Holiday Activities for Middle School Students

Happy Holidays! Can you believe the holiday season has already begun? As I’m writing this, Hanukkah is underway and Christmas and Kwanza and New Year’s Day will be here before we know it!

Somehow, I always feel like the last few weeks of the calendar year are SO crazy! With the holiday shopping, parties, family traditions and all the rest, it is hard to stay on top of the teacher game as well! That’s why I love using holiday activities in my classroom! I traditionally incorporate several holiday-themed activities in my classroom, including a study of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, reading informational texts about diverse holidays and learning to write business letters!

Holiday Activity FREEBIE!

I wanted to share some FREE Holiday Activities with you to help make your planning and preparation go a little smoother this December! I’ve included 10 Holiday-themed Journal Writing Prompts. These prompts cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from writing fictional stories to personal narratives to more serious and reflective responses! You can easily pick and choose the activities that will work for your classroom.

Additionally, I’ve included writing paper for each prompt as well as a Slides presentation with a slide for each prompt! No-prep is required! This is simply an easy, low stress holiday activity that also helps students improve their writing! Everybody wins!

Family Holiday Traditions

One of the writing prompts asks students to discuss some of their holiday traditions. My all-time favorite holiday tradition is the Sibling Gift Exchange! This is something both my family and my husband’s family did when we were growing up and we’ve continued it with our own children! Watching my children pick out small gifts for each other is simply magical! My kids are always thrilled to choose something they think the others will love! Ironically, these small gifts often become the favorite gift–even when larger or more expensive gifts are received! I just love it!

I LOVE hearing about traditions from other families and cultures–what do you do to celebrate these winter months?

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Gratitude: The Virtue the Changed My Life

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

[FREEBIE ALERT! Keep Scrolling!]

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!)

caption for image

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…

Thanksgiving-Activities-for-Middle-School-Students
caption for image

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?

Thanksgiving-Activities-for-Middle-School-Students
caption for image

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!

Thanksgiving-Activities-Middle-School

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)


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!

thanksgiving-activity-middle-school
thanksgiving-activity-middle-school

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.

thanksgiving-activity-middle-school

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!

thanksgiving-activity-middle-school

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!

thanksgiving-activity-middle-school

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!

thanksgiving-activity-middle-school

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!

thanksgiving-activity-middle-school

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)


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!


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 justserve.org.

It’s so nice for students to be able to do something for someone else and feel gratitude for their own circumstances-even if they aren’t so great. I love seeing the change that comes over students when they do something selfless!

Check out my unit and enjoy the last week of December while STILL engaging students in curriculum!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)