Reading informational texts and other types of nonfiction becomes increasingly more important as our students progress through middle school. In high school and especially in college, students are expected to read large amounts of complex text and retain the information. The shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” generally begins in middle school.
As such, I try to include informational texts as often as possible in my class–even when we are studying fiction! For example, when we are studying The Witch of Blackbird Pond,we read a lot of texts that provide historical context for the novel. When we read Freak the Mighty, we read about learning disabilities. The more students are exposed to and work with informational texts, the less foreign it will feel to them. They will gain confidence in their ability to read these (seemingly) more difficult texts.
Strategies for Reading Informational Texts
Of course we don’t just *read* the informational text. All along the way, I am teaching my student strategies for navigating these texts! For example, on of my favorite strategies to use is teaching students about annotating a text. Annotating really helps students engage and interact with the text, which helps them retain the information so much better! This is an especially useful skill for students who plan to go to college!
Another strategy that I like to arm students with is SQ3R. SQ3R is a five-step approach to reading a text and serves as a great self-check for students to use to ensure they are comprehending what they are reading. The steps of SQ3R are 1) Survey; 2) Question; 3) Read; 4) Recite; and 5) Review.
Using Text Features as a Strategy
Generally, I like to begin the year teaching students how to identify and use Informational Text Features to aid their comprehension of nonfiction texts. Many students might be familiar with these text features, but I am often surprised at how many middle school students haven’t quite grasped how to use them to their advantage.
For about a week, I like to immerse my students in using informational text features.
We identify text features.
We explain how each text feature helps readers.
Sometimes, we even compose our own writing that includes text features!
By the end of this short unit, students are incredibly familiar with informational texts and know exactly how to use the features for their own benefit!
Text Features as Test Prep
While I usually complete these text feature activities with my students at the beginning of the school year, I also like to revisit them at the end of the year in preparation for any end-of-year exams we may have. Reading and Language Arts exams often include several nonfiction and informational texts and like to ensure my students are prepared!
What strategies do you like to use to help your students approach informational texts?
This writing mini-lesson includes everything you need to teach student how to write hooks. Beginning with an instructional Slides presentation, students will about learn five different types of writing hooks as they take notes on the included note-taking handout.
Students can then practice writing hooks with a short practice activity, followed by a longer writing activity. A classroom anchor chart as well as student-friendly bookmarks are included to help students remember the content.
Teaching students to write well can be incredibly tricky. I think it takes a lot of intentional direct instruction, examples, teacher modeling, and PRACTICE! In my class, I like to sprinkle writing assignments throughout all of my units, so that students are more comfortable with putting their thoughts down on paper (or computer screen). That way, when we do come to more formal writing assignments, it isn’t such a shock to my students. For this reason, parts of this lesson are included in my Unbroken unit.
If you haven’t read Unbroken yet, you should! It’s an incredible story of inner strength and resilience. My unit is centered around the young adult version of Unbroken, but the original version is also a great read. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, includes a masterful hook at the beginning of the story. It’s a fantastic real-life example of a hook and I love using it to show my students the power of an incredible hook!
What other real-world examples of hooks can you think of? Share in the comments!!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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!
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!
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!
“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!
As difficult as it is for some of us English majors to understand sometimes, poetry is not always a favorite subject for middle school students. In fact, poetry has not always been my favorite subject. I have clear memories of sitting in Mrs. Callister’s class in 7th grade while she tried to teach us poetry. I remember fighting a headache while trying to make sense of the chicken scratch on the chalkboard that was supposedly depicting stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.
While I have nothing but love for Mrs. Callister (truly, one of my favorites!), as a typical 12-year-old, I had no use for distinguishing the differences between iambs, trochees, or dactyls. Now that I have grown up to become an English teacher myself, I just knew there had to be a more engaging way to teach poetry. This is why I put together my Top 7 Tips for How to Teach Poetry to Middle School Students!
7 Tips for Teaching Poetry to Middle School Students
While I firmly believe that there are a million ways to be a great teacher and, similarly, a million ways to teach poetry effectively, here are seven things that I have found to be helpful when helping young teenagers learn about and connect with poetry.
1. Make It Fun!
My number one tip for teaching poetry to students is to make it fun! How do you do this? It’s simple. YOU have fun! If you are having fun with your lesson, your students are more likely to come along for the ride and find at least some enjoyment in poetry. Plan activities and lessons that are active and exciting and make you laugh! If you’re not enjoying your own lesson… well, your students are probably bored to tears and are finding creative ways to entertain themselves. If you want real learning to take place, you may want to rethink your plan!
2. Make It Relevant
All humans are naturally more engaged in something when we can see how it is relevant to us! Some might say that this is self-centered, but I think it is just human nature. It stands to reason, then, that our students will be more engaged if they can see how poetry is relevant to them! Help students find poetry in their world–in popular music lyrics, advertising and more! Help them connect with today’s young poets! Show them that poetry and poetic elements are all around us, if we have eyes to see it!
