As you prepare for the first day, there is always so much to do. Setting up your room, finalizing your syllabi, getting your grade book set up, collecting textbooks, attending gobs of meetings. Summer is a great time to put a few creative structures in place so that the many details of starting up don’t overwhelm your desire to move in creative directions this year.
Here are 10 ways you can get your year off to a creative start.
1. Theater Corner
Gathering props, wigs, costumes, and face paint on a shelf or two in the corner of your classroom can really up your creative game. I’m always amazed at how much high school kids glory in dressing up. A wig may be just what one of your students needs to become a Shakespearean character during a reading or perform his best during a reader’s theater group scene.
2. Art Section
Every primary teacher has his or her collection of amazing art supplies – but what of the secondary crowd? Though not every student who comes through your door will want to take advantage of it, having great art supplies will help bring storyboards, graphic novels, political cartoons, murals, and more to life throughout the year. No one HAS to use them, but everyone CAN. If you’re worried your art materials may not be treated with respect, snap a photo of each student holding up the materials they are borrowing, then delete that photo when the Sharpies, flair pens, watercolors, etc. are returned in good condition. Make respectful treatment of your art supplies an easy part of everyone’s participation grade.
3. Postcard Collection
I love love love my postcard collection. Of course you can’t travel the whole world before school starts, but once you start looking around, you’ll find postcards everywhere. Pick up eclectic cards at thrift shops and vintage stores, funny scenes on road trips, iconic art photos at museums. A postcard collection makes for great story starters and journal prompts, not to mention intriguing classroom décor. Read more here.
Pick up this handout (it’s a free download) explaining the concept of classroom committees and have it ready to share with your students. Letting students take ownership over major classroom events (poetry slams, play performances, reading festivals, etc.) will make the events WAY better and take a ton of work off your shoulders.
5. Collaboration Partner
If you’ve never tried a collaboration before, this is your year! It’s an amazing way to broaden your students’ horizons and give them an authentic audience for their work. Listen to this podcast chock full of ideas for collaborations and then hop into my Facebook group, Creative High School English, to find a partner. I’ve been helping match partners this summer and I’d love to help you, too.
It’s easy to forget the power of guest speakers. Summer is the perfect time to talk to friends and friends of friends who might want to come in and visit your classroom. It can be as simple as a series of short books talks, in which adults from around your school come in to give a two-minute spiel about their favorite book. Or as complicated as that actor friend of yours coming in to run a week-long theater workshop while you’re studying drama. Contact a variety of guest possibilities over the summer (ELA careers series? Creative writing workshops? Interdisciplinary connections?) and schedule them before life gets too busy.
7. Student Interest Poll
Starting the year by learning about your students is great. But an overlooked aspect of learning about your students is learning about what they’re interested in in your field. Give students this interest survey to discover how you can tailor some of your work during the year to their individual passions. What ELA-related fields interest them most? Would they rather try podcasting or start a vlog? Are they more interested in writing creative nonfiction or poetry? Are they interested in creative entrepreneurship? Non-profits? Politics? Finding out a bit more on the front end can help you engage them.
8. Think Flexibly About Seating
Flexible seating is all the rage. But even if you can’t afford beanbags, cereal bowl chairs, and squashy couches, you can come up with a few different ways of arranging your classroom to suit different activities. Imagine some of the scenarios you see unfolding in your classroom (literature circles, gallery walks, roundtable discussions, editing partners, etc.) and draw up diagrams for how you’d like to arrange your tables or desks for these days. Or just download mine for free. Show the charts or slides as students walk in and they can help you set up your room exactly like you want it every day.
Give students a chance to combine making and writing when you prep a small section of your classroom with maker materials. Index cards and rolls of paper can help students who want to do maker drafts of their writing, scrawling ideas everywhere before arranging them. Colorful chalk and whiteboard markers, paints and an easel, Legos, or clay – any of these can help students “make” settings or characters before imagining a story around them. Read more about this amazing option for a creative classroom right here.
10. Interdisciplinary Effort
The world gets more interdisciplinary every day. I’ve got one cousin who got his PHD in Engineering who now runs his own artisan perfume company, Sfumato, and another who majored in theater and is now helping Santa Fe turn garbage into biodiesel and compost with her environmental non-profit, Reunity Resources. In the modern era, students will combine their interests with their environment and draw on all the skills they have to be successful. We can’t know what they will do, exactly, but we know it will probably draw on multiple disciplines. Working that into your curriculum in intentional ways will help it feel more relevant and exciting for your students. I love creating projects like “Literary Character Designs an App” and “The Street Art Project” that combine English with STEAM. Try one of these or create one of your own.
I hope this turns out to be your most creative year as a teacher. I find that the more I think of myself as a guide seeking to unlock student creativity, the happier I am. I don’t want to be their guru, because they won’t have me forever. I want to show them the amazing creative potential waiting inside them.
If you’re always looking for creative teaching inspiration and you could use support from a like-minded community, consider joining my Facebook group, Creative High School English.
After almost a decade of teaching across all the high school levels and grades, in both the United States and abroad, Betsy now joyfully spends her time helping high school English teachers escape the podium and teach creatively. Betsy runs the blog Spark Creativity and The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, and has also written for Independent School Magazine, English Journal, Teachwriting.org, ReadWriteThink.org and Classroom Notes Plus. Her degrees and a lot of happy memories come from Pomona College (B.A., English) and Middlebury (M.A., English). Betsy loves to travel the world (she’ll be back, Morocco!), play playdoh with her little ones, and cook a range of desserts that would make the Hogwarts house elves proud. To shop for creative and engaging ELA curriculum, check out her TPT Store, Spark Creativity. Tune in to her Sunday night live Facebook show here or get fun teacher hair photos, dessert inspiration, and creative classroom ideas from her new Instagram feed. More of a Pinterest person? She’s got that too.