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Monday, February 29, 2016

Five Tips for Promoting Good Manners in Middle School

What was the reaction you received the last time you told someone that you taught middle school?
Most people will look at you with a mixture of awe and horror…then shake their heads and say, “I could never do that.”

There is no doubt about it.  Middle school is a tough place.  Middle schoolers are known for their acerbic tongues, rolling eyes, and zero tolerance for anything different.  So is it impossible to teach them manners?

Knowing that a middle school teacher will never shy away from a challenge…here are five tips for infusing manners into your middle school environment.


We call it Cotillion…perhaps you call it something else at your school – but it’s a series of dance classes that teach basic dance steps.  The lovely thing about Cotillion is that it also teaches niceties such as how to ask someone to dance, how to walk someone to her car, and how to accept a dance.

You can also have a formal etiquette class.  Middle school students, although they may act tough, can certainly see why it’s important to know how to introduce people and use proper table manners.

Role Playing

Never underestimate the impact of role playing.  Middle school students love it!

As a warm up activity to monthly book talks, we practiced how a respectful audience looks.  What do YOU want to see when you look out at your classmates?  What do you NOT want to see?  Students practiced both behaviors (with much laughing and hamming it up).  This made it easier to establish what I expected from the class when they were listening to their peers.


I love RonClark.  (You have read his books, haven’t you?)  He establishes “essentials” in his classroom.  While you don’t need to adopt all of his essentials, you can adopt one.  By creating an essential manner, your students will know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.

One of my fellow teachers would say, “Respect the speaker.”  That was all it took to settle her class and remind them that someone was addressing the class.  Of course, she had spent time discussing and practicing what that looked like, but having a key phrase can call back prior lessons on manners.


As our students are more and more involved in online communities and communication, we have to address this. 

A way to foray into the world of “netiquette” is to host a class blog.  Student writing is open to a global audience.  Students can see the advantages of proper online behavior (as well as spelling and grammar).

Set the Tone for Your Class

Be sure you are modeling your own manners...

  • What is your school or classroom policy on cell phones?  Do you follow it as well?
  • Do you want your students to look you in the eye when they talk to you?  Do you focus on them when they have a question or want to tell you something?
  • Do you greet your students at the door each morning and expect a response in return.  Do you greet your incoming students at the door and stand by the door as they leave?
  • Do you show respect to your fellow teachers and not refer to them by their first name in front of students?

Choose some important manners that you can model for your students.  They will learn more from your example than any list or rule book.

And...don't be afraid of insisting on "please" and "thank you."  

Everyone can practice good manners...even those who excel at eye rolling!

Happiness always,

Friday, February 26, 2016

Shout Out Wall!

Hi everyone!  Julia here from History from the Middle!  Are you looking for a quick and easy way to add a little more "positive energy" into your classroom?  Try adding a Shout Out Wall!  Very quick and easy way to get your students sharing positive messages with and about each other in your class!

I've seen many variations of positive message walls in classrooms at my school.  I wanted to get my kiddos doing this too because I think when they cheerlead each other, it further adds to the positive classroom climate you are trying to create and perpetuate in your own class!

To set it up, I got a basket of Post-Its, a table and set it right by the door for easy access.  I then did a basic overview of what the Shout-Out Wall was to each class by emphasizing that it was an opportunity for them to celebrate their classmates!  I honestly didn't need to say much more because they were SO excited to get started!

Students can just grab a Post-It on their way out  or if they have some free time during class!

The next challenge was finding a place to have students post their Shout Outs. Unfortunately, my walls are pure concrete, and it's close to impossible to put up anything without a super strong staple gun!  So, I just "re-purposed" my Histagram wall that I have right by the front door of my class!  It works perfect!

It was the only place where the Post-Its would stick!

If you're looking to share a little positivity in your class, start with a Shout Out Wall!  EASY to set up, and SUPER fun for the kiddos to get involved!

How d you create positive environment in your class?


