Teaching Writing to Teens

1-3-2014 7-47-51 AM

English teachers often move into Creative Writing activities this time of year. I have several great workbooks for teachers to use with their middle and high school students. They are available in print and ebook form. The digital edition is perfect for projecting on the screen or Smart Board for whole class viewing. The print version can be used to photocopy individual pages or have students order their own copy for use in class.

Fiction Writer WorkshopFiction Writing Workshop for Teens: Review and Practice Worksheets for Middle and High School Students 

A hit with English and Creative Writing teachers! Over 75 pages of exercises for your English and Creative Writing class! This workbook contains instructions and individual exercises for writing general fiction, science fiction, fantasy, children’s books, and plays. Plan a semester or a full year around these lessons. Exercises are on individual pages so that you can quickly find a writing lesson when you need it. How many times have you had 10 minutes to fill in class and were at a loss how to fill the time? Pull out this workbook and get a quick idea for a fun writing assignment for your students. Includes individual and group work. Give a workbook to each student in your Creative Writing class! No more photocopying! Perfect for Homeschoolers!  Print  $8.99    Ebook $4.99  Kindle $4.99

$4.99Creative Writing Workshop for Middle & High School Students 

A hit with English and Creative Writing teachers! Over 165 pages of exercises for your English and Creative Writing class! How to write in different genres (sci-fi, fantasy, newspaper, children’s books, plays, poetry and more!) Also includes important grammar issues such as sentence fragments and run-on sentences. Plan a semester or a full year around these lessons. The Kindle edition is formatted so that you can quickly find a writing lesson when you need it. How many times have you had 10 minutes to fill in class and were at a loss how to fill the time? Pull out your Kindle and get a quick idea for a fun writing assignment for your students. Includes individual and group work.  Perfect for Homeschoolers! Kindle $3.99

poetry workbook 1400Poetry Writing Workshop: A Workbook for Students 

This book describes easy to follow directions for creating poems that touch the heart. It includes writing exercises and prompts for traditional poems like the cinquain and haiku and more modern poetry like generated poems and found poetry. No matter what age you are, these exercises will show you how easy it is to jump into writing poetry!

Written by English and Creative writing teachers for their students from middle school to adult. Ebook $3.99 Kindle  $3.99 Smashwords $3.99


poetry workbook cover smallPlaying with Words: A Poetry Workshop 

What is better than reading and writing poetry? Creating poems! This workbook is for older students and adults who want to play with words. There are 12 ideas (exercises) for creating poems by playing with words here, as well as a few examples of poems created by myself and famous poets like Lewis Carroll. The print version has space for students to write in. The Kindle version has those pages removed. Ebook $2.99   Kindle $2.99    Smashwords $2.99

short story workshopShort Story Writing Workshop: A Workbook for Students

Looking for writing exercises for students? In this workbook you will find 10 focused exercises that build a student’s confidence towards writing their very own short story. The short story workbook walks the student through 10 exercises that focus on plot, setting, dialogue, conflict, and more! The workbook includes exercises in helping students come up with an idea for a short story and mapping out their story. Ebook $2.99

basket storiesBasket Stories (Fantasy/SciFi Series): A Creative Writing Activity

This series includes characters, settings, and conflicts suitable for a fantasy/sci-fi story. Coming Soon: Christian Stories Series (teaching values and morals). This activity works well as an individual project, but is more fun if done with a partner or a group. Alternative use: Set up a Basket Story learning center. There are three sets of cards here: characters, settings, conflicts. Each set has 12 cards. You can use a plastic bag, an envelope, a box, or a basket for each group. Print out a packet of three sets for each basket. The number of baskets you make up depends on the number of groups you have in class. There are an infinite number of stories that can be created with these cards because you never know what card you will pull next! The students love this, even students who say they hate creative writing. This activity is set up in such a way as to give students a huge opportunity for using their imagination. For instance, perhaps they pull the following cards – young boy, tree house, broken. They can choose any time period, any season, any weather, etc. as long as they use those three cards in the story. The conflict ‘broken’ means that something must be broken – the tree, the tree house, the boy’s heart, the boy’s leg, something in the treehouse or on the ground, etc. Once they set the conflict, students must decide how the character will react to that conflict. Will he deal with it himself or bring another character to help him (pull a new card from the character set)? Directions for students: Take one card from each set (character, setting, conflict). Begin creating a story from these three items. Whenever the group feels a character, setting, or conflict needs to be added to the developing story, they will draw out another card from the particular set. All items pulled must be used and no substitutions are allowed! Continue pulling cards and writing the story until time is up and the teacher calls for stories to be wrapped up (a resolution written). Students may set the actual time period of the story at any time they wish (past, present, future). WANT THE COMPLETE SET ALREADY PRINTED, CUT, LAMINATED AND READY TO USE? You can order that here in my store as well. Ebook $1.99 Ready to Use Set $6.00

