December 2018 Secondary ELA Newsletter

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English Language Arts

December 2018

In this issue:

NCTE Recap

Raising Student Voice logo

I attended the 2018 Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in Houston at the end of November. I attended keynotes and breakout sessions, met English teachers and leaders from around the country, and learned from some of my teacher heroes.

I have compiled my notes in a fourteen-page Google Doc, complete with hyperlinks to resources and even some of the slideshows themselves. Some of the sessions even gave me inspiration for EngageOK 2019 topics.

Session Titles:

  • We Are All Language Learners! Strategies for Culturally Inclusive Classrooms
  • Stories Matter
  • The Role of Talk
  • Dismantling and Rebuilding (Reimagining?) the Literary Canon
  • Creating Passionate Reading Communities
  • The Power of Poetry
  • Lifetime Readers & Writers
  • Issues and Strategies Relating to Teaching and Affirming Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
  • High School Literature Circles
  • Literacy Instruction Worth Fighting For
  • Write More, Grade Less
  • Teaching Young Adult Literature Through the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards

ELAOK Flipgrid: Introductions

Flipgrid logo

Flipgrid is the leading video discussion platform for millions of Pre-K to PhD educators, students, and families in 180+ countries. As an educator, you are the topic designer with specialized resources and attachments. Students record short, authentic videos and can reply to each other’s videos. Students can share back-to-school introductions, booktalks, reflections, Q&As, and more.  Educators are 100% in control with video moderation, access controls, and much more. From 15 seconds to 5 minutes, your students can perfect the elevator pitch or give a short presentation.

To provide a space for community, we now have an ELAOK Flipgrid where secondary English teachers can collaborate and practice using this tool. The current topic is simple: Just record a short video, introducing yourself to the community. The deadline is December 31. We'll have a new topic in January. You will need to authenticate your Flipgrid account with a Google or Microsoft email address. Our Flipgrid code is elaok.

TEDEd's ELA Video Lessons

Orpheus Eurydice

TEDEd has a number of Literature & Language video lessons that could be used in an English Language Arts classroom. One of those videos is this four-minute story of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. There are also word study videos about the origins of odd and interesting words such as tuxedo and dynamite. Overall, there are 76 Literature lessons, 48 Linguistics lessons, 51 Writing/Composition lessons, and 33 Speaking lessons.

The lessons are organized into four phases: Watch, Think, Dig Deeper, and Discuss. During Watch, students watch the short video. In Think, students respond to short answer and/or multiple choice questions. The Dig Deeper section provides further information with hyperlinks to additional resources related to the topic. Finally, in Discuss, students can engage in conversation about the topic with a pre-made question or a question of their own.

Regional Meetings: Chickasha & Woodward

The Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Office of Curriculum and Instruction is excited to announce free professional development workshops for the 2018-19 school year. These workshops are being offered in different regions of the state and are designed to support educators with effective instructional strategies aligned to the Oklahoma Academic Standards. These workshops are perfect for educators looking to identify a new Professional Learning (PL) Focus or deepen expertise in an existing PL Focus.

Thank you to everyone who attended the secondary ELA regional meetings in Oklahoma City and Broken Arrow! Two new workshop dates are now available: February 6 in Chickasha and February 19 in Woodward.

This professional development opportunity is an all-day session: In the morning, attendees will explore depth of knowledge in secondary ELA. In the afternoon, attendees will explore aligning curriculum to the ELA standards.

You can view and register for upcoming workshops on this SDE website.

Oklahoma Teacher Wins Writing Award

Linda Rief Shelly Durham

Moore junior high English teacher, Shelly K. Durham (pictured, right), was awarded the 2018 Linda Rief (pictured, left) Voices from the Middle Award for her article "Some Things a Poet Does: Sharing the Process." This award recognizes an outstanding publication in Voices from the Middle written or co-written by classroom teachers or literacy coaches.

Shelly Durham is an eighth-grade English language arts teacher at Central Junior High in Moore and a graduate student with the University of Oklahoma. She is a teacher-consultant with the Oklahoma Writing Project and a National Board Certified Teacher.

Influenced and empowered by the Oklahoma Writing Project (affiliate of the National Writing Project), Shelly has grounded her literacy work with early adolescents in the philosophies and strategies of teacher-leaders such as Nancie Atwell and Linda Rief. Currently, Shelly teaches in Room 305, where Literacy Rocks and so do her students!

