Middle School

Lessons, activities, units, strategies, and experiences in middle school classrooms.

20 Things We Need To Say More Often - I stumbled across this adorable video the other night. It's by a young boy who (in an adorable voice) lists 20 things we all need to say more often, from serious to funny, and all super important.
16 Things Only Middle School Teachers Can Understand - A few weeks ago, I published this--a humorous article about being a middle school teacher--on Thought CatalogIts pretty true, and still makes me laugh. 🙂
Esperanza Character Chart - Esperanza, the main character of House on Mango Street is a dynamic character that undergoes much change from the first vignette to the last. She is the main figure in the coming of age story, and it's essential that students understand who she is and how she changes through the course of the story.
You Are the Teacher for the Day - I love switching up the way I teach lessons. Last night, I had this great idea of changing how I teach the vignettes in House on Mango Street. What if I made my students and I switch roles? What if they were the teachers for the day? What would they teach me about the given vignettes?
Wolves Research Projects (Pt. 2) - The Wolves Research Project is something that I did with my sixth graders from start to finish. I did a pre-activity (Adopt a Pet), taught them how to research, instructed them on the CRAP test for credible sources, then helped them take notes and create their unique projects.
Themes in House on Mango Street - Themes are so important in House on Mango Street. From identity, home, and family to growing up, friendship, and culture, the book is filled with themes and it's essential that students understand them. Thus I created a notes sheet and lesson designed to help students grasp the main ideas of each vignette.
Sarah Plain & Tall – KWL Chart - Today's focus for Book Club is on the book, Sarah Plain and Tall, which is an easy read I selected to read with my students during the M-Th 30 minute class sessions.
A Complete 6-Week Unit for House on Mango Street - Am I joking? No. This is not a joke! Here is a 6-week plan for House on Mango Street that you can easily view and download here: Complete 6 Week House on Mango Street Unit.
What the Heck is Smore? - One of my students showed this website to me: Smore. This is a place where students, teachers, anyone can easily create an awesome-looking newsletter. FOR FREE!
Engage Students in Reading with Contemporary Music! - Looking for a way to engage your students in reading? Want to do something fun, easy, and relevant? Then use contemporary music!
Poster My Wall - Looking for a great way to have your students use technology and create awesome posters/collages/calendars/cards via online templates? Then Poster My Wall is the resource for you and your classroom!
Theme of Growing Up – Notes - One of the major themes in House on Mango Street is growing up. As Esperanza grows up, she starts to realize things about herself and the adult world--hence why this is called a 'coming of age' novel!
Dear Sixth Grade Self - As my eighth graders discussed the theme of growing up in the novel House on Mango Street, I had them connect the idea to their own lives---How had they grown up? Especially in the transition from sixth to eighth grade?
Contemporary Music & Reading - “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?” I pulled one of my Book Club students aside after class. He had been dozing on and off the entire thirty minutes (yes, Book Club is only thirty minutes) and I wanted to see what was up. “Look,” I said, “I know you’re tired, but it hurts my feelings when you fall asleep during my class."
Figurative Language Challenge - What's better to middle and high school students than a game/competition/individual challenge? (The answer is nothing). That's why I wanted to create an extension activity and figurative language activity that would engage my eighth graders and let them have a little fun.
“Darius & the Clouds” Activity - My students finish assessments at different points--this is a given--but it makes it essential to create extension activities and keep them busy and focused on the classroom curriculum.
Role of Women - The role of women is a huge theme in House on Mango Street, even in the early vignettes. Today's lesson focused on "Marin" and "Alicia Who Is Afraid of Mice" and my eighth graders compared/contrasted the two girls and related their stories to the already existing theme of the degradation of Mexican women.
Wolves Project – Writing Help - Today my sixth graders were continuing with their notes for the Wolves Research Project. Many of them were finished and looking to move towards their project-making, but before that, my co-teacher and I wanted them to write. To make things easier for them to understand, I created a new Google Document to help them stay organized and get a better grasp on the writing part of the project.
Text-to-World Connections - As my Book Club students grasped text-to-self connections, it was time to move to text-to-world. To help them understand this, I created a PowerPoint/Google Presentation and walked through it with them.
Connecting to Novel Characters - Making connections while reading is hard! That's why I created this resource to help not only my struggling readers in Book Club, but for for any struggling reader or young reader (fifth grade through eighth grade).
“Louie, His Cousin and His Other Cousin” – Report Writing - Today my eighth graders read "Louie, His Cousin, and His Other Cousin." In this vignette, we're introduced to a family of cousins that live on Esperanza's block (one of which is Marin, the oldest, who we will talk about tomorrow!) and one of them is the unnamed cousin who one day shows up with a brand new, shiny, yellow car.
What Does Friendship Mean to Me? - Today I had my eighth graders focus on the idea of friendship--What is friendship? What does friendship mean to us? What defines a solid friendship?--I had my students write their ideas all over the white board in a silent-discussion format and then we talked through them.
