Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Knowing the Facts! An Argumentative Writing Assignment

I just got done with one of my favorite mini units with my college freshmen. I've done it several times now and each time my students give me great feedback! Many have told me that they wish they'd been asked to do something like it prior to getting to the college level!

Let me tell you what I do for this unit.

I come up with a list of topics that are currently relevant to our society and that can be easily researched. I then assign groups of students each topic. I do this randomly. The students do not work together, but rather, work independently to write two, yes two, separate papers. In one paper they argue for their topic, and the other they argue against their topic! This way they have to have a clear understanding of both sides of the issue- regardless of their own personal beliefs.

After they've written both of these papers I have mini in-class debates! Each group of students is called up by topic and they get to provide points and counterpoints about their topic. What makes it tricky is that until they get to the front of the room the students don't know which side they will be arguing because, once again, I randomly decide that as well! I let them use their papers and it's all very casual. Typically these debates don't last more than 5-7 minutes.

It's interesting to debrief with them about whether they argued for the side they agreed with or not and or whether their opinions changed from doing this assignment. For many they said it actually helped them form an opinion on a topic they previously didn't know much about.

Would you like the lesson plan, assignment sheet, and topic cards that I use? If so follow this link to sign up for my newsletter. Then, the next day you'll get an email with a link to the pdf for you to download! I hope you find it useful!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Ultimate Gift Giving Guide for English Teachers/Nerds

Each year I like to put together a list of the best gifts for English Teachers (and anyone else who has a ridiculous love of literature).

See below for 2017's round up!

**links are affiliate links which means I receive a small amount back if you purchase through the link. This helps me pay my hosting fees and other costs.**

1. This Shakespeare Insult Generator looks like a blast! This could be such a fun conversation starter at home or a great activity in your classroom! It's a great price at around $10 and prime eligible to boot!

2. If you have a true Shakespeare lover you need to shop for consider this awesome magnetic Shakespeare dress up kit! It'd go great on a classroom whiteboard, a refrigerator, or the side of a file cabinet! It's $15 on Amazon Prime and is a fun addition to any room! 

3. For the Jane Austen lover in your life check out this journal that lasts for a full 5 years! This will be great for anyone who loves journaling. Not to mention, how nice would this look on a bedside table? $20 for the hardcover or $12 for the softbound! 

4. Is your English Teacher more of a Harry Potter fan? At only $11 maybe a house flag for Gryffindor would fit the bill. 

5. Lastly, I'm in love with these "Ugly Christmas Sweater" that is perfect for any book lover!

Gifts are fun for everyone. Check out my list from last year too! What's on your wishlist this year?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Getting the Most Out of the First Days of School

The first few days of school are chaotic. There is just so much to do. With secondary students they see so many teachers that it's imperative that we don't just read through the syllabus and give a lecture on class procedures like every other teacher.

Instead I like to teach my procedures by doing meaningful activities that also help set the tone that my class is one where we will be doing work, each and every day.

Read on to find out how I do this!

1. To train my students in my testing and quizzing procedures I give a syllabus quiz. I create a 5 question quiz that goes over my extension policy, late work policy, plagiarism policy and anything else really important for that semester. I use the time to show them how I want them to stay silent etc. (Here's a copy of my syllabus template- Quiz is not included)

2. To demonstrate how I like my papers passed out and turned in I give my students a writing diagnostic. This way I can also get a read on my students' writing ability. I can also clue students in as to what appropriate activities are for finishing. (Check out the 5 prompts I use below)

3. I have students complete a bell-work activity each day. On day one they complete a "Welcome to my class" half sheet. The next few days I typically use journal entries. This sets the tone from day one that they get started on something immediately!
4. I will assign something small as homework. If anyone doesn't do it I have them fill out the missing work slip. We also discuss the late work pass.  At least one of the days I will do an exit ticket to get them used to using those as well.

5. Lastly, at some point during the first few days I have the students get together in groups. I use my group creation cards so they know how I like to assign groups. Whatever your strategy is, it's good for them to learn your policies early!

What procedures do you make sure to go over?

Friday, July 14, 2017

5 Must Have Teacher Supplies

Hi, my name is Ms. F and I'm addicted to school and office supplies! I love them all. However, there are several things that I consider "Must Haves" for my classroom/office.

The links below are affiliate links- you don't pay any extra but if you buy something through one of my links I will get a little something in return that helps me pay for this site.

1. Flair pens! Grading is just a little less tedious when I use these pens. I also like to use different colors next to each other in my gradebook to help visually separate things out. I love this big pack because it has so many different colors.

