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3 Critical Pre-Reading Hacks for Middle School


Anytime I get ready to read a short story or novel with my middle school students, I like to provide some background knowledge to help all my learners get more from the text.  This gives them not just a preview, but hopefully also a kind of anchor to help them as they learn something new.

As a teacher who works with students that have unique learning needs, I have tried many things over the years to reach all learners.  

What I have learned about pre-reading is condensed into this post featured at n2y, one of my favorite sites for working with students that have unique learning needs:

3 Critical Pre-Reading Hacks:  Tips For Literature Studies

In this post, I mention a few items that I created and used in my classroom.  To find out more about those items, please take a look at these links:

1.  Information about Sinkholes is included in my Central Idea Main Idea Guided Notes with PowerPoint and INB Foldable 

2.  The Pre-Reading Game for "A Christmas Carol" is available by clicking here.

Get more great ideas where this one came from!

Citing Text Evidence in Middle School


Give your middle school students this easy to follow 4-step plan to use when citing evidence!

When teaching students how to use various skills in the classroom, I like to break it down into manageable steps.  Then, using the steps like a checklist, students experience much more success when working with the skill.  I have created "blueprints" for things like central idea, theme, character development and more which helps to reach all learners.

I always start with vocabulary.  I want to make sure students know words like cite, relevant, sufficient and so on.  We work with graphic organizers, a vocabulary practice activity and even take a quiz.  This year, it has been all digital.

Teach your middle school students the key vocabulary associated with Citing Text Evidence to set them up for success!

Then I give the students the steps in a guided interactive notes format that they can refer back to throughout the year:

Step #1

Determine the claim or statement being made.

Step #2

Find evidence that supports that claim or statement.

Step #3

Determine if the evidence is relevant & sufficient

Step #4

Cite the evidence by preparing and quoting

Teach your Middle School students how to cite textual evidence in 4 steps with a video of a PowerPoint and matching interactive guided notes that I call Pixanotes®. A perfect way to help teach R.CCR.1!

I include a video with my digital notes that students can refer back to as many times as they'd like.

There's also a short quiz to make sure that students are internalizing the information from the notes.

Next, it's time to practice the skill. I love this digital game (below) because it's very interactive and not only covers the skill, but requires students to apply what they have learned.

Give your middle school students an opportunity to practice / process the concept of citing evidence from a text with this NO-PREP digital game!

To wrap up this unit, I give a text-based assessment.  This assessment is text-based and has questions that mirror those on standardized tests.  

Put this all together and students have learned, practiced and been assessed on a very important skill that they will use throughout the year!

Ready to try it?  Check out the digital bundle by clicking here or on the image below.

Thanks for stopping by!

There are more great ideas where this one came from!


3 Steps to Studying Themes in Literature

Read all about the 3 things I do to help struggling students experience more success with studying themes in literature.

One of the first units we teach in middle school ELA in my neck of the woods each year is theme and central idea.  

As a teacher who works with students that have unique learning needs, I have tried many things over the years to reach all learners.  

What I have learned is condensed into a 3-step plan in this post featured at n2y, one of my favorite sites for working with students that have unique learning needs:

How to Study Themes in Literature With Struggling Readers

I hope that you'll stop by and read all about the 3 things I do to help struggling students experience more success with studying themes in literature. 

Then, if you'd like some ready-to-use lessons for theme and central idea, take a look at these:

Paper:                                                                    Digital:

Middle School students will LEARN, PRACTICE and be ASSESSED for determining the central idea in any nonfiction text AND the theme in any fiction text DIGITALLY!
Everything you need to teach Central Idea and Theme is in this Bundle: Vocabulary worksheet, word wall cards, vocabulary practice, PowerPoint, Pixanotes® (interactive picture notes) both paper AND digital, task cards to practice, a quiz, reteaching materials, and enrichment materials.

Thanks for stopping by!

Lessons For Teaching Essay Writing Digitally!

If you're looking for a way to teach text-based writing DIGITALLY for middle school, then you need to read this post!

With “back to school” looking like distance (digital) learning or at least blended learning, I began to think how I would teach writing to my middle school students.

I know that students need a structured plan to develop a well-organized, logical piece of writing with proper citation, so I went to work!

First I started with writing texts. This way I could ensure they were meaty enough without being too long.  For the informative unit, the text set is based on National Parks and Monuments:  Mount Rushmore and Pipestone National Monument.  For the argumentative unit, the texts are based on the lost city of Atlantis.

Text-based DIGITAL Essay Lessons that are Ready to Use!  Just assign through any learning management system!

Then I made some notes. The idea is students can use these to look back on whenever they write an essay. The notes I made are interactive guided notes on Google Slides. They’re a blend of traditional two-column notes with fill in the blanks for key ideas on the right and spaces for picture flaps to serve as memory cues on the left.