original-440537-1Complete Language Arts Lesson Plans: First Week

This document contains lessons for one full week of classes in the middle school Language Arts class. Each lesson contains an opening (hook), presentation, guided and independent practice, resources, and a closing activity. Lessons range from 35-100 minutes; customize as you see fit! All lessons include Common Core Standards for Middle grade Language Arts. Some of the resources described can be found in my store for free or under $3! Ebook $4.99

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Using Flipped Learning in the College Classroom

As the instructional specialist in the Learning Center at Robeson Community College, I was asked to develop a workshop for faculty. I chose to offer this professional development opportunity on Flipped Learning. I did so in part because I was using flipped lessons out of necessity in my own class.

Most community colleges are leaning towards blending reading and writing classes into one class. At our college, these courses are taught as hybrids and last 8 weeks. I feel it is important to spend a lot of one on one time with developmental (remedial) students, so I began using the hybrid portion of the class to deliver my lectures and the face-to-face time in the classroom actually practicing the concepts and working with the students. I had no idea that what I was doing was called in academic circles Flipped Learning or Flipping the Classroom.

Flipping a classroom is becoming increasingly popular in many academic arenas from primary school to university.  In traditional modes of instruction, the teacher delivers a lecture, provides some brief in-class practice, and then assigns homework.

flipping homework dilemma

By flipping the class, also called Flipped Learning, the instructor provides students with lesson content (lecture) before class and uses class time to practice concepts (do homework). Students also are able to participate in learning activities with the instructor present to help them.

If you’d like to know how Flipped Learning started, here is a good video from 60 minutes interviewing the originator of flipped learning and showing a flipped classroom in action.

60 minutes video on YouTube 13:27 minutes


Advantages of Flipping a Lesson

flipped advantages

  • Makes learning the focus rather than teaching
  • Encourages independent learning
  • Enforces accountability and critical thinking
  • Provides more time for individual assistance
  • Provides more opportunities for differentiated learning
  • Maximizes use of time in the classroom


  • Power Points already using
  • Learning Object Repositories

Many teachers already use Learning Objects whether they realize it or not. Basically, a learning object consists of instructional content, practice, and assessment of a single learning objective. One example might be a learning object on Sentence Fragments.

When flipping a lesson, you are essentially offering the instructional content (IC) of the learning object (LO) BEFORE the actual class.

What type of lesson to Flip

Many educators feel that lessons that entail hands-on application where students may need individual help work the best with this type of instructional strategy. As my students learn to actively read and write paragraphs, summaries, and essays, this type of strategy works well. I am able to use class time to model active reading and circulate the room and offer help with forming thesis statements, essay structure, grammatical issues, etc.

Timing the Flipped Lesson

Flipping a lesson does not have to be a total restructure of your classroom environment. It is a learning strategy that you choose when and where to incorporate. It may work great for some lessons and not so great for others. You don’t have to flip your whole semester at one time. Start small with a single lesson!

The Process of Creating a Flipped Lesson

flipping flowchart

  1. Choose single learning objective
  2. Choose how to deliver instructional content (before class)
  3. Choose method of assessing completion of instructional content
  4. Plan an in-class learning activity that supports and reinforces the objective.
  5. Offer feedback and assistance during activity.
  6. Wrap up with student reflection or other form of assessment.

Creating Instructional Content (tutorials)

Our college uses the Moodle learning platform, and you can upload videos right into Moodle or host your videos at YouTube or Sophia (more on Sophia later). The students are already required to go online to complete half of the class (in a hybrid) or all of the class (fully online), so flipped learning works very well. Courses that are taught completely offline are also good venues for flipped learning as educators are encouraged more and more to use technology in the classroom.

With just about everyone having a smartphone these days, the majority of students have no problem accessing the Internet and YouTube on their phones. I polled my classes and asked who could access YouTube on their phone, and every hand shot up! And some of those students were struggling to navigate basic computer applications.

