With so many topics to cover in a typical middle school Language Arts curriculum, it can be difficult to decide what to teach your students first! I realize that some schools and districts have required curriculum maps, etc. that don’t leave a lot of leeway, but in every school in which I have taught it has always been left up to the teachers.
As a first year teacher, this freedom felt so overwhelming with the vast amount of curriculum students were expected to master and I had no idea where to start! Even for veteran teachers, there are so many things to worry about during the first few weeks of school that it can easily feel very heavy.
The Wisdom of Elders
When I first began teaching, my supervisor (who I’m teasing here–she is really only a few years older than me and not quite my “elder”) advised me to begin the year with a fiction unit. I am SO glad I listened to her wisdom!
While my Elements of Fiction Unit has evolved and improved greatly since that first year, the basics of the unit have remained the same and have provided a great foundation for my students as we progress from short stories to full novel units. The way that this unit is organized ensures that students remember all the elements as each lesson builds upon the previous.
As an added bonus, studying the Elements of Fiction can be so fun and engaging! The students can recognize the elements in stories and books and even films with which they are already familiar. Not only is this fun for them, but it helps them remember the content so much better!
The Elements of Fiction Topics
We dissect the various elements down and examine each of them in great detail. I typically assign multiple assignments or activities for each element—many of which involve creativity and fun for the students! Students get ample practice reading various short stories as well!
Character Types (major/minor; antagonist/protagonist; static/dynamic; flat/round)
Characterization (direct/indirect; STEAL)
Point of View (1st Person; 3rd-Person Omniscient; 3rd-Person Limited; 3rd Person Objective)
Conflict (internal/external; character vs. character, technology, nature, self, society)
I love beginning a new school year! Coming back into the classroom feels like a new beginning for everyone–students AND teachers! And after the year that we have just had, we could all really use a fresh start!
At this time of the year, I always remember my very first first day of school as a brand new teacher.
I was terrified.
At my university, some students forego traditional “student teaching.” Instead, these students are dubbed “interns,” given their own classroom and students and teach a full year for half salary. We were provided with an on-site supervisor and a university faculty advisor to help.
It sounded like a great deal to me, but as the first day of school approached, I felt grossly underprepared. What’s more, I didn’t have a clue what to do to become prepared!
I remember sitting in a meeting with my supervisor and the other two ELA interns (the fabulous Angela and Laura, who became great friends). Our supervisor asked us if we had any questions. The other two ladies, I’m sure, were able to produce intelligent and helpful questions, but the only think I could think of to ask was, “What do we do if a student throws up?”
(I was not yet a mom and the thought of a tween losing his/her lunch in my classroom was abhorrent to me! Now, as a mom of four, I could probably handle… Nope. Still revolting!)
Anyway, our supervisor kindly laughed and happily reported that in her thirteen years of teaching middle school she had never had a student throw up.
I felt very relieved.
Experience is the Best Teacher
The first day of school finally rolled around. My classroom was decorated. I had fun activities planned for the first week of school to get to know my students. Admittedly, I still didn’t know exactly what I was doing. But, I had found some confidence from somewhere and was excited to get started.
Before the first period of the day had even started, a cute boy in my first class approached me looking a little green. He told me that he thought he was going to be sick and asked where the nearest restroom was.
I honestly didn’t know and started to panic that my irrational fear would be realized on my first official day as a teacher!
I told him that we would find a restroom together. We started walking out towards the hall, when, sure enough, the poor boy was sick.
After a few seconds of panic and trying not to gag, I called the office. The wonderful custodial staff took care of everything. It was unpleasant, but I learned very quickly how to handle the situation!
Some things you can only learn by experience! However, I wanted to help any teacher who is wondering what to do with students the first few days of school! That’s why I put together 7 FREE Back to School ELA Activities that Language Arts teachers can use to get to know their students the first week of school! Simply click on the link and follow the instructions to receive your FREE .pdf download!
What are your memorable back to school moments? I can’t wait to hear!
Four Steps Teachers Can Take to Find Peace Following the 2020-21 School Year
Congratulations Teachers! You did it! The 2020-21 school year is coming to an end. You survived! What a ride it has been!
The 2020-21 school year could be described by teachers in many ways. It has been a year filled with unprecedented changes, large amounts of uncertainty, a hefty dose of anxiety, numerous new procedures and safety measures, and for many of us digital learning!
I realize that none of us have had identical experiences. Some teachers have been teaching in person all year with safety precautions in place. Many teachers have utilized some version of a hybrid model to teach students, switching back and forth from virtual to digital. Some have spent the entirety of the school year teaching virtually, having never even met their students in person!
Regardless of our experiences, as the curtains begin to close on this most unconventional year, how can we even begin to process what we and our students have just been through? Even more, how can we end this year feeling good about our experiences?
