Middle/High School ELA Newsletter

MCESC Supporting Educators to Strengthen Teaching & Learning

March 2016

We are just a few short weeks away from the official start of Spring, and you know what that means...warmer weather and of course college basketball's March Madness. For this month, we thought we would take a play from the college basketball world and present a "strategy slam."

In this newsletter you will find fifteen mini lesson ideas for close reading, on demand writing, and vocabulary instruction. We hope that you will find these beneficial to your students, and maybe even a little fun!

As always, please contact us and let us know how we can support you and your students.

Kristin, Lisa, and Angeline

Connect with us on Twitter

Kristin - @kristinfox28

Lisa - @libe0618

Angeline - @amtheis2

Congratulations to our Book Winners !

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Bonus Book Winner- Jennifer Pint, Struthers Middle School

AIR Updates

All ELA practice tests are in the Portal for grades 3-10! Access your grade level test here.

We do recommend viewing multiple grades to see the difference of test questions, as any question type may appear on the test students will take this year.

  • ELA and Math Performance Levels for 2015-2016

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

  • Sample questions are available in 3-10. 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 and sample student writing responses can be accessed:

  • 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 Focus-March Madness Mini-Lessons

Vocabulary Strategies

Here are 5 quick ideas to build vocabulary skills with your students. They come from Dr. Lori Wilfong's book Vocabulary Strategies That Work: Do This - Not That!.

  1. The Chain

This is a great way to encourage students to see the connections among words that are in your current unit of study or on your word wall. Give each student a card with one word on it. Students share their words with the class so that everyone knows the words in use. The teacher asks the students to consider how their words are related to all of the other words. One student should be identified as the central idea or focus word. The student could stand in the middle of the room. Then students connect with their words one at a time with the central idea, explaining their rationale. Each student takes a turn until all words are used, and the chain is formed.

2. Semantic Feature Analysis

This strategy allows students to compare and contrast words. This is particularly useful for when a word has more than one meaning. You can utilize a Semantic Feature Analysis Map to facilitate discussion.

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3. Open Sort

In this type of word sort, students create their own categories for arranging the words. This type of activity requires a much higher level of thinking because the categories created can show knowledge of the words but also relationships between them. Technology could be integrated for this activity by using an interactive whiteboard and the website Padlet.

4. Word Jars

Bring in three containers. Label each container with a type of word/phrase that you’re studying and that you’d like students to become more aware of while they are reading. Some examples might be onomatopoeia, idioms, oxymoron, metaphor, etc. Ask students to be on the lookout for these types of words and to drop them in the containers when they see them. Once a week or so, open the jars and have class discussion around the student contributions.

5. Free Rice Technology Connection

The website presents a word and four answer choices on the screen. For each correct answer, the United Nations World Food Program donates 10 grains of rice to countries in need. The game adjusts its difficulty level based on the response, filling a bowl with rice as the player adds to his or her score. As a class activity, the teacher could project the website on screen and guide students in playing the game for 5 minutes daily, discussing choices through think alouds. http://freerice.com/

Writing on Demand

Possible Steps to Help with Timing:

[Possible Timeframe: Reading passage with questions (20 min) Essay Writing with reading 2-5 sources remainder of the time (70 minutes grades 3-5; 85 minutes grades 6-10)]

Step 1: Find the number of sources that you have to read by scrolling through the left side of the screen. Utilize the paper given to write down each source with the author’s last name leaving enough room to write notes at a later time.

Step 2: Figure out the type of essay you are required to write by looking in the prompt on the right hand side of the screen. Highlight the type of essay and write it at the top of the paper you are writing notes on to remind yourself the type of evidence you need to gather. Make sure to fully understand what the prompt is asking you to do.

Step 3: Read each source. Write the main idea(s) down on the notes paper for each source. Highlight evidence from each source to use for the essay and write down the paragraph numbers under each source on the notes paper. Approximately allot 5 minutes per source.

Step 4: Plan the essay by replicating what is used in class on either the additional piece of paper or notepad tool (graphic organizer or outline). Approximately allot 15 minutes for this.

Step 5: Write the essay in the provided box making sure to use at least five paragraphs. Utilize the notes page and outline to help with ideas.

Step 6: Revise and edit your essay. Spellcheck is not available, so use your brain (the best tool ever).