2. Post it notes. I like all the different sizes and use them for many many different things. I often use the different colors to help me color code things and keep myself organized! I even get the gigantic 12inch by 12inch ones sometimes! 
3. A journal to use as my planner. While I love pre-made planners I really enjoy creating my own. I love being able to customize it even on a daily or weekly basis. My life has been greatly changed by becoming a bullet journal addict! Watch for an upcoming post about it.

4. Binder Clips! This seems so simple but they really are a life saver. When I taught middle school at the end of each class I'd grab the papers from the turn in bin and stick a binder clip on them. It really helped me stay organized. I also used them to keep my copies together when I would make all of my copies for the week right at the beginning.

5. Binders are the last piece of my arsenal. I like having paper copies of units I'm working with. That way if my computer is down- not that that ever happens- I can easily make copies etc. Here's a great bundle price! 

What are your favorite school supplies? What do you use to stay organized throughout the year? Let me know in the comments! 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Talking About Race in the Classroom

This upcoming school year the college I teach at has chose Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy as our common read. This means, for us, that as many students in as many classes (across disciplines) as possible will be reading this book. We plan lectures around it and more.

This book is a memoir about Stevenson's experiences trying to help people who were wrongfully convicted get off of death row. Or help seek justice for people who, while they may be guilty, were perhaps over-punished or are being denied basic rights in prison.  It is a tough book. And a lot of the issues brought up within it deal with race and class and other issues of privilege.

Because of this, and because I'm on the common read committee a colleague and I put together a training course for our faculty to take via Blackboard about how to talk about race and other tough issues in the classroom. But why make it so only our faculty can access the resources we pulled from around the internet?

Here are the resources we're using below. I'll mention the assignments as well. Feel free to comment with your responses to the assignments if you would like. If you have other resources we haven't listed I'd love to see those too.


1. What skills or techniques can I use to facilitate better classroom discussions on topics related to racial and ethnic identities as well as other "tough topics."
2. What tools can I use to build an inclusive classroom environment where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions.
3. How does privilege and positionality relate to my role in the classroom? How does it relate to my students?
4. What will tool, skill, or lesson will I use in my classroom in Fall 2017 to foster a healthy and safe space for my students and I to converse in?

  • Do you have concerns about addressing privilege in the classroom? 
  • How might you approach these concerns? 
  • Do you think your privilege or your students' privilege will help or hinder discussions about race (and other sensitive topics)? [Consider the results of your the assessment that you completed here.]

Harvard Implicit Bias Tests- Take one or many!

Assignment: After reading, watching, and taking an assessment write a journal entry responding to these questions:


30 Ways to become a culturally sensitive educator.

10 Tips for Facilitating Classroom Discussions on Sensitive Topics

Assignment: Write a discussion board post addressing: Which of these techniques and tips do you think are the most applicable to your courses? Which do you think could be problematic for your? Are there any you don't understand? 


Assignment: Make a plan for your course. Using everything you've read, watched, and participated in come up with a list of 5 things you can do this fall to make your class a more culturally sensitive space where students feel comfortable discussing tough topics. How will each of those changes improve your classroom? When can you implement each of the changes by?

** The QUEST set up is an idea I stole from Dr. Harrold's blog- I've adapted it slightly.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Plagiarism Part 2- How To Teach Your Students About Plagiarism

In my last post in my plagiarism series I wrote about classroom policies regarding plagiarism. (If you missed it you can read it here.) In this post I'd like to discuss how we ensure our students know what is and is not plagiarism.

Frankly, I think it should be obvious that you can't copy and paste something and call it your own. But apparently, it is not. So, how should teachers and professors address this in their classes?

4 Things you can do to increase student understanding of plagiarism:

1. At times the word plagiarism is too foreign to students. It doesn't hold weight to them. However, the word cheating does. When I first discuss plagiarism with students I explain it is cheating. It is the same as copying off another student's test in math class.

2. Give a presentation early in the semester that discusses not only what plagiarism is but also shows students how to appropriately use sources and goes through the consequences of plagiarism. I always review pieces of this later but going over it once at the beginning helps. Click the image for a quick and easy presentation I made that you can purchase on TPT.

3. Use outside websites and sources to help drive the point home. has a lot of great resources. Check out their lessons and ideas right here. 

4.  High school teachers may want to consider pulling up the code of conduct for the colleges most of their students attend to help demonstrate the seriousness of the offense. College teachers- make sure you go through the policy with your students as well as include it in your syllabus.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Plagiarism: Part 1- Policies for your classroom

I don't know about you but if one thing really gets me going and upset in my classroom it is plagiarism. I'm not 100 percent sure why but I think it makes me feel like my students think I'm an idiot and I'm not going to notice that they copied something off of the internet.

