Oftentimes the most time-consuming aspect of lesson planning is coming up with fun ELA activities that will engage your high school and middle school students. This reminds me of the dreaded question presenters often spring on people at trainings: “What do you like to do for fun!?” I can’t be the only person who draws a blank and then proceeds to have an existential crisis during the entire PD session thinking what DO I do for fun??? Am I really that boring??? Is my husband going to leave me for someone more exciting??? Does my dog think I’m dull too??? HA.
But just as my inner thoughts are unwarranted, so is your ELA lesson plan critique. Sometimes you just need a helpful list to remind your English teacher self of all the fun ELA activities you can incorporate into your English classroom.
I used one of my favorite brainstorming tools to come up with a list that you can reference time and time again. Feel free to print the ABC graphic organizer and post it near your teacher desk. You might want to bookmark this too so that you can reference that blog post and resources associated with each fun ELA activity.
A: Ambient Media
It’s no secret that I love me some ambient media, but it may surprise you to learn just how many ways you can use it to engage students in high school and middle school English class! Learn more here: 5 creative ways to use ambient media in ELA
B: Bookish BINGO
Bookish BINGO is something new I started and I have so many good ones lined up to share on Instagram this year. The gist is students use the boards like a quasi personality quiz to see how relatable the themes or topics in the book might be to them. You can get inspired here: Bookish BINGO Boards
C: Literary Charts
Math and literature might seem like an unlikely pair, but this duo can produce some of the deepest literary analysis that you’ll do all year. You can read all about strategies like rhetorical bar graphs, character pies, and sentence variety data in this post: Literary Charts: Interdisciplinary ELA Activities
D: Mini Dramas
One of my favorite ways to make plays more engaging is to have students experience the artform as it was meant to be by acting it out. While doing an entire production often requires way more time than ELA classes allot, putting on a mini play only takes a single class period and is so much fun! You can see an example here or download my mini play supplies here: Act it Out: Bring any play to life!
E: English Outdoors
In our book Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning, we have an entire chapter dedicated to research on learning outdoors and accompany that research with a brainstorming list of ideas for making nature your classroom. You can also find a ton of great ideas in this post: English Outdoors: How to take your ELA class outside
F: Finger Puppet Plays
Finger puppets might seem like an odd choice for a secondary ELA activity list, but I can assure you that even high school students are just big kids at heart and putting on a Shakespeare finger puppet play will be one of the most engaging (and rigorous!) activities you’ll do all year! You can find my library of Shakespearian finger puppets here: Finger Puppet Plays
G: Gallery Walks
Gallery walks are perfect for getting students up and moving and are a go-to of mine for their versatility! I’ve probably used this fun ELA activity a hundred different ways over the years, but a few of my favorites are: Host a gallery walk to showcase a new topic, host a figurative language gallery walk, and host a gallery walk with thematic pairings.
H: Hands-on Projects
Though hands-on projects sometimes take extra time and oftentimes extra money to facilitate, when you can incorporate them, they are SO worth it! Some of the most memorable lessons of my career center around hands-on ELA projects. Here are a few ideas to get your lesson planning wheels rolling: mini-microcosms to represent world-wide themes, tiny house design for inference, and a whole list of STEM in ELA projects here!
