Change My View: Being a Good Citizen Now

The Background

“I don’t want to prepare my students to be good, contributing citizens when they graduate. I want them to be good citizens now.


All I could do was stare. This sentiment, uttered almost in passing by my PLC partner, was paradigm shifting for me.

She’s a smart lady, quick to advocate for her students, quick to find a solution, quick to speak up. Her insights often stick with me for days; this particular one for months. Of course, I want my students to be good citizens when they graduate, but to just box them into being good in the future denies them the opportunity to be good citizens now.

And, my goodness, haven’t we seen plenty of students acting as concerned citizens nationally and even locally over the past few weeks? Haven’t we been encouraged, even inspired, by their bravery, their maturity, their passion?

Motivated by the current student activism sparked by the Stoneman Douglas survivors, the subsequent walkouts on the 17th (both topics dealt with beautifully by Lisa Dennis here and Shana Karnes here) and wanting to give our own students a place to both discuss current events and practice their argument skills for a real audience, my partner and I looked to the AP Language group on Facebook and, well, Reddit.

I’m not even kidding.

The Writing

Now, Harry Wong tells us that good teaching is good stealing, and this brain child is the product of some Swiper-level theft: we combined the Columnist Project (a common AP Language assignment where students complete a mentor text survey of a columnist before analyzing her style in a formal essay) with the structure and goals of the  /r/changemyview subreddit.

This subreddit encourages participants to make an original post (OP) about anything big or small and invite the community to change their mind about their position. Deltas are awarded for posts that change the OP’s mind. Participants are encouraged to use any tool in their toolbox to change the OP’s mind.

Given our current political climate, we wanted students to practice articulating their views clearly and respectfully when they disagreed with someone, to be exposed to new ideas, to identify when they are closed-minded versus open-minded, and to practice their argument skills with a real audience. We called it the CMV – Change My View. Original, I know.

So, we sent students to their notebooks using a brainstorming process pulled from our writing project days:

Step 1:

     1-2 – List 2 issues that are important to you personally

     3-4 – List 2 issues that are important to your school or community

     5-6 – List two conversations you have had lately

     7-8 – List two ways you spend your time

     9-10 – List two things we should start or stop doing in the world

     11-12 – Other – List other topics that you are interested in that 1-10 didn’t cover

Step 2:

     Develop two of those ideas in two five minute quick writes. Just write.

Step 3:

     Pick the one that you like best and quick list:

  1. reasons why you think this way (understand their own thinking)
  2. ways in which you are open to having your mind changed (recognize if they are willing to change their minds)
  3. Universal nouns that could apply to your topic (help us organize the topics)

The Results

After some brainstorming, we found a digital platform, and let slip the dogs of war! I mean we let the students loose to play. And my goodness!

The research, the rhetoric, the respect, the results!

I teach at a great school with very few discipline problems, and yet, for the past week, I find myself asking students to put their CMV away and focus, to just do this for now and look at the CMV later. Friday, I threw in the towel and made CMV part of our work day stations. I know when I’m beat. But I also know my PLC partner and I have hit upon a great writing adventure, one students can’t stay away from.

Students have willingly engaged in writing with more creativity, fire, and passion than they ever would have for a formal essay. They are researching their positions with a ferocity never engendered by any research assignment. They are trying new tactics – that logos isn’t working? Well, here’s some pathos. They are taking risks with their writing to earn that delta.

For example, here are three students (each contribution denoted by a different color) discussing the walkout last week. Notice the back and forths, the concessions and the respect, the arguments made and the way they’re taking what they know about argumentation and applying it to a real conversation about a real world topic.

Like we already know, meaningful writing is powerful, and sharing that writing is even more powerful. I can admit that an in class discussion of some of the topics they are tackling with such gusto would make me uncomfortable. But, our students have so much to say; we owe it to them to find ways and spaces to let them speak. Let them be good, thinking, critical citizens now.

Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. Born with a reading list of books she’ll never finish, she tries to read new texts but often finds herself revisiting old favorites: Name of the Wind, The Stand, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.


$%^@* Gradebook!

