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Some of my favorite teaching assignments

Over the years, I've had to think of new and exciting ways to reach my high school students to get them to love the books we read. As a high school teacher, one has to think like a scientist and experiment with what works and what doesn't to spark curiosity, enthusiasm, and above all, knowledge in a student's mind.

Below are some of the activities I came up with over the years that I've found have worked wonders in helping students not only grasp the material, but really enjoy what we were learning.

1) The Lego Activity - Students are given a handful of Lego and are instructed to build a setting from a chapter in a book. We read the chapter beforehand and then with a partner, they need to construct something from that chapter to show they understand what they read. I sometimes award extra credit to the designs that go above and beyond. I got the idea from the TV show Lego Masters and most kids have a blast being able to play with Lego while being met with a challenge. It's fun for the whole class, including myself. Afterward, I display their creations by my windowsill.

2) The Board Game Project - I have students create an original board game based on the book we read. They need to come up with Q and A cards, decorate the board in a fashion that emulates the storyline of the book and be able to show creativity and originality. I assign this project to groups of three or four and the kids have a blast doing it. I go out and buy actual game boards and die off Amazon for them and when they finish their projects, I let them play them. They love it.

3) The Teach the Class Project - I ask students to come up with a topic that they would like to teach the class. They have to come up with a lesson plan, an activity, and I have to see evidence that the students learned something. I let them pick the topic of their choosing, but I need to approve it. They think it's great that they get to share something with the class that they are interested in. I've had students present on black history, cooking, school safety, etc. I got the idea from a project from my teacher's education program in college.

4) Playbill Project - This one works well when I teach Shakespeare. I have the students create a playbill for the play we read on and they need to fill out all the necessary tabs - cast and crew, ads, songs, etc. They can choose what popular actors they want to play the Shakespearean parts and what songs they think are appropriate for the play. It brings the play to life while teaching them to use a technology platform.

5) Make Your Own Itinerary Project - In my investigative journalism unit, I have students make their own itinerary for a one week trip. But the catch is they have to keep the trip under a thousand dollars and have to travel somewhere out of the Midwest. They need to book a flight, hotels, things to do, and a car rental. So they need to use websites and figure out how to do these things on their own. They discover that it's not as easy as they think to cut costs and find what they're looking for. Students who have dreams of going to Europe or Asia quickly realize those trips may be not realistic. They feel much more prepared for this real-world task and always tell me that they enjoyed this project.

6) Black History Month Poetry Project - Students are given a choice to choose from five different famous African-American poems. They then have to analyze the poems using the TPCASTT method and using a large poster board, write the poem and dissect it on the board. They should draw pictures, make notes and utilize color to really make the poem jump out visually. I then display the poster boards outside my room for passersby to see. I also allow the students to look at their classmates' work. They feel like they truly understand and appreciate the poems like never before.

7) Write Your Own Narrative Assignment - I ask students to write a fictional story over the course of two pages that includes a plot structure, a set of lit devices and dialogue. There are really no other guidelines to it than that. This is just a warmup exercise to a narrative paper assessment. It's a good segue into the paper because it's more relaxed than an official test grade and the students feel more at ease to write whatever. I get to see where they are in their writing skills and what they still need to work on.

8) Photography Day Activity - This is always a fun day. In journalism, I give students the Canon point and shoot cameras and we go outside for the day to practice the camera settings and the different angle shots. I then pick out what I believe to be their best photographs and put it together in a slideshow for them to see. I ask them why they think those photographs are the strongest and their answers are usually on point.

9) Match a Song to The Book Activity - Students really have fun with this one. Teens love their music, so I figured that I would tap into that. They need to pick a clean song that best matches the book that we are reading. They have to explain why the lyrics go well with the characters, theme, setting, etc. Then they present some of the song and explain why they chose it. They love the chance to play their music and talk about it. Students are respectful of all types of music and really get into music on a whole other level than I thought possible.

10) Station Activity - This one works on a number of levels. I set the room up in different stations, so one station is to draw a cartoon, one is to write a list of movies, one is to write a book trailer, etc. Students need to follow the directions at each station as it pertains to the book we read. This allows them to move around the room every ten-fifteen minutes or so and put their different learning styles to use. They enjoy being able to move and try out different activities all in the same class period.

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