Tag Archives: middle school

Mini Unit: Go, Fight, Win!

As the year begins, one of my co-workers has been assigned a “Plus” class, where she will provide reading instruction to a small group of students who will benefit from an additional period of language arts.

She came to ask me for some ideas, and together we figured out a good starting point.

I figured as we developed the lessons, I could share them here as Mini-Units.

The resource I gave her was from Achieve the Core. (Click here to go to the Fluency Packet for the 6th-8th Grade Band.) The passages are going to be used to work on fluency, but also as a springboard/mentor text for the week’s plans.

We are starting with the first text selection which is a speech by Muhammad Ali called I am Still the Greatest. For an audio, click here.

This is a good starting point for the year because it sends a great message about not giving up.

We liked the Achieve the Core resources because each of the passages comes with  a few extended response questions and some vocabulary to teach, as well.

I then showed her this video, which I was already planning to use on the 2nd day of school.

I just love Mr. Humphrey’s energy, delivery, and message.

At the end of the video he says, “That is what defines who.. .you… are.”

…A perfect lead-in to some positive self-affirmations (an idea I stole from my blogger friend, Miss AuburnChick) and our bulletin board entitled “I Am…” where students will post their affirmations.

Finally, we talked about adding some current music, and I immediately thought of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten and all of the figurative language. Plus it’s just a great song.

Other ideas:

  • Speaking and Listening: Performance Fridays
  • Possible Research Topics: Muhammad Ali, Olympics, Parkinson’s Disease
  • Language skills are hidden throughout the passage for use with mentor sentences
  • Text-to-Media connections

As we come up with more ideas, I’ll add them here.  As always, if you have a great idea to add, share it in the comments!! 

Back-to-School Love

For some reason, our district is a week behind everyone else in the area so we still have a few days left of summer vacation. However, seeing all the Back-to-School pics on Facebook, makes me a little excited for the big day.

So, last night I bought poster board at the Dollar Tree (5 Sheets for $1) and broke out the Sharpies. I could easily buy posters at the teacher store, but there is just something special about making my own.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This is going to go on my closet door, and each student will write about their dreams and goals.

This year’s theme is all about believing in your self, going after dreams, and loving your life…no matter where you are.  Wonder where I got that inspiration!?

I am so excited to talk to my 8th graders and share the exciting news of my first book.  I know that they will be proud of me, and I hope that it will serve as an inspiration and a reminder of how much I love them!

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

This will go in the center of my bulletin board above my desk, surrounded by photos of my family and pets.

What’s your theme for this year?
Do you make your own posters and decorations?
What would YOU attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Share some Back-To-School love in the comments!

The Original Team Challenge Cube

I just received an email with a link to the Team Challenge Cube I learned about (and wrote about here) at OMLA a month ago.

We are using a slight variation at our school, and it’s been quite interesting watching our 7th graders get into it.  I will be posting more about it in a week or so. I want to see how it plays out for a few more days.

Meanwhile, go check out Katie’s other videos here. She has a lot of fun and easy  ways to get students motivated and manage your classroom.

All In ~ Creating a Novel Experience

When I read a novel in my classroom, I tend to go a little overboard.

I try to create an environment that reflects the book.  Between the use of props, visuals, and specific language, I try to recreate the world we are reading about. This is very easy with The Giver. (If you haven’t read The Giver, you might not understand the lingo I am using here.)


For a journal entry, students had to make two observations about the apples and make an inference as to what Jonas might be observing. Of course, we has to toss them around before we started writing.

My students have been placed in Reading Communities.  The Green, Orange, and Red Communities perform differentiated group Tasks in their designated Community Areas a few days each week.

When I need to conference with a student individually, they may hear this:  “Community Member 13, please report to the Grading Area immediately.”

And what about homework?? Well, my Thirteens and Fourteens no longer have homework. But, they do have Dwelling Work

I require students to speak with “precision of language” whether we are talking about the novel or just casual conversation. It’s a great way to promote the use of stronger, more specific, content-related vocabulary.

By taking on the language and adopting unique characteristics of the novel, I am improving their understanding of the book and making the characters come to life.

No matter what my own children say (“Mom!! That is soooo lame!”),  or what my students say (“Oh my gosh…seriously???). I know they love it.

I couldn’t wait until we read Chapter 7, and I could say to them daily, “Thank you for your childhood.”

Stay tuned for more posts about this novel experience!

Meanwhile, how do you make a novel come alive in your classroom?

Did you see The Giver movie? What did you think?

