22 Interactive Motivators for Middle School

Middle School Motivators! 22 Interactive Learning Structures
By Responsive Classroom
(Center for Responsive Schools, 2016 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Linda Biondi

Several years ago our fourth grade classes were located in the middle school while our district built an addition to the elementary school. I learned a lot during that time! Let me tell you… It takes a special and unique teacher to teach middle school students.

Hormones, emotions, drama, ups and downs, friendship problems, balancing homework and extracurricular activities. It’s not easy. When I “covered” middle school classes in the past, I would walk out thinking, “How do they do this every day?”

It’s because the middle school teachers know their students. They know that they are motivated by being given choices, by having teachers listen to them, by knowing who they are, each and every one.

These sweet kids are walking the thin line between, “I want to grow up and I’m not sure I want to grow up yet.” We’ve all been there, but it can be hard to remember.

Here’s a book with some real help

I remember walking through the halls of the middle school and hearing the constant motion. Middle school kids need to move! Middle School Motivators! 22 Interactive Learning Structures from Responsive Classroom is a book that helps classroom teachers structure their learning