Vocabulary Games for Middle School

In order for middle school students to truly add new words to their personal vocabularies, they must work with the words multiple times over a length of time! While we could ask students to write sentences with the vocabulary words over and over again, that’s not nearly as fun as utilizing vocabulary learning games!

In my vocabulary resources, while I have included a review worksheet activity for each weekly vocabulary quiz, I LOVE  to play review games with my students!  It is such a fun way to get students moving AND working with the week’s vocabulary words at the same time!

Here are a few of my all-time favorite crowd-pleasing Vocabulary Review Games:

  • Garbage Can Basketball Vocabulary Game – Students are divided up into teams. Whem it is a team’s turn, I ask a team member to spell a word or provide its definition. If they answer correctly, the team member gets a chance to shoot a mini basketball into the (clean) garbage can or a Little Tykes basketball hoop if you have one. Another point can be earned from stating the definition.

    I usually have three masking tape lines on the floor to mark a 1-point shot, 2-point shot, and 3-point shot. The higher the risk, the higher the reward in this game!

    Ground Rules: Before a team can take a turn, everyone must be quiet. Points may be taken away for excessive talking or excessive celebrations! (Just call me the NFL.)

    You will have to use all your self-restraint to not unleash your inner Michael Jordan on your students!

    Some groups of students may need a little incentive to keep them engaged while their classmates are taking their turns. In this case, I have each student write down each word and definition as we go. In order for their team to win, each team member has to have an accountability sheet!
  • “The Board Game” – This vocabulary game is SO fun, but can get a little rowdy. I suggest setting clear behavioral expectations and enforcing them. Students are divided up into teams. One team member from each team comes to the whiteboard and finds a marker. When the entire class is silent, the teacher reads a vocabulary word’s definition. The students then race to write the word correctly on the board (in my class, they have to spell it correctly as well).

    When they think they have it correct, they must squat down so the teacher can see their answer. [Their answer is not considered submitted until they crouch down!] First person to spell it correctly and crouch down wins a point. If it’s close, I ask a student from a neutral team to help decide.
  • The Fly Swatter Vocabulary Game – For this game, you will need a projector and two fly swatters. Students are divided into two teams. The list of vocabulary words or definitions is projected on the board/screen. The teacher reads a word or definition and, using their fly swatter, students must point to the corresponding definition or word.

    The first one to point to the correct word or definition with their fly swatter wins!

    Similar to the other vocabulary games, students must be quiet before each turn and an accountability sheet is a great way to keep students engaged when they aren’t the active player.
  • Partner Matching Game – Ask students to write each vocabulary word on a 3×5 card (or half a card) and each definition on a card. Students play memory/concentration in pairs

    This is a great vocabulary activity when you want students to be active, but don’t feel like leading a whole-class vocabulary activity.

Vocabulary Games are a great way to make learning new words fun for your middle school students!

Daily Vocabulary Activities

Each week, I use these games to reinforce our weekly vocabulary words!

Vocabulary Bell Ringers for Middle School ELA

Click HERE to see my vocabulary lessons in action!

(Vocabulary Activities also come in 7th Grade editions & 8th Grade editions.)

Games are such a great way to have fun and build relationships with students which only increases student learning!

What games do you like to play? Let me know!

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

5 Writing Prompts for St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day can either be a major distraction for students and teachers OR it can be a catalyst for learning! We know students will be thinking about the holiday. Rather than fight against it, put that energy to good use! These fun creative writing prompts will turn St. Patrick’s Day into an exciting learning adventure for your students!

(Not to mention, these prompts require very little effort on your part. Between the writing and sharing with the class, your students will be busy engaged for the entire class period!)

5 Creative Writing Prompts for St. Patrick’s Day

Ask students to respond to one of these writing prompts. As these are narrative writing prompts, I usually ask my students to include various elements of a good short story in their writing: well-developed characters, setting, plot, etc.

1. The Trip of a Lifetime!


You have won an all-expense-paid vacation to Ireland! You may bring three people with you for free. Who are you taking on this once-in-a-lifetime trip? What will you do while you’re in Ireland? What would this incredible opportunity look like for you? Write about your imaginary adventures!