Step 7: Check your sources making sure that evidence was gathered from multiple sources. Also check that one source was not used excessively when compared to the other sources.

How to Write On Demand in One Week (Sample Idea)

Prepare: 3 Articles and prompt around one idea either informative or argumentative.

Monday: Handout the three sources and prompt. Complete Steps 1-2. Begin Step 3 by timing students on the first source. 5-7 Minute Timed Reading and Note Collecting on Source 1 (Main Ideas and Highlight Evidence Source 1). Collect the papers to hand out tomorrow.

Tuesday: Step 3-timing students on the second source. 5-7 Minute Timed Reading and Note Collecting on Source 2 (Main Ideas and Highlight Evidence Source 2). Collect the papers to hand out tomorrow.

Wednesday: Finish step 3-timing students on the third source. 5-7 Minute Timed Reading and Note Collecting on Source 3 (Main Ideas and Highlight Evidence Source 3). Collect the papers to hand out tomorrow.

Thursday: Step 4-Hand back all sources, prompt, and note page. Students will be timed for 15 minutes to complete the planning process by either replicating the graphic organizer or outline used in class. Collect all papers after 15 minutes.

Friday: Go to the lab or get a laptop cart for students to have a timed writing to compose their final essay (Steps 5-7). This time can very from 45-55 minutes.

Extension Activity:

Self-Assessment Slam-Students self-assess their work centered around one idea in each corner of the room. Anchor charts provided in the corners to help with guiding questions. (textual evidence, elaboration, organization, Hook/Thesis…..)


Timed Writing for English Teachers



Ten Tips for Teaching On Demand Writing


Fifth Grade Resources for Writing on Demand--All Types of Writing Included


Close Reading

Here are some close reading lesson ideas to use in your classroom:

  • Purposeful Annotations

  • Mini Lesson Idea: Rereading to Improve Comprehension Skills

      • Steps for Rereading Strategy

        • Provide students with a short story as a cold read with no purpose or focus for reading

        • After reading the selection once have students reread the text with a purpose for reading and specific annotation techniques included in their readers’ notebooks

        • Discuss the annotations collected during the second reading to help the students understand how their comprehension of the story increased when they read with a purpose for reading

  • Notice and Note Non-Fiction Strategies

    • Mini Lesson Idea: Introduction of Notice and Note Fiction and Nonfiction Signposts

      • Resource: Louisiana Believes:

        • Introduce the Notice and Note Signposts (fiction) or Notice and Note Signposts (nonfiction) one at a time.

          • Instructions for introducing and practicing the signposts are available through the text, Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. See “Resources for Additional Information” for a link to purchase the book.

          • As students are reading and they notice one of the signposts, prompt them to stop and ask the provided question for the signpost (e.g., For Contrasts and Contradictions, students might ask, “Why would the character act this way?”)

          • For fiction reading, the goal is for students to develop their own habit of stopping and rereading portions of the text to consider characters, plot, and author’s craft and meaning and determine theme or main idea of the text.

          • For nonfiction reading, the goal is for students to be able to think about three essential questions: (1) What surprised me? (2) What does the author think I already know? and (3) What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I already know?

  • Text Dependent Questions

    • Mini Lesson Idea

      • Steps to Creating Text Dependent Questions

Step One: Identify the Core Understandings and Key Ideas of the Text

  • As in any good reverse engineering or “backwards design” process, teachers should start by reading and annotating the text, identifying the key insights they want students to understand from the text. Keeping one eye on the major points being made is crucial for fashioning an overarching set of successful questions and critical for creating an appropriate culminating assignment.

Step Two: Start Small to Build Confidence

  • The opening questions should be ones that help orient students to the text. They should also be specific enough so that students gain confidence to tackle more difficult questions later on.

Step Three: Target Vocabulary and Text Structure

  • Locate key text structures and the most powerful words in the text that are connected to the key ideas and understandings, and craft questions that draw students’ attention to these specifics so they can become aware of these connections. Vocabulary selected for focus should be academic words (“Tier Two”) that are abstract and likely to be encountered in future reading and studies.

Step Four: Tackle Tough Sections Head-on

  • Find the sections of the text that will present the greatest difficulty and craft questions that support students in mastering these sections (these could be sections with difficult syntax, particularly dense information, and tricky transitions or places that offer a variety of possible inferences).

