October 2019 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.
English Language Arts

October 2019

In this issue:

OKCTE Fall Conference

Spirited Inquiry

See you this Saturday at Willard Hall on OSU's Stillwater campus for the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English fall conference. The day starts at 9am and ends at 4pm. It will be a great day of learning and networking. Get your last-minute details here, including registration.

I will be presenting during Session 6 from 2:40-3:10pm. My title is "ELA Year in Review." In thirty minutes, I will attempt to recap twelve months of resources from this Secondary ELA newsletter--including writing prompts, websites, & contests. I hope to see some of you there!

OKWP Writing Conference

The Oklahoma Writing Project invites you to attend the Write-to-Win Conference for Secondary Teachers and Students. Workshops presented by OKWP Teacher Consultants will provide pre-writing and drafting activities for various genres including poetry, essays, personal narratives, descriptions, flash fiction, short stories, and super sentences. Students attending the conference may select two grade-level appropriate sessions, and they will leave with a rough draft of a piece to enter into the 2020 Write-to-Win Writing Contest. Teachers may bring up to five students. Conference is limited to 100 participants. Registration deadline is October 28.


ELA Teacher Named Teacher of the Year

Jena Nelson with Joy

A middle school teacher from Deer Creek Schools is Oklahoma’s 2020 Teacher of the Year. Jena Nelson teaches 7th and 8th grade English composition and academic enhancement at Deer Creek Middle School in Edmond.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced the winner on September 17 during a ceremony at the Oklahoma State Fair. Nelson was chosen from 12 finalists.

“Jena’s passion for teaching and her dedication to her students show in everything she does,” Hofmeister said. “She uses her past experiences to go beyond the curriculum and create nurturing relationships with the children in her classroom, and that shows in the tremendous difference she’s made in the lives of her students.”

A 14-year educator who has taught two years at Deer Creek Middle School, Nelson openly speaks about past childhood trauma and how it influenced her future.

“To say that I didn’t have a great home life would be an understatement. I was very much like some of the students we see today in our classroom. I was angry. I lashed out. I was defiant. I very much wanted a place to feel safe and cared for outside of my trauma-filled home, and I found that place in school,” Nelson said. “I have done things that I never imagined, and it’s all because teachers believed in me. That is why I am in the classroom today. I’m here to give what was given to me – a chance.”

As the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, Nelson will remain in the classroom, so she can continue to inspire her students, colleagues and community every day. Some of her other duties under the title will include speaking engagements and serving as Oklahoma’s ambassador of teaching.

[Source: SDE Media]

Mentor Texts

The Learning Network from The New York Times is now collecting some of their columns into a mentor text archive. You can learn more background information here, or you can jump right to the collection of mentor texts. Each article comes with teaching tips, context, questions, and writing prompts. For instance in the column on using details to show, not tell, the following questions are asked about the mentor text:

  • What did you notice about the language? What words are surprising? What word or punctuation patterns did you notice, and how do they affect the description overall?

  • What words create an especially strong image? What do they make you picture?

  • Where do you think the essay will go from here? Why might all this “showing” be important?

10 Writing Contests


For 10 years now, The Learning Network from The New York Times has been running contests that offer students a chance to share their ideas and opinions with the world.

Thanks to enthusiasm from schools about these opportunities to spotlight student voice, this year TLN is offering more opportunities than ever before. For 2019-20, they’ll be running ten contests, including two new additions to our usual lineup.

They are also excited to announce that their review contest, and possibly others, will now be open to middle schoolers. Please stay tuned for details.

As each contest goes live, they will add a link here, but you can learn more now simply by clicking the “Rules and Guidelines” for each.

To download a PDF version of this contest calendar, click here

Poetry Out Loud

Poetry Out Loud

Poetry Out Loud is a free poetry recitation contest for high-school students (grades 9-12) in both public and private schools. Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. In 2018-2019, 122 teachers and administrators in 28 schools helped 4,456 students across Oklahoma participate in Poetry Out Loud.

Registration for the 2019-2020 contest is now open!

Click Here to register your school

POL group

the 2019 statewide competitors

POL Winner

the 2019 Oklahoma Poetry Out Loud Champion, Keayla Anderson, from Lawton High School

Fund for Teachers

fund for teachers

Fund for Teachers supports educators' efforts to develop skills, knowledge, and confidence that impact student achievement. By trusting teachers to design unique fellowships, Fund for Teachers grants validate teachers' professionalism and leadership as well. Since 2001, Fund for Teachers has invested $32 million in nearly 8,500 teachers, transforming grants into growth for teachers and their students.

The 2020 Fund for Teachers application is now live. Applications are not due until January 2020, but you can start planning and writing yours today!

