MS/HS ELA Newsletter

Supporting Educators to Strengthen Teaching & Learning

December 2015

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And it may very well be the busiest for many of us! With the first round of parent teacher conferences behind us and almost the first semester, we look forward to a well-deserved break. We hope that this holiday season is full of all things merry and bright.

All of us on the ELA team wish you and yours happy holidays!

Kristin, Lisa, & Angeline

Congratulations to our Book Winners !

AIR Updates

While there is nothing new to report, we will leave the links to testing information here for you. ODE reports that more practice tests should be released after the holidays. We will keep you informed!

  • Ohio’s Testing Portal Main Page-Blueprints and practice tests will be accessible from this page.

  • Sample questions are available in 3rd and HS ELA. Access here.

  • ELA Blueprints can be accessed here.

  • Writing Rubrics for grades 3-5 can be accessed here and here.

  • Writing Rubrics for grades 6-10 can be accessed here and here.

  • Answers from the practice tests (Grades 3 and HS) and sample student writing responses can be accessed here.

  • Student tutorials for the AIR platform are available as well. The sign-in and navigation videos are here. The testing tools videos are here.

  • To view the AIR Update slideshow from ELA Content Night, please click here.

Instructional Strategy--Text Sets

What are they?

In her book Teaching with Text Sets, author Mary Ann Cappiello describes a text set as "a collection of related texts organized around a topic or line of inquiry. The line of inquiry of a given set is determined by an anchor text—a rich, complex grade-level text. The anchor text is the focus of a close reading with instructional supports in the classroom."

Why are text sets good for my students?

Strong text sets share common vocabulary, which helps bolster students’ vocabulary knowledge through repeated readings. Strong text sets also provide students with repeated readings about similar ideas, which allow them to build deeper knowledge. Jessica Rosevear from We Are Teachers argues, “New standards emphasize reading informational texts along with literature—not to mention the importance of reading across texts. With more and more frequency, language arts teachers are being asked to bring nonfiction into the English classroom and to connect it with novels, poems and plays. As such, we are no longer just “teaching literature” but rather introducing themes, essential questions and topics that stretch across multiple genres.”


We Are Teachers

“Better Together: Pairing Fiction and Nonfiction in the High School Classroom” by Jessica Rosevear discusses the importance of pairing fiction and nonfiction in the classroom. She notes that the CCSS demand that students read across a variety of texts and that they read more informational texts. Rosevear encourages teachers to create text sets that are unified by an essential question that drives the unit.

Louisiana Believes

The Louisiana Believes website is packed full of resources for ELA teachers. If you’ve never checked it out, we highly encourage you to spend some time reading through the unit plan ideas and instructional materials. All of their sample unit plans contain text sets. “Creating Text Sets for Whole-Class Instruction: English Language Arts, Grades K-12” discusses the importance of text sets in the ELA classroom, and also offers advice on creating your own sets.

Actively Learn (Technology Integration)

Actively Learn is a web-based tool that allows teachers to enhance students’ reading by adding comments, questions and other items into a variety of online texts. The texts, which can be accessed through the online catalog, assist students in building their reading and writing skills across contents. Along with the online catalog of resources, teachers can also add an article from the Internet, a PDF, or a Google Doc.

All of the content on this free site is grade level and content specific. The content here is also aligned to the CCSS. Students can complete assignments at their own pace both in and out of the classroom.

Although there are pre-created questions, teachers can embed their own questions, notes, and videos. Teachers can also edit existing content by clicking on a question or note. As mentioned, this FREE resource includes access to books, poems, short stories, current events, and textbooks. The FREE version also enables students to export answers and annotations into a Google Doc as well as to share high interest nonfiction articles with other peers.

Teachers can also opt to pay annually for the PRO version which includes all the features mentioned along with many others.

December's Book Nook

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Winger by Andrew Smith

“I said a silent prayer.

Actually, silent is probably the only type of prayer a guy should attempt when his head’s in a toilet.”

Fourteen year old Ryan Dean West attends Pine Mountain boarding school, and from the opening lines of the novel above we can tell this is a challenging school year for him. His previous roommates do not care for him, and his current roommate isn’t that promising either. He has a mildly rebellious streak as he hacked a teacher’s cell phone. He’s also smart enough that he skipped two grades. Quite the combination.

