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)

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – Guided Reading Activities

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. 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!
  2. 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

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!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Surviving the Holidays as a Teacher (With Your Sanity Intact)

Use these tips and tricks to keep your classroom (and your mind) organized and structured throughout the holiday season! Do you struggle to keep your students engaged as Winter Break and the Holidays loom in the near future? You're not alone! Keeping the learning going and maintaining students' focus during the holiday season is a difficult task even for veteran teachers! But it doesn't mean we have descend into chaos! Check out how I keep my students learning all month long!

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!

Use these tips and tricks to keep your classroom (and your mind) organized and structured throughout December! Do you struggle to keep your students engaged as Winter Break and the Holidays loom in the near future? You're not alone! Keeping the learning going and maintaining students' focus during the holiday season is a difficult task even for veteran teachers! But it doesn't mean we have descend into chaos! Check out how I keep my students learning all month long!

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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!

Use these tips and tricks to keep your classroom (and your mind) organized and structured throughout December! Do you struggle to keep your students engaged as Winter Break and the Holidays loom in the near future? You're not alone! Keeping the learning going and maintaining students' focus during the holiday season is a difficult task even for veteran teachers! But it doesn't mean we have descend into chaos! Check out how I keep my students learning all month long!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

How to remember 100+ students’ names the first week!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The first day of school! Middle school students and teachers approach the first day of school with a lot of emotions: excitement, anticipation, even apprehension. The first day of school is so important for teachers in setting the tone for the school year. You’ve planned and prepped! You’ve spent countless hours thinking about how incredible the new year is going to be! You’ve agonized over bulletin boards and desk configurations! You’ve emailed parents and ordered supplies! Finally, school is back in session and throughout that first day, you have 100 or more students filing in and out of your classroom! How in the world are you going to remember all of them? Not to mention, assess their levels, differentiate teaching and assignments and help them learn and grow throughout the year??

What’s a teacher to do?

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

Secondary teachers are faced with this unique challenge as we have SO MANY wonderful students each year! In one of the schools in which I taught I had six sections of 35 students each! That was 216 in one year! Believe it or not, by the end of the first day I knew most of my students’ names; by the end of the week, I had them all memorized.

Don’t panic! While generally in my everyday interactions with others I am definitely not the best at remembering names, I’ve used this trick for years and it has never failed me!

I typically begin by asking students to write down three unique things about themselves. When students have had time to finish, one-by-one, we go around the room and each student states their name and shares their three attributes. After each student shares, everyone in the room repeats that person’s name and then the names of the students that have gone before.

Still with me? Let me give you an example:

I would begin and model by sharing three attributes about myself. I might say:

“I am Mrs. Nelson. (1) I have two fake teeth. (2) I love The Great British Baking Show. (3) I love football and have been a San Francisco 49ers fan my entire life.”

After I share, the entire class would repeat in unison, “Mrs. Nelson.”

Next, we would go to the first student. Let’s say her name is Jill. Jill would stand, introduce herself to the class and share three unique things about herself. She might say:

“My name is Jill. (1) I am a professional tight-rope walker. (2) I have created and published six iPhone apps. (3) I have seventeen dogs, twelve cats, a pair of canaries and a boa
constrictor as pets.”

Following Jill’s introduction, the entire class would chorally repeat her name together and then my name, like so: “Jill, Mrs. Nelson.”

We would then proceed to the next student. Perhaps his name is Damian. Damian would stand, introduce himself to the class and share three unique things about himself. He
might say:

“Hi, my name is Damian. (1) I have read the entire Harry Potter series seventeen times. (2) I can do a 1080 on a snowboard. (3) I have traveled to every state in the United States.”

When Damian has finished, the entire class would repeat his name, then work backwards back to the teacher, like this: “Damian, Jill, Mrs. Nelson.”

The pattern continues until every student has had a chance to make their introductions and we have repeated everyone’s name. I can absolutely guarantee that everyone will be 100% certain who Jill is by the end of the activity! If you have a few minutes to spare, you might even challenge students to individually repeat everyone’s names. It’s actually quite fun to see who can remember everyone!

I won’t lie to you: this strategy does take a bit of time, but I promise the investment is worth it! I love making personal connections with students on the very first day of a new year so that they feel known and welcomed in my classroom. One on my favorite ways to begin building working relationships with my students is to learn their names as quickly as possible! In my opinion, it is worth every minute it takes to get to know your students’ names on the first day. You will be in a better position to teach your kids as individuals, they will feel recognized and accepted in your classroom, and, by beginning to get know one another, the students are on their way to creating a great learning community!

What do you do learn students’ names? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your own strategies and ideas!

Good luck! May you have a fantastic school year!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

Welcome to Mrs. Nelson Teaches!


This is my first EVER blog post! As such, I thought I would introduce myself…

My name is Brenna Nelson. I started teaching back in 2007 and LOVE being in the classroom with students! I have spent my career teaching middle school grades 6-9. I have taught regular and Honors English Language Arts, Remedial Reading courses and Journalism in three different schools across three different states!

I adore middle school students! I’m sure many of us “grown ups” remember how the tween/early teen years can be simultaneously wonderful and difficult, often full of self-discovery, new challenges, forging new friendships and, of course, plenty of awkwardness. I love helping these young teenagers navigate these formative years and I hope to be an influence for good in their lives.

Orlando, Florida

I married my best friend Matt eleven years ago and we have four lovely kids: Tristan (8), Rylee (6), Jax (4) and Elizabeth Mae (11 months). We currently live in beautiful Southwest Michigan and plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. If you have never travelled to Michigan, you’re missing out! It is a hidden gem and we are thrilled to have discovered it!

Silver Beach – St. Joseph, Michigan

When I’m not planning lessons and chasing after my own little friends, I also enjoy sports, both playing and watching; reading good books; baking yummy treats; watching movies and The Great British Baking Show; lifting heavy weights and buying Under Armour gear!

I’m so excited that you’re here with me as we share ways to improve our teaching and help our students! Much good luck to you all as we begin this unconventional year! I’m looking forward to learning and growing together!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)