Teaching Figurative Language in 2015

As I drive MJ and Ian around town, or drive the four blocks to work, I always have the radio on. The Language Arts teacher in me hears the figurative language, and if the kids are in the car…I have to shout it out.

I will admit, it is incredibly hard finding lyrics that are school appropriate.  I get nervous every time a student asks me to play a song.

So, nothing fancy, but what I did for you is pull a stanza or so from a dozen songs and posted them here. This could easily be copied into a worksheet, or you could post it on the board for students to identify the figurative language.

Sledgehammer by Fifth Harmony

If you could take my pulse right now
It would feel just like a sledgehammer
If you could feel my heart beat now
It would hit you like a sledgehammer

Blank Space by Taylor Swift

New money, suit and tie
I can read you like a magazine
Ain’t it funny rumors fly
And I know you heard about me
So hey, let’s be friends
I’m dying to see how this one ends

Dark Horse by Katy Perry

So you wanna play with magic
Boy, you should know what you’re falling for
Baby do you dare to do this?
Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse
Are you ready for, ready for
A perfect storm, perfect storm
Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine
There’s no going back

Charli XCX – Boom Clap

No silver or no gold
Could dress me up so good
You’re the glitter in the darkness of my world
Just tell me what to do
I’ll fall right into you
Going under cast a spell just say the word
I feel your love

Ariana Grande – Break Free

I only wanna die alive
Never by the hands of a broken heart
Don’t wanna hear you lie tonight
Now that I’ve become who I really are

Magic! – Rude

Saturday morning jumped out of bed and put on my best suit
Got in my car and raced like a jet, all the way to you
Knocked on your door with heart in my hand
To ask you a question
‘Cause I know that you’re an old fashioned man yeah yeah

Clean Bandit – Rather Be

We’re a thousand miles from comfort, we have traveled land and sea
But as long as you are with me, there’s no place I’d rather be
I would wait forever, exalted in the scene
As long as I am with you, my heart continues to beat

One Direction – Steal My Girl

I don’t exist
If I don’t have her
The sun doesn’t shine,
The world doesn’t turn,
Alright (alright)

But I know, I know, I know for sure

Everybody wanna steal my girl
Everybody wanna take her heart away
Couple billion in the whole wide world
Find another one ’cause she belongs to me

One Republic – I Lived

Hope when you take that jump
You don’t fear the fall
Hope when the water rises
You build a wall

Hope when the crowd screams out
They’re screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs
You choose to stay

Hope that you fall in love
And it hurts so bad
The only way you can know
Is give it all you have

And I hope that you don’t suffer
But take the pain
Hope when the moment comes
You’ll say…

Taylor Swift – Out of Style

Cause You got that James Dean daydream look in your eye
And I got that red lip classic thing that you like
And when we go crashing down, we come back every time.
Cause we never go out of style
We never go out of style

Vance Joy – Riptide

I was scared of dentists and the dark
I was scared of pretty girls and starting conversations
Oh, all my friends are turning green
You’re the magician’s assistant in their dreams

Oh, and they come unstuck

Lady, running down to the riptide
Taken away to the dark side
I wanna be your left hand man
I love you when you’re singing that song and
I got a lump in my throat because
You’re gonna sing the words wrong

American Authors – Best Day of My Life

I had a dream so big and loud
I jumped so high I touched the clouds
Wo-o-o-o-o-oh, wo-o-o-o-o-oh
I stretched my hands out to the sky
We danced with monsters through the night
Wo-o-o-o-o-oh, wo-o-o-o-o-oh

MKTO – Classic

Ooh girl you’re shining
Like a 5th avenue diamond
And they don’t make you like they used to
You’re never going out of style

Related Posts:
Teaching Figurative Language in 2014
Figurative Language in Pop Songs
Teaching Figurative Language with Media

Improving Reading Comprehension by using “Signposts”

As the Resource Room teacher, I have some flexibility in choosing my novels, based on my group each year.  This semester, I chose The Giver. What a wonderful book!! I’ve always loved it, and after seeing the movie, I knew this was the perfect book for my 8th graders.

My thematic foundation for this nine weeks is a continuation of the 2nd nine weeks: “Opinions, Choices, and Consequences.” My students are continuing to make connections between their choices and actions and the consequences of those decisions.  This life lesson is one that all young adults need to learn.

As we are have just began the novel, the focus is on “Adherence to the Rules” and how the rules shape the setting, affect the characters, and create conflict. The students need to understand the general rules of the society before we move on in the story. In the first few chapters of the novel, students have been making observations and inferences and analyzing the text to predict and determine the conflict in the novel.

