Posts Categorized: Teaching

8th Grade Dystopian Unit

Teaching middle school English often feels like a juggling act.  It’s hard to make time for everything that falls within the realm of “English” when I only have each group of students for 40-45 minutes most days.  And it’s especially hard to make sure that students are reading independently when we have an ambitious list… Read more »

Tension, and Conflict, and Antagonists–Oh My!

I am starting to revise my novel-in-progress after getting some insightful feedback from two smart and generous first readers.  I’m working on increasing the tension and conflict in the second half of the novel (among other things), so I’m thinking a lot about antagonists. Now if you know me, you probably know that I don’t… Read more »

Reading Levels Don’t Tell You Everything: A Great Book Is a Great Book

This year, the theme for fifth and sixth grade English and social studies at my school is China.  Last winter and spring, I read several China-related novels as I tried to figure out my book list for sixth grade English.  I wanted a range of books that would engage sixth graders, expose them to aspects… Read more »

Celebrating Banned Books Week

It’s Banned Books Week, a time to celebrate the freedom to read!  For the past few years, I’ve talked with my students about book banning at some point in the year, but this is the first time I’ve remembered the official week and commemorated it on time. Yesterday, I introduced Banned Books Week to my… Read more »

CHAINS and FORGE: Historical Novels that Pass the Student-Interest Test

The English and social studies curricula at my school are integrated, so I end up teaching a lot of historical fiction.  It isn’t always easy to find a book that’s firmly grounded in a historical time and place and well-written and engaging for middle school readers.  But Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains and Forge are all… Read more »

CAPTURE THE FLAG: Another Great Read Aloud

I don’t know how Kate Messner does it.  She just keeps coming out with new books of so many different kinds: realistic middle grade, dystopian middle grade, picture books, chapter books, books for teachers, and now the first mystery in a three-book series. I really enjoyed Messner’s new adventure-mystery Capture the Flag.  She sets up… Read more »

LIAR AND SPY: An Excellent Read-Aloud Novel

I love to include read alouds in my middle school English classroom.  That usually means choosing an effective read-aloud novel, reading somewhere between five and fifteen minutes per class, and giving students some time to discuss their reactions and predictions as we go.  I find that read alouds increase students’ enthusiasm about books and lead… Read more »

On Learning New Things

During my third semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts, my wonderful advisor Mary Quattlebaum gave me prompts to spark short writing exercises she called wordplays.  At one point, she asked me to write a wordplay about a time from my childhood or adolescence when I was learning something that didn’t come easily to me,… Read more »

Writing by Hand

I set an ambitious writing goal this summer.  Spurred on by my enthusiastic MFA classmates, I decided that I would try to complete a draft of my young adult novel Rebound by August 31.  I think I’m going to make my deadline, but if I’d counted on sitting in front of my computer and banging… Read more »

Commonplace Books: A Tool for Writers and Teachers

As I’m gearing up for the school year to begin, I’ve been doing my summer reading assignments.  First, I read Moying Li’s Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution, which is required reading for rising seventh and eighth graders, and then I slowly made my way through the required… Read more »