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Essay Writing Hack for Struggling Students

Teaching Essay Writing?  Try this hack for helping struggling Middle School Students!

This year I am teaching 7th grade English Language Arts and I have two full classes of all ELL students.

As a result, I had the very difficult task of teaching 48 students who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Arabic and French as their first language how to write a text-based essay.

This was pretty new to all of them as no one would admit that they ever had to write a text-based essay in their country.

So I had to get creative.

At the outset, I taught them the parts of an essay with self-made videos and picture notes.  We used those notes as a reference with a fill-in-the-blank essay.  That seemed to work well enough but they still didn't seem to truly get it.
So then recently, I had an idea -  Essay Task Cards.  I took the prompt that we were working on and wrote out an essay.  Then I made a task card for each of the sentences.  

There's more than one way to learn the structure of an essay!  #teaching #middleschool

I had the students work in groups of 4 with 4 task cards at a time.  They decided on the answers together and if they couldn't agree, I would settle the disagreement.  ;)

The students put their answers on specially made answer sheets where they were required to write out the entire answer.   Once a student had filled in every box, he/she had an essay!  

Then we used the checklists to decide where the paragraphs would be in the essays.  Finally, students wrote out the essays on notebook paper.

There were so many "A-ha!" moments during this activity.  Students really got into the idea of identifying the right answer and understanding why it was right.  Then to see it all put together, it was like magic!  They were genuinely working to write and felt like they accomplished something big when they were finished!

It's like training wheels for an essay! #teaching #middleschool

I know that next year, I will definitely try this earlier and more often because it really helped the students make sense of essays.

Want to try this with your own students?  I have a prompt, texts, an organizer/checklist and task cards with answers all ready to go - just click here!

Or get the organizer/checklist for free by joining the Teacher Troop!

Thanks for stopping by!

Essay Champs and Mud Pies!

Motivate your Middle School Essay Writers with this Activity!

Our Big State Writing Test is nearly upon us, so I knew I needed to get creative to get my students motivated!

First of all, I talked about the Super Bowl.

Me:  "So when the two teams that are going to be in the Super Bowl are getting ready, do they say 'Man!  This stinks!  I don't want to play in the stupid 'ol Super Bowl!' ?"  (I walk around and kick at the floor with an exaggerated tone.)

Students:  "No!" with sincerely incredulous looks on their faces. (They probably thought I'd lost my mind.)

Me:  Right!  Of course not!  Instead, they run around screaming "We're gonna win because we're the best and we're awesome and the other team doesn't stand a chance and when we win, we're gonna go to Disney World!"  (And I literally screamed this like I was a football player.  So then they were sure I'd lost my mind!)

But then I said "Our big state test is like our Super Bowl - a Super Bowl for writing.  You should be excited to go in there and show what you know - to show that you are the best and that you are a winner!"

Then I went on - "We've been training for months - with running 'writing laps' by writing in our journals, and doing 'writing push-ups' when we correct our writing, and even doing some 'writing sit-ups' when we write double-entry journals.  Now we're ready for some regular season games.  This is the Mud Pie league."

Then I explained that there would be several "games" - tasks really - and for each "win" (successful completion of a task), they would earn one piece of a puzzle.  On the appointed day, whatever the completed puzzle showed was awarded.  The full puzzle showed a pudding cup surrounded by various add-ins like sprinkles and chocolate chips to make a "mudpie".

The Mud Pie League motivated my Middle School students to be better essay writers!

Each day I would go around and check students' papers.  If they had completed a task correctly, I awarded a puzzle piece and signed their checklist.  If they had a mistake, they had to find the "fix" in their writing folder, notes, flashcards or on the videos I made for them.  

Then on the next go around, I would re-check anything they'd like and repeat the process for signing the checklist and giving out puzzle pieces.

I did this for one solid week from Monday through Friday.  On Friday, I gave them all "overtime" but at the bell, time was up!  The following Monday students would receive their awards for jobs well done.

Overall, I count this as a success as students had to struggle a bit to find answers and write essays that would score well on the state rubric but students were definitely engaged and learning!  They worked for their reward by putting in the effort to write and be essay champs!

Want to try the "Mudpie League" with your students?  You can check out the ready-to-use activity by clicking here or get the puzzle for FREE by joining the Teacher Troop!

Easy Memory Improvement Idea

Quick and Easy Memory Improvement Idea for your Middle School Classroom!  #memory #teaching

My students are preparing for our state's big writing test.  We've been working on essays all year long but they still seem to be struggling with the basics?  How can this be?  