Sorry for the semiotic profanity, but the more research I read, the more conversations I have with students, the more reflecting I do about my practice, $%^@* is what comes to mind. The inherent contradictions between meaningful learning and the system in which it takes place become most apparent about a week before grades are due, which for many of us is right about now–the end of a quarter. And the accompanying frustration and anxiety seem especially pronounced in writing courses, where our emphasis is on process over product.

I teach Advanced Writing, one of several English courses for seniors. The whole of third quarter has been devoted to an author or genre study: students must read 3 full-length texts and a number of critical articles by and about their author/genre, and express their findings through a variety of genre, ie a multigenre paper. Students made their own schedules, although I assigned drafts throughout the process to be workshopped and revised prior to the due date, which is today.

Many students held firm to their own and my deadlines all along, becoming heavily invested in their work — and the work of their classmates. Claire, a self-professed “math & science person,” immersed herself in the work and the philosophy of Camus. RJ, a devoted journal-keeper, examined the work and the critical reception of confessional poetry. Grace, a reader of all things spooky, explored the connection between horror writers and themes of lost innocence and coming-of-age. (I could go on, but I want to save their work for another post). These students and many others made careful, purposeful decisions about how to express their discoveries in a variety of genre, even — gasp! — taking that bold writerly step of abandoning a draft that wasn’t working and trying something new. Workshop and multigenre at its finest, right?

Sort of. Last week, drafts started to trickle in from students who had arrived late to the process party. I gave feedback as effectively as I could and kept my teacherly admonishments about deadlines under control. By Saturday morning, I had returned at least one draft to every student who had submitted work, and so I carried on with my weekend. Sunday afternoon, my inbox was full again with drafts of genre pieces. I still don’t know why I was so surprised, given that the quarter-long project was due in less than 24 hours. As I skimmed the list of submitted drafts, I faltered between pride in the work that finally came in and frustration over how late it was.

grade cartoon Glasbergen_1824This course is about nothing if it’s not about writing as a process. For three quarters, our work has been based on no other principle more than this one. Students who handed in drafts so late clearly did not engage in the work at this fundamental level. Surely I couldn’t award them the same grade as those who had. Right?! Right. So I started drafting a not-so-nice email to those stragglers pointing out that they all have known the due date for quite some time and surely they must have had no intention to revise in the first place so why did they even bother handing in a draft and was it just to get a number in a gradebook but of course I will not award the same credit so you will receive that fat ZERO because you’re seniors and by gosh I’m going to use that fat zero to show you how the world works because it’s time you start …

OK, no, I didn’t go that far, but that’s where it felt I was headed, and it felt wrong. How could I disregard their work yet still claim to value the process? How could I do the talk (and walk) against grades as an artificial, arbitrary, inaccurate measure of ability and achievement and then use them as a punishment? The only lesson they are likely to learn is that yet another adult they wanted to trust is revealed as a hypocrite.

In the end, I made my best attempt at a compromise, the details of which I’m sure resemble what anyone reading this blog would have done. But in that initial moment of composing that email — and that it was my first instinct — reminded me how ingrained the system can be even in those of us who do all we can in our practice to skirt around its limitations. I’m sorry this post doesn’t provide any grand answers to this pervasive conflict between meaningful learning and hierarchical measurements of such, but gosh I feel so much better for having shared with an audience that can commiserate. I hope you do, too.

Revision Strategies that Make the Cut: Helping Students Be Incisive

I learned to be more incisive as a writer as an AP Language and Composition student (somewhere in between rocking flannel and rocking out to Pearl Jam). My perspicacity heightened with my argument research paper, which I had written by hand. Yes, by hand. We owned a computer, but I still expressed myself better pen to page (I’d make the case that writing by hand is still important for our students. Um–notebook time, anyone?). As I read what I had written, preparing to make revisions, I knew I wanted to rearrange the sections. So, I reached for scissors and tape. And–gasp–I cut up my essay, by paragraph, by sentence even. Sprawled on my bedroom floor, I spent the rest of that evening moving parts around until satisfied the parts built toward my whole.