The novel details Ryan’s social struggles with the guys at his school, but also his difficulties in love. He has a crush on his best friend Annie who is two year older than him and refuses to date him because he is too young for her. However, there are some promising moments between Ryan and Annie.

One of the best quirks of this novel are the drawings included. Throughout the book we see more of Ryan Dean’s personality through little comics, venn diagrams, and drawings. I loved this! It gave the book personality.

While I enjoyed the book, I should caution that the book is funny up to a point. In the last section, the author jolts readers with a dark plot twist. If you or your students enjoy John Green, give Winger a try!

The School Library Journal recommends grade 9 and up.

Laughing Out Loud, I Fly by Juan Felipe Herrera

If you’re looking for a light-hearted quick read, Laughing Out Loud, I Fly ,is the poetry book for you. Written in both Spanish and English, these short poems are filled with humor and wit that is sure to leaving you “laughing out loud”. Winner of the Pura Belpre Honor, this book tells the story of a young boy who is often confused between two cultures, two homes.

The imagery that U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera uses within each poem is fascinating. As the words come to life throughout each poem, you can feel the rhythm and beat of each take on more of a musical form. Written in first person point of view, the reader can quickly get into the mind of the narrator as he takes on his journey between two cultures.

These poems included so many details to engage of all our senses that they should be read aloud. Students of diverse backgrounds would thoroughly enjoy this read as they can embrace both the Spanish and English languages in the Spanish Culture.

The School Library Journal recommends this book for grades 6 and up.

Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

Out on the Wire is classified as a graphic novel that tells the story behind some of the largest names of narrative radio shows (The American Life, The Moth, Radiolab, Planet Money, Snap Judgment, Serial, Invisibilia). Jessica Abel takes readers behind the scenes to see how these radio shows are made by explaining ideas, character and voice, story structure, sound, and the edit. Abel provides descriptive details explaining the process to those who are new to the genre, as well as gives insider tips to those who may want to perfect podcasts of their own.

Abel says, “ It comes from the fact that when these producers and reporters go out looking for stories, they find them by paying careful attention to what’s interesting to them. They’ve learned to notice what’s exciting to them, what they tell their friends about, what they have questions about. It’s a real skill, it takes practice. And by following what’s interesting, by building their understanding of whatever that is and digging deeper, they arrive at the most surprising and engaging stories you’ve ever heard-and, crucially, that they’ve ever heard, either.”

I reviewed this book because it is one of the newest nonfiction graphic novels. I can see a very particular audience enjoying this book as it goes into great detail about the behind the scenes of these radio programs. It would be interesting to pair particular parts of this graphic novel when studying podcasts, such as Serial, in the classroom setting. Overall, I learned a lot about a genre that is new and gaining momentum.

A Library Journal Best Book of 2015

Teaching with Text Sets by Mary Ann Cappiello

From Amazon: "Looking for a way to increase engagement, differentiate instruction, and incorporate more informational text and student writing into your curriculum? Teaching with Text Sets is your answer! This must-have resource walks you through the steps to create and use multi-genre, multimodal text sets for content-area and language arts study. It provides detailed information to support you as you choose topics, locate and evaluate texts, organize texts for instruction, and assess student learning. The guide is an excellent resource to help you meet the Common Core and other State Standards."

Professional Development Opportunities

ELA Strategy Survival

MCESC in Boardman from 4 to 6pm

Next meetings: December 8 and January 13

Contact Nicole Mathias at


February 29, 2016 from 6-8pm; venue TBA

Dinner/Meeting with author Todd Van Hooser, novelist, featuring

graphic novel writing.

Contact Joyce Zitkovich at

OCTELA February 26-27

Sharon Draper, Rainbow Rowell, Timothy Rasinsk, and many more!

Details can be found here.

Virginia Hamilton Conference

April 7 and 8

Kent State University Featuring Nikki Grimes

Details can be found here.

National Writing Project

Option 1: June 13-July 1, 2016

Hybrid Course: Half online and half on-site

Choice of meeting at Wooster Schools or KSU for face to face sessions

Option 2: August 8-18, 2016

Hosted for NWP-KSU by Elyria City Schools

The deadline for applying for KSU/Wooster is January 15, 2016 and the deadline for

applying to KSU/Elyria is February 15, 2016.
December's Poll

Want to win the books featured in this month's newsletter? Please take our survey. Thanks :)