Featured Slider

Stop the Missing Work Avalanche


Prevent Missing Work from Piling Up With These Ideas

My middle school students are master procrastinators!  They will put off absolutely everything and anything to the absolute last moment and then expect me to work some extensive overtime on their behalf. 

Now don't get me wrong - I want the students to master the standards and be able to show that mastery through their work.  But let's be honest, completing work after the unit test seems a bit well, too late,  don't you think?  

So I came up with a plan to prevent the missing work avalanche!

1.  Students must use a paper planner. 

I say paper planner because while students say they are using a digital one, there's no way to check it and hold them accountable.  And this is primarily what they need - someone to hold them accountable. 

The paper planner comes out each and every day and is on each student's desk while students are working on their bell work.  I walk around and inspect the planners to see if they have written the work they need to complete in the planner. If they have, I stamp it.  A full week of stamps gets a reward in my reward system.

2.  Students need accountability.

It's not enough just to write in the planner, students need to create a plan to get the work done.  

As soon as a due date has arrived and the student's work is missing, I have the student complete contract for missing work with a new due date.  I snap a picture of that contract and send it home to be signed and returned.

If the new due date comes and goes, then I call the parent that signed the contract and let them know that the work is still not done as per the contract.  I give them one final opportunity to get it in for the next day (or perhaps by the end of the week depending on the circumstances).

Once students see how serious I am about the contract and contacting parents, they generally begin to take on the accountability for themselves because they realize I'm not going to give up.

Ready to give it a try?  Get a free copy of the missing work contract by clicking here!

Writing Skills Improvement in Middle School


Solve the problem of teaching writing skills to middle school students who are performing at all different kinds of skill levels with the Leveled Writing Lab!  It's a full differentiation and intervention solution!

As a teacher with 28 years of experience in the classroom, I needed a way for all of my students to be working on sentence, paragraph, and essay writing skills at the same time.  So I created the Leveled Writing Lab with the idea that all students would gradually build their skills and confidence so that they could be better equipped to tackle grade-level standards such as essay writing.

Solve the problem of teaching writing skills to middle school students who are performing at so many different levels with the Leveled Writing Lab!

How To Make Teaching Summer School Easy


Press the Easy Button with this interactive and engaging plan for Middle School ELA Summer School!

For many years at the beginning of my career, I taught summer school.  As an ELA teacher, we naturally studied a novel.  I remember teaching "Freak the Mighty" and "Max and Me and the Time Machine".  

What I discovered was that it is hard to get students into a book during the summer.  We did some pretty fun things with the book, but they struggled to stay with me.  They needed more to keep them going.  They needed involvement.

So I began to think about this quandary and over the years, I've come to realize that the solution is two-fold:  Use short stories and project-based learning.

1.  Short Stories are perfect for summer school because they are, well, short. They seem more accessible because of their length.  And these days you can find audio for them rather easily too!  Plus, they pack a powerful educational punch in less than 20 pages.

2.  Project-based learning gives students choice.  Anytime students have a choice they are much more engaged.  They feel invested because they made the decision to do the assignment.  Combine that choice with group work and now every middle school student is "in".  

So how did I combine these two to make teaching summer school easy?

The Student Forum

The Student Forum is a culmination of reading and writing exploration.   This is what I do:

1.  Students take a multiple intelligences assessment.
2.  Students are grouped by their strengths.
3.  Each group chooses a short story from my list.
4.  I teach summary skills.
5.  Each individual in the group reads the story, and creates a summary.
6.  I teach plot diagrams.
7. Each group creates a plot diagram.
8.  I teach group work skills (including attentive listening)
9.  I meet with each group and give them 2 project choices based on their strength.
10.  Students choose a project and then individual roles for the project.
11.  I teach research.
12.  Each member of the team completes research about the story and/or author that relates to their project and turns in an individual report.
13.  Students use the information from their reports to create the group project.
14. We hold the Student Forum where each group sets up a table and presents their work.

There's a few more details (like what each group brings to the presentation and what will be created) but this is the basic outline.  And students practice reading skills, writing skills, research skills, and presentation skills all in the space of one month.  It's powerful to see how the students blossom and get into their projects.  It's equally as fantastic to be a true facilitator by presenting the information and then watching the students take that and apply it to their projects.  

It's taken me years to pull all of this together and every year I feel like it gets better. If you want this month-long all-in-one solution (with FOUR PowerPoints, Notes, Checklists, and EDITABLE Lesson Plans) for your summer school, click here!

Summer School has never been easier with this all-in-one reading and writing project-based curriculum for middle school! All the work is done - including PowerPoints, notes, and Lesson Plans for important skills such as plot diagram, summarizing, researching, and group work!

This resource will make teaching summer school easy!  Your students will love having choice and some independence which fosters engagement and you will love your role as a facilitator!

Thanks for stopping by!

5 Quick and Easy Essay Review Ideas


If you have just a few days left before your state test in essay writing and need some quick and easy activities to make an impact, check out these 5 ideas!