2. Alone in a Castle at Night


A long-lost relative has passed away and has bequeathed to you an ancient Irish castle. After traveling to Ireland to inspect your inheritance, you spend the night alone in the large castle. Despite your usual level-headedness, you find yourself feeling spooked. Describe your frightening night alone in the dark, cold castle! Use lots of sensory details and build suspense for your readers!

The Misunderstood “Man”


The notorious villain, Dracula, was based upon an Irish folktale and immortalized by Irish author Bram Stoker. Using your imagination, write a story where Dracula returns to Ireland, not as a villain, but as a misunderstood creature. What is his experience? How does he try to convince the Irish inhabitants that he is harmless? How do people respond?

4. Show Me the Money!


In the attempt to acquire his gold, you have set a trap for a Leprechaun. On the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, you discover that you have caught one! Now you only have to convince him to take you to his gold; however, you soon find that this is not as easy as it sounds. Describe your adventure with the Leprechaun! How do you convince him? How does he respond? Does he try to trick you in the process? How does the adventure turn out?

5. The Luck of the Irish


For one day, you have all the good luck in the world! Anything you attempt will be successful! There is no failure today! What would you do with your stroke of good luck? What will you accomplish? Who would you help? What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail! Describe your entire lucky day!

Whether you assign one of these writing prompts or offer your students a choice, they will be sure to have lots of St. Patrick’s Day fun using their imaginations! For more St. Patrick’s Day activities, check out this bundle!

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Easy Halloween Lesson Plan


Many of our middle school students will be familiar with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. With all the many film and television adaptations that have been produced over the years, many of them have been exposed to the story!

However, many of them have not read the actual text! Why? Well, Washington Irving seems to like his long description and silver-tongued vocabulary. In short, it’s a tough read for many middle school students.

That said, you know I’ve got your back!

Simplified Adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Now included as part of my The Legend of Sleepy Hollow resource, you will receive a simplified version of Irving’s short story. This adaptation remains true to the original story, but tones down some of the difficult early 19th century language. This more accessible version will allow students to dive deep into literary analysis!


In my classroom, I like to use this story to take a look at the characters and Irving’s use of characterization. I ask my students to examine closely the characters of Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, Katrina Van Tassel, and The Headless Horseman.

Students also work on their paragraph writing skills as they write a character sketch for each! As a bonus, I’ve also included a context clue vocabulary assignment for students to practice identifying unknown words!

This is such a fun way to incorporate a little spookiness into your classroom this fall season! I love the way holiday lesson plans seem to engage students–even the reluctant ones–in learning on a deeper level!

If you’re looking for more spooky short story fun, check out the bundle!

Until next time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Middle School Vocabulary Instruction that ACTUALLY Works!

Check out my ELA Vocabulary Warm-Ups that will change the way your middle school students learn vocabulary!

August. Is. Here.

It’s game time, people!


Raise your hand if you’re ready??!!


Truly, I hope you are feeling rejuvenated and energized and ready to tackle another school year! Your students are SO lucky to have you!

Here’s a little something that may help!

ELA Vocabulary Warm-Ups for the WIN!

The past couple of weeks I have been thinking about maximizing instruction time and effectiveness–specifically in the context of vocabulary instruction.

What I want to offer you today is a slightly unconventional method of teaching vocabulary.

Some may balk at this, but I promise you…

It. Actually. Works.

I’m sure we all are familiar with long lists of vocabulary words that students may (or may not) memorize for a week and then file away into the dark recesses of their brains for all eternity.


In all seriousness, while I really don’t want to knock anyone who uses this method (I’ve used it myself in the past), the problem that I have encountered in my own teaching experience is that students rarely remember any of the words.

I realized I was spending a lot of time on vocabulary instruction that just wasn’t effective.

A few years ago, I decided to think about vocabulary a little bit differently.

Deep-not Wide!

Instead of asking students to use their short-term memories to learn long lists of words for a week, I began asking students to learn and remember a short list of words for a month!

