October 2020 Secondary ELAOK Newsletter

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English Language Arts

October 2020

In this issue:

Neustadt Lit Fest

Neustadt Lit FestNeustadt authorsNeustadt schedule

The 2020 Neustadt Lit Fest is a free conference about world literature coming up on October 19-21, 2020.  The highlight will be the awarding of the 2020 Neustadt International Prize for Literature (based at the University of Oklahoma) to Ismail Kadare of Albania on October 12, 2020 at 7:00 p.m.   

You can register for the Lit Fest with this link. There is also an Ismail Kadare unit plan aligned to state ELA standards that you can use with your students to involve them in the Lit Fest. If you use even one lesson from this unit, I'd love to hear how it goes! Please email me your story.

Robert Con Davis-Undiano, the Executive Director of World Literature Today, said, "I want this illustrious Oklahoma tradition to be a presence in your classroom.  If there’s anyway that I can help you to make use of the curriculum this year, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.  I want to be there to support you in every way possible." His email is rcdavis@ou.edu. Dr. David-Undiano would glad to answer any of your questions about the Lit Fest.

OKCTE Workshops


The Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English has developed some virtual professional development workshops for the fall and spring semesters.

All sessions will be from 10:00-11:00 a.m., and they are sponsored by the Cameron University Department of Education.

The sessions are free to current OKCTE members who must sign up for each session to get the Zoom link. The first session will open in about a week.

Questions? Check out the OKCTE website at www.okcte.org and email at okcteenglish@gmail.com.

OKCTE workshops

Office of Assessment & Accountability Trainings

The Assessment & Accountability Annual Fall Update will be conducted virtually this year, with dates in early October 2020. Representatives from the Offices of Assessment & Accountability will address important updates to their programs for the 2020-2021 school year including:

  • Grades 3-8 Updates
  • College- and Career-Readiness Assessment Updates
  • Programmatic Updates
  • New Data Analytics in Accountability Reporting
  • Accountability Reporting Windows and Timeline
  • Chronic Absenteeism Medical Exemptions

In addition, MetaMetrics will present sessions on how teachers and district leaders can leverage Lexile (ELA/Science) and Quantile (Math) measures to improve teaching and learning. With Lexile measures and Quantile measures, educators

  • Gauge the degree of challenge between the ability of individual students and the difficulty of material.
  • Access free tools and resources to connect students with more than 100 million articles, books, websites, activities, and other learning materials.
  • Take a longitudinal view of student growth toward goals of college and career readiness.

Sessions are repeated on each of the days listed below; select the session(s) that work best for your schedule:

Monday, October 5

 Tuesday, October 6

Monday, October 12

Tuesday, October 13

"Alma" Questions

girl and doll

When I taught high school English, I sometimes used short films to review literary elements and devices. One such film was "Alma," a wordless story about a girl who discovers a doll shop on a winter's day that has a doll that looks just like her. When I showed this film to my students, they audibly gasped at some of the creepy moments.

When I shared this video in the #ELAOK Facebook group recently, teachers asked to learn more about my particular lesson. I developed some questions that could be used to guide discussion after viewing the film. With an inquiry lens in mind, I made three categories of questions. The broad inquiry questions are the most student-centered. The focused inquiry questions are somewhat student-centered. The analysis questions are teacher-centered.

Broad Inquiry Questions

  • What do you notice?
  • What do you wonder?

Focused Inquiry Questions

  • What do you notice about Alma (the girl)?
  • What do you wonder about Alma?
  • What do you notice about the dolls?
  • What do you wonder about the dolls?
  • What do you notice about the music?
  • What do you wonder about the music?
  • What do you notice about the names on the wall?
  • What do you wonder about the names on the wall?

Analysis Questions

  • How does the short film use point of view to show what happens to Alma?
  • What is the climax moment of the plot?
  • What does the new doll in the window indicate at the end of the short film?
  • How does the music change throughout the short film? How is the music connected to the plot? What kind of tone is created by the music?
  • The wall of names is shown at the beginning and end of the short film. What is the effect of this image?
  • This short film is titled Alma, which means “soul” in Spanish. What does the title add to the meaning of this short film?

Writing Curriculum for Middle and High School

The Learning Network from the New York Times has a writing curriculum, which includes their writing prompts, mentor texts, contests, and lesson plans, and organizes them all into seven distinct units. Each focuses on a different genre of writing that you can find not just in the Times but also in all kinds of real-world sources both in print and online.

