Featured Slider

The First Week of Middle School

Wondering what to do with your new middle school classes during that first week of school?  Find out here! #backtoschool #firstday #forteachers

I have a friend whose daughter is going to be teaching for the first time this coming fall.  The daughter called me and said "I will be teaching Science and I know all about that but what do I do on the first day of school?  Just go over the syllabus?"

I'll be honest, that was like the sound of nails down the chalkboard to me.  So I put on my most kind teacher voice and said "I would suggest that you save the syllabus for about the third day because the students will not care how much you know until they know how much you care."  
"Oh.  <pause>  So how do I do that?"

1.  First Day of School

On the first day, I greet everyone at the door and say things like "Good morning!  Glad you're here!"  "Welcome to 7th grade Language Arts!"  "Good to have you!"  "Hi, Welcome!"

Ideas for the first day back to school and the rest of the week!  #middleschool #forteachersThen after the bell rings, I do some kind of getting to know you activity like the "TP Pass".  This is where I pass a roll of toilet paper around and ask each person to take "some".  Then for each square a person has taken, they have to share one fact about themselves.  I always go first with at least 5 squares to give students ideas of what they might want to share.  I even make a list of these ideas on the board.

Next, I might have them make something that has their name and things that are important to them on it.  I have had students make paper t-shirts, sports cards, name tents, and other things.    
(These are perfect to display for Open House!)

2.  Day Two

Now it's time to talk about "rules" a little bit.  I actually do something called creating agreements.  If you click on that link, you'll get a very detailed post on that concept but to summarize here,  today all students get 2 post-it notes.  On one note I ask them to write down one thing THEY need to be successful.  On the other note I ask them to write down one thing that they need from ME to be successful.  Then I ask them to stick them to the two sides of the board.

A BINGO getting to know you game is a great activity for the first or second day of school!  #backtoschool #ideasThen I move on to playing another game - like maybe a BINGO getting to know you game.  

Finally we finish day 2 with finishing the craft from yesterday.

3.  Day Three

Last night, after school, I categorized those sticky notes into 4 categories:  Prompt, Prepared, Responsible, Respectful - but I didn't label them.  Instead I told the students that many of them had similar ideas and so I grouped those similarities together.  Then I read the grouped stickies out loud.  Next I asked the students what title we could give to this set of notes.  If they need a little help, I help.  I repeat this until all 4 categories have been labeled matching my 4 categories from above.

Then I say "Ok - so do we all agree that this is what we need to be successful?"  We make additions/deletions as necessary and then I say "Since we all agree that this is what we need to be successful, then these are our "rules" but I will call them our "agreements" because we all agreed on this together."

NOW I hand out the syllabus and go over the class requirements & procedures.  The students are more invested because we have spent some time getting to know each other.  I always include a "Student Information Sheet" that I ask students to fill out THAT NIGHT and return the next day.  I always tie this into my positive reinforcement system that I explain today as well.  

4.  Day Four

Today I do some kind of academically related activity that still is not subject heavy to keep building those relationships.  

So I might do something like have teams build something, or I might have them read an article about getting recruited (one year I had a bunch of sports fanatics!), or read a picture book that connects to our agreements to help establish our community.

We have some great class discussions and this is a perfect opportunity for me to observe - who speaks up, who doesn't say a word, who wants all the attention, and so on.  It's also a chance to reinforce any procedures.  

5.  Day Five

I end the week with some fun things!  Like a getting to know you survey and some silent note-writing, or a Socratic Seminar, or a goal-setting activity, or maybe even a presentation of that building activity!

Now the first week is done and you have started the most important part of teaching middle school - building relationships!  Next week, you can start in on that subject area content.  Just be sure to have routines and procedures that students can count on so that you will continue to build your community.  

Want all of this and more to help you get the best start with your new position teaching middle school?  My New Teacher Starter Kit has instructions and resources for the 6 areas all new teachers need!

The SIX things all new middle school teachers need for their classroom to start a new year off right!  #musthaves #survivalkit #firstday

-Class routines
-Behavior Management
-First Week Plans
-Lesson Planning checklists, templates & more
-Setting up the Classroom - 2 watercolor decor sets included!
-Syllabus samples

Get even more great ideas and free resources throughout the year by subscribing to my newsletter!

