Students Recommend YA Books by Latinx Authors

We recently held a reading challenge in my class to read books by Latinx authors. We pulled a few dozen off of my shelves and a lot of them had beautiful, intricate covers with a floral motif. So we decided to create a Book Recommendation Bulletin Board with these templates specifically for books by Latinx authors. Here are some of my favorites!

I think this project would have more visual impact with markers rather than crayons, but they still look nice! Remind students that they should use the same color palette on their review as the book cover. It makes it a little bit easier for someone to find that book on a shelf. I also ask my students to write in pen rather than pencil so that it’s easier to read their writing. They should avoid writing too small as well.

You can find the template here!

Join us at the Brave History Conference!

I have loved sharing tips and tricks about teaching history here on the internet for the last ten years. It’s been so great to connect with people from all over the world and to find other history educators with a similar passion. As much as I love creating YouTube videos, writing blog posts and posting on Instagram, I wanted to also find a way to connect with people in real time (and spend more than a few minutes in a disappearing Instagram story!) going deeper into history pedagogy and strategies. So, I partnered up with a few fellow history teachers (Tiffany Marlow from @historywithtiffany, Lauren Piraro from @teachtoblossom, and Alejandro Johnson from @hunkalearninlove) and we are so excited for the first ever Brave History Conference!

Here’s what’s in store on Saturday, June 17th:

Opening Session: We are going to start by taking questions from YOU! In the spirit of those YouTube/Instagram Q&A videos, we are inviting all attendees to submit any questions that they have for our presenters, and we will answer them live. Between the four of us, we have a group of people who have taught middle school, high school, world history, US History, Honors courses, and who have taught in California, Korea, Texas, Guatemala and beyond! We can’t wait for this interactive kick-off session!

Dr. Tiffany Marlow: Next, our resident scholar, Dr. Tiffany Marlow will present research from her newly submitted dissertation about women’s representation in history curricula. Tiffany has taught high school and middle school history, and her recent graduate work in the field of history curricula will be incredibly valuable to history teachers at both levels.

Megan DuVarney Forbes, M.A. “Engagement without the Gimmicks”: In my session, we will be re-examining three common strategies for student engagement in middle school history classrooms. This is my 11th year teaching middle school history, and my philosophy of pedagogy has evolved since my first few years in the classroom. We will discuss simulations, DBQ’s and art projects, and how we can utilize them in a more culturally responsive (and more engaging!) way.

Lauren Piraro, M.A.: We are so fortunate to have the 2021 California Council for Social Studies Rookie of the Year awardee presenting for us! Lauren is a high school history teacher in Northern California, and she is going to share a super engaging strategy that combines primary sources with true crime. As an adjunct professor for history credential students, she has strategies and templates that will benefit all secondary history teachers.

Alejandro Johnson, M.A.: Alejandro’s story was recently featured on Texas Public Radio in a segment about the high school Mexican American history course that he teaches. He has experience teaching both middle and high school history in the U.S. and South Korea. Alejandro is going to share strategies and resources for incorporating Mexican American history at all grade levels, and discuss the importance of ethnic studies in history.

Collaborative Workrooms: We don’t want to close the conference without providing attendees with an opportunity to connect with each other, to share their own expertise, and to ask follow up questions of our presenters. Each presenter will host a collaborative workroom where you will be able to chat with other educators who teach your content, and share your best practices. We can’t wait to meet you!

If you’d like to join us, register here!

Books By Black Authors | Student Book Reviews

As much as I love all of my handy digital reading trackers that my 7th graders use, sometimes it’s so nice to just physically see what everyone is reading. For the month of February, we read books by Black authors (we used this Slide deck for inspiration!).

So many YA books have amazing book covers these days, so I wanted to see the covers, as well as read the students’ reviews. I created a template for the students to use, based on the “bookstagram” Instagram posts that fill up my feed.

My students blew me away with their responses! Here are some incredible examples that also serve as a perfect student-chosen list of books by Black authors:

If your students try this out please tag me on Instagram so that I can see their amazing work! I’m just over here trying to decide which book to check out first!

Student Book Recommendations:

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Spider-man by Jason Reynolds

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi

The Mamba Mentality by Kobe Bryant

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Shooter by Walter Dean Meyers

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Swing by Kwame Alexander

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Fast Pitch by Nic Stone

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Fake ID by Lamar Giles

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Dope Sick by Walter Dean Meyers

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds

Stella By Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

I Wrote a Book!

My first book, Leaders and Thinkers in American History: 15 Influential People You Should Know, is out! I wrote this book during the lockdown when I was feeling very unproductive and helpless. Writing from our 1-bedroom apartment without being able to escape to a library or a coffee shop was incredibly difficult, but researching the stories of these 15 people was therapeutic. Reading about how every day Americans used their talents and passions to create a better America reminded me how important it is to share these stories.

You can see the arduous, months-long process here in this vlog!

I’m so excited to release this book out into the world, and for students, teachers and parents to read about these 15 amazing people. I also wrote lesson plans that correspond with each chapter so that you can use the book in your History, English or Leadership classes! Keep the conversations going with these inspirational quote posters that will look great on your classroom walls!

