10 stories starters for Halloween

Do your students just l-o-v-e writing spooky stories? My students cannot get enough of creative writing around this time of year. But if I’m honest, real talk here, some of their story ideas can be a little bit immature, a little bit samey. Sometimes I feel like they are doing their own versions of some of ‘those’ films. Does this happen in your classroom?

Today, I am going to let you in on my strategy for pushing students towards originality in their own writing.  *Yes! Happy Dance!*  The strategy: don’t use story prompts; use story starters.

What’s the difference?

A story prompt sets up a premise for a narrative. Generally a prompt sets up who the main character is and what the setting is, it might also prompt the key event. It would read something like “a student is walking home late at night, they become afraid”. You can see how 30+ really different students, might come up with 30+ really similar ideas with this prompt. You can imagine it now can’t you? The student hears noises, they look behind them and see nothing, they run, something / someone grabs them… it turns out to be a) an axe murderer, b) one of the parents, or c) a friend.

But a story starter. That’s different. A story starter provides the first line or couple of lines of a story. Something like “The phone rang. The door slammed.” You can see already that this story starter doesn’t provide the writer with any information, or least only a teeny bit. Enough to get the brain whirring. But not so much that it confines writers in the space of predictability.

This week I shared with my subscriber list “20 story starters” that are perfect for Halloween. Today I am going to share 10 with you right here!

Let’s get our writing on!

Love them? Me too. I surely hope you can use them in your classroom. As part of your daily writing, or perhaps as part of your creative writing unit, or as a Halloween special.

If you think these writing prompts are JUST what you need, then this is for you.  To save you time, to help claim back a tiny bit of ‘your life’ I have created 20 pages of Halloween story starters and 20 pages of writing instruction that is ready to print and go!

This ready-to-go resource contains 40 pages of Halloween writing activities. The story starters are totally fresh and new. No repeats. Each page is beautifully designed. In addition to these new story starters, each one comes with a page of planning, techniques and new vocabulary to help your students nail their spooky stories! This resource is available both as a >>>paper version<<< and as a >>>Google Drive digital edition<<<.

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So Read Me Maybe? {My new classroom display}

This gorgeous reading display is perhaps one of the best things I’ve added to my classroom in ages. And not just because I get to play Carly Ray Jepson songs in class… I cannot claim the idea is mine. But I do adore how it turned out!  Here’s how I went about it and how you can swipe the download!

This week I updated the display in one pokey corner of my classroom. It’s one of those things that I had been meaning to do for a-g-e-s. But because the space was generally well hidden by the 5 tonnes of stuff I accumulated last year, it hadn’t been a high priority. Karma happens, though right? We had visitors in school and my classroom needed to be pristine. Or prestige, as my students would say!

 

This cute rhyme is a play on Carly Ray Jepson’s song “Call Me Maybe”.  All my students ‘got it‘ as soon as they saw the wall. They groaned and shook their heads, enjoying a moment of teenage indignation. I then asked them for their best book suggestions. So it’s their book recommendations, plus a few from my colleagues, that I placed around the rhyme!  Read on to see how I made it and to swipe my files!

Before I get into the practical details – I wanted to give a shout out to the amazing Jessica Lawler from Joy in the Journey. Check out the ‘Read me!’ and ‘Pick me!’ labels in my books! Don’t you just l-u-r-v-e them!! They are also a sweet treat of free download, Jessica has them on her TpT store and you can download them for free >>here<<.

Ok, ok. I know what you want. Here is how you can get stuck into this in your classroom. It really is as simple as 1 – 2 – 3.

  1. Grab the swipe file with words typed out and ready to go. It is a PowerPoint file so make sure you can open it on your computer.
  2. Change the colors to suit your classroom decor.
  3. Print and laminate (you can totally see I didn’t have time to do this!)
  4. Cut out and pin up.
  5. Ask for book recommendations, grab the covers and print.
  6. Cut and pin these up too!
  7. Stand back and enjoy!

So all you need to do now is get the SWIPE file!


So Read Me Maybe?


Download your swipe file with the editable words for this So Read Me Maybe quote.

Just fill in your details below to go straight to the file. We promise NEVER to share your email with another party.

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Friday funny!

I saw this today, it made me chuckle.

It is also so true for me, for the next couple of weeks anyway.

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Revision Jenga!

Revision is a tricky nut to crack, especially for literature students where the topics for revision are as wide ranging as quotations from the text to feminist readings to historical context.
Jenga Revision is just one of the ways I help student memorise everything they need to know.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Get hold of your Jenga blocks (you will need felt tips as well)
The cheapest Jenga blocks I have found are these mini Topple Towers from Poundland. Just £1 each.  The tower doesn’t stand much higher than 15cm. But that makes it perfect for small group work.
*Note – buy the cheapest ones you can – because these will be unfinished wood and easier to write on with felt tip!*

2. Decide what you are going to write on them.
When I started out using this activity, I was totally laid back about what went on the blocks. A few years on and I’m a little wiser.  Here’s what I learnt:
Colour code the categories – so red for direct evidence from the text, blue for historical context, green for key literary terms.
Get students to plan / find the information first – no writing on the blocks until you’ve written it on paper (this can help avoid lots of repetition too)
Brevity rules! The blocks can only take 1 or 2 words – so precision is needed.
Neatly does it – some of those boys need to earn the right to write. Prove to me you can be legible, gentleman!