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Promoting a Culture of Kindness

There is something inspirational and fulfilling about engaging in a selfless act for the benefit of others. Innate kindness it a trait we all possess and desire to foster in others. As a long time middle school teacher, I have often found that simple kindness is the trait that my students struggle with the most. Kindness seems to be overshadowed by selfishness and self-consciousness. Middle school students are overwhelming concerned with fitting in, yet they desperately want to stand out from the crowd. They spend so much time wrapped up in their own heads, that they often neglect to acknowledge simple signs of appreciation, or they adamantly don't want to be the first one to be kind because it would make them conspicuous in a way that is not often glamorized on Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram.

One of the easiest ways to promote selfless acts of kindness in middle school students is to simply REMIND and ASSIGN them opportunities to be kind. As the old saying goes, "INSPECT what you EXPECT." If we expect and desire our students to be kind, we have to take the time to create opportunities for them to engage in acts of kindness. We must also check back with students and have them reflect upon and share their experiences with being kind.

Introducing assignments such as Random Acts of Kindness or Pay It Forward cards is a wonderful way to promote kindness in your classroom, on your campus, and in your community. Every year I show my students the video clip from Pay It Forward where Mr. Simonet (the Social Studies teacher) challenges his students to change the world and Trevor explains to the class his idea of repaying each act of kindness he receives with three new acts of kindness. The policy of paying kindness forward results in the world becoming an ever widening circle of acknowledgment, appreciation, and acceptance. Here is the you tube clip:

After showing the video, I have my students get into small groups and reflect upon the message behind the video clip and the power of Pay It Forward. Next, students brainstorm at least three kind acts they could do for someone else. After brainstorming, I have students share out portions of their lists. The sharing of lists is powerful because it allows students the opportunity to pull on their own experiences with being kind (or having others be kind to them), and develop a substantial number of ways to be kind. Lastly, I challenge/assign my students to create their own circle of kindness by doing three random acts of kindness for others. I pass out this handout (which I print on card stock and have the students cut out and glue together).

The students have one week within which to pass out the three cards. At the end of the week, I have students write a one-page reflection explaining each kind act they engaged in, who the act was for, the recipient's response, and how completing the act made them feel. I have students get into small groups of four to five and share out their kind acts from the week. Each groups then picks what they feel were their three favorite acts of kindness, or their three favorite responses to the acts of kindness, to share with the class. The sweetness and sincerity with which students share their acts and the responses always serves to remind me just why I LOVE teaching middle school students so much.

So, challenge your students to take a week and promote a policy of "Pay It Forward." I promise the effects of this one week will be long-lasting and far reaching.

Happy teaching!


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Using Novels to Teach Tolerance

February, ah the month of love. The month reserved for gushy cards, caring attitudes with increased empathy and affection. Yeah, right!! So obviously this is not a true representation of February in a middle school! By the time February rolls around, we are all suffering from cabin fever, the winter dull, and preparing, even more than usual, for state testing. Stress is high and tolerance is low. Luckily, there is a great way for us to deal with this in the ELA classroom. Some fantastic authors have written some pretty fantastic novels that will not only encourage empathy and tolerance of others, but will also leave a mark in your students’ hearts. The characters, themes, and plots of these novels will help your students grow as readers and grow as individuals. Let’s face it, we’re not just teaching academic skills. As middle school teachers it is our responsibility to teach our students skills for life.

The novels above are used in my classroom as part of an independent novel study. My students choose from 4-6 different novels and have a “homebase” group that they work with throughout the novel. Students are responsible for reading the book independently (mostly in class), but discuss certain parts with their groups. If you do not want to do an independent novel study or literature circle with the following books, I STRONGLY encourage you to choose one to use as a read aloud. You will not regret reading these books!

