November 2019 Secondary ELA Newsletter

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English Language Arts

November 2019

In this issue:

Qualitative Measures Rubric

qual rubric

Page 90 of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts explains text complexity bands: In order to determine the complexity of a text, it is essential to consider three inter-related aspects:

  1. quantitative measures
  2. qualitative measures
  3. reader-task considerations

There is now a qualitative measures rubric available to help determine text complexity for literary and informational texts. The rubric is available on the ELA Curriculum Framework. English departments can use this rubric to help them determine the best placement for new texts in their curriculum.

The rubrics' categories are text structure, language features, and knowledge demands. In addition, the literary rubric also has meaning while the informational rubric includes purpose.

Fall Regional Workshop Recap

This semester, I had the pleasure of leading six-hour workshops around the state. The topic was teaching secondary writers through inquiry. We began with an overview of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts and the writing process. Then we learned about the differences between a coverage approach and an inquiry approach in the classroom. 

inquiry coverage chart

We examined a framework for teaching writing through inquiry from Katie Wood Ray, and we also explored three levels of inquiry: structured, guided, and open. Then we engaged in some inquiry of our own by examining semicolons, author blurbs, one-sentence stories, and student podcasts through an inquiry approach.

The conversations and discussions were lively throughout the day. Thanks to everyone who attended the workshops in Broken Arrow, Alva, Atoka, Chickasha, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. As you experiment with using an inquiry approach throughout this school year, I would love to hear about it. Email me your joys and triumphs as well as any hiccups, and I'll respond with some notices and wonders.

Although it's not quite the same as attending the workshop, here is the link to the slideshow I used. I tweaked it after every workshop, so if you attended a workshop back in September, you might check it out again to see some new content.

circle of teachers

Teachers at the Chickasha regional fall workshop discuss one of the implications of teaching writing as a process, not a product from Don Murray's article

OKCTE Fall Conference Recap

Deb & Jason

On Saturday, October 5, I attended the 2019 Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English fall conference, Spirited Inquiry, with my colleague Deb Wade, the Director of Elementary ELA. The day began with a keynote address  on inquiry by Dr. Antero Garcia. He spoke on three contexts for inquiry and included some reflection questions for each context:

1. Tools

2. Texts

  • What are the explicit and implicit lessons embedded in the texts you teach?
  • What questions do your texts evoke? What questions are off limits?
  • Whose identities or experiences are reflected in textual inquiry?

3. Society

  • What does listening to youth actually mean?
  • What kinds of writing/production count?

Then conference broke into breakout sessions. I attended:

The closing session was led by Dr. Shelbie Witte. Her session was title Judging a Book by its Cover and Everything Else: Why the Peritext Matters.


the session on LGBTQ-inclusive literature was packed!

books prez

Some of the LGBTQ books highlighted in the session

ELA Year in Review

My presentation at the OKCTE fall conference covered a year's-worth of Secondary ELAOK newsletter content divided into three sections: 18 slides on writing prompts, 20 slides on resources, 60 slides on writing contests, and 4 slides on other ELA-related contests. The audience chose to explore the resources and writing prompts in the time we had, but you can check out all the slides if you wish.

Diversity in Children's Literature

At the 2018 OKCTE fall conference, I led a closing keynote called Just Your Voice in which we explored windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors in literature. Students experience books as windows when they see into the lives of characters different from themselves. Students experience mirror books when they read about characters who are similar to them. Sliding glass door books create such an immediate experience that students feel as if they can live inside the book. I used an infographic from 2015 about diversity representation in children's books in my slideshow, which was recently updated to reflect new data. The good news is that we are seeing more diversity in children's literature. More change is needed, though, if we are to see an equitable representation for children in the books they read. Check out the 2018 infographic below.

Children's Book Diversity

[Infographic Source]

ShakeFest 20

Oklahoma ESU National Shakespeare Competition
Oklahoma ESU Shakespeare Festival

Offered by the Tulsa and Oklahoma City branches of the English Speaking Union

Thursday, January 30, 2020
Shakespeare Competition 10:00-11:30 am
Shakespeare Festival 11:30-1:30 pm
Bixby High School Auditorium, Bixby, Oklahoma

3 teens

National ESU Shakespeare Competition

High school students from across Oklahoma and Western Arkansas perform a 20-line monologue and a sonnet. The 1st place winner will receive an all-expense paid trip to New York City to perform at Lincoln Center. Cash prizes are awarded to the 2nd ($100) and 3rd place ($50) winners. There is NO COST to participate.

Check in is from 9:30-9:45; the contest begins promptly at 10:00 and should be completed by 11:30. 

Nationally, more than 250,000 young people have participated in the competition since its inception in 1983. Approximately 2,500 teachers and 20,000 students in nearly 45 ESU Branch communities participate each year.

Through the National Shakespeare Competition, students:

  • develop essential skills of critical thinking, close reading, and public speaking
  • increase self-confidence through reading, analysis, and performance of Shakespeare
  • explore the beauty of Shakespeare's language and classic themes
  • bring the timeless works of Shakespeare to life and learn to express his words with understanding, feeling, and clarity
  • meet local, state, and national standards in English language arts and drama.