 

3. Get working on making the blocks.  Depending on the number of texts to be revised, I will either allocate each group a different text or split the chapters or sections across a number of groups.

4. Get your game on. Here are the rules of the game.
# Choose who goes first (tallest, shortest – I don’t mind).
# Person number 1 pulls out a block and uses the information on it to ask a question of someone else in the group. For example – say the block has the name “Crooks” on it. The questioner could form any question that will give them the response Crooks. The harder the question, the better. Which character in Of Mice and Men has their own chapter? Who does Curley’s Wife threaten to string up? Which character in the novel reads a lot?
# If the response is correct, then the responder is given that block to start making their collection. They then take the next turn.
# If the response is incorrect, then the questioner keeps it (for their collection).  And they keep taking turns and keeping blocks until someone answers correctly.
# The winner is the one who has the most blocks when the tower is completely gone. This encourages them to make the questions as difficult as possible.

And that my friends is how we play revision Jenga!
Thanks for reading.

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2 easy character activities for your ELA classroom

If you are looking for new and creative ways to embed ‘character’ into your curriculum, then this post is for you! In this video, I share 2 ways you can use character in your ELA classroom. Firstly, in creative writing and secondly, in your study of literature.

So enjoy!

And then checkout this >>>DOWNLOAD<<< to help you on your way!

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to these awesome resources now!

If you are ready to bring a bit of Brit Lit spark to your classroom - then this Austen resource pack is for you!


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1 fab idea for back-to-school!

The first few hours or days back at school are hectic. Timetables to give out, courses to enrol, books to organise. Annndd in my case – uniforms to check, planners to sign, and inevitability parents to call about incorrect shoes, hair, make-up, skirt length, nail varnish. We are busy: sorting out seating plans, handing out new books, sorting out target sheets and stickers, homework schedules, IEPs and TA resources.

Yup – back to school is hectic.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Back-to-school-freebie-We-Heart-School-Yes-We-Do-1970192?aref=x62abwh1

Added to this, most schools encourage a full-pelt return to hard learning. “What the learning question for your first lesson?”
Sometimes we just need a little bit of time.

For my new classes with older students – I like to gain 10 minutes or so with a few easy ‘get to know you’ activities.  

Espresso Yourself – does that just that. Buys me 10 minutes to calm, followed by quality chat with the kids I have only just met.  While I am muddling through the register and seating plan, they are telling me everything I need to know about them.

How do you love to get to know your HS students?
I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.
You can download my Espresso Yourself worksheet (and a few other goodies) here for FREE. Enjoy!
Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

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20 verbs for analytical writing!

In my classroom, we spend a great deal of time analyzing language and techniques in literature, it’s a bit of a thing in English schools.  One of the issues that I find with analysis and analytical essay writing is that students struggle to vary the use of their language of analysis itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These poster / flashcards are a very simple solution to that problem!

I just have these printed (and laminated) as mini-posters to have up at the front of my classroom but also as flashcards out of desks.

I wanted to share these with you to thank you for visiting my blog so click HERE to download the PDF version!

Best wishes for now

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to these awesome resources now!

If you are ready to bring a bit of Brit Lit spark to your classroom - then this Austen resource pack is for you!


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31 ideas for Back to School

Hey teacher-friends!
This post is a sweet morsel from me to bring you a hamper full of ideas for Back To School.  Sound good?  Well, head on over to my IG account to find them there.  Throughout the month of August, I am sharing my favorite classroom ideas igniting a spark in the classroom.  Even better – I am sharing freebies and gifts as well, exclusively on IG. So let’s get connected!

That’s all for today but check back soon for my new series of blogposts on teaching Macbeth!

Love Creative Writing in your classroom!

Are you ready for dynamite descriptive writing in your classroom?

Download your FREE 3-step guide now!

 

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5 ways to help your students love 19th century literature

We all love a period drama don’t we? Well, you and I probably do. But your average teenager… Reading 19th century literature with classes presents us, as teachers, with a number of unique opportunities. It is at this moment that we are, probably, at our most multi-disciplinary. We are scientists – discovering electricity and inventing CPR. We are adventurers – seeking out the south pole and charting the North West Passage. We are theologians – struggling to believe in the Age of Enlightenment. We are historians – obsessed with the Classical Age, avoiding the present. We are politicians – fearing Revolution and rebellion.  When I look at the 19th Century I see all the “old England” of smugglers, pirates, and highwayman and I also see all the “new England” of the factories, technology, and workhouses.

1. Starting at the beginning

Before I even put a piece of 19th century literature in front of my students, I pose the question: “What is the difference between life today and life in 19th century?”. Generally, at first strike – I get only the obvious answers (people were dirty). The knowledge that my students have of history is limited. They can tell me loads about life in the workhouse, they can talk about factories. But beyond these specifics they are still in the dark. “History” says the historical novelist Dame Hilary Mantel “is what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it”. The bits we pick out of the sieve to teach our younger students is pretty specific.