Wolves Research Project - Piggy-backing off of the previous research activity I did with my sixth graders for practice, the Adopt a Pet, I started this week with a Wolves Research Project.
“Piano Lessons” – Close Reading & Question Set - Ahhh...close reading passages, a necessary evil. Students aren't big fans of close reading, but these mini-readings are important for their skill building, especially if there is a set of questions that are relevant to the skills they are practicing.
Monster in the Barn - For Book Club, I'm always looking for good resources to help my students make connections to their reading. I came across this great source from ReadWorks, and I created two sets of questions to correspond and help with text-to-self and text-to-world connections!
Dear Mom and Dad - To help my sixth graders understand how to research and get some practice before their assessment on informative/explanatory writing, I had them work on the Adopt a Pet project, where they had to research an animal of their choice, take notes, and then draft a letter to their parents/guardians about why they should buy that pet!
Poetry Connections - Making text-to-self connections can be pretty simple when you're working with a story, explanatory text, or short passage. Poetry, on the other hand, can be a challenge. That's why I wanted to specifically work on this with my Book Club students.
“My Name/My Family Crest” - How can I connect students and their home lives to House on Mango Street? The answer is a family crest, giving students the opportunity to learn more about their unique cultures and connecting their lives to the life of the main character, Esperanza.
Adopt a Pet Activity - Once my students moved from their How Do I Research? introduction presentation to The C.R.A.P. Test worksheet to help them find credible sources to gather notes from, they were finally ready to take notes! Yay!
The CRAP Test (And Notes) - I introduced my students to their research project, 'Adopt a Pet,' where they would choose an animal to research, collect two legitimate websites, take notes (in their own words) and write a short letter to their parents/guardians, convincing them to buy that animal as a pet!
How Do I Research? - My sixth graders are going to begin a short research activity to prepare them for a larger research project on wolves the following two weeks. For this short research activity, I wanted them to research about an animal that they would want to have as a pet...but before doing that, I knew I needed them to understand how to research and how to find credible sources.
My Figurative Language Family - To go along with teaching my students about figurative language with their Types of Figurative Language Notes, I had them relate what they learned to their own lives and work on generating original examples!
Teaching Figurative Language! - Figurative language is so complicated, yet so much fun! I created this AMAZING (okay, I might be bragging just a little, but I'm super excited!) resource to teach students. It is a scaffolded set of notes that include examples, pictures, and even song clips for learning figurative language in more ways than one!
A House, A Home - After reading "House on Mango Street," the first section in the book, this is a great way to help students visualize the Mango Street house and compare/contrast it to their own.
Connecting to Holes, by Louis Sachar - Who doesn't like the book Holes, by Louis Sachar? This is one of my favorite books from my elementary/middle school years. And because it's such a good book, I wanted my Book Club kids to connect to a descriptive passage in it.
Perseverance Unit Reflection - A powerful skill for students to be able to master, especially by eighth grade, is the ability to reflect and synthesize information. As students finished out their units on perseverance (Hunger Games for my section) my co-teachers and I wanted to create a final reflection to see how they connected their novels, people they researched, and collaborative discussions.
Boys vs. Girls - I wanted to do something fun with my eighth graders today--a discussion/debate between girls and guys--that related to House on Mango Street.
My Favorite Book - My Book Club is made of eighth grade Reading Intervention students who really struggle with reading. One of my girls told me, point blank on the first day, "I don't read." My goal is to change that by making reading fun and by caring about the students and working with them individually over the course of the three/four weeks.
What the Heck is a Vignette? - To introduce my students to House on Mango Street, I knew I had to teach them about the book's format: vignettes.
Intro to House on Mango Street – WebQuest - As my eighth graders were finishing up their collaborative discussions on people who have persevered, I wanted to transition into the next unit--House on Mango Street--so I created a WebQuest that they could work on when they weren't discussing with their groups! A great time-saver and way to have them learn independently and still be productive towards finishing their previous unit.
Making Connections - Today's (and this week's) Book Club topic is making connections, specifically making a Text-to-Self connection. To help my students understand this, I created a presentation and notes sheet.
Intro to Making Connections - Today was my first day with my Book Club students, so to get to know them (there's only five!) and to introduce the topic we'd be covering in the first few weeks, I created an intro activity!
Help Me With Halloween! - To keep with the Halloween spirit, I created an extension activity that incorporated the holiday and student writing--Help Me With Halloween!
Someone Else’s Shoes - Another extension activity! This time I made the students think creatively and outside the box.
Sentences Competition - Today my sixth graders were finishing up the editing process for their personal narratives. They were all at different places--just starting, halfway through, almost done--so I decided to create some fun, Halloween-related extension activities for those who were finished.
Extension Activities - With Standards-Based Grading, students may be at completely different levels of learning. There might be a student completely finished writing her narrative, while another boy is just finishing up his paragraph--polar opposites--so how do you accommodate? The answer: Extension Activities.
CRAP Test - My eighth graders are working on a perseverance project to tie into Hunger Games. To connect main character Katniss' life with other lives, the students are researching a person in their field of interest and finding evidence as to how that individual persevered through difficult times and challenges. To do this, they need to use the internet---thus the CRAP Test--finding reliable sources.
