by Karla Hilliard

Oh sweet summertime.

That beloved teacher time-of-year to hit the brakes and relax, to put your toes in the water and your mind on neutral, to sleep in until noon and binge on Netflix until whenever, and of course, to fulfill the English teacher dream of savoring the stockpile of books you’ve been waiting to relish in the sunshine.

But we all know that a teacher’s summer is much more than boat drinks and binge watching. Most educators I know are thinking ahead to next year. They are seeking out new professional texts, tweaking their syllabi, attending or presenting at workshops and conferences, collaborating with colleagues, and engaging in online PD. They dedicate plenty of their summer breaks to developing their craft and discovering new ways to engage their students and to become better, stronger, more effective teachers.

In the spirit of the crazy-awesome-amazing-inspiring dedication of teachers everywhere, here are some of my favorite activities and resources you can take back to your classrooms next fall

For Close-Reading & Analysis

Do yourself a favor and take 15 minutes and watch 2010 National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling work her magic in an English 12 class. Her Observe, Find Patterns, Draw Conclusions approach is applicable to any genre of text and any level of student. The kind of thinking this strategy requires is solid, and it nudges students towards identifying the complexity of a work. The best part? The students do the heavy lifting – they develop an intimacy with the text, probe for ideas, and construct meanings. Meanwhile, you use your expertise to coach and guide. Trust me: it’s good.

Grades 9-12 / ELA / Scaffolding

For Mentor Texts & Literary Analysis

As an AP Literature teacher, I’m constantly searching for ways to elevate students’ writing, specifically analysis. Literary analysis is a sticky wicket of an essay. It’s so easy for students to slip into that “sounding smart” voice or and crank out five neat and orderly paragraphs and call it a day. Teacher and author Rebekah O’Dell of Writing With Mentors pitches a genius idea utilizing current, engaging mentor texts (think The New Yorker and The Atlantic) modeling analysis. It makes so much sense! See what she has to say HERE. You’ll be glad you did.

For Novelty & Creativity 

I came across a lovely article on Twitter that said when you’re a teacher you learn that, “An idea you had five minutes before class will be such a hit that your kids learn like crazy and talk about it for months afterward.”

This happened to me, and I wrote it about it HERE. The long and short of it is this: poetry + a table of craft supplies + theme analysis + a time limit. I called it the Quickfire Challenge a la Top Chef, and it’s been serving up some mean analysis ever since.

For Formative Assessment  

I confess: I’m a sucker for a listicle. But this ain’t no mindless Buzzfeed click-bait. Click HERE to check out the plentiful ideas provided by Todd Finley on Edutopia. (Todd, by the way, has an excellent newsletter called Todd’s Brain. Click here to check it out.) In this article, you’ll find a brief discussion of formative and summative assessments and 53 (fifty-three!) quick and easy ways to assess your students’ understanding. And if you’re feeling wicked, you can have a student choose an activity from the list to assign to the class. Bwahaha!

For Shakespeare

Brian Sztabnik of Talks With Teachers is a genius. HERE is his Shakespearean Musical Chairs  — a fun, engaging, and adaptable activity that makes for meaningful instruction. Try it out, and make sure to create your own Shakespearean play playlist. I’ll spare you the embarrassing details of my Othello mix, but to give you an idea, it featured Sean “Puffy” Combs AND the theme song from Wizards of Waverly Place.

WVCTE is wondering…

What are YOUR go-to resources? What activities have you had success with? WVCTE would love to learn from you! Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook

Karla Hilliard teaches STEM Academy English and AP Literature and Composition at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She has been a classroom teacher for 11 years. When she isn’t teaching, you can find Karla hanging with family, cooking up a good meal, reading up on educational trends, crocheting soft things, or eating spoonfuls of peanut butter.

Karla serves as Executive Vice President and Head of of Secondary Affairs for WVCTE. See what’s happening in her classroom at or connect with her on Twitter @karlahilliard.  

Categories: Blog

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