Gratitude: The Virtue the Changed My Life

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

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Happy [Early] Thanksgiving Teacher Friends!

While I understand that Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday for many reasons–which I don’t at all want to discount–I do absolutely love celebrating the Spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday.

And…I will be totally transparent here: I also really like Thanksgiving food! I love the challenge of planning and preparing an amazing Thanksgiving feast with everything hot (or cold) and ready all at the same time!

I view it as my own personal Great British Baking Challenge.

(And yes, I do recognize the irony in that comparison!)

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Anyway, I wanted to share a little bit about how the virtue of gratitude has played an immense role in my life in recent years.

I’m sharing this story in the hope that in some small, tiny way it might help someone else.

The Slump

Several years ago when my third child was just a few months old and I was juggling post-partum hormones and three young children under the age of four…

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I found myself in a slump! I couldn’t see the positive side of anything. Literally everything–from getting out of bed in the mornings to brushing my teeth to taking care of the little humans in my charge–felt just so incredibly hard. Looking back now, it’s very clear that I had some undiagnosed post-partum depression going on; but for whatever reason, I couldn’t see it back then.

After speaking to a close friend who was struggling in a similar way, I started to recognize how unhappy I was feeling. But, I thought, how could I be unhappy? I have everything I have ever wanted: I’m married to my best friend; I have three [now four] awesome kids; I work at my dream job; I am blessed with a lovely home in a lovely neighborhood.

With so much privilege and so many blessings, what right did I have to be unhappy? What in the world was wrong with me?

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As I was contemplating these questions, inspiration happen to strike at the most unlikely of places: at the movie theater in the middle of a show while on a date with my husband! I don’t remember the movie we had gone to see, but I will always remember the moment when I realized exactly what I needed to do!

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The Solution

The answer? Gratitude!

Somehow, I intuitively knew that I needed to practice being more grateful for what I had. I actually ran out of the movie theater and called my friend and together we made a plan.

We decided that, each night, we would text each other and mention just one thing about our day for which we were grateful.

Truthfully, this was super hard at first! We had been steeped in negativity for so long that we just didn’t have many positive things to say! But, as we practiced looking for the good and retrained our minds to see the good, we experienced a complete shift in our daily experience.

After a few weeks of these nightly texts, we started sending not just one thing, but whole lists of good things about our days. It’s important to note that, fundamentally, nothing had changed. Our lives were still the same. The challenges we faced at home, at work, with our friends and family–they were all still there. What had changed? Our thinking! With this subtle shift in our mindset, we were better equipped to handle those challenges and still find joy!

The Science

It years later that I learned from a different friend about the scientific and medical research that has been done on gratitude. Apparently, numerous studies [I’ve linked a few here & here] have been done on how a regular gratitude regimen improves a person’s physical AND mental health!

When she told me about this, it blew my mind! I had experienced this firsthand and had no idea it was actually “a real thing” that was true beyond my own experience. This knowledge made me want to shout my story from the rooftops!

Important Note on Gratitude

Please understand, that I am not suggesting that making a list of good things will cure any kind of illness. I am not a health professional of any kind. If you have questions or concerns about your physical and mental health, please reach out to your medical provider. It’s okay to need help!

I am simply sharing my story about the incredible impact of gratitude.

Additionally, with my current (albeit limited) knowledge and understanding, if I was ever feeling similarly to the way I was in this story, I would think about increasing my gratitude practice, but I would also definitely talk to my doctor!

FREE Student Article on Gratitude

In my small effort to share this information, I have put together a student-friendly informational article on Gratitude (link below). With this FREE resource, you can help students begin a practice that can improve their own mental health and overall well-being! Please feel free to copy and share this article with all your teacher friends!

If we help one student improve their mental health, then we will have made a huge difference in the world!

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Thanksgiving Activity – How to Write Thank You Notes – Middle School ELA

The week of Thanksgiving has always felt strange in my classroom. Of course, every school’s calendar is different, but during the week of Thanksgiving, we often seem to be left with those two awkward days before the long, five-day Thanksgiving weekend. For the students, it’s fantastic; however, for teachers, the two-day school week just feels awkward!

Additionally, I know my mind is already thinking about one of two things: 1) All the delicious food I am going to eat; 2) All the work I still have to do in order to make the delicious food I am going to eat!