OKWP Summer Institute

Oklahoma Writing Project
June 2020
Classroom Teachers of All Subjects
—Elementary through College—
Interested in Improving Literacy Skills 

Twelve outstanding teachers will be selected to attend the Oklahoma Writing Project 2020 Invitational Summer Institute to be held at the Moore-Norman Technology Center in Norman. Teachers of all subject areas and of all levels of instruction--kindergarten through university--interested in teaching composition or incorporating writing into their regular subject matter instruction may apply. The important consideration is a strong commitment to teaching of composition and helping students' understanding through writing.

Teachers who are selected should have these qualifications:

  1. Outstanding teaching record.
  2. Strong commitment to growth in teaching composition.
  3. Willingness to develop a formal presentation on topics related to writing instruction and to share those presentations with other participants at in-service workshops.
  4. Willingness to do the writing, research, and reflection that will be asked of all participants during the Summer Institute.
  5. Demonstrable success as a teacher of writing and promise as an equally successful teacher of other teachers.
  6. Willingness to be an active participant in the Oklahoma Writing Project and its professional and in-service programs.
  7. Above all, a strong and open approach to ideas.


  1. Creation and delivery of literacy presentation to be shared at your home school and with other Oklahoma teachers
  2. Portfolio of your own writings as you experience the writing process and best classroom practices
  3. Your published writing in the 2020 Summer Institute Anthology
  4. Collection of ready-to-use literacy strategies and best classroom practices aligned with Oklahoma Academic Standards
  5. Over 45 hours of professional development
  6. Become part of a network of teachers focused on improving literacy practices with Oklahoma students 

STIPEND:  Up to $1,000 stipend for each participant who completes all the required components of OKWP Summer Institute

APPLICATION DEADLINE: March 11, 2020.  Applicants invited to interview will receive an appointment sign-up email by March 29, 2020.


  • Start saving your student writing samples now.  You will need student samples for your interview and during the Summer Institute.  Be sure and save high/low ability examples from your writing lessons. Originals are great but copies are fine.
  • At the interview, you will bring your professional vita and some of your student writing samples.

The online application has further details, including the dates of the summer institute, if you are interested.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt


Matt Shirley creates humorous charts for his Instagram page. "Things I Eat" chronicles the various things, real and metaphorical, that he has eaten over the course of his life thus far. Create a chart that captures one aspect of your life. Check out Matt's Instagram for more examples if you need them. Then write about the timeline for one of the items on your chart. (For instance, I'm interested in hearing a story from Matt Shirley about one of the times he had to eat his feelings.)

Reading Quote

saunders reading

Advice Column

What are the best professional developments you have attended or some that are offered in Oklahoma each year that you highly recommend?

As a lifelong learner, I sought out various forms of professional development when I was in the classroom. A few years passed, however, before I learned what all was out there.

My first year of teaching I taught pre-AP middle school English, so my school sent me to a weeklong pre-AP summer institute. In trying to find my hotel, I found myself driving down a one-way street the wrong direction in Tulsa! (This was before smart phones.) I learned a lot during that training with Ayn Grubb, including her mantra, "The learning happens in the struggle."

Also, during my first year of teaching when I was struggling with classroom management, my principal sent me to a Love and Logic training. I still receive their weekly newsletter, which includes teaching and parenting tips.

I felt more empowered when I started attending workshops and conferences of my own choosing. Here are three tried and true favorites of mine:

  • I knew about the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and I learned our state affiliate was called the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English. I started attending the annual Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English conference. I learned a lot and also got to network with English teachers from around the state. Lucky for you, their annual conference is this Saturday!
  • I have also attended the Oklahoma Fall Arts Institute on three occasions, learning about poetry, collage, and scriptwriting. The learning takes place down in Quartz Mountain in rugged and beautiful southwestern Oklahoma. It's a great place to reconnect with your inner artist.
  • The most important professional development I ever attended was the Oklahoma Writing Project's summer institute. This was ten years ago in 2009. At the summer institute, I engaged in inquiry to learn more about writing instruction, working collaboratively with teachers of all grade bands and various subject areas. I left the summer institute with numerous ideas to implement in the classroom and a band of teachers I knew I could rely on for support. (You can also check out Oklahoma State University Writing Project's summer institute. We are blessed to have two National Writing Project sites in our state.)

I would be remiss if I did not advertise some of my own professional development. There are three different opportunities:

  • A summer academy, available only to a limited group of teachers, is led by an outside literacy expert. Any English teacher in the state can apply to attend.
  • Engage OK on the Road is the free summer conference held in various cities around the state. This summer we visited five cities. I offered four sessions during Engage, and each session was 50 minutes.
  • Currently, I am in the midst of hosting regional meetings around the state. These fall workshops are six hours long, which allows us to have a deeper dive into a topic.

One of my favorite sources of learning is Twitter. On this social media microblogging website, I connect with English teachers from all over the state, country, and world. I follow accounts related to education, literature, and more. By using Twitter, I come across various mentor texts that can be used to inspire writing. And I can do all this from the comfort of my home, no conference required.