Short Story For Thanksgiving


The best short story for Thanksgiving in Middle School is "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen" by O. Henry.  Find out why here!

I love finding ways to help my middle school students celebrate a season and learn at the same time!  So it should come as no surprise that as I was planning for November, I began to look for the perfect short story for Thanksgiving.  What I found was "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen" by O. Henry.

In this story, one seemingly well-to-do Old Gentleman always finds a less well-to-do gentleman named Stuffy Pete in the park and takes him to a very nice Thanksgiving dinner at a nice restaurant every year on Thanksgiving.  However, on this particular Thanksgiving, as Stuffy Pete was heading for the park to meet the Old Gentleman, he is scooped up by a butler that invites him inside a mansion to have a Thanksgiving dinner with two extremely well-to-do ladies.  He can't pass up the opportunity so he goes inside and stuffs himself.  Finally, he leaves and goes to the park where the old gentleman is waiting for him.  The old gentleman takes him to a restaurant and Stuffy Pete agonizingly eats another dinner while the Old Gentleman watches.  Once they leave, they part ways.  Stuffy Pete collapses from over-eating and is taken by ambulance to the hospital.  A staff person is overheard saying that Stuffy Pete was in for over-eating which is the opposite of what they'd expect by the looks of him while an Old Gentleman had just been brought in who hadn't eaten for 3 days!  

Clearly, there is A LOT to unpack here and some of the vocabulary can be tricky.  So I broke down the story into 5 "chunks" and we first went over vocabulary, then read the chunk, and talked about/ completed activities about the key ideas like character traits, summarizing, point of view and of course, irony.

All of these activities are for the best short story for Thanksgiving!

After we read the entire story, we had a very interesting discussion about the point of Thanksgiving celebrations using these questions:

These Socratic Seminar questions get students talking and looking for evidence before they create a piece of writing!

Answering these questions in a Socratic Seminar after we read the entire story was a great way to get the students ready to write an academic paragraph about the story.  There is plenty of evidence students can use from the text to support their answers and if you tell students to write down information that resonates with them, they will have completed the planning in a very collaborative way. 

My students thoroughly enjoyed this and I think in part because it was very relative to the season.  Maybe it gave them all a new perspective too.  :)

Want to read this with your own students?  I have the story all broken down into chunks with vocabulary and other activities ready to go in both printable and digital formats all in one!

Struggling to find a good short story for Thanksgiving with your Middle School students? "Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen" by O. Henry is what you are looking for and these scaffolded and easy-to-use activities will keep your students engaged and give you a break from planning!

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Your middle school students can enjoy the season and learn at the same time!

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3 Easy Ways to Incorporate Narrative Writing Into the Middle School Classroom


Keep the joy of creativity from narrative writing alive in your middle school classroom with these 3 easy ideas!

I love the creativity of writing a narrative.  Too often, this seems to fall by the wayside, taking backseat to more formal options.  But there are ways to keep the creativity alive and here are my top 3 ways to do just that:

1.  Combine the fun of the season with learning!

Every year, I incorporate narrative writing into my classroom near Halloween time.  Students create spooky stories about an old "haunted" house with a great deal of structure provided by me.  I even play a spooky soundtrack!  Even my most reluctant writers enjoy this and soon my students see that writing can be a fun, creative time.

Use this structured narrative project to help your middle school students enjoy the season and learn at the same time!

2.  Early Finishers

While my "go-to" is to read independently when students find themselves with some extra time, using that same time for narrative writing would be another great alternative!  I have a little station set up in my room with blank plot diagrams and a can of "story starters".  (Sometimes I also include fun paper and checklists.  I try to keep it a cool place to visit!) Students who would prefer to write can visit this station when they find themselves with extra time in class.  You can get a free copy of my plot diagram and story starters in my resource library

Set up a station with story starters and blank plot diagrams to encourage early finishers to write narratives in your middle school classroom!

3. Fiction Follow-Ups

After reading a fiction story like "Eleven" like Sandra Cisneros, I find that asking students to tell (through writing) their own stories that were similar to the main character's struggles can not only be a great relationship builder but it also helps students make a deeper connection to the story.  This helps when you begin to analyze the story for various things such as character development because now the students feel invested.

Just a few quick things I do to incorporate narrative writing throughout the year!

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Narrative writing doesn't have to be a one time thing!  Check out these ideas for some inspiration!

