Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Celebrate Valentine's Day in ELA Without Sacrificing Content

One of the hardest things about being an English teacher in this fast paced world is being able to take time to celebrate holidays or special events in your classroom without sacrificing content.  It can be a struggle to balance the demands of your curriculum and the need to venture off script sometimes. While analysis and critical thinking are extremely important skills for students to master, let’s face it sometimes they need opportunities to think creatively and express their learning in a way that doesn’t require them to cite textual evidence every few minutes. Thinking creatively doesn’t mean that students won’t be thinking critically and showing their understanding of a concept or skill. 

Here are just a few suggestions on how to celebrate Valentine's Day with your students in ELA without veering too far from your curriculum:

1. Collaborative Poetry: If you are in the middle of a poetry unit, let your students take a break from analyzing figurative language and digging deeper into the poem itself. While creating a poem can be a daunting challenge for students, it becomes a much easier task when students are allowed to work together and bounce ideas off of each other. I always find it so interesting to listen to the brainstorming and discussions that students have as they work together to create their poem. 

If you are looking to add another degree of fun to this project, create a list of topics on sticky notes or scraps of paper. Fold the paper and place them in a cup or bucket. Let each group select a topic from the cup and tell them to keep their paper folded until everyone has had a chance to pick. Once all groups have selected a topic, explain that each group is responsible for creating a poem that is based on the topic they have selected. Here are some of the example topics I have included before: "A dog who is in love with the pug next door", "Asking out the most popular girl in school",  and "Teenage Girl's Dream Date".

2. Literary Love Letters: We all have our favorite characters or stories who have had an impact on our own lives. Wouldn't it be nice if you were able to express your love for these characters and stories? Valentine's Day is the perfect day to give your students a chance to write a letter to a character, story, or author that explains why this particular person or piece of literature has impacted their lives. It is not only a great way to get students thinking and writing creatively, but it can also be used as a tool to assess your students' writing abilities and offer academic feedback to your students.

Don't have time to create your own activity? Well, you are in luck! You can find the Literary Love Letters: Creative Writing Task in my TPT store. This unit includes everything that you will need to implement this activity in your own classroom. It also includes differentiated options and editable features that allow you to meet the needs of your individual student needs.  

3. DIY Valentine Cards-Literary Love Edition: One of my fondest memories of celebrating Valentine's Day when I was in school was giving and receiving Valentine cards from my classmates. There was something magical about trying to pick out the perfect cards to give to your friends and the excitement of seeing the cards that they had picked out for you. I'd venture to say that regardless of how old your students are that Valentine cards remain a focal point of this holiday for them too. 

Why not combine this timeless tradition with literature? A DIY Valentine Cards activity that is based on a favorite literary character or a recent story that students have read in class is the perfect solution to celebrate Valentine's Day without veering away from content. In this activity, students can create at least one Valentine that is related to a character or story. In addition to creating the Valentine, students can write a short explanation that explains the message behind their Valentine or how it relates to a certain character or story. 

Interested in having students create their own Valentine Cards? Click here to download the FREE resource, DIY Valentine Cards: Literary Love Edition.

4. Short Story Ideas: If you really don't want to stray from your curriculum at all while celebrating Valentine's Day, there's even an option for that. Find a short story that focuses on relationships, love, or that may  have an anti-love theme. My suggestion would be to read a short story like "The Chaser" by John Collier. This thought-provoking tales centers around Alan Austen and his desire to buy a love potion to win over the love of his life. The events in this story beg readers to ponder the question "Can money really buy love?".

"The Chaser" can be used to teach a wide variety of skills from main idea to making inferences to argumentative writing. It all depends upon the amount of time that you want to devote to instruction and the level of your students. For my 6th graders, we use our normal close reading strategies to tackle this text. During the first read, students are responsible for reading to answer the question, "OMG! What Happened!?!". This helps them practice writing summaries of what they have read and also allows me to see who gets the story and who may need more assistance going forward. During our second read, students dig deeper to analyze Alan Austen and his motivations. Students use this information to decide whether they think that Alan is truly in love with Diana or if he is simply obsessed with her. It is always quite entertaining to read my students' stances on this particular topic. The wisdom of middle school students can be quite enlightening. 

Do you have any other suggestions for celebrating Valentine's Day that I haven't mentioned? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!