My students’ body language says it all when I offer this story as the lead in to cutting up their own writing. They lean back, raising eyebrows, looking at me quizzically. I imagine their thoughts: “We have cut and paste for that, Mrs. J. You know, on our smartphones.” “Oh rats (emphasis added), I didn’t print my paper. Ha! Now I don’t have to do that.” “I like the way it is. Why would I want to cut it up?” This last query I think is most important. Writing is an act of making, of creation. As humans, we typically get attached to the things we make; we grow to love our words and the way we’ve orchestrated them on the page. Some students need to wrestle with this implicit bias more in order to discover the gaps in their writing. By making my students cut up their drafts, giving them a different kind of constraint, I’m helping them to engage in cognitive conflict, the kind of disequilibrium they need to continue their work revising and to move forward as writers.

These are 5.5 of the strategies so far (I’m always culling) that have made the cut in my classroom.

1. For Invention and Structure

Process: During the planning phase for their argument research papers, I offer old books and magazines to my students, directing them Disney Imagineer Style to cut words and images related to their issues and then arrange them on the page, keeping their audiences in mind.

Benefits: This kind of gathering, cutting, and moving allows for intuitive structuring of their papers AND sometimes engenders creative analogies within their justification (warrants).

2. For Structure

Process: To further gather ideas for structuring, I direct students to cut apart mentor texts to see how they are structured. Typically, I advise them to start with paragraphing but then encourage them to make further cuts and move text as needed in order to discover the ordering of the text and to label and note for themselves what moves the writers made.

Benefits: This exploration compels students–because they must analyze the implications of how the writer arranged the text–to more purposefully arrange and connect their own ideas.

3. For Development

Process: Students begin by cutting up their papers by paragraphs. They then label the purpose of each section or determine what question each paragraph answers, keeping a post-it with the thesis/theme/point near to see if each paragraph aligns. They can then begin moving paragraphs or parts around to see how to manipulate time, to see if there can be greater logical interrelatedness, or to see if parts require more information.


This student sample shows a narrative cut up and labeled.

Benefits: Cutting apart their own texts challenges students to determine the efficacy of development in their writing, especially because this compels them to examine one section–in isolation–at a time (something more difficult to do digitally). Here is one of my students talking through how he used the process and what he discovered.

4. For Purpose

Process: Here the cutting gets more minute: I ask students to cut out the center of gravity sentence (their thesis, claim, so what, point, etc.) to see if everything really does rest on it. After cutting it out (and sometimes just transferring it to a post it), students can move it next to different parts of their paper to see if the parts not only relate but if they build toward this.

Benefits: Sometimes the benefit here comes in the realization that they need a so what or that the parts don’t align or that the sentence itself lacks strength.

5. For Style

Process: Cutting out where they used a mentor text move and seeing if they applied that move to their own writing gets students looking at sentence construction.

Benefits: If we ask our students to “lift” a move from a mentor text, can’t we also ask them to lift their text and compare it back to the original, moving them side by side to determine how effective the application of the mentor text move is after all?

 5.5 For . . .?

Possible Processes: Cut away what tells instead of shows. Cut out all of the comparisons in the text to look for patterns, connectivity, etc. Cut out the best sentence from each paragraph to look for ways to build meaningful repetition.

Benefits: I don’t know yet. These are half-formed ideas right now. But I know they could help my students become more discerning as writers.

Amy Estersohn wrote in her recent post about the tools she relies on for workshop. I’d like to add one more tool: scissors. This tool inspires strategy, and thus, our writers. I frequently tell my students that writing is made of moveable parts. So, let’s get our students moving it!

Kristin Jeschke frequently finds scraps of paper and post it notes around her house–writing that may or may not have made the cut of her budding cartoonist nine-year-old and her emerging storyteller six-year-old. Of course, on days when her students are armed with scissors, her classroom looks similar. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke. 

Politically Motivated: Positively Harnessing Student Passion in a Time of Uncertainty and Fear


Yesterday morning, I stood outside for 17 minutes. Per the instructions of my administration to maintain the opportunity for all students to learn without interruption should they choose, after a moment of silence in our school for the victims of the Parkland shooting, if students chose to participate in the national walkout, teachers were to follow only if every student in his/her class left the building. After a few seconds of looking around at one another, one by one my sophomores stood up and filed quietly out of the room.

