April 2020 Secondary ELA newsletter

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English Language Arts

April 2020

In this issue:

Distance Learning for ELA

learning menu

Last week the OSDE released the Secondary ELA guidance document for distance learning. The guidance document includes these sections:

Virtual Meetings

From March 31 through May 1, educators will have an opportunity to gain resources and collaborate with other teachers around the state to plan for distance learning. While the platform limits participation to 300 people, we will record the meeting and share the recording through this newsletter. Please join only 10 minutes prior to the start of the meeting to help us ensure we are able to have all speakers join the meeting.

Secondary ELA Virtual Meetings

Fridays from 2:00-3:00pm * April 3, 10, 17, 27, & May 1

● https://zoom.us/j/208143400 
● Zoom Meeting ID: 208-143-400
● Phone: (346) 248-7799


March 27 Virtual Meeting now on YouTube

Last Friday's virtual meeting is now on YouTube, so now you can view it at your leisure. The resources discussed in the video are linked above.

Digital Resources


The Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources is an innovative initiative to provide Oklahoma educators with high-quality, interactive teaching resources. It launched in August 2016 with a collection of resources for 10 high school courses so teachers could incorporate digital learning opportunities into their lessons. Now there are 51 courses, Pre-K through high school. Oklahoma teachers have curated the digital resources and created sample lessons, ensuring the materials are aligned to the state’s new academic standards.

Tawn Rundle, the coordinator for the ELA content, says, "[T]hese resources were put together through a collaborative effort of Oklahoma ELA teachers from all across the state who  developed/refined/enhanced lessons many teachers already use in context with specific standards and focused on technology components.

"They are not meant as a complete textbook, but as a supplemental guide to help teachers engage students through the use of technology with  lessons/activities that match each standard. These resources are designed with ESSA expectations for evidence of student understanding and mastery of our state standards.  These resources are a great way to get teachers thinking of ways they can engage students in their content area through the use of technology."

Check out the resources for your grade:

Recommend Me a Book

Read the first page of a book without judging the cover on this website. If you're hooked, click the reveal button to show the title, author, and cover. This could be a new way for students to find book recommendations. I could also envision using the first page for some literary analysis. Some of the books are young adult titles, but not all of them are.  A few sample titles are shown below.

recommend me titles

National Poetry Month

Billy Collins poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Some teachers wait until this month to focus on poetry, but others use poetry throughout the school year in various units and lessons. Our Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts include poetry at all grade levels in the genre guidance chart on page 89.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud, and students need an opportunity to read and listen to enjoyable, accessible poetry. Billy Collins, former U. S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, created Poetry 180 to accomplish that goal. On his website, he writes:

"Welcome to Poetry 180. Poetry can and should be an important part of our daily lives. Poems can inspire and make us think about what it means to be a member of the human race. By just spending a few minutes reading a poem each day, new worlds can be revealed.

"Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear or read a poem on each of the 180 days of the school year. I have selected the poems you will find here with high school students in mind. They are intended to be listened to, and I suggest that all members of the school community be included as readers. A great time for the readings would be following the end of daily announcements over the public address system.

"Listening to poetry can encourage students and other learners to become members of the circle of readers for whom poetry is a vital source of pleasure. I hope Poetry 180 becomes an important and enriching part of the school day."

Billy Collins once said, "High school is the place where poetry goes to die." I suspect he was talking about classrooms where poetry is only analyzed like a corpse instead of read and celebrated like it is still alive. When you comb through the 180 poems, I hope you find some that you can joyously share with your students. If 180 sounds too daunting at this point in the school year, I will share a few from the list that I used with my former middle and high school students:

Billy Collins Poetry 180

Teacher Award

NCTE award banner
  • Are you a teacher who fosters a passion and love of reading in students?
  • Are you taking risks in presenting books and literature or poetry to students in a unique way?
  • Are you committed to reluctant readers and visionary in your methods of reaching them?
  • Have you created a distinctive program that supports and promotes a community of readers beyond the classroom?

If this sounds like you, or a teacher you know, consider applying for or nominating someone for the NCTE and Penguin Random House Teacher Award for Lifelong Readers or the Maya Angelou Teacher Award for Poetry. 2020 nominations are now open. Apply today on this NCTE page. The deadline is May 31.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt


Tracy K. Smith hosts a podcast called The Slowdown on which she introduces and shares a poem every weekday. On the February 28 episode, she shared "Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle" by Mary Szybist, which mainly follows the structure of an alphabet poem with each lining beginning with the next letter of the alphabet, a-z. (A few letters like b, f, v, and w get repeated.) Read and listen to this poem, and then try your hand at writing an alphabet poem. Your letters and structure have already been chosen for you!

Reading Quote

Lemony quote

Advice Column

Note: I wrote this column before the COVID-19 pandemic. As you read through my response, think about what still applies in our current distance learning model, what advice could be modified through digital tools, and what advice only works in a physical classroom.

How do you encourage middle school students to read?

  1. Give students time to read in class. Students lives' outside of school are filled with extracurricular activities, homework, social media, streaming services, and more. Carving out time to read takes effort, so if students are to see the value in reading, we should prioritize reading time in our classes. I recommend starting each class with ten minutes of silent reading. I know there are lots of standards to teach, but creating lifelong readers is a worthy goal.
  2. Give students choice in what they read. Students need to pursue their own interests in the reading material they select. Teachers sometimes limit the kinds of books that students can read, but all genres and formats should be available to students. Graphic novels, novels in verse, fantasy, magazines, audio books, and more sometimes more easily engage reluctant readers. When students' reading levels constrain their book choices, they may lose out on reading the perfect book for them.
  3. Model your own reading life. Share with students the books you are reading. Dedicate an area of your room to displaying the covers of the books you read. This may be on a bulletin board or by your desk. Let your students catch you reading during silent reading time. Talk with students about the books, series, and authors you enjoy and why. A teacher who expects students to read but has no reading life of their own has a harder time relating to students.
  4. Create a positive reading culture. This won't happen overnight. Give students time to talk with one another about the books they read. Encourage or require students to give short talks to the class about a book they finished. Have students keep track of how many books or pages they read. Help them find and record the next books they want to read, so they're always thinking of books. Encourage students to read if there is ever any down time after a lesson that goes short. Show book trailers from YouTube to your students. Make time to go to the library with your students. Work with your librarian to find new book recommendations. Give a book tasting at the start of each nine weeks to expose your students to new titles and authors.
  5. Talk with students about what they read. During silent reading time, check in with two to three readers. Examine their book's jacket for the summary or flip through the book and check some pages for proper nouns. Ask your student about what they're liking or disliking about the book. Dive deep into a character's development or an emerging theme. Resist the urge for a full plot summary. Talk with your student as if you were talking with one of your adult friends about a book or movie. If you need a list of possible questions to ask, here is a list from Book Riot, organized into sections: general, fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and short stories/essays.

Have a question? Send it to askelaok@gmail.com or post it in the #ELAOK Facebook group.