Create your own dystopia! Creativity, choice, and voice!

We are wrapping up a dystopian literature unit. During the unit, we have studied civil disobedience, dystopian characteristics in several short stories, and have written an essay evaluating the satire inherent in a piece of dystopian literature as well as the civil disobedience in that literature as well. This next week we are finishing up the unit. In addition to a test and a BreakoutEDU, I thought it would be fun to have students create their own dystopias.

View the assignment at this link.

In this assignment, the main goal is for students to have an outlet for their own voices through creativity and choice. Students get to pick an issue in their own lives or their community (or the world), and then exaggerate that issue in the form of a dystopian satire. Students get to choose the issue, and then they also get to choose how to create their dystopia. I am having all students write a quick summary of their dystopian world; however, all students get to choice how to creatively bring these worlds to life. Some of the websites I’ve suggested are Canva, Storyboard That, and Adobe Spark.

I have several digital choices that I’ve come up with including simply writing it out as an actual story, to creating an infographic or a comic or even a propaganda video. I’ve even left it open for students to propose their own ideas for creation if they want. I’m excited for all the creativity!

Students can work in small groups, pairs, or alone as another layer of choice. In order to give some audience to their creations, I’m setting this assignment up as a contest as well. As we do with most projects, students will post their work to Google Classroom and will view each other’s work. In addition, I will have students vote on the dystopia creation that they feel best embodies a dystopia, is the best example of satire, and is the most creative.


Judging books by their covers: using imagination to teach elements of fiction

“Never judge a book by its cover” is a cliche of which most our students are aware. This lesson takes that cliche, and turns it on its head to help students use their imaginations, creativity, and collaboration to better practice the understanding and application of story elements.

In the lesson, small groups get a book and are asked to imagine a plot and theme of the book based only on the title and what they can see on the front cover. Groups imagine these elements, draw a plot diagram, and then present their stories with the rest of the class. At the end, groups then get to read the inside/back cover and students are always excited about how their plots are similar or different from the actual book.

This lesson is meant to cover the CCSS standard for 8th grade ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.2, which reads: “Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text” (English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 8). Depending on what elements your focus on, you could use this lesson with many grade levels based on this specific standard.

This lesson is ideal for students as a review/extension activity. Personally, I implemented this lesson after noticing through assessment that my students were still struggling with plotting out the conflict of stories that they had read. I wanted a lesson that included creativity instead of simply reading another story and drawing another plot diagram. My goals for this lesson also included having students work together collaboratively and to get them excited to share their ideas with each other. These skills (creativity, collaboration, and communication) are three of the four 21st century skills that are students desperately need.

These elements can be changed however it best suits your students’ learning needs. The elements that I focused on in this lesson are: protagonist/antagonist, dynamic/static characterization, conflict, narrator, theme, and a plot diagram (setting, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution). As stated, you can change these around as suits your students’ needs, focusing on those terms that they need the most reinforcement in.

The lesson hook is to tell students that today they are going to judge books by their covers. I prepared for the lesson by grabbing enough books from my classroom libraries to have the class split up into groups of 2 or 3. I made sure the covers of these books were engaging and interesting looking and only had a title and author on them. That way students would have enough material to spark their imaginations, but not any plot points that would stifle those same imaginative juices.

I let each group pick a book, making sure to emphasize that they must judge the book solely on its cover. Then I emphasize to the students that they are to use their imaginations and collaborate together to complete the imaginative task laid before them.

I project a list of questions that students are to answer. Students typed up their answers on a document and used an online drawing tool OR my white board to create their plot diagram. (You could get this to students however you see fit based on technology available in your class.) I made sure to emphasize (going along with the standard) that their theme, characters, setting, and plot all needed to be connected to that main idea summary that they began with.

Imagine a story creativity questions

  1. Write a 1-3 sentence summary of what happens in the book.
  2. What is the conflict? (and what type is it)
  3. Who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist?
  4. What is the setting? (time, place, AND social context)
  5. Draw a plot diagram for the story
    1. Remember that CLIMAX is where the conflict undergoes some change
  6. Is the protagonist dynamic or static and how?
  7. Is the antagonist dynamic or static and how?
  8. What type of narrator is it? (1st, 3rd limited, 3rd omn.)
  9. Write a theme statement for the book

I then had students present to the class, while making sure that everyone could see the cover of their book. Finally, after presenting, each group read the back cover/inside cover.