Bottom Line: It’s hard to have a great “school week” with the time constraints and all of the outside distractions! What’s a teacher to do?

I am a big believer of using the holidays to our advantage in the classroom. A holiday-related activity almost instantly engages students-even in middle school! One of my favorite ways to engage students the week of Thanksgiving is to teach them about gratitude and writing thank you notes.

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Gratitude Beyond Thanksgiving

Over the past few years, I have learned about the importance of instilling a daily gratitude practice into one’s life. Surprisingly, there are an incredible amount of benefits associated with being grateful! These benefits include improvements in mental, emotional and even physical health! In this day and age where mental health is such a huge concern, I think it is so important to equip our students with skills that promote good mental health habits! Being grateful is a great place to start!

Thankfulness Informational Article

In this product, I’ve included an article that argues that the practice of writing thank you notes should still be commonplace. In addition, the article discusses the health benefits of gratitude. It’s the perfect informational text to ask students to read for a Thanksgiving activity!

Thank You Notes

Following the students’ reading of the article, they can put into practice what they’ve learned by writing thank you cards of their own. I’ve also included in this product some printable thank you cards. Colored versions are included as well as black and white. Alternatively, students can design their own cards as a fun creative project!

Students may choose someone to whom they can send a thank you card. Another idea would be to find a group or organization that might be appreciative of some thank you cards. For example, hospital staff, the local police force or the local fire department. You could also encourage students to write thank you notes to their favorite teachers! 😉

This is perfect activity to fill those two odd days just before Thanksgiving! It’s quick; it’s easy; and it’s curriculum-related!

How do you like to use two-day school weeks?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. Check out the Thanksgiving Bundle for more Thanksgiving-themed Middle School ELA lesson ideas!


My Favorite Thanksgiving Activities for Middle School

Happy November!

I cannot believe that it is already November 2021! Thanksgiving (and the end of the year) will be here before we know it!

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I love all the things about the autumn season and November is no exception! Even in the classroom, there are so many seasonal lessons and activities that coincide with this month! I’ve linked up a few of my favorite resources that are great ways to engage middle school students in learning ELA curriculum while connecting with what’s happening in the outside world!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Complete Novel Study Unit

Elizabeth George Speare’s classic tale, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, is a great story to read with middle school students. Although the story takes place in the 1600s, many of the conflicts and themes are still relevant today! My students have always loved delving into the world of Puritan New England and experiencing it through the eyes of the protagonist, Kit Tyler, who was born and raised on the island of Barbados. My complete unit includes resources for building students’ background knowledge, supplemental readings, creative activities, and more!

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The History of Thanksgiving – Informational Article

This History of Thanksgiving PDF is the perfect reading to help your Language Arts students understand the facts of the complicated history of the Thanksgiving Holiday. The best part? There is NO-PREP required for teachers! Included in this resource is a four-page informational article, “A Brief History of Thanksgiving,” that is based on facts from primary sources. Students will learn the full picture of historical events surrounding the famous feast of 1621. This resource also includes multiple student assignments with answer keys! Comprehension questions as well as a crossword puzzle that can be completed with details from the article.

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Thanksgiving Writing Assignment: Gratitude Personal Essay

I love finding authentic writing assignments for my students to complete, and this one is definitely among my favorites! This resource asks students to write an essay that discusses one person in their life for whom they are grateful. As you can imagine, these are really fun to read! I love hearing from my students about an individual who has impacted their lives. They are often very sweet and touching essays! Student instructions, a pre-writing graphic organizer, writing paper, an example/model essay, and a grading rubric are all included!

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Procedural Writing – Thanksgiving Style!

In some of the states where I have taught, procedural texts or instructional texts have been a significant part of the state learning standards for ELA. It makes sense–it’s helpful to know how to read step-by-step instructions when you’re learning how to do something new! This festive take on procedural texts is both informative and fun! This mini unit begins with a fun (for you) hook activity where students are asked to fold an origami turkey. The catch? The first set of instructions are terribly written! I love using this activity to show students the importance of writing clear and detailed instructions when teaching someone how to do something. This resource includes an Instructional Slides Presentation, multiple fun student activities, student writing assignment, grading rubrics and more–all with a Thanksgiving theme!

