Top 5 Ideas to End the School Year in Middle School


After reflections and surveys, try one of these 5 ideas for ending your school year in middle school!

Every year I look for new ways to keep my middle school students engaged for the last few days of school.  After state and county testing is done, so are the kids. They know teachers are wrapping up grades and summer fun is just hours away.  The saying about idle hands most definitely applies at this time.  So here's what I do to keep things moving in a positive direction.

1.  Play BINGO

I use this on the last few days of school to keep my middle school students moving in a positive direction!
I put together this game to review key reading and writing terms. To keep it interesting, we play a round with the traditional BINGO wins of diagonals, straight across or straight down.  Then we do things like four corners, outside edges, and inside squares.  I always have prizes for winners - usually some kind of food treat.  

2.  Mystery Student

Every day for the last week, I put up a sign that says "Mystery
Student".  It's inside a page protector so that I can slip another piece of paper behind it.  On that piece of paper, I write one of my students' names for each period.
Use this fun idea to keep end of year to maintain positive behavior!

I tell the students that if the mystery student for this class period meets our class expectations for the period, then that student will pick a special envelope and the entire class will get whatever reward is inside that envelope.  

Inside the envelopes, I had rewards like:
1.  Writing with chalk outside on the sidewalk
2.  Popsicles (the ones in the long plastic tubes)
3.  Cell phone time
4.  Heads up, Seven Up time
5.  Paper Airplane Contest

3.  Reading Skills Game Show

This fun, interactive Jeopardy Style PowerPoint Game Show will help your middle school students review FIVE reading skills: Central Idea, Idea Development, Point of View, Text Structure, and Interpreting Words and Phrases.  NO PREP and easy to use!
My students love games and so when I put a number of reading skills together in a game show, it was a hit!  We divided into teams and played this game.  To keep it interesting, I had them form teams for several games during the week.  So this was their first challenge as a team.  Later in the week, we play other games where their team can compete again. I keep a leaderboard and they love it!

4.  Memory Page

FREE Memory Page for middle school students to record their year and get their friends' signatures!
All of my students are not able to purchase a yearbook for one reason or another.  So I like to give them a "Memory Page" so they each have something to record their year and get signatures from their friends.   I first have them record their memories and add some color to the page. Then I give them time to walk around the room and have their friends sign it.  This is free in my resource library!

5. DIY Emoji Bookmark

Use this FREE video to have your middle school students make cool emoji bookmarks and encourage summer reading!

I love to encourage reading over the summer and to do this, I have students make an emoji bookmark!  You will need yellow construction paper, markers, and this FREE video!

I hope one or more of these ideas help you end your school year in a fun and engaging way!

Thanks for stopping by!

4 Tips for Using Rubrics in Middle School


Use these tips when creating and evaluating project-based learning for your middle school students!

As the end of the school year approaches, I like to engage my students in project-based learning. To ensure students know exactly what is expected and precisely how they will be graded I use rubrics. Rubrics clearly state how a student can earn top points for their work and how they might earn less than top points.  I have found that these 4 tips help make them more effective.

1.  Start with the End in Mind

When I create projects, I always think about the creative side.  I think about how the students will have a chance to make something new and explore!  But then I am faced with the fact that some students don't seem to have the same sense of wonder I have and need to be told that things like depth and dimension are necessary parts.

Whenever we complete projects in my middle school ELA classroom, I always use rubrics to grade.
So I think about what I want the end product to look like to demonstrate learning and then begin to build my rubric from the top down.

The top score is always 4 points and this is where I categorize all the things I expect to see.  A score of 4 has all the required parts.  A score of 3 has most of the required parts.  A score of 2 has some of the required parts and a score of 1 has hardly any of the required parts.

2.  Make the terminology student-friendly

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I distinctly remember using words like "depth" and "dimension" and of course, my students thought I was from Mars.  

I also like to make the scale very student-friendly with room for half points.  Sometimes, a student's work is in between a 4 and a 3 in a certain category.  I say use the half points and just provide some written feedback as to why.  

3.  Don't re-invent the wheel

Have you seen the website called Rubistar?  There are TONS of pre-made, editable rubrics for teachers to use for FREE! It's an amazing site to begin your rubric-making because it saves tons of time and helps you categorize the areas for grading.

4.  Use smaller versions of your rubric for grading

When I grade the students' projects, I make smaller versions of the rubric to attach to each student's work. I use it as a grade sheet and circle the parts of the rubric that their work demonstrates and then do the math right there on the rubric to determine the grade.  I can also write feedback on the rubric, including how 1/2 points were assessed.  Then, when students get their work back, they can see exactly how their grade was determined and I have much, much fewer (if any) inquiries about grades.