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Prompts for Narrative Writing in Middle School


Many Middle School students have never written a narrative.  Luckily these prompts can help!

When I say "Narrative writing", my students just stare at me. They aren't sure what I really mean by that.  

In 8th grade, we work on the Hero's Journey and after we learn about it using diagrams and examples, then we ask the students to write their own Hero's Journey.

In 6th and 7th grade, we learned about plot using some notes, the plot diagram and some well-known stories like The Lion King (6th grade) and Seventh Grade (7th grade).

Then after this study, students were given a blank plot diagram and asked to plan their own story.  You would have thought that I had asked them to do something absolutely impossible.  There were groans and moans about what to write about.  All I heard was that there was "no way" they could possibly fill in an entire plot diagram.  It was too much writing!

I slowly came to realize that many students had never written a longer story before.  Never!  They were used to reading stories, not writing them!

So I asked them how these authors wrote the stories that we had just been studying. The students never really thought about it.  Some suggested these people were just "smart" or "creative" as if you had to have a special talent to write a story.

Of course, we talked about all it takes is one idea - that narrative writing can be about anything as long as it has the key story elements that we had been studying.  That wasn't enough to get them going.

Then I remembered a super great idea from when I was young.  I remember a teacher of mine had story strips in cans.  They said things like "Imagine you're a pirate whose ship has just run aground on a small island full of tigers."  They gave just enough of a spark to get the ideas flowing.  

So I asked my students for topics that they would be interested in writing about.  Then I made story strips and modeled how I would use one to build my story and create my plot diagram. Suddenly the gap between good reading and writing was bridged.

Get a FREE copy of my story strips in my Free Resource Library!

How to use Mentor Sentences in Middle School


Try this plan for using mentor sentences in middle school as models of grammar, good writing, and more!

Once upon a time, I convinced my team that mentor sentences are an amazing tool to teach grammar, writing conventions, and even review reading skills.   

My first exposure to mentor sentences was with using picture books but I knew I had to be creative and find grade-level texts to use.  I had trouble finding ones that were "just right" for the task and time frame we had to work with (bell work time) so I decided to make my own.

Here's how mentor sentences work in my middle school class:

I use them as bell-ringers and...

1. Each month, my students are given one new text.  

I wrote the texts to focus on themes such as perseverance or on the history behind holidays such as Earth Day.  I also had some fiction texts.

2.  Each week of the month, students study one sentence from the text as a model of good writing.

3.  Each day of the week students get one question to answer about the sentence of the week.

These questions would be about capitalization, punctuation, using commas, literary devices, and much more.

How much time does this take, you ask?  

Well, the very first day of the month takes the most time as I ask the students to read the text before I give them the sentence for the week.  But after that, students get into the routine and they can complete their question of the day in the time it takes me to take attendance. Then we go over answers in about 5 minutes (or less).  So it's quick and easy!  

What about assessment?

At the end of the week, I have been known to ask students to re-write the sentence of the week in the same style and using some of the same words but with various changes including new adverbs or adjectives or even taking one bigger sentence and making it two sentences.  At the end of the month, I have challenged my students to use their sentences to create a summary of the text for the month.

Ready to try them out?  Get this FREE sample:

Start off your middle school ELA class period with a quick and easy practice/review of key grammar and reading skills with the help of a model mentor sentence.

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3 Reasons Why Should Mentor Sentences Be Used in Middle School


Mentor Sentences should be used in Middle School ELA for 3 very good reasons!

If you love grammar, then this post may not be for you.  I am not a grammar lover at.all.  To me, it's something that when taught is about as fun as watching grass grow or paint dry.  So you can imagine that it has been hard for me to teach grammar too.  Until I found Mentor Sentences.

When I say "Mentor Sentences", I am not talking about correcting poorly written sentences. Instead, I am talking about using well-written sentences as models to be emulated.

Why should one study model sentences?  Here are 3 (or 4) very good reasons:

1.  They give concrete examples of what good writing looks like.

I can't tell you how many times I have referred to this writer or that writer as a bastion of good writing.  I get a special feeling when I read these well-written pieces that make me swoon.  But, the students don't always get it.  They think I'm just being a "teacher".  Mentor sentences point out the things that make sentences great.  

2. They are bite-sized chunks that help struggling learners experience success.

With just one sentence to study and one question per day, this is chunking at its finest!  Plus, my students with special needs saw that this was something they could do.  It helped to build their confidence.  

