January 2020 Secondary ELA Newsletter

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English Language Arts

January 2020

In this issue:

Teen Ink

teen ink

Teen Ink is a national teen magazine, book series, and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos, and forums. For over 25 years, Teen Ink has offered teens the opportunity to publish their creative work and opinions on issues that affect their lives – everything from love and family to school, current events, and self-esteem. Hundreds of thousands of students, aged 13 -19, have submitted their work to them, and they have published more than 55,000 teens since 1989.

  • Read the latest issue. (See page 66 for 10 writing tips.)
  • Learn about submission guidelines.
  • Check out the op ed below from the Fall 2019 issue, page 44:
op ed

Social Emotional Learning

One of the sessions I attended at the 2019 NCTE Annual Convention was titled "Emotion at the Center: Narrative, Vulnerability, and Community in the English Classroom." This session is indicative of a trend in education to implement social emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), "Social and emotional learning is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions." CASEL uses this wheel to represent five competencies of SEL:

SEL wheel

In the NCTE session, we learned about the complex implications of narrative. Reading and writing stories--whether fiction or memoir--provides many benefits to students in both an academic and social emotional sense. A few notes from the session:

  • Narrative is an evolutionary adaptation.
  • Engaging with fictional stories provides us with a natural, functional training of the mind to become adept at flexible and adaptive thinking.
  • Literature rewires the brain.
  • Narrative gives us a stable sense of self and a stable sense of our place within the world.

YA author A. S. King was one of the panelists in this session, and she shared psychologist Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotions. Plutchik’s wheel of emotions illustrates eight basic emotions and the various ways they relate to one another, including which ones are opposites and which ones can easily turn into another one. According to Plutchik, the eight basic emotions are joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust. We used this wheel to jumpstart a story of our own about a character who fully encapsulates one of the emotions on the wheel.

emotion wheel

Poet Ellen Bass


Poet Ellen Bass will be in Oklahoma City in April as part of Oklahoma City University's annual poet speaker series. Bass will be giving two poetry readings, free and open to the public, followed by book signings. School groups are welcome at both events.

Kerr-McGee Auditorium
Meinders School of Business
Oklahoma City University
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

  • 10-11 AM, informal reading & a discussion of writing process
  • 8-9 PM, formal reading  

A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Ellen Bass has received many awards and recognitions for her work, including the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Northern California Book Award. She is the author of eight poetry collections, including recent titles Like a Beggar and The Human Line. More details available on the event website.

Here is a poem, "Lost Dog," from Bass, which you can also watch / listen to her read on YouTube.

Lost Dog

There's a Poem for That

TED-Ed has produced a series of videos featuring classic and contemporary poems turned into short films by award-winning animators. Some of the current titles include:

  • "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost
  • "Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class" by Clint Smith
  • "For Estefani" by Aracelis Girmay

Check out the entire playlist on YouTube!


Free Poetry Poster

Order your free official April 2020 National Poetry Month poster now by completing this form. Posters will be sent starting in February 2020.

The poster will feature line(s) of poetry from Oklahoma's own Joy Harjo, who is currently serving as the U. S. Poet Laureate! The poster will also feature one high school student’s winning artwork. Currently, there are ten finalists for the prize. Three of them are depicted below.

3 posters

Reading & Writing Contests

Read Bowl

READBowl 2020

READBowl 2020 is the National Championship of Reading. Registration is open now. The kickoff is January 6, 2020!

READBowl is the free nationwide reading competition for Pre-K through 8th grade classrooms designed to inspire students to read and provide teachers with a free platform to motivate students to increase reading minutes in school.

Beginning the week before the College Football National Championship, READBowl culminates with the crowning of the National Reading Champions on Super Bowl Sunday!

Sign up today at the READBowl website.

OKC Memorial Essay Contest

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is currently sponsoring its 19th annual student essay contest.

Over 440 essays from 32 states and the District of Columbia were submitted in last year’s essay contest, with winning essays from students in Oklahoma, New Jersey, California, North Carolina, and Texas.

The deadline is February 23, 2020. Cash prizes are given to those who place 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. The topics are listed below, and more details are available on the essay contest website.

OKC essay

Student Podcast Challenge

It's back! NPR has brought back its Student Podcast Challenge for a second year. There are two grade division categories: 5th-8th grades and 9th-12th grades. (If you attended my fall regional workshop, we listened to high school winner from last year's contest about the Tennessee town that got famous for hanging an elephant over a century ago.)

NPR is inviting students around the country to create a podcast, then — with the help of a teacher — compete for a chance to win the grand prize and have their work appear on NPR. Each podcast should be between 3 and 12 minutes long.

Check out the NPR contest page with resources, rules, and a link to submit your students' podcast.

NPR podcast challenge

$10,000 Creative Writing Scholarship

Penguin Random House is passionate about encouraging the next generation of readers and authors and promoting diverse voices and stories. For 26 years, Penguin Random House has supported this mission through the Creative Writing Awards, which in 2019 entered into an innovative new partnership with national advocacy organization We Need Diverse Books. Through this program, Penguin Random House will award college scholarships of up to $10,000 each to five U.S. high school seniors, nationwide.

  • Sydnye Dormire of Lone Grove High School received honorable mention last year in this contest for her spoken word piece, "Disfluency."
  • Deadline to apply: March 2, 2020
  • Only the first 900 applications will be accepted.

OK Writing Project 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.

Book Love Grants

The Book Love Foundation is dedicated to teachers who inspire a love of reading. They provide classroom libraries comprised of hundreds of books carefully chosen to meet teenagers where they are and lead them to the deep rewards of reading. They put those books into the hands of teachers who demonstrate a commitment to rich reading lives for all students.

Teachers can apply for a Book Love grant starting this month. The link also includes applicant requirements.

BLF logo

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

write a story

For Scope's Write-a-Story contest, Jennifer A. Nielsen wrote three first lines to stories that don’t exist. Choose a starter sentence, and write for ten minutes.

  1. For the record, I voted against exploring the Forbidden Tunnel of Doom.

  2. My house collapsing into a sinkhole wasn’t even the worst part of my day.

  3. There’s a chance that I’m not fully human.

Share these lines with your students, and have them write in response as well. If you're feeling brave, you might even share some or all of what you wrote.

Reading Quote

Jane Smiley quote