece refers to the author’s attitude toward the subject.  Finding the tone can seem like a daunting task at first; however, you can ask yourself a few simple questions to help you figure it out.  Examples of these questions are: Is it formal or informal?  Serious or lighthearted?  Is there an emotion attached such as sadness, anger, lust, love, contentment, or consternation?  Is the author taking a humorous approach to the subject?  Is he or she being ironic, sarcastic, witty, contemplative, etc.?  To find the answers to these questions and properly identify the tone, you have to look at the author’s use of language including such tools as for word choice, phrasing, and use of or omission of details.

The same idea must be used when writing an original piece.  It is important that students use the correct diction (choice of words) to help convey the way they are feeling.  Ask students how difficult they find understanding a person’s tone through text message or emails.  Have they ever been confused by what the person is saying?  Have they assumed a person was serious when they were actually joking?  If the words are not laid out right, we can easily be confused by a person’s writing, and get the wrong idea of a person’s intentions or meaning.

Another way to think of tone is like tone being the background paper on which you write a note.  For example, if you are writing a note telling your mother how much you love her and appreciate her, and in the end, ask to borrow the car keys for the night, you may want to write your note on a pink, flowery piece of paper rather than on the back of a cardboard pizza box you pulled out of the trash.  The choice of paper gives the reader an idea of the message you are sending.  Similarly, you don’t want to give someone a note to let them know you would rather just “be friends” on a piece of pink paper with red hearts!  The words you choose to use in your writing act like those pieces of paper — you must choose your words wisely in order to get the right point across.

For helping students grasp the concept of using the right tone, please download Using Appropriate Tone, free on TeachersPayTeachers!  If you love it, please leave feedback and tell others.

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