Through the close-reading and analysis of The Giver, students will actively use reading strategies that will enhance their comprehension of the literature. The strategy I am using is called “Notice and Note.” It comes from the book Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading  by Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst. This is a strategy I read about over Christmas break. The strategy prompts students to seek 6 different signals from the author.  Over the course of the novel, students will learn to use these signposts independently as they read.  The Signposts include:

  • Contrasts and Contradictions
  • Again and Again
  • Memory Moments
  • Words of the Wiser
  • Aha Moment
  • Tough Questions

I did not purchase the book which was a little pricey. Between Pinterest and some general research I was able to piece things together and find a way to make the strategy work for my students.

So far, so great. I can’t think of a more perfect book to introduce this strategy. The first three chapters alone are full of examples of Contrasts and Contradictions, Again and Again, and Memory Moments.

It has been very exciting watching my students’ hands shoot up in the air as I read something that needs to be marked. Right now, as a class, they have a lot of questions:

What is going on in this community? Why are there so many rules?  Who made up these rules? Why don’t the people think it’s strange? When does this book take place? Is this our future? 

Some students caught on very quickly and only needed a day to understand the signposts, which I introduced one at a time. (We’ve only covered the first three so far.) Others are having a little more difficulty, but through guided practice and a lot of discussion, I see more and more students participating with confidence.

I typically read a short passage from the chapter out loud. When I see several students marking their books, I pause and we talk.  One thing I’ve noticed is my students aren’t highlighting EVERYTHING like they typically do. They are searching and listening for specific pieces of information (the signposts) which helps them really focus on what’s happening in the novel.

As I hand out assignments for community work or dwelling work (more on this later), I remind students to look at the annotations they’ve already made in their books because that is where they will likely find the answers to important questions.

If you are in need of something simple and applicable to all novels, “Notice and Note” may be a strategy that works for you.

Do you use Notice and Note in your classroom?

Have you purchased the book? Is it worth the pricetag?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

No Excuses!

How do you manage missing or incomplete homework?

I have a simple system for my Resource Room that puts the accountability on the students.

When students come in and don’t have their work, they immediately fill out a “No Excuses” slip. HW No Excuses

I put these simple papers in a small box next to the homework tray. I then hang onto these slips until they turn their homework in.

For documentation, I write a comment in Progress Book. I quote their exact words. “I couldn’t do it because I had to clean my room.” “I had a concert.” “I forgot.” This communicates the issue to the parents and serves as a record I can pull up any time to show a student.

Very rarely do I need to say, “Go fill out a slip.” They just know.

I also don’t usually have to go looking for the homework the next day. The accountability is there.

Just a brief side note on how I grade homework.  There is always a lot of debate about how to grade homework.  Our building has yet to come to a consensus on the issue.

Each nine weeks, I keep track of all the homework assignments; a simple check mark or missing circle system on a printed roster works for me.

At the end of the 9 weeks, I figure out how many assignments were assigned and completed I give a grade out of 10 points based on their percentage. (For example, 11 out of 12 assignments completed would be a 9.2)

I label this grade as a “Speaking and Listening” grade.  Look at some of these “I Can” statements for SL.7.1 of the CC:

I can effectively participate in one-on-one, group, and teacher-led discussions. [SL.7.1]

I can discuss my own ideas clearly in a discussion. [SL.7.1]

I can build on the ideas of others in a discussion. [SL.7.1]

I can refer to evidence discussion. [SL.7.1]

I can prepare for discussions by reading and researching class materials beforehand.[SL.7.1]

I can follow established guidelines for class discussions. [SL.7.1]

I can participate in conversations by posing and responding to questions and making relevant comments that keep the discussion on topic. [SL.7.1]

I can acknowledge new ideas introduced in a discussion or collaborative activity. [SL.7.1]

I can modify my views if presented with a new perspective. [SL.7.1]

I feel like this 10 point grade at the end of the nine weeks is justified in terms of grading completed homework. Students must be prepared for class discussion, and that means homework should be completed.


What procedures do your students follow for turning in homework (late or not?)

What is your philosophy about grading homework?

Does my grading philosophy make sense? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Writer’s Block? Sentences at Your Fingertips!

Have you ever been trying to make vocabulary sentences and cannot come up with anything remotely creative?

I found a nifty way to come up with random sentences for vocabulary practice and quizzes.

The website “Words in a Sentence” @ wordsinasentence.com will spit out 10 unique sentences for many words.

One of the vocabulary words from The Giver is disposition.

