The Best 9 of 2019

2019 has come to a close, and I know that I always take time at the end of the year to look back on the best of the year. What was the best use of my time? What was the best family event? What are the big take-aways that I want to always remember? I want to take today to share with you the top 9 teaching items from 2019. These are the best of the best.

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated by the company at no cost to you if you purchase through my links.

#1: Budget Unit

I have used a budget in classes from seventh-grade social studies to senior economics classes to post-AP Government weeks.  This is one of my favorite units to teach because it has such a real-world application.  Students select a job and research all the different costs associated with adulting.  

Budget Unit in five parts.  I used with both middle school and high school students. I currently use it in my economics class when studying budgeting and personal finance. This project can take as little or as long as you like. Students research the costs of different living expenses and careers and use these costs to complete budgeting worksheets. There is also a writing component at the end to evaluate their own learning. The entire project can take several weeks and may require computer time. This project includes college and career research. There are directions, an 8-page budget document, a letter to parents, and a grade sheet.

When I first started using this unit, I was teaching middle school social studies and had to teach some personal finance standards at the beginning level.  My students had no idea how expensive things were.  The next time I used this unit was for my juniors during civics and econ courses that were required for graduation.  The timing of this course made research on the costs of housing and insurance engaging.  Then I was able to use this budget unit between the AP Government exam and the end of the year to fill some time with my non-seniors who were still in school.  They really enjoyed researching automobiles and the information on loans.

I am now using this unit with my College and Career Readiness class to fill time between test prep and the end of the term.  It allows students to look at several job options and see their earning power.


#2: The Red Badge of Courage

Historical fiction is always my favorite regardless of when the story takes place.  For eighth grade in all the schools, I have taught the social studies curriculum is American history through Reconstruction.  Because I have had the privilege of teaching both English and history, I would do whatever I could to tie the courses together: neither occurs in a vacuum. 

Red Badge of Courage Bundle: Civil War tale The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane  Includes reading guide includes sections for analysis of the three main characters and for compare and contrast notes on the North and South. Take students into a deeper look at the novel.  24 challenging words from the novel for students to define and use. This can be an individual or group assignment. It works well as part of prereading.  45 question editable test on The Red Badge of Courage Test. This test includes true/false, multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions. Basic plot and interpretation/inference questions. Answer key is included

Enter The Red Badge of Courage...this coming-of-age Civil War novel is the perfect pairing for U.S. history and English.  The other advantage of teaching novels tied to the social studies or science curriculum of the grade level is that less time can be spent framing the context of the text.  Because my students were working through a solid curriculum on the Civil War, I was able to spend more time delving into the novel, its character development, and the choices Stephen Crane made as a writer.

This entire unit includes vocabulary, reading questions, a review game, and a full test with the answer key to help you jump start your unit with the classic American novel.


#3: Peer Revision and Editing Checklist

Students need to be able to look at their own writing with a critical eye because they will probably have to write something and won't always have an English teacher there to help them.  I teach this skill through specific peer revision checklists.  

Peer Revision and Editing Checklist for Any Paper Peer revision and editing checklist that can be used for any paper or essay.  Students work through three pages of questions and tasks asking them to think about content, revision. mechanics, and editing to make the paper or essay a strong piece of writing.  Also, includes a section for the editor to reflect on what he or she can take away from this paper or essay and apply to his or her own paper or essay.

For many years when I first started teaching, I would have students read and leave comments on another's paper without much direction.  My newbie self didn't realize that not only did students not know what to leave, but they did not even know what to make comments on.  This checklist was developed over many years working with students from 7th grade to seniors, and they all have been able to be successful in using it to improve their critical reading and writing skills.

This checklist asks for times (something I found very important to make sure the students actually took the time to read the writing).  In addition, each body paragraph, the introduction, and conclusions all have a specific set of questions to answer.  There are also specific editing directions and overall impression questions.


#4: Treasure Island

Treasure Island is probably one of my favorite units to teach.  I am not sure if it is because I love getting students emersed in a different time and culture or if it is because I adore The Pirates of the Carribean (both ride and movie).  It has always been one of my most interactive units.

Treasure Island Test with Key Treasure Island test and key that includes 105 Questions: Multiple Choice, true/false, matching, short answer, quote id, and more.  This is a great one to teach because of all the pirate-hype these days.  This test can be edited for your own needs.

While the language of the book can be a bit challenging for students because it was written in 1881, with group reading, literature circles, or an audiobook the story is very approachable with lots of action and mystery.  During this unit we study famous pirates, learn the parts of a sailing ship, and even have a pirate-themed party complete with costumes, food, and games.  The Disney movie Treasure Planet is the perfect pairing for this text, but The Muppet's Treasure Island is a close second.

I encourage you to take a look at Treasure Island as a unit to add to your curriculum.


#5: Daily Geography

Over the last 16 years of my teaching career I have tried a lot of different social studies warm-ups, but I never really found something that worked well to provide important content and skills.  Too many students have come into my class thinking that Africa is a country and not a continent; too many students left my class early in my career without basic understanding of how our world is physically mapped out.