Summer Treats for Teachers

One of the biggest perks of being a teacher is summer vacation.  Of course, teachers don't generally get paid during the summer (unless their district has a deferment plan like mine), so this sometimes puts a wrench in the plans of soaking up some sun with sand between our toes.

Well, maybe this will help!  A group of middle school teachers has joined together to offer a MONTH of Sun, Sand, & Savings!

Every Monday will be dollar deals!
Every Tuesday will be special deals!
Every Thursday-Sunday will be a giveaway!

You can enter the giveaways below each week in July:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks for stopping by! And if you'd like to get great news like this all the time, consider becoming a subscriber and also getting access to my Resource Library!

Classroom Rules for Middle School

Looking for the best way to create classroom rules with your middle school classes?  See what's worked for me through 25 years of teaching. #behaviormanagement  #ideas

Since I have been teaching Middle School for 24 years (and 1 year in high school - that's another story for another time), I am often asked what I recommend as the best behavior management system.

What I recommend is this:  Creating "agreements" - not rules - and a system that recognizes students for their growth (and sometimes just for the everyday good things that they do.)

How do I do this?

Creating Agreements

Day one
1.  Give all students two sticky notes.

2.  On one sticky note ask the students to write down what they personally need to do to be successful.

3.  On the other sticky note, ask the students to write down what they need from YOU to be successful.

4.  Have them place their sticky notes on a bulletin board or some other location in the room.  

Get to know your students & their needs by creating class agreements!  #behaviormanagement #ideas

In between Day one and Day two, group the sticky notes into 4 categories:  Prompt, Prepared, Responsible, and Respectful.   Do not title the categories.

Day two
1.  Tell the students that yesterday you tried to group their ideas.  Read the stickies that have been grouped together and ask the students what they think the title of that group should be.  (Take several answers and then tell them the word that ties it all together - the category name you already have in mind.)  Then label it.

2.  After you label all 4 categories, you ask:
  • "So is there anything that needs to be added?  (Pause - look for hands.  Make additions as necessary.)  
  • Is there anything that doesn't belong?  (Pause - look for hands.  Discuss possible deletions.)  
  • So now, do we all agree that this is what we need to be successful in this classroom this year?  (Pause - any objections?  Fix that with additions/deletions and then gain consensus.)
  • So now we have just made an agreement that these are the things we need to be successful so these are our "rules" but I will call them our "agreements" because we all agreed on this together.  I will even summarize these for you with some posters that I will make and post this week.

3.  Now you might want to talk about consequences for students do not live up to their end of the agreement. I usually declare "It's only fair to first receive a warning, don't you agree?"  Then I follow it with my 4 step process:
  • Warning
  • Phone call home  (keep a log on the back of a students information sheet you might send home with a syllabus.)
  • Take Home detention:  A behavior essay (to help reteach them what appropriate behavior is)
  • Referral.

4.  Then I'll say "But I'm sure we won't have much of that to deal with since we all agreed on what we need to be successful so let's talk more about the successful side."  Now I will begin to talk about my positive reinforcement system - Super Improvers and/or Tickets.  

Super Improvers

This idea comes from Whole Brain Teaching.  I modified it for my middle school classes.  This is where kids can visually track progress and move up in the ranks as they progress through the year.  My students have really enjoyed moving up through the ranks and coming up with privileges for each rank.

Some of the privileges they have suggested are:  free tardy pass, bonus points, choose your own seat, and first to leave.  We decided together which level would earn which privilege.
Each student has to earn 10 improvements before they can move up a level.  My students all wanted to be living legends!  :)

Ticket System

This idea is mine and is something I use with students who need that something "extra" beyond the Super Improvers.  Basically, I give out tickets to students who have earned top grades, or who answer a question, or who positively contribute in some way to the class.  Then I do a weekly drawing on Fridays.   Students love it when their efforts are rewarded in immediate, tangible ways.

So there you have it!  These are the secrets to my success in making it through 25 years of teaching!  I hope they help you have success too!

Get great ideas like these delivered to your inbox PLUS access to a members-only resource library!

Thanks for stopping by!

Teaching Text Structure in Middle School

Middle School students know what text structures ARE, but now they need to know how to USE them to analyze text!  #activities #teaching

It's one thing to know what text structure IS, but it's another thing to know how to USE text structure.  For me, this is the struggle point for my middle schoolers.  