I’ve come up with four steps for teachers who want to feel at peace with teaching during a global pandemic!
Step 1: Acknowledge the Negative
This may feel counterintuitive but stay with me! The challenges that teachers and students and parents have faced this year were unprecedented and they WERE challenges! It was a tough year! Covid-19 completely turned education on its head.
Many teachers were required to completely change the way they taught. Many had to learn new technology and new ways of doing things. Teachers were required to quickly learn how to host a Zoom meeting; how to present their information digitally; how to engage young people in effective learning over the internet; how to get teenagers to turn on their cameras and participate; how to teach in a classroom of socially distanced students AND Zoom students at the same time!
It. Was. Hard. And pretending otherwise, doesn’t help us!
Mental and emotional health experts will teach us that suppressing negative emotions is counterproductive! It often feels “right” to push those emotions away because we want to be positive and we want to feel happy! (It’s way more fun to feel happy, right?) In reality, when we push away or restrict ourselves from feeling anger, frustration, sadness, grief, irritation or any other of those “negative” emotions, we are actually just displacing them. Those feelings are still there inside of us, and they will manifest themselves again in stronger ways further on down the road! Think of it like a giant beach ball that you are trying to hold underwater in a swimming pool. The harder you try to push that ball down, the more forceful it is going to shoot back up when you eventually let it go! (I’m sure there is some scientific equation all our science teachers could put together for us to figure this out!)
It is the same with our emotions! The harder we try to suppress them, the stronger they will emerge when they eventually do come out!
We’ve all done this right? We’ve all had situations where we hold back a negative emotions and then it rears its ugly head later? Like when you had a legitimate reason to be upset and can hold it together for a while, but then completely lose your cool later over something relatively inconsequential? Yeah, I know I’ve definitely been there more often than I’d like to admit.
Let’s not do that! Instead, let’s “Name it to Tame it!” Label that feeling and then sit with it for a while. Are you sad about the way this school year played out? Be sad for a while. Are you angry about all the things you had to do? Be angry for a while! Sit with that anger. Let is rush over you. Are you feeling resentful about having to do a job you never signed up to do? Be resentful for a while! It’s okay to feel that way. In fact, it’s completely normal for us as human beings to have negative emotions.
As we allow ourselves to feel and experience those emotions, they will eventually pass through us. If we resist feeling those emotions, they will still be there and will eventually manifest themselves stronger later, often in unhealthy ways.
Step 2: Show Yourself Compassion
This year may not have looked perfect. For most of us, it was probably a far cry from perfect. Maybe your students didn’t demonstrate the growth you would have liked to see. Perhaps you feel like you didn’t show up as your best teaching self. Maybe you feel like you have underperformed in some areas.
Friend, all of that is okay. Sometimes we show up as our best selves and it’s awesome and amazing and there are other times—lots of other times—where we are not our best selves. Sometimes, we are complete and utter messes! That’s okay.
We love ourselves anyway.
Don’t beat yourself up or allow your inner critic to say mean things to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat a good teacher friend in the same situation. Be compassionate and encouraging and supportive to yourself! You just survived teaching school in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s a big deal! This will literally be in history books someday. Cut yourself some slack for the things that didn’t go so well. Despite all those things that weren’t perfect, everything is still going to work out just fine.
Step 3: Find the Positives
The next step is to find the positives! And I promise you there were some positives! Maybe the best positive outcome you can think of is that the year is over! That’s great! Let’s celebrate that we made it through! Maybe we are super impressed with the resiliency of our students. (It’s remarkable how they can adapt so quickly, isn’t it?) Maybe you celebrate the leaps and bounds you’ve made in your technological skills! Did you ever think you would be an online teacher? Now you know how! Add that baby to your resume! Maybe another positive is that you’ve learned that you can breathe wearing a mask all day! Maybe you’re thrilled about being vaccinated! I don’t know what your positives are, but I am certain they are there.
Whatever they may be, make a list of the things that you are feeling happy about—literally write them down! Celebrate them! Share them with your teacher friends, family, partner/spouse! Share them with your students! List all the things for which we can be grateful about this year! Everyone’s situation has been different and therefore everyone’s lists will look different. I don’t mean to go all Pollyanna on everyone, but I promise you there were definitely some good things about the past year. Take the time to acknowledge them.
Step 4: Intentional Reflection
The last thing we want to do to find peace about the past year is to take some time for some meaningful reflection.
Questions to consider might include:
What from the past school year are you most proud of?
What lessons did you learn about yourself? About teaching?
What things from the past year do you want to continue doing?
What are some things from the past year you would like to stop doing?
What memories are you going to cherish?
What new skills did you acquire that may prove useful moving forward?
You could reflect about anything, but I think it’s helpful to take some time and answer some questions about your thoughts about the past year. Writing them down is even more helpful as it forces us to be more intentional and articulate with our thoughts and feelings.