Honestly, I can't imagine grading projects in any other way.  And we have projects in my classroom all the time - for reading standards practice, for novel assessments, and more.  Here a few that are ready to go with included rubrics:

TEN highly structured choices for Project-Based Learning with included Rubrics - Printable and Digital!
10 different projects each with very structured directions and a rubric for grading.  There's something for everyone with all kinds of creative ideas to match various intelligences.
Your middle school students will use menus to practice determining central idea, take a quiz, and then either receive a menu for enrichment or remediation using this set!

This is one of my reading project-based learning sets for central idea.  Students get a menu of 2 choices to help them practice determining a central idea. Then there's a quiz. Students who score 80% or better receive an enrichment menu to create something new. Those who score below 80% receive an enhancement menu with 2 choices to remediate the content.  Each menu comes with a rubric.  :)

I actually have project-based learning sets like this for the first EIGHT reading anchor standards in one money-saving bundle.

I hope this helps you when creating and evaluating project-based learning for your middle school students!

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Project Based Learning in Middle School


Read on to get some great ideas for project-based learning in your middle school classroom!

Every year after state testing, my students are tired and unmotivated yet we teachers are charged with keeping them learning and engaged.  Seems like an oxymoron. So what do I do?  Project-based learning!

Individual Projects

One year, I used project-based learning by having students write narratives that we turned into bound books using  They were fairly inexpensive ($5 or less) and the students not only wrote stories but illustrated them too!  

Another year, we completed final projects on The Outsiders.  We read the book during state testing and afterward, students could choose from a number of creative projects that were geared toward the multiple intelligences.  There were 10 options and students enjoyed being able to choose their own adventure!  :) 

Group Projects

A different year, my classes formed friendship bracelet companies using BizWorld.  They made their bracelets in class, tracked data, made marketing plans and more, and then sold their products at lunch.  They competed with each other for the highest earnings and even took on investors ala our own version of Shark Tank!

Even with all this, the most remembered project was one that I did with my 6th graders - Planning a Summer Vacation...for their pine cone pets.  (These were pine cones that I glued googly eyes onto.) Students formed small groups, were given a budget, and then researched and planned a trip for their pet.  I think this is the one that I still hear about because of the silly little pine cones.  They named them and dressed them and many students say they still have them!

Summer Vacation Planning Project Based Learning for Middle School combines research, budgeting, and creativity all in one!

All of these projects have a few important things in common:

1.  They are self-directed.  

This is important because now the students are in charge of their learning. They are making decisions and carrying out tasks.  They have more freedom (well, to an extent) and this is highly engaging to them.

2.  They are creative.

Students are doing meaningful things with their ideas and their talents when engaged in project-based learning.  This gives them a chance to do something different and original.  

3.  They give students a chance to learn without it being on a test.

So many students seem to have been diagnosed with anxiety these days.  Sometimes I wonder if it has to do with the high stakes involved with standardized testing. It's nice to take a break from that kind of stress and just focus on learning things because it's fun and interesting.

This all sounds great but in order for this to be successful, there are a few things that need to be clearly established with the students:

1.  Class and School rules still apply.

2.  There are specific, structured expectations for work of the project.

3.  There are specific, structured expectations for group outcomes.

Clear expectations for group work make for a much more successful experience with project-based learning.
I use anchor charts like these throughout the year but bring them front and center when we begin project-based learning.

Using expectations and routines like these help set up students for more successful experiences when working in a group.  Especially when you combine it with my "fair grading system"for individual accountability.  This system gives students the opportunity to determine their grade (in part).  Let's say that based on the rubric, the group project has earned an 80%.  If there are 3 members of the group, the group is awarded 80x3=240 points.  

Set middle school students up for success with group work discussion expectations and routines.
It is now up to the group to determine if the points should be split equally so that each member earns 80% or not.  Very rarely have I had to intervene in helping a group reach consensus as it is usually pretty easy to see how much work each person contributed.

Want a free copy of the partner/group expectations?  Get this and more in the free resource library bu joining below.  

Interested in trying out some of these projects for the last weeks of your year?  Click here to find out more about Planning a Summer Vacation for the pine cone pets and click here for more on my Outsiders Projects.

Thanks for stopping by!

State Test Prep Reading Strategy for Middle School


Give your middle school students this 7 step process to use when taking the state tests in reading.