They'll gleefully tell me that a text uses the compare/contrast text structure but when I dig a bit deeper and ask things like "How does knowing that help you understand the text?", I get blank stares.  That's because they've never been asked to USE them. Well, now is the time!

How I teach students to USE text structures

1.  First I start with vocabulary.  

I include words they know like compare and contrast with words they might not have thought are connected like affect and effect.

When teaching text structures, it can helpful to start with vocabulary!  #middleschool #activities

Students record the definitions & what they know about the word.  I hang word wall cards as we go over the words.  Afterwards, students play a dominoes game to help those words stick!

2.  Teach

I teach the students a 3 step process for using text structure to analyze texts with a text, some notes and a PowerPoint.  The notes are my own design of traditional two column notes blended with interactive visuals.  I call them Pixanotes.  

There are 4 versions of the notes all with the same content but different levels of scaffolding.  One version has fill in the blanks while another has pre-printed content.  The idea is that if you have students with special needs or limited English mixed in with general education students,  you could have all 4 versions out in the same class at the same time and everyone would have something with which they could work.

Teaching middle school students to USE text structures is easy with these scaffolded visual notes!  #lesson #activities

3.  Processing Time (Practice)

After the notes, it's time for the student to process the information that was presented.  I sometimes use task cards for this and other times, I use a menu with 2 options and a new text. 

After you have taught the 3 step process for using text structures to analyze text, it's time to practice!  Differentiate the processing with menus!  #middleschool #lesson

After we have completed the processing phase, then it's time to have a quiz.  After the quiz, I'll know who's "got it" (those are the students who score 80% or better), and I'll also know who didn't "get it" (those that scored below 80%).  So that leads me to the final phase of the unit...

4. Reteach and Enrich

I use menus for this phase of the unit so that everyone has something to do which looks similar.  The students who need reteaching get an "enhancement" menu while those who are ready for enrichment get a menu that says "enrichment".  The choices are different and I tell students that everyone is getting the menu that is most appropriate for their needs.  Period.  If a student says "Why do I have this menu and not the one he has?", I reply with "This is the menu you need and this is the menu he needs."

What do you do after the text structure quiz?  Reteach or Enrich!  #middleschool #activities

The Reteach provides more support in reviewing the basics while the Enrichment menu asks the students to create something new.  Sometimes we use the products that are created in this phase to review before a final assessment.  

The benefit to this process:

This process that I have shared with you, is what I call the 
Teach-->Reteach-->Enrich method which you may have noticed has built-in differentiation for all 3 areas!  

The content (notes) are differentiated, the processing is differentiated through choice, and the reteach/enrichment activities allows for differentiation of products.  Now I can be sure I am prepared to help reach all learners!

Ready to try this text structure unit out with your students?

All the work is done in the Complete Unit Bundle - just make the copies and teach!  

Here's a complete unit for Middle School students on how to USE text structures to analyze text! It includes everything the teacher needs to Teach, Reteach & Enrich based on R.CCR.5/RI.5/RL.5 with built-in differentiation!  All the work is done! Just make the copies and teach!  #activities #lesson
Each part is also sold separately.

I hope this helps you and your middle school students use text structures to analyze text!

Thanks for stopping by!

Tips for Wrapping Up The School Year

Before you say "It's a wrap" for this school year, be sure to check out these ideas for making it a smooth finish! #organization #ideas

Believe it or not, we're nearing the end of the school year!  But before we can call it "a wrap", there's a few loose ends that need to be tied up.  

Your #2ndaryELA friends discussed some of the best ways to close out the school year both on Twitter and on Facebook Live in the #2ndaryELA Facebook Group.  
(You'll see comments from both Twitter and Facebook in the post below.)

Read on for some of their best ideas and suggestions!

Q1: Do you give any specials gifts or mementos to students at the end of the year?
A1: not really because I have on average 260 students a year, so it isn’t very cost effective.
A1: Jumping in here late tonight- Kelli from TN - 7th and 8th ELA- when I taught in elementary grade levels I would give books - but now since I am secondary and have 5 times the students I do not.
A1 in middle school I don't do student gifts. We do a reflection and celebrate!
A1 No gifts in the past in high school, but thinking about it for this yr in 6th grade
A1: I don't give any gifts, but at the end of each year I have the students write their name in the center of a piece of paper on which other students write compliments. I love joining in and the students love reading them!
Q2: What do you have to do to “shut-down” your room for the year?
A2: As far as I know, this year I don't have to do ANYTHING! Last year we moved into a new building and had to remove EVERYTHING to store at home until August. It was quite the task, so I'm happy for an easier shutdown this year!
A2: Some years we have to take everything out but some years we can just box it all up. I try to do a little each day in the 2 or so weeks leading up to the last day.