While at the beginning of each term, we started with just three words. We would build upon those words each week:

  • Week 1: We tested n words 1-3
  • Week 2: We tested on words 1-6
  • Week 3: We tested on words 1-9
  • Week 4: We tested on words 1-12
  • Week 5: We tested on words 4-15
  • Week 6: We tested on words 7-18
  • And so on…

At the end of the term, we would have a final vocabulary quiz that would assess students’ knowledge of all the words from that quarter.

Several weeks into this vocabulary experiment, I was thrilled to discover that it was working!


My students who struggled on the weekly quizzes the first time they encountered the words, often had them mastered by the third and fourth weeks working with those words!

Students were using the vocabulary words in our conversations, their writings, and other classwork!


Additional Skill Improvement!

In addition to *actually* learning the vocabulary words, students were also improving in other areas that were incorporated into this vocabulary method, including: using context clues, learning about grammar, spelling, usage, conventions, etc. as they completed the daily warm-up activities.

Multiple Levels of Vocabulary

I have created vocabulary lists for 6th grade, 7th grade, and 8th grade

What does all this look like? Click here to view a short YouTube video with more info!

FREE Two-Week Trial

While I love this method, I realize it may not be for everyone. And that’s okay!

I would HATE for you to invest in a product that isn’t for you! To help you make an informed decision, I’ve created some totally FREE two-week trials for you to get a feel for this resource and decide if it’s for you or not!

6th Grade FREE Two-Week Trial


7th Grade FREE Two-Week Trial


8th Grade FREE Two-Week Trial


When You’re Ready, Here are the Full 1st Quarter Versions!


(8th Grade Teachers: I love you and am wrapping up your full 1st quarter resource! The summer was busy and I’m still finishing it up! Stay tuned!)

ELA Vocabulary Warm-Ups: Introductory Offer!

I’ve been using these resources in my classroom for years, and I had every intention of having it packaged and ready for my store by now. Unfortunately, as I’ve shared, it’s been a jam-packed, non-stop summer and I’m not quite finished. I’m still putting some of it into a teacher friendly, ready-to-use format so it’s incredibly easy for you to use in your classrooms!

Just for fun (and because I love you guys), I’ve decided to post this in my store as a “Growing Bundle.”


What in the world is that, you ask? Let me ‘splain!

If you buy the 1st Quarter resources that I have posted now, they will cost you the price of that resource. BUT, as I finish packaging up the rest of the year’s warm-ups and vocabulary Slides, I will add them to this original product at NO ADDITIONAL COST TO YOU.

That’s right! If you buy now, you’ll get an entire year’s worth of vocabulary warm-ups, reviews, quizzes, conventions instruction, and more for one low price.

As I add to this resource, the price will go up to reflect the added value.

If you’re at all interested or think you might one day be interested, now is the time to buy!

Don’t miss out on this deal!

In the meantime, if you have any questions, email me and I will get back to you!

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

My 4th Grade Spelling Bee

I thought I’d help you start your week off with a little humor. This absolutely true story is one of those experiences that you wish you could watch on demand later and laugh at yourself.

When I was in 4th Grade, I was so excited because I was finally old enough to participate in my school’s spelling bee. When the teachers passed out the word lists, I studied for hours every day after school.

I could all the words in the later rounds with ease.

Did I know what words like “plumbiferous” mean?

Not a clue.

But I could sure spell them!

But I didn’t study the first 3-4 rounds. The words seemed way too easy and I was arrogant enough to think pretty confident that I could spell those words without any problems.

The day of the spelling bee finally arrived.

I sat nervously in my cold, hard metal chair.

My palms were sweaty.

My knees were weak.

I didn’t throw up any spaghetti, but I was nervous.

This was my one shot.

We were arranged alphabetically. My maiden name was “Smith” so I was placed towards the end of the row of students.

When my turn came, I gingerly made my way to the microphone.

The teacher announcing the words asked me to spell, “lion.”

A Little Context:

I was an avid reader as a child, and, at the time, I was reading a popular American classic book that had a lot of regional dialects written into the dialogue. Characters used slang more often than not, and many letters were omitted at the end of words and replaced with that lovely piece of punctuation:

the apostrophe.

Back to the Story:

I don’t know if I’ve share this with you yet, but I am a little hard of hearing.

My close friends beg me to get a hearing aid so we can eat at a noisy restaurant and carry on a conversation.

