Expect Unexpected Engagement When you try Hexagonal Thinking in ELA


290: Try this Hack to Teach Varied Sentence Structure
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21 Creative ELA Lessons you can use Immediately

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Dear Chapter Comprehension Questions, As Taylor Swift would say, “We are NEVER EVER EVER… getting back together.”

You with me?

It’s so fun rolling out something new in class. You can feel the spring in your step on the way from the parking lot when you know you’ve got lesson planning gold penciled into your planner. There’s a relief in moving into a day where your kids are going to be excited and engaged, and the pressure can lift off you. The day becomes more about guiding and celebrating, less about trying to hold everyone’s attention away from their phones.

In today’s podcast, I’m sharing twenty-one ways to make this happen. Whether you’re a new teacher or an experienced teacher trying to shake off the strain and exhaustion of the pandemic, I hope you can bookmark this post as a go-to for when you just need a great day in class. A day that’s different.

For almost every activity, there’s either a ready-to-go resource you can grab or a blog post or podcast to walk you through it with more depth if you’d like that. Sometimes both!

You can listen in below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

OK. Let’s do it.

Experiment with Hexagonal Thinking

If you’re hearing way too many crickets when you ask questions in class, try approaching your next discussion with hexagonal thinking. Your students will make creative connections between characters, themes, style elements, and the world today as they debate how to move their hexagons around to best demonstrate their thinking.

Learn how to create your first deck in Episode 127: How to Create a Hexagonal Thinking Deck.

Sign up for the free editable toolkit full of templates here.

Download the dry erase rainbow set featured in the photo here.

Try a Silent Discussion

Another reliable option for helping kids get more actively involved in discussion is to try a silent one. Whether you use digital templates (as shown above) or butcher paper on the walls, silent discussions can help more students into the conversation. It gives everyone more time to think through their responses, hear from more people, and avoid the ruts and patterns a class can develop in discussions (oh hello, same student who answered the last five questions. I see your hand is up – thank you!)

Make your copy of the slides here.

Try a One-Pager

If you’re looking for a new way for students to show you their understanding of a book, poem, Ted talk, film, podcast, play, etc. , a one-pager is a powerful option. Students can combine images, words, and quotations to capture their key takeaways. I like to use templates so even the art-haters have a clear path towards a compelling final product.

Read more about how to set up a successful one-pager activity and grab my free templates with directions over in this post.

Give Blackout Poetry a Spin

If you’re diving into a poetry unit and feeling stressed that kids aren’t going to like it, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are so many wonderful ways to help guide kids gently into writing poetry so they can enjoy it! Blackout poetry is a consistent, easy win for most teachers I work with.

Get the step-by-step right here.

Run a First Chapter Friday

First chapter Friday is a fabulous way to ignite your choice reading program. You can bring in so many wonderful authors your students might never meet otherwise, and I can almost guarantee they’ll groan when you close the book and ask you to read more! (Especially if you grab anything by Jason Reynolds.

Read more in the post, “Tips for Successful First Chapter Fridays.

Choose authors as guest readers from this roundup: 11 First Chapter Friday Videos

Make your copy of the sketchnotes templates here.

Watch Performance Poetry

Performance poetry is a MUST ADD for your poetry unit. It’s a hook like no other, and you won’t be sorry that you included it!

Check out this slideshow with my favorite clips to play for students – each one is linked to the video so just click play to preview them and then play them for your students.

Introduce Podcasts as Texts

Podcasts provide an extensive library of free digital texts on just about any topic you can imagine! Including them as complementary texts in any unit provides depth and modern perspective. Plus, they’re a fabulous foundation for starting your own student podcasting project.

Get ideas for podcasting projects in this post, 5 Class Podcast Projects for ELA.

Find out how to build them in as texts with a unique spin in “How to Get Started with Podcast Clubs.”

Try Literature Circles

Literature circles, book clubs, whatever you call ’em – they provide a strong path to student choice. Get a few copies of a lot of great books, then let students decide which one to read and guide them to work through the book in small groups.

Find out how in this post, Literature Circles for Big Kids.

Try Digital Poetry Tiles

Since I learned how to create these digital poetry tile sets, I’ve been a bit obsessed. I’ve repeatedly heard from teachers that these are a consistent win. The pressure of writing poetry is erased when kids can just drag and drop the words around the screen, so it’s an ideal early workshop in a poetry unit (though it also makes a great sub plan or in between day).

Learn how to make your own kits (and sign up for the one featured above) in Episode 109: How to Make Digital Magnetic Poetry Activities.

Try I Am From Poems

And speaking of fabulous poetry workshops, I’ve never known the I am From workshop to fail! There’s something about this template that guides kids to write powerful personal work.

Get the step-by-step in this post, “How to Use ‘I am from’ Poems in Class.”

Host a Literary Food Truck Festival

The Literary Food Truck Project is a creative way to wrap up a choice reading, book club, or even whole class novel unit. Students design food trucks themed to their books, and it’s so much fun!

