Category: Writing

Using Anchor Charts in Secondary

Like many other teachers, I love everything about anchor charts: the big pages, the colorful markers, and the fun fonts. But making anchor charts in secondary is not quite the same as making anchor charts for primary.

Make every anchor chart together. Sometimes in elementary school, we make an adorable anchor chart, laminate it, and use it every year. You could do that in secondary, but students take greater ownership of the material if you all make the anchor chart together. Depending on the topic, students can take notes as you build the chart, or they can just participate through discussion. If you teach multiple sections of the same subject, you may end up with several versions of the same anchor chart–and that’s okay! Each chart will be unique just as every section is unique.

Hang charts prominently. Anchor charts are only useful if they are visible, so even if you have multiple versions of the same anchor chart, keep each one visible. When a chart loses its utility, take it down. You can always roll it away and pull it back out if you need it later.

Utility trumps beauty. While it is fun to make beautiful anchor charts, an anchor chart should be useful above all else. This means using clear, vivid handwriting. The best anchor charts also feature some kind of text feature like a numbered list, a graphic organizer, or an acronym.

Strategically choose when to make your chart. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to create your anchor chart at the beginning of a unit, but sometimes the concepts are better discussed part way through the unit. If you build the chart too early, students forget the material or the material does not seem relevant. But if you build the chart too late, students don’t have enough time to internalize the material. As with all good planning, make sure to intentionally plan when you will build the anchor chart.

Make an immediate reference. Once you build the anchor chart, start referencing it immediately. Model referencing the chart and give students an opportunity to reference the chart. For example, when my students build their rhetoric anchor chart, we immediately analyze rhetoric in a series of commercials. The next day, students reference the chart as they write their own commercials. On the third day, students reference the chart as they watch and analyze their classmates’ commercials.

Sign your charts. After my students build an anchor chart, they sign their work. This may seem like a waste of time, but this little action helps students take ownership of the content. Further, this helps you hold students accountable for the material on the chart.

Secondary Anchor Charts @moore-english

What are you tips and tricks for building successful secondary anchor charts? Let us know in the comments.

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Promoting Academic Accountability

Academic dishonesty is an unfortunate reality. Students have countless reasons for committing academic dishonesty, which includes plagiarism and cheating. In the ELA world, students “borrowing” papers from friends, buying them online, and/or recycling their own work all pose significant problems. How can teachers combat this challenge? And how can we make students our partners in this pursuit?

Define the problem. Before teachers can make students partners in the pursuit against academic dishonesty, we have to be explicit about the problem. Clearly define the scope of “academic dishonesty”, and clearly communicate that definition to students, parents, and other stakeholders. The easiest way to do this is through your syllabus. In addition, include this definition on assignment sheets. I include a blurb about academic dishonesty and its consequences on the assignment sheet for all major projects, papers, and presentations.

Work together. One or two educators cannot fight academic dishonesty alone, so enlist your team, department, and administration in this endeavor. Last year, my department developed a specific department policy, which was in line with building and district policy. This proved to be helpful because now that we share a definition and language, we have universal consequences, and we have the support of our administrators. If everyone approaches the issue in the same, consistent manner, students will recognize that there’s nowhere to hide.

Promoting Academic Accountability Through Integrity #moore-english

Create a culture of integrity. With a clearly defined problem and a collaborative approach to tackling the issue, educators can begin to build a team, department, and building culture that only accepts and actively promotes integrity. We’ve all seen the cheesy character-promoting programs that come into buildings and hang a few signs, but that’s not enough. We have to live integrity and model it for our students everyday.

  • Do this by admitting when you have made a mistake so students have a model of how to admit and fix mistakes.
  • In addition, every time I reference or quote someone else’s work (whether in a Google Slides, on a handout, or verbally), I include an attribution. We’ve all heard that “good teachers are good thieves”, and, well, while it’s true that we do exchange ideas and resources, part of the integrity culture gives credit where credit is due. I’m not saying not to exchange ideas and resources, but model attribution for your students.
  • Further, the ELA classroom is the perfect place to consistently point to examples of integrity (Atticus Finch) and examples of action without integrity (Cassius).
  • Finally, reward and celebrate integrity. When your students make a choice that exemplifies high character, point it out and celebrate. There doesn’t have to be a tangible reward like a gold sticker, but a smile or a fist bump is great positive reinforcement.