Most of the time, I can get by with my poor hearing.

But on that day in 4th grade, I could not for the life of me comprehend what the announcer was saying.

I asked her to repeat the word.

“Lion,” she said.

I still couldn’t tell her what to say and was starting to panic.

I skipped asking for the definition and instead asked her to use the word in a sentence.

With the entire school watching and the echo in that large gymnasium, I had no idea what she said.

Feeling like I was throwing a Hail Mary in a desperate football game, I asked her one last time to repeat the word.

“LION!!” she nearly shouted.

Ahh…then I understood. The anxiety left me and I felt confident for the first time.

I stepped up close to the microphone and spelled my word:

“L-Y-I-N-apostrophe,” I said proudly. I smiled at the judges waiting their approval.


Silence like I’ve never experienced before permeated the gym.

The panel of teacher stared at me with mouths half-opened.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the judge said, “I’m sorry.”

I sat down in humiliation and confusion and fought back the tears.

A Happy Ending

Twenty-six years later, I find this absolutely hysterical.

While I never again competed in a spelling bee, I have learned to laugh at my 10-year-old self.

And I can also relate to those poor teachers who tried so hard to keep a straight face when they received a very unconventional spelling.

When have you had to keep a straight face during a class? I know you have stories! Crop a comment below; I’d love to hear them!

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Unbroken – A Complete Unit Plan

I have to admit: the idea for creating an Unbroken unit plan was not my own!

As many of you know, when you first subscribe to my email list, I ask for product suggestions. I do this to help create resources that YOU need! If I do create your suggestion, you get the resource for FREE! No strings attached!

(Not on the list yet, I got you! Sign up here!)

Just before Christmas Break, I received an email from a subscriber who suggested that I create a series of lesson plans for the Young Adult version of Unbroken. I responded immediately to the email telling him that it was a brilliant idea! At that point, I had only read the original 2004 edition, so I ordered the 2014 YA edition right away.

Creating Lesson Plans for Unbroken

Over the break, I must have read Unbroken 5-6 times as I worked to design a curriculum. Louie Zamperini’s story is unbelievable and, while I loved the original version, I was absolutely captivated by the story this time around. I read it over and over again to help me create the best possible resource that I could!


(For anyone who isn’t familiar with Louie’s story, he was a rebellious youth who trained to become an Olympic runner. After competing in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, he joined the military and trained to become a bombardier during World War 2. On a rescue mission, Louie and the rest of his flight crew crashed into the ocean. [Don’t worry-I’m not giving anything away here. You find this out in the prologue!] What follows is an incredible story of resilience and perseverance in the face of excruciating difficulties!)

More Than Comprehension Questions

As I put together the Unbroken lesson plans, it was important to me that the assignments were more than basic comprehension questions. While there are some comprehension questions, with this unit we delve deeper into the story, its themes, the life lessons, etc. that make Louie’s story so inspiring. It was also important to me to make the events that happened over 75 years ago feel relevant to the adolescents who would be studying it today!


I included supplemental readings on mental health and PTSD that are relevant to Louie’s experiences. To create these, I worked closely with my good friend, Rudi, who is working as a middle school social worker. Additionally, I included reflective assignments to help student relate to and connect to the text.


One of My New Favorites

To be honest, I am incredibly proud of this Unbroken unit! I feel like it will be both engaging and meaningful to teenagers today. Additionally, it helps students learn and practice a wide variety of important ELA skills! (see image below)


Is Unbroken Your Next Class Read?

If you’re looking for a great narrative nonfiction text to read with your class, I highly recommend Louie’s story and this Unbroken Unit Plan! It’s the kind of nonfiction narrative that your students won’t want to put down!

[Word of Caution: this story does contain some content that may not be appropriate for younger students (war violence, prison camp experiences, etc.). Be sure to read it first and communicate with administrators and parents, just to be safe!]

What other narrative nonfiction stories would you like to see resources for? Let me know in the comments!

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Informational Text Features for Middle School

Reading informational texts and other types of nonfiction becomes increasingly more important as our students progress through middle school. In high school and especially in college, students are expected to read large amounts of complex text and retain the information. The shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” generally begins in middle school.