Overall, this was a fun and engaging activity. Students were hooked from the beginning and my formative data showed me that students engaged in the elements of fiction at a higher rate than previously in the class. It worked well to engage students in three of the 4 C’s and was highly aligned to a CCSS standard.

I encourage you to try this lesson out with your students, at any grade level.


Edgar Allan Poe Unit: technology style

I’m in the midst of teaching an Edgar Allan Poe unit focusing on the analysis of the features of mystery, horror, and suspense. It’s the first time I’ve taught the unit. Luckily, my colleagues before me made the unit with great bones. I’ve created the lessons using technology for a few reasons:

  • differentiation
  • gain student interest, and therefore engagement
  • allow students to work at their own pace
  • motivate students to work on extension activities

Feel free to copy any and all of the lessons below. They are using Google Docs and DocentEDU mainly.

1: Horror, mystery, suspense: terms and example clips with questions


2: Psychology of Fear Article


3: FEAR Article (5 basic fears)


4: “The Raven:


5: “The Tell-Tale Heart”

6: Sidequests (extension activities)

Side quests: Gamification of extension activities

The other day on a Twitter chat (where else do you get new ideas?!) I saw someone mention side quests. (And now I don’t remember who and I really wish I could remember who so I could credit them! If you know who then tell me so that I can!) Side quests would be a way to gamify the classroom. Students can gain points for completing quests that are connected to the curriculum being taught.

We are just starting a literature unit teaching horror, mystery, and suspense. The side quests are then centered around these concepts.

I am requiring that students complete one side quest during the unit. The gamification part comes in that, for every side quest students complete, they will receive one point. The student with the most points at the end of the unit (ie the one who has done the most side quests) will get a prize.

I have a list of side quests that they can complete. After completing a quest, I’ve made a pretty generic Google form with questions that they must fill out to connect the quest to our unit. They will then fill out the form every time they complete a quest to the same Google Classroom assignment. This will make it easy to keep track of–I can see who wins just based on the assignments turned in to that one assignment.

One class I use Classcraft with. I think that the next time I do side quests, I will integrate them into Classcraft as an assignment as well as XP. That will make the gamification come alive!

The side quests themselves were pretty easy to come up with. I have tons that are varied. They are as simple as reading a book to webquests (that I found already made) to online games that go along with our unit to watching documentaries.

After using this system for the unit, I have decided that I will use this as a complete system for next year. For each unit, I will have side quests that students can complete. These will be the extension activities that I’ve found. In addition, I will have side quests going for the entire school year for extension activities that can be completed independent of the unit that we’re on. I’m not sure how I’ll incentivize these year-round side quests. I’ll perhaps have them on a quarterly-basis. In addition, if I don’t use something like Classcraft for each class, I think I’ll have a leaderboard on a google sheet that is viewable by all the students.

If you’d like to see the docs, you can take a peek here.

Creating Interactive Content from Dusty Old Textbooks

So, I teach at a school with shared curriculum. Overall I really enjoy what I teach. However, the 6th grade hasn’t been 1:1 so sometimes there are great opportunities for improving the lessons via tech.

This last unit was a unit which covered teaching elements of fiction through short stories covering the topic of bullying. The stories themselves were great, but all the unit had was the textbook.

I took this as an opportunity to improve, and used DocentEDU to make the stories interactive and differentiated. I also added a nonfiction article dealing with the very relevant and timely topic of the election.

I made a lesson of this article from the AP about bullying speech in the election into an interactive lesson. It includes vocabulary, embedded questions, and live-updating class discussions. My students really enjoyed this lesson and the conversation was very lively.

Next, I made a lesson of the short story from the unit, “Tuesday of the Other June.” This text now included an audio book for differentiation for students of different reading levels and language abilities. It also included lively full-class discussions as well as embedded and interactive vocabulary. Finally, it also included embedded questions, allowing my students to more easily think on a higher-level and use textual evidence for their answers. I also had students interact with and annotate the text to show their understanding of the essential question of the unit.