 If you know how to make your own videos, you can make your own or access thousands of learning tutorial videos already available. You then link to videos or screencasts directly within your Moodle or Blackboard site by embedding video code or providing the link to your video.

  • Video (You Tube, School Tube, Camtasia)
  • Screencasts (Sophia, Camtasia, Screen-o-matic)
  • Podcasts (Voice Thread, Podomatic)

Personally, I like making screencasts rather than videos. They are much the same actually. A screencast simply records what is on your screen. You can choose to add audio or not. Since most teachers use Power Points in the classroom, this a great way to go. Simply pull up your Power Point and go through it delivering your lecture as you would in class. Don’t worry about um’s and other missteps; these you have in your normal classroom delivery anyway, and they actually let your personality show through. My students say they like the lectures with me just talking normally rather than the videos that are monotone.

Sophia.org is an online learning community that allows you to create tutorials (learning objects) in all kinds of formats. A typical Sophia tutorial will include a screencast lecture (ppt with audio), a handout (pdf or word), a short lesson (use Google Forms or just directions to complete an assignment), and a quiz. Sophia allows you to create a quiz right in the tutorial.

Sophia also has a free screencast program, so you can record a screencast directly from Sophia and it will be hosted there for free. I use a program called SnagIt to record screencasts and then I can upload my screencast other places as well. SnagIt is only $29.99 for educators and has a lot of other really cool tools.

Common Arguments Against Flipping

  • This is too much like homework, and students won’t do it.

You are introducing a learning strategy to students that they may not be familiar with. Be patient. If they insist on calling the ‘preview’ homework, let them. Some students (and teachers) find it easier to think of it this way in the beginning.

For instance, “Watch this video on YouTube and write down at least three comments or questions regarding the video. Come to class tomorrow with your comments/questions prepared to discuss the video.”

Sound like homework? Sure it does. No matter. Let’s call it ‘new’ homework. After a time, students will realize that the boring lectures are disappearing, class time is more interactive, and the actual application of the material is happening IN the classroom rather than at home.

  • A lecture on video is just as boring to a student as a classroom lecture.

All lectures have the potential of being boring, whether in class or online. It is the personality and creativity of the educator that gets the student’s attention.

Most colleges already use a learning platform like Moodle or Blackboard. Your instructional content can be a Power Point presentation rather than a video. You can upload your PPT directly into most learning platforms or you can save it at SlideShare.com.

Teachers report that “faster-paced students were less bored and frustrated with the pacing of the whole class. Slower-paced students felt like they had control over the lesson and were less confused and frustrated.”[i]

  • Some students don’t have access to technology.

Not every tutorial is going to entail intensive technology. There are many different ways to present the tutorial, just as there are many different ways of delivering on-campus instruction.

Almost all students have cell phones that they can access YouTube with or they can use the computer lab on campus.

flipping tech

You can count on there being at least one student who has a technology issue. Decide ahead of time how you will deal with that issue. Perhaps offer the student the option to view a DVD or give them a flash drive that has the tutorial on it.

If all else fails, that student can be given a transcript of the video to read, but strive to make them responsible for the original assignment.

  • Students are not going to do the work before class.

You will probably have some who won’t do the work, as always. But when they come to class and other students are jumping into the project or the hands-on activity of the day, they are going to wish they had watched that short video or whatever other instructional content (IC) activity you assigned. It only takes one or two times before students realize they are missing out.

I hear you saying, “Well, some students won’t care about that.” True; but that is true with the traditional lecture as well. You need to be prepared to step in and lead these students during class. Do not just let them sit there clueless. Send them to the side of the room and make them watch the video, look up the website, whatever your IC was, and then allow them to jump into the class activity.

  • Providing an Assessment

You can also check for completion of the pre-lesson by letting students know they will have a quiz the next day, or ask them to try out two or three of the problems they learned in the IC, or perhaps they can write a journal about the lesson, etc.

How’s it Going?

My hybrid students don’t even know they are participating in flipped learning. What they do know is that they enjoy coming to my class because they are not bored. We brainstorm and work together during class. They have lost their fear of asking me for help because we are all working together. I more or less fell into the flipped classroom by accident, but I can’t imagine teaching any other way now.

I would love to hear if you are using flipped learning in your classroom and how it is working for you.


