Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


288: A Lesser-Known Amanda Gorman Gem
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045: Memes, Interactive Notebooks, and YA with Tracee Orman

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As a kid, my favorite book was Anne of Green Gables. I read the entire multi-book series a dozen times (all the way up through Rilla of Ingleside, Anne’s last daughter), and watched the movies whenever I was sick. Anne is ever in search of “kindred spirits,” people who she feels intuitively connected to. 
In today’s podcast, I get to talk to a kindred spirit, and I think you’re going to feel the same way.
I just loved getting to sit down with Tracee Orman. I agreed with everything she said, and found myself nodding along enthusiastically and taking notes as she talked. For the first time, I really understood how memes could play more than a humorous role in the classroom. For the first time, I felt like interactive notebooks were worth diving into. And I got to dig into some of my favorite subjects – YA and Creative Project Prompts – and hear a fresh and fabulous perspective. 
You guys, this show is fantastic! That’s why I saved it to share with you right as school starts. Because Tracee shares so many wonderful actionable strategies that you can use RIGHT NOW as day one approaches. (And of course, if you’re listening later on, anytime!). 

If you’re looking for a shot of creative juice, this episode is definitely for you. You can listen below, or on iTunesBlubrry, or Stitcher. Or read on for the written highlights.

In case you’re not in the mood to listen, I’ve outlined Tracee’s main points below. Dive in for more details.



“We just died laughing.” -TO

Memes are a quick and easy way for students to make connections to a novel, and they also help students dive surprisingly deeply into the text. When they create literary memes, you can have them present their work or put them all up for a quick gallery walk, then use the memes as a springboard into discussion.

Another great way to use memes is to have students represent a section of a difficult reading with a meme. For example, Tracee had her students create memes after each act of Julius Caesar, which then became “the world’s quickest, most entertaining Cliffnotes.” She has found the memes to be really helpful in getting everyone on the same page with understanding a higher level text. The memes provide a leveling before diving into text-based activities, so that everyone’s confusion gets sorted out in a super engaging way (no more having to go over plot summaries just to throw everyone a lifeline!). It’s a really helpful way for students to share their understanding and help to teach peers who who are struggling.

One important caution:  Be sure you preview any meme creation site you consider using. It might be easier to have your students make their memes with an online tool like Canva or in Powerpoint. You can also create templates for them to use. You don’t want them surfing through sketchy material while doing an exercise for class!

Read more about how Tracee uses memes over on her site.

Interactive Notebooks

“If I gave them a little question to think about, to ponder as they cut… they sat there and talked, and just had conversations about the book.”  -TO

When it comes to interactive notebooks, there’s a lot to love. But this tool is great in a reasonably sized dose. Choose a unit that could use a hook and plug this strategy in for that unit only.

Interactive notebooks are super hands-on, which is nice in an era where students are so technology-dependent that they rarely even use paper anymore. It gives them a real change of pace and a chance to de-stress to sit around cutting and assembling interactive notebooks.

Tracee’s key advice is to give them something to consider while they are constructing their interactive notebooks. Throw out a great discussion starter for your reading for them to chat about as they work. That way they are processing, talking, and learning while they are creating their interactive notebooks.

See some examples of interactive notebooks and find out more about how Tracee sets them up over on her site. 

The Power of YA

“I don’t care what you’re reading, as long as you’re interested in it.” -TO

After teaching The Odyssey and seeing it completely tank with the kids, Tracee began exploring using YA fiction in the classroom. When she got the OK to teach The Hunger Games from her principal, she was amazed at the results. Kids would come early and want to stay late or come in during study hall to READ.

Since then she is profoundly aware that if the kids are into it, they will read it. Better to assign something they want to read! As Tracee says, there are just “so many good young adult books out right now. If you’re looking for some titles to help you get started, consider The Hate U Give, Children of Blood and Bone, The Legend Series, Divergent, Dear Martin, The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Go-To Creative Projects / Prompts for Any Novel

“Some of the questions are just so far out, they are just bizarre. But it gets the students thinking!” -TO

Tracee isn’t afraid to get students thinking outside the box. Sometimes it’s the most surprising questions that get them started connecting to and analyzing a text.

Here are a few of her favorite prompts…

  • What would this character tweet?
  • Playlist: what a character would listen to?
  • What song would describe the mood at this point in the story?
  • Which character reminds you of (celebrity students like)? This prompt is reminiscent of the old Facebook standby, tag a person who reminds you of… 
  • What brand of shoes would a character wear?
  • What kind of cell phone would a character carry? (Sound crazy? Questions like these get students thinking differently about a character and their traits and motivations… )
  • What type of perfume would a character wear?


Thanks for tuning in or reading up. I hope you found at least one new strategy you are excited to try out this year with your students.  

Connect with Tracee Orman, of Mrs. Orman’s Classroom


Tracee Orman has been teaching and writing curriculum for almost twenty years, and she is a powerhouse of creative ideas for the classroom. You can connect with her just about everywhere, here are some starting points! 

On her Website
On her Instagram
On Twitter


Did you know you can learn about all your wish list ELA strategies on your daily commute or walk with The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast? Explore one-pagers, escape rooms, sketchnotes, creative annotation options, research projects, poetry workshops, and much more through over a hundred quick episodes waiting for you on your favorite podcast player!



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