Bringing Meaning to the Season for Middle Schoolers

The perfect Middle School Christmas Teaching Idea to promote a different kind of gift giving in and out of the classroom for the holidays! #teaching #languagearts

Personally, Christmas is my favorite holiday.   I love to give gifts and use this sentiment to bring meaning to the season for my Middle Schoolers.

I want to make sure that they understand that the season is actually all about giving because middle schoolers can tend to focus on the material gifts as a way to fit in.

Some great stories that illustrate this are "A Christmas Carol" and "The Gift of the Magi".  I love both equally - which I use depends on how much time I have to work with the text.  This year, I have 3 weeks of school in between Thanksgiving and Christmas break so there's enough time for just one of these things:


Either way I go, I make sure that my culminating activity focuses on the fact that
 I believe everyone has something to give and that their gift does not have to be material.

So I start with a discussion of gifts using questions like:
What is the best gift you have ever been given?
Why is it the best?
(Generally, the reason that it is best is that there is some special meaning to it or it came from someone special.)
Do you think you have special gifts inside of you?

Then, I give everyone a copy of a mirror.  I ask the students to write words or draw pictures of the gifts they have inside of them or other important things to know about them that are on the inside that we might not see on the outside.  

The results are very interesting, especially if you can take time to sit in a circle and allow those who want to share to do so.

Afterwards, we discuss how to use these gifts at school and at home.   For example, the mirror on the right talks about film-making.  I asked, "What could you do to use your film-making gift to help others?"  There were lots of ideas shared from making free commercials for various charities to helping kids with their projects.  For the one on the left, he thought that because he was sporty and has ADHD, people didn't think he was smart.  He was certain he could help others understand ADHD better.  That one was pretty powerful, right?

I encourage all the students to find a way to use their gifts to make someone's holiday better this season.  

Now, what about you?  How do you bring meaning to the season for your students?  Join in the conversation in the comments!  :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Off the Beaten Path ~ Inclusion Insights

When I work with students who struggle, I wonder if all this "rigor" just takes to joy out of learning for them.  The vocabulary in our rigorous textbooks is very high level and sometimes above my students' heads probably because it is not often used outside the classroom in their homes and communities.  How can they possibly enjoy something they are struggling to comprehend let alone perform?  And if they are not enjoying it, how much learning is really taking place?  I mean, I know students have to write essays and use evidence in that writing, but does it have to always be such high-level textbook writing that seems so esoteric and unattainable?

I say No!  Why not make a topic like writing really accessible?  I think the holiday season is a perfect time to create authentic writing experiences that students will like.  The heart of writing is to express oneself because words have power.  I say let's harness this power by embedding it into a fun experience.

So, when my class returns from the Thanksgiving break, I am going off the beaten path from my textbook and creating an engaging experience that will hook my struggling students!
We are going to be working on a Christmas Around the World project where we incorporate reading, writing, thinking and talking every day.  The idea is that my students will learn all about the writing process and enjoy practicing the evidence in writing standards without a textbook!

I have made them a flipbook where they will read and record answers to questions using Santas Net.  

The answers they collect will be discussed as prewriting and used to create rough copy paragraphs of which I will model. 

Then students will be placed into groups based on their choice of their favorite country to edit and proofread using checklists I will model using and then provide for them to use.  

Get a FREE copy by clicking here.

Finally, they will create a poster of their favorite country (as a team) as part of a poster contest and ultimately give a presentation with (hopefully) music and food.

We will have learned the entire writing process along with textual evidence with this fun topic with minimal "sit and get".   I think this is so important for students who struggle because this project allows them to experience writing in a more engaging and genuine way.  It's like Mary Poppins said "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."  :)

What do you do to help your struggling learners?  Join in the conversation in the comments below!

Black Friday Giveaway and Linky!

As part of the Middle School Mob. I am happy to tell you that there's a great little giveaway going on to help make your spirits brighter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now that you've entered the giveaway, hop on over to the Middle School Mob and get your wish lists ready!  Then link up your own!

Thanks for stopping by!

Inclusion Insights - Behavior

In an inclusive classroom, we have students with all kinds of challenges!  Some of the toughest challenges deal with behavior.

As most teachers do,  I save my battles for things that are disrupting the learning environment.

So what do I do when someone is disrupting the learning environment?  Well, let me tell you about my new system.

In my class that has more students with challenges than not, I reward students every day with Dojo points for following our CHAMPS rules/procedures.  

Why every day?  
This is because students who struggle with behavior tend to forget the positive quickly.  Plus, since the time frame is short (just one class period), the reward feels much more achievable.  

What are the rewards associated with the points?
  Based on the points, I have a little raffle at the end of each period with the tickets I also pass out for grades, kindness and volunteering.  (Sometimes, I pass out tickets to students who are the first to finish gluing in their interactive notebook foldables!)  
I also have a weekly reward based on the percentage reports that the Dojo provides that the students really want:  computer time!

How many tickets do I draw each day?
Well, with this class, I hang up a "Mystery Student" sign at the front of my room and on the back is the name of a student.  

At the end of the period, I reveal that person and then we look to see how many Dojo points they have.  The number of points the mystery student has equals the number of tickets I will draw.  When a student's name is drawn, they get a treat from my jar.

When a student is disrupting our environment, they lose a Dojo point.  And if I don't have time to put it into the app at that moment, I write their name on the board.  If I have to redirect even more, then I will place a check (or checks) by their name.  