Adversity & Growth
I know the past year hasn’t been easy for so many reasons—professionally and personally. However, I believe adversity brings opportunity for growth! As we are intentional about our thoughts and feelings about the past year and intentional about our steps moving forward, we can simultaneously experience peace and progress. We can move forward as stronger and better teachers and human beings.
Considering all the curriculum teachers are required to cover throughout a school year, why should a teacher consider incorporating Greek Mythology?
While there may be many reasons, I have noted four of my top reasons why teachers–from elementary to high school–should incorporate Greek Mythology into their curriculum.
1. Greek Mythology is FUN!
First and foremost, teachers should include Greek Mythology in their lessons because it is just so fun! What better way to engage students than to provide them with educational content that is exciting for them? Consider for a moment the entertainment choices students (and teachers ourselves) might make outside of the classroom. What kinds of books do they enjoy reading? What kinds of films and TV shows do they like to watch? Chances are that what your students consider “entertaining” contains any number of the following: drama, romance, intrigue, humor, war, jealousy, plot twists, irony, supernatural forces, surprise, tension, suspense, deception, etc. Greek Mythology also contains all of these things and more! All the elements that create a good story can be found in these highly-engaging myths!
Of course, as Language Arts teachers, our goal is not simply to entertain our students, but to help them learn important literary skills. What better way to do this than with myths from ancient Greece?! A text that students WANT to read; that they WANT to write about; that they WANT to discuss in class! Studying Greek Mythology produces engaged students that are a dream come true for English teachers everywhere!
2. Greek Mythology is EVERYWHERE!
Secondly, for those with the knowledge, remnants of Greek Mythology and Greek culture can be found pretty much everywhere. Marketing? Check! Business? Check! Sports? Check! Films? Check! And the list goes on and on! We can literally find traces of Greek Mythology all over our own modern world. We just need to know what to look for!
The Olympic Games
For example, I’m writing this a few months before the opening ceremonies of the 2021 Summer Olympic Games. The ancient Olympics were more than an athletic competition–they were a religious festival celebrating the king of the gods, Zeus. Isn’t it amazing that this tradition of sport has somehow persisted across thousands of years?
Anyone who has ever gazed upon a star-studded sky at night has–whether knowingly or not–been gazing upon the influence of Greek Mythology! The planets and constellations are often named after figures from Greek myths–the planets themselves are named after the Roman counterparts to the Greek deity! Even the Apollo Space Program, famous for the first lunar landings, is named after the Greek sun god.
The English (Greek) Language
Many of us have probably unknowingly made reference to Greek Mythology just by speaking English. Many English words have Greek roots that reference the ancient stories. For example, “chronic” or “chronology” or “anachronism” all have reference to Cronos, the god of time and father of many of the Greek gods and goddesses. Words such as “arachnid” or “arachnophobia” stem from the story of a girl named Arachne who was turned into a spider by the goddess Athena. Even the word “phobia” itself refers to Phobos, the Greek god of fear!
Business and Marketing
Additionally, Greek Mythology plays a large role in the world of marketing and advertising. Well-known and extremely recognizable companies such as Amazon, Nike, Trident gum and Starbucks, all use elements from myths in their branding and marketing. Sometimes, these nods to Greek Mythology are a sort of inside joke. Take, for example, the recognizable Starbucks logo. To the uninformed, it appears to be nothing more than an interesting drawing of a person. To one knowledgeable, it is a depiction of a Siren–those alluring creatures from Greek Mythology whose call is irresistible. For those who feel the daily call of caffeine, the call of the Siren is relatable!
We also see the influence of Greek Mythology and ancient Greek culture show up in architecture, educational practices (questioning, Socratic seminars, etc.), medicine and many other areas. If we are ignorant of these stories and various elements of Greek culture, we may not be fully understanding the culture in which we live.
3. Greek Mythology Helps Us Understand Literature
Just like we see traces of Greek Mythology all around us in our physical world, we also see traces in the world of literature. For centuries, authors have referenced key figures and stories from Greek myths that deepen the meaning of their text. A lack of knowledge of these myths would leave readers completely clueless as to what the author was saying! Or, even worse, an allusion to Greek Mythology could fly right over our heads without us aware we were missing anything at all!
Noticing those allusions and quickly grasping the allusions’ effect on the text create a much deeper and richer reading experience. Shakespeare constantly alluded to Greek Mythology So much so, that a lack of mythology knowledge makes Shakespeare quite difficult to read (among other things, of course.). Peter Pan, The Harry Potter Series, Frankenstein, Heart of Darkness, Jane Eyre and so many more works than I could ever possibly list have been influenced by and contain references to Greek Mythology.