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How to Write a Thank You Note

Around Thanksgiving is the perfect time to revive the lost art of writing thank-you notes with your students! This resource includes an informational article on how to write a thank you note and some templates for students to write their own notes! Bonus points for them if they actually deliver them! This is a great activity for those awkward two-day school weeks!

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Bundle and Save 20%

Can’t decide? I never can either! That’s why I’ve bundled all the Thanksgiving-themed resources together and set them at a discount. Get all four Thanksgiving Units at 20% off!

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Whether you like to include Thanksgiving-related activities in your lesson planning or not, I hope you have a lovely November with your students! It can be such a fun time of year!

All the Best!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Halloween Activities for Middle School Language Arts

I LOVE Autumn! It’s my favorite time of the year! Football, Halloween, cooler weather, fall family activities, beautiful trees changing colors–I am here for all of it!

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I love to incorporate holiday-themed lessons that both teach ELA content and bring in a bit of festive fun! Halloween is no different!

This year, I’ve put together a series of Scary Short Story lessons that engage students in standards-based activities, and are also a way of enjoying the seasons! I chose three short stories to incorporate into my curriculum:

  1. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
  2. “A Ghost Story” by Mark Twain
  3. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

All three of the short story lessons are jam-packed with ELA content instruction and review. Text annotation, characterization, reading informational texts, satire, suspense, and so much are presented in engaging ways to students! Slides Presentations and multiple student assignments accompany each–and, answer keys are, of course, included!

In my TpT Store, these resources are all available separately OR buy the Bundle and save 20%!

Happy Haunting–err, I mean, Teaching!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. If you haven’t already, be sure to snag your FREE Halloween Vocabulary Activities HERE!


Six Picture Books to Read to Middle School Students

Whenever I tell people that I am a middle school teacher, they almost always respond with some version of “Bless your heart!” or “I could never teach middle school!” People always seem shocked that anyone would enjoy working with that age group! I usually just smile and say, “It’s not for everyone, but middle school students are special, and I love them.”

I really do love them! Middle School is a unique time—they aren’t really young children anymore, but they are also don’t have the maturity level of high schoolers.

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!
Live Footage of High School Maturity Captured on Video.

While middle school students are beginning to feel the freedom of independence, they are still just babies at heart and I believe that some small part of them longs to hang on to their childhood just a little bit longer.

This is why I never shy away from using children’s books in my classroom! Despite the fact that many middle school students look like grown up men and women, they love a good picture book!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

I Nearly Chickened Out…

One of my favorite teaching memories is when I had planned to use a picture book to illustrate a concept to my 8th graders. I had it displayed in the front of the classroom and had written it on our daily class schedule on the board. But, to be completely honest, I chickened out. I thought that there was no way these half-adults would be interested in this book. I thought that they would think it was so childish and lame!

So, I skipped reading the story without saying anything.

Towards the end of class, one of the boys (I say, “boy,” but he looked like a NCAA linebacker) raised his hand and asked why I didn’t read the story! I sputtered for a minute and finally said, “Honestly, I just thought you guys might be too old for picture books!” The entire class erupted in protest claiming that they were the perfect age for picture books!

[I’m not a complete half-wit. I realize they were stalling because they didn’t want to do their assignment.]

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Nevertheless, I read them the story that day and they all listened respectfully and seemed genuinely interested and engaged.

[I can’t claim they were thrilled later when they had to finish their assignment as homework! 😊]

After that, I wasn’t afraid to read a picture book to my students when it made sense. Even if students grumbled a bit under their breathe, they always seemed to enjoy it!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Six Great Picture Books for Middle School Read Alouds

I’ve made a list of some of my favorite picture books to read to middle school students.

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Henry & the Buccaneer BunniesCarolyn Crimi and John Manders
I love reading this book with my reluctant or remedial readers! Henry is that tale of a bunny who is a pirate, but doesn’t want to be a pirate. All he wants to do is read his beloved books! While the other pirates make fun of his reading, in the end, they learn to appreciate all the things reading can do for them.

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

All the Ways to Be Smart – Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
This picture book is also a favorite of mine to remind my lower-leveled readers that there are many ways that intelligence presents itself. Just because students may not excel in English literature or Geometry doesn’t mean they aren’t smart! I love reminding students that they have value and worth and something to contribute!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

My Monster and Me – Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love The Great British Baking Show! (PSA: The new season will be available in the U.S. soon!) I discovered this show while I was pregnant with my fourth child. I give it full credit for helping me survive what felt like the gestation period of an elephant! My favorite series was filmed in 2015 (Collection 3 on Netflix in the States) when [SPOILER ALERT] Nadiya Hussain won! I loved watching her grow and overcome adversity throughout the season. I’ve watched that series at least four times and I cry at the finale every time.

