A Peek Inside: English 10A

2 Sep

To help paint more of a picture of my classroom, I thought I would tell a little about what I am teaching.  My school follows a trimester schedule.  For the first trimester, I am teaching English 10A, the first part of the 10th grade English credit, and ELA Lab, a 9th and 10th grade Tier 2 Reading Intervention.  First, I will share details about English 10A.


English 10A is divided into four main units:

  • Persuasive Writing
  • Anchor Text; The Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  • Historical Fiction Research Project
  • Choice Book Unit

Daily Schedule

My daily schedule in English 10A will look something like this:

  • Review of Day/Book Talk
  • SSR
  • Writing
  • Grammar
  • Mini-Lesson
  • Independent Work Time


I have written before about how important reading every day in class is important to me.  We did it last year, and I plan on continuing it this year.  One of my big decisions has been what to do about logs.  In the past, students filled out a daily log that asked for a summary of what they have read and the strategies they used.  At the end of the week, students wrote a paragraph reflecting on a strategy they used that week and how it helps them as readers.  I have been debating if this is the most effective thing to do.  After reading a number of books and talking with a variety of people on Twitter, I think I have a plan.

Using Book Love by Penny Kittle as part of my guide, I am going to work with students in determining their reading rates.  I want students to be reading at least two hours each week.  Using the format laid out by Penny in Chapter 4, we will determine how many pages per week a student should be reading if he or she is reading for two hours.  Using some advice from Jason Stephenson, whom I follow on Twitter, I am going to do a Friday Check-In with notebooks where students will write down the book the reading, the page they are on out of the total book, and how many books they have read this year.  You can check out Jason’s great ideas at the entry here, as well as other amazing ideas in his blog.

I have also debated whether or not to have a goal for students to read, a la Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisperer.  I am torn because I do not have students all year and there’s a good chance I will not have them in 10B.  I have gone back and forth with should I do 10, 15, no goal?  I revisited Penny Kittle again in Book Love and I am going to use students’ rates to help set individual goals for the trimester.  My ultimate goal is students read more than they have before and develop a love for reading that they can bring with them in the upper grades and beyond.


I want to write every day.  Writing is something that has fallen to the wayside.  I didn’t mean for it too.  I just focused so much on reading that at times writing was pushed aside.  However, I do need to focus on writing just as I focus on reading.  Writing fluency is just as important as reading fluency.  So, notebooks will be used to help students brainstorm writing ideas, writing about what we will be learning, respond to things we read, imitate another piece of writing, or just write about what they want.  This will be beneficial just as reading every day will.


When I started teaching, I loathed teaching grammar.  Could not stand it.  I would do anything but teach grammar.  Now, I love it.  Why?  What brought about this change?  The work of Jeff Anderson changed everything.  Not only did I get to see Jeff at our ISD in my third year, but in 2012, he visited our district and worked with us.  He completely changed my view of grammar and I enjoy it.  I think my students enjoy it more too.

Following Jeff’s model, we do the following lessons daily for each skill:

  • Monday – What do you notice? (Look at mentor sentence and discuss techniques used)
  • Tuesday – Imitate (Both students and I write sentences imitating the skill in the mentor sentence)
  • Wednesday – Revise (Look at how we can use skill in other sentences)
  • Thursday – Edit (Discuss how the skill might be incorrect and record correct sentences in notebook)
  • Friday – Write (Write a passage that uses the skill plus one or two skills from previous weeks)

Seriously, grammar is much less time consuming and makes more sense to students this way.  I would not change back for anything!

Persuasive Writing

There is a focus of preparing our students for the ACT and MME.  Persuasive writing is a big part of that.  I start of the year with this.  I do use a workshop model that I adapted from units a former consultant introduced us to.  Before instructing on how to write the essay, we immerse ourselves in the genre looking at strong mentor essays and creating the characteristics of persuasive essays.  We also break down the structure of an essay and talk about the different parts and how different writers use each part and how students can play with the structure a little.