4. Greek Mythology is Instructive
The ancient Greek Myths offer us so much in terms of learning and personal growth. We can better understand human nature and the effects of one’s choices. The foibles and follies of humans are clearly visible. We see both virtue and vice among these stories that can help us consider what kind of people we want to be and how we want to show up in the world. We can learn a lot about ourselves and human beings from these stories!
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe that every Greek figure should be held up as a model of morality. Many of the characters and figures in Greek Mythology are actually quite the opposite of a role model, exhibiting many undesirable characteristics. By examining these stories, however, we can see common mistakes and human pitfalls and choose a more morally straight path.
Despite the fact that these stories have been around for thousands of years, they are still able to spark important conversations about current social issues. Our students are growing up in a complex world facing complex issues that Greek Mythology helps to bring to light.
What is YOUR Opinion?
Well, those are my four top reasons for studying Greek Mythology:
Greek Mythology is fun!
Greek Mythology is found all around us!
Greek Mythology helps us understand additional works of literature!
Greek Mythology can be instructive!
I’d love to hear what YOU think! What are your reasons for (or against) studying Greek Mythology with your students? Why do you think that teaching and studying Greek Mythology–particularly in our classrooms–is a good (or bad) idea?
Greek Mythology is hands-down one of the most popular units that I have ever taught to my middle school students–second only to my Fun Poetry Unit. With the rise of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and other modern allusions to Greek Mythology, students’ interest in the ancient stories is higher than ever. I love to capitalize on that interest and teach students important literacy skills while enjoying the engaging stories of well-known Greek mythical figures.
When I teach Greek Mythology, I divide our study up into three subunits. I begin building students’ base knowledge about twelve major Greek gods and goddesses. Following that, we spend some time reading and analyzing the themes of several famous Greek myths. And finally, we study The Hero’s Journey and eight of the most well-known Greek Heroes. The entire unit takes about a month and students LOVE it! At the end of each lesson, they are literally BEGGING for more Greek Mythology!
Let’s take a closer look at each of the subunits!
1. Greek Gods and Goddess Unit
First, my students and I take a look at ancient Greek Deity. Greek Mythology is full of interesting characters, but perhaps none so intriguing as the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece! This FUN no-prep middle school unit examines each goddess and god individually. Students will be able to recognize each deity’s Greek and Roman name, his or her title or realm, the symbols associated with him or her and become familiar with the major myths involving each god or goddess. The twelve gods I include in this unit are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hades, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus and Artemis.
For each deity, I use a note card for students to keep track of the vital information of each god–by vital, I mean the information mentioned previously and that will also be on the test! On the flip side of the note card, I’ve included an artist’s depiction of the god or goddess. If we have time, I’ll ask students to color the whole thing; but at a minimum, I ask that students at least color any visible symbols of the goddess or god. This helps them recognize the goddess or god in art, pictures, etc.
We end this part of the unit with a test (review included) and a fun creative activity that my students have always really enjoyed!
2. Introduction to Greek Mythology
Secondly, in the unit, I like to pause and reflect with students about why it’s a good idea to study Greek Mythology. I have devoted an entire additional blog post about my top four reasons we should study Greek Mythology, so I won’t go into that here. However, I do review these reasons with students as part of the unit. We read seven Greek Myths and analyze the theme of each myth. I really enjoy pausing with students and considering what might be a life lesson that can be learned from each myth. Typically, there are many in each myth. Often, my students decipher themes that haven’t even occurred to me! I love this part of the unit where students can think critically!
The myths that we read include:
The Tragedy of Echo and Narcissus
The Tragedy of Phaethon
Prometheus and the Theft of Fire
The Story of Pandora
The Judgment of Paris
Oedipus and the Oracle at Delphi
The Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus
Each of these stories is so fun to read with students! Some they may have heard of before and others they may not be familiar with. Either way, they are exciting myths to study and analyze together. This unit also includes some creative projects at the end that are a fun way to wrap up this section of our Greek Mythology study.
3. The Hero’s Journey – Greek Mythology
Finally, the last portion of my Greek Mythology unit is centered around Joseph Campbell’s monomyth or “The Hero’s Journey.” We begin the unit by introducing the journey and then proceed to read about eight famous Greek Heroes: Perseus, Atalanta, Bellerophon, Achilles, Theseus, Heracles, Jason and Odysseus. For each hero story, students can mark how the hero went through The Hero’s Journey and then complete an additional fun and creative activity.
This unit concludes with a formal writing assignment that takes students through the entire writing process discussing their personal hero. We work on prewriting/brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. It’s maybe less fun, per se, for students, but it is meaningful for each them to think about someone they admire and why.
Fun and Engagement are Contagious!
As with most lessons we teach in our classrooms, if we are having fun, our students are more likely to have fun. Smiles and enthusiasm are contagious; so are pessimism and dread! So find something to be happy about and have fun studying Greek Mythology with your students!
One thing that may put a smile on your face is that if you bundle these three resources, you’ll get 20% off!
Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? I admit that I have only learned that fact very recently! Apparently, the Academy of American Poets created this month-long celebration 1996 to spread the love of lyrical language!
I will also admit that I have never been a big fan of poetry. My exposure to it was limited to a few lines my own English Language Arts teachers threw at me as a student. As a student, it almost seemed like an obligatory nod to the art form to satisfy a state standard! Bless my ELA teachers! They were wonderful! I am just not convinced that their hearts were fully invested in teaching us how to read poems!
Later, when I myself became an English Language Arts teacher, it seemed that I was doomed to follow the same road as my predecessors: my heart wasn’t in poetry! I loved novels and writing and short stories–even grammar! But, ballads and verse and meter? Not my cup of tea!
Teaching Poetry a Better Way
However, before beginning my first poetry unit in my first year of teaching, I thought to myself, “Why should I continue the pattern of torturing yet another generation of middle school students as I put them through another poorly designed poetry unit? Did poetry have to be torturous? What if poetry could, in fact, be fun?
Thus began my quest to create exciting and meaningful poetry activities that invigorated students while teaching them the elements of poetry at the same time! I learned that poetry wasn’t inherently boring. Poetry brought language to life! Poetry could be incredibly funny! Reading a poem could be a beautiful experience and even move a reader to tears!
Was poetry sometimes more difficult to understand? Yes! But the work invested in understanding the layers of a poem resulted in huge payoff, making it all worth it!
FUN Poetry Unit
After years of teaching poetry and refining this unit several times, my “FUN Poetry Unit” is one of my all-time favorite units to teach my middle school students! It really is SO fun! I enjoy it! My students enjoy it! It’s a great couple of weeks for everyone!
The unit breaks down the elements of a poem for students. We begin with the very basics to ensure that all the students have the same basic understanding and knowledge. I’m talking defining terms like “line,” “rhyme scheme,” and “stanza.” Literally, the bare bones of poetry. Once it’s clear everyone is on the same footing, we can begin tackling more complex issues such as figurative language in all its varieties, imagery, etc. Then, we progress even further to poem analysis which is broken down in a way that ANY student can read and find the meaning of a poem.
If you just read that description and thought to yourself, “That sounds incredibly lame,” stay with me!! So what makes this poetry unit different than other dry units?
What Makes this Unit Different?
Firstly, I’ll start with the Slides Presentations. Each of these lessons includes fun Slides Presentation, all of which are highly visual. Each slide contains small chunks of information so students are not stuck reading long passages on plain white slides!
The pictures are engaging, interesting and diverse. I’ve provided examples full of tongue-in-cheek humor that will keep your students guessing what will come next!
Secondly, many of the lesson are accompanied by creative projects that are fun and exciting for students to complete! Students get hands-on practice writing with the various elements of poetry helping them completely grasp the concepts at hand. While they are fun, every activity reinforces the lesson’s objectives.
Not Just Entertainment
While my emphasis thus far has been on the fun and entertaining side of this unit, the best part is that, at least with my students, it does a great job actually teaching the students what they need to know about poetry! Each lesson builds on the previous lessons and students who complete the activities will emerge on the other side of this unit with a firm foundation of the elements of poetry. This unit also exposes students to many of the classic poems that are often included in traditional curriculum units, thus providing students with a well-rounded exposure to poetry.
Easy and Convenient for Teachers
From a teacher’s perspective and just like my other units, I’ve designed this unit to be so incredibly easy for you to teach! For nearly every lesson, all the preparation that is required of you is to make copies of the assignments and have your projector ready to go! The Slides Presentations guide you through the instruction and the activities. Buyers have told me that “even a sub” could easily teach these lessons!
Each lesson has a basic lesson outline included to allow you how I use these resources in my classroom. I’ve also included answer keys and grading rubrics to help you quickly review student work minimizing your work load! Also included are pre- and post-assessments allowing you to literally measure your students’ growth over the course of this unit!
Truly, I’ve designed this unit to be as teacher-friendly as possible! If you do happen to run into any problems or have questions, I am only an email away!
Whether you use these resources as a stand alone unit or add it to your already wonderful poetry activities, this unit will help you make this year’s National Poetry Month the best ever! Trust me, your students will thank you!!
If ever there was a time to celebrate Black History Month in our classrooms, it is now! This Black History Month Research Project is the perfect activity for middle school students! By researching an influential African American, students will not only learn invaluable research skills but will also engage in thoughtful discussions about current events!
Research Best Practices
When I teach this unit in my classroom, I spend approximately two and a half weeks. I spend the first few days teaching basic research skills. This helps set students up for research success! We don’t want students to waste their precious researching time because they aren’t equipped with the right tools! Several Slides presentations included in my TpT product discuss types of resources, evaluating sources for credibility and bias. I believe that it is imperative that students know how to find credible, balanced sources–especially in today’s world when so many “news sources” overtly express their bias and opinion masquerades as fact!I’ve always felt strongly about teaching students to use primary sources and think for themselves, but this issue feels even more important to me now due the current political climate. Teachers are in a prime position to help stop the spread of misinformation!