This issue pops up at least once, if not many times a semester so I thought I'd do a series on it over the summer to help people prep for Fall semester.

Up first- Plagiarism Policies for Your Classroom

Things to consider:

1. Will you differentiate consequences based on the type of plagiarism?
2. What grade or level are you teaching?
3. District, school, or college policies

I've taught 7th grade through seniors in college. For all of them my policy for blatant-copy and paste plagiarism was a zero on the assignment. I typically print out the original source, highlight the offending passages in both the students' paper and the internet source, staple them together and hand them back. (I keep a copy for my records.)

If a student uses a paper they wrote for another class in my class I do the same. It's a zero.

If a student attempted to paraphrase but didn't change enough of the words and still has a citation I take off points in the appropriate section of the rubric.

If a student has a quote but does not add a citation I take off points in the appropriate section of the rubric.

If a student has statistics or facts that aren't cited but are not word for word I take off points in the appropriate section of the rubric.

I do the above three things because I typically find that this is unintentional plagiarism and reflects more on their understanding of the skill than trying to be dishonest.

Higher Standard for College Courses

My college students are required by the state to write 20 pages of formal writing each semester. If a student copy and pastes the majority of a 5 page paper to me that means they have not met the 20 page requirement. My syllabus says you must have written all 4 or 5 papers to pass. So for students who are caught in blatant plagiarism they get a zero and have to rewrite the paper on a new topic for zero points. I tend to tell them it needs to be at a "C" level or better to ensure they don't turn back in a steaming pile of you know what!

Maybe that's harsh- but I want my students to know that they will not save time or effort by plagiarizing.

Any student with copy and paste plagiarism is also reported to the Dean. Their first offense tends to result in a conversation with the dean about the honor code. The Dean tracks whether they've had an offense in a different subject area as well. If they are caught more than once then the consequences become more significant and can include expulsion from their program or the school.

Whatever policy you choose make sure you lay it out clearly and at the beginning of the year. If you teach middle or high school you may want your students' parents to sign off on the policy and explain that the stakes will be much higher when they get to college.

How do you handle plagiarism? What is your administration's policy?

Future posts in this series include:

How to teach your students about plagiarism
How to write semi-plagiarism proof assignments
How to spot plagiarism

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Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Free Textbooks for Secondary and College English

Budgets are being slashed and whether you teach high school or college the cost of textbooks and materials keeps growing. The phrase "textbook affordability" is thrown around a lot where I'm from. And it can be frustrating because as educators we have very little control over how much a publisher charges.

Frankly, in the high schools the issue wasn't for the students but on us instead. I know that my first year teaching I had about 7 books for 120 students! This included a stack of pages that had fallen out of the text books. I'd often have to say "If you can't find the page in your book try the stack of extra pages!"  However, luckily for us, our options for free open source resources are also growing.

Check out these 5 amazing sources for free resources for you and your students to use.

1. Frameworks for Academic Writing  This pdf download has lots of different styles of writing from argument to personal to business and everything in between. The author has the permissions set to allow you to change what you need to. Just make sure to give her credit and to not sell it as your own!

2. The Process of Research Writing This takes you to a site where you can access each chapter individually. I love this resource because it has literally everything you might need to help your students complete a major research assignment. It's great for taking a little bit or a lot from! You can also create your own materials using this and still be in the clear due to the Creative Commons license he has on it!

3. Writing Spaces Vol 1 and Writing Spaces Vol 2 These two are collections of essays about writing in college. You can download the complete collections or each piece individually. My favorite piece to use in my classes is "Annoying Ways People Use Sources" from volume 2. It's a fun look at what not to do when integrating source material into a research paper.

4. American Literature Before 1860 While this material is already accessible via the common domain it's nice that this e-book has already put it together for your in one package with an easy to navigate table of contents.

5. The Compact Anthology of World Literature I am currently using this as the primary textbook in my World Literature Course. There are three volumes and more literature than you could hope to go through. Due to the nature of copyright there is not any modern work and no real Latin American works but it is still a valuable resource for many other great texts!

If you're just looking for pieces of literature online this might be a great place to start.

So, have you jumped into the Open Education Resources yet? Are there great ones that you've used? How do you feel about digital textbooks? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Reviews

In another life I blogged about YA Lit. It was a passion of mine. I still love me some YA lit but I haven't been good about blogging about it. I've decided to share some of my previous reviews here for you all because I do think they're worthwhile for you.

So I'm going to start with: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein because it was a more recent book and I think it has an insane amount of potential for the classroom.