Outside, a small group of students had prepared statements to lead the several hundred students gathered in the chilly March sunshine through 17 minutes of reflection, support, and silence. The group was large, diverse, respectful, and unified, if not in purpose (likely a few students were carried out more by curiosity than conviction), then in the experience itself. A hush I’m not used to experiencing in the company of several hundred high school students quickly fell on the chilly March morning and the group stood in near silence, listening to their peers eloquently unite the crowd in peaceful purpose.

Teaching in time when I feel that I must often couch statements with a reminder that logic and facts should not be considered political, I must again come to you today and suggest that the overwhelming pride I felt in the students gathered in front of our school yesterday, and at the student-led debrief/discussion held during our resource period afterwards, had nothing to do with the politics of their statements. It has everything to do with the way I saw students, our students, standing together in support of one another to promote safety, unity, and empathy, not only for our schools but for our communities.

Several weeks ago, after the tragedy unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I was compelled to write about how we can help our students (Shana too wrote beautifully about positive activism in the classroom), those young people who were not even alive when the shooting took place at Columbine in 1999, process such violence and uncertainty as a constant shadow to their educations. Little did I know that our school too would need to process an alleged threat to safety, a school day where several hundred students stayed home out of fear, social media-fed rumors of possible violence, and countless discussions with students who said time after time that even though this particular brand of violence has been taking place for the entirety of their educations, they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to feel. They didn’t know how to cope.

They just want it to stop.

I looked at their faces and saw fear, anger, and pain that frankly frightened me, and for the millionth time this year, I knew I needed to figure out what we could do.

Discussion, writing, reflecting, sharing, and hugging was working, but much like this past month, something felt different.

These kids needed to DO something.

My colleague Sarah and I decided to have our AP Language students write letters to their representatives, expressing their researched opinions on how to end the violence of mass shootings. Their arguments would be their own, bolstered by research to better understand the issue, their own positions, and their audience.

social changeWe were clear with students from the very beginning that this was not an assignment in support of any particular political agenda. Instead, it was an exercise in better understanding our preconceived ideas and more deeply, and diplomatically, developing our rationale for how to bring about change  As long as their research came from credible sources, students could argue for changes to gun laws, support of the 2nd amendment, mental health considerations, school security, or any other defensible position to end mass gun violence. They could write to state or local representatives, as long as they researched that representatives current position on related issues, providing students with key insights to audience consideration we’ve previously only talked about or tried to emulate through blogging.

Supported with ideas from Kelly Gallagher’s incredible argument unit published over the course of 12 days on his personal blog, Sarah and I helped students through pointed research to build letters rich in ethos, persuasive argument, and pathos that could only be provided by the very students whose passions for activism have been flamed because they are so heavily and personally burdened with the threat of this particular brand of violence.

Over the course of the past two weeks, I have:

  • Seen students come in more for help/feedback with this assignment than any other throughout the year. When I asked a student after school yesterday, what had him so dedicated to crafting this particular summative he said, “Because my school work matters, but this assignment is going outside of the school. It matters outside of these walls.”
  • Watched young people who before could not identify who their state or federal representatives even are, research these people and their positions on key issues, and write directly in response to those issues in order to argue to an authentic audience.
  • Helped students channel their feelings of helplessness into purpose, simply by picking up a pen.

What these kids have produced is incredible. I am so proud of the way they have positively focused their overwhelming emotions into powerfully convincing letters to the men and women with means and opportunity to make changes to protect our students from further disaster.

Here are a few excerpts from letters that have started rolling in. In the coming days, we will get the letters printed, addressed, and mailed to Madison and Washington.





I am a firm believer that addressing issues in a constructive manner is a significant step toward positive change. We owe it to our students to provide them with, encourage them around, and support their efforts in making positive changes in their own communities. Though unequivocally necessary as a foundation to an informed electorate, we will not raise the citizens this nation so desperately needs on standards, skills, and summative assessments alone. A new reality is built on the combined knowledge and passions of the humans willing to take risks in support of that reality.

I will certainly never stop teaching my students that deconstructing a prompt is the best way to dig into a timed writing task or that commas don’t occur only where you would naturally take a breath, but I will also never stop supporting them in all they have to teach to us. Our students deserve our help in amplifying their voices to bring about a better world. In this, our jobs have never been so important.

Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum. 


