Informational Text Features for Middle School

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.

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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!

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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!

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What strategies do you like to use to help your students approach informational texts?

Until next time!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


How to Write Hooks!

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

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Perhaps I am getting wimpy in my old age, but I am hesitant to even try it! You’ll have to settle for a GIF!

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

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This writing mini-lesson includes everything you need to teach student how to write hooks. Beginning with an instructional Slides presentation, students will about learn five different types of writing hooks as they take notes on the included note-taking handout.

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Students can then practice writing hooks with a short practice activity, followed by a longer writing activity. A classroom anchor chart as well as student-friendly bookmarks are included to help students remember the content.

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Teaching students to write well can be incredibly tricky. I think it takes a lot of intentional direct instruction, examples, teacher modeling, and PRACTICE! In my class, I like to sprinkle writing assignments throughout all of my units, so that students are more comfortable with putting their thoughts down on paper (or computer screen). That way, when we do come to more formal writing assignments, it isn’t such a shock to my students. For this reason, parts of this lesson are included in my Unbroken unit.

If you haven’t read Unbroken yet, you should! It’s an incredible story of inner strength and resilience. My unit is centered around the young adult version of Unbroken, but the original version is also a great read. The author, Laura Hillenbrand, includes a masterful hook at the beginning of the story. It’s a fantastic real-life example of a hook and I love using it to show my students the power of an incredible hook!

What other real-world examples of hooks can you think of? Share in the comments!!

Until Next Time,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Women’s History Month Activities

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

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

Women in History Bundle

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

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

Student Activities for Women’s History Month

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

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

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

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

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

Talk Soon!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Middle School Valentine’s Day Activity

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

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

Valentine’s Day Activity

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

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Valentine’s Day Writing Assignment for Middle School Students.

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

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

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

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

The best part? Zero teacher prep is required!

Creative Extension!

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

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

Claim your FREE Valentine’s Day Resource Here!

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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!)

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

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

The Slump

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

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

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

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

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

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The Solution

The answer? Gratitude!

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

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

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

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

The Science

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

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

Important Note on Gratitude

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

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

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

FREE Student Article on Gratitude

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

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

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


My Favorite Thanksgiving Activities for Middle School

Happy November!

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

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

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Complete Novel Study Unit

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

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The History of Thanksgiving – Informational Article

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

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Thanksgiving Writing Assignment: Gratitude Personal Essay

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

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Procedural Writing – Thanksgiving Style!

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

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How to Write a Thank You Note

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

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Bundle and Save 20%

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

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

All the Best!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


My Top 3 Greek Mythology Units

Greek Mythology Units for Middle School Students

Greek Mythology is hands-down one of the most popular units that I have ever taught to my middle school students–second only to my Fun Poetry Unit. With the rise of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and other modern allusions to Greek Mythology, students’ interest in the ancient stories is higher than ever. I love to capitalize on that interest and teach students important literacy skills while enjoying the engaging stories of well-known Greek mythical figures.

When I teach Greek Mythology, I divide our study up into three subunits. I begin building students’ base knowledge about twelve major Greek gods and goddesses. Following that, we spend some time reading and analyzing the themes of several famous Greek myths. And finally, we study The Hero’s Journey and eight of the most well-known Greek Heroes. The entire unit takes about a month and students LOVE it! At the end of each lesson, they are literally BEGGING for more Greek Mythology!

Let’s take a closer look at each of the subunits!

1. Greek Gods and Goddess Unit

Lesson Plans for Each of the Twelve major gods and goddesses from Greek Mythology.
Greek Gods and Goddesses Unit

First, my students and I take a look at ancient Greek Deity. Greek Mythology is full of interesting characters, but perhaps none so intriguing as the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece! This FUN no-prep middle school unit examines each goddess and god individually. Students will be able to recognize each deity’s Greek and Roman name, his or her title or realm, the symbols associated with him or her and become familiar with the major myths involving each god or goddess. The twelve gods I include in this unit are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Hades, Athena, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus and Artemis.

For each deity, I use a note card for students to keep track of the vital information of each god–by vital, I mean the information mentioned previously and that will also be on the test! On the flip side of the note card, I’ve included an artist’s depiction of the god or goddess. If we have time, I’ll ask students to color the whole thing; but at a minimum, I ask that students at least color any visible symbols of the goddess or god. This helps them recognize the goddess or god in art, pictures, etc.

We end this part of the unit with a test (review included) and a fun creative activity that my students have always really enjoyed!

2. Introduction to Greek Mythology

Introduction to Greek Mythology.
Introduction to Greek Mythology Unit

Secondly, in the unit, I like to pause and reflect with students about why it’s a good idea to study Greek Mythology. I have devoted an entire additional blog post about my top four reasons we should study Greek Mythology, so I won’t go into that here. However, I do review these reasons with students as part of the unit. We read seven Greek Myths and analyze the theme of each myth. I really enjoy pausing with students and considering what might be a life lesson that can be learned from each myth. Typically, there are many in each myth. Often, my students decipher themes that haven’t even occurred to me! I love this part of the unit where students can think critically!

Lesson Plans for Greek Mythology
Lesson Materials for Introducing Greek Mythology for Middle School Students.

The myths that we read include:

  • The Tragedy of Echo and Narcissus
  • The Tragedy of Phaethon
  • Prometheus and the Theft of Fire
  • The Story of Pandora
  • The Judgment of Paris
  • Oedipus and the Oracle at Delphi
  • The Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus

Each of these stories is so fun to read with students! Some they may have heard of before and others they may not be familiar with. Either way, they are exciting myths to study and analyze together. This unit also includes some creative projects at the end that are a fun way to wrap up this section of our Greek Mythology study.

3. The Hero’s Journey – Greek Mythology

The Hero's Journey Greek Mythology Unit Plan

Finally, the last portion of my Greek Mythology unit is centered around Joseph Campbell’s monomyth or “The Hero’s Journey.” We begin the unit by introducing the journey and then proceed to read about eight famous Greek Heroes: Perseus, Atalanta, Bellerophon, Achilles, Theseus, Heracles, Jason and Odysseus. For each hero story, students can mark how the hero went through The Hero’s Journey and then complete an additional fun and creative activity.

This unit concludes with a formal writing assignment that takes students through the entire writing process discussing their personal hero. We work on prewriting/brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing and publishing. It’s maybe less fun, per se, for students, but it is meaningful for each them to think about someone they admire and why.

Fun and Engagement are Contagious!

As with most lessons we teach in our classrooms, if we are having fun, our students are more likely to have fun. Smiles and enthusiasm are contagious; so are pessimism and dread! So find something to be happy about and have fun studying Greek Mythology with your students!

One thing that may put a smile on your face is that if you bundle these three resources, you’ll get 20% off!

Greek Mythology Unit Plan 20% off Discount

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)