Here are the results:

  • Even though the old man appeared grumpy, he really had a pleasant disposition.
  • His gloomy disposition aside, Jeremy is a very nice person.
  • Whenever my uncle was feeling ill, his friendly disposition disappeared.
  • Janice has a bright smile and a warm disposition.
  • Howard’s disposition is often determined by the type of day he has at work.
  • Because I rarely smile, I am not known for my agreeable disposition.
  • With her inquisitive disposition, Sarah is an ideal candidate for the detective’s position.
  • Even though Eric had an awful day at the office, he still managed to have a welcoming disposition at his party.
  • Claudia’s cheery disposition has opened a lot of modeling doors for her.
  • Although he may look ferocious, my pit bull has a gentle disposition.

There are only 1500 words and it’s definitely geared towards more complex vocabulary, but it’s made things a little easier for me.  I like that there are a variety of sentences from simple to complex and that they are used in a variety of ways. I think these sentences would be great for context clues or having students fill in the blank with the correct word. This site could also provide mentor sentences for language/grammar.

Here’s a another example for inexorable from A Wrinkle in Time.

  • Of course, the public is enraged by the inexorable rise in gas prices.
  • Following her husband’s sudden death, Elaine went into an inexorable depressive state.
  • The inexorable truth is that Shelley is going to die within six months because she has cancer.
  • Because James hit a police officer while driving drunk, he knows it is an inexorable fact he will serve jail time.
  • In hopes of regaining their land, the army started an inexorable march through the country.
  • Mary did not want to watch the movie because she knew the plot contained an inexorable tragedy.
  • In his desire to make sure he was ready for the triathlon, Jason was inexorable when it came to following his training routine.
  • The changing of the seasons is an inexorable event because there is nothing you can do to stop one season from leading into another.

Now, if I could just figure out and remember how to say the word, “inexorable.” It’s one of those words that escapes me every time I try to say it in class!

Do you know of any other sites with similar features?

Where do you get your sentences for vocabulary?

Please share in the comments if you do!

Writing an Argumentative Paper

After reading Side-Yard Superhero I had big plans to have my students write an argumentative paper on big city living or small town charm. I wanted them to make a choice and defend it.  As that time approached, I knew that it wasn’t a realistic assignment.  Most of my students, like most people in this small town, won’t ever leave this town.

So then I thought back to last year and the research project my students did on resilience. You can read about it by clicking the link.  Each student chose their own topic (a disease or illness that they had an interest in) and the final presentations were some of the most genuine and touching I’ve seen.

It only made sense to let them pick their topic this year too.  I did provide a list of questions that I found somewhere online (credit to whoever made this list).  I modified it somewhat and created the three handouts below.

Argument Paper Part 1 – Pre-writing, list of prompts, a prior knowledge sheet, and an opinion sheet for 6 other people – peers, parents, teachers. This was one of my favorite parts  – the students’ response to what people wrote on their paper. I appreciated the cooperation of my co-workers who took it seriously and gave my kids some extra attention.

Students were encouraged to ask others their opinion about their topic. This provided somewhere to start for those who were really struggling. It also made them rethink their own opinions.

Students were encouraged to ask others their opinion about their topic. This provided somewhere to start for those who were really struggling. It also made them rethink their own opinions.

Argument Paper Part 2– This is a 5 page graphic organizer for the intro, body, and conclusion of the paper.  We used the ACE model to write our body paragraphs. If you aren’t familiar with ACE, head on over to I’m Lovin’ Lit and read this blog post.   This is a strategy I found this summer and now all the 6th and 7th graders in our building are using it.

This was challenging for my students, but made them consider all the options. They enjoyed "debating" with each other about the topics.

This was challenging for my students, but made them consider all the options. They enjoyed “debating” with each other about the topics.

Checkpoints Argumentative Paper – I used this checkpoints paper as a way to guide my students through the beginning steps of the process.

Some of the topics my students picked:

  • Later start time for school
  • Being able to work at age 14
  • Dropping out of high school (She has since decided that is a BAD idea!)
  • Eating snacks in class (I’m a fan of that!)
  • Pitbulls as pets
  • Separate classes for boys and girls
  • Exotic animals as pets
  • Seat belt laws

I will admit that Christmas Break, followed by 3 snow days and an in-service day,  cut this project a little short.  We are going to have to go back and work on citing text some more, and we also need to spend some time on the concluding paragraph.  This writing assignment lends itself to a presentation and can cover a lot of standards. We’ll revisit it later next month.