A Book for Women, Young and Old and In-between

I am always on the look out for books that will hook my readers and mentor texts that will inspire my writers.

But when I saw the title The Radical Element, 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes & Other

My Radical Granddaughters

It’s never too early to give girls hope.

Dauntless Girls, I thought of my own three daughters, my daughter-in-law, and my two granddaughters. (Well, not so much the debutantes, but definitely the daredevils and the dauntless.)

We need books where our girls see themselves –where they feel empowered to take on the world. In a brochure I got from @Candlewick, it states:

To respect yourself, to love yourself, should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It’s a decision that must be faced when you’re balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it’s the only decision when you’ve weighed society’s expectations and found them wanting.

So today, I write to celebrate the book birthday of The Radical Element edited by Jessica Spotswood.

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 12.54.36 PM

Jessica writes:

. . . Merriam-Webster’s definitions of radical include “very different from the usual or traditional” and “excellent, cool.” I like to think our heroines in these twelve short stories are both. Our radical girls are first- and second- generation immigrants. They are Mormon and Jewish, queer and questioning, wheelchair users and neurodivergent, Iranian- American and Latina and Black and biracial. They are funny and awkward and jealous and brave. They are spies and scholars and sitcom writers, printers’ apprentices and poker players, rockers and high-wire walkers. They are mundane and they are magical.

. . .

It has been my privilege to work with these eleven tremendously talented authors, some of whom are exploring pieces of their identities in fiction for the first time. I hope that in some small way The Radical Element can help forge greater empathy and a spirit of curiosity and inclusiveness. That, in reading about our radical girls, readers might begin to question why voices like these are so often missing from traditional history. They have always existed. Why have they been erased? How can we help boost these voices today?

I have only read a few of these stories so far, but they are a wonderful blend of adventure and courage.

Here’s what three of the 12 authors have to say about their stories:

From Dhonielle Clayton, “When the Moonlight Isn’t Enough”:

1943: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

What encouraged you to write about this moment in history?

 I wanted to write the untold stories of hidden black communities like the one in Martha’s Vineyard. I’m very fascinated with black communities that, against all odds and in the face of white terrorism, succeeded and built their own prosperous havens. Also, World War II America is glamorized in popular white American culture, however, we learn little about what non-white people were doing during this time period. 

 In researching this topic, did you uncover any unexpected facts or stories?

I didn’t find as much as I wanted because historians focused on white communities and the war effort, leaving communities of color nearly erased. I had to rely on living family members that experienced this time period and a few primary sources detailing what life was like for black nurses in the 1940s. 

 How do you feel like you would fare during the same time period?

The one thing I trust is that black communities have been and will always be resourceful. Accustomed to being under siege, we have developed a system of support. I think I would’ve fared just fine. 

From Sara Farizan, “Take Me with U”:

1984: Boston, Massachusetts

What encouraged you to write about this moment in history?

I’ve always been fascinated with the 1980’s. Even with all its faults, it is the period in time that stands out for me most in the 20th century. The music, the entertainment, the politics, the fear and suffering from the AIDS virus, the clothes, and the international events that people forget about like the Iran/Iraq war.

In researching this topic, did you uncover any unexpected facts or stories?

It was hard to look back on footage from news broadcasts about the Iran/Iraq war. I felt embarrassed that it seemed this abstract thing for me when really my grandparents came to live with my family in the States during the year of 1987 to be on the safe side. I was very young, and didn’t think about why they had a year-long visit, but looking back, I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for them. Fun not so heavy fact: Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Purple Rain came out in the summer of ’84. And so did I!

How do you feel like you would fare during the same time period?

I think I would know all the pop culture references and my hair is already big and beautiful so that would work out great. My Pac-Man and Tetris game is strong, so I’d impress everyone at the arcade. However, I’m not down with shoulder pads and I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to come out of the closet back then.

From Mackenzi Lee, “You’re a Stranger Here”

1844: Nauvoo, Illinois

What encouraged you to write about this moment in history?

My story is set in the 1840s in Illinois and is about the Mormon exodus to Utah. I was raised Mormon, and these stories of the early days of the Church and the persecution they suffered were very common place. It took me a while to realize that, outside of my community, no one else knew these stories that were such a part of my cultural identity. I wanted to write about Mormons because its such a part of my history, and my identity, but also because, when I was a kid, there were no stories about Mormons. There are still no stories about Mormons–it’s a religious minority that has been largely left out in our current conversations about diversifying our narratives.