They aren't memorizing the basics.

Why?  Well, I sat down to try and figure this out when I read this great post by Secondary Sara:

Secrets From the Tutor: What Your Secondary Students Need This Year

In that article, it explains how even though we as teachers think we have said something 100 times, it's because we say it 6 times a day and so it feels like we're repeating ourselves incessantly.  However, to the student, they have heard that information just one period a day and that information is competing for space in their brain along with 6 other classes, after-school sports, clubs, and other activities.

It was like an "Ah-ha!" moment for me as I realized that my students need more repetition than I thought they did; They need more re-teaching and more time.

My solution:  Flashcard books!

Flashcard books are great teaching tools for kids to help them with organization of ideas!  #vocabulary #DIY

Every day we review some part or function of an essay.  Then we record it in our flashcard book.  That night, they are to study all the flashcards that have information on them.  The next day, I ask each student one question from what was on the cards out loud at the start of the period.  If the student gets it right, it's a 100.  If the students is on the right track, but not "there", it's a 75%.  If it's wrong or they do not remember, it's a 50%.  I mark this on a copy of my roster and at the end of the week I average their scores and enter that average as one grade under the title "Verbal Quiz".  

To make sure that I ask every person a question, I have all my students' names on popsicle sticks.  As I draw a name, I put it back inside the cup but inside a paper towel holder.  

This is how to make flashcards work in your middle school classroom!  #engagement #study

As we add at least 1 card each day, any question can be asked of any card so it's a cumulative kind of thing.  Each day we are building up our knowledge.  It's also quick and easy to see who is studying.  Since my students care about their grades, this works very well.  I have seen students who were not able to answer the first or second day, come in on the third ready to go.  

I tend to come up with my questions on the spot, but that's probably because I have been teaching for 23 years.  If you think you might need a little more structure, then maybe this would help:

This is exactly what I used with my students last week.  Instead of doing a little each day, I wanted to get model introduction, body and conclusion paragraphs in the notebooks and the basic information in the flashcards.  We have just about 6 weeks before our big test so I need to get going!  However, if you have more time, you could do a little each day which was my original plan until all sorts of other school testing and such got in the way...  

If you're working on essays too and would like a FREE copy of my argument essay outline and graphic organizer for planning, then please join the Teacher Troop and get free access to my members-only Resource Library where this can be found.

Thanks for stopping by!

My Top 5 Tips To Start The New Year Right!

Happy New Year!

School will resume soon and so I thought I'd share how I plan to #startstrong in 2018!

1 - First, we'll play an expectations review game.  

Middle School Lesson Ideas for the New Year  - Mrs. Spangler's Top Tips!  #teaching #newyear

I write 11 questions on index cards and then the 11 answers on separate index cards.  Then I'll pass out one card to every student as they enter the room.  After everyone finds their NEW seats (which is on one side of an index card tent), I'll ask them to find their partner - all questions must have answers.  :)

2 - Next, I plan to read this picture book:

Click on the title to see this book.  This is an affiliate link.

This book is about how one person took what was trash and turned it into something beautiful.  This has a double meaning for me and my students.  We currently have a problem with trash at our over-crowded school and I'd like to open the discussion in what we can do to solve it.  Plus, I want to help my students realize that they can take what seems to be a problem and make something positive out of it in a growth mindset kind of way.  The way I see it, students need to see that they can take ownership of a "problem area" at school and turn it around.

3 - Then it will be time to set goals related to the trash and/or taking ownership of problem areas.  But not just any old goal that we just say we're going to accomplish - this needs to be for real with steps to accomplish it.  

4 - Next it will be time to think of one word that summarizes our goals and put that on the other side of that index card tent (that gave them their new seat) as a daily reminder.

New Year Tips for Middle School Classrooms - Get a Free Essay Vocabulary Review Printable!

I'll need to be patient as our goals will take time.  Plus, it will take patience as we review what we learned in the first semester - especially when it seems like the students have forgotten everything!

5 - Last, but not least, we will tie it all together to focus on what we need to accomplish in class.  In our case, our big state writing test is March 6th.  We will have just a little less than 2 months to get our game on!  

So that's a challenge that will require some creative thinking like the one demonstrated in the book above!   But I have a plan!
We will start the essay challenge with reviewing vocabulary using a fortune teller!  