As such, I try to include informational texts as often as possible in my class–even when we are studying fiction! For example, when we are studying The Witch of Blackbird Pond, we read a lot of texts that provide historical context for the novel. When we read Freak the Mighty, we read about learning disabilities. The more students are exposed to and work with informational texts, the less foreign it will feel to them. They will gain confidence in their ability to read these (seemingly) more difficult texts.

Strategies for Reading Informational Texts

Of course we don’t just *read* the informational text. All along the way, I am teaching my student strategies for navigating these texts! For example, on of my favorite strategies to use is teaching students about annotating a text. Annotating really helps students engage and interact with the text, which helps them retain the information so much better! This is an especially useful skill for students who plan to go to college!

Another strategy that I like to arm students with is SQ3R. SQ3R is a five-step approach to reading a text and serves as a great self-check for students to use to ensure they are comprehending what they are reading. The steps of SQ3R are 1) Survey; 2) Question; 3) Read; 4) Recite; and 5) Review.

Using Text Features as a Strategy

Generally, I like to begin the year teaching students how to identify and use Informational Text Features to aid their comprehension of nonfiction texts. Many students might be familiar with these text features, but I am often surprised at how many middle school students haven’t quite grasped how to use them to their advantage.


For about a week, I like to immerse my students in using informational text features.

We identify text features.

We explain how each text feature helps readers.

Sometimes, we even compose our own writing that includes text features!


By the end of this short unit, students are incredibly familiar with informational texts and know exactly how to use the features for their own benefit!

Text Features as Test Prep

While I usually complete these text feature activities with my students at the beginning of the school year, I also like to revisit them at the end of the year in preparation for any end-of-year exams we may have. Reading and Language Arts exams often include several nonfiction and informational texts and like to ensure my students are prepared!


What strategies do you like to use to help your students approach informational texts?

Until next time!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

How to Write Hooks!

You would think that a blog post about writing hooks would have an incredible hook.


Perhaps I am getting wimpy in my old age, but I am hesitant to even try it! You’ll have to settle for a GIF!


What I will dare to do is introduce you to a new product that teaches secondary students how to write hooks!


This writing mini-lesson includes everything you need to teach student how to write hooks. Beginning with an instructional Slides presentation, students will about learn five different types of writing hooks as they take notes on the included note-taking handout.


Students can then practice writing hooks with a short practice activity, followed by a longer writing activity. A classroom anchor chart as well as student-friendly bookmarks are included to help students remember the content.


Teaching students to write well can be incredibly tricky. I think it takes a lot of intentional direct instruction, examples, teacher modeling, and PRACTICE! In my class, I like to sprinkle writing assignments throughout all of my units, so that students are more comfortable with putting their thoughts down on paper (or computer screen). That way, when we do come to more formal writing assignments, it isn’t such a shock to my students. For this reason, parts of this lesson are included in my Unbroken unit.

If you haven’t read Unbroken yet, you should! It’s an incredible story of inner strength and resilience. My unit is centered around the young adult version of Unbroken, but the original version is also a great read. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, includes a masterful hook at the beginning of the story. It’s a fantastic real-life example of a hook and I love using it to show my students the power of an incredible hook!

What other real-world examples of hooks can you think of? Share in the comments!!

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Top Poems for Middle School Students

Last week, I dished out my seven tips for teaching poetry to middle school students. One of those tips was to make the study of poetry feel relevant to students. One of the best ways to do this is through your selection of poems that students are asked to read. While what is “relevant” will vary from student to student and class to class, I have done my best to make a list of relevant poems for middle school students.

I like to use read these poems with students throughout my poetry unit. It is especially fun to take a deep dive into some of these poems when teaching students how to analyze a poem.

Relevant Poems for Middle School Students

1. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Middle school students love this poem by the one and only Maya Angelou. Students will be inspired by Angelou’s words as she expresses her adamant refusal to be kept down by anyone or anything!

2. “Text” by Carol Ann Duffy

What poem could feel more relevant to a teenager than a poem about text messages? This short, but insightful, poem by Carol Ann Duffy explores the nature of the popular form of communication many of us use hundreds of times a day. I find it fascinating to hear students’ thoughts on the benefits and hindrances of texting after studying this poem.