I: Introduction Stations
New unit? New book? New semester!? Introduction stations can be the answer to all of these questions! If you are looking for a way to engage your students, and pique their interests in a variety of ways, using these stations is an interactive strategy to get things started with some energy. This resource can be adapted for any book or unit to help you get your students hooked right away: Intro Stations For Any Book
J: Jamboard Templates
As I was desperately searching for something to engage my remote learners during the year that must not be named, I discovered Jamboard, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since! This application can be used to enhance group discussions, collaborations, or formative assessments for in class or virtual learning strategies. To find out more about how to use Jamboards in your class, explore my blogpost here for ideas: Creative Jamboards Templates for the ELA Classroom
K: Kinesthetic Learning
Some of my favorite fun ELA activities involve movement, and when these movements are directly related to a concept, that makes for a powerful learning experience. For example, in my rhetoric resource, students learn about the rhetorical triangle by forming a triangle with their bodies. Then, students watch a series of yoga-themed commercials looking for ethos, pathos, and logos. In another example, students form a star with their bodies for a twist on anticipation guides. You can find lots more kinesthetic learning ideas in this post: 10 Ways to Add Movement in the ELA Classroom
L: Literary Lenses
Literary lenses are a great way to help students look at text in different ways with different perspectives. In a sense, it helps train them to be more open-minded to different opinions, empathic toward various viewpoints, and critical of linear thinking. One thing I always like to have on hand is this set of literary lenses. This is one of those fun ELA activities that comes in so handy with so many different texts.
M: Mural Responses
If there’s one thing I know to be true, high school and middle school students never miss a good selfie opportunity. Instagramable murals are all the rage right now, so why not harness their power by adding wall mural responses to your own classroom? Drawing inspiration from this famous wing mural in Nashville, I created a raven wing activity to go with Poe’s “The Raven.” All I did was change the shape of a traditional worksheet to raven wings. Rather than putting their responses in a to-grade pile, students display them in a mural. In another example, I had students create symbolic windmills to go with Animal Farm and displayed them in a “wind tossed” pattern around my room. To create your own wall mural responses, think about what shapes or unique displays students could give their responses on that aren’t a traditional worksheet.
N: Sticky Notes
It’s a narrow competition between color-coded highlighters and sticky notes as my most used school supply for fun ELA activities, but since I needed an “N,” we’ll let notes claim the winning spot. 😉 I don’t know what it is, but when you give students a smaller piece of paper that doesn’t look like a worksheet, they are suddenly much more engaged. There are all kinds of different ways you can use sticky notes for ELA lesson plans, but here are a few of my favorites: Sticky note bar graphs, Sticky note activity ideas
O: Onscreen connections
Whether it’s movie pairings, animation shorts, YouTube videos, or even Instagram reels, students love onscreen entertainment! When brainstorming fun ELA activities, think of ways you can incorporate video. You can find lots of examples in this post: Best Movies for High School and Middle School ELA
P: Podcast Pairings
Podcasts are a great engagement tool in general, but when you pair them with ELA texts, buy-in soars! One of my favorite and most popular ways to pair podcasts is with poetry. Due to the short format of poetry, it’s easy to play a podcast and do a poetry pairing in one class setting. Plus, the unlikely pairing really challenges students to think critically and dig deeper into themes. You can find my poetry and podcast pairings here and more ELA podcast pairing ideas here: ELA Podcast Pairings for Middle School and High School
Q: Question Starters
Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge of inspiration to get a class discussion going. If you or your students are drawing a blank on the right questions to ask, pull out a Socratic Soccer Ball, Convo BINGO, or Prompt Playing Cards in this Talking Toolkit!
R: Revision Stations
If you are tired of spending your weekend poring over student essays, and want a more efficient way to give your students immediate feedback, utilizing revision stations will deliver! These stations will help students make all of those little time consuming corrections before it ever reaches your desk, which will give you more YOU time. The best part about revision stations is that it gives you more one-on-one time with your students so that you can give them meaningful feedback and the help they need. If you want to learn more about how revision stations can help you reclaim your weekends, read my blog post here: Essay Revision Stations
S: Socratic Seminars
One of the best ways to make your class completely student-centered is mastering the Socratic seminar. I love watching as a class becomes completely absorbed into deep and meaningful conversations and wants to stay even after the bell has sounded! Learn more here: How to host a Socratic Seminar in Secondary ELA
T: Classroom Transformations
Whether you put up some caution tape around your door before starting Serial, turn your classroom into a jungle to introduce Lord of the Flies, or simply hit play on some mead hall ambience for Beowulf, classroom transformations can set the stage to engage in ELA! While decorating is more of an activity for teachers, you can use your transformations to inspire fun ELA activities. In the Lord of the Flies example, students used elements of my jungle to construct microcosms we used throughout the entire novel. In another example, every time the mead hall ambience comes on during Beowulf, students form “mead hall groups” where they have discussions or play review games.