So what are the main differences we see:

  • Language – the language and vocabulary of the 19th century will be different
  • Topics – life was different, so writers will be writing about different things
  • Attitudes – people believed different things, those beliefs will come out in literature
  • Social class – it was definitely a thing back then
  • Gender roles – while we might not think the fight for equality is over yet, at the beginning of the 19th century it hadn’t even begun
  • Science, religion, geography, technology: the list of differences goes on.

2. Different writers same ideas

Once we have made this list, it’s time to jump straight in and look at some writers. At this point – I might set my classes up with an author research study.  Sometimes I find it is favourable for students to know in advance some of the historical and biographical details linked to a particular author. For Austen, Dickens, and Shelley, these are particular relevant.

We also tend to notice that while there are few narrative links between stories we read (A Christmas Carol -> Pride and Prejudice -> Frankenstein); we do come across the same ideas again and again. The abuse of power, the issues of social class, the treatment of the poor, the role of women in society. Each of these novels, in some way, speaks to these universal themes again and again.

Ok, so we’ve talked about the differences between now and then, we’ve met the author. We can’t put off reading the text any longer!

We also don’t always read full texts (shhhh don’t tell the writers!). There are some 19th century texts that our national curriculum and examination syllabi require us to study. But other than that we have free reign. However, given that many are 300+ pages and some have opening sentences that run to 100+ words, I don’t always decide to read entire novel. In fact this year, I have been teaching extracts only. Extracts from my favourite 19th century fiction and I have been BLOWN AWAY by the understanding shown by my students. This broad range has given them a far greater insight into this area of British Literature than if we had just focussed on one novel. The image above shows an extract from Sense and Sensibility that we love to study!

3. Reading 19th century fiction: 1-2-3 read

There are 5 skill areas that I cover when we read 19th century literature:

  1. Comprehension: the narrative plot line
  2. Comprehension: language
  3. Comprehension: ideas, attitudes, perspectives
  4. Analysis: language and imagery
  5. Analysis: syntax and structure

Developing comprehension of these extracts can take time. I don’t want to tell students what everything means, being reliant on the teacher in that way doesn’t help anyone. But – students need to know a whole bunch of stuff before they can even begin to grapple with the ideas and points of view presented in a text. For example: the language here is quite tricky. Marianne states “Is there a felicity in the world superior to this?” I kid you not when I ask classes about this sentence – they often think it is about a girl named Felicity.  When we are reading we are trying to work out what is going and what can sometimes be hindered by our understanding of language. So comprehension of narrative and comprehension of language must go hand in hand.

Students are great at creating a general understanding of what is going on by themselves. They know that they won’t get it all straight away. So we do a 1-2-3 reading strategy.

I start off by reminding students that a 500 word extract should only take about 2.5 minutes to read. I tell them, that because I love them and because it’s like “way old writing”, I’ll give them 3 minutes.

  1. First read. Then share with their partner: who are the characters / people in the extract? What was the most dramatic or interesting moment?
  2. Read again: build on their first reading – what kind of people are the characters in the extract? What are they like? What emotions do they express? What do they do in the extract? Pair and share ideas again.
  3. Third read: what happens in each paragraph? At this point, I normally get them to draw up a numbered table in their notebooks and write out the events as they read again. Final time to pair and share, they can add anything they’ve missed.

And what do you find? That despite not knowing what the word ‘felicity’ means – students have understood what happens in each paragraph.  This particular extract from Sense and Sensibility is perfect for this exercise (and guess what – shhh – you can download it as a freebie here).

4. Word Work

So now we know what is going on in the extract – we can flip back and do some word work. This is absolutely vital before we do any close analysis. It would be very easy to treat this as another dictionary task, but one issue with 19th century literature is the use of language that has slipped outside of everyday usage. Students need to grapple with these words for themselves before they can interpret another writer’s use.

For me then this word work is 2 phrase: first the dictionary work to define and then second to use these new words (or reframed words) in their own writing. The examples above are sentence starters that I give students using the vocabulary. I do this because with this students are more likely to use language correctly with this additional support, than if asked to just come up with their own idea.

5. Studying syntax

The final area we really focus on when studying 19th century literature is syntax and sentence structure. For us in the modern age, the event of modernism, saw a revolution in sentence structure. Authors rejected the highly embellished writing of their predecessors. Modern writers use shorter sentences and fewer clauses. Students can find reading the long sentence types seen in 19th century literature a challenge. So I turn it into a puzzle or a scavenger hunt.

By teaching the syntactical structures, such as polysyndeton, cumulative, and periodic sentences, students can make sense of what they are reading, and find ways to explain its purpose.

For my Maths and Science boys – literature becomes a literal puzzle, one that they can define, measure, and explain with more ease.

I hope these hints and tips will help you make 19th century literature come alive in your classroom.  If you are interested in my resources to help deliver these ideas in your classroom please see the links below!

 

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