Free Printable - Essay Vocabulary Review Fortune Teller!

It's free for all members of the Teacher Troop in my Resource Library!

Not a member yet?  Enter your e-mail below!

Thanks for stopping by!

Escape Out (of the room)

It's show and tell time with Stephanie at Forever in Fifth Grade and it's also that time of year when I had to schedule my formal observation.  This year, my deliberate practice involved organizing students for complex tasks.  So what to do to make this a "home run"?

An Escape Out (Of The Room)!

With the help of Nouvelle ELA's fabulous Facebook group, Escape Rooms in ELA, I was able to put together my first one using the play version of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

The standards in our scope and sequence were:

LAFS.7.RL.2.6:  Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

LAFS.7.RL.3.9:  Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place or characters and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history

LAFS.7.RI.3.8:  Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.

So I decided to make 3 puzzles - one for each standard - with students starting off making a hypothesis as to how Dickens both used AND altered history.

To begin, I told them they were trapped in the bitter cold of Victorian Times and were subject to either being thrown in prison or into a workhouse except for this one chance to escape - by completing the 3 puzzles!

DIY Classroom Escape Room Ideas and Tips from a Middle School ELA Teacher!  No locks necessary!  #teaching #escape
Each group was given a box with all 3 puzzles.  There were no locks in this one, just puzzles to solve with a worksheet to match.  Each puzzle ended with a "Clue Phrase" to solve that gave them a "Point to Ponder" for their final hypothesis evaluation.

Escape Out of the Room for the Middle School ELA Classroom using "A Christmas Carol".  Paper-based puzzles with high engagement!  #teaching  #escape
Puzzle #1:  Determine which plot events were influenced by history and which were not.  Students could refer to the article we read in class:  "The Real Reason Dickens Wrote 'A Christmas Carol'"  To complete the Clue Phrase, they had to use the letters on the back of the events influenced by history to spell out 2 words.
 (Point to Ponder to Escape:  Why were they influenced by history?)

I Made My Own Escape Out (of the room) for "A Christmas Carol" using paper puzzles!  #engagementPuzzle #2:  Match the claims and evidence into pairs.  Some were claims from the play, others were claims from the article.  Students had copies of the play to refer to.  They had to use the letter from the claim and the number from the evidence to look up words on a grid and place them in the clue phrase to escape.
(Point to Ponder to Escape:  What evidence is there to back up what you think from puzzle #1?)

Secret Codes are fun for learning in this DIY Escape Out (of the room)!  Get new ideas and tips for making your own in your Middle School Classroom!  #engagement #escape

Puzzle #3:  How did Dickens change the way we celebrate Christmas?  Students were given a new article to read and decipher.  They had to fill in the blanks using information from the article and then use the grayed out boxes to form words.
(Point to Ponder to Escape:  How did Dickens alter history?)

Once the students solved all 3 puzzles using their worksheet and other materials,  they had to revise or alter their hypothesis, show it to me and if it was correct, I allowed them to open the "escape briefcase" to earn a reward - a small candy cane.  All students with candy canes escaped Victorian Times!

The students were ALL 100% engaged and loved working on the puzzles.  It literally took all the members of the team to solve them.  Plus, I earned two ratings of "Applying" and two ratings of "Innovating"!

I will admit this was A LOT of work.  But now that I have made one, I can see how to streamline the process of others for the future.  You really do have to work backward with these things.  Start with what the students are to accomplish and then design puzzles that lead them to that conclusion.

It also doesn't hurt to have some ideas of how to create various ciphers.  It took me a lot of searching through the above mentioned Facebook group and general Googling to really wrap this ELA brain around these logical minded puzzles!  So let me save you some time:

Here's 8 Secret Codes and Ciphers that I almost bought but didn't need:  https://www.etsy.com/listing/165631063/spy-party-games-secret-agent-party-8 

I didn't buy the ciphers from Etsy because I made my own grid cipher and hidden message cipher with the grayed out boxes.  This way no locks are necessary!

I really enjoyed this lesson and so did my students - they want to know when we can do it again!  I might just have them make the puzzles next time - we'll see!

Be sure to stop by Forever in Fifth Grade for more great Show and Tell!

Thanks for stopping by!

Teachers' Favorite Things!

Have you seen "The O List" of Oprah's Favorite Things? Well, that got me thinking about
"The T List" - Teachers' Favorite Things!

