Sunday, April 23, 2017

Five Ways to Create a Strong Finish for the School Year

As the school year draws to a close, we’re all looking for fun ways to keep our middle school students engaged and learning– right up to the last day!

The Middle School Mob has come up with a list of five activities that are sure to help you make the most of these last weeks…and keep you sane at the same time! 

1.  Sharon from Classroom in the Middle uses Summer Practice Cards.  Summer Practice Task Cards are designed to provide a review of language arts skills for middle schoolers or students in upper elementary grades. The 30 half-page cards include five each on six summer topics: At the Beach, Life on the Pond, Low-Tech Fun, The Ball Game, Picnic Time, and Vacation and are perfect to use with a fun classroom game or activity. A coloring page cover and a checklist of assignments completed are also included so that the cards can be sent home for a summer practice booklet.

2.  Shana from Hello, Teacher Lady says that no school year is complete without a little reflection! This End-of-Year Student Reflection & Feedback Google Form encourages students to reflect on their year while providing teachers with valuable student feedback and insight. The responses are automatically stored in a Google Sheet for easy viewing from any device, so no need to worry about collecting paper or wonder where you're going to store all those paper stacks.

Shana says, "I love using this digital form with my students not only because of its ease and convenience, but also because the thoughtful responses have helped me reflect on my year and improve my own teaching for the following year. (Psst - you can download the form for free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!)"

2.  Lisa shares Mrs. Spangler in the Middle's top 3 ways to finish the year strong! There's an inspirational video, a positive reinforcement system that culminates on the last day of school and even a daily motivator for those tough classes.

4.  Lit with Lyns recommends this Digital End of Year Student Reflection as a great way to give students the opportunity to reflect on their year. It also allows them to provide feedback on what they thought worked well, as well as what they would like to change in specific classes.

"Not only did this help my students to reflect," Lyns says, "it also allowed me to do the same. After reading their suggestions, in addition to what they liked, I was able to implement some of their ideas into different activities and strategies I used the following year. This resource is truly a WIN-WIN for both students AND teachers!!!"  It comes in both digital AND printable format!

5.  Marypat from Just Add Students recommends having your students create a Reading Legacy Project.  This is a fun way for students to reflect on all the great reading they’ve done through the school year.  Students create a resource for next year’s class that includes book reviews, scrapbook pages, “best of…” awards, and signature pages for notes of encouragement to the upcoming class.  Great resource for next year when your students ask, “What should I read?”

Give one of these ideas a try and let us know what you think... or offer an idea of your own that makes the end of the school year a breeze!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Building and Remodeling Sentences

In the early grades, students use word cards to build little sentences.  In this way they learn about the parts that sentences are made of and how those parts fit together.  It’s an elementary school thing, but the concept of a sentence as building blocks fitted together in a precise way can be applied to activities at any grade level.

In the middle grades, the building blocks are all the parts that make up well-written sentences – the eight parts of speech as well as sentence elements such as phrases and clauses.  The tools for fitting them together into well-crafted sentences are the rules of grammar.  Incorporating these rules specifically into writing assignments, starting at the individual sentence level, helps students become experts at their job of writing.

There are lots of ways to incorporate sentence writing practice into daily language arts lessons with a variety of short assignments used either as bell ringer activities or as individual practice.  Students can begin with these practice activities, and then apply the specific skill they’ve learned in each one to a short sample of their own writing.  Here are some of my ideas, starting with activities that focus on nouns and verbs and moving on to other parts of speech, phrases, and clauses. 

Nouns and Verbs

·        At the simplest level, students can fill in the blanks in sentences with nouns and verbs of their choice, either from a word bank or from their own ideas.

·        Students can identify the nouns or verbs in sentences and then replace them with more interesting ones.  To apply to their own writing, students choose a few sentences with overused nouns or verbs in a piece of their writing and then replace those overused words with better ones, maybe using a thesaurus for ideas.

More Parts of Speech

·        To illustrate a sentence, have students first identify whichever sentence elements you want to work on, and then draw an illustration that shows that particular element (adjective, prepositional phrase, etc).

·        Do a “refrigerator magnet” activity in which students choose and combine words to write sentences as directed.  To focus on parts of speech, include in the directions just which parts of speech they need to use in each sentence.

·        First, students identify the parts of speech in a mentor sentence; then they write a sentence of their own following the same pattern.  Start with a short simple sentence so that they get the idea, but as their skills permit, the sky’s the limit with this one.

Phrases and Clauses

·        Picture prompts are great for writing sentences, not just longer essays.  Give students a set of small pictures, and instruct them to write a sentence with particular elements (for example – a prepositional phrase and a dependent clause) for each one.

·        Give students a paragraph made up of very short sentences.  Instruct them to revise the paragraph by combining sentences with coordinating or subordinating conjunctions, or to imbed the important detail from some of the sentences into other ones by using adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases.

·        Activities such as the refrigerator magnets can also be done with phrases and clauses.  So can the mentor sentence activity; just substitute a longer text in place of the mentor sentence, maybe a part of a classic story or a page from a science textbook.