Daily Geography Bundle: Social studies bell work or warm-up based on the five themes of geography: location, region, movement, place, and human-environment interaction. Two questions for each day of the week. Answer key included.  This is a growing bundle contains 10 months of daily geography bell work / warm-ups. Save significantly on individual sets  A textbook with maps or atlas will be needed and is not included.

To combat a resource problem and a lack of knowledge and skills in my students I developed a 10-month geography bell-ringer program.  Each week students in my classes from 7th grade world studies to seniors in Advanced Placement government practice research skills, using an atlas, and gain knowledge about the world in which they live.  My students now use our classroom set of Chromebooks to work through answers together each day, but before that blessing in my classroom, we used a table group set of atlases in combination with their textbook and maps I projected. 


#6: The Canterbury Tales

I have very fond memories of studying these racy stories in my own senior English class in high school, so I have always loved finding them in the curriculum at each school where I have taught.  The classic literature, poetic style, and engaging topics create a hot-bed of learning in my classroom.

Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales Product Bundle: Read and Assess Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales with this product bundle.  Five tales' questions and a writing assignment.

My students usually study the same five tales: The Knight's, The Wife of Bath's, The Miller's, The Nun's Priest's, and The Pardoner's.  Each of these tales has its own fun and uses either reading questions or quiz.  It really is like teaching a set of short stories.  Once we have looked at the prologue of characters and each of these five tales, we end the unit trying our hands at writing our own tale for several of our high school classmates, imitating Chaucer's style.  Finally, I round this unit out with a viewing of The Knight's Tale.


#7: West Side Story

Are there any schools left in the U.S. that leave Romeo and Juliet out of their curriculum?  I never loved that Shakespeare play, but I did find West Side Story to a very engaging version.  I have used both the script to read, but I have also shown the movie after Romeo and Juliet instead of using one of the classic versions.  Now, not everyone loves the singing and dancing, but the fight scenes are amazing!

West Side Story Bundle: Teach West Side Story all on its own or as a companion to Romeo and Juliet with this bundle of resources. You will receive a cast list, a review game with answers, and the test in both two formats.  Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story are often taught together.

There is something about the modern drama that engages students.  The language of Romeo and Juliet can be off-putting (I have found that the Folger Shakespeare Library's Lessons help tremendously), but this modern, musical spin on Shakespeare does make a big impact on students.  There is so much fun in recreating the "rumble" scene in your classroom and comparing the "balcony" scenes.  Using this modern version side-by-sid with the original can really push students to think about author's craft.


#8: The US Consitution Article I

Constitution Day is September 17th, and Michigan law (I'm not sure about anywhere else) says social studies teachers have to take time to teach it.  I would take the time anyway because so many people are uneducated about our Consitution (just look at social media to see what I mean).  I have a dual-purpose (I change it up depending on the class) review of Article I, the legislative branch, that I use to engage students every fall.

Constitution Article I Task Cards and Gallery Walk Set: This is a set of 25 application questions for Article I of the US Constitution. The questions cover the powers of Congress.  There are two versions of these questions: a set as task cards with four per page and a set of whole page to print as a gallery walk around the room.  The answer key includes the article, section, and clause that applies to the question.

My classroom is set up in table groups, so teaming them up is easy.  Depending on their level of background knowledge I may give them technology or just a copy of Article I.  In some classes I print this as a set of questions to post around my room to add movement and other times I print them as task cards for table work.  Students then work through solving a series of problems relating to Article I.

Would you like to see something similar for the other articles and amendments?


#9: Design and Build a Game Board

Some schools I have worked in require final exams in all classes, some have only required exams in core classes, and at one it was up to each teacher to decide.  When I am given a choice, I always opt for a final project for my students to demonstrate their term-long learning.

Design and Build a Board Game- Any Subject Have your students design and build a prototype of a board game for any subject.  Included is:  Planning Questions/Brainstorming  Task List  Task Assignment Sheet  Research Sheets  Sample Board and Logo Design Sheet  Final Checklist  Rubric for Peer Review

I developed a team-based project final that I can use with any class.  I have used it with civics, economics, psychology, world geography, and women's studies.  The unit takes students through designing and marketing a game based on the course.  I love that I can tailor the topic to a specific unit or give them the freedom to use anything in a course.  If my budget allows, I even purchase blank game boards for the teams to use.  Now, I have to check in with students regularly through the process to be sure work is getting done and that nobody is doing most of the work while others don't do anything, but the final review day where they play each other's games is always a ton of fun.


Thank you for sticking around to the end of my 2019 highlights.  Do you have a favorite lesson in 2019?  If so, share it below.

Happy New Year!

Wordless Wednesday 5/1

Wordless Wednesday is a quick post with just a picture from my classroom, a short explanation, and a question for you, my readers.
I work hard to balance my world history class assessments between tests and projects.

This is one of my favorite projects to do: the game board design. It has student work collaboratively to create a game board on any topic (within the parameters set by the teacher), plan promotion of the game, and review the games of others. Check it out in more depth HERE.