Step Five: Create Coherent Sequences of Text-dependent Questions

  • Text-dependent questions should follow a coherent sequence to ensure that students stay focused on the text, so that they come to a gradual understanding of its meaning.

Step Six: Identify the Standards That Are Being Addressed

  • Take stock of what standards are being addressed in the series of questions and decide if any other standards are suited to being a focus for this text (forming additional questions that exercise those standards).

Step Seven: Create the Culminating Assessment

  • Develop a culminating activity around the key ideas or understandings identified earlier that (a) reflects mastery of one or more of the standards (b) involves writing, and (c) is structured to be completed by students independently.

Develop Text Dependent Questions such as:

  • Do the questions require the reader to return to the text?

  • Do the questions require the reader to use evidence to support his or her ideas or claims?

  • Do the questions move from text-explicit to text-implicit knowledge?

  • Are there questions that require the reader to analyze, evaluate, and create?

Additional Resources:

  • Close Reading a Picture

    • Mini Lesson Idea:

      • Reading a picture is something we do every day, especially when we look at advertisements in magazines, newspapers, or another venue, like a webpage. In fact, companies depend on us to read advertisements and bring meaning to the picture. Reading a picture is a great way to help students begin to look closely at an image and think about the embedded meaning.

Step 1. Have Students Examine the Picture

  • Tell your students to look at the picture for a moment. Then say: “As you look at the picture, what goes through your mind?”

Step 2. Model Your Thinking Aloud for the “First Read”

  • After the students have looked at the picture for a minute or two, model a think-aloud about the picture.

Step 3. Encourage Students to Share Their Thinking

  • Give students a few more seconds to look at the picture after you finish your short think-aloud. Invite students to share their thinking. You might want to write down their thoughts and ideas as they share.

Step 4. Encourage Students to Probe Deeper With Their Thinking

  • After several students have shared, ask the class to probe deeper and read the picture more closely. A close reading should take them deeper into the context of the picture than what might be perceived at first glance.


  • Close Reading of An Advertisement

    • Mini Lesson Idea: Advertising as text

      • Introduce advertising techniques

      • Teach students how to deconstruct the words, images and layout

      • Consider the persuasive nature of print ads from magazines

      • Ask students first to read every word on the page, making note of any words that are unknown to them. (the word infatuation in the upper right hand corner of the ad might be the word that stumps some students). Other words adorn the clubhouse, as well as the cap worn by the hang-gliding girl.

      • Many students may NOT have noticed words, in small font, which fall along the left hand side of the ad. So after they have made a list of every word in the ad, you MAY have to ask them to rotate the ad horizontally and point out the words (Schwann's Brand, etc.) in small font that they missed on first read.

      • Second, instruct students to make a list of all of the images in the ad-- in other words--what do you see in this ad; what is happening?

      • Third, have students pay careful attention to--and identify-- the various artistic techniques that go into this ad.

      • b. You might ask students: from what point-of-view do we, the viewer, see the action in the ad.

      • c. You might ask students to create a rule-of-thirds overhead transparency which can be laid atop the ad, thus revealing if any important elements fall along the intersecting lines of the rule-of-thirds grid)

      • These critical viewing questions should be asked and answered:

        • a. what is the slogan in the ad; what does it mean? why does a product need a slogan?

        • b. what is the narrative, or story, being told by the images in the ad?

        • c. from what "point of view"/perspective do we, the audience, see the action?

        • d. why do you think this ad uses the colors it uses?

        • e. who has the "power" in this ad; and who does not? How do you know?

        • f. can you identify one, or more, techniques-of-persuasion in the ad?

        • g. how is this ad laid out- where are important elements placed on the page and why?

        • h. is there any sub-text (implied) message here? if so, what is it?

        • i. how does your eye move as you view this ad?

  • Introducing media literacy/critical thinking questions. Again, students should be asked and given time to respond to each of these:

  • a. who created this ad?

  • b. what is the purpose of the ad?

  • c. what techniques captured your attention? students can say almost anything here

  • d. what is omitted?

  • e. who is the audience? students should look for clues in the ad for who might be the target audience

  • f. how might people different from you see this ad differently?