Bruff, D. (2012, September 15). The Flipped Classroom FAQ. Retrieved March 4, 2013, from Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning Network (CIRTL): http://www.cirtl.net/node/7788

White, R. (2012, June 30). How to Flip Your Classroom. Retrieved March 4, 2013, from Hybrid Classroom: http://hybridclassroom.com/blog/?p=819

Flipped Learning. Retrieved March 2, 2013. http://flipped-learning.com/?p=1073#more-1073

The Innovative Educator. Retrieved March 1, 2013. http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2012/12/why-flips-flop.html

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Descriptive Writing

Here is a new lecture on descriptive writing (with audio).

3-14-2013 4-23-08 PMhttp://youtu.be/vZXn0TbJrlw


Use this link to share the complete tutorial online with your students (includes video, slideshow, and an assignment). http://www.sophia.org/descriptive-structure-writing-a-description-tutorial 

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Narrative Writing

3-14-2013 7-05-29 AM

Narrative Structure

This is a Power Point presentation that shows the narrative pattern of organization in writing.

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Avoiding Sentence Fragments

This is a good video on avoiding sentence fragments

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Reading Process Worksheet

You can print the worksheet (with room to write) here Reading Process Worksheet.

Reading Process Worksheet

Before Reading  
Step 1: Get to Know the Text  

What does the title mean to me?



Who is the author? Do I know anything about him or her?



What is the source of the reading, and when was it written?



What do the headings tell me?



What does the introduction tell me?



In what order are the ideas? How is the text structured?



Step 2: Check Your Attitude and Purpose  

Describe your attitude toward this reading?



Describe your purpose for reading.



Step 3: Connect Experience and Background Knowledge with the Text  

How is my experience related to this chapter?



What background knowledge do I have?



During Reading  
Step 4: Write Down and Define Vocabulary  


Step 5: Take Notes on Major Ideas and Important Details  


Step 6: Write Down Your Thoughts and Reactions  


After Reading (use a separate piece of paper for these 3 steps)

These should be typed in proper format in 3 paragraphs

Step 7: Write a Summary  


Step 8: Respond to the Reading  


Step 9: Reflect  



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Reading Strategies: What to Do If….

Reading Strategies

What to Do If…

You don’t know a word.

Use context clues! Look at the words surrounding the unfamiliar word; they may provide clues to the meaning of the word.

  • Examples may suggest the meaning of an unknown word. Look for key words like for instance, such as, including.
  • Synonyms are words that mean the same or almost the same. You may find a synonym anywhere in the passage, providing the same meaning as the unfamiliar word.
  • Antonyms are words that mean the opposite of another word. Key words to look for are however, but, yet, on the other hand, in contrast.
  • General Sense of the Sentence means asking yourself questions about the clues surrounding the unfamiliar word and using common sense (logic) to determine the meaning of the word. You have to do a bit of detective work.

Use a dictionary. Look up the unfamiliar word in a dictionary. If you don’t have a dictionary, get one or use an online dictionary.

You don’t understand what you read.

Use fix-up strategies.

  • Make notes to the side of the text as you read (this is called annotating).
  • Use sticky notes to make notes on confusing passages.
  • Use a highlighter to mark main points and confusing words.
  • Adjust your reading rate; slow down.
  • Ask questions as you read.
  • Circle unfamiliar words.
  • Talk to someone about the reading.
  • Write a short journal entry about what you read.
  • RE-READ if necessary!

You don’t know where to start.


  • Read the title and subtitle of the article or chapter.
  • Note any pictures or graphics (tables, charts, etc.). Look them over.
  • Read the sub-headings. Most articles have several sub-headings; think of them as chapter titles.
  • Read the first sentence under each sub-heading.
  • Read the introduction to the reading (the first paragraph).

Doing all of these things will help you get focused and give you an idea about what the reading will be about.

You find yourself bored.

Engage with the text.

  • Make a prediction about what you think will happen.
  • Ask yourself questions and try to answer them.
  • Connect the reading to something you have heard before and had happen to you.
  • Talk to someone about what you are reading.

Visualize what is happening in the article or book in your head. Draw a picture of the characters or scenes.

You are feeling overwhelmed.

Break it down.

  • Make an outline of the reading.
  • What is the main idea (what the reading is about)?
  • What details support that main idea?

Read one section at a time.

  • Stop after each section and jot down some notes about what the section was about.
  • Write down any unfamiliar words and look them up in the dictionary before moving on to the next section.
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