Get all the details in this post, “How to Host a Literary Food Truck Festival.

See how one high school brought this project to life in Episode 120: Collegiate High School’s Literary Food Truck Festival.

You can sign up for the complete curriculum for this project below. You’ll also get my weekly idea emails.

Try Six Word Memoir

The concept is so simple, the results so amazing! Let students write six word memoirs for themselves or for literary characters. This is a great activity to bring into a personal memoir unit or a short stories unit.

Get ideas for how and when to use this project in this post, “6 Word Memoirs for ELA.”

Want to try them as an icebreaker in the first week of school? Check out this post.

Make a copy of the templates pictured above right here.

Try a Small Genius Hour Project

Have you heard of genius hour? The concept is pretty simple – students get to spend some of their time pursuing a passion. They’re also called passion projects, in fact. Maybe a student wants to learn to make chocolate sculptures, code robots, or start an Etsy business. Whatever it is, during genius hour, they get to research and try the thing they love, then document it for class.

Listen in to Episode 122: The Ultimate Guide to Genius Hour in ELA.

Have Students create a Research Carousel

If you could use a creative (and shorter) twist on the traditional research project, try a research carousel! For this project, students boil down their research into a learning post as if they were creating for Instagram. Through a series of square images, they need to teach in a way their audience will understand and appreciate, using both graphics and text.

Learn more in Episode 136: Creative Real-World Research Projects.

Hold a Book Tasting

A book tasting will help your students explore your choice reading library or the book club options you’re rolling out. It makes for a memorable day in class as well as an ideal segue into a new unit.

Get the play by play and a helpful companion resource in this post, “How to Host a Book Tasting in Class.”

Experiment with Sketchnotes

How do I love thee, sketchnotes, let me count the ways!

Yeah, I’m really into these. Taking notes in this way makes it much easier for me to concentrate, and studies show this method also makes it easier to remember information. Sketchnotes elevate note taking from what can feel like a chore to a creative critical thinking activity. I find it especially useful as an option when kids are listening to read alouds, Ted Talks, or podcasts.

Tune in to Episode 140: Every Student can Sketchnote, with Sylvia Duckworth, to learn more!

Explore the Writing Makerspace

The writing makerspace gives you sooo many creative options in class. When you build loose parts and art supplies into your classroom, you can dip into them to have students create characters, settings, conflicts, and even argument structures. I’ve learned everything I know about the writing makerspace from its creator, Angela Stockman, and you can too!

Check out this post, “How to Start a Writing Makerspace.

Then listen in to this episode with Angela, “The Power of the Writing Makerspace.

Teach through Stations

Stations provide movement and variety in any lesson. And it’s often quite simple to break your activities down into stations so students can rotate through them. It provides you with the opportunity to work with a small group or move around and help kids who really need it, all in the context of a busy day of getting good work done.

Get ideas for how to use stations in this post, “8 Station Ideas for ELA.”

Try Discussion Role Cards

It can be easy for student to fall into discussion ruts. There are kids who think of themselves as the leaders and kids who stay quiet, kids who bring the jokes and kids who interrupt. Discussion role cards can help. Cut them out, tape them under the students desks or pass them out secretly, and then see how the dynamics of your classroom change. Give the kids time to reflect afterwards, and realize that they don’t have to stick to the roles they’ve accidentally taken on over the years.

Grab the free cards here.

Try a Choice Reading Unit

Are you looking to break into choice reading but you’re not sure how? A choice reading unit can help students make friends with your choice reading library, and it quickly gives you a lot of student knowledge of your books. Once every kid in the class has read something from your shelf, you can tap kids to do book talks on their favorites and hope that some buzz will build around favorites. It’s a great launching point for building a culture of choice reading in your classroom.

Learn more in Episode 142, Choice Reading: Building a Reading Culture.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!







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  • Betsy, the ideas and resources you’ve shared here are awesome (as always)! Seriously–I will be coming back to many of the ideas in this post throughout the coming school year, I know! Your templates are always so nice, and I’m so appreciative that you’ve shared them with us!
    I love the “Where I’m From” poem and have used it around Mother’s Day along with another mentor poem. The students make them their own, and then most choose one of them to give as gifts. I print them off on pretty paper, and we roll them up with a doily and tie a pretty bow. Some of the poems my 7th graders have come up with from “Where I’m From” as a mentor have been so sweet and insightful–and parents have appreciated them. I think I’ll start the year with it this year and just encourage the kids to take a second look at it around Mother’s Day and consider it (or revisions of it) as a gift at that point. It’s such a good way to get to know them. I always think, “I wish I would have known this about you before!” I write one of my own, so the kids get to guess what the significant details in mine are all about, and they get to know me better too! Perfect for starting the year–I was toying with it–you convinced me!

    • Oh wow, Geri, this is so nice! What a lovely idea to share the poems as gifts, and it sounds like you make it really special. I hope you’ll also love it for the start of the year – maybe you can find a twist on it for Mother’s Day so you can revisit the pieces from a slightly new angle. All the best, Betsy


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