My Top 5 Tips To Start The New Year Right!

Happy New Year!

Start the new year strong in your middle school classroom with some great new activities and ideas!  #teaching #lessons

School will resume soon and so I thought I'd share how I plan to #startstrong in the new year!

1 - First, we'll play an expectations review game.  

Middle School Lesson Ideas for the New Year  - Mrs. Spangler's Top Tips!  #teaching #newyear

I write 11 questions on index cards and then the 11 answers on separate index cards.  Then I'll pass out one card to every student as they enter the room.  After everyone finds their NEW seats (which is on one side of an index card tent), I'll ask them to find their partner - all questions must have answers.  :)

2 - Next, I plan to read this picture book:

Click on the title to see this book.  This is an affiliate link.

This book is about how one person took what was trash and turned it into something beautiful.  This has a double meaning for me and my students.  We currently have a problem with trash at our over-crowded school and I'd like to open the discussion in what we can do to solve it.  Plus, I want to help my students realize that they can take what seems to be a problem and make something positive out of it in a growth mindset kind of way.  The way I see it, students need to see that they can take ownership of a "problem area" at school and turn it around.

3 - Then it will be time to set goals related to the trash and/or taking ownership of problem areas.  But not just any old goal that we just say we're going to accomplish - this needs to be for real with steps to accomplish it.  

4 - Next it will be time to think of one word that summarizes our goals and put that on the other side of that index card tent (that gave them their new seat) as a daily reminder.

New Year Tips for Middle School Classrooms - Get a Free Essay Vocabulary Review Printable!

I'll need to be patient as our goals will take time.  Plus, it will take patience as we review what we learned in the first semester - especially when it seems like the students have forgotten everything!

5 - Last, but not least, we will tie it all together to focus on what we need to accomplish in class.  In our case, our big state writing test is March 6th.  We will have just a little less than 2 months to get our game on!  

So that's a challenge that will require some creative thinking like the one demonstrated in the book above!   But I have a plan!
We will start the essay challenge with reviewing vocabulary using a fortune teller!  

Free Printable - Essay Vocabulary Review Fortune Teller! #middleschool #teaching

It's perfect for making sure we remember our terms before we start a kind of competition to review all the parts of a text-based essay.  Consider this a writing warm-up.

We'll see how it goes!

Get the Essay Fortune Teller and many other resources in my free resource library by signing up below!

Thanks for stopping by!

A Christmas Carol Escape!

After I finished reading A Christmas Carol with my Middle School students, I had them analyze how Dickens used AND altered history with this Escape!  #activities #lesson

It's that time of year when I had to schedule my formal observation.  This year, my deliberate practice involved organizing students for complex tasks.  So what to do to make this a "home run"?

An Escape!

With the help of Nouvelle ELA's fabulous Facebook group, Escape Rooms in ELA, I was able to put together my first one using the play version of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

The standards in our scope and sequence were:

LAFS.7.RL.2.6:  Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

LAFS.7.RL.3.9:  Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place or characters and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history

LAFS.7.RI.3.8:  Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.

So I decided to make 3 puzzles - one for each standard - with students starting off making a hypothesis as to how Dickens both used AND altered history.

To begin, I told them they were trapped in the bitter cold of Victorian Times and were subject to either being thrown in prison or into a workhouse except for this one chance to escape - by completing the 3 puzzles!

DIY Classroom Escape Room Ideas and Tips from a Middle School ELA Teacher!  No locks necessary!  #teaching #escape
Each group was given a box with all 3 puzzles.  There were no locks in this one, just puzzles to solve with a worksheet to match.  Each puzzle ended with a "Clue Phrase" to solve that gave them a "Point to Ponder" for their final hypothesis evaluation.

Escape Out of the Room for the Middle School ELA Classroom using "A Christmas Carol".  Paper-based puzzles with high engagement!  #teaching  #escape
Puzzle #1:  Determine which plot events were influenced by history and which were not.  Students could refer to the article we read in class:  "The Real Reason Dickens Wrote 'A Christmas Carol'"  To complete the Clue Phrase, they had to use the letters on the back of the events influenced by history to spell out 2 words.
 (Point to Ponder to Escape:  Why were they influenced by history?)