The four novels I always include in my tolerance novel study:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  If you want to fall in love with a character, this is the book for you! The main character, Auggie, was born with a facial deformity causing him to be homeschooled through fourth grade. In fifth grade he decides he wants to go to public school. The book continues with trials and tribulations of a student who stands out from the crowd. Each chapter of the book is from a different character’s perspective, so you really get to feel all points of view. You will feel mad, happy, sad, and fulfilled wen reading this book. (Warning: the family pet dies. I don’t deal well with animals dying in books, hence the warning!)

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
            Ok, so if you want to fall in love with ANOTHER character, this is the book for you! In this novel, you will meet an extraordinary girl named Melody. Melody has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak. Though she is an extremely bright student, people think she’s intellectually impaired because she is unable to verbally express herself. Eventually, Melody finds a way to ‘speak’ and people get to see more of who Melody truly is. This book will send you on an emotional rollercoaster and you’ll love every second of it!

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
            Ok, so if you want to fall in love with a couple more characters, this is the book for you! (Can you tell I seriously love these books and find them of great value?! I promise, my next synopsis will not start off with the same first line!) In this novel the reader meets two boys, Max and Kevin. Max is a large kid with a learning disability and Kevin is a genius with a physical disability. Once lonely boys with no friends to be had, they both find friendship in the most unusual circumstance. They forge together to make Freak the Mighty. Freak refers to Kevin and Mighty refers to Max. Both boys come from fatherless homes and bond when Kevin is asked to tutor Max. You will enjoy reading about how these two ‘rescue’ each other, but be prepared to have some Kleenex! You can also address the CC standards requiring students to compare literature across various mediums because this novel was made into a movie. It is fun to compare and contrast the novel and the movie!

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
            This novel is pretty cool because it takes place at Alcatraz. The main character, Moose is charged with a huge responsibility of taking care of his sister, Natalie. Natalie has autism and her family tries to get her into a special school to help her. After going to the special school, Natalie is sent home because of her inability to adjust to the school. This leaves Moose in charge. Although he knows it’s the number one rule to not speak to, or of, the prisoners, Moose turns to the one and only Al Capone to help his situation out. Can Mr. Capone help? Read to find out more! This is a great series.

More Suggestions For Tolerance Novels:

 -When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (I believe this is a movie as well.)
 -The Schwa was Here
 - Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie
 - Fault In Our Stars
 -  Peeling the Onion
 - Thirteen Reasons Why
 - Inside Out & Back Again
 - Eleanor and Park
 - The Absolute True Story of a Part-time Indian (I heard this book is controversial. I haven’t read it yet, but can’t wait!)
 - Island of Blue Dolphins
 - Counting By 7s (I actually haven’t read this yet! I can’t keep it on my shelf long enough to borrow my own book!)

Enjoy these books with your students. Prepare yourself for some amazingly deep conversations with your students. They will not even realize they are building reading skills! 

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How to Start A Fitness Club

When I was a high school English teacher, I started and monitored the first ever Student Fitness Club at my school. It was awesome, and something you can do, too (if your school doesn't already have one)!

Step One: Find interested students.
Get as much hype and excitement around the new club as possible. Make posters, a sign-up sheet, make announcements in classes, and send home a flyer in the monthly/weekly parent folders. Leave the sign-up sheet outside your classroom. You can even use the template below that I created for you!

Step Two: Write a proposal to your administration about the new club. 
Keep it short, simple and to the point! What to include in your proposal:
- Mission Statement
- Proposed Meeting Schedule
- Club Positions for Students

Step Three: Assign or elect positions for your club. 
You'll definitely need students to cover the following positions:
- President
- Vice President
- Secretary
- Treasurer
- Public Relations

Step Four: Have students run the club, so you are able to act as a monitor and not a director. 
Instead of having to come up with the exercises each week for the club myself, I had my students do it. The President would assign students to be in charge of the exercises for a particular day that we would meet. On the day of, that student would be in charge of directing the exercises for the group! (Of course, I did have to direct the first two classes, so students could get an idea of what the routine should resemble.)