3. They are quick and easy to implement in the classroom as bell-ringers.

Students generally can answer the one question per day in the same amount of time it takes me to submit attendance.  Then it only takes maybe 5 minutes more to go over the answers.  

4.  The students actually began to not only learn about various grammar concepts and writing conventions, but they were learning about topics such as perseverance, the history of the Poinsettia, and more!  It was fun to hear them talk about these topics with interest.

In this way, mentor sentences are actually more than just good models, they caused my students to learn more about the topic of the text as well as various grammar and writing concepts.  

Want to know more about using them in your own classroom and get a freebie to try them out for yourself?  Click here to read that post.

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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!

If you aren't using mentor sentences as part of your bell-ringer routine in your middle school ELA class, then read this to get 3 (or more) reasons why you need to start!

Discovering Mentor Sentences for Middle School


If you think mentor sentences are just for elementary, read this post to find out how they can be used with middle school students to review grammar, writing conventions and even reading skills all in the time it takes you to do attendance!

I have a confession:  grammar is not my thing.  My own Father was an English teacher that loved diagramming sentences.  I loathed it.  So it probably comes as no surprise that I have looked for ways to make it less painful.   Years ago, I stumbled upon the concept of pulling out especially well-written sentences from picture books to use as models.  

Each day the idea was that students would do something different with the sentence like noticing punctuation or its use of adjectives or adverbs.  It was very doable and students would experience some success right away.  Best of all, the amount of time it takes to do this would be about the amount of time I would need to take attendance!

When I first shared the idea with my team, they were hesitant because they thought we would be correcting poorly written sentences.  But that is not the case - in fact, this idea is the opposite.  The sentences we study are models.  We are looking at the sentence for what the author did right.  We would look for various things that we would want the students to emulate in their own writing.

I use Mentor Sentences as MODELS of good grammar and writing.

We could also ask questions about the text to practice reading skills as well.  Things like "How does this sentence contribute to the tone of the text?"

Soon, the possibilities were endless and grammar was now part of our daily routine in very bite-sized pieces that had no resemblance to the loathsome diagram.  ;)

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Tried and True Back to Middle School Activities


Before delving into your content, take a look at these FIVE days of tried and true activities for back to middle school!

My room is ready, I've attended all the meetings, and the first day is imminent, but what should I do on that first day of middle school?  It might seem tempting to just hand out the syllabus and jump into the content but that won't set the best tone for the rest of the year. 

I want to build a community of learners where relationships are important first.  The old saying goes that the students don't care what you know until they know that you care.  That's why I spend a full week on getting to know my students and building relationships!

On the first day, I always get everyone seated in alphabetical order so everyone has a place to sit (not everyone knows everyone) and so I can accurately take attendance.  ;)  After the first week or so, I change seats once I get to know the students and their needs.

Then I always do an ice breaker.  I might do a BINGO game or a TP pass or even something else.  As long as it's active and gets everyone involved - it will get kids interested and engaged.  After we finish this, we make a little something to tell about ourselves that I can later display for Open House!

The next day, I start to get into the "rules".  Except that I do not call them rules - I call them agreements.  Students tell me what they need to be successful on a sticky note.  I ask them to place their sticky notes in a special place and then we finish the "craftivity" from the first day so that everyone has a chance to share about themselves.  Read more about creating agreements by clicking here.  

On the third day, we finish the sticky note activity to establish what our class needs to be successful and then begin to go over the syllabus.  I like to have students create either an interactive notebook foldable for the syllabus or a mini book to keep the syllabus from being one of those Charlie Brown teaching moments.  

On the fourth day, we do something collaborative.  It could be a game like "Walk the Line", Building something as a group and then trying to "sell" it to the rest of the class, or even something like the Skittles and 7-up activity. These activities always help me see who the leaders are in the classroom.

On the fifth day, we complete a survey, go over anything from yesterday (if necessary), participate in some goal-setting activities, and maybe some silent note writing and passing.  (They love the silent note-passing!)

Now I have spent 5 days getting to know my students and set a tone for positive interaction and engagement.  I have learned what students click well together, who are my leaders, who may need some TLC and many other things.  With all of this in mind, I can craft better lessons to reach all learners.

If you'd like some ready to go sets of resources to match the activities, I mentioned, take a look at this bundle:

Spending time building community and establishing relationhips is what the first week back to school is all about!  Use some of these ideas to make it a great first week of middle school!

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