Like "The O List" of Oprah's Favorite Things, It's "The T List" - Teachers' Favorite Things!  Check out this list of Teacher Must Have Supplies and Wish List Items!  Some are cute, some are cheap and some are essential!  #holiday #Christmas #favoritethings #teacherwishlist

I have at least 4 "must-have" teacher supplies and several others on my wish list.

Now I don't know if your wish list is like mine, but what if after you made your own list and checked it twice, you could actually receive up to $100 of those items?

This December, four teachers are teaming up to grant one lucky teacher’s Wish List. Kristy (2 Peas and a Dog), Danielle (Nouvelle ELA), Lisa (Mrs. Spangler in the Middle), and Sara (Secondary Sara) are putting on their Santa hats to gift a teacher his or her Favorite Things!

Win Your Teacher Wish List of Classroom Supplies or Resources From Four Marvelous Middle School Teachers!  #holiday  #Christmas  #FavoriteThings

Here’s how it works:
  1. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below, which ends on Sunday, December 10th at 11:59pm EST. (The winners will be contacted on Monday, December 11th).
  2. Next, the winner makes an Amazon Wish List containing ANYTHING he/she wants for the classroom, up to $125.
  3. We four teachers will surprise you by purchasing up to $100 of the items on your wish list; the items are shipped directly to your house!

But we aren't stopping there! Two more lucky teachers can also win these prizes:

Second Place Prize: A TpT wish list! One lucky teacher will get to pick up to $10 in resources from EACH of our four stores!

Third Place Prize: A TpT wish list! One lucky teacher will get to pick up to $5 in resources from EACH of our four stores!

Terms & Conditions:
  1. Items in the wish list must be intended for classroom use
  2. Winner must be from the US or Canada
  3. Entries will be reviewed before the winner is drawn
  4. If winners do not respond in a timely manner, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize and gift it to the next (randomly drawn) recipient(s)
  5. This giveaway is not affiliated or endorsed by Amazon, Instagram, or any other organization. 

Our Favorite Things!
If you need inspiration for your Wish List (or can’t wait to add it to your shopping cart now), here are both a few must-haves that I love as well as the items I would add to MY wish list:

These are a few of my favorite things... 
that I use almost every day in my 7th grade ELA class:

As a Language Arts Teacher, my verbal skills are strong - but my math is, well, not as strong. That's why I love my old EZ-Grader! I can just slide over to the number of questions and voila! - the scores appear!

This paper made "The T List" of this Middle School Teacher's Favorite Must Have Classroom Supplies!  #wishlist #Christmas
You can find this on Amazon - click here! (not an affiliate)
I love my Astrobrights paper to make copies of things that are used over and over. Like our lists of transitions for our essays for instance. They are printed on bright paper and kept in our writing folders for use all year long.

White-out Tape
Then there's my obsession with white-out tape. I just seem to go through it like crazy - especially when I am grading essays. I like to give thoughtful feedback and sometimes ( a lot of times) my brain just keeps coming up with new ways to say worn out things.

Paper Tray Organizer - Kvissle from IKEA
Is organization on your Teacher Wish List?  Maybe this can help!  #favoritethings #teaching #teacherwishlist
This is also on Amazon!  
Click here! (not an affiliate)
Don't you just love IKEA? I could spend all day
in that store as all the organizing things make me
feel inspired. But, I have limited myself to just two
of these trays (so far!) and I have one for papers
to be graded and one for graded papers. These organizers
are super sturdy with trays that slide out and help keep
my paper monster tamed.
Well, mostly. ;)

My Teacher Wish List is on Amazon and is full of Great Products for my Middle School Classroom!   #favoritethings #holiday #Christmas #classroomsupplies

Wish List

Now for the things I'd LIKE to have but probably don't really NEED...

Like how about this great book embosser for my classroom library?

One of my Favorite Things on my Teacher Wish List!  #holiday
This is on Amazon - Click here!  (not an affiliate)

Or this super fun shirt?
This Is on My Middle School Teacher Wish List!  #favoritethings #holiday
I found it on Amazon - click here! (not an affiliate)

My 8th-grade son actually groaned when I showed him this - so I definitely have it sitting in my cart!  I'm even thinking about buying one for each member of my team!  :)

I'd be thrilled to receive any of these items, but I am sure there are many more I could add to my list that these fine bloggers have also recommended:

Make sure to check out these other THREE blog posts for more recommended wish list items!

Ready to Enter to Win Your Teacher Wish List?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks for stopping by!