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Open House in Middle School


Change up the old Middle School Open House Routine with this fun and engaging idea!

Now that the first month is under our belts, we will soon have an Open House.  At my school, we have 15-minute periods so parents can travel their child's schedule and learn about the most important things to know for each class.

I don't know about you, but repeating the same thing with a plain 'ol PowerPoint six times is not, well, fun.  In fact, who knows if the student's adults are even listening to all that Charlie Brown speak!  

It's definitely time for something different!

So I switched up the old standard Open House routine!  I give a quiz to the adults. 

But not just any old quiz, one about our class that goes over all the most important things to know!  

There are 2 sides to the quiz - 1 side for the students to complete a day or so before the Open House and the other side for Parents/Guardians.  The idea is that after the students complete their side, they will fold it over and see what their adults know!

Students LOVE giving their parents a quiz and parents like a break from the old routine!  I provide some "cheat sheets" to adults who are struggling but students may not allow them to use them until after grades have been issued.  

It's fun to turn the tables and there are tons of laughs and "Ah-ha" moments.  Want to try it for yourself?  You can get an editable version of my quiz for FREE in my resource library!

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Try Something New For Your Middle School Open House!

Helping Students Make Gains in Middle School ELA


Get several practical tips for increasing your middle school students learning gains

As we all know, school districts are consumed with standardized test statistics.  They use these statistics to charge teachers with ensuring that all students reach the achievement level set forth by the state.

It's a completely reasonable goal to want your students to reach a level of achievement that sets them up for success at every level.  However, it's not realistic.

Students in 2022 have many gaps.  

And it's not a simple thing to close those gaps.  It's not as if I just taught "this" or "that" differently then everyone would be caught up.  Some students are missing entire YEARS of concepts - as in they have no idea what it means to write a paragraph.  Some are struggling with social interactions.  Some are struggling with reading at grade level.  Some have all three issues. 

So to expect them to reach the standard Achievement Level for their grade seems like a tall order.  So, I like to focus on making gains - and the focus is on progress, not perfection.

This is how I help Students Make Gains

1.  First, I recognize that I can't fix everything.  

I tell folks that "I'm doing the best I can with what I have."  To me, that means I'll give the students everything I've got, and I expect that they will make progress, but may not meet that achievement level goal.  And that's ok, at least in my book, because I do not have a magic wand.

2.  Next I look for ways to break things down.

When I asked my students who knew what the theme of a text was, all students raised their hands.  But when I asked each one to explain how to find it in a text, they couldn't do it.  All they knew is that was the main idea - kinda.

So I thought about how a person would go about finding the theme of a text (sort of a metacognition thing) and then wrote them down,

What I had created was a kind of recipe or formula to follow to get the theme:

    1,  Read the story and pay attention to the story elements.
    2.  Ask yourself: "What does the reader learn from reading this story?"  (The answer is the theme!)
    3.  Turn the theme into a question.
    4.  The answers to the question in #3 are the supporting details.

Once we began to apply this formula, the lights were on and it was as if a fog had lifted.  Get a FREE copy of the theme notes (and the rest of the unit) by clicking here.

So naturally, I set about breaking all the standards down much in the same way.  This definitely contributed to my students making learning gains because now they had a plan to follow to use with any text.

3.  Lastly,  I created opportunities for differentiation through centers and "labs".

Centers (or Stations) can be a pretty effective tool to help students make gains if they are created with specific activities in mind. By this I mean, since I know my students are - let's say very active - students, then I know the centers cannot be worksheets.  They have to be involving students in creating something.

  • A trick to keep this managed - the centers rotate instead of the students.  I just put all the materials into some kind of bin and the bins move from group to group.

Centers can help students to make gains because you can group students that have similar needs and then deliver an activity that is specific to those needs. What can be difficult about centers, is that generally, you are creating the lessons which can take a lot of time.  I am currently working on creating centers for each of the first 8 reading standards.  Sign up here to get the first center for theme for free as soon as it's finished.

When I say "labs" do you think of Science?  I am not talking about experiments here - I'm talking about an opportunity for a student to work independently at his/her own level. 

To achieve this, I've used things like Boom cards, Scholastic magazines, and programs like Lexia.  I even created my own Leveled Writing Lab.  This involves students taking a diagnostic and then being placed at a color level where they work on skills that they show challenges with and gradually move up levels all the way through essay writing.  

The Leveled Writing Lab works to help students make gains because each student gets what they need and then they gradually build their skills to meet grade-level standards.  What's more, this is totally motivating because everyone likes to level up!  Click here to learn more about this product on Teachers Pay Teachers

I'm currently working on a Lab that focuses on each of the 8 reading standards.  It will work much in the same way as the Leveled Writing Lab but instead of writing skills, it will be focused on theme, central idea, citing evidence, point of view, text structure, interpreting words and phrases, media literacy, argument analysis, and character/ideas development.  Click here to sign up to be the first to know when it is finished and get a free sample.

I hope that this helps you help your students to make gains.  Just remember that doing the best you can means you'll work to incorporate things that will move the needle but that you have a life too.  :)

Thanks for stopping by!

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Don’t spend hours searching for that great idea you found.  Just pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can quickly and easily come back when you are ready.  You’ll be glad you did!

Find some great Middle School Reading and Writing Intervention Ideas here!

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.

3.  Positive Reinforcement

Some of my students (well, maybe most) need a little something to get them motivated.  Since I like to focus on making progress, I give my students stickers on a reward card as they get work completed.  Students who have no missing work also get rewarded!

The reward cards are attached to my version of the "Super Improver System" from Whole Brain Teaching.  See more about that by clicking here.

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