4 Reasons to Use Middle School Project Based Learning


My favorite reason to use Investigation Lab PBL in Middle School ELA is #4!

Do you like the idea of middle school project based learning (PBL) but think there's not enough time to properly implement it?  I thought so too until I made Investigation Lab.  Investigation Lab allows students to complete projects tied to the standards using any text read in class.  It's amazing practice for students for 4 reasons:

1.  It's once a week.

Students get one day a week to take the driver's seat with their own learning.  It's an ongoing process throughout the marking period and I set the deadline up right from the beginning and stick to it unless someone has an excused absence.  This is especially since many of the projects may need to be presented to get full credit.  Since this is only once per week, you still have 4 other days to read and write!

2.  It's standards-based.

Every project is tied to a standard.  If you are teaching theme/central idea as well as character and idea development for the first 9 weeks, then students would only be given those options to use with any text that you have read in class.  In this way, they are practicing using the standards - a necessary skill for standardized tests.

3.  It's highly engaging and interactive.

Students love Investigation Lab.  Why?  It allows them to have some choice over how they are learning.  I think we teachers can relate to that. I think we'd all rather attend the PD we choose rather than the PD we are required to attend.  Plus, the students will be making something and showcasing their strengths in their product.  

4. It's differentiation at its finest!

Each student can choose their own path to reach the standard.  And each student can create their own product.  No two products have to even be similar to get full credit.

Want to try a free sample?  Get a free copy of a project list for the theme standard in my free resource library.

Or if you are ready to give Investigation Lab a try with all the materials done for you, click here.

Are you looking for a fun and engaging way for your Middle School students to practice their knowledge with the reading standards? This middle school project based learning set of 91 different projects is perfect for getting even your most reluctant learners on board!

Thanks for stopping by!

How to Use Middle School Project Based Learning

Learn how to implement Investigation Lab PBL in your Middle School ELA class in just 4 easy steps!

Getting students engaged takes equal parts of relationship building, motivation, and interactive activities.  The reward is genuine learning - the kind that lasts throughout the year.

To make this happen, I have implemented some middle school project-based learning that I call Investigation Lab and this is how I use it:

1. Introduce the concept of the Investigation Lab.

I explain to my students that once a week, they will have the opportunity to show what they know by choosing a project from a list that is based on the standard(s) that we are studying.  

We will review classroom expectations as per our agreements and I will tell them that they can choose to create the project based on any story we have read (or will read) in the class.  I show a few examples and then connect them to the next step - the rubric - as examples or non-examples.

2.  Go Over The Rubric

I give a very specific rubric that ensures that each student will turn in quality work to get full points.  There is a reflection sheet that each student turns in with any project that asks them to first "grade themselves" using the rubric.  

As I go over the rubric, I also show examples of quality work and examples of not-so-quality work and use the rubric as my justification.

Students keep a full-page copy of the rubrics in their folders/notebooks so they can track their points and I keep a page of rubrics for each student for each quarter as I grade them.  

3. Give Details On Points and Deadlines

Next, we go over how many points need to be earned in the marking period and what the deadlines are.

Project point values range from 10 points up to 50 or so points depending on the amount of work that must be done to complete the project. If a student has an entire grading period and will have 1 day per week to work on projects, I usually require students earn 100 points per grading period. 

Some projects need to be presented.  I create a presentation day on the last Investigation Lab day of the marking period and have students sign up for who will go first, second and so on.  I set the due date for all projects one week earlier.  This way, if someone has extra time as per their IEP or 504, it's built into the schedule.

4. Go Over The Housekeeping

Lastly, we go over what materials are available to them, where they will store their work from week to week, and how / where to hand in their work.

Students must turn in a reflection sheet with their work that tells how many points they believe their work is worth based on the rubric.  It's always interesting to see their rationale for their grades.

I keep all of the materials like scissors and glue, as well as the student reflection sheet in one area that I call the "Investigation Lab Station" so that everything is easy to find.

Investigation Lab Station for Middle School Project Based Learning!

Now, one day a week, students have time to work on their projects, receive feedback on graded projects, and talk to me about their progress.  I love being able to walk around the room and talk to the students about their work. It's fun to see what they are thinking and to continue to not only facilitate learning but build those relationships.  

Get a free sample list of projects for theme in my free resource library. Or if you are ready to implement Investigation Lab in your own classroom, all the resources are done for you!  Just click here.

Are you looking for a fun and engaging way for your Middle School students to practice their knowledge with the reading standards? This middle school project based learning set of 91 different projects is perfect for getting even your most reluctant learners on board!

Thanks for stopping by!

Middle School Project Based Learning


A unique way to blend PBL and standards-based learning in the Middle School ELA classroom!

Recently, I have read a lot about Genius Hour, Passion Projects, and the like.  I have always been a fan of student choice but also know there is an increased focus on teaching the standards this year.  So how could I blend PBL and the standards?  Investigation Lab!

Investigation Lab is where students choose a project from a list that corresponds to the standard we have been studying.  Then they complete the project based on any text we have read in class.  There is a very specific rubric and tracking system that I use to ensure everyone is participating and learning.

For example, for the theme and central idea standard, the menu looks like this:

Students can choose any project as they all require knowledge of theme and central idea.  It's great to have students present projects before a common unit assessment on the standard.  Many projects can also be placed on bulletin boards of excellent work and even saved to display for Open House.  I used to hang them all over the room during the course of the year. Not only did that build community, but it was fun to reminisce at the end of the year.

I call it Investigation Lab because students get to investigate the standard more deeply in an environment that allows them to drive the learning.  My students honestly loved having choices and the opportunity to be creative.  We had a set day each week we worked on projects and students looked forward to it.  Of course, we had already established our classroom agreements, and all agreements applied during this work time. 

Interested in trying this out with your middle school students?  You can spend hours making your own projects, rubrics, and trackers, or you can save TONS of time and get all 91 projects for 8 reading standards in one ready to go download!

Are you looking for a fun and engaging way for your Middle School students to practice their knowledge with the reading standards? This middle school project based learning set of 91 different projects is perfect for getting even your most reluctant learners on board!

Want to try a free sample?  Get a free copy of a project list for the theme standard in my free resource library.

Thanks for stopping by!

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!

Pin This Post for Later:

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!

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!

Pin This Post for Later:

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!

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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