The One Text You Probably Haven’t Read that will Help Your Students with Hamlet

text to help with HamletI can’t believe I’ve been blogging for six months and I haven’t mentioned Hamlet!  It’s one of my favorite things to teach and I have so much to say about it.  

Hamlet can be hard to teach because there’s so much in the text.  There are so many different directions you can take that lesson planning can get chaotic.  It’s also hard to know how to introduce the play and what to front-load.  Iambic pentameter?  Revenge tragedies?  Mental illness?  

I’m going to suggest that you start where Shakespeare started.  No, not in Stratford-upon-Avon.  I’ve always felt that biographical information on Shakespeare doesn’t help students understand the play much better.  But begin with the text that Shakespeare started with: the story of Amleth. Continue reading

Passage Pass: A Silent Discussion Activity that Works with Any Text

passage pass

I completely agree with this post that having a structure for your discussion makes all the difference in the world.  I’ve had the occasional class that on the occasional day could break into an insightful discussion without my intervention, but it’s never been the norm.  And having a lot of different discussion formats in your repertoire allows you to adjust to scheduling needs, diagnose and solve classroom problems, and keep things interesting.

But trying a new format can also be daunting.  I wrote about the things that can go wrong with fishbowl discussions and the appointment clock strategy so that other people wouldn’t have to go through as much trial and error as I did.  Let’s talk about another discussion format that works with any text and is easy to implement once you get the hang of it.   Continue reading

8 Utopian Songs for Your Dystopian Unit

Utopian songsWhen I first started teaching dystopian literature about a dozen years ago, I actually had to define dystopia.  Not any more!  Kids love the stuff, and they already have a lot of experience. But I still think it’s great to teach because you can dig into some of the more nuanced ideas and even some aspects of literary style or sentence construction.

One thing I like to do is start with the idea of Utopia, since most Dystopias come about because a powerful group tries to create an ideal society for themselves.  Utopian songs are a nice way to start because they’re short and students usually enjoy listening to them. Many of these Utopian songs would work on their own, or you could also do a jigsaw or have groups listen to several and compare/contrast. Continue reading

8 Non-fiction Articles to Pair with Homer’s Odyssey

non-fiction articles for Homer's OdysseyLast time on Next Time Teaching we were talking about poems to teach with Homer’s Odyssey. But I know a lot of people are trying to get in more non-fiction, either because of the common core, or Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week, or just because hey, the real world makes for interesting discussions.  So without further ado, here are 8 non-fiction pieces that also go well with The Odyssey.


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15 Poems to Teach with Homer’s Odyssey

Greek shipOne of the frustrating things about teaching English is how much time we spend looking for what to teach–the timely article, the thought-provoking poem, the text that will make an idea come to life for our students.  But finding them takes time.  And the more time we spend looking for what to teach, the less time we have to think about how to teach. Continue reading

Embrace the Messiness of Teaching

I know very little about music.  A lot of what I do know about music, I’ve learned from students who knew way more than me.  Isn’t it nice when that happens?  But one thing I am really interested in and have thought a lot about is metaphors for teaching and how other careers relate to teaching.  I think we’ve all had the experience of feeling like a stand-up comedian on a really bad night.  (Tap, tap. . . is this thing on?)  Zookeeper comes to mind at times, too.  But I’ve been thinking that conductor might be one of the best metaphors.  Which is funny, because I’m still not sure I understand what a conductor does.  But that’s the point:  good conductors apparently do something (a lot of things) that naive people like me don’t recognize, but which allows the musicians to play their best music.  And I think teaching is a lot like that.  Good teachers are doing an enormous number of subtle things that even they may not realize they’re doing that allow their students to shine and learn.

So what does music have to do with messiness?  Well, the other day I was listening to this episode of the Hidden Brain podcast and they started talking about jazz music and, sure enough, that sounded like teaching to me, too.  Because the topic was messiness and teaching is messy. Continue reading

How to Not Freak Out on the First Day of School

finding focus on the first dayAugust may be a wonderful month.  I’ve heard that in many European countries it means relaxing in a lake cabin with friends.  But as a teacher, August has always meant one thing: freaking out about the start of school.  Freaking out that you haven’t finished all of the summer to-do’s, freaking out that you haven’t thought through all of the connections in the curriculum, and freaking out about the first day itself.  Let’s talk about how not to freak out on the first day. Continue reading

Everything that Could Go Wrong with Your Fishbowl Discussions

And why you should do them anyway

One of the reasons I started Next Time Teaching was to share what I’ve learned–both about what works and what doesn’t–from 19 years of teaching and to try to help other teachers not have to reinvent wheels.  Believe me, I’ve made thousands of mistakes.  Every day, in every lesson.  If I can save you from making any of the same mistakes, I’m happy.  So let’s focus today on problems with fishbowl discussions.  Whether you’ve never heard of them, want to try one, or have done them a bunch of times, hopefully thinking through some of the potential things that can go wrong ahead of time will help your next fishbowls go more smoothly. Continue reading

To-Done Lists for Teachers

To-Done Lists for TeachersI am the queen of the to-do list.  Seriously.  I have at least half a dozen going at all times, from projects for the next ten years to what to get done while my little one naps.  And the list of teacher to-do’s is endless.  But we’ve been talking about making the classroom more positive for students and for us, so I want to talk about transitioning the to-do list to a to-done list.

You’ve probably heard of to-done lists, and there’s more info about them here, here, here, and here. Most productivity people seem to agree that they’re less anxiety-provoking and more accurate than to-do lists.  I want to talk about how they’re especially important for teachers. Continue reading

Positive Self-talk for Teachers

Earlier on the blog, we were talking about the goal of kids hearing 3 positive statements for every negative one.  But let’s be honest here.  If there’s anyone whose negative to positive ratio is off, it’s us.  Teachers.

There’s a considerable list of people we may hear negative comments from. Teenagers (who aren’t exactly known for cheerful enthusiasm), those parents (you know the ones),  administrators, politicians who have no experience with education and even newspapers that seem hell-bent on trashing teachers every chance they get (Hello, Chicago Tribune). Continue reading