When state testing comes around, I find that many of my students and their parents become anxious and want a way to review at home.  I used to just say things like "You are a good reader.  You know how to think things through.  You'll be fine."  But then I got to thinking, what if they are not "fine" because their anxious mind begins to overthink things? So that's why I decided to break down this process.

Reading Process

Just like there is a writing process, there is also a reading process that people use when reading texts. They may not even realize they are using a process because it's something that most people do naturally once they reach middle school.  

Notice I said "most".  There are some students who have never thought about this before and once they do, it unlocks a new way of thinking and these students have a "eureka moment" that knocks their socks off!  :)

So what is this process?
1.  Read the directions, text features, and captions.
2.  Establish a purpose for reading based on the questions
3.  Read the text and identify clue words
4.  Determine if the text is fiction or nonfiction.
5.  Slash the trash
6.  Select/Write the Best Answer
7.  Review Answers

I like to give my students a text with some questions and then go through each step using a flipbook so I can stop and explain things as I go.  We refresh our memories on what text features are, how we can read the questions and get a kind of preview of the text, and even what the idea of clue words means.  

Then we get to step 4, I am always asked "Why does it matter if it's fiction or nonfiction?"  To which I answer "Because there are different kinds of structure based on that.  If it's fiction, then think plot diagram.  If it's nonfiction think about the 5 types of structure."  And this, of course, affects the way one might answer the questions too.

The last 3 steps are probably pretty much expected steps but I think students have to be explicitly taught to do these things and practice them so that when they get to the test, they have a frame of reference.

Finally, after we've gone though all the steps, we have a conversation goes something like this:

Me:  "So this process is what readers use when they read anything - fiction or nonfiction."

Them:  Incredulous looks

Me:  Grabs book (Tangerine by Edward Bloor) - 
"Think about it.  When we read this book in class, we first looked at the pictures and read the back - that's step #1.  Then we decided why were were reading this book - we knew we wanted to determine what?  

Them:  Offer ideas 

Me:  (If needing follow up:  What did we put in our double-entry journals?  Evidence for...)  Right - we wanted to trace character development and determine the theme.  That's step #2.  Then we read the book.  As we read it we found keywords, we knew it was fiction but we compared it to what we know real life is like, right? That's steps #3 and 4.  Because we're in class, you used the rest of the steps for various activities but even if you weren't in class, you would use steps 1-4.  Be honest, how many of you "judge a book by its cover" when you pick out one for yourself?

Them:  Raise hands and comment that the back of the book helps them know if the book sounds interesting.

Me:  Of course!  And then you have a purpose for reading - maybe it's because someone recommended the book and wants to talk about it with you or maybe you like the genre or topic, or maybe you're in Battle of the Books, or maybe you just like a good dystopian fiction book.  Any way you look at it those are the first 2 steps!  But then as you read, you notice important things and you compare them to what you know.  That's how readers make meaning of what they read and that's called comprehension.  Pretty cool, right?  How many of you have just realized this for the first time?

Them:  Most of the class.

Me:  And now you have learned a new reading "secret".

It's like teaching magic when I can get through to my students on a level like this!

If you'd like to use this process with your students, my flipbook is all ready to go in both printable and digital formats.  The idea is that students read the included text and then need to place all the pieces for the flipbook onto the correct tab.  It's highly interactive and students get a lot out of it.  The digital version requires the same piece placement but in a digital environment using Google Slides.

This printable and digital flipbook gives middle school students a chance to interactively practice with using the reading process to prepare for state tests in reading.

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Use this 7-step process with your middle school students to help them practice working through the material found in a state test for reading.

Teaching Middle School Students To Plan An Essay


The essay planning phase is a very important part of the writing process.  Make sure your middle school students know how to overcome the 3 essay planning hurdles!

My middle school students always say "I don't need to plan."  To which I respond " If you fail to plan, you plan to fail".  Confused looks.  Blank stares.  Eyerolls.  

But seriously, I say, without a plan, how can one be sure to have everything that's needed?

Then I start to ask questions to get over Planning Hurdle #1:

"Ok - so if you don't need to plan, where is the evidence you found for your first reason?"

"What transitions are you using?"

"What is the second piece of evidence you found for your third reason?"

Suddenly the need to plan becomes more clear!  That's the first hurdle...

Planning Hurdle #2

The second hurdle is finding a good planning sheet.  I personally prefer a flow map type of planning sheet but I know some people prefer an outline kind of plan.  I teach using the flow map but offer the outline as well.

