Let’s Have Fun!

During my 13th year of teaching, I was working with one of my APs to institute Instructional Rounds on our campus. With a small group, we read the book and then before beginning the implementation process, I asked him to observe my class with a form we created. During the debriefing, which was the best post observation conference I have ever had (not because it was all commendations, but because he made me self-reflect), he asked, “Would you want to be a student in your class today?” It was a simple question, but I was silent for a few minutes, and while I would say it was an engaging lesson, my answer was just “I think so.” When he left, the question resonated with me and till this day, it still does. This has motivated me to make a concerted effort to always make sure that as I make choices about learning objectives, tech tools and lesson design to also make my class engaging and fun. Here are a few lesson ideas I have implemented that you may want to try and/or adapt.

1. Blocks for English Humanity

Yes, this is adapted from Cards Against Humanity…hahaha! One weekend I played the game for the first time and had a blast! It made me wonder how I could adapt the game to fit some of my English objectives. I had some wooden blocks I ordered from Amazon, and had two ideas: 1. use them to practice sentence types 2. use them to examine literary devices in our literature. I picked the latter for now, but still have intentions to try the sentence types route somehow.

Each Lit Circle receives a block with literary devices written on each side. During each round, one student acts as a judge and rolls the block. The others are reviewing the previous night’s reading to search for an example of the literary device showing on the block. They then type them anonymously on their group’s Padlet wall. The judge gets to pick the quote they feel best exhibits the device and the student who wrote that quote earns a point. The judges rotate and the goal is to be the student with the highest score in the Lit Circle. I give each winner (6 per period) 1 bonus point for the reading quiz that follows.

I love this activity because one, students are forced back into the text to review, and secondly, because students are forced to have conversations about author’s craft. I often overhear students talking about the author’s intentions or whether the quote is in fact the literary device that the student is suggesting. Finally, it’s fun!

Student Directions

2. Thesis Throwdown

I learned about this activity from Catlin Tucker’s blog. I adapted it a bit, but the idea is the same. My students are in Lit Circles and competing to earn points. I project a writing prompt on the screen and students have 4 minutes to work with their group to construct a thesis statement. I use Doctopus to manage a Google Document that is shared with me and their groups (I haven’t switched to Google Classroom yet because I love that group sharing a Document and assessing w/ Goobric is so user friendly w/ Doctopus). I encourage students to use the comment box to revise/edit and collaborate as they devise a thesis. Once the timer is up, a group secretary must post the thesis statement to the period’s Padlet wall. The groups must then pick the best thesis statement during the round, but cannot vote for their own. I give groups who vote for my pick a bonus point to encourage them to judge wisely and not strategically for a win. After the final round, the team with the most points wins.

I love this activity because students get to work with all leveled writers to see and hear the process of devising a thesis statement. They then also have access to every group’s thesis statements on the Padlet wall to see samples as they write their literary response essays. There are also great teachable moments for me, as I can explain why one thesis statement is stronger than another, and how best to revise weak thesis statements.

Thesis Throwdown (1)Thesis Throwdown Pic

Thesis Throwdown

3. Team Textual Tussle

I use Team Textual Tussle as a way to review a night’s reading AND to practice writing with quote integration. I pick words or phrases that are significant from the previous night’s reading and display them one at a time. In Lit Circles, students must write a quote sandwich that shows the importance of the word/phrase. Each student must write on a separate sheet of paper and also be assigned a letter a-f in his/her group. After a couple of minutes in, I will call out a letter. Each student that is assigned this letter must run up and attach  his/her quote sandwich to the group’s parking lot (on my white boards). The first group that has a STRONG quote sandwich earns a point. Throughout the process, I will place the quote sandwiches under the document camera and explain the strengths and weaknesses. Just because a group is first to put their quote sandwich up on the parking lot does not ensure them the point. If the writing has weak quote integration and/or analysis, I will move on to assess the next group’s quote sandwich. The Lit Circle with the most points after all the rounds wins.

Team Textual Tussle Directions

I am always looking for fun, engaging activities to teach writing and grammar, so please share your ideas!


Building Background Knowledge

Our district has adopted a focus strategy this year of building background knowledge in order to help all learners access the content. I begin semester two teaching the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell. I take the following steps to help build background knowledge and increase engagement with the text.

I. Anticipation Guide: Class Discussion

I embed a Google form version of an anticipation/reaction guide that requires students to think about statements that link thematically to the novel. After filling in their initial reactions, students have a discussion about how they reacted to the statements; they are then required to complete the short answer questions related to their Lit Circle discussions. After submitting their Google Form,  I then open up a whole class discussion in which students talk about their smaller discussions.

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II. Flip Instruction w/ a W-S-Q

Typically, I would present a mini-lecture or show a short clip in class that provides some basic background on the Russian Revolution. However, now I link the video to my Haiku page and have students complete a W-S-Q via Google form (watch the video, summarize the video, and pose a question) at home. This is a strategy created by my DLC, Crystal Kirch. If you want more info see her blog!


I then get to school a bit early the next day and sort the Google Form results by their “Point of Confusion” questions. I take the top six most often asked questions and post them around the room at what I call their “parking lots” (since I have six Lit Circles per period, we have six parking lot locations). Students rotate with their Lit Circles reading, discussing and answering the questions. Once all groups have discussed all six questions, each group must share out the response to the question that is posted to their original parking lot.

We then play a review game with quizizz. I love quizizz because the game is self-paced and the questions pop up on the students’ screens. Depending on their responses, a funny meme will appear on their screen. The site tracks correct responses and time to give each student an overall score (much like Kahoot). Whoever has the highest score earns a participation point for each person in their Lit Circle.

III. Socratic Smackdown

I discovered the Socratic Smackdown one day while researching resources for Socratic Seminars. This creates a higher level of engagement with the seminars due to the competitive/game aspect of the strategy. Essentially, my students are posed with the question: what makes an effective leader? and they attempt to answer the question with peers in an inner circle. I do offer one article to start their research, but in Lit Circles students must do their own research and also reference the first two chapters of Animal Farm . In Lit Circles, they have about 1 full day to research and prepare questions on a shared Google Document.

The day of the Smackdown, there are six rounds of Socratic Seminar that are timed for six minutes. During each round, a Lit Circle must send up a new speaker for the inner circle. Each speaker is scored by a different student who is not speaking in the inner circle on a scorecard and Google Form. Each individual score is added to the overall team score. During each round, the outer circle is either scoring, giving feedback to their teams’ speaker via the shared Google Document, and/or participating in a discussion on the back channel with Today’s Meet. The winning teams each period earn 5 bonus points.

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Do you have a favorite, engaging way to build background knowledge before starting your units of study? Please share!!