Creating Mesopotamian LEGO Characters

This year when we learned about all of the Mesopotamian empires, we wished that there was a LEGO set with all of the amazing soldiers, kings and townspeople (maybe we were inspired by the ziggurats?). So we decided to create our own!

When I teach the Mesopotamian empires, I split my classes into six groups. I name each group after the six empires that we cover: Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Hittites, Phoenicians and Assyrians. It’s just kind of a fun way to show that these empires overlapped and existed together. Different groups have power at different points during the unit, and we can see how they interacted with other empires.

For context, I teach 6th grade Ancient History. We use the TCI History Alive textbook, and we rely heavily on the Flocabulary Fertile Crescent song for this unit because the kids LOVE it. (We even made up Tik Tok dances to it this year lol).

We learned about different kinds of people within the empires, so we could create different LEGO characters in our “set.” We used a “body map” strategy where we labeled what each character was seeing, thinking, holding, etc. Here are some examples of how they turned out!

Didn’t these turn out GREAT? I’m pretty obsessed with them and I already can’t wait to teach this lesson again next year. I posted the instructions and template for this lesson on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.

While we did use our textbook to get a lot of this information, we also used resources like Flocabulary and Newsela (you might need a subscription for those!). Some other great sources of information were TED Ed videos (free!). Here are a few of our favorites:

Sumerians : The rise and fall of history’s first empire

Sumer : Who was the world’s first author?

Epic of Gilgamesh (might not be appropriate for all students)

Babylon : A day in the life of an ancient Babylonian business mogul

Assyria : The rise and fall of the Assyrian empire

3 Strategies for Engaging Online Lessons

Hey fellow online teachers! The struggle is real, I know. Lots of silent blank squares. This blog post goes along with this video to show you some of my favorite strategies for teaching online and getting students involved and excited!

  1. Flipgrid Charades

Here are the instructions I gave them. See the video for examples!

2. Book Recommendation Presentations

3. Monitor Break Out Rooms with Group Google Slides

Don’t forget to watch the video to see the explanation of all of the activities. Here’s wishing you extra focus, positivity and patience this week!

Using Canva + Google Classroom to Facilitate Amazing Student Work

Thank you to Canva for sponsoring this post!

When we were sent home for the remainder of the 2020 school year in March, most of the virtual lessons that I threw together from my at-home office (our corner kitchen nook) flopped. One week, in a last ditch effort to create a sense of community for our students, ASB hosted a virtual spirit week on social media. I was pleasantly surprised to see that so many of my students were AWESOME at Instagram stories. Like, they put me to shame!

So I decided to take advantage of their skills and create a research project for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month where they would showcase their knowledge in an IG Story format. I gave them instructions for how to use Canva for their design so that 1) all of the projects would have the same dimensions, 2) students could create an IG story even if they didn’t actually have an Instagram account, and 3) I could share their research on my Instagram account and help to educate more people about the contributions of Asian Americans. Here are some of the amazing results:

Aren’t those incredible? They did such a great job, and this assignment had the highest submission rate of the spring. Students who seemed to have checked out during the spring completely, still did this assignment. I think the design element had a lot to do with it.

I’m going to use Canva for Education to infuse some spark back into our virtual lessons as we move into the second quarter of the year. I can add students to my Canva for Education account straight through Google Classroom, which is super convenient since I have about 200 students in my six classes. They can design on their Chromebooks–Canva is optimized for Chromebooks–or on a desktop, iOS or Andriod device.

As you scroll through all of the template options you’ll definitely be inspired to try different ways for students to show their knowledge. We are obviously big fans of the Instagram Stories templates:

I’m also excited to have my students try out the presentation templates. They can work on a presentation collaboratively in real time, so I’m going to use these to help keep track of their progress during Break Out room time.

I can assign, review and comment upon their work within my account, so it’s great to have everything in once place.

I’m also going to recommend the Class Schedule templates to my students who are having trouble keeping track of all of their assignments for seven classes in an online block schedule. This is a clumsy transition for a lot of us, and since our schedules are different literally every single day, it’s not always easy to remember what to do and when to do it.

I’m so excited to see what my creative students will design with all these cool features at their fingertips! They can even design in any language, including Spanish, French, German, Russian, as well as left to right languages like Arabic and Hebrew.

For teachers, Canva for Education is a gold mine of templates to make your life easier. I have an observation coming up, so I’m going to use one of these lesson plan templates to help me stay organized and communicate my lesson plan to my administration.

They even have virtual classroom templates–we all know what a pain those are to create for yourself!

The best part is: Canva for Education is free, forever, for K-12 educators globally! You can register for your free account at I can’t wait to see what you create!

Social Justice Standards by Teaching Tolerance


As I enter into my eighth year of teaching in the wake of three mass shootings, my priorities and mission are as clear as they’ve ever been. We desperately need to help students love and understand themselves and others. We cannot do this with trite lessons about being kind and treating people how you would like to be treated. We need to help students do the real work of understanding their own identities, and learning how to stand up for what is right.