You don't need a course on how to make essay writing lessons digital, you need ready to use lessons for your middle school students!  Find out about them here!
Next, I made videos that match the notes and embedded them into the slides. Besides revealing the words that go in the blanks on the notes, I explained and showed how to read and mark the text, how to cite evidence, how to write commentary, and more! 

The best part of the videos is the fact that students can watch some or all of the videos as much as they want. This is great for students that are learning English. Plus they serve as a great reference for later on down the road.

Together the notes and the videos teach the writing process, introduction paragraph, body paragraphs, counterclaim paragraph and argumentative essays, and the conclusion paragraph.

The writing process section teaches students to read the prompt, flip the prompt (by turning the prompt into a thesis “skeleton”), and read mark the text. Later, after we have gone through all the pieces and parts of an essay, the writing process will pick back up with planning, editing and revising.  There is a video for planning AND for learning how to use the planning to write the essay!

How would it feel to have 2 weeks of lessons done (per unit) and to know that you have set a firm foundation for writing essays in a distance learning/blended learning situation?
The introduction paragraph section teaches students the hook, the bridge transition sentence, and the thesis.  This is a foundation of the minimum of what an introduction must have.

The body paragraph section teaches students to write a topic sentence, evidence citation sentences, commentary sentences, and a conclusion sentence that flips the topic sentence.

In the argumentative unit, the counterclaim paragraph section teaches students to feature the other side, affirm with evidence, underscore the essay's position, cite evidence, explain with commentary and write a conclusion sentence.

The conclusion paragraph section teaches students to affirm the thesis, trim the point, and end with a call to action.

All together there is a lot of video instruction with texts, digital guided notes and self-grading Google Forms quizzes along the way.

How would it feel to have 2 weeks of lessons done (per unit) and to know that you have set a firm foundation for writing essays in a distance learning/blended learning situation?

Try a FREE SAMPLE of my argumentative unit by clicking here.

Try a FREE SAMPLE of my informative unit by clicking here.

If you’re ready to save time, energy, and frustration by trying to make all of this yourself, you can get these units for 35% off by clicking here and using code 35OFF2020. This is the lowest price these units will ever be as this price is just $1 more than the matching sets of paper-based notes.

I hope these units help you teach your middle school students how to write a text-based essay through distance/blended learning and give you more time to be available for your students!

Thanks for stopping by!

Middle School Social and Emotional Learning At Home

This post is sponsored by The Allstate Foundation.  All opinions are my own.

Help your middle school students develop their social emotional skills of teamwork, empathy, communication and many more using the ideas and activities in this free guide from The Allstate Foundation!  #sponsored

This school year, I taught a social skills class for students with special needs. We focused on broad topics like self-awareness, self management, and more. Within those areas, students learned skills like teamwork, empathy, and communication. For example, we defined empathy as “showing others that you understand how they feel“. Many students do not instinctively know how to do this. As a result, they inadvertently upset others. When this happens, the struggling student typically does not understand why others are upset. This leads to feelings of anger or sadness that can carry over into many, if not all, other parts of their life and negatively impact their social lives as well as their academic lives.

As you can see, for these struggling students, these types of social emotional skills have to be directly taught through examples, step-by-step plans, and practice to avoid these kinds of negative results. However, once we were in a distance learning environment, it was challenging to actively practice the skills in “class” and even more challenging to fully trace the development of those skills with my students.

We met online, but it was so different than meeting in person at school. I tried to engage the students in conversations to determine how they were managing their emotions and offer encouragement. Then I tried to promote the interactions between the students in the class to help them with communication and maintaining their relationships through this online “class”.  It was the best I could do and it didn’t last more than an hour a week due to our school's policy to balance the many other online lesson students had to attend. Since it’s such a tough class to teach remotely, I have often wondered what I could possibly send home to their families to help them support their students with their social skills.

I was not having much luck finding anything suitable as most resources out there are for teachers or students and not families, but then I was made aware of the 'Happy, Successful Teens' Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Parent Guide from The Allstate Foundation. Not only does it provide practical ready to use ideas like ways to say things to encourage self management, questions to ask to get conversations going, and specific things to try to make problem-solving interesting, it’s FREE! Honestly, it’s almost like a summary of my class. So it’s perfect to send home to support my students at home and it’s especially timely now that the school year has ended to keep the learning going during the summer. You can get your own free copy by clicking here!

I am so happy to have this resource because social emotional skills are critical for student success and almost every aspect of life.  This guide helps me help my students even though I am at a distance and I think it will help my families feel more connected and able to support their students too.