  • g. where was this ad published? after students have identified the target audience, they should brainstorm in what magazine might this ad have been published


Reading An Ad & Understanding The Techniques Used To Create Ads

March's Book Nook

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Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira

Bookishly Ever After is a realistic fiction novel set in South Jersey told through the point of view of Phoebe Martin who is 16 and enamored with the idea of love found in her favorite books. Bandeira allows readers to get to know Phoebe from her interactions through these books, archery, and her friends. Phoebe compiles and annotates certain scenes from her favorite books inside her journal to help her make decisions as she traverses through high school life. Phoebe struggles to believe she can ever be the heroine in her own romance until she is forced into trying at camp when she is a counselor partnered with the guy who may just be her real-life romantic ending.

Phoebe explains: “Breathe. Deal. It was easy enough to politely avoid him at school, but here...not happening. I was a big girl and if Maeve could work alongside Aedan, I could counsel a few kids and shoot some arrows. I let my eyes slide over to Dev, who was checking his camp papers with an intensity that made the whole breathing thing stop working again. Easier said than done.”

I reviewed this book because it was recommended as an anticipated fan favorite for 2016. I found the book very easy to read and wanted to see why Phoebe felt the way she did about herself. This book has topics of loneliness, first love, friends as support systems, and self-doubt. The standards of characterization and plot can be taught through the structure of the story. The structure is unique as the novel interweaves Phoebe’s real life with the life of characters in her favorite books. Excerpts from these books are placed throughout the book as Phoebe uses them for guidance which could lead students to see how books can help people work through issues.

Overall, I enjoyed this book as it was a quick read that was pure entertainment. I felt myself wishing that the books Phoebe enjoyed so much and referenced throughout the story were real books that students could read. I wanted so much for this book to use books that have been published to reference in the story, as I kept comparing various classic and young adult novels to different parts of the plot. I noticed on the front cover that it says “Ever After Book One,” so maybe additional books or companion novels are on the way. If so, I will certainly check them out.

School Library Journal recommends grades 7-10.

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Pinkney

“You ready child? Let’s go.

I’ve got my pulse on all the roads. And side streets. And avenues. And alleyways.

You see, I steer the beat. That’s why they call me the Groove.Because my uh-huh keeps us pumping on the way. So—uh-huh, I’m the one driving this Rhythm Ride. Make no mistake, kid. I’m not a man or a woman. I’m a guide. A tempo that keeps us on track.”

The narrator you just met, aptly named the Groove, takes readers on a tour of Motown. Rhythm Ride by Andrea Davis Pinkney chronicles the rise of Berry Gordy Jr. and the musicians he helped make famous. With a modest $800 loan from his family and a love of music, Gordy embarked on journey that would change his life and the lives of many others forever. The combination of black and white photos, discographies, and timelines entices readers to learn more about well-known artists like Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and Jackson Five.

While most of the “ride” is upbeat, the book also acknowledges the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement and how music and culture changed as a result. In the section “Ugly Sightseeing,” Pinkney delicately recounts the unnecessary deaths of Emmett Till, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Addie Mae Collins. The Groove reminds us that in order to keep moving forward, we sometimes need to look in the rearview mirror. Berry Gordy Jr. and “Hitsvlle U.S.A. was making history, taking the high road, and helping to move the fight for justice forward.”

As I was reading this book, I felt like I was stepping into an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. School Library Journal recommends grades 5 and up. It is a number one best seller on Amazon in Teen & Young Adult Music History.

Trapped by Michael Northrop

Scotty Weems is a well-known all, rising superstar basketball player at Tattawa Regional High School. One snowy afternoon, after school was released early due to a snowstorm, Scotty and his two best friends, Pete and Jason decide to hang around the school. Jason, who is anything like Scotty, is currently working on a building a “Flamethrower” go-cart in machine shop so now is the perfect time to get some work done. Pete, a relatively normal teenager, rounds out the trio as they make their way through the quiet school snow covered school.

Scotty takes a quick glance outside and realizes that the snow is not stopping anytime soon so his basketball game will most likely be cancelled for the evening; which is a strange way is perfectly ok to him. Scotty enjoys his time with his off the court friends, where he can just be himself and not always live up to his “superstar” status. The boys quickly get to work in the machine shop with the idea that Pete’s dad will pick them up within a few hours.

As time goes on, the decision to stay at school and now take the buses home early turns out to be a fateful decision as the blizzard continues to blanket the city. The boys become anxious, realizing that their time in the school may not come to an end anytime soon. With time to kill, the boys begin to wonder around the school only to realize they are not alone.