A key to good essay planning in middle school is having a good planning sheet!  Get a free one here!

Planning Hurdle #3

The third hurdle is ensuring that students do not write out complete sentences for their plan so they do not feel as though they need to write the essay twice.  In fact I tell them that if they write out complete sentences in those body paragraphs, that I won't accept it.  (I really will but I want them to try not to write out complete sentences.)

I teach my students to write out their thesis and maybe even the other 2 sentences of the introduction paragraph.  Then for the body paragraphs, I have them write out their transitions, and the location of the evidence.  So for example, if their evidence comes from the first article, second paragraph, I ask the students to write 1.2 on the evidence blanks with the first 3 words from the quote.  That's it.  Then just a few words for the commentary.  I tell them we're abbreviating sentences and that it's like leaving breadcrumbs for themselves.  Then they look at me funny again and I have to explain the story of Hansel and Gretel.  Middle schoolers love these detours.  :)

When we plan our first informative essay, I usually model the introduction, 1 body and the conclusion.  Then I ask them to plan their other two body paragraphs as a formative assessment.  We sketch out each paragraph just writing the bare minimum (again, bread crumbs) so that the bulk of our writing time is actually spent on writing the essay.

Take a look at this video to see how I teach it:

Did you like what you saw in the video?  You can get 2 weeks of video instruction along with digital notes, organizers, texts and more with my essay writing units.

Now the next thing that needs to be accomplished is taking the plan and turning it into an essay.  But that's another post.  :)

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Help your middle school students get over these three essay planning hurdles!

Writing Essay Conclusions


Use this plan to help your middle school students write a great conclusion paragraph for their essays!

Once I have taught my students to read & flip the essay prompt, read and mark the text, write an introduction paragraph for informative and argumentative, write the body paragraph and the counterclaim, the last part of the actual essay is the conclusion paragraph.  My students typically are worn out by the time they get to the conclusion and just want to say, "Thanks for reading my essay." or "In conclusion, this essay is finished."  Both of these statements are like nails on a chalkboard for me!  

So, I came up with a plan.  I thought to myself, what's the last thing students probably grab from home before they leave the house?  Their cell phone!  Now how do I connect that to the conclusion as the last thing they do before they call an essay finished?  With this mnemonic that outlines the 3 sentences (minimum) that a conclusion needs to have:

A - Affirm the thesis

T - Trim the point

T - The Call to Action

AT & T - Ok not everyone has AT & T but they get the idea!

1.  Affirm the Thesis

This is the first sentence in a conclusion.  By affirm the thesis, I mean restate the thesis.  If in the introduction the thesis ends with the reasons, then the affirm begins with the reasons.

For example, if the thesis is:

After reading multiple texts, it is clear to see that these places should be protected because of their natural, historical, and cultural benefits.

Then the Affirm is:

Natural, historical and cultural benefits are reasons why Pipestone National Monument and Mount Rushmore are so significant that they should be protected.

2.  Trim the point

This is the second sentence in the conclusion and students are tasked with telling the main idea of the essay.  I tell my students to ask themselves "What's the point?"  The answer is the sentence they should write here.

3.  The Call to Action

This is the last sentence of the conclusion and should tell what it is hoped that the reader has learned or what it is hoped that the reader will do as a result of reading this essay.

I give my students sentences starters like "Now the reader may understand why..." or "Now the reader may understand how.." or "Now the reader can choose..."

Watch this preview of how I teach the call to action from the conclusion here:

Now that students have a plan for their conclusion, I hopefully won't hear those nails on the chalkboard any more!

Want to try this with your students?  I have a complete plan for both informative and argumentative essays with my printable and digital units that include the expanded version of the video above plus videos for every other section of the essay too!

Middle School direct instruction for writing argumentative essays in printable and digital formats!Middle School direct instruction for writing informative essays in printable and digital formats!

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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!

Give your middle school students a plan for writing essay conclusion paragraphs!

Hacks for the Argumentative Essay Counterclaim


Find out how I help my middle school students remember the structure of a counterclaim in an argumentative essay!

When teaching the counterclaim to my middle school students, there are actually two ways we could go:  embed the counterclaim in the body paragraphs OR write a separate counterclaim paragraph.

I taught at one middle school in my district where they taught the embedded counterclaim and I am currently at a school that teaches the separate counterclaim paragraph.

Embedded Counterclaim

I have to be honest with you, I think that this is the most academically sound way to teach counterclaims because I am convinced that this creates a stronger argument and a stronger essay as a whole.  Why?