For more information on the contest including a teacher’s handbook and videos of some of the participants in the national competition, visit the competition website and click on Teacher or Student Resources.

dramatic teens

ESU Oklahoma Shakespeare Festival

Also part of the day is the non-competitive ESU Oklahoma Shakespeare Festival. Students from grades 6-12 will perform scenes, monologues, or other creative performances using Shakespeare's language (Maximum of 2 minutes X the number of actors with a limit of 6 minutes). They will also participate in a short performance-based activity. Collaborating with classmates to explore Shakespeare's language, and then sharing that experience with students from different schools and backgrounds, is of immense educational value.

This is not your typical drama festival. By design, this festival is also geared toward English classes and students who may have never acted before as well as drama students. For us, performance is a means to an end: making Shakespeare's language come alive.

If you have questions, contact Paul Stevenson, or 918-587-2929.

3 Writing Contests

OKCTE Young Writers Contest

OKCTE Young Writers

The 2020 Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English young writers contest is underway. Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to participate. The categories are:

  • poetry
  • short essay (1,000 word max)
  • comic strip
  • descriptive paragraph (500 word max)
  • personal narrative (1,000 word max)
  • short story (2,000 word max)

There is no entry fee! The deadline is soon: December 9, 2019.

  1. Complete the online form.
  2. Email the student work according to form requirements to
young writers cover

Want to see last year's winning pieces for some inspiration? Check them out for free by downloading the 2019 Young Writers Anthology, featuring the 17 winners of the OKCTE Young Writers Contest.

Write the World Contests

six contests

Each month Write the World holds a new competition for writers ages 13-18, developed around a particular idea or genre of writing, such as poetry, fantasy, sports journalism, or flash fiction. Competitions encourage students to dig deeper into the writing process, try out new genres, and share their work with a sea of eager readers.

And because a first draft is never perfect, students have the chance to receive peer and expert feedback before submitting their final piece.

2019-2020 Topics:

  • November: Novel
  • December: Creative Nonfiction (December Reflection)
  • January: Writing for Children
  • February: Environmental Journalism
  • March: Op-Ed
  • April: Poetry & Spoken Word
  • May: One-Act Play
  • June: Creative Nonfiction (Food)
  • July: Sports
  • August: Flash Fiction
  • PDF of all the topics

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.

Law Day Writing Contest

Law Day logo

Instill confidence and create a better understanding of law by encouraging your students to participate in the annual Oklahoma Bar Association's Law Day Writing Contest. Cash prizes for winners and statewide recognition for schools and teachers. The 2020 theme is "Your Vote, Your Voice, Our Democracy: The 19th Amendment at 100." Get contest materials and resources here. Entries are due by January 15.

Prompts for middle school:

  • Grade 6: Choose another country in the Western Hemisphere. Compare who has the right to vote and when voting rights were granted in that country with who has the right to vote and when voting rights were granted in the United States.
  • Grade 7: Choose a country in the Eastern Hemisphere. Compare who has the right to vote and when voting rights were granted in that country with who has the right to vote and when voting rights were granted in the United States.
  • Grade 8: Describe the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and its impact on women’s suffrage.

Prompts for high school:

  • Describe the history of the Women’s Suffrage movement in Oklahoma, from its roots in the Oklahoma Territory through 1920.
  • Discuss the Women’s Suffrage movement and at least one other social issue that members of that movement were concerned about at the time. Discuss the relationship between the issues. Analyze the effectiveness of advocacy on each issue.
  • Discuss the history of the right to vote in the United States. Describe who had the right to vote originally, and discuss when and how various groups obtained the right to vote in the United States.
  • Describe the process leading up to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, including the Women’s Suffrage movement, and the process to actually ratify the Amendment.
  • How are elections different in the early 21st century, compared with elections in the early 20th century?
  • Each country decides if it will have elections, and who can vote. Choose another country and compare the history of the right to vote in that country with the right to vote in the United States, including the reasons why these histories are different.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt


For the past four years, artists have challenged themselves in the month of October to draw something daily based on a prompt. (31 days in October, 31 daily prompts!)  Two years ago, one of my creative writing students introduced me to this challenge, but she added a twist. "I'm going to write something every day based on the daily word," she explained. I decided to join her. The results weren't always great, but I enjoyed the challenge of writing something every day for a month.

Your prompt this month is much shorter than writing to all 31 prompts. Write in response to the number of the day you were born. For instance, I was born on September 6, so I have to write about 6: Husky. Choose whatever mode or format you like. (And if you would rather choose a different word from the list, by all means, go for it!)

Reading Quote

Books are the plane

Advice Column

monkey's paw

How could I teach the short story "The Monkey's Paw"?

While I did teach middle school for two years, I never got around to teaching this classic horror story. Recently, I partnered with some junior high teachers to develop a lesson for "The Monkey's Paw." Check it out!

[Image source]