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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Nine Back-to-School Ideas for Middle School Teachers

Heading back to school after the summer is exciting!  There are so many fresh ideas to try and ways to recharge your classroom and teaching.

The Middle School Mob has pulled together nine of our favorite back-to-school hacks, tips, and tricks.  We hope you'll find a few here that will get your year off to a great start!

Getting organized 

Michele of Michele Luck's Social Studies says that this is a must for new teachers. This bundle includes everything to get the year started and to keep it moving in the right direction! It walks you through classroom organization and helps you be prepared for dealing with classroom management, teacher evaluations, lesson planning, and more!

Do you need a seating chart?

Classroom organization is one of the first things that come to mind at back to school time. Desk or seating chart arrangement, along with ideas and planning for behavior management are priorities. A good seating chart template can be the saving grace for the middle or high school classroom.

Creative mini books

Lisa from Mrs. Spangler in the Middle says, "As a middle school teacher, I have to make 130 copies any time I need all of my students to have something. So if my syllabus is a couple of pages, that really adds up and I only get 2 cases of paper per year!
"This mini-book is just ONE sheet of paper for each student! And it gives the students something to do with the syllabus instead of just pretend to read it. ;) Not to mention it's creative and gives off a warm, fuzzy feel. :) "It's also completely editable so you can pre-print all the information from your syllabus on it or have students record the important information on it. Finally, it comes with a video to show you and your students how to assemble it."

You can find her paper-saving mini book here.

Poetry anyone?

Sharon from Classroom in the Middle says, "Poems make great short readings for the first days of school, and poems about school are a classic choice for beginning of the year activities in language arts classes. Here is a list of ten good titles, as well as a few links where you can find even more. The poems range from funny to serious. Some are about school and others are about perennial middle school topics."

Create an Escape!

Looking for a novel way to keep students thinking? Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns describes how she uses a digital escape room to engage her students at the start of the school year.

Are you going digital?

If so, Shana from Hello, Teacher Lady has some great tips for you.

Shana says, "Google Classroom has been the organizational hub of my classroom for the past few years, and I'm on a mission to share the love with as many teachers as possible. Since we're in the midst of back to school season, there's no better time to start saving time, paper, and sanity. If you've been wondering about the benefits of using Google Classroom, I've rounded up the top 12 reasons why Google Classroom should be your new BFF."

Flipping for this flipbook

Stephanie from The Marvelous Middle has a great idea for helping students keep track of their syllabus.

"The school year starts off smoothly with detailed classroom policies and procedures. A classroom syllabus explains how my classroom runs and the curriculum covered during the school year," Stephanie says.

"But, my students always seemed to lose this syllabus a few weeks into the school year. This flipbook syllabus solved this problem because it is sized to be glued right inside an interactive notebook. My students no longer lose this important information. It is always at their fingertips."

Building routines with task cards

Susie from Anchored in Reading shares this idea for how to use task cards to create routines in the classroom:

"This back to school resource proves valuable in many ways. Used as a bell ringer, these task cards help you build a routine while starting each class with students on-task and working. In addition, some of the concepts are review which may be beneficial for our students getting back into the swing of things! You could also use these task cards as exit slips or informal assessment."

Creating a yearlong plan

Marypat from Just Add Students shares this blog post with ideas of how to set up, create and use a yearlong plan for your ELA standards.

She says, "A yearlong plan will help you teach (all the) writing; it will save you time and energy — and help you remain accountable for what you’re expected to teach this year. When Sunday night rolls around and you're planning your week, a ylp is a lifesaver!  The lessons plans practically write themselves!  An additional bonus?  Great for Meet the Teacher night as well!"   You can find her free editable yearlong plans here.

So, what do you think?  What new ideas are you implementing this year?  Let us know in the comments below!

Here's to a fresh, new school year!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Making YOUR Classroom THEIR Classroom

Making Your Classroom Their Classroom

Setting up a classroom before the kids arrive is fun – getting ready for the promise of a new year. But whether you go for the all-out look of a new theme with lots of new decorations brought from home, or whether you go for a the more basic, functional look, what really makes a classroom come alive is when you personalize it with little touches representing each individual kid.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just small elements spaced around the room that refer specifically to this year’s kids can make all the difference in providing a room where kids feel at home and take ownership of the space. 

