Activities for Teaching Before the Ever After

I recently blogged about why I love teaching Before the Ever After as a whole-class novel. Here’s the short and sweet version: It’s accessible and engaging, the perfect book to hook students who “don’t like to read.” My students absolutely love it because it has something to offer for every reader. Whether readers can relate to football, sports, family, friendship, mental health, grief, or healing, this book has it all. And the cherry on top is that there is SO much you can teach, discuss, and do with it.

If you’re ready to engage your students during a novel study of Before the Ever After, here are a few of my favorite activities to make the most of teaching this incredible book:

“What Do You Notice?” Lesson

Before teaching Before the Ever After, you’ll probably want to introduce your students to the genre, especially if they haven’t read a novel in verse before.  If your students are anything like mine, they might be a little reluctant to read “one of those poetry books” at first. So it’s even more important to ease students into the genre and show them just how engaging, creative, and unique novels in verse can be. 

To do this, try a low-prep, high-impact “What do you notice?” lesson. Grab a stack of different novels in verse or use a digital menu with links to samples of verse novels. Pose ONE question: What do you notice about the structure? Then, let students explore, observe, and wonder. Ask them to record all of their observations and questions about the genre, structure, and style. Then, once they’ve gathered all they can on their own, facilitate a class discussion on what students noticed. You can even pull their observations into an anchor chat so you can add and refer to it throughout your novel unit.

You can check out this engaging lesson HERE.

For more information:

  • Check out my Novels in Verse “What do you notice?” Activity HERE
  • Click HERE to watch a quick video on this lesson
  • Head HERE for a blog post about my favorite middle grade novels in verse
  • Check out this super cool “Novels in Verse Book Brochure” HERE

“You Love A Thing?” Imagery Activity

Before the Ever After is full of rich imagery, and the poem “You Love a Thing?” is one of the best examples of it. Better yet, this poem is one that any student can relate to, especially young athletes. To make the most of a lesson on this poem, ask students to identify the imagery by each sense. Then, use the poem as a mentor text for students to create their own examples of imagery for a thing they love. Not only is this lesson great ELA practice, but it’s also a fun way to connect with students through sports and other things they love. This is one assignment that’s actually fun to grade, because it will warm your heart reading about why each student loves so fiercely!

This activity works well in foldable form. As you can see below, students can record the examples from the text on the right and create their own imagery on the left.

You can check out engaging resources for teaching Before the Ever After HERE.

For more information:

  • Check out this lesson in my Before the Ever After unit HERE
  • Click HERE to watch a quick video on this lesson
  • Find a generic works-for-any-text version of the imagery foldable HERE

Figurative Language Question Trail

Keep the figurative language fun going with a kinesthetic “question trail” that will get your students up and moving around the room during your Before the Ever After unit. This is my favorite kind of activity that can break up the monotony that sometimes sneaks up in the middle of novel studies. If you’ve never heard of a question trail, it’s an activity that takes students on an interactive “trail” of questions posted around the room. Each question answer (A, B, C, D) directs students to a different question “on the trail,” so if students answer each question correctly, they complete a full circuit.

This activity works perfectly with Before the Ever After because Woodson’s verse is full of figurative language. To practice our figurative language skills, we do a question trail after Part 1 of the book. This makes for a great review so we can dive deeper into the language during the rest of our novel study.

You can check out engaging resources for teaching Before the Ever After HERE.

For more information:

The Giving Tree Pairing & Symbolism Analysis

If you give an English teacher a novel with an allusion to a children’s book, then you better believe she will find a way to read it aloud in class. 🙂 As soon as I read “The Trees” in Before the Ever After, I texted my mom to borrow a copy of The Giving Tree and got to work on planning a lesson. I had been wanting to use picture books in my reading classroom for a while, so this was my sign to finally do it. If you’re reading this, consider it your sign, too. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Invite your students to gather ‘round like it’s elementary-school style storytime.
  2. Channel your inner child as you read The Giving Tree aloud.
  3. Facilitate a discussion on the symbolism and theme in the story.
  4. Then, ask students to re-read the poem “The Trees” from Before the Ever After.
  5. Finally, challenge students to find the connections and compare the symbolism in both stories.
You can check out engaging resources for teaching Before the Ever After HERE.

For more information:

Memory Nonfiction + Surprising Lesson

Because Before the Ever After is all about ZJ recalling his cherished memories while his dad’s memory deteriorates, the book can be paired with various nonfiction articles about human memory. While there are lots of good articles already out there, I specifically wanted students to learn about what makes experiences more likely to become long-lasting memories. As it turns out, researchers have discussed a phenomenon called “flashbulb memories,” which are vivid memories formed from surprise. This is actually something we studied and wrote about in our Keeping the Wonder book, so I decided to write an original article tailored to what I wanted to discuss with my students.

And because I wanted to make our learning experience more memorable and “test” out the theory of flashbulb memories, I decided to open our lesson with something surprising and out of the ordinary. Naturally, I flipped my students’ desks upside down and facilitated our lesson from the floor that day. Watching my students react was priceless, but the best part was when I brought it all together and asked: “Why do you think I did this?” After reading the article, it “clicked” for them. Weeks later and students are STILL talking about “that one day when the desks were upside down.” Safe to say, the lesson worked. 😉

You can check out engaging resources for teaching Before the Ever After HERE.

For more information:


I hope these ideas help you jumpstart your unit planning for Before the Ever After! For more engaging activities and resources for teaching Before the Ever After, check out this unit bundle full of learning stations, quickwrites, nonfiction pairings, and more! If you have any questions about these activities or how I teach Before the Ever After, leave them below and I’ll do my best to answer. 🙂

Click on the image above (or HERE) to check out my Before the Ever After resource bundle.

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