It was 4 days before the state writing test and we needed some quick and focused practice.  What can I do in just 4 days and make an impact?  That was my quandary and these are the 5 ways that I found to help get my students ready for the state essay writing test!

1. Structure Task Cards

Quick and easy way to review before the state test in essay writing!
These task cards go over the structure (organization) of both informative and argumentative essays. 

To use these task cards, I play Scoot.  To play this game, I tape one task card to each desk.  When the students are seated, I give them an answer sheet and explain that they will have 30 seconds to answer the card on their desk.  I then explain where they will move to next.  I set a timer and when 30 seconds are up, I say “Scoot” and the students will move to the next desk. 

Once all the task cards have been answered, we trade and check to go over all the answers.  It’s a great way to combine thinking and movement all in one. 

2. Cloze Activities

Cloze is a fancy word for fill-in-the-blank.  I wrote these explanations of what belongs in an informative and argumentative essay with blanks for keywords like “evidence” and “thesis”.  I allow students to use any and all notes that they have to complete this exercise.  It also doubles as a nice study tool for the night before the state exam. 

3. Evidence and Elaboration Task Cards

Next to organization, the things students struggle with the most is finding relevant evidence and writing non-repetitive elaboration. So I made a set of task cards for informative and argumentative that go over these very things.  Since I am working with 6th grade this year, we used the informative task cards and I added in a statement about the differences for us. 

4. Essay Game Show

If there’s time and all of the critical information has been covered, I
will play this PowerPoint Game Show that reviews all of the skills from the task cards.  Students love forming teams and competing against one another.  It’s even more exciting if there’s a prize!  I like to give out tardy passes or a small treat to the winning team.

5. Flashcards

This may seem a bit old school, but this really works!  Every day, we reviewed a part of the essay and put it into flashcard books. Then the next day I asked the students questions about what was in our flashcard books. I wrote an entire post about this strategy that you can read by clicking here.

You can make those last days count with any of these quick and easy essay review ideas! Your students will love being better prepared and you will love knowing you made an impact!

Thanks for stopping by!

Three Counterclaim Paragraph Practice Ideas


Three Counterclaim Paragraph Practice Ideas for Middle School that work!

Once the counterclaim paragraph has been taught, it's important to practice, right?  But how can one practice without writing an entire essay?  Let me give you three ideas:

1.  Task Cards

I made some task cards with two small (about 1/2 a page) texts.  Then I wrote questions about claims, opposing claims (counterclaims) and evidence and put them on task cards.  Then I put all of these task cards around the room.  After students read the texts, they wandered the room to visit all the questions and practice! 

They loved being up and moving about.  I loved hearing the natural conversations about opposing claims as well as claims and evidence!

2.  Quick and Easy Activity

Give your students a worksheet with 4 claims (and evidence on the back) that can be used over the course of a week as a bell-ringer.  Have students write one paragraph for one claim per day!

Or - take the sentences that one would use to respond to one of the 4 claims in a counterclaim paragraph and write them on sentence strips.  Have the students put the sentences in order and then write their paragraphs.  

Or  - give each group a different claim, have them organize the sentence strips, and then present their finished paragraphs to the class.

A quick, easy and interactive way for middle school students to practice writing counterclaims.

You can make this practice yourself or click here to get my Argumentative Essay Counterclaim Paragraph Practice that is ready to go!  (Answer key included!)

3. Online Game

This is a middle school student favorite!  Students love online games like Kahoot, Quizizz and Gimkit. So I put together a quick Quizizz game and you can have it by clicking here!  

I hope one (or all) of these three practice ideas for the counterclaim paragraph works for you and your middle school students!

Thanks for stopping by!

Read more about argumentative essays:

Teaching Argumentative Essay Writing

Teaching the Argumentative Essay Introduction Paragraph
Hacks for the Argumentative Essay Counterclaim

Argumentative Essay Practice Ideas

What is a Counterclaim Paragraph?


Teaching middle school students to write a counterclaim paragraph can be easy with a formula to follow!

Teaching the counterclaim paragraph (or counterargument paragraph) is a critical part of teaching argumentative essay writing.  Where I teach (Florida), it can make or break an essay.  Without the counterclaim paragraph, a student is likely not to score above 60% on the standardized test.

But what is a counterclaim?

Simply put, a counterclaim is the position opposite to the one that the essay is about.  So if the essay asserts that the United States should keep producing the penny, then the counterclaim is that the United States should NOT continue to produce the penny.  

In an essay, this could be written as:
 "On the other hand, some scholars have argued that the penny should no longer be in production."

Then the writer needs to think about what the other side might use as evidence against the essay's position and be ready for it.   This is where the writer inserts evidence from the text about the costs of the penny.  

In an essay, this could be written as:
"In the article "9 Reasons Why America Should Get Rid of the Penny" by Kimberly Amadeo, the author states that the penny costs 2.1 cents to produce which seems like a losing proposition."