This post was written as part of The Allstate Foundation and WeAreTeachers SEL Parent Guide campaign, and sponsored by The Allstate Foundation. All opinions are mine. The Allstate Foundation empowers young people – and those that guide and teach them – with social and emotional skills to build character and transform lives. Learn more at www.allstatefoundation.org .

The Wild West of Distance Learning

These are my top 3 Middle School Distance Learning Tips after my first week in the Wild West!

I have added a new hat to my collection of teaching hats.  Introducing my Distance Learning Wrangler hat!

It's been a wild first week, but I have learned a lot:

1.  Less is more

We have been instructed to have 2 lessons per week with assignments that last no more than 30 minutes per day.

Some teachers are filling each of their 30 minutes per day.  I am taking a less is more approach.  I have posted 2 videos with a matching worksheet and one small 10 question "quiz".  Students have 7 days to complete them. As a result, I have had 100% participation and completion!

It's the less stress approach for me, my students and my students' parents.  I have even been thanked for it.

2.  Give everyone a little grace.

This is new for all of us.  We will make mistakes.  Some things will work great and others....well, not so well.  It's trial and error here in the Wild West and that's ok.

We will need time away from "school".  We cannot be on the computer for all the hours.  Make sure you take time away.  I have honestly found being on the computer all day is actually very tiring!  All.those.emails.

When giving that grace, we all need encouragement.  I made these little digital "postcards" to send to my students:

Free Verbal Encouragement Postcards to give your Middle School students some inspiration during distance learning!

They're available in my Resource Library!

3.  Think outside the box

My principal actually told us there is no box.  He wants us to try new things.  Think of new ways to deliver instruction.  So I have been thinking...

The first issue is that there is too much "out there" to look at and explore.  What we all need is a simple plan:

1.  What do we want the students to learn?
2.  How can we deliver the lesson?
3.  How will we know if the students are learning it?

NOW we can plug in the new digital tools and have FUN with it!  Yee Haw!  Some of the digital tools I am currently tinkering with are Nearpod, Flipgrid, and Padlet.  I already use Quizlet for vocabulary and Quizizz for review.  

But then again, Less is More - which is why I have focused on making videos to deliver my instruction.  Live lessons are fun, but students have too many to keep track of.  After the lesson, I include a notes or activity page (maybe I'll insert some new cool digital tool here) and a short Google quiz.  Requirements met!

Did you know you can record your voice in a PowerPoint presentation?  Click Slide Show then Record Slide Show.  When you're done recording, save the file as an mp4.  That's a video file!  Now you can upload your video to your LMS (Learning Management System) like Google Classroom or Canvas or even YouTube (if you want to impress your cowpokes).

I have been busy making these videos for my students and have converted many of my paper-based lessons into digital:

Easy to implement distance learning reading lessons for Middle School!

These lessons are ready to go with links that can be shared in any Learning Management System like Google Classroom or Canvas.  Click here to see the bundle which will show you all the individual lessons.

You can also check out my public YouTube playlist of videos that I use as introductions to many of my lessons by clicking here.  

I hope some of my experiences help you with your own Wild West Adventure.  Follow me on Instagram for more of my wrangling!  :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Middle School ELA Help for School Closings: E-Learning Resources

Need help preparing for Middle School E-Learning?  There are many free resources here to get you started!

As you may know, I am a teacher too - I'm still in the classroom and in my 26th year.  That means I understand all too well how difficult school clsoings and the idea of remote learning will be for all of us.

That's why I reached out to all of you who follow me on various social media outlets and asked what you need.

Many shared that they are concerned about test prep and teaching writing.  A group of secondary ELA educators have joined together to bring you a shared folder full of ELA resources that can support your e-learning journey.

Get FREE Middle School ELA E-Learning Resources in this Shared Folder up to May 1, 2020.

As you may also know, I am the co-admin of the #2ndaryELA Facebook group.  This community has many shared resources also available in a shared folder.  These resources, however, are not exclusively digital.  Even so, they may help you with designing your own.

Join the #2ndaryELA Facebook group which gives you the resources you want from the teacher community you need!

Last, but not least, there are resources in the resource library on this blog.  I have just added a free argumentative essay video where where I go through the entire process of writing that kind of essay using texts from NewsELA and a prompt based on our state's test (I am in Florida).  I include the prompt and links to the texts so you could choose to use this with your students if it suits you.

Great video for teaching the text-based argumentative essay with embedded counterclaims remotely!

I also converted a citing evidence lesson into an e-learning lesson that you can get for free by clicking here.  

Help your middle school students learn how to cite evidence with this FREE e-learning lesson!

I sincerely hope these things help get you through the next few weeks and that you stay strong mentally and physically!

Thanks for stopping by!