It was a book that captivated me and I think has great crossover appeal to adults. I wouldn't hesitate to use it in my college classroom were I presented with the opportunity to do so. I also like how it has a bit of technical information about planes and such that makes it have appeal to males as well as females since it's a female-centric book.

Original post below:

I really enjoy historical fiction.  Not only do I get to read a great story but I get to learn in the process.  I also love books with strong female protagonists.  This book truly delivered on both counts.  Told from the viewpoints of two different girls during WWII this book has action, intrigue, female bonding and so much more.
Some of the things I loved about this book:
TONS of literary and historical allusions.  This book is for smart people!
A new take on WWII.  I've read lots of books focusing on the plight of the Jewish population- which of course is very important, but this takes a different angle.
A Complete Guide to Vocabulary Comprehension and PlotYoung women in positions of importance.  This is definitely a book that proves can be/do anything.  Even pilot planes during war time!
I truly think this would be a great book to use in the classroom.  Check out this novel guide on Teachers Pay Teachers that I created. It helps students with the vocabulary, allusions, and general comprehension.
The Lowdown: (via Scholastic)
Interest Level: Grade 10
Reading Level: Grade 6  (While this may be technically true, the dual narrator, and the allusions, along with some of the content make this book appropriate for high school. I would not teach this below high school due to content.
Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Young Adult Novel
Golden Kite Honor
There is somewhat of a sequel available too which I have yet to read.

Have you read the book? What do you think? Do you use it in your classroom?
Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Women's History Month

It's women's history month, and I'm a bit late posting this but...

The English classroom is a great place to celebrate the contributions of women. Coming off of February I think teaching A Raisin in the Sun is a great way to incorporate both Black history and a female writer!

It's also a great time leading into April i.e. poetry month, to look at Dickinson.

Or, go the historical fiction route and look at Code Name Verity with your class. It has strong female characters and tells about how women were instrumental in WWII. And, it's written by a woman too!

And lastly, since Spring break is likely coming up soon and the kids are antsy here's a FREE time filler for your students. It's a crossword about women's history. It can be done as a research project too! Click the image below to download it from TPT!

Thanks for reading! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

From Adjunct to Assistant Professor in 3 Semesters

Most of you who have read my blog before know that I used to teach high school and middle school. After a particularly rough year in a middle school I decided to jump ship and finish my MA in English and go into the less secure world of being an adjunct professor.

From the time I started as an adjunct at the major community college in my area til the time I was hired full time at that same community college I taught for 3 semesters and 1 summer. Actually I started interviewing in that 3rd semester. This is far below the average from what I can tell- especially for English teachers. In fact, I was told there were over 230 people who applied for the position I got. Some with more education and experience than I had.

So, how did I do it? I'm not 100 percent sure. But, I'll tell you what I think helped me.

1. I treated every day as if it were an interview. I tried to dress professionally, be extra prepared etc. I also stayed on campus as much as possible despite working at several different locations. I think this gave me more visibility.
2. I got to know the people in my department. I asked for help. I collaborated. I shared resources.
3. I attended as much professional development as possible. Some were all day sessions on Saturdays. But, by doing so I started seeing deans. I showed that I wanted to keep growing/improving/learning.
4. I made sure the deans knew who I was. I said hello to them. I found ways to tell them about my successes in the classroom.
5. I tried to find a way to draw positive attention to the college. So I created a service learning project with a local free clinic for one of my classes. I invited administration to the presentations at the end of the semester. This also gave me something to discuss in my interview.

The above 5 steps I think helped me get the interview. Now, what did I do in the interview?

1. I emphasized my teaching experience. The state funding model has changed. We now get money based on the number of students who succeed. They need people who can teach.
2. I gave specific examples from both my time as an adjunct and prior to showcase my style of teaching and my teaching philosophy.
3. I discussed my experience with teaching all types of students. I know how to teach students with learning disabilities etc.
4. I told them that I want to keep learning and growing. I gave examples of ways that I had already gone out of my way to learn more about teaching college v teaching high school.
5. I explained how much I liked the culture of their campus. An advantage to being an adjunct where you want to be hired is that you get to try it out. I could give specific examples of what I liked about their campus and my future colleagues.

This isn't a fool proof plan. But, I think, if you want to make the jump from adjunct to full time you have to be very deliberate with how you go about it. Just being a good teacher isn't enough if no one knows you. Having the credentials isn't enough because plenty of other people do too. What makes you different? What can you offer that others can't? Show them, before they even hire you full time, what type of employee you're going to be.

Good luck!

Thanks for reading!