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)


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)


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

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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

What’s a teacher to do?

Photo by Stanley Morales from Pexels

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

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

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

Still with me? Let me give you an example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck! May you have a fantastic school year!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Welcome to Mrs. Nelson Teaches!

Hello!

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

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

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

Orlando, Florida

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

Silver Beach – St. Joseph, Michigan

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

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

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)