The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Easy Halloween Lesson Plan

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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!

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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!

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Raise your hand if you’re ready??!!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

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7th Grade FREE Two-Week Trial

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8th Grade FREE Two-Week Trial

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

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(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.”

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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.

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!

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(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!

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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.

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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)

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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)

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How to Write Hooks!

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

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Middle School Students

When I think of St. Patrick’s Day as a child, I remember being the one who always forgot to wear green to school and spent the day scared that I would be pinched! What a strange and creepy tradition! Setting aside the interesting things some of us did in the 80s and 90s, St. Patrick’s Day can still be a fun time for our students! (Just no pinching, please!) I’ve put together some St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Middle School students that will still engage kids in learning, but will hopefully give a fun nod to the Emerald Isle and its Patron Saint.

My good friend Rudi’s husband travels a lot for work and is actually in Ireland right now as I’m typing this. Rudi had a chance to go with her husband on this trip, but declined stating she had no interest in touring Ireland! I was flabbergasted!

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My husband and I would love to go to Ireland someday! With the beautiful scenery, its unique history, and the over 30,000 castles, Ireland is a fascinating island! (At least to my husband and me; although I concede that it’s fully possible we are the weird ones!)

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St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Middle School Students

Whether you want to visit Ireland or not, you may find yourself thinking of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! To celebrate some of these fascinating elements of Ireland, I have four Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day themed informational articles that highlight a few aspects of Irish culture. Each article is available separately if you only need one; or you can grab all four with the bundle and save 20%.

What’s Included?

As I mentioned above, four informational articles are included. The topics covered are, “The Life of St. Patrick,” “A Brief History of Ireland,” “The Castles of Ireland,” and “The Myths and Legends of the Leprechaun.”

Each St. Patrick’s Day article comes with a comprehension check crossword puzzle. This puzzle is designed to be a fun way to gauge students’ comprehension and help them practice reading for detail. With testing season looming in the not-so-distant future, I find reading informational texts like these a way to help them students to prepare for the test without “teaching to the test”!

How Do I Use These Resources?

These St. Patrick’s Day activities are extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of ways. Before reading articles like these, I like to review Informational Text Features with my students! One of my favorite ways to use these resources is with a group jigsaw reading activity. Students are divided up into groups of four, each student reads on article and then shares the details of their article with their group. Another options is to ask students to read the articles alone, and then work in partners to complete the crosswords!

These resources also make excellent Sub Plans, if you need something to keep your students engaged while you’re out in March!

Do you have any fun St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Middle School students? How do you like to use the holidays in the classroom? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. If you haven’t already snagged your FREE St. Patrick’s Day Resources, click here to download today!!


Women’s History Month Activities

March is such a great month! Not only are we occasionally seeing hints of spring emerging out of the frozen grip of winter, but it’s Women’s History Month! I love learning and teaching my students about all things history, but it is particularly special to highlight various women who have made an impact on history!

To help share some of these women’s stories with my students, I’ve put together the stories of 12 amazing women–many of whom were trailblazing pioneers in their respective fields! Each woman’s history is incredible! Your students will be captivated and inspired by their achievements–often in the face of extreme adversity.

Women in History Bundle

While each of these twelve mini-biographies are available individually, the real value is in the bundle!

First, you will receive the twelve two-page biographical texts. Each text also comes with a comprehension crossword puzzle that will assess students’ understanding of each women’s story.

Student Activities for Women’s History Month

Additionally, a student discussion guide and multiple graphic organizers are included that can be used with the text provided, plus nearly any other informational text you many read with your students in the future! I love having a file of versatile graphic organizers that I can use with my students when I’m in a hurry to find an activity!

I’m starting to feel like an infomercial salesman, but wait! There’s more!

Reading informational texts is not always easy for many of our students. I like to arm these students with a variety of reading strategies that will help them better approach informational texts. With the bundle, you’ll receive a Slides presentation that introduces 14 reading strategies for engaging with informational texts! I’ve also included several “fix-it” strategies that will help students know what to do when comprehension breaks down! This is a great resource for helping struggling readers!