If all of these sound like small ideas–they are. Culture doesn’t come from one large action: culture is the culmination of countless small actions.

  1. Empower Students. Make students partners in the pursuit of academic honesty by making sure they have the right tools.

  2. Make sure students know about great resources like the Purdue OWL or The MLA Style Center.  

  3. Help students determine the credibility of resources.

  4. Make sure students know where to locate key citation information. The librarians at my school do a great job sharing the library databases with students, including helping students find the citations that the database already provides.

  5. Give students tools to check their work before they submit. This might be a quick checklist, the rubric, or a Critical Friends opportunity.

Regardless of which tools you use, it’s important that students have easy access to these tools, know how to use them, and have time to employ and experiment with them. How do you respond to academic dishonesty? Let us know your best suggestions in the comments. 

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Promoting Academic Accountability Through Integrity #moore-english


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First Week Writing Ideas

The first week of school is a busy time–learning procedures, establishing expectations, building relationships–but it is also important to use this time to get a writing sample from students. While writing from a portfolio or from last year’s teacher is helpful, it is even more important to get a recent writing sample from students so you can determine where they are right now.

First, decide what you want to get from student writing: a sense of their personality and voice? An assessment of their stamina? A show of their technical skills (summary, citation, etc.)? A demonstration of formal abilities (structure, evidence, etc.)? Or do I just want to get to know my student?

First Week Writing Twitter

Once you know what you’re looking for in a student writing sample, it’s time to design the writing task. Here are my favorite writing tasks for the beginning of the year.

  1. To get a sense of student personality and voice, I forgo the usual beginning of the year letter-to-the-teacher and ask students to take a stand on a school issue. Sometimes I ask them to write about why lunch should be longer, why we should play music during passing time, or why we should ban homework. These writing prompts are impersonal enough that everyone can comfortably approach a prompt. Plus, students usually want to share their ideas with one another, so this is a good way to get students talking early in the semester. Additionally, reading these letters gives me a sense of a student’s voice and ability to use evidence and reasoning to support his or her claims.

  2. When I am interested in a student’s writing stamina, I pull out an ACT or SAT-writing prompt and give students 30 minutes to address the prompt. These prompts are complex enough that students should need the full 30 minutes to address the prompt, so the students that take the most time often produce the most compelling responses. This also gives me an assessment of a student’s ability to work with academic language and in a structured manner.

  3. In order to assess students’ technical skills, I will ask students to research and find a credible, reliable article related to a current issue (climate change, the refugee crisis, student debt relief). Then, I will ask students to write a summary that focuses on the author’s argument. This assignment gives me a sense of students’ familiarity with research, their ability to determine a source’s credibility, and an idea of their ability to break down an author’s argument.

  4. When I need to know about students’ formal skills, I choose a short story or let students choose a short story, and then I give them this prompt: How does the author use figurative language to support the story’s theme? This prompt is challenging in that it asks students to identify and analyze the author’s use of language and a theme. Then, this prompt asks students to respond in an organized manner, so I also get an idea of students’ ability to select and incorporate text evidence within a structured paragraph. Of all the prompts listed here, this one gives the best picture of student’s holistic writing skills.

  5. Coat of Arms Writing Activities However, my favorite writing activity for the beginning of the year is creative and gives me a sense of my students as individuals. I ask students to create their own Coat of Arms and then to write about their work. This activity grew out of my Medieval Romance unit, and it quickly became one of my favorite writing activities. If I am not able to do this activity at the beginning of the year, I adapt this plan for a reading later in the year and have students make a Coat of Arms for one of the characters we read about.

Writing this post has me excited for the coming school year. I can’t wait to meet my new students and get to know them as writers and readers. What are you excited for in the coming school year? How will you get your students writing early and often? Let us know in the comments.

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