Step Five: Get Teachers Involved!
Every Tuesday and Thursday after school, the Fitness Club and I would host a Teacher Walk / Run for the teachers in our school. We would all meet 20 minutes after the bell rang, dressed and ready to go. The students would lead stretches and then we would all run or walk 3 miles before heading home! It was a great way to promote fitness in our school!

Staying fit and active is SO important - especially as teachers! Help bring exercise to your school by starting a Fitness Club! Let us know how it goes!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Club Spotlight: Newspaper

This post could also be titled "My Love Affair with Google Apps."

I'm not entirely sure where my head was at when I decided to pursue a speech/communications teaching minor (it definitely wasn't thinking about marketability), but the unlikely course of study has surprisingly served as a handy companion to my language arts major on several occasions. Despite my middle school not having any speech-related electives, the opportunity to semi-utilize my endorsement arose last year when a 6th grade student inquired about starting a newspaper club. Since I was a new language arts teacher and journalism was on the list of subject areas my speech endorsement covered, I figured it made sense for me to volunteer.

Now I co-advise the club with one of my ELA teaching partners (the only other person to volunteer, I'm assuming), and we have a small but dedicated staff of about 6 kids. We meet once a week at lunch, and every couple months we publish an electronic "newspaper" to our school's website that covers anything from school news to world events and media reviews.  As a new club there has definitely been a bit of a learning curve, but there's been one simple tool that has made all of our lives infinitely easier: Google's Apps for Education.

 In Google Classroom, I created a "class" specifically for our club. That's where we post the article sign-ups for each issue. In Google Drive (which students can access in or out of Classroom), we set up a folder that contains a Google Slides "template" for each issue. I pre-loaded our border  image on each slide, so students can type their articles directly onto the template and then we can arrange and format everything as needed. Last year we used Microsoft Publisher, and it was a nightmare trying to input all the articles and format everything in time for our publishing deadline! Using Google Slides allows multiple students to work on the same document at once, and it's much easier to see everyone's progress on each page. At the end, we simply save it as a PDF and publish it to our school's webpage.

So moral of the story: if you're not using Google Drive or Forms or Sheets or Slides or Classroom (the list could go on and on), and you want to feel like a highly organized paperless ninja who effortlessly collaborates like a boss, I highly recommend you check it out!

Service Learning in Middle School

As middle school students seek to identify their place in the world, and indeed to form a sense of identity, providing them with opportunities to look outward and make connections is extremely important. ( It's not ALL about you okay?)

One very good way to do that is through service learning projects. Now, depending on your past experience with them, they can range the gamut between an amazing educational experience and well, mortal dread. I've been here and there on that spectrum, but happily (mostly) find that incorporating service learning throughout the curriculum is an extremely positive experience.

What's great about teaching middle school, is that the kiddos have the ability to be more hands on as well as share their opinions.  Whenever we start a service learning cycle in my classroom we follow the following basic structure.

1) Identify a need. I always tell the students to look around them, to identify a problem that they see in our community and in our world.

2) Persuade. Once a need has been identified, the students write/create a persuasive piece to convince us all that their cause is a worthy one. (Whoohoo! Language Arts tie in!)

3) Voting  As opposed to the younger grades, it's important that middle school students have a choice in what they are working for.

4) Research  After the class has identified what issue they want to tackle, the next step is research. We take the time to look at the history and development in the need and to chart data and statistics ( social studies and math)

5) Call to action. At this point in our cycle, we are educating the community about our identified need. In the past my classes have written, given assemblies, performed skits, produced videos, made posters, or given mini lessons in each classroom.

6) Action! The hands on part of service learning. Depending on your project, this could mean meeting at an offsite location, facilitating collections of some kind, assembling an object or two. Earlier this year, there was a completely devastating fire in a community about 100 miles from us.  While help for the humans came right away, a few of the students noticed that the animals weren't so lucky. We were able to skip a couple of steps in the cycle and go right to the "Call to Action". My class was able to collect 4 truckloads of pet and animal supplies to help the displaced or abandoned. It was a fantastic experience to finish loading the last carload ( luckily I had parents willing to caravan and bring all the donations up)

6th Graders sending off the last carload of animal/pet supplies.
7) Reflection/Check-In  If we want students to have total "buy-in", this is a step that we can't forget to include.  We always take the time to write about and discuss our service learning projects. We also make sure to check in after a period of time with the agency that received our help. Any thank you letters or certificates always get hung up on our Accomplishment Wall so that the students can see that they had a positive impact on the world.