3. Make It Meaningful
Similarly, studying poetry will make more sense for students if they can finding meaning in it. Teenagers today care so much about the world around them and poetry can help spread positive messages for issues they care about. Poetry has a special way of forging connections among people. Poetry can take a complicated emotion and describe it with beauty and simplicity. Poetry can help individuals makes sense of the world around them.
We read and study poetry not only to learn about figurative language and poetic elements, but because it helps us understand the human condition. Your students will learn so much more if they can find personal meaning in poetry. So choose poems that mean something to your students!
4. Make It Creative
Another strategy to consider as we think about how to teach poetry to middle school students is to incorporate creativity. Provide students with opportunities to express themselves. Give them the freedom to find the poem within. That said, many students will have no interest in actually writing poetry. To me, this is totally understandable. Not everyone has the natural ability to produce meaningful poems (including me!), so I don’t ask students to actually write too many poems. Alternatively, I like to incorporate creative projects that help them learn about poetic elements and figurative language. Allow them the chance to dabble in figurative language and imagery and alliteration through fun creative assignments.
5. Make it Accessible
Sometimes, we English teachers are in need of a gentle reminder that not every student is a prolific reader and writer. Not every student is going to go to college and take entire university courses on Shakespeare and John Donne for fun! Remembering this, we need to break our poetry instruction down into really simple terms. Start with the basics and scaffold students’ learning from the bottom up so that all students can be successful with your poetry unit. Also, keep in mind that some students may need more support than others!
I still remember, as a junior in high school, hearing my teacher and classmates talk about onomatopoeia in English class. The way they were talking made it seem like it should be common knowledge, but I had no idea what onomatopoeia even was!
I wonder if I missed a lesson on it at some point in my educational career. I thought that such a unique word must mean something highly intellectual. As a teenager, I was much too shy to ask questions, so I simply pretended to understand. Later, when I realized that onomatopoeia was just referring to sound words, I was actually disappointed!
6. Make it Challenging
At the risk of contradicting myself, my next tip is to make poetry challenging! With a solid understanding of the basics, students are capable of being pushed and challenged in their poetry study! One of my favorite things to watch is my students’ growth in understanding poetry. I usually begin my poetry unit with a pretest which asks students to read and analyze Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.” Without any context or skills, the students rarely comprehend the poem. In fact, they are usually completely lost!
However, a few lessons into our unit, we revisit “Mending Wall.” With a little bit of background knowledge and an understanding of how to read a poem, it starts to make sense to the students! I love witnessing those “light bulb” moments, when you can almost see things beginning to click in students’ minds.
Our students are capable of so much! With a little help and guidance, they can do amazing things!
7. Make It Memorable
However you choose to teach poetry to your classes, make it an experience that students will remember–ideally, in a good way! Use your own personality and strengths to make it an experience students will look back on with fond memories!
Quick Recap: Teaching Poetry to Middle School Students
Make it Fun!
Make it Relevant!
Make it Meaningful!
Make it Creative!
Make it Accessible!
Make it Challenging!
Make it Memorable!
Good luck with your upcoming Poetry Unit! I hope you and your students have a great time learning about the magic of poetry!
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!
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!)
St. Patrick’s Day Activities for Middle School Students
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!
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!
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!
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-biographieshighlighting 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!)
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.
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!
Is there a more uncomfortable day in the year for middle school students than Valentine’s Day?
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
Hello Teacher Friends! How is your 2022 going? For me, this year is just zipping by! I cannot believe it is nearly Black History Month already! Since February is so close, I wanted to take a quick minute and highlight one of my most popular resources in my TpT Store. My Black History Month Research Project is incredibly popular this time of year. This resource has helped literally hundreds of teachers and thousands of students learn the research process and commemorate important Black individuals! I’ve recently updated the entire product and wanted to break it down and show you how I use this resource in my classroom!
Black History Month Research Project
With this resource, each student will research an influential Black individual, write a biographical essay about their individual and create a visual representation of their person! While this sounds like a lot of work, I promise I have broken it down into manageable chunks for YOU and your students! Even students who struggle with reading and writing have succeeded with this project!
Phase 1: Building Research Skills
Before beginning, students need a research subject! Included in this resource is a list of over 140 Black individuals who have made significant contributions to society—including many influential women! Personally, I like to randomly assign names to students. (Actually, I usually have them pick a name out of a bowl.) I do this for a few reasons. First, I think there is value in learning about someone new that students maybe haven’t even heard of before. If given the choice, students often default to the Black figures they already know! I don’t want them to do that! Second, I like to have all my students in all my classes have different names. This way, when we display them in the hallway or classroom, we don’t have any duplicates!
After students have their research subject, it is time to learn how to research. Instead of setting my students loose on Google right away, I like to teach them the research process. This direct teaching does take a little bit of class time. However, it is totally worth it! Not only will your students’ end results be infinitely better, but they are learning foundational research skills. Research skills that they will use again and again throughout their educational careers!