When I heard that she wrote a children’s book, I bought it without even knowing what it was about! I couldn’t have been more pleased with this lovely book! My Monster and Me tells the story of a young boy who is plagued by a monster that follows him every where he goes. The adorable story is the perfect allegory for teaching children about dealing with anxiety or other mental health issues! It helps them see that talking to someone about our giant problems somehow makes them grow smaller. I think that it is a big part of our jobs to help students learn skills to manage their mental health!

Middle School students still enjoy reading picture books!

Be Kind – Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
Be Kind is the perfect story to illustrate how one person’s small actions can make a big difference in the world! One small kind act can lead to another and another! If everyone makes a small effort to spread kindness, the world would be a much kinder place to live.

Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) – Keith Negley
Tough Guys is a quick read that I originally bought to help my four-year-old little tough guy deal with his big feelings. This little story helps break down stereotypes that boys and men shouldn’t show emotion. Similar to My Monster, Tough Guys helps promote social-emotional healthiness in our students!

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates – Ryan T. Higgins
I adore this story! I laugh out loud nearly every time I read this book! It’s the adorable story about a dinosaur attending school for the first time—with humans as classmates! This story helps promote kindness and learning empathy for others!

Well, there you have it! My favorite picture books to read to middle school students!

Have you tried sharing picture books with your students? What has your experience been? I’d love to hear from you!

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


The Elements of Fiction Unit

The Elements of Fiction Unit for Middle School Students

My Favorite Fiction Unit to Begin the School Year

Grammar? Vocabulary? Fiction? Nonfiction? Reading Strategies? Poetry? Social-Emotional Learning? Writing? Argumentative Writing? Informational Writing? Narrative Writing?

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)
  • Setting
  • Mood
  • Point of View (1st Person; 3rd-Person Omniscient; 3rd-Person Limited; 3rd Person Objective)
  • Tone
  • Conflict (internal/external; character vs. character, technology, nature, self, society)
  • Foreshadowing
  • Plot Structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution)
  • Summary
  • Topic
  • Theme

Once students have a firm grasp on all these elements, they are prepared to tackle any work of fiction that we could throw at them throughout the rest of the year!

The Elements of Fiction Unit Helps Students Tackle any Work of Fiction!

Resources for many of the individual elements along with the full Elements of Fiction Unit are available in my Teachers Pay Teacher store! Check it out today!

What do YOU like to begin the school year with?

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Unforgettable Back to School Memories

Back to School English Language Arts Middle School Activities

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!

FREE Back to School ELA Activities

Irrational Fears?

At this time of the year, I always remember my very first first day of school as a brand new teacher.

I was terrified.

FREE back to school ELA activities middle school

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!)

Back to School ELA Activities

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!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. Don’t forget to download your 7 FREE Back to School ELA Resources!


FUN Poetry Activities for National Poetry Month

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!

Confession Time

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!

Poetry doesn't have to be boring! Check out this fun poetry unit!

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 FUN Poetry Unit does not have boring Slides Presentations!

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.

FUN Poetry Activities for Middle School Students!
A Creative Writing and Artistic Activity helping students learn about Onomatopoeia.
FUN Poetry Activities for Middle School Students!
An art project utilizing alliteration for middle school students!

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!!

A Fun Poetry Unit for Middle School Students.

Black History Month Research Project Middle School

Black History Month Research Project

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!

Black History Month Research Project. Middle School. Lesson Plans.
Unit outline and individual lesson plans are included.

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!

Black History Month Research Project. Example essay. Drafting.
Teacher Modeling of the drafting process is incredibly helpful for students as they begin to draft their essays.

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!

Black History Month Research Project Class Presentations.
Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

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?

Talk soon,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Lame Duck Lessons – Holiday Edition (Middle School)

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

How to Write a Business Letter (to Santa) Holiday ELA Lesson and Resources

A Holiday Lesson that Aligns with Core Curriculum

  1. 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.

Celebrating Diversity in the Holiday Season.

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?

Happy Holidays!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)