None of these activities would have been possible in a textbook. My students enjoyed these lessons, I enjoyed the lessons, and I know that they learned more than they would have otherwise in the traditional manner.

Book Reviews: Finding an Authentic Audience for Reader’s Workshop

I am currently finishing up the second time I’ve taught literary terms through the reader’s workshop model. I’ve loved both times. One thing that I reflected on after my first time teaching with this model was that my students needed more of an authentic audience for their final assessments/creations. So, this go-round students are writing book reviews. We are then posting those book reviews in two places:

  • School Media Center:
    • As shortened links and QR codes in our school media center inside the hard copies of the actual book that each student read. This way, all future students who pick up the book will have a guide to answer the question, “Will I like this book?”
  • Amazon Customer Reviews:
    • As reviews on the listing of the book for purchase on Amazon. I am doing this under my account since my students are too young to do this themselves.

My students are very excited for this interaction and the real audiences that they will reach. More importantly than just simply reaching an audience other than their teacher or classmates, my students know that they will actually be helping inform someone’s decision!

I think that having authentic audiences is a powerful way to motivate and engage students. Even more so, knowing that those authentic audiences will use the product is even better!

Overall, writing a book review and publishing to several places beats writing another boring book report that only your teacher will see.

Reader’s Workshop-Tech Adventure Style!

This last week I started a reader’s workshop unit with my 6th enriched language arts students. Once again, I didn’t quite follow the prescribed curriculum…….

The unit was originally to be a lit circles unit. I didn’t do lit circles for two reasons:

  1. There aren’t enough copies of books to do lit circles
  2. I don’t think lit circles give enough freedom of choice
    1. I have students in this class reading at grade level to 12th grade–how can I expect them to read the same book?

So, I decided to do a reader’s workshop model. I’ve taught reader’s workshop one time before, and it was focused around graphic novels. (That is another blog post–Ss read graphic novels and then drew their own! It was pretty amazing.) The objectives to be taught during the unit were focused around literary terms, so I set up my workshop around stations focused around literary terms. Students will go to two stations every class period, spending about 25 minutes at each station. There are 6 stations, and for each “rotation” (going through each of the stations one time) there is a literary term that is being focused on. So, here are the stations:

  1. Reading time
    1. Students read silently and then keep track of their reading in a reading log.
  2. Literary term work
    1. Students watch a video detailing a literary term. They then write a paragraph responding to a question dealing with the literary term.
      1. This is being done with a google doc with linked YouTube Videos. Students got the doc through Classroom.
  3. Reader’s response journal
    1. Students choose one prompt out of several to write at least a paragraph response to. The prompts focus on their reaction to their own personal book, but are also focused on whichever literary term is the term for that particular rotation.
  4. Makerspace!
    1. Students create something (I have several projects, but that’s another blog post)
    2. Students record a video reflection of their creation and post to our Google Classroom class for others to see
      1. Students are using YouTube’s feature of “my Webcam.” They then get the link and upload as a class comment to an announcement post in Classroom. If my students were older, I would probably have them create their own channels and post that way.
  5. Vocabulary
    1. Students find 5 words in their book that they didn’t know. They then fill out the definition and synonyms and antonyms for the words
  6. Grammar
    1. Students work on standards-aligned lessons on the site No Red Ink. They then go back to their writing from stations 1 and 2 to correct any grammar errors (focused on the concept from the grammar lesson).

We are doing 5 rotations; each rotation lasting approximately 3-4 days. At the end of rotations, students will write a book review of their workshop book (focusing on the 5 literary terms which have been studied). This review will then be published to the web (in a Google Doc format). We’ll make a short url for the review, and print off this link. Then, each link will be taped inside the actual book the student read in our school media center. Not only will this create an authentic audience, but it will also give useful information to other students in the school about what books to read.

So far, it is really going well. Some stations are more of a hit than others; some stations seem to be using more critical thinking (or different types) than others as well. Students are creating some really amazing things, and they are for sure loving the choice and ability to spend time reading something they love and reflecting upon it.