However, I have been trying to keep the focus on the rewards to spur students on and have been saying things like 
"How sad. I wanted you to earn a reward"  
when students do not participate appropriately.

Of course, for some students the "simple" loss of reward does not always cause the student to make a change.  For those students, I have to use our school-wide discipline steps.  

So far, we're off to a good start!  Hopefully this bodes well for the future!

What kinds of systems do you use with students with behavior challenges?  Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

Middle Schoolers In the Big Blue World

Middle School students tend to pretty self-absorbed.  

I overheard this little conversation at the end of class one day recently:  "I mean, you know, he's not dating anyone right now and he'll be at the skating rink on Saturday so yeah I'll go even if I have to donate a can of food."

They are mainly concerned with their own little world and if an issue fits into it, then yeah, they'll go even if they have to donate a can of food.  

Of course, this is a generalization, but I truly think our students' focus today is very narrow and very local.  

"No because maybe they need to focus (on themselves)."

Many of them have no idea what life is like outside of their immediate community.  Only 4 out of my 17 students have ever been out of the state of Florida.  Only one of those 17 had ever been out of our country.  

England might as well be another planet.  Why should they care about the British or any other country?  What do these places have to do with them anyway?

Ah, this is the trick to creating a global classroom:  We need to show our students what the world has done (or is doing or will do) for them.

I started with some bell work questions that we discussed and even some students revised their opinions after listening to answers like this one:

Then we looked at a map.  We marked the places that people in the room have been to so we could see where they were in the world.  It was also interesting to see how far away they are from our town.

It was interesting to discuss what they thought life might be like there.  Some students had various stereotypes to share and some just had absolutely no idea what might or might not be in any particular country we discussed.

As a result, my next move is a trip around the world - well, virtually at least.  :)

The site says "What are the benefits of seeing the world?"  

Indeed.  I hope that something like this helps my students find that out.  There's a big blue world out there just waiting to be explored!

And with the most recent events in France, it is even more important that my middle schoolers understand the impact those events can have on their own lives.  They need to know that what happens in places like Paris is important to us here in America.  They need to know that hate will not drive out hate.  They need to know to look for (and maybe be) the helpers like Mister Rogers said.   It will not be easy, but important things never are.  I plan to use the ideas in this post to help me discuss these things with my students:  

What do you do in your classroom to help create global citizens?  Join in the conversation in the comments or by linking up below!

Inclusion Insights - Flashcards

I am always on the look out for new interventions to try!  When I am not teaching middle school ELA or Learning Strategies, I am supporting students in their regular classrooms in both ELA and Math.  

I have found that my students pay attention in  Math class and can work the problems in class, but then forget it by the next day.  The teachers tell the students to study, but they don't know what to study.  After all, there are so many words on the page!  And their "notes" are just scribbles of formulas in the margins of their workbooks.

So I went "old school" and made them some flashcards with the key words and ideas from the unit for them to study before they took their re-test.

To make these, I took the big ideas and broke them down into manageable "bites".  The way I do it is to look at the end product and think backwards:  What is the first step the students need to know to do this?  Then what's the next and so on.  

They were a hit!  Both the teachers and students appreciated this very simple, yet effective intervention.   It helped the students to know what to study and served as a kind of "cheat sheet" for the key ideas.

I plan to add to them as the year goes on and will replace the fancy yarn with binder rings.  I also plan to involve the students in their construction by having them tell me what cards should be made and what the cards should say.

Most of my students do not have internet access at home, but if your students do, there's also a great little flashcard app called Quizlet where you can make digital flashcards.  I have used Quizlet before and it's really great because,  in addition to flashcards, there are games the students can play with the words. This might also be a nice intervention for my students if we can get some computer time at school.

What success have you had with flashcards?  Share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for stopping by!

Top 3 Thanksgiving Pins for Middle School Classrooms!

I am getting my thankful on to Pawsatively Teaching and Inspired Owl's Corner for this month's Pick 3!

My Top 3 pins are the top 3 things one could do with a middle school class to celebrate Thanksgiving.

A Wall of Thanks!  
This is an easy one to do with middle schoolers and it's a nice way to start the conversation of being thankful.  Then...

You might choose to read a book like "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein.  

This book would be a great way to get at the heart of Thanksgiving.  Or for a more mature middle school class, you could try O.Henry's "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen".    

Either way, then you'll be ready to do some writing.


I like this because it's writing that students can be more personal about.   You might begin this writing time with "I wish my teacher and other people knew that I am thankful for..."  I'll bet you'll get some powerful results.  

Check out some other great pins and then link up your own!

Inclusion Insights ~ Videos!

These days all teachers work with students who struggle either because they have diagnosed special needs or just are a little behind the curve.  

All students participate in the regular classroom as part of inclusion and sometimes, we, as teachers, need a little something extra.

Welcome to my weekly "Inclusion Insights" where I will share my best ideas to make inclusion not just work, but work well.

This week, my topic is videos.  

I heard a startling statistic from a Science teacher at my school.  He told me that he read that students in this day and age remember 75% more of what they see on video than what they read.  

So that got me thinking... Surely, I could find videos that would match what I'm teaching.  

We have been working on relevant vs. irrelevant evidence.  I spent too much time looking for a Judge Judy clip that might illustrate this and then found Screencast-o-matic.  

So then I began to think, what about making my own videos?

Ok, I know this is not Flocabulary good, but I can control the content and this is just a beginning!  Just think of all the possibilities!  You can even have your own video made for you like I did:

What video tips do you have?  Join in the conversation with your comments!