U: Unique Understanding Checks
The main goal of understanding checks is to….check for understanding. It doesn’t matter how you go about this as long as it fits your goal. Therefore, why not make your formative assessment a little more engaging by thinking outside the written response box. For example, could they write the answer as a Haiku or Limerick? Could they create a children’s picture book to summarize? Could they reveal the theme via a blackout poem? The possibilities are endless and this entire ABC post is full of inspirational options!
V: Vocational Connections
Student buy-in is always higher when ELA teachers can directly tie their curriculum to real-world scenarios. One of my favorite PD books for this is Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts (affiliate link). While this book offers lots of real world writing inspiration, you can also make vocational connections with ELA activities. For instance, when teaching Beowulf (or another call to adventure text), have students participate in a mock interview from Beowulf’s perspective. In another example, students work on budgeting their own “rich life” with The Great Gatsby. As you are planning fun ELA activities, ask yourself how the content might relate to a real-life vocational task.
- Design a ____ for _______.
- Plan a _____ as if ________.
- Pitch a _______ for ________.
- Create a _______ as if you were ______.
- Try your hand at _____ by _________.
W: Word Art Summaries
Summarizing is an important ELA skill and bringing art into your arsenal of summarizing strategies can really up the engagement. I began using word art summaries at the start of each time period introduction, and never looked back! This fun ELA activity is exactly what the name suggests. Students summarize something by using art to make letters. For instance, if they want to summarize the context of the Medieval time period, they would draw images that represent main ideas of that historical period. See an example in the image above! You can use this ELA activity for all kinds of summary tasks. Here are some more ideas:
- Character summaries- spell out a character’s name using art that represents them
- Book summaries – spell out one word of the title using art that represents topics and themes in the book
- Theme summaries – spell out the main theme of the book using elements that built upon that theme
X: Classroom Experiments
Classroom experiments are some of the most fun ELA activities because they make ELA content relevant and relatable. I find most of my experiment ideas via informational text. For example, when I was searching for an informational text to pair with Macbeth, I stumbled upon this handwashing psychology article. The article outlines an experiment that I simply recreated in class (you can find this in my Macbeth unit). Doing the experiment sparked so much curiosity that students were eager to keep reading the scene to see where I was going with it all. Plus, students were able to have a much deeper understanding of the infamous bloody hand scene in the play. In another example, I incorporated STEM in ELA by doing a science experiment related to The Great Gatsby. So, the next time you are searching for informational text pairings, pay close attention to the experiments mentioned in the articles to see if you can replicate something similar in your ELA classroom!
Y: Literary Yoga
As the “zombie stares” set in, let the yoga begin! Practicing literary yoga in your classroom will get students up and moving- and FOR SURE out of their comfort zones. Having students compare the yoga positions they are trying to characters that are being discussed, can cause those little moments of wonder that help students connect with a character on a deeper level. Making literary yoga a routine throughout a unit will help students gain and retain (hopefully not strain) and possibly get them started on their own healthy practice of stretching! Check out my post here to learn more about how you can use yoga in your next unit, learn one simple move here to get started, or find my ELA yoga resources here: Literary Yoga
Z: Zen Doodle Listening
There’s no age limit on coloring, and I’ve found that letting high school or middle school students color while they listen truly helps them to stay focused while listening to podcasts or even audiobooks! You can download my podcast coloring pages here or find lists of podcast recommendations for the ELA classroom to get you started here:
So there you have it– ELA engagement from A-Z! I hope this list of fun ELA activities for middle school and high school make your next planning session a little easier! If you would like a handy ABC poster, you can grab that here: ABCs of ELA Planning Poster