But right now, we are reading The Giver, with a very heavy focus on close-reading, citing text evidence, and improving reading comprehension. Besides the fact I love the book and loved the movie, I am excited to get further into the book with my 8th graders!  But that’s another post for another time!


Discussion Etiquette 101

Students arrived to class on Friday with instructions to get in groups and open a google doc I had shared with the entire class.

With your group answer the following question:

What things should we do to prepare for Rick Niece’s visit?

We were continuing to prepare for Rick Niece’s visit and focus on the learning targets:

  1. I can prepare for and plan for a class discussion.  I can follow agreed-upon rules for class discussions.  I can ask questions to respond to others.
  2. I can use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  3. I can adapt my speech to a variety of tasks and contexts. I can demonstrate a command of formal English when appropriate.

I know this looks like a lot to read, but again, I was so pleased with their responses, I just had to share. These are the 7th grade responses:

What we should prepare for Rick Niece is to look nice, BE RESPECTFUL TO RICK NIECE!!!!!, be really quiet when Rick Niece is talking, raise your hand when he asks you a question, when Rick Niece ask you something you have to say your answer loud and clear. Smile when Rick Niece comes in the room. Do not shout to Rick Niece because that is disrespectful to Rick Niece. Do not be goofing off at the table or around Rick Niece. I think put the tables to the sides and have 2 tables in the middle and have some kids that fool around to sit with a responsible student.

Be polite, be calm when he gets here so it looks like we are a nice class, ask him the questions that we have made up for him, take pictures if he says we can, when we talk about the book talk loudly and clearly… but not too loud, when Rick Niece gets here we be nice and calm.. don’t freak out, if we are allowed to make treats… can we make pumpkin cookies?! It has to be something to represent the book. I think we should put them at the back of the room and the chairs a certain way so it is still easy to get out.  

Look nice,respect the visitor, say nice things,be quiet when Rick Niece is talking, raise your hand when you want to talk, say hello to Rick Niece  when you see him in the hall or in the classroom.

Welcome Rick to our school, raise your hand when you ask a question, talk clear. I think that we should move the tables then  put the chairs in a circle.

Look nice, respect, raise your hand, don’t shout out loud.

Look nice when rick Niece comes. Raise raise your hand when he comes to visit us, clean the room up so it looks nice,write down question ahead of time that way you are ready to go. Respect the visitors like MR.NIECE . ALSO BE VERY VERY VERY RESPECTFUL TO MR.NIECEE. Put the tables in rows, or just take the chairs and put them up front that way everybody can see.

Look nice, Be nice,Welcome Rick to our school ,Be polite to Rick Niece, don’t talk when Mr.Rick is talking. Take pictures of Mr.Rick if he lets us. 


Here is what the 8th graders had to say:

We will have the chairs in rows,and something to drink.We should practice speaking to one another, we should dress up. Give him our respect and have appropriate language.

I think we should put the chairs in a circle so we all could talk and be able to hear each other and we should have some bottles of water and  we all should have are books with us so just in case he may want us to have them and we all have to be very polite and speak loudly and fluently so he could understand us and we can understand him.

I think  we should put the chairs in some type of circle and we can have Mr.Niece sit in the middle of us or beside one of us.,We can also maybe ask the questions that we discussed yesterday and act in a proper way and be kind to him and his wife if she is coming but mostly we should respect him and what he is saying when he is talking  and we should use all the goals we are trying to accomplish like using “eye contact “, “good posture”, and”using good pronunciation.”

We should move the tables and chairs in rows and we should talk about the book. we could also can talk about the characters in the book and see if he has any other book he has. We should also see if he is still in contact with some of the characters from the book.

I think we should have drinks and move the tables close together. We should talk with respect and even if it’s not a topic we don’t want to hear act like we’re listening. Take turns talking and not all talk at once. We shouldn’t be loud. We should stay focused.

We should move the tables to the outer edge of the room and put the chairs in a line.We should look at him when he is speaking.Ask him questions about the book and don’t talk about stuff that we shouldn’t be talking about in school.And we should act like we are in 8th grade.  

 I think we should have our chairs in like a circle so he could be in the middle.I think we should have water  .When we talk we should have all  eyes on him and you should use the right volume when you speak  to him.You should have right pronunciation . I will talk to him like a normal person.For some of us will be happy and excited but we should have control over ourselves .


Reflecting on these responses two days later, I am so proud and so impressed with my students and their anticipation.  Over and over, as I read through the responses, I can tell that they know the learning targets. I pray they will demonstrate them. I know they are going to be beyond excited Wednesday morning.

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