Each unit includes:

  • Writing prompts to help students try out related skills in a “low stakes” way.
  • Daily opportunities to practice writing for an authentic audience.
  • Guided practice with mentor texts.
  • “Annotated by the Author” commentaries from Times writers — and teenagers.
  • A contest that can act as a culminating project.
  • Webinars and their new professional learning community (P.L.C.).

Click this link to learn more and see the timeline of the seven units.

Writing Contest


Students can make their voices heard this election season by writing a letter to a local elected representative that explains a global issue they want them to prioritize. They will make their case using Pulitzer Center reporting. The Pulitzer Center wants to read and share students' letters.


First place winners in the high school, middle school, and elementary categories:

  • $100 to support global community engagement in your classroom (prize distributed to class teacher)
  • Publication of student's letter, photo, and bio on the Pulitzer Center website


  • Publication of student's letter, photo, and bio on the Pulitzer Center website


Any current K-12 student in the United States or abroad may enter. Letters may be written in English and/or Spanish. Students will be judged separately in high school, middle school, and elementary categories, using the same judging rubric.


Friday, November 13, 2020 11:59 PM EST

Learn more about guidelines and find resources at the contest webpage.

Dodge Poetry Festival

DPF 2020

Teacher Day, historically the first day of the Dodge Poetry four-day Festival, is designed especially for educators like you, who want to rejuvenate your love for poetry, discover new voices, reconnect with special poems, share your work at open readings, see old friends, and receive a free Teachers Kit filled with poems and activities to bring back to your school.

This year, due to the ongoing unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Dodge Poetry Festival will be entirely virtual. 

The Festival will run from October 22 - November 1, and will have special programming for teachers streaming in the afternoons Monday-Friday, October 26-30. These videos will also be available on-demand for teachers who register.

The Festival will include individual and group poetry readings and performances, panel talk and discussions among several poets, Q&A with poets, open mic opportunities, and more.

The Benefits of Teacher Day

  • Revitalize your creativity and love of lifelong learning
  • Receive the free Festival Teachers Kit, which includes Festival Poet poems, bios, quotes and reading lists on easy-to-reproduce poet pages and teaching ideas for classroom use
  • Hear directly from poets about their writing process and their creative lives
  • Connect with poets representing various schools of poetry, cultures and points of view
  • Discover contemporary poetry you can bring back to your classroom

If you would like to sign up to learn more about special programming for teachers at the 2020 Festival, please fill out this form, and they will contact you as soon as they have specific registration instructions.

Poetry Tips

Naomi Shihab Nye is the Young People's Poet Laureate, and in this short essay, she explains three methods she uses to get young people interested in poetry.

  1. Read a few poems out loud.
  2. Try writing a poem.
  3. Try collecting scraps and fragments that intrigue you 

2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Scholastic Awards

Calling all emerging artists and writers! The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is now accepting submissions from students in grades 7–12.

Students, ages 13 and up residing in the United States, U.S. territories and military bases, or Canada, are welcome to submit original work in 28 art and writing categories, including architecture, painting, flash fiction, poetry, printmaking, fashion design, and a new category, Expanded Projects, which includes interdisciplinary and experimental visual art.

Deadlines for submissions vary by region, so check here to learn more about important dates in your hometown. Oklahoma is part of the Southwest region, which has a deadline of December 4.

Monthly Features

Writing Prompt

2020 prompts

Inktober is an annual challenge for artists to draw a picture a day based on a one-word prompt. When I taught high school creative writing, one of my students, Sarah V., told me about Inktober. She suggested we modify it for writing. Each day, we could take the assigned word and incorporate it into a short piece of writing. Alternatively, we could use each word as a title to a short poem. If you don't have the time to write something every day in October, pick the one word from this list, and write in response. Here are a few of my ideas:

  • 4 Radio: a spooky story about an old radio some children discover in a toolshed that keeps turning on after they turn it off
  • 8 Teeth: a personal narrative about the first time I got a cavity, which resulted in a root canal
  • 15 Outpost: a research blurb about the history of the Oregon Trail / how obsessed I was with this computer game in elementary school
  • 21 Sleep: a poem about trying (and failing) to sleep during the pandemic
  • 23 Rip/RIP: exploring the temporary loss of someone as a rip but also as permanent loss as "rest in peace" or "rest in power"

Reading Quote

S King quote