We also spend time talking about how to find sources through an internet search. My Slides presentations help students learn the most effective ways to find the information they are seeking. We also discuss Wikipedia [teacher eyeroll]. While I try to make it abundantly clear that Wikipedia cannot be used as a “source,” I do show students one way that Wikipedia can be used to find other credible sources.
Once students have a base understanding of research best practices, they will spend time researching their individuals. I’ve included some note-taking graphic organizes for students in the product. These graphic organizers help students organize their information while they are researching.
Drafting and Revision
Students will then create an essay outline and begin the drafting process. I’ve included some teacher models to help students see exactly what is expected of them for this assignment. Another great teaching tactic is to actually draft a paper of your own live for students. With your projector running, simply demonstrate how one takes the gathered information and creates something new with it!
Following a peer edit, students revise and complete their final essay! I find it is also helpful to do a live peer edit and revision to model for students how to make it an effective use of time instead of an exercise in futility. Too often, students breeze through the editing process and, instead of revising their essay, simply rewrite their first draft. Definitely not the result we want. Modeling this live is a great way to get better results from students!
Black History Month Posters & Presentations
Once their essays are finished, the fun part begins! Students will create a poster to serve as a visual representation of their individual. I require my students to have 7-10 bullet points highlighting the most important and most interesting facts about their individual and at least two pictures. They can design and decorate their poster any way they choose.
The students always have fun with this creative portion of the project. I love to have a few low-key days where students can use the creative side of their brains after the hard work of researching and writing! Sometimes, we will put on some school-appropriate music to make it really enjoyable! [Side bar: A great and free way to reward great behavior is to allow well-behaved students the opportunity to choose a song they like on days like this!]
After students have had enough time to finish their posters, the presentations can begin! I love, love, love doing class presentations! Public speaking is such an important skill to have–even (maybe especially) for students who tend to be more reserved and timid in regular class discussions. Before we begin, I like to model both a great oral presentation and a poor oral presentation. I usually begin with the poor oral presentation. It’s fun to step out of the classroom and throw some grubby clothes on over my regular work clothes and skulk in and very poorly and very briefly talk about my individual slumping into poor posture while waving my poster around so no one can see it and other antics I’m sure all teachers have seen many times. My students always seem to get a kick out of it!
I then juxtapose that with a proper oral presentation: well-dressed (although I don’t like to make a big deal out of this one so that no student feels uncomfortable about their clothes), good posture, making eye contact, speaking clearly, etc. Like always, students do better when they have sometime to model!
Black History Month Hallway Decorations
When the students have all presented their posters, I love to hang them up in the hallways! It’s fun to see all students stop and read about the countless African Americans that have broken barriers and made a difference in the world! I am always inspired by this Black History Month project and I hope you and your students will be too!
How do you like to celebrate Black History Month with your students?
You know those awkward “lame duck” days at the end of a semester or just before a long school holiday? Perhaps you’ve just finished a great ELA unit and aren’t ready to dive into another project. Your middle school students are preparing to leave for an extended break and their thoughts are far from school: they are dreaming of ski trips and snowball fights; Christmas presents and holiday feasts. What is the point of beginning something new when you’ll have to reteach it when school resumes?
On the other hand, you don’t want to waste precious learning time! You want your class to be rigorous and valuable to your students. In addition, no teacher wants to be known as the “easy” or “party” teacher! What is a teacher to do?
Holiday Lame Duck Lessons are the perfect solution! What is a Lame Duck Lesson, you may ask? A Lame Duck Lesson is a high-interest, self-contained lesson that usually lasts just 1-2 class periods. These festive activities continue to teach core content and demand high expectations of students, but do it in a fun and engaging manner.
Two of my favorite middle school resources are perfect for those odd days where it just doesn’t make sense to embark upon a new unit!
1. Write a Business Letter (to Santa) – Middle School ELA Activity
A Holiday Lesson that Aligns with Core Curriculum
In this lesson, students will learn how to write a business letter: a totally legitimate Language Arts lesson! While students may in future find themselves writing business letters in a wide variety of real-life circumstances, they can learn and practice in a fun and festive way in your classroom.
Let the Slides Presentation do the Teaching for You
This resource is no-prep and includes a step-by-step lesson plan and outline. Following an instructional and engaging Slides Presentation, students will write a letter to Santa Claus presenting a Christmas wish list. Alternatively, if students are uncomfortable with this assignment for any reason, they may write a business letter to anyone they choose for any purpose.
These letters may be fun and silly or contemplative and serious. I usually leave this up to the students.