I Made My Own Escape Out (of the room) for "A Christmas Carol" using paper puzzles!  #engagementPuzzle #2:  Match the claims and evidence into pairs.  Some were claims from the play, others were claims from the article.  Students had copies of the play to refer to.  They had to use the letter from the claim and the number from the evidence to look up words on a grid and place them in the clue phrase to escape.
(Point to Ponder to Escape:  What evidence is there to back up what you think from puzzle #1?)

Secret Codes are fun for learning in this DIY Escape Out (of the room)!  Get new ideas and tips for making your own in your Middle School Classroom!  #engagement #escape

Puzzle #3:  How did Dickens change the way we celebrate Christmas?  Students were given a new article to read and decipher.  They had to fill in the blanks using information from the article and then use the grayed out boxes to form words.
(Point to Ponder to Escape:  How did Dickens alter history?)

Once the students solved all 3 puzzles using their worksheet and other materials,  they had to revise or alter their hypothesis, show it to me and if it was correct, I allowed them to open the "escape briefcase" to earn a reward - a small candy cane.  All students with candy canes escaped Victorian Times!

The students were ALL 100% engaged and loved working on the puzzles.  It literally took all the members of the team to solve them.  Plus, I earned two ratings of "Applying" and two ratings of "Innovating"!

I will admit this was A LOT of work.  But now that I have made one, I can see how to streamline the process of others for the future.  You really do have to work backward with these things.  Start with what the students are to accomplish and then design puzzles that lead them to that conclusion.

It also doesn't hurt to have some ideas of how to create various ciphers.  It took me a lot of searching through the above mentioned Facebook group and general Googling to really wrap this ELA brain around these logical minded puzzles!  So let me save you some time:

Here's 8 Secret Codes and Ciphers that I almost bought but didn't need: 

I didn't buy the ciphers from Etsy because I made my own grid cipher and hidden message cipher with the grayed out boxes.  This way no locks are necessary!

I really enjoyed this lesson and so did my students - they want to know when we can do it again!  I might just have them make the puzzles next time - we'll see!

Good News!
By popular request, I have now made these puzzles available to your to use with your own classes!

The puzzles above are available in paper form by clicking on the image below or by clicking here

But now you also have the option of going ALL DIGITAL!  All the puzzles and "locks" are now available in both paper AND digital - all in the same resource!  If your school is 1:1, then that means NO PREP for you!  

However, if your school is not 1:1 yet, no worries!  Just have students use the paper to work out the puzzles and then use their own devices to enter in the codes to "unlock" the doors!   


After reading "A Christmas Carol" with your middle school students, have them explore how Dickens used and altered history with this digital NO PREP Escape!  (Paper version is provided too.) #forteachers #classroom

Click here to view this Escape resource!

Thanks for stopping by!

Teachers' Favorite Things!

Have you seen "The O List" of Oprah's Favorite Things? Well, that got me thinking about
"The T List" - Teachers' Favorite Things!

Like "The O List" of Oprah's Favorite Things, It's "The T List" - Teachers' Favorite Things!  Check out this list of Teacher Must Have Supplies and Wish List Items!  Some are cute, some are cheap and some are essential!  #holiday #Christmas #favoritethings #teacherwishlist

I have at least 4 "must-have" teacher supplies and several others on my wish list.

Now I don't know if your wish list is like mine, but what if after you made your own list and checked it twice, you could actually receive up to $100 of those items?

This December, four teachers are teaming up to grant one lucky teacher’s Wish List. Kristy (2 Peas and a Dog), Danielle (Nouvelle ELA), Lisa (Mrs. Spangler in the Middle), and Sara (Secondary Sara) are putting on their Santa hats to gift a teacher his or her Favorite Things!

Win Your Teacher Wish List of Classroom Supplies or Resources From Four Marvelous Middle School Teachers!  #holiday  #Christmas  #FavoriteThings

Here’s how it works:
  1. Enter the Rafflecopter contest below, which ends on Sunday, December 10th at 11:59pm EST. (The winners will be contacted on Monday, December 11th).
  2. Next, the winner makes an Amazon Wish List containing ANYTHING he/she wants for the classroom, up to $125.
  3. We four teachers will surprise you by purchasing up to $100 of the items on your wish list; the items are shipped directly to your house!

But we aren't stopping there! Two more lucky teachers can also win these prizes:

Second Place Prize: A TpT wish list! One lucky teacher will get to pick up to $10 in resources from EACH of our four stores!

Third Place Prize: A TpT wish list! One lucky teacher will get to pick up to $5 in resources from EACH of our four stores!