Ninth grade hits persuasive writing as well, so my students have a good sense of the different parts.  They definitely have the bones of the essay.  My goal in tenth grade is to build up the meat of the essay.  I particularly focus on thesis statements that provide a context and developing the support paragraphs.  With thesis statements, we also talk about purpose statements to help us plan on demand writing.  These purpose statements help us create a context.  When we discuss support, I hit hard on the so what? and how so?  In fact, I am usually going around the room getting in students’ faces to get them to make me stop asking that question.

We practice skills for each part of the persuasive essay, with me modeling my thinking and students working to practice the skill while I work around the room.  The final assessment is an in-class, on demand persuasive essay.  I do love our prompt though.  Students discuss if YA novels should be banned in school classrooms and libraries.  They always have a lot to say on that.

A Raisin in the Sun

Before reading the play, we do a mini informational unit to talk about The American Dream.  We practice close reading with an essay that addresses how the American Dream has changed over time.  After a discussion on denotation and connotation, we watch the first part of Obama’s speech from the 2004 DNC.  Students practice close reading on their own with a blog entry about how people now want “fast cash” and are not willing to work for the American Dream.  We complete a cross-text matrix to help students make connections among these three pieces.

When we get into the play, we read Act 1 as a class.  Students read the different roles.  On the advice of Kelly Gallagher in Readicide, I give students a particular focus: the characters’ relationships among each other and their dreams.  We look closely at the Younger family to start to understand them as characters.  We actually watch the play once students have an understanding of the characters.  Plays were meant to be viewed.  We still discuss characters’ motives and themes throughout.  Students complete an ACT Reading style test with an explanatory prompt exploring themes and characters in the play.

Historical Fiction Research Project

This project will actually be introduced during week one.  Students then have some time to work on it.  I actually got this idea from a session I attended at MRA in 2012.  Students will pick a historical fiction book to read.  It may be YA, adult, or a middle grade novel.  It can be from any time period, on any topic.  I limit that one person per class can read the same book.  As students read, I remind them to focus on the historical aspects of the book and topics they will want to research.  Students do have class time to research their topics.  The final product is a presentation to the class that looks at how well the book does in representing what actually happened.  To lead up to this, we do read historical fiction picture books to understand the genre.  I also do a sample presentation on the book Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

I have collected books through personal purchases and Donorschoose.org projects.  I have an active project right now that is almost fulfilled to get more books to my students.  I have not only a variety of topics, but also a variety of reading levels to help meet students’ needs.  It is still the choice of the student which book he or she uses for the project.

You can see my Donorschoose.org project here.

Choice Books

I feel so lucky to work in a building that has been open to changing the ways English has been traditionally taught.  One thing we have done is introduce more choice and novels through our choice books and literature circles.  In 10A, students have the choice among four books to read:

I book talk the books to introduce them to students and allow them to look through them.  I ask for their top two choices and do my best to honor their first.  During this time, SSR time is usually devoted to these books.  We do a number of mini-lessons that focus on reading strategies and responding the reading.  Students apply these lessons to their books.  Once a week, their small groups meeting to discuss their books based on the strategies we worked on that week.  They become the teachers and help each other.

The end of the unit has the groups create a way to introduce the book to their classmates.  The can do an ad, readers’ theater, create a “deleted scene,” or make the book or part of the book into a children’s book.  This enables students to be creative with what we have worked on.

So that is English 10A in a nutshell.  Later this week, I will tell you all about ELA Lab.  I also hope to give a tour of my classrooms (Lab is in a different room than English 10A).  What are your classes like?


4 Responses to “A Peek Inside: English 10A”

  1. Beth Shaum (@BethShaum) September 2, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    You know how much I love your historical fiction research project since I totally hit you up for requisites and examples, but I was reading the book FEARLESS WRITING a few weeks ago (disclosure: my uncle wrote it so I’m a tad biased) I couldn’t help but think what a great final project it would be for your students to do a multi-genre project instead of a powerpoint. Something to think about. I can let you borrow the book if you’re interested.


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