Typically, this lesson takes about one 50-minute class period. It’s a great way to continue teaching your students important skills, while also not committing to a weeks-long unit.
2. Celebrating Diversity in the Holiday Season
Another Lame Duck Holiday resource that I like to use in my middle school Language Arts classes is my “Celebrating Diversity in the Holiday Season” lesson. While many students may celebrate Christmas, it is important to recognize those that may celebrate differently (or not at all). The last thing we as teachers would want to do is marginalize any group or groups of our students. Instead, teachers might educate students about a few of the holidays that are often celebrated towards the end of the calendar year: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas. This teaching resource does just that!
While there are many other holidays that could be recognized, these were the three that I chose to have my students compare and contrast for this activity. Students will read a short one-page informational article describing the history and origins of each holiday. Following their reading, they will complete a compare / contrast graphic organizer to help them list the differences and similarities among the three holidays.
To take it further, students can practice their paragraph writing skills by writing a paragraph summarizing both the similarities and differences they have listed on the graphic organizer. With this one simple holiday activity, students are practicing their informational text reading, close reading, reading for detail, analytical skills, paragraph writing and more!
Holiday Activities that teach core curriculum are some of my favorites! How do you like to keep students engaged during the Holiday Season?
When the craziness of the holiday season is suddenly thrust upon us and we don’t even know what day of the week it is, sometimes pulling together a great lesson for our students feels overwhelming. Before I created this unit, I remember limping (figuratively) through December wondering if I’d ever get on top of things again. One year, I finally had the sense to plan ahead and created these Guided Reading Activities for A Christmas Carol. I intentionally planned activities that students could do mostly independently, with some teacher-led instruction. Check out some of the highlights below:
The unit begins with a Slides / PowerPoint Presentation helping students build their background knowledge in order to understand the context in which Charles Dickens wrote the story. Beginning with explaining the shift from agricultural to industrial England (the Industrial Revolution), students become familiar with some of the unintended consequences of coal-powered factories springing up all over cities with little regulatory oversight. Students will learn the lack of choices available to those who were in poverty. Dickens was aware of these difficulties and wrote this book with the intention of encouraging those with the means to help those less fortunate.
Following the introductory presentation, students are ready to read! I have used this same handout for both the original novel as well as one of the many dramatized versions often found in middle school literature books. Both work very well! Perhaps more advanced classes can handle the novel a little better than younger or lower-leveled readers. If the original novel is what you have available, playing an audiobook for them is often a good choice to help the struggling readers get through the sometimes difficult Victorian language. The dramatized version can be very fun option for students to read aloud as a Reader’s Theatre. Students often have fun reading different characters’ parts and, while the result is a far cry from Broadway, it is still enjoyable. Many literature books even come with a recording of the play that is also very fun for students.
I generally try to do one Stave per day, which means once reading has commenced the unit will last approximately five 50-minute class periods (not including the background information). The activities are also available to be used as digital activities through TpT and can be assigned through Google Classroom for those who may be distance learning.
When finished, I think it’s a great way to end the year by watching a film adaptation and comparing it to what we have read. I’ve included in my unit a page to help students do that. It’s part of CCSS! Pop some corn! Bring in Christmas cookies! Donuts! Make it enjoyable!
There are so many great film adaptations available and any would work for this assignment, as it is a compare / contrast assignment. My two favorite versions, however, are The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) for something a little lighter and humorous and the 1984 A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott if you’re looking for something more serious. I’ve used and loved them both!
Another possible extension to this activity is to find a way for students to participate in a service-learning project. I love connecting the theme of the story to real life–there are many ways this can be done! They can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. One simple way to encourage service is by organizing a food, coat, glove, sock, hygiene supply, etc. drive. Often in the past, I have tried contacting local shelters to see what is needed and base what we collect on that information.
One year, I applied for and received a service-learning grant. With the money, I bought yards and yards of fleece and, together with my students, we tied blankets for Project Linus. We made over 50 blankets in two days and had a great time!
See what’s available in your local communities! Check out justserve.org.
It’s so nice for students to be able to do something for someone else and feel gratitude for their own circumstances-even if they aren’t so great. I love seeing the change that comes over students when they do something selfless!
Check out my unit and enjoy the last week of December while STILL engaging students in curriculum!
Please don’t throw rocks at me. I know it’s September. You’ve just barely finished setting up your classroom and teaching is just underway. You’re still getting to know your students and set up routines and procedures for the year. The last thing on your mind is the Holiday Season which is still months away.
I am a huge believer of celebrating each season as it comes and not letting certain holidays dwarf others. Autumn is actually my favorite time of the year! Watching a football game on a Saturday afternoon is a highlight of the fall! Picking apples and pumpkins with my family is pure joy! I adore apple cider donuts! I tolerate Halloween. 🙂 Thanksgiving is especially one of my favorite parts of the season-any excuse to make a chocolate pecan pie!