Linda Rief teaches middle school in Durham, New Hampshire (coincidence?!) and is an instructor in the University of New Hampshire’s Summer Literacy Institute. A national and international presenter on issues of adolescent literacy, she is also a recipient of NCTE’s Edwin A. Hoey Award for Outstanding Middle School Educator in the English Language Arts.

Her newest book is The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students' Thinking and Writing. She is also the author or coeditor of many Heinemann titles, including Read Write Teach, Inside the Writer's-Reader's Notebook, The Writer's-Reader's Notebook, Adolescent Literacy, Vision and Voice, and Seeking Diversity.

Voices from the Middle publishes original contributions by middle level teachers, students, teacher educators, and researchers in response to specific themes that focus on our discipline, our teaching, and our students. Voices offers middle level teachers innovative and practical ideas for classroom use that are rooted in current research; this is a journal for teachers by teachers.

Voices from the Middle cover


OKCTE Writing Contest

The OCTE writing contest is now open! Students in grades 6-12 are eligible. The categories are poetry, short story (max of 1,000 words), comic strip, descriptive paragraph (500 words max), personal narrative (max of 1,000 words), and short story (max of 2,000 words). There is no entry fee! The deadline is December 14. Submit your students' work! Questions? Contact Jennifer Dorsey.


OWP Writing Contest


The 2019 Oklahoma Writing Project writing contest is currently underway. The genres include descriptive paragraph, personal narrative, poem, short story, essay, writing across the curriculum, flash fiction, and sentence. Categories include middle school (6-8), high school (9-12), and teacher. Submission deadline is January 22, 2019. More details available on the official flyer.

Write the World December Contest

Write the World offers a monthly writing contest for students, ages 13-18.

What's different about Write the World competitions?

  • Free Entry and Cash Prizes: The winning entrant receives $100, and the runner-up and best peer-reviewer receive $50.

  • Professional Recognition: All three winners will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.

  • Expert Review: Submit a draft in the first week and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and education professionals.

The December prompt, a personal narrative, is listed below.

December writing prompt

NCTE Writing Contests

NCTE logo

The National Council of Teachers of English has writing contests for 8th grade and 11th grade students. In both contests, students write in response to a prompt and also select their best piece of writing. More details can be found at the following links.

The Promising Young Writers program is for 8th grade students. This year's prompt is in response to an excerpt from a Rumi poem. The submission deadline is February 15, 2019. Since 2010, Oklahoma has only had one winner in this program.

The Achievement Awards in Writing program is for 11th grade students. This year's prompt is in response to a quote from James Baldwin about a chorus of voices. The submission deadline is February 15, 2019. Since 2010, Oklahoma has had twenty-two winners in this program.

Teaching Tolerance

Teaching Tolerance logo

Are you familiar with the organization Teaching Tolerance? They have a number of resources that could be incorporated into an ELA classroom. Their inspirational posters are colorful, eye-catching, and feature quotes from figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malala Yousafzai, Maya Angelou, and Elie Wiesel. Their lesson plans for secondary students include ten on digital literacy, including “Understanding and Evaluating Online Searches” for middle school students. Teaching Tolerance also has 15 teaching strategies for close and critical reading.

Malala Quote poster

Diverse Classroom Libraries

Lee and Low logo

At the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention in Houston last month, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed the audience as one of the keynote speakers. Her TED Talk "The Danger of a Single Story" has been viewed more than 16 million times. In her talk she speaks about growing up in Nigeria, reading stories about people completely unrelated to her.

With that context in mind, how culturally responsive and diverse is your classroom library? Use this PDF as a guide to analyze your classroom library book collections and determine where there are strengths and where there are gaps in diversity.

Additionally, this article offers five steps to take to build a diverse classroom library.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

How to Write Comedy

"Everything's funny as long as it happens to someone else," Will Rogers once famously said. Watch this five-minute TEDEd video on how to write comedy. Then try out one of the tips:

  • Use Opposites
  • Mind Map
  • What If?
  • Rule of Three

Reading Quote

"It’s not like it’s the end of the world— / just the world as you think / you know it."
--from Rita Dove's poem "The First Book"