Here are a few favorites that I’ve seen many teachers use:

Banners or Pennants
I like the long skinny triangular ones that look like old college pennants. The kids can each choose a pennant (construction paper) in their favorite color, add a “logo” that they design for themselves, and add their name (in their choice of fancy lettering). If they have trouble coming up with a logo, show the class some examples such as logos from pro sports and nearby school teams.

Team Names and Logos
If you’re starting the year with groups, for their first assignment have each group come up with a team name and then design a team logo or choose a mascot. The team names and logos can be used on charts about group assignments and group progress throughout the year.

Student Work Display
Classrooms have included a bulletin board displaying good student work forever, and for good reason. Not only does it recognize students as they do well on specific areas, but it also provides good examples for the other students in the class.

Brag Tag Display
Brag tags work best when classmates see them. So a wall display where each kid can hang their collection of tags is not only a handy organizational tool, but also a positive motivator.

Chores Chart
We mostly think of a chores chart as purely functional, but some chores are especially popular, and seeing their name posted next to a coveted position can be rewarding for many kids.

Ongoing Contest
If you’re using any kind of reward system, such as awarding points or tickets that students save to spend on a prize or to enter in a drawing, post it on the wall too! Add some positive language and imagery to make the contest appealing.

If you have time to take a snapshot of each kid at the beginning of the year, kids will love looking at the pictures of their friends, and themselves. And the display of photos will be a nice touch for parents when they come in for visits too!

As the year progresses, photos of individual kids and groups at work on class projects are great to post too.

Door Decoration
Some schools do lots of door decorating and others don’t. But if door decorations are a thing at your school, who not make one featuring the kids who study behind that door! Team names, logos, photos – all can work here too. Or maybe have your kids come up with a class slogan for everyone to see.

For more about personalizing a classroom space, check out this blog post with more ideas especially for the language arts and reading teachers:

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Blog post by Sharon from the Classroom in the Middle Blog

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fun and Engaging End of Year Test Prep

I'm Lyndsey from Lit with Lyns, and I'm excited to share some fun activities that you can use for end of year test prep.  I know you have all been looking forward to testing just as much as I have (yeah, right!). Each year, right before test time, I start obsessing over what I can do to keep my students engaged, while also reviewing all of the objectives necessary to prepare for testing.  I have found 3 things that have proven to do this for my students:  digital escape rooms, task cards, and technology.

Escape Rooms have been the latest buzz in education.  I kept hearing teachers talk about them on social media, and then I had students come to school talking about how much fun they had going to them over the weekend. Since I try to keep my classroom paperless, I decided to combine the two and create a Digital Escape Room for ELA Test Prep!  Kids dread nothing more than end of year why not make reviewing for these dreaded assessments something the kids will remember??!?  And how perfect that they can remember skills we need them to know for the test!!!  Check this out here!

Another resource I use are these Common Core Task Cards to teach students vocabulary they may come across, in order to enhance their understanding of terms.  I also use videos when teaching the vocab words, as this is a great way to introduce them, while also keeping the students engaged.  You can find a freebie sample of these here!

I also feel that it's important for students to be able to determine the correct type of text structure, which can often be challenging to do.  Because of this, I try to begin teaching students this towards the beginning of the year.  I see such an improvement in reading comprehension and students' ability to learn more specific content information once they grasp this material.

Point of view is another important component that help students comprehend what they're reading more easily. Understanding the point of view from which the story is being told allows them to have a better idea of the characters in the story, and also enables students to think more in depth about how the characters change throughout the story.  Students who have a strong understanding of the literary vocabulary, text structure, and point of view typically do better at comprehending the material they read.  This is why I created this bundle- E/LA End of Year Test Prep!  This product includes:  20 Point of View Task Cards, 13 Text Structure Task Cards, and 36 Common Core Vocab Task Cards. For a FREEBIE sample of this, please click here!
Digital, Paperless Review
This year, I've decided that the majority of our review will take place digitally, since we're lucky enough to have a class set of laptops.  At my school, we use Google Classroom, but there are many programs that can be used if you don't have this (Edmodo, Canvas, Schoology, etc.).  In order to do this, I created a digital version of my ELA Test Prep Task Cards- Google Drive Edition.

I would love to hear how you review for end of year testing!  Share your ideas in the comments below.

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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