But, let’s face it, Christmas tends to get the spotlight when it comes to the last quarter of the year. Despite the holiday ads beginning in October, it somehow often manages to sneak up on us and the month is so full of shopping and baking and wrapping and holiday parties that Christmas comes and goes in a hectic rush and we’ve barely managed to enjoy any of it!
Managing the chaos is even more challenging for teachers! On top of our aforementioned congested personal lives, we are still tasked with teaching our excited and sometimes unruly students! The tinsel and twinkly lights mesmerize the young ones and you can nearly feel the anticipation in the air. Classroom management is a struggle and attention spans are shorter than normal.
It’s enough to drive anyone mad. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have fond memories of the holiday season instead of a blur of stress and anxiety.
Over the years I have learned a few tricks and practices that help make the holiday season more enjoyable.
Mrs. Nelson’s Top Tips for Maintaining Your Sanity through the Holiday Season
Maintain Your Regular Schedule: Do you begin class with a journal writing! Keep starting class the same way! Do you usually have vocabulary tests on Fridays? Keep having vocabulary tests on Fridays! Do you have a handstand competition every Wednesday? Keep doing it! Maintaining your classroom schedule will help create a sense of normalcy for your students and reduce some of the anxiety that arises when things feel out of the ordinary.
Continue to Keep Students Accountable: Don’t let your kids slack off just because a holiday is around the corner! Continue to ask them to turn in assignments (even if some of them go straight into the recycling bin the minute students leave the room). For graded assignments, find a way to quickly provide feedback so they know you’re still engaged and expect them to be as well. Maintain those high expectations for their work AND their behavior.
Focus on Curriculum: Keep the learning going! Maybe this feels like a no-brainer, but don’t be afraid to keep teaching and introducing new content to students. Sure, they may forget some things over the long winter break, but you can always review with them later! At the very least, they will have something on which you can build when you reteach in the new year.
Plan Ahead and Be Organized: Being prepared and organized for the month of December is vital to maintaining your sanity! Know ahead of time (like WAY ahead of time) what you plan to teach in December. Map out your daily lessons and then prep! Anything that you can do ahead of time, do ahead of time! Make copies; gather resources; schedule the library; schedule the computer lab; check out materials; etc. Bottom line: be ready. This way, you can stay up way to late at your partner’s company holiday party on a Wednesday night and still roll into class Thursday morning with everything ready to go smoothly!
Be Flexible: Even after spending large amounts of time preparing your lessons, be prepared to change things up when circumstances change (as they invariable will). Maybe your principal schedules a last-minute assembly (okay-probably not in 2020, but maybe in another year?). Maybe there’s a blizzard and your district calls several snow days in a row. Maybe the district asks you to administer a test on which you hadn’t planned. Whatever happens, know that your schedule will be disrupted. Understanding this beforehand will help you handle the changes when they arise.
Have Fun! Embrace the chaos! Managing your own expectations will help you find joy in this festive season. It won’t be perfect; it may be messy; you will make mistakes. That’s okay! Take time to enjoy the busy, crazy holidays
Leverage the Holidays to Your Advantage: One thing I love about Language Arts is that we can teach skills applied to such a wide-range of content. This allows us to tailor our curriculum to our students’ interests. If the students are focused on the Holidays, let’s let use that to teach required skills! Below are a few of my favorite ways to teach ELA with a holiday twist.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Guided Reading Activities What better way to keep students focused that with a quick novel study? Many students will be familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, but few have actually read the short novel. Many middle school literature books even have a dramatized version of the story which is fun to read aloud as a class. I have use this unit with both the novel and the drama–both worked very well! This unit requires very little prep; simply print, copy and go! As a bonus, after reading the story with your class, you can pop some popcorn, make some hot cocoa and end the calendar year watching a film adaptation-which is still part of the curriculum!
How to Write a Business Letter (to Santa) Writing a proper letter is a skill that students will want to have when they enter the real world! The number of circumstances in which a person may want to write a business letter are endless: as a cover letter for a resume, a scholarship application, a business proposal, to request assistance, contacting government representatives, etc. Arm your students with these skills AND have fun at the same time! Teach students the format of a block business letter and then ask them to write a proper business letter to Santa Claus telling him what they’d like for holiday gifts.
Celebrating Diversity: Comparing Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas Create an inclusive classroom by exploring diverse winter holidays with your students. Practice reading informational texts with students with articles on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas and then ask them to compare / contrast the holidays. Students can also practice their writing skills by writing and reflecting upon what they’ve learned. It’s great to help broaden students’ awareness and understanding of people different from themselves!
I wish you all the luck in the world as you strive to maintain rigor and relevance (and maintain your sanity) throughout the Holiday Season!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)