A random group of students, including Scotty’s crush Krista, are also stranded alongside Coach Gossell. Coach had stayed back to assist the few students who hadn’t got a ride a home without realizing there were even more students stuck at the school. As a result, he went to call for assistance with getting everyone home safely. The snowstorm, however, continues to make travel almost impossible on the streets in the community and leading up to the school.

As day turns to night, the students begin to realize they may be bunking up in the school for the evening. They begin to assemble beds and try to make due with what resources they have. This group of student who haven’t had much interaction prior to this are now forced to make the best of what could be a very long night.

At dawn the snow appears to have worsened with no sign of escaping the school anytime soon. The students are hungry, exhausted, and beginning to get extremely cold as the building’s heat begins to fail. With not much other choice, the students raid the school cafeteria in hopes of finding something edible to survive on. Scotty, although nervous to “steal” food from the school cafeteria, is enjoying the quality time he is spending with his crush.

The groups continues to have to utilize their best survival skills as the pipes in the bathroom break and they are forced to build a makeshift outhouse. The heat soons dies as well, forcing the students to safely create an indoor fire that will keep them warm without burning down the school. The decision to stay at school continues to haunt this group as time slowly drags on.

The snowstorm, which became the largest blizzard to ever hit the country, has crippled the city and made the students begin to wonder where their parents could be. Are they still alive? Will they survive the storm?

This first person point of view story takes the reader on a wild ride of survival and the realistic ideas of what Mother Nature can quickly do. The idea of being trapped in a school building with no idea when or if they will ever escape, is an experience that many students would never hope to be forced to take part in. Michael Northrop brings these characters to life with such ease that many young readers could easily relate to. This realistic adventure story would be enjoyed by any reader who enjoys a story with several twists and turns all while addressing everyday teenage issues.

I choose to review Trapped because I enjoy realistic fictions novels where I can easily connect to the characters. This story included several twists and turns that added a lot of adventure and thrill to the story. I would suggest this book for young male readers, even those reluctant ones who struggle to find an engaging read.

Professional Book Suggestion

Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher

Stenhouse Publishing says,

If you want to learn how to shoot a basketball, you begin by carefully observing someone who knows how to shoot a basketball. If you want to be a writer, you begin by carefully observing the work of accomplished writers. Recognizing the importance that modeling plays in the learning process, high school English teacher Kelly Gallagher shares how he gets his students to stand next to and pay close attention to model writers, and how doing so elevates his students' writing abilities. Write Like This is built around a central premise: if students are to grow as writers, they need to read good writing, they need to study good writing, and, most important, they need to emulate good writers.

In Write Like This, Kelly emphasizes real-world writing purposes, the kind of writing he wants his students to be doing twenty years from now. Each chapter focuses on a specific discourse: express and reflect, inform and explain, evaluate and judge, inquire and explore, analyze and interpret, and take a stand/propose a solution. In teaching these lessons, Kelly provides mentor texts (professional samples as well as models he has written in front of his students), student writing samples, and numerous assignments and strategies proven to elevate student writing.

By helping teachers bring effective modeling practices into their classrooms, Write Like This enables students to become better adolescent writers. More important, the practices found in this book will help our students develop the writing skills they will need to become adult writers in the real world.

Professional Development Opportunities

ELA Strategy Survival

MCESC in Boardman from 4 to 6pm

Next meetings: March 15 and April 13

Contact Nicole Mathias at nmathias@sebring.k12.oh.us


March 9 from 6-8:30pm

A La Cart banquet facility,429 Lisbon St., Canfield, OH, 44406

Speaker Dr. Lori Wilfong

Contact Joyce Zitkovich at Joyce.Zitkovich@Boardmanschools.org

Virginia Hamilton Conference

April 7 and 8

Kent State University Featuring Nikki Grimes

Details can be found here.

Holocaust Studies for Educators

June 20-24, 2016 8:30-4:30pm

Please contact: Alexis Morrisroe at astorch@holocaustandhumanity.org

ELA Strategy Survival--Summer PD

All dates will be from 8am-2pm

June 28 and 29 (B8- Boardman)

July 19 and 20 (B8- Boardman)

August 1 and 2 (New Building-Canfield)

More details to come

Mentor Text Academy-MCESC Summer PD


August 8 and 9

More details to come

March's Poll

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