3. “Webcam the World” by Heather McCugh

In a thoughtful fusion of technology and nature, Heather McCugh exposes the irony of urgently recording the beauty (and ugliness) of the world using the devices created by the people and culture that is destroying nature! Your students will love this ironic call to save nature!

4. “If” by Rudyard Kipling

A classic poem by the British India-born author, Rudyard Kipling, that is sure to inspire your students. While this poem is written from the perspective of a father to his son, it contains a lot of helpful advice that can be applied to anyone. What I think I love most about this poem is the way that it describes a person who has developed emotional maturity–something that many of us (even adults) are often lacking!

5. “The Doll House” by A.E. Stallings

This poem by A.E. Stallings is a lovely nostalgic nod to both childhood and to the simple things of life. I love how she takes something as simple as a doll house and turns it into a meaningful reflective moment.

6. “The Hill We Climb” Amanda Gorman

One could not help but be mesmerized by the incredible Amanda Gorman as she brilliantly recited this poem during the presidential inauguration in January 2021. This poem contains so many beautiful truths that are sure to resonate with your middle school students. My personal favorite is the last lines, “For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”

7. “The Rose That Grew From Concrete” by Tupac Shakur

A beautiful metaphor about courage, grit, and perseverance, Tupac’s few short lines will feel relevant to many students. Aided in part by the familiar author, the poem encourages students to continue pressing on in the face of adversity. What teenager has never felt adversity?

8. “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

With similar themes to the previous poem, Langston Hughes’ dramatic monologue describes a mother’s efforts to carry on in the face of racism and oppression. As she encourages her son through the extended metaphor of climbing stairs, students will make connections between the time when the poem was written and the current state of our society. A great poem to take a look at where we were, how far we have come, and where we have yet to go.

9. “See It Through” by Edgar Guest

Another classic poem about perseverance, the catchy rhyme and rhythm of Edgar Guest’s “See It Through” will teach students a thing or two about how to approach difficult situations. I love teaching students that we often learn best through mistakes and failures. In fact, it is the mistakes and failures that can make us stronger!

10. “Touching the Sky” by Shreya D. Chattree

I adore this poem by Shreya D. Chattree! I love the perspective of a young girl approaching life with the hope of learning and growing, failing and struggling, all in the quest to become the best version of herself. What a lovely way to view the world!

11. “Be the Best of Whatever You Are” by Douglas Malloch

Another classic, “Be the Best of Whatever You Are” is a poem that encourages individuals to avoid the trap of comparison! I find this poem especially relevant in the age of social media, when it is so easy to believe the lie that a person’s worth is in the number or followers or likes, instaed of inherent. I love the reminder to stay in our own lanes and be the best version of ourselves!

12. “The Blade and the Ax” by Abimbola T. Alabi

“The Blade and the Ax” by Alabi is a great modern compliment to Malloch’s classic. Alabi uses personification to describe the world’s need for each individual’s talents. Everyone has something important to contribute! What a great lesson for middle school students to learn!

Poetry: You Can Do It!

While teaching poetry to middle school students can feel daunting at times, you can do it! One key is to meet students where they are and make it fun! Sharing poems that feel important and meaningful to middle school students will be a big help!

I would love to hear what poems you and your students love! Drop the in the comments below!


Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

How to Teach Poetry to Middle School Students


As difficult as it is for some of us English majors to understand sometimes, poetry is not always a favorite subject for middle school students. In fact, poetry has not always been my favorite subject. I have clear memories of sitting in Mrs. Callister’s class in 7th grade while she tried to teach us poetry. I remember fighting a headache while trying to make sense of the chicken scratch on the chalkboard that was supposedly depicting stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.

While I have nothing but love for Mrs. Callister (truly, one of my favorites!), as a typical 12-year-old, I had no use for distinguishing the differences between iambs, trochees, or dactyls. Now that I have grown up to become an English teacher myself, I just knew there had to be a more engaging way to teach poetry. This is why I put together my Top 7 Tips for How to Teach Poetry to Middle School Students!