In researching this topic, did you uncover any unexpected facts or stories?

Ack I wish I had a good answer here! But honestly not really–I already knew so much of what I wrote about because I’d gone to a Mormon church throughout my youth.

How do you feel like you would fare during the same time period?

Badly! The Mormons went through so much for their faith, and as someone who has had a lot of grief as a result of the religion of her youth, I don’t know if I could have handled having a faith crisis AND being forced from my home multiple times because of that faith. Also cholera and heat stroke and all that handcart pulling nonsense is just. too. much. I didn’t survive the Oregon Trail computer game–no way I’d survive an actual trek.



Amy Rasmussen teaches readers and writers at a large suburban high school in North TX. She loves to read and share all things books with her students. In regards to this post, Amy says, “It’s Spring Break for me, and I’ve been idle. Kinda. Three of my grandkids arrived at the spur of the moment, so I’ll use that as an excuse for posting late today.” Follow Amy @amyrass and @3TeachersTalk.


Say it Ain’t So! Poetry Can’t Help Readers with Non-fiction!

I know, I know. I write about poetry ad nausem.  Poetry has been a focus for me this year I’m constantly finding ways to fold poetry into my instruction all the time. I wrote about it here.

Don’t single me out; Amy included her own poetry thoughts in this post.

I’ve noticed that my students don’t connect their emotions to non-fiction pieces as well as they do with poetry.  That’s unfortunate because real world issues should elicit an emotional response…but in most cases they just don’t.  I think its important, in literacy instruction, that we try to bridge that gap.

Recently, I found an opportunity to integrate a little poetry with some non-fiction.

One of several non-fiction pieces that I brought into the classroom was this one from the New York Times written by Carl Wilson. The piece talks about Rupi Kaur and her popularity compared to those who published poetry before the avalanche of social media.

Our focus was not only to look at these non-fiction pieces in order to see the moves that authors make, but also read with the thought that we could respond to the articles in the form of a Letter to the Editor.

I chose this response format because I saw that it might facilitate and opportunity for us to talk about citations, embedding quotes, and responding to nonfiction in a way that might appeal to my students.  Not only did the student struggle to connect to the pieces, they struggled to keep their eyes open the first time they read through.

Not coincidentally, the poem of the day was by Rupi Kaur herself.  It was about how when we let go of someone to whom we are connected, it can be cathartic. At least thats what it means to me.


(I know its hard to read, but I hand write the poem on the board every day.)

I invited the students to respond to the poem in one of two ways: either by using the poem as a mentor text that could engage their poetic thoughts and help them write a poem of their own, or by responding to the poem about how it makes them feel or think.

We group talked our emotional reactions and shared how so many of us could relate to the poem.  Most of us connected with it in some way, but we discovered that those connection vary widely from person to person.

The next day, we came back, read the articles, began our letters to the editor, and completely failed to connect with the pieces on an emotional level.

There had to be a way to show them that we can have an emotional response to non-fiction. So, in a move stolen directly from Kelly Gallagher, I wrote a model Letter to the Editor in which I roasted the author and his article for being wrong-headed and totally missing the point of Rupi’s poetry.  The students perked up as we went through my example noticing elements like formatting, structure, embedded quotes and properly cited sources. Most importantly, they saw how I was able to show an emotional engagement with another author’s non-fiction piece.

We brainstormed some reasons that they struggled to make the same connections to non-fiction and talked about how they can have the same kind of emotional reaction across genres.

By the time we ended our discussion, they blasted off on the trajectory of writing their own letters to the editor, providing blistering commentary or thankful praise to writers they’d never even heard of before.

The writing I read was authentic, heartfelt, and emotional.  Something about weaving the poem and the article about the author of the poem allowed them to carry that connection to other pieces and release their feelings in a way that showed a real connection to something they otherwise would not have paid a second glance.

What I was reminded of once again, was that this isn’t about non-fiction texts or thoughtful poems.  It was about the students embracing their potential as writers and having the confidence to express their voice. This is a lesson that I’m sure I’ll have to learn over and over, but I won’t stop treating students as writers, even when they don’t believe that they are. 