How do you incorporate service learning with your students?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What is Builders Club?

What do you think of when I say Builders Club?
Future Architects?

Builders Club is actually a service club sponsored by Kiwanis!  Our three tenets are leadership, friendship and service.

At my school, we have an assisted living facility that is within a 5-minute walk from our school.  We visit almost monthly to play BINGO with our "Grandfriends".  It is here that students get to put our tenets into action!

We take turns calling the BINGO numbers.  You have to be precise or the Grandfriends get upset - they take their BINGO very seriously!

When we are not calling BINGO numbers, we are playing alongside our Grandfriends and lending a helping hand as needed.  We also bring some refreshments according to the season.

When a Grandfriend wins a BINGO, we provide prizes.  This trip was our "Valentine BINGO" game and so we gave out small heart-shaped boxes of candy.  Everyone won at least one box this time so everyone left at the end of our time happy.  But it's more than the prizes.  I actually had a lady come up to me and hug me because she so enjoyed being with the kids.  That's what makes it all worth it.

On campus, we work to raise money to continue being able to provide our Grandfriends with refreshments and prizes - not to mention pay our annual Kiwanis dues.  We also have officers and I have recently decided that at our bi-monthly meetings, we will begin to complete one small act of service then as well like making cards for veterans or making blankets for the Linus project.

It's a great club for the students and the Kiwanis connection has been great for me too!  As the sponsor, I am an automatic Kiwanis member.  They have monthly meetings at a local restaurant and it helps me stay in touch with our community on a deeper level. 

What service clubs do you have at your school?  What energizes that club?  I'd love to hear all about it in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Valentine's Activities

Hi!  This is Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns, and I'm going to share some activities my students LOVE to do around Valentine's Day.  In middle school, we no longer exchange the little Frozen or Ninja Turtle Valentine's cards; however, we still find ways to have fun celebrating this holiday!  Instead of making Valentine's cards for each other, my students make cards for characters in books we're reading (or have read) with these Character Valentine Cards.  

Understanding characterization and the various ways characters change throughout a story is a huge focus on the Common Core. This activity has become a favorite among my middle school students and is a fantastic way to help them recognize the different perspectives that each character has.

For this assignment, students create a Valentine card. They are required to choose a character from the text (story, novel, textbook, etc.), and then make a Valentine card from that character to another character in the book. This could be done w/ any character you would like them to use, or you could allow them to choose their own character. The card must demonstrate their understanding of the character by discussing a specific event that occurred between the two characters. Then the character who received the Valentine card must respond by creating a Valentine card for him/her. The reply must include a response to the event that was addressed in the card they received and further discuss the situation by adding additional details in order to elaborate.  One student could create both Valentine cards, or they could work w/ a partner who could create a card that responds to the one they received.

Since it’s a Valentine card, each card should also include a statement of why they care about that particular character. If they are enemies in the story, the card should be an attempt to make amends with the individual.

In attempting to implement informational text as much as possible, what better way to do this than with the History of Valentine's Day & Ancient Courtships.  We read 2 informational texts: one on the History of Valentine's Day and another on Ancient Courtships.  My students get a huge kick out of how people "dated" hundreds of years ago.  It gives them an idea of how much things have changed over the years.  They also enjoy the writing extension activities- writing a poem to serenade someone they care about and creating character "business" cards similar to what they did during Ancient Times.

We would love to hear what activities you do w/ your students around Valentine's Day.  Share this in the comments below! 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Constructive Feedback With Kindness

Hello! Jen here from Teaching Teens in the 21st, and with the day of LOVE fast approaching, I thought I would share today with some tips on giving constructive feedback in a positive way.