These are some of the ideas that I used in preparing my new writing resources for building and revising sentences.  If you are interested in some new, ready to use activities, click on the image below to view a preview. 

Writing and Revising Sentences, Activity Sheets and PowerPoint

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If you enjoy reading about activities for middle grades language arts, stop by my own blog, Classroom in the Middle!

 Classroom in the Middle

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Top 3 Test Prep Ideas

Top 3 Test Prep Ideas from the Middle School Mob!

We have two weeks after Spring Break before our State Testing begins.  That means we have two weeks to drive those final concepts home.  How might we do that without the drill and kill?  Well,  here's my top 3 ideas:

1.  Start with vocabulary
Academic vocabulary is comprised of the words that are most often used in informational texts (such as textbooks) and literary texts (such as novels), but not likely used in everyday speech.  This is the vocabulary that our students will find embedded in test passages and test questions.  That means that this vocabulary has to be explicitly taught.  What I did is recorded here:   It involved me going through my state's test item specifications and pulling out the key vocabulary and then making games to help students learn the words.  Which brings me to #2...

2.  Use games.
May I suggest Kahoot?  It's a FREE, online quiz game.  Students love it and it is super easy to input test questions from your state's practice tests.  You could also make much more low-tech games like Tic-Tac-Toe.   Here's how I have used this game:

1.Divide the class into two teams.  One is the “x” team and one is the “o” team.
2.Draw a tic-tac-toe board on the whiteboard.
3.Ask a question to the first member of the “x” team. If he/she is correct, then he/she places the x on the board!  If he/she is incorrect, he/she simply lose the chance to place the “x” on the board.
4.Now repeat #3 with the “o” team. 
5.Continue with each member of each team until you have a winner with 3 in a row!  You might even give bonus points as a prize!

3.  Use centers.
Even big, bad middle schoolers like centers.  I would suggest that you look at your data, pinpoint the areas of need, and then set up centers or ahem, stations, around your room. Here's a list of possible activities for centers:

1.  Playing skill specific games on
2.  Reading a picture book and then drawing the main idea.
3.  Completing a cause/effect graphic organizer on a picture book.
4.  Making a poster of text features based on a non-fiction text.
5.  Making a foldable for a picture book that uses compare/contrast.

I have done this type of thing without setting up formal centers but instead using a menu. I used the picture book Miss Rumphius because of its great message for students.

Have you ever tried using menus for test prep?
Click here or on the image above to be taken to this great freebie!

If you'd like to read more about Test Prep, stop by my blog for my latest installment on a reading "boot camp" my fellow teachers and I are conducting by clicking here:

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl Sunday $130 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!

It's Super Bowl Sunday! While you spend time catching the last part of the game, why not hop through our Teachers Pay Teachers Giveaway Loop? We're giving away a $130 Amazon Gift Card!

How it Works:
- Visit each of our Teachers Pay Teachers stores - you'll see an image similar to the one above.
- See that pink "U" on the football on the right-hand side? Collect each of the letters/numbers found on each of our TpT store pages. There are 13 letters/numbers total. Write them all down!
- (To visit the next page, simply click on the image itself)
- Unscramble the letters (HINT: It has something to do with the Super Bowl)
- Come back to our website -
- Write your answer in the RaffleCopter below!

Ready to get started? Click on the image below to be taken to the first Teachers Pay Teachers store!

Got your letters unscrambled? Enter your answer in the RaffleCopter below! Best of luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fun Classroom Activities for the Winter Months

It’s January, and teachers are deep into that long winter stretch in the classroom.  Meanwhile, what the kids (and teachers) are actually thinking about is snow holidays and how much fun they could have with a few of those! 

With the major winter holidays behind us, it can be difficult to think of fun classroom activities to keep everyone interested and engaged.  With that in mind, I’ve collected some links to ideas for the smaller winter holidays still to come and just for winter in general.  I’ll mention just a few below, but you can see more on my Winter and Winter Holidays Pinterest board.

Groundhog Day
I’ve listed a number of ideas in a Groundhog Day post that I wrote recently for my own blog, but I’ll just mention one favorite here.  These groundhog cookies, from Sheknows, are so cute.  They’re made from no-bake cookie dough.  You could make the cookies ahead and have the kids just add the groundhog for a quick, edible craft.

Valentine’s Day
“Today I Got a Valentine,” by Kenn Nesbitt, is one of the many funny kids’ poems that you can find at one of my favorite poetry sites, Giggle Poetry.  Explore the site a little further, and you’ll find a whole section of silly love poems that might also be perfect for the holiday.

President’s Day
The History Channel has good informational text and a video for President’s Day.  The text tells about the origins of the holiday and holiday celebrations, and the fast-paced two-minute video is full of facts about the White House.

Saint Patrick’s Day
“Saint Patrick’s Day Riddles” is a FREEBIE from my own store, Classroom in the Middle.  With this PowerPoint, students reveal clues one at a time to solve Saint Patrick’s Day Riddles.