In these lessons, students will learn about different types of sources, how to determine if a source is credible, and how to recognize an author’s bias.
I’ve included a “Source Credibility Checklist” for students to keep as a reference that will help them determine whether a source is a “good” source or not. I’ve also outlined a fun activity intentionally using a completely biased website! It’s a real eye-opening activity for students that shows them the need to use multiple sources and check for credibility.
Phase 2: Research & Note-taking
The next step in the Black History Month Research Project is to research! I have two Slides Presentations giving students tips for conducting thorough research and taking notes to keep track of the information they have gathered! Students can take notes on their KWL Chart. I’ve also included a Note-taking Graphic Organizer that helps students keep track of what information came from what source. Keeping track of their information will come in handy later when they create their bibliographies!
Phase 3: Writing Black History Month Research Project Essays
Following the research and note-taking process, it’s time for students to outline and draft their essays. I’ve included a suggested outline that students can use to organize their information. In the Slides, I show how to take the information from their outline and notes and turn it into paragraphs in their essays! In my class, we talk a lot about writing excellent paragraphs. Here is another resource that can help if your students are struggling with this basic building block of writing!
Also in this phase, students will work together to edit and revise one another’s essays. This collaborative process is a great way to teach students how to give and accept feedback. It is also helpful in learning how to improve one’s writing from the first draft to the published final copy!
Additionally, students will also practice citing their sources by creating a bibliography. At the middle school level, I don’t require my students to stick with MLA or Chicago styles or anything in particular. I’m most interested in them understanding that they should be giving credit to the original authors. I don’t worry too much about formatting it in a specific style. I’ve included a Simple Bibliography Guide for students to use!
Phase 4: Visual Display & Class Presentations
Finally, students will create a visual display of information for their person. There are endless options for this portion of the assignment. You could ask students to simply use a large sheet of paper, a poster board, etc. to create a visual by hand. Alternatively, I heard from one tech-savvy teacher who asked his students to create a Slide for their visual component. He compiled the Slides, set up a projector in the front of the school, and looped the Slides all throughout February to allow others in the school to learn from their research!
I generally stick with a low-tech option and use large sheets of paper (my school has 12×18 sheets of paper that seem to work well). Students include the the most important facts and information about their individual. I also ask them to include pictures and a quotation on their poster. When students have finished their essays and their posters, students present their Black History Month Research Projects to the class. Afterwards, I like to display the posters in the hallway outside my classroom to allow others to learn as well!
Phew! If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry! I’ve got you covered! This resource includes over 120 Instructional Slides that literally walk you through the entire process! Also, if you need any help along the way, I’m just an email away!
How do you like to commemorate Black History Month with your students? I’d love to hear your ideas!
Can you believe it’s 2022?! Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is next week! Where does the time go?
I am currently sitting at my computer, wrapped in 5-6 thick layers under a heated blanket and I’m still shivering! I hope, wherever you’re reading this, you’re feeling much warmer!
Commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.
By the time our students come to us in middle school, they have probably learned about Dr. King every year since they were in kindergarten. Personally, I think this is great! It is so important for students to be aware of so many of the diverse individuals who have worked and sacrificed to help improve our country! This does, however, pose a challenge for us as secondary teachers to focus on Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way students haven’t already done before to avoid it feeling repetitive!
This time of year, I like to increase the amount of informational texts that I am introducing to my students. We all know that testing season is looming in the distance. Increasing nonfiction readings is one way I like to prepare my students for those upcoming exams without “teaching to the test.” This year, I put together an informational text about Dr. King! It is a two-page mini-biography highlighting some of the main events of King’s life. As we read texts like this, I like to review strategies for reading informational text with my students (like finding the main idea), along with informational text features, how to use context clues to figure out unknown words, etc. Doing so helps this time be productive learning time for students in addition to discussing Martin Luther King, Jr.
Reflective Writing Assignment
After reading the mini-biography with students, I love to 1) ask students to reflect and think critically about some of Dr. King’s famous quotes; and 2) ask them to write about their own thoughts and feelings about these very real issues. Middle school students are very aware of the current issues facing the world. I have found that they generally LOVE to express their own thoughts and ideas about difficult subjects and ideas-especially if they feel like the adults in their lives are listening! This is why I put together this reflective writing assignment for students! This is one writing assignment that students won’t mind completing!
The Best Part!
In the attempt to help teachers both commemorate Dr. King’s accomplishments and help students develop reading and writing skills, I’ve decided to make this resource completely FREE! This Free Martin Luther King, Jr. Resource comes with a lesson plan, a two-page Informational Text about the life of Dr. King, and the Dr. King quote reflective writing assignment!
Think of it as my “Happy-New-Year-I-Hope-You’re-Somewhere-Warm” Gift! That’s a thing, right?
Anyway, click on the link below to grab your free Martin Luther King, Jr. materials! If you have any questions, drop a comment or email and I will get back with you!