We've all been there. We're editing a paper, and it's so unreadable due to grammar, sentence structure, or organizational errors that you can't even focus on the paper. Or we've been at an after school event, and the drills aren't running well, or the dance routine is out of sync, or the actors are forgetting their lines all over the place, and set pieces are toppling over. 

Most of us grew up with the motto, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". So what do you say, when there really is nothing positive? And in our slightly sensitive society, we are sometimes afraid to give negative feedback, for fear that it will upset a student, or cause them to give up and shut down. However, we can't get better at things without recognizing what we need to work on first. 

Enter: Constructive Feedback with kindness. I don't really believe in the sandwiching one negative with a positive because I think that sometimes kids know you're doing it, and it can seem disingenuous. But then again, I've always been the type of person who won't say something for the sake of saying it. If I give you a compliment, I genuinely mean it. 

Here's what I do:

1. Address the problem.
2. Explain what you'd like to see
3. Offer suggestions on how to get there

Example: You have a paper that is unreadable because of an improper use of commas.
1. Your paper was difficult to follow because of the large amount of commas in your paper.
2. I want to be able to get involved in your story and read your awesome ideas!
3. Let's take a closer look at your comma usage, and see if we can figure out what's happening.

Students can take this approach if they are doing Writer's Workshop as well. It's sometimes harder for students to speak critically to other students, especially if they're friends. On the flip side, sometimes it's hard for certain students to share criticism in a tactful way, so this should help both sides!

Example: One or two students are really struggling to learn the choreography in a dance.
1. Student A, you are doing your grapevine to the left, when it should be to the right.
2. You need to go to the right with everyone else so that you all look uniform.
3. Let's do it together and practice it, to get the muscle memory down. (Then I would group all students in small groups to practice and continue doing constructive criticism).

Sometimes it can get frustrating when you feel like you are always giving the same feedback to the same students, but taking this approach might just take the edge off! 

I hope you found this tip useful!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Super Bowl Sunday Giveaway Loop

It's Super Bowl Sunday! While you spend time snacking, laughing (or crying) at the commercials, and spending time with family or friends, why not hop through our Teachers Pay Teachers Giveaway Loop? We're giving away a $110 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card after all!


How it Works:
- Visit each of our Teachers Pay Teachers stores - you'll see an image similar to the one above.
- See that pink "E" on the football on the right-hand side? Collect each of the letters found on each of our TpT store pages. There are 11 letters total. Write them all down!
- (To visit the next store, simply click on the image itself)
- Unscramble the letters (HINT: It has something to do with TpT!)
- 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

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Valentine Random Acts of Kindness and a FREEBIE!

Hello everyone! Mylie here from Edison Education to talk to you about something new I am starting in my classroom this year.

I don't know about your students, but this is one of the toughest times of year behavior-wise for mine. The honeymoon phase is over and it is a looooooong time until spring break with no snow days in sight (for Texas). They. Are. DONE.

Because of how snippy my students have been towards each other lately, I decided to implement a Valentine Random Acts of Kindness Challenge within my classroom.

 There is a card for each day of February leading up to Valentine's Day. On the back of each one, there is a challenge for the students to do each day. Each daily challenge revolves around and act of kindness they must do at school.  As they complete a task, they mark it off of their BINGO-like card (not pictured). Don't want to make it a challenge?? It's ok! I've got you covered with a different title.

My students were super pumped when I told them about this challenge. More were willing to participate than I originally thought would. I am hoping the forced kindness will rub off and they will turn back into the sweet kiddos that I know are in there somewhere!

Want to make your own? I have included some blank cards so that you can alter the assignment to fit the needs of your own classroom.

Be sure to head on over to my store and download this FREEBIE to do with your own students! I truly hope that they are as excited about the challenge as my own students were. We could all use any help possible to get the grumpiness to go away!

What are some things you do in your own classroom to help spark student kindness?