Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Young people routinely pass through our classrooms, and despite our brief time together, we form lasting bonds. We want our students to have happy, enriching lives.

It usually warms our hearts to hear life updates from former students: news of a college acceptance, a new job, a wedding date, a baby on the way. However, sometimes news of a former student leaves us shaken.

In recent years, youth suicides have risen at an alarming rate–up 57 percent for people ages 10 to 24. Many of us–too many–know of students or former students who have attempted or died by suicide. We mourn for their families and friends. And we grieve, too. The trauma ripples through our schools and communities.

The spike in youth suicide rates is part of a broader mental-health crisis affecting young people. As Derek Thompson reports in an important and illuminating piece from The Atlantic, 44 percent of high school students felt “persistent sadness and hopelessness” in 2021. Another large study found that one in four high school girls seriously contemplated suicide during the pandemic. These sobering statistics are clear calls to action: All sectors of society must pitch in to address the mental-health crisis of young Americans.

In our classrooms, we can play a vital role in supporting students' mental health and addressing pervasive sadness.

Like a bee and a daisy, ELA and SEL benefit from close interactions. Get the buzz about five ways ELA and SEL are stronger together.

ELA SEL Connection 1

SEL teaches students to recognize and control their emotions, make positive choices, connect with classmates, and prepare to learn. This process requires reading, writing, speaking, and listening—the core skills developed in ELA classrooms.

Young writers sometimes assume that any thought that begins with a capital letter and ends with a period passes as a complete sentence.

But too often the group of words is missing something essential: a subject, a verb, and/or a complete thought. The result is a fragment and an incomplete sentence.

Fragment: Performing his original songs at the talent show.
Corrected: Akira performed his original songs at the talent show.

Building an effective argument requires nuanced thinking, logical reasoning, compelling evidence, and strong audience awareness. Because of these complexities, students sometimes struggle with persuasive writing. You can ease their difficulties by introducing scaffolds and minilessons to support their writing process.

Start by helping students choose a topic and develop a thesis.

Research has shown students to improve as readers and writers when both skills are taught in tandem. 

One way to connect reading and writing in your classroom is through an instructional strategy called Read STOP Write. (STOP stands for Summarize, Text structure, Organize, Plan.) This method helps students identify common text structures when reading and apply the structures to their writing.

Student sits and contemplates in front of laptop computer

We love the title Kelly Boswell chose for the opening chapter of her new book Every Kid a Writer. She called it “The Shrug, the Slump, and the Sharpening of Pencils.” The title is a nod to those all-too-common reactions students have when they are asked to write in class.

You have probably witnessed similar scenes in your classroom, as students fiddle in their seats or stare at the ceiling or race for a bathroom pass . . . anything to avoid writing.

Vintage illustration of boy playing football against a turkey

With Thanksgiving approaching, students seem to be bouncing off the walls. Why not tap into that boundless energy with some fun writing activities?

The following activities work especially well for elementary and middle school students. You can adapt them for in-class writing or expand them into larger projects.

1. Origin Stories

"Family traditions reveal what you value enough to repeat, and—if done with love—build warm, happy associations."

—Daniel Willingham

“How come so many houses here are made with red brick? What animals live in Forest Park? How does the old water tower work? What was that abandoned warehouse near the river used for?”

Students in my freshmen composition course are curious about their community. Their surroundings offer a rich tapestry for inquiry, and I want them to dig in and pursue answers. I invite them to do so through a community-based inquiry project that stands in place of a traditional research paper.

David S. Soriano/Creative Commons

Human beings have always been tool users. Fire let us wake little suns; arrowheads gave us talons like eagles; wolfskins sent us out across Ice Age Europe; and language—whether spoken, written, printed, or coded—fueled every innovation since.

Our brains require such tools. After all, those three-pound puddings of nerve and fat in our skulls haven’t changed much since we first fashioned arrowheads. In fact, in her new book, The Extended Mind, Annie Murphy Paul argues that we’re probably already using our brains at near-peak capacity.

Thinking harder is not the answer. Thinking outside the brain is. We need to grab hold of tools beyond our brains in order to think better.

Let’s start with the first thinking tool our ancestors learned to use: the space around us.

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