Terms & Conditions:
  1. Items in the wish list must be intended for classroom use
  2. Winner must be from the US or Canada
  3. Entries will be reviewed before the winner is drawn
  4. If winners do not respond in a timely manner, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize and gift it to the next (randomly drawn) recipient(s)
  5. This giveaway is not affiliated or endorsed by Amazon, Instagram, or any other organization. 

Our Favorite Things!
If you need inspiration for your Wish List (or can’t wait to add it to your shopping cart now), here are both a few must-haves that I love as well as the items I would add to MY wish list:

These are a few of my favorite things... 
that I use almost every day in my 7th grade ELA class:

As a Language Arts Teacher, my verbal skills are strong - but my math is, well, not as strong. That's why I love my old EZ-Grader! I can just slide over to the number of questions and voila! - the scores appear!

This paper made "The T List" of this Middle School Teacher's Favorite Must Have Classroom Supplies!  #wishlist #Christmas
You can find this on Amazon - click here! (not an affiliate)
I love my Astrobrights paper to make copies of things that are used over and over. Like our lists of transitions for our essays for instance. They are printed on bright paper and kept in our writing folders for use all year long.

White-out Tape
Then there's my obsession with white-out tape. I just seem to go through it like crazy - especially when I am grading essays. I like to give thoughtful feedback and sometimes ( a lot of times) my brain just keeps coming up with new ways to say worn out things.

Paper Tray Organizer - Kvissle from IKEA
Is organization on your Teacher Wish List?  Maybe this can help!  #favoritethings #teaching #teacherwishlist
This is also on Amazon!  
Click here! (not an affiliate)
Don't you just love IKEA? I could spend all day
in that store as all the organizing things make me
feel inspired. But, I have limited myself to just two
of these trays (so far!) and I have one for papers
to be graded and one for graded papers. These organizers
are super sturdy with trays that slide out and help keep
my paper monster tamed.
Well, mostly. ;)

My Teacher Wish List is on Amazon and is full of Great Products for my Middle School Classroom!   #favoritethings #holiday #Christmas #classroomsupplies

Wish List

Now for the things I'd LIKE to have but probably don't really NEED...

Like how about this great book embosser for my classroom library?

One of my Favorite Things on my Teacher Wish List!  #holiday
This is on Amazon - Click here!  (not an affiliate)

Or this super fun shirt?
This Is on My Middle School Teacher Wish List!  #favoritethings #holiday
I found it on Amazon - click here! (not an affiliate)

My 8th-grade son actually groaned when I showed him this - so I definitely have it sitting in my cart!  I'm even thinking about buying one for each member of my team!  :)

I'd be thrilled to receive any of these items, but I am sure there are many more I could add to my list that these fine bloggers have also recommended:

Make sure to check out these other THREE blog posts for more recommended wish list items!

Ready to Enter to Win Your Teacher Wish List?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks for stopping by!

Study Smarter with Hide and Peek!

Middle School and High School Students can study better and more effectively for exams and for tests with this special idea called "Hide and Peek".  #howtostudy #study #teaching

If your students are like mine, they will INSIST that they studied and cannot begin to understand why their score on their test was low.  The beg and plead for extra credit or to re-take the test.

Student:  But I NEED an A!
Me:  What did you do to study?
Student:  I looked at my notes.
Me:  And what did you do when you looked at your notes?
Student:  Read them.
Me:  And then what?
Student:  ??????????

What I have come to understand is that students need help with learning how to study.

I learned how from my own father when I was in 4th grade and miserably failed a test on the Iroquois that I hid and that he later found out about (of course).

What he taught me was what I call "Hide and Peek".

Step 1:  Look and Say
Look at the first piece of information and say it out loud until you think you will remember it without looking.

Step 2:  Hide and Say
Hide the information you were just saying out loud and try to say it without looking.

Step 3:  Peek
Check to see if you were right:
If the answer is "Yes", move on to the next piece of information.

If the answer is "No",  Repeat steps 1 and 2.

 I used this method to graduate both high school and college - even graduate school!

So I have finally put this into a video and you can watch as my own 8th-grade son takes you and your students through the process of using Hide and Peek to study with accompanying Pixanotes!

Teach "Hide and Peek" to your Middle School and High School Students to help them study better and more effectively for tests and for exams!  #howtostudy #study #teaching

Visit Stephanie at Forever in 5th Grade 
for more great Show and Tell!