For a Saint Patrick’s Day treat, these little shamrocks, from a blog post at Qbees Quest, look really great.  They’re made from Hershey’s Kisses and heavy paper (green, of course).

·        The “Winter Storms” web page, from Scholastic includes informational text, a vocabulary cloze activity, and an experiment.  Students will also enjoy the “interactive weather maker” where they can manipulate temperatures and humidity to create weather changes. There are related pages about volcanoes, earthquakes, and other types of severe weather.

·        Recently, I found these directions for making sparkly snowflake window clings from puffy paint, glitter, and plastic freezer bags at the blog One Little Project at a Time.  This project looks like one that can be enjoyed by any age.

·        "Close Reading – Wild Winter” is a resource available in my store.  It includes four informational text articles, and everything needed for a full three readings of each.  The image below shows all of the activities for one of the readings.  

·        Sticker Snowmen Cards, a project from Art Projects for Kids, looks like a fun activity.  Kids make a number of snowmen using round white stickers, mailing labels, and markers, and then change the expressions on each one and even give them a sense of movement  by altering just  the facial features and the snowman’s buttons.

Do you have favorite lessons, treats, or fun activities that you like to pull out mid-winter?  If you would like to share, please leave a comment!

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Novel Study Format

Novel Study Format

After experimenting with various ideas of what to focus on with my novel studies (There are so many possibilities!), I finally decided to concentrate on a few key elements:  common core skills, using text based evidence, and higher level thinking/reading skills.  Now I have a format that I really like, and in fact I think that my novel studies were one of my best ideas this past year!

 Two of the elements that I include – using text based evidence and using higher level thinking/reading skills – can be difficult to write questions for on the quick, and I thought that good novel studies with plenty of these types of questions would be the most useful for busy teachers.  And from comments that I’ve received, it seems that other teachers think so too – always great to hear!

Here is how I combined these elements for each set of chapter questions:

Key Ideas and Details
Getting key ideas and details correct is at the top of the list in several grades’ reading/literature standards, so I wanted to be sure to include questions and activities about those elements.  With novels, that means making sure that students get the story elements correct, and straight from the text.  Characterization, setting, plot elements, themes – students need to be clear about these before they can go on to more complex, inferential questions.  And when they can back up their answers with details from the text, they know they’re getting them right.

Context Clues
Context clues are another great place to start kid looking for text based evidence.  Whether they are working on practice exercises or vocabulary from a novel, as kids learn to look for and use more types of context clues, they get more out of what they read.  Kids can go back to the text of a novel to define important story vocabulary, to choose among multiple meanings of a word, to decide why an author chose a particular word to describe a character, or to complete a cloze exercise such as a chapter summary.

Making inferences is the biggie, the complex reading skill that kids can improve on throughout their years in school.  It’s the basis for coming up with really good responses for many comprehension activities such as predicting, answering the harder chapter questions, determining character traits, stating themes, summarizing, and evaluating.  Requiring kids to provide text based evidence for their inferences gets them in the habit of using evidence for all of their inferences later on even when they may not always have to spell out the evidence.

In my novel studies, I now include all three of these sections – Key Ideas and Details, Context Clues, and Inferences – in every set of chapter questions.  These types of questions keep kids thinking and referring back to the text, and hopefully they make these novel studies a good resource for their teachers.

In addition, I also include separate activities in each of these three areas, for use after reading the novel or whenever a more comprehensive review seems appropriate.

I now also make two “side items” every time a do a new novel study.  These are two smaller resources that I list separately in my store.  One is usually an I Have . . .Who Has . . ? game.  These little whole-class activities make a nice quick review of the “facts” before testing or other final activities for the novel.

The second thing I like to make separately is a little freebie, something that just seems to go with the specific novel.  For example, for the football-themed novel CRASH, my freebie is a yearbook activity.  For the novel SCHOOLED, it’s an activity about metaphors in the novel.  You can find the freebies for each of my novel studies in the novel study section of my Teachers pay Teachers Store.

CRASH novel study

SCHOOLED novel study

So what’s next?  Next year I’ll probably try out a few new types of resources, and for sure I want to do more novel studies.   Now I just have to decide which novel to work on next.  Any suggestions?

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Classroom in the Middle

Monday, November 21, 2016

Activities to Use Around the Holidays in ELA

Hi Everybody!  This is Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns, and I'm going to share some activities I use with my students right before the holidays!

We all know that the last couple of weeks before the Christmas holiday break can be, well.... interesting to say the least (that's why I thought this meme by Presto Plans was so fitting).  Every year I try to come up with ways that I can continue to teach my students things that are Common Core aligned, but will also keep them engaged.

Last year, I decided to use these Holiday Task Cards to review figurative language, and my kids LOVED it!

Then we read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore, because we all know that students at all ages still love to hear this.  We read this as a class to begin with, and then students worked with a partner to analyze all of the figurative language and sound elements that they could find.  Once we were finished, they asked if they could find more Christmas-themed figurative language on their own, which I thought was great!

What activities do you use right before the holiday break?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.