7 Tips for Teaching Poetry to Middle School Students

While I firmly believe that there are a million ways to be a great teacher and, similarly, a million ways to teach poetry effectively, here are seven things that I have found to be helpful when helping young teenagers learn about and connect with poetry.

1. Make It Fun!

My number one tip for teaching poetry to students is to make it fun! How do you do this? It’s simple. YOU have fun! If you are having fun with your lesson, your students are more likely to come along for the ride and find at least some enjoyment in poetry. Plan activities and lessons that are active and exciting and make you laugh! If you’re not enjoying your own lesson… well, your students are probably bored to tears and are finding creative ways to entertain themselves. If you want real learning to take place, you may want to rethink your plan!

2. Make It Relevant

All humans are naturally more engaged in something when we can see how it is relevant to us! Some might say that this is self-centered, but I think it is just human nature. It stands to reason, then, that our students will be more engaged if they can see how poetry is relevant to them! Help students find poetry in their world–in popular music lyrics, advertising and more! Help them connect with today’s young poets! Show them that poetry and poetic elements are all around us, if we have eyes to see it!


3. Make It Meaningful

Similarly, studying poetry will make more sense for students if they can finding meaning in it. Teenagers today care so much about the world around them and poetry can help spread positive messages for issues they care about. Poetry has a special way of forging connections among people. Poetry can take a complicated emotion and describe it with beauty and simplicity. Poetry can help individuals makes sense of the world around them.

We read and study poetry not only to learn about figurative language and poetic elements, but because it helps us understand the human condition. Your students will learn so much more if they can find personal meaning in poetry. So choose poems that mean something to your students!

4. Make It Creative

Another strategy to consider as we think about how to teach poetry to middle school students is to incorporate creativity. Provide students with opportunities to express themselves. Give them the freedom to find the poem within. That said, many students will have no interest in actually writing poetry. To me, this is totally understandable. Not everyone has the natural ability to produce meaningful poems (including me!), so I don’t ask students to actually write too many poems. Alternatively, I like to incorporate creative projects that help them learn about poetic elements and figurative language. Allow them the chance to dabble in figurative language and imagery and alliteration through fun creative assignments.


5. Make it Accessible

Sometimes, we English teachers are in need of a gentle reminder that not every student is a prolific reader and writer. Not every student is going to go to college and take entire university courses on Shakespeare and John Donne for fun! Remembering this, we need to break our poetry instruction down into really simple terms. Start with the basics and scaffold students’ learning from the bottom up so that all students can be successful with your poetry unit. Also, keep in mind that some students may need more support than others!

I still remember, as a junior in high school, hearing my teacher and classmates talk about onomatopoeia in English class. The way they were talking made it seem like it should be common knowledge, but I had no idea what onomatopoeia even was!


I wonder if I missed a lesson on it at some point in my educational career. I thought that such a unique word must mean something highly intellectual. As a teenager, I was much too shy to ask questions, so I simply pretended to understand. Later, when I realized that onomatopoeia was just referring to sound words, I was actually disappointed!

6. Make it Challenging

At the risk of contradicting myself, my next tip is to make poetry challenging! With a solid understanding of the basics, students are capable of being pushed and challenged in their poetry study! One of my favorite things to watch is my students’ growth in understanding poetry. I usually begin my poetry unit with a pretest which asks students to read and analyze Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Without any context or skills, the students rarely comprehend the poem. In fact, they are usually completely lost!

However, a few lessons into our unit, we revisit “Mending Wall.” With a little bit of background knowledge and an understanding of how to read a poem, it starts to make sense to the students! I love witnessing those “light bulb” moments, when you can almost see things beginning to click in students’ minds.

Our students are capable of so much! With a little help and guidance, they can do amazing things!

7. Make It Memorable

However you choose to teach poetry to your classes, make it an experience that students will remember–ideally, in a good way! Use your own personality and strengths to make it an experience students will look back on with fond memories!

Quick Recap: Teaching Poetry to Middle School Students

  1. Make it Fun!
  2. Make it Relevant!
  3. Make it Meaningful!
  4. Make it Creative!
  5. Make it Accessible!
  6. Make it Challenging!
  7. Make it Memorable!

Good luck with your upcoming Poetry Unit! I hope you and your students have a great time learning about the magic of poetry!