 Charles Moore fell in love with Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and no one has seen him since.  Rumors persist of sightings out in Phoenix and even San Francisco. Please visit his hourly musings @ctcoach or visit his instagram account @mooreliteracy1.

Book Raffles– Building Book Buzz and #BookLove

I knew I was in big trouble by the end of 4th period.

You see, I had gotten my students excited about 30 new titles to your classroom library. What’s the problem?, you might be thinking right now. The problem is sheer math– I teach 137 students and just book shopped 30 titles. And I don’t know about your students, but when I flash a shiny new title in front of them like Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, Solo by Kwame Alexander, or American Street by Ibi Zoboi, things get real– Hunger-Games real.

Okay, maybe no one is fighting to the death over these books (yet) but I do have to ask students in each class to take books out of their shirts or bags because they are trying to sneak books like Sold out of the classroom (and side note, if you haven’t read or considered any of these titles yourself, please stop reading this post and find these titles A.S.A.P– I’ll wait here).

Back to my problem– how to fairly place these books into the hands of my eager readers. But first, let’s set the stage.

At the beginning of each term, I make one of our first days a book shopping day.  The way we book shop changes each time (using some form of a book speed date) but the result is my sophomore students leave the room with more titles added to their readers/writers notebook. I love book shopping days in addition to our other book activities we using during the term (see Amy R’s 3 Ideas for Better Book Talk for some awesome ideas to build book interest/love). Book shopping is a great way to get books into my students’ hands so they can look at the cover art, the description, even the first few pages to see if it will grab their attention.

Ultimately, however, there are a handful of books (12 titles this time around) that many students wanted to take out first. Since taking bribes like Barnes and Noble gift cards or fancy loose-leaf tea is frowned upon, I needed something new this time around to fairly gets these new books into the hands of my readers. It would be unfair to let 1st period get the first chance to sign out these books because my later class periods would never have a shot–most books would be signed out by lunch.

Instead, I was reminded of something I learned when Donalyn Miller spoke at the Conway School District’s Write Now! Conference in Conway, NH a few years back– Book Raffles! (BTW- if you are in the New England area at the end of March, Kylene Beers will be at this year’s Write Now! conference!!!! Can.Not.Wait.). While to some it might come off as very “middle school”, it was just what we needed to not only fairly spread some book love but it also built up some book buzz during our class time. While students were working on a separate task (their independent reading reflections for the previous term), I walked around with raffle tickets. Students were allowed one per book they were interested in. For some, they were only interested in one or two books so they took that many tickets. For others, they took a ticket for all the books being raffled (12 tickets total).

IMG_3900Target $3 tin buckets make great raffle containers!!!

At the end of the same day, my senior class advisees helped me draw tickets to keep everything on the up (and up). The next day, I didn’t get the usual flak from students about who got which books. Instead, students rushed into class to see who won each book and what class period they were in. It even inspired me to share this idea with our school librarian, who did something very similar in the library before our Winter Break last month. Not only did it increase the book buzz in the building but it got a few students in the school library who wouldn’t normally visit (like my student Dario, who was really bummed when he didn’t win Long Way Down from our class raffle but won a copy through the school library).  

Bottom line: I think it’s important for us to consider ideas that, at first blush, may seem for younger classroom settings; they may be just what we need to build some book buzz. My students are already asking when we’ll do our next book raffle or if I can pull another name if the book comes back early (which I totally have). Their excitement makes me what to step outside my comfort zone and try new things in our attempt to be a fully functioning workshop classroom.

P.S.-If you are just starting out, here are some great tips on how to build your classroom library. I completely relate to Lisa’s situation. I often hide Amazon and First Book boxes in the trunk of my car so I can sneak them into my classroom without the husband finding out. Sorry Dougie!

P.P.S.- Shout out to Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle, who inspire me every day to try new things to get my students to feel the #booklove.


Kristin Seed teaches English 10 at a vocational high school in Massachusetts. When she’s not devouring YA books, you can find her singing and dancing to Kidz Bop songs with her five-year-old son.  You can find Kristin on Twitter @Eatbooks4brkfst. 

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