This is a good start, but it's not enough just to know what the other side is, but also how to refute it.

How does one refute a counterclaim?

It's important to recognize both the counterclaim and the evidence that they use to defend it.  Once that information has been gathered, then to refute it is to provide information that shows that the counterclaim is not a strong argument.  To write a refutation (or rebuttal), it is a matter of acknowledgment and then citing the best evidence for the claim.

So keeping with the penny example, the writer might state:

"While some debate that this is true, it is simply not a strong argument because the penny actually lowers costs according to 'Should We Get Rid Of The Penny?' by Amy Livingston.  This is because without the penny, "...all cash transactions will have to be rounded off to the nearest nickel"."

After the initial part of the refutation, it's necessary to provide elaboration:

"Savvy businesses will make sure these transactions always round up.  The penny is an important part of keeping necessities affordable."

To wrap this up, end with a conclusion (summary) sentence:

"That's why the penny is a necessary part of the United States' economy."

Putting it all together

As you can see, the counterclaim is really a way to "turn it up" or "pour it on" in terms of making a case for the position of the essay.  So with that in mind, I created this FAUCET mnemonic:

Feature the other side:  On the other hand, some scholars have argued that the penny should no longer be in production.

Affirm with evidenceIn the article "9 Reasons Why America Should Get Rid of the Penny" by Kimberly Amadeo, the author states that the penny costs 2.1 cents to produce which seems like a losing proposition.

Underscore the essay's positionWhile some debate that this is true, it is simply not a strong argument because the penny actually lowers costs according to "Should We Get Rid Of The Penny?" by Amy Livingston.

Cite EvidenceThis is because without the penny, "...all cash transactions will have to be rounded to the nearest nickel".  

Explain with commentary (elaboration): Savvy businesses will make sure these transactions always round up. The penny is an important part of keeping necessities affordable.

Top it off with a conclusionThat's why the penny is a necessary part of the United States' economy.

The counterclaim paragraph with refutation (or rebuttal) is easy when one has a pattern to follow!  Get a copy of this formula as well as sentence starters and other organizers with my Argumentative Essay Graphic Organizer Set.

Thanks for stopping by!

Essay Helper Ideas for Middle School


Learn the winning essay helper ideas that allowed this middle school teacher to have top writing scores!

My middle school students range in ability level from very proficient to no experience with essays at all (because they are new to the United States).  You can imagine that I have had to get creative with essay helper ideas to get my students to learn essay writing.

I have done many things, from creating essay graphic organizers with sentence starters to creating differentiated lessons for citing evidence.

Those all are very useful but what I find my students needed was step-by-step plans for the writing process and each part of the essay.  Think of it as training wheels.  To do this I made step-by-step notes with anchor charts to match.

Anchor Charts are super essay helpers for struggling middle school writers remember how to write an essay!

Get a FREE copy of the digital writing anchor charts in my resource library for subscribers!  These are super essay helpers for students to refer to when they are writing or reviewing.  They give each step of each part of the writing process and each part of the essay itself.  Those steps are:

The Writing Process:

1. Read the Prompt

2. Flip the Prompt

3.  Read and Mark the Texts

4.  Plan

5.  Write

6.  Revise and Edit


1.  Hook

2.  Bridge

3.  Thesis


1.  Topic sentence with transition and reason from the thesis
2.  Evidence #1
3. Commentary
4.  Evidence #3
5.  Commentary
6.  Conclusion


1.  Affirm the thesis
2.  Trim the point
3.  The Call to Action

The notes I made were printable guided notes that match the structure from above.  

Guided Notes for Essay Writing Were the Essay Helpers That Made My Middle School Students Understand the Structure of Essays!

You can see that these notes are broken into sections and resemble Cornell notes.  The difference between these notes and Cornell notes is that these notes are fill-in-the-blank and have spaces for images to represent the information instead of questions.  

Each step has its own space and going back to review information was much easier.   I like the printable version best because when students write something by hand, it imprints on the brain and students remember it better.  But - there have been students needing digital versions for online learning so I made those too.

But the game-changer was that I recorded lessons that matched the notes.  If students were absent or if they wanted to review, they could re-watch the videos.  This essay helper made it easy for them to be able to fast forward and pause wherever they needed.   It worked really well because there was a plan for each phase of the process.  And if someone was struggling with a certain part, I had an easy reference point in the videos to which they could refer.  

Here's a sample of my video for informative planning:

I made them using a program called screencast-o-matic.  I placed links to these videos on our learning management system, Canvas. I really, really loved them as it came closer to state testing time and parents would ask me how they could review with their child for the exam. I would send them to the videos and explain there were notes to match.  

I received a lot of compliments, not just for the videos themselves but also for providing differentiation.  The videos provided another way for students to access the content and achieve the standards.  

Want to have these video lessons and notes too?  You can!  Click here to view the Informative and Argumentative Essay Units with printable notes and video lessons!

Thanks for stopping by!