1.  When you write a body paragraph for an argumentative essay, you are already providing evidence for the essay's position and it makes sense to admit in that paragraph that there is an opposition to the idea but clearly the evidence that has been provided refutes it.  There creates a smooth progression that literally leads the reader down the path of your argument.  It's a very tight organizational structure.

2.  In Florida, this is what is shown as an example of a perfect paper and is even evident in the papers slightly less than perfect.  In fact, in none of the example essays does one find a separate counterclaim paragraph.

So what hacks did I use to teach the embedded counterclaim?


A - Answer with the claim + one reason from the thesis

R - Respond to opposing claims

G - Give evidence for the essay's position

U - Underscore the evidence with commentary

E - End with a conclusion

This is exact pattern I used to teach my middle school students in the first middle school I mentioned.  Of course, students had to repeat the G and U for a second piece of evidence but they made a little song/chant to go with it and it wasn't an issue.  And when it came time for them to take an essay test, they didn't freeze because they had a pattern on which to rely.

Want to use ARGUE with your own students?  I have a full unit that uses this pattern to teach an argumentative essay complete with a prompt, texts, foldables, notes and a PowerPoint.  

If you teach middle school students to write argumentative essays with embedded counterclaims, then this easy to use unit with texts, foldables, notes and organizers is for you!


A - Answer with the claim and one reason from the thesis

C - Cite evidence

E - Explain with commentary

I - Ingeminate (repeat the cycle of cite and explain with new evidence)

IC - Insert counterclaim (Some say___ but this is not accurate because_____)

T - Top it off with a conclusion.

The year that the school went to the counterclaim paragraph idea they allowed me to continue with the embedded counterclaim using ACE IIT to see if the test scores would prove that embedding counterclaims would score better or worse than a separate counterclaim paragraph.  You know what?  I had the highest scores.  And I didn't have all honors classes.  In fact, I had two classes that were only beginning English Language Learners.

This way to embed a counterclaim was in an effort to streamline my mnemonics that I use with informative essays and increase retention and usability by the students.  I used to tell them that there were just 3 key differences between the informative and argumentative - which is so much easier to remember!

1.  Introduction paragraph bridge has to state both sides

2.  The essay must take ONE side

3.  Add in an extra I in ACE IT for counterclaim.  (I teach an ACE IT mnemonic for body paragraphs that do not have counterclaims.)

The idea that the two kinds of essays have the same basic structure (with the 3 exceptions) actually helps students feel more confident in their abilities.  Of course, it helps to practice by having students just take out a blank sheet of paper and write our the mnemonics and what they stand for too.  I did this and on the day of the state test, that's exactly what I saw students do - and they scored better than some of their "advanced" peers!


Separate Counterclaim Paragraph

Now that I am in a Special Needs Co-Teaching type of position, I have to go with the flow and support my team in their endeavor to teach students to write a counterclaim paragraph.  To help them, I came up with another hack - aka mnemonic  - based on how they teach this paragraph:

F - Feature the other side (the opposing claim)
A - Affirm the opposing claim with evidence
U - Underscore the essay's position (refuting the opposing claim)
C - Cite evidence (for the essay's position)
E - Explain with commentary
T - Top it off with a conclusion

I tell the students that the mnemonic is FAUCET because this is the section of the essay where we "pour it on" or "turn it up" in terms of making the case for our position in the essay.

This paragraph becomes our third body paragraph in an argumentative essay.   Our other 2 body paragraphs follow the same structure as the informative essay with the pattern I call ACE IT.  You can read more about that by clicking here.

Need lessons to teach argumentative essay writing?  Click here to view my argumentative digital and printable unit that teaches separate counterclaim paragraphs.  

How did we practice this?

I have had great success with this collaborative argumentative essay writing activity with a separate counterclaim paragraph using task cards:

There is a task card for each sentence in the essay.  Students work in groups to determine the correct answers and to write out the correct answers on a special planning sheet.  Then, they determine where the paragraph breaks are and write out the essay.  If students have chosen the correct answers, all pf the essay should be identical which means MUCH LESS GRADING for you!

I also have some great organizers and sentence starters to give students a reference to look back on as they are writing essays or working with practice materials for both separate counterclaim paragraphs and embedded counterclaims.

So, now you have all my examples of how I have taught argumentative essay counterclaims.  Obviously there is no one right way to do this and I hope that some of these ideas help you in your essay teaching journey!    Thanks for stopping by!

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There are two great ways to ensure your middle school students have a counterclaim in their argumentative essays!