12 Back-to-School Essential ELA Activities and Lessons

Email Etiquette

SAVE your sanity! In August, students are eager and ready to learn. It helps to plan the lessons most directly relevant to life beyond school when first meeting students. They are undecided about the class and about whether or not it will interest and benefit them. In order to hook students, try beginning the year with an email etiquette unit. Many teachers can testify to the rude nature of many students’ emails. But! Students usually lack awareness of their tone. Teaching email etiquette from the beginning is the perfect way to show students their immediate growth as writers, to engage them in fun writing lessons, and to invite eloquent student emails to dance into your inbox all year long.

Procedures and Routines

Students thrive when they understand their teacher’s expectations. Sometimes classroom management goes astray when students simply do not understand what they should do in a classroom. Explain your procedures for restroom use, group work, and turning in assignments with the secondary classroom first day of school bundle. Setting the stage with students and parents sets up you and your students for a successful school year.

Writing Inventory

Curious about who your student is as a writer? Sometimes it helps to survey students, in addition to talking with them. It gives you an idea about each students’ perception of themselves as writers, previous good and bad experiences with writing, and hopes for the school year about upcoming writing opportunities. Grab this free writing interest inventory to use with students during back-to-school season!

Growth Mindset Goal Setting Sheet

Encourage growth mindset with this free graphic organizer. Use this discussion piece to help students reevaluate or set goals. Show students that they have an opportunity to build a meaningful school year and that you care about their growth. I typically conference with students and encourage them to take responsibility for their school year.

Reading Ladder

One of the most important reading mini lessons we can teach at the beginning of the year – to students of all ages – is book fit. Students need to know how to choose books that are just right for them, and they need to understand it’s okay to experiment with books that are above and below their just-right levels. I use a reading ladder metaphor to help students see themselves on a book fit continuum. Pair it with book spines and a class genre diet and pacing tracker, and you’ll have valuable information about individual readers and your class as a whole. (If you’re in a virtual classroom environment, this digital classroom bookshelf will do the trick.)

Favorites Writing Activity

I don’t ask students what they did over the summer because I understand that some students did not take vacations or have a carefree few months. I still want to build relationships with students through writing, so I ask students to write about their favorites: favorite ice cream, movie, book, cookie, whatever! Students get to decide their topics in this editable back-to-school writing activity. Not only do I model the writing process with this narrative, but I also start those important relationships to build a community of writers.

Writing Process

A low-stress, high-interest way to ease into the writing process is by introducing students to the writing process with one sentence. It’s a great digital mini unit for the beginning of the school year because it naturally differentiates by filling in gaps in knowledge for some students while challenging others to push their writing to new levels. And, the best part? The learning value is packed into one sentence! So, teachers can give more quality feedback without the stress of stacks of essays. It’s a win-win for getting to know your writers at the beginning of the year.

Newsletter Kit

Teachers want to connect with parents, and we all understand the importance of building a connection between home and school. The biggest problem I encounter is having time and material for to send to parents, so I created the August Social Media and Newsletter Kit. The download includes an editable list of potential blurbs and posts for teachers (or administrators!) to personalize. Pictures are included because customizing images for middle and high school students can be difficult. (Age-appropriate images? No cutesy clipart for older students.)

Conferring Forms

Get organized! Reading conferences are a great way to bridge independent and whole class reading lessons. Ready to get started with reading conferences but not sure where to start? Get to know middle and high school readers with these insightful questions to guide your first reading conferences of the year. Come back to them later to see how students have grown in their reading identities and attitudes! 

Writing Presentation

As you design procedures and routines for classroom management, also set expectations and guidelines for writing. Students (especially freshmen) come from a variety of schools and arrive with different terminology. Sub-claim or topic sentence? Transition or conversion statement? One of the first discussions I have with my writers deals with common terminology and expectations. I never want students confused or afraid to ask for clarification. Clarify writing expectations and share the presentation with students to consult as they continue writing in class.

Vocabulary Activities

Make sure to have your vocabulary activities ready for the year. Once you have a complete set, you can set them up as station activities or formative assessments. It is a relief to have them ready to use as bell ringers, review day activities, and substitute plans. If you select vocabulary activities that work with any word list, you won’t have to re-create the wheel every time the lists change. Try these brain-based vocabulary activities or these creative digital exercises to engage older students.

Grammar Pretest

Where to start, where to start with grammar lessons? Some students understand sentence structure while others might struggle with identifying a sentence’s subject. To plan grammar lessons, start with data from a grammar pretest. Once you have student data, you can identify problem areas and potential areas for improvement.

The ladies of ELA Today are headed back to school, excited and ready for another school year. As a full-time teacher and literacy coach, we both understand the stress and desires ELA teachers face in August. Hopefully, these ideas will set up you and your students for a successful school year.


12 essential back-to-school activities and lesson plans for middle and high school ELA #MiddleSchoolELA #HighSchoolELA
Back-to-school ELA lessons and activities for middle and high school

Ready for September? Click on over to read next month’s ideas.

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