What is your favorite project to assign?

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated by the company at no cost to you if you purchase through my links. The opinions here are 100% mine!


Wordless Wednesday 4/24: Reading Passage Annotation Tips

Wordless Wednesday is a quick post with just a picture from my classroom, a short explanation, and a question for you, my readers.
There are so many passages on the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition exam that my students had to have a quick way to work through the passages.

This anchor chart we used for several years to help get in the habit of annotating texts and quickly figuring out what they meant. I especially like the part where we summarize each paragraph or stanza in one word.

What annotation directions do you give your students?

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated by the company at no cost to you if you purchase through my links. The opinions here are 100% mine!


Wordless Wednesday 4/17: English 11 Research Outline Tip

Wordless Wednesday is a quick post with just a picture from my classroom, a short explanation, and a question for you, my readers.
This is my side whiteboard in my classroom. I use it for notes and information for my students. This is the outline for my English 11 research paper.

It was developed over several years and trial and error with students struggling to combine research and two text structures: cause-effect and problem-solution.

What helpful writing hints for students have you developed over your time teaching?

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated by the company at no cost to you if you purchase through my links. The opinions here are 100% mine!


Wordless Wednesday 3/27: Group Argument Outlines

Wordless Wednesday is a quick post with just a picture from my classroom, a short explanation, and a question for you, my readers.
Argumentative writing has been a staple in my classroom since I started teaching. It has only grown with popularity over the years and now it is commonplace in classrooms from primary school through college level course work.

When I introduce argumentative writing, counter-arguments, and outlining to my freshmen, we always build group outlines in small groups before actually writing our own essays. Here are some examples we have created.

What ways do you build collaboration into writing in your classroom?

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated by the company at no cost to you if you purchase through my links. The opinions here are 100% mine!


The Most Impactful Thing Anyone Has Ever Said to Me

When I first started working at Carson City-Crystal High School in the fall of 2009, a wonderful social studies teacher that worked there, Mr. Tim Hullinger.  He and I are close in age, had classrooms on the third floor (far away from the office- I called it the tower), and are both seriously intelligent people.  The pair of us had differing opinions on many topics including politics (Did I mention we both taught social studies?) and religion.  Yet, we spent a lot of the school year working together and hanging out talking at lunch sans students.  We would meander down roads of conversation about all sorts of things.  

One of the topics we frequently venture to were our goals for the future. A need in both of us existed to figure out what we were meant to do with our lives.  Our jobs were enjoyable, but we both realized we had bigger goals for ourselves and broader aspirations than what we were doing at that time.  He would talk about leaving education and running his own business.  I knew my future lay in education, but I had a pull for helping young mothers at the time.  With young families, neither of us knew when or where these aspirations would lead.  I often struggled with the idea that I was not qualified for much other than teaching.

At one point he said to me, “You are too smart to be doing this the rest of your life.” 

His words stuck with me over these last ten years not because I do no love my job, but because I know there is so much more out there. I firmly believe we need intelligent people working with our children on a regular basis so that part is not where I lost faith.  I just always want to be sure I don’t get stuck in a rut where I continue to go through the motions until I run out of time and energy to look at the bigger picture.  I felt myself doing that over the last two years at my last job.  I was always searching for something new and challenging for my skills and mind; I was getting bored.  However, with those new challenges came a lot of drama from coworkers, parents, and faculty, who did not always like I was using my skills and mind to change myself, my classroom, and my students.

It took me a long while and some personal reflection to realize two things: first, Tim was so very right that I was intelligent and second, that I should not stay at a place that does not appreciate someone who wants to grow and move forward.  It was after that realization that I began looking for other positions.  I interviewed for many, was offered two and accepted one.  My new job is allowing me to do what I know is good for students while trusting my judgment and allowing me to challenge the status quo.  The spark inside me is slowing returning to a flame. 

When Tim decided to leave, I got a phone call from him; I may have even known before our boss did.  He also left me both his coffee pot and his master key (all his keys, but I hung on to that Building Master Key for another seven years).  I remember how sad I was to be working without my friend (I would go on to make new ones) and how glad I was to have met him.  He has left a lasting impact on me as both an educator and a human being. 


Wordless Wednesday 3/20: Literary Element Analysis

Wordless Wednesday is a quick post with just a picture from my classroom, a short explanation, and a question for you, my readers.
For the last nine years, I have taught Advanced Placement English Literature, for the last two years I have taught Advanced Placement English Language, and for the last three years, I have been teaching SAT writing as part of my English 11 curriculum.

The one thing these all have in common is that they ask students to analyze elements authors use in their writing.

My students have struggled with this just about every year. It took me some time to be able to break this skill down into manageable steps for them. I always start working on this with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The language is complex, but most students know the story.

This chart is what students create as the first step to being able to analyze a piece of writing.

What is your trick for getting students to analyze literary elements well?

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated by the company at no cost to you if you purchase through my links. The opinions here are 100% mine!


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