All of our students need to spend time reflecting on their identities and how they move through the world in the body they are in. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum writes about the psychological development of racial identity, specifically, in her groundbreaking book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? I highly recommend starting here in order to learn about why it is so important to understand how racial identity affects our students–all of our students. White students tend to be stunted in their racial identity development because they are not often prompted to reflect upon it, explicitly or implicitly.

It can be overwhelming to try to plan lessons that address our students’ intersectional identities on our own. In fact, I don’t recommend doing that. Teaching Tolerance is an excellent resource for professional development, lesson plans and strategies that “help teachers and schools educate children and youth to be active participants in a diverse democracy.” A project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, they have free, high-quality resources that bring truth and authenticity into your classroom.

Teaching Tolerance has developed a set of Social Justice Standards for students at every grade level that I think are incredibly powerful. As soon as I read through the 6-8 grade standards, I knew they needed to be a focus in my classroom this year. I start school next week, so I can’t tell you exactly how we will use them yet, but I will write more about it as the year progresses. For now, they are posted in my room, and I plan to focus on one of the four domains (Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action) per quarter in both my 6th grade History and my 8th grade English classes.

I formatted them so that they were easy to post on a bulletin board, and I made versions for each grade level. Take them for free and post them in your classroom. Then please go to the Teaching Tolerance website and view the free PD modules that accompany each domain. As much as I hope that teachers all over the country use these standards, I also hope that they are doing the personal work of learning about their own identities, privilege and responsibility when it comes to anti-racist work in schools. The resources are there; we just need to invest the time and effort into educating ourselves and living out the standards in our own lives authentically.

So without further ado, the bulletin board versions are linked below for you. Use them, be creative with them, and I’d love to hear about the successes and challenges you have along the way. You can tag me on Instagram at @toocoolformiddleschool and I’ll be sure to see it. Thank you for doing the difficult, important work that you do. I hope this makes it just a little bit more accessible.

Grades K-2 Social Justice Standards

Grades 3-5 Social Justice Standards

Grades 6-8 Social Justice Standards

Grades 9-12 Social Justice Standards

Fresh Perspectives with Historical Graphic Novels


I am a late convert to the graphic novels craze, but I am always pleasantly surprised by what a unique experience I have through the illustrations and organization of graphic novels. They are fast-paced and can cover more ground than a typical historical monograph or historical fiction book. Here are a few that have become favorites in my classroom.


If you teach US History this book will be incredibly useful to you. It has beautiful, color illustrations that are punctuated every so often with timelines, primary source documents and real pictures of Frederick Douglass. If you teach Douglass’s writings in an English class, this book provides important background information about his life in a gorgeous format.

The Life of Frederick Douglass


This was the first graphic novel I ever read, and it was actually assigned to me in one of my graduate History courses. The first section is a dynamic graphic history following the 1876 court case of a West African woman named Abina as she fought her wrongful enslavement. You can compare the story to the actual transcript of the case, provided in the next section. The last sections include historical context, a reading guide, and classroom resources to help you teach nineteenth-century colonialism in Africa. I would love to see more graphic histories published in this brilliant format.

Abina and the Important Men


This is my newest graphic novel purchase–I obviously couldn’t resist another Hamilton addition to my classroom! This definitely isn’t a “dumbed down” version of Hamilton’s story; it is a challenging and engaging read even for history buffs. This would make a great teaching tool for US History teachers, and your Hamil-fan students will beg to borrow it!

Alexander Hamilton


This story of Ebo, who is trying to find his way from Ghana to Europe is fast-paced, heartbreaking, beautiful and eye-opening. In my English classes we do a unit about immigration to the United States, but I think it’s important to look at migration from a global perspective as well. This story depicts the lengths that people–even children–must go to in order to survive famine, food shortages, and unemployment.



This graphic novel is probably the closest to the work that I like to do as a historian, so it was interesting to see how Max Brooks handled the story. Even though I wasn’t initially impressed with the illustrations, Max Brooks attended the University of the Virgin Islands so I knew I had to give this book a chance! It tells a story most students and teachers have never heard, and inspires readers to look for those hidden stories we don’t often find in history books.

The Harlem Hellfighters


The March books are a staple of historical graphic novels. Revered civil rights leader John Lewis chronicles his story of nonviolent resistance against segregation as a young man in Alabama with Martin Luther King Jr. Civil rights history easily becomes white-washed in classrooms as we move further away from the personal stories of resistance, so these first person accounts are essential to preserving the spirit of the civil rights movement.



Students often have a hard time picturing the Annex and the Frank family’s living situation. This beautifully illustrated graphic novel interpretation of her diary provides such useful images of the characters, the setting, and Anne’s imagination. I took pictures of pages with my phone and shared them on Google Classroom with my students to spark discussions as we read the play this year. It’s definitely one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve ever read!

Anne Frank’s Diary

I’m still building my graphic novel library! Please leave me any suggestions you have in the comments!