Lauralee Epplin Moss15:25 I wipe down my room. Once I came back to a sticky mess. Gross.
A2 I take down personal items, most of my wall decorations/posters, box up my desk and get everything off the floors!
A2 We have a fairly short checklist of cleaning up our room. We can leave things up and don't have to pack much up.
A2: We have to clean out our rooms completely. Nothing can be left. They buff the tile floors over the summer.
A2: put up desks, clean off counters, clean the whiteboard. Our Custodiangives is a checklist and a summer cleaning schedule
Q3: How do you organize your things to help you be better prepared for the next year?
A3: I try to keep paper assignments organized in binders, so they are easier to find next year. Everything else is organized in Google Drive folders. If it weren't for I'd be a mess!
A3: Everything will be binders. Notice I said - will be, I am still working on it.
A3: I have tried making lists of what's in every box so I am not constantly searching through boxes for the item I need.
A3 I want to take the first couple days after the school year ends to jot down notes about what to do differently. Next year I'll keep of notebook as I go
A3 I will go through any extra copies I made and toss anything I know I'm going to change
A3: my room is very organized now so that helps. I have a cupboard I put things in so it is ready to go next year.

Emily Clausen19:43 A3 My temptation at the end of the year is to shove stuff wherever I can to be “packed up”...but the years that I take the time to sort through papers and pack things in an organized way, I am always happy I did when coming back for the next year
A3 I have been purging paper files over the last few years - I've got about three more drawers to go! I keep binders of some things, but now mostly everything in Google Drive. I've been scanning hard copies this year-it helps!
Q4: Do you work on lesson plans over the summer? PD? Anything school related?
A4: Of course! I'm attending a tech summit in May and a middle grades conference in June as well as the PD! This summer I'm going to work on flipping our novel unit; then in July we have summer cheer camp :)
A4: I have 4 district PD days and 1 department collaboration day right after school gets out then I work on plans at my own pace through the summer
A4: Not if I can help it! Well at least not until late July. (We go back August 5)

Erica Pasquale Young20:26 A4: yes! We just changed our whole curriculum for next year

Erica Pasquale Young22:04 We literally just rewrote the scope and sequence. We never had themes before (it was a mess...I’m glad it changed), but I just signed myself up for a ton of work
A4: I do. My kids are older and I am able to tweak lessons and read PD books. I occasionally will go to a summer PD if it’s something I really want to do.
A4 Guilty of doing lots of summer work. With 3 little ones, I'd rather put in some time over the summer so I have less work during the school year
A4 Hoping to attend ISTE in Philly at the end of June
Q5: Share your best teacher summer relaxation tips.
A5: Do things that bring you joy! I like to read, go to the parks with my own boys, play frisbee, & work on projects around the house. In short, I like to let my mind wander.

Erica Pasquale Young22:27 I’ll read for June, think of ideas in July, and plan in August
A5 My advice to to set aside a certain amount of time to work on school stuff and stick to it
A5: Relaxing outside in the sunshine listening to music or reading a book.
A5 My goal is also to read a book a day :)
A5: I try to take the month of June and half of July off and not do anything school related. Then I start getting things ready and planned middle of July
A5: I love getting away to the lake where I have ZERO phone signal and plenty of sun! Being able to enjoy a good book is a plus too :)

Tina Boss-McIver28:01 My husband just put 24 tomato and pepper plants in the garden; I will spend lots of time canning, but I find this relaxing! :)

Erica Pasquale Young25:35 A5: Hammock time! I also don’t do any work after 8 pm at all!
I hope you found some new ideas for closing out the school year!  This was our last #2ndaryELA chat for the 2018-2019 school year but we're already planning for next year!  Would you please take a moment and give us some feedback?  We really want the chats to be useful to you.  :)

You can catch up on past chats here:

Thanks for stopping by!