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!

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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: 

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!

Study Smarter with Hide and Peek!

Middle School and High School Students can study better and more effectively for exams and for tests with this special idea called "Hide and Peek".  #howtostudy #study #teaching

If your students are like mine, they will INSIST that they studied and cannot begin to understand why their score on their test was low.  The beg and plead for extra credit or to re-take the test.

Student:  But I NEED an A!
Me:  What did you do to study?
Student:  I looked at my notes.
Me:  And what did you do when you looked at your notes?
Student:  Read them.
Me:  And then what?
Student:  ??????????

What I have come to understand is that students need help with learning how to study.

I learned how from my own father when I was in 4th grade and miserably failed a test on the Iroquois that I hid and that he later found out about (of course).

What he taught me was what I call "Hide and Peek".

Step 1:  Look and Say
Look at the first piece of information and say it out loud until you think you will remember it without looking.

Step 2:  Hide and Say
Hide the information you were just saying out loud and try to say it without looking.

Step 3:  Peek
Check to see if you were right:
If the answer is "Yes", move on to the next piece of information.

If the answer is "No",  Repeat steps 1 and 2.

 I used this method to graduate both high school and college - even graduate school!

So I have finally put this into a video and you can watch as my own 8th-grade son takes you and your students through the process of using Hide and Peek to study with accompanying Pixanotes!

Teach "Hide and Peek" to your Middle School and High School Students to help them study better and more effectively for tests and for exams!  #howtostudy #study #teaching

Visit Stephanie at Forever in 5th Grade 
for more great Show and Tell!

Thanks for stopping by!

Is Ability Grouping Within the Middle School Classroom Necessary?

New ideas and tips about ability grouping children for learning activities in middle school.  #teaching  #groupwork

My Deliberate Practice Plan is focused on "Organizing for Learning" and so I have been personally pondering the concept of ability grouping.

I'm not going to try to convince you whether ability grouping is bad or whether it's good - there's loads of research out there that you can read and reflect on.

What I have come to realize is that if the organizing is done appropriately, ability grouping doesn't necessarily have to be a thing I focus on in my middle school class.


It's all about the goals, expectations, and routines.

If your goal is to have students process critical content or practice their learning, then who a student works with may not be as important as what they are working on.

Add in that students are expected to actively participate, listen attentively, and add on to what was said and they will be involved in the learning.

Then, provide a routine to follow for who is to speak first and how one is to listen so there's a structure and you have a recipe for success!

How did this work in my middle school ELA class, you ask?

I tried it just this week with writing essay introductions.  I provided a "micro-text" and then a prompt.  I asked partners to discuss what the first, second and third sentence should be using these posters:

Middle School Classroom Group Work Anchor Charts Create Learning with Accountable Talk.  Perfect Posters for Language Arts or Any Subject Area!  #teaching  #anchorcharts  #groupwork
I made a handy desk reference for these posters that you can get for free
by entering your e-mail at the bottom of this post.

The first time we did this, it was a little new and I'm not so sure I heard students using academic language.  

However, the second time we did this, I explicitly told students I was listening for academic language and so I heard much more.

This taught me that I need to be very specific with what I want to take place during the discussions.

One thing that I will work on next is requiring that there be a written component that shows what each person is adding to the discussion in a larger group of 4 students.

This could be a "placemat" where each group is given a large piece of paper and everyone will write their ideas on their side of the placemat with a final consensus in the middle or it could be as simple as using mini-whiteboards where each individual records their piece.

However, moving forward, I don't think ability grouping has to be a "thing".  Of course, there will be instances where ability grouping is appropriate (like to have two advanced students challenge one another) so I'll never say never but I believe that as long as the routines and structures are in place, students will be able to do more with their learning regardless of their achievement level. 

I think it's all about progress, not perfection.

I made my students a handy desk reference for the expectations and routines that are on the posters above.  I streamlined it with the expectation followed by the routine.  

Discussion Expectations & Routines for Middle School with Sentence Starters!  #teaching #discussions #groupwork

In my class, I copied them onto colored paper and placed them under clear contact paper on the students' desks.  This way they always have the information right where they can see it.  If you'd like a free copy, just enter your e-mail below:

Thanks for stopping by!