Is Ability Grouping Within the Middle School Classroom Necessary?

New ideas and tips about ability grouping children for learning activities in middle school.  #teaching  #groupwork

My Deliberate Practice Plan is focused on "Organizing for Learning" and so I have been personally pondering the concept of ability grouping.

I'm not going to try to convince you whether ability grouping is bad or whether it's good - there's loads of research out there that you can read and reflect on.

What I have come to realize is that if the organizing is done appropriately, ability grouping doesn't necessarily have to be a thing I focus on in my middle school class.


It's all about the goals, expectations, and routines.

If your goal is to have students process critical content or practice their learning, then who a student works with may not be as important as what they are working on.

Add in that students are expected to actively participate, listen attentively, and add on to what was said and they will be involved in the learning.

Then, provide a routine to follow for who is to speak first and how one is to listen so there's a structure and you have a recipe for success!

How did this work in my middle school ELA class, you ask?

I tried it just this week with writing essay introductions.  I provided a "micro-text" and then a prompt.  I asked partners to discuss what the first, second and third sentence should be using these posters:

Middle School Classroom Group Work Anchor Charts Create Learning with Accountable Talk.  Perfect Posters for Language Arts or Any Subject Area!  #teaching  #anchorcharts  #groupwork
I made a handy desk reference for these posters that you can get for free
by entering your e-mail at the bottom of this post.

The first time we did this, it was a little new and I'm not so sure I heard students using academic language.  

However, the second time we did this, I explicitly told students I was listening for academic language and so I heard much more.

This taught me that I need to be very specific with what I want to take place during the discussions.

One thing that I will work on next is requiring that there be a written component that shows what each person is adding to the discussion in a larger group of 4 students.

This could be a "placemat" where each group is given a large piece of paper and everyone will write their ideas on their side of the placemat with a final consensus in the middle or it could be as simple as using mini-whiteboards where each individual records their piece.

However, moving forward, I don't think ability grouping has to be a "thing".  Of course, there will be instances where ability grouping is appropriate (like to have two advanced students challenge one another) so I'll never say never but I believe that as long as the routines and structures are in place, students will be able to do more with their learning regardless of their achievement level. 

I think it's all about progress, not perfection.

I made my students a handy desk reference for the expectations and routines that are on the posters above.  I streamlined it with the expectation followed by the routine.  

Discussion Expectations & Routines for Middle School with Sentence Starters!  #teaching #discussions #groupwork

In my class, I copied them onto colored paper and placed them under clear contact paper on the students' desks.  This way they always have the information right where they can see it.  Hopefully, my administrator likes it too!

If you'd like a copy of these handy desk reference cards, join the Teacher Troop and get them as a members-only extra!

Thanks for stopping by!

5 Best Pins for Organizing Partner Discussions in Middle School

Are You Organizing Students for Learning?  Then check out this post on Partner Discussions!

In my neck of the woods, we use the Marzano evaluation system to evaluate teachers.  Part of the system requires teachers to complete a Deliberate Practice Plan.

This year I have chosen "Organizing students for learning" with some strong encouragement from my administrator.  :)

To start this plan, I realized that I needed to understand this element better.  So, I bought the book and then I began with the first strategy - partner talk.

First, I need to set expectations:

Active Listening Expectations are just one piece of Preparing for Partner Discussions!

Then, I might need a fun activity like this one to demonstrate the power of our discussions:


Moving forward, I think my students might need some "starters" to help them elaborate on the content:

This rubric may not suit me perfectly, but it would definitely be important for students to have one:

Last, but not least, this kit looks like it might just have all the things I might need to make for my partners:

What do you do to organize students for partner discussions? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

Thanks for stopping by!  Be sure to visit Stephanie at Forever in 5th grade for even more great ideas!

Thanks for stopping by!

Top 10 Tips for Teaching Middle School ELL, ESL, ESOL Students

Some days teaching a full class of non-English speakers seems daunting, but this list actually helps me remember the things I can do and I hope it helps you too!

I teach 7th grade Language Arts and have a class of 22 students who speak Spanish and Portuguese as their first language.  They are all together in my sheltered ELA class.  That means that while it is a regular class for students to learn how to USE English (and not how to SPEAK English), there are more strategies, interventions and scaffolding present.

What strategies and interventions you ask?  
Here is my Top 10 List:

10.  Can-Do Descriptors
These free "Can-Do Descriptors" give teachers a list of things students can do in the classroom based on their level of proficiency.