I’ve mentioned on there before that I like to increase the amount of informational text my students read around this time of year. Standardized tests are looming in the distance and this is my unofficial way of preparing them for the test without teaching to the test. Whether you use these activities as individual assignment or group jigsaw reading, your students will enjoy these stories!

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns!

Talk Soon!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


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Black History Month: Notable Black Athletes

Do your students like sports? While definitely not for everybody, sports are a great way to connect with many students! Personally, I love using this easy method of connection to engage students. Black History Month is a great time to share with students the stories of several notable Black athletes from history!

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7 Mini-Biographies Highlighting Black Athletes.

Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Alice Coachman, Wilma Rudolph, and more have incredible and inspiring histories! Jesse Owens proved world leaders wrong! Jacki Robinson endured persecution on nearly every front but changed the sport of baseball for the better. Alice Coachman began her career training barefoot with homemade equipment and eventually became the first woman of color to win an Olympic gold medal! Wilma Rudolph was told by doctors that she would never walk again, but with hard work and perseverance, she broke three world records running at the Olympics!

Inspired by these stories and more, I’ve put together seven mini-biographies highlighting some of my favorite Black athletes. These individuals were not only incredible in their sports and personal lives, but have made significant contributions to justice and equality outside of athletics.

Each two-page biography comes with a comprehension crossword puzzle, a partner discussion guide, and additional comprehension graphic organizers. (BONUS: these graphic organizers are compatible with any text!)

Black Athlete Biography Bundle

Between you and me, the best value would be to try out the bundle which includes not only the 7 texts and student activities but contains a Bonus Slides Presentation introducing strategies for reading informational texts. The Slides Presentation discusses 14 strategies for before, during, and after reading. Additionally, it highlights several “fix-it” strategies to help students when understanding breaks down.

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Bundle Bonus: Slides Introducing Strategies for Reading Informational Texts!

These texts work well for jigsaw reading and group discussion. Whether students complete the activities individually, as partners, or in groups, they will definitely enjoy learning about these amazing individuals!

Similar to my STEM Black History Month series, these resources can be used in any month–not just February. It’s always a good time to read about and research the lives of amazing individuals!


Middle School Valentine’s Day Activity

Is there a more uncomfortable day in the year for middle school students than Valentine’s Day?

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Amid the inevitable awkwardness, Valentine’s Day can lend itself for some fun learning activities! If you’re wondering how to channel your students’ nervous energy on Valentine’s Day, I’ve got you covered!

Valentine’s Day Activity

For this month’s freebie, I’ve put together a fun Valentine’s Day Poetry Writing Project! With these resources, students will write an “Ode” to whomever or whatever they choose! If students want to be serious, of course that’ s okay. However, I find that most middle school students like to have some fun with this assignment.

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Valentine’s Day Writing Assignment for Middle School Students.

In the past, I’ve had students compose poems in honor of their pet snakes, their favorite sport, or their grandma! All of them have been hilarious!

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True Story: I am irrationally and hysterically afraid of snakes. I once had a student bring pet snakes into the classroom. I ended up being alone with them in the classroom for about thirty minutes before the student’s parent could come pick them up. The two snakes were doing their best to escape their travel box which was basically a plastic tote with a loose-fitting lid. I have literally never been so scared in my life. I was crying at one point and wanted to run away screaming, but didn’t dare leave them alone in case they managed to get out! I figured a snake in a known location is better than a snake in an unknown location!

Whatever students choose, I find this is a really fun and low-pressure way to enjoy the spirit of the holiday without delving into the dark world of middle school romance!

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In the spirit of no drama, I love using this holiday to review the poetic elements and devices. The assignment asks students to include figurative language, imagery, alliteration and more in their poem. It’s a great way to reinforce all they’ve learned about poetry thus far in the year!

The best part? Zero teacher prep is required!

Creative Extension!

Additionally, if you wanted to take this activity a step further, you could have students make creative posters or signs on which they can write their poems. These are fun to display in the hallway or around the classroom. February can sometimes feel like a gray and dreary month and I think it helps everyone’s mental health to spruce it up with thoughts of love and gratitude and bright colors!

Did I mention this if free? Click the link below and I’ll send your resources straight to your inbox!

Claim your FREE Valentine’s Day Resource Here!

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