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Organizing ELA Units for the Year

The most effective way to teach ELA in your middle school classroom! Use short stories and poetry to get students analyzing, discussing, and writing about literature! The perfect curriculum and units to use :)

This year, we both made the shift from teaching mostly novel units, to incorporating mini units of short stories and poetry in between each novel, and we couldn’t be happier! Don’t get us wrong, we LOVE teaching novels/plays (The Westing Game (5th grade) and Othello (8th grade) are some of our hands down favorite novels/plays to read with our students, but sometimes novels just take a long time to get through with our kiddos. There’s so much to talk about and write about that two months can fly by, and we’re still on the same text!

Enter mini units. Here’s what we’ve noticed since adding short stories and poems into our year long curriculum:

1. Higher student engagement.
Because we’re reading a variety of short stories and poems, we’re way more likely to find topics that interest a greater number of students. Let’s face it, not every kid is going to enjoy the novel we select for the class to read. This year our topics ranged from a soldier returning home from war (“Soldier’s Home" by Ernest Hemingway) to a young boy given an unlikely second chance (“Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes), to a young girl experiencing a mortifying experience on her eleventh birthday (“Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros). The variety of the topics and themes led to some amazing Socratic Seminars, and we got to see students’ unique perspectives shine through.

2. Increased proficiency in citing and justifying textual evidence. 
We require our students to write a response to literature after each piece of text we read. Since they must have evidence in their writing, the short stories and poems offer a wonderful opportunity to find a variety of evidence. It’s also helpful that they are working with so many different texts to find evidence to support questions about characterization, theme, and symbolism.

3. More complex analysis.
We choose our short stories and poems with great care. Not only are they engaging to students, but challenging as well! We have our fifth graders analyzing Hemingway short stories and poetry by Edgar Allan Poe, and guess what, they LOVE it! This year our fifth graders wrote thought-provoking essays on whether true love is possible at a young age through the lens of Poe’s “Annabel Lee.” (They were obsessed with this poem and would hang out at recess just to argue their points more!)

4. More reading happening in the classroom.
Since we’re analyzing shorter pieces of literature, we’ve found that we move through the texts more quickly which leaves time for increased independent reading! Now, we spend a good portion of class time on books students choose and we hold them accountable with our Reading Response Bingo

Again, don’t get us wrong. We are not completely giving up on our novel units at all. But, these mini units have been wonderful to help our students become more proficient readers and writers. What worked best for us was to do a short story/poem unit around the various holidays. It helped keep our students engaged and on their toes as we were switching topics up quite frequently.

If you think you want to do the same thing or something similar in your own classroom, we've organized the stories and poems we used into a year long resource which you can purchase by clicking here or on the image below. You can also purchase each of these holiday resources individually from our Teachers Pay Teachers store

We truly think it will be a wonderful addition to your own curriculum!

The most effective way to teach ELA in your middle school classroom! Use short stories and poetry to get students analyzing, discussing, and writing about literature! The perfect curriculum and units to use :)



As an aside, to keep ourselves organized, we created binders of our units with each resource printed out and in order from the beginning of the year until the end of the year. This summer, we're working on adding the cute covers and binding everything using a binding machine that recently arrived from Amazon!

The most effective way to teach ELA in your middle school classroom! Use short stories and poetry to get students analyzing, discussing, and writing about literature! The perfect curriculum and units to use :)



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The most effective way to teach ELA in your middle school classroom! Use short stories and poetry to get students analyzing, discussing, and writing about literature! The perfect curriculum and units to use :)

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