These come from WIDA - "WIDA advances academic language development and academic achievement for children and youth who are culturally and linguistically diverse through high quality standards, assessments, research, and professional learning for educators."

These free "Can-Do Descriptors" give teachers a list of things students can do in the classroom based on their level of proficiency.  What I found helpful is that it gives me an idea of what I can ask these students to do even though I am supposed to teach them the same standards as the rest of the 7th grade.

9.  Giving out discussion questions a day early.
I really want all my students to practice speaking in class but I know they need time to think and process what they want to say in English.  So, I give them the discussion questions the day before I want to actually discuss.

8.  Classifying/Categorizing
This is a great word sort activity that can be used to scaffold any text or concept.  Since I have to teach essay writing to students who have no concept of what an essay even is, I will be using this concept very soon.

7.  Communication Games
Games like "I have____, who has____" help students practice their English and the concepts at the same time.

Use games to help your ELL students communicate!

I also enjoy standing or sitting in a community circle and asking the students to say hello to the person next to them using their name and then giving a word to describe our unit.  
(I change this up with other "words of the day" like a word to describe how they feel that day, or a word about our unit, or a new word that they have learned.)  

6.  Centers/Learning Stations
These help me make sure that my multi-level students each get something that either isn't too hard or too boring.  I have students who range from speaking absolutely no English to those that are on their way out of ESOL.  Centers allow me to tailor activities to the level of the student.

5.  Chart Progress
I have experimented with a Super Improvers board from Whole Brain Teaching and have had some good success with it.  The focus is on progress, not perfection and when a student is able to show progress, they earn a point towards moving up a level.  Each level has certain privileges tied to it.  I ask the students what privileges they would like to earn and then set the levels.  This year, I have been keeping track of points by using Class Dojo.

The Super Improver Wall is a great tool for charting progress, not perfection!

The students like to see that they are making progress and it helps to motivate them.

4.  Whole Brain Teaching Gestures

These posters work as great anchor charts or reminders to students on the gestures corresponding to punctuation and capitalization. This grammar strategy is used by Whole Brain Teaching to focus on Oral Writing.

Whole Brain Teaching gives you non-verbal hand gestures to use to teach various concepts including the ones pictured above.  I have even made some of my own!  They are great for engaging students in an action and helping them remember important ideas!

3.  Cloze reading passages
We're reading Tangerine by Edward Bloor in 7th grade.  All students have to take the same tests, so even my ESOL students must take these tests even if they are struuuuggggling to read the book.  So what did I do?  I made Cloze reading passages:

Cloze reading is #3 in my Top 10 Tips for Teaching ESL/ELL/ESOL students!

As you can see, Cloze reading passages just leave out key words for the students to fill in.  I actually included a word bank too.  This worked really well for my students but the research also says that it helps poor readers:

I also use a lot of sentence frames which are similar to cloze passages to help my students with their writing too.

Do you have any ELLs in your classroom this year?
2.  Graphic Organizers

This free writing resource has 10 Graphic Organizers helpful for writing paragraphs and essays. It is based on brainstorming 3 topics, ideas or details for your writing. I call it- the power of 3!
I try to use graphic organizers for just about every concept I teach in my ESOL class.  The more visual I can make something, the better!
1.  Pictures
Ok, this seems obvious because we all know that when students can correlate a picture to a word/concept, they can remember it much better.

So building on this, I have made it so that most things I present in my ELA class (reading and writing skills) have pictures that accompany any words that go on my Word Wall:

We all know that pictures help students remember more and these free reading and writing skills cards are perfect for any ELA class!
Get a free set of these cards by clicking here!

Plus, I have incorporated these same pictures into my own brand of notes called Pixanotes:

Pixanotes are a blend of 2-column notes and interactive visuals that boost comprehension and recall!  Get a free sample!

These notes have four differentiation options:
1.  Fully printed content and pictures. (Students highlight key words.)
2.  Fully printed content and picture flaps (Students highlight key words and match up pictures.)
3.  Fill-in-the-blanks content and fully printed pictures. (Students use a word bank.)
4.  Fill-in-the-blanks content and picture flaps. (Students use a word bank and match up pictures.)

Try a sample for free by clicking the image below!

You can also see them in action here:

Some days teaching a full class of non-English speakers seems daunting, but this list actually helps me remember the things I can do and I hope it helps you too! 

Thanks for stopping by!