Pre-Planning House on Mango Street - Next week I will completely take over the eighth grade classes and teach House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Since I will become, in my cooperating teacher's place, one of the two eighth grade English/Reading teachers, I needed to plan and collaborate ahead of time to prepare for teaching the book.
The Boring Words Funeral - Today my 6th grade co-teachers and I held a Boring Words Funeral for the overused, boring, '2nd/3rd grade' words in our vocabulary. This was a very somber event. Students and teachers wore black. We wrote words down on notecards, placed them in burial shoe box, processed around the room, and said our final words.
Assessing Character Symbols - Okay, Marisa. You can do this. I coach myself as I begin my first Standards-Based Grading. Just be honest. Be consistent. And be smart. 
My Hamburger Narrative - The focus of my sixth grade classes is narrative writing: short stories about the student's own lives. To help with the structure of writing a short story, we explained a hamburger model of writing. The buns are the topic and concluding sentences, the 'meat' is the essential components of the story, and the condiments are the supporting details, evidence, and sensory details!
Integrating Hunger Games Movie Clips - My eighth graders finished the Hunger Games today. Boy, did I forget how heart-wrenching the ending of the first book was! In addition to the Character Symbol activity I had them working on, I also wanted to integrate the movie in some way, so I used YouTube clips and a discussion post on Google Classroom to enhance and deepen student understanding of the end of the book.
Book Talk: A Face First - Encouraging students to read is important. As a teacher, modeling reading is even more important! So today I gave a book talk on one of my favorite books from elementary/middle school: A Face First.
Character Symbols - Today I am completely taking over the 8th grade classes! They are almost finished reading the Hunger Games and since the standard that we are assessing is the ability to cite textual evidence and make an inference, I created a Character Symbols worksheet to help them work on inferences in a different (and hopefully fun) way!
Hunger Games – Scaffolded Notes - I stepped into this placement at Forest City Middle School while my eighth grade students were in the middle/end of reading Hunger Games. This was a difficult spot to enter, but I squeezed myself into the lessons by reading aloud to the students and helping with scaffolded notes.
Note Card Names! - It's round two of the note card name tags (well, sort of). Just like I did at the beginning of my first placement at Mason City High School, I had students create note card name tags with their names on the front and three things they wanted me to know about them on the back!
Wordly Wise Time! - "It's a Wordly Wise day? Awh mannnnnn!" That was the chorus I heard at the start of every sixth grade classroom today.
Student Example – Jericho Walls Character Sketch - A few class sessions ago, I had my sixth grade students work on a character sketch for the narrator, Jo, in their novel Jericho Walls. Because they are working on predicting, and because I really wanted them to get a deeper understanding of the narrator, I led the class in a group discussion about Jo and […]
Lions of Little Rock Character Sketch - Today I worked with Mrs. Sopko’s afternoon sixth grade classes on their book, Lions of Little Rock.
Jericho Walls Character Sketch - Today I was able to teach a lesson to sixth graders! First I read out loud to them to catch them up to the other sixth grade classes. Then I started the lesson, which I had prepared on character/narrator within their book, Jericho Walls. The first thing I did was lead a group discussion about […]
Clinical Observations – Learning Targets, Calendar, Databases - One thing I noticed from today was the layout of Mrs. Sopko’s room.
Figurative Language Focus - Today’s focus with sixth graders was on figurative language. The class activity was song/music based, where students were asked to look up different (previously selected) songs and find examples of figurative language. This was a computer activity. Students downloaded a google document, which was a Double Entry Journal. They put the song title, example of […]
Vocabulary & Wordly Wise - Today I was able to work with sixth and eighth grade students on their reading and vocabulary. For one of their activities, the teacher modeled reading by reading aloud. It was a great example for the students to see the fluency of reading; the teacher was also able to stop and ask comprehension questions as […]
Middle School Five - I came across this article in searching for reading strategies specific to middle-schoolers. I wanted to focus on the 6th-8th age group just because I’ve been in a 10th grade classroom a lot this year and I wanted to make sure I could find strategies that could apply to a younger age as well. This […]
Reading & Writing Tutoring – Forest City Middle School: Spring 2014 - These are some pictures taken during my clinical experience at Forest City Middle School.
English/Reading Tutoring in Forest City Middle School - In the Spring of 2014, I volunteered as an English/Reading tutor in Forest City Middle School in Forest City, Iowa. This was what I chose as my service learning project; I felt that it would not only benefit the community, but also my future teaching career. I was able to work with several different students: […]
Teaching Vocabulary – Lesson/Game - Vocabulary is a huge part of any English/Reading classroom, but no student wants to sit at a desk and memorize words and definitions...so, I decided to make a fun vocabulary lesson/game for my sophomore students!
Social Contract - As a future English teacher, my job is to make sure my classroom is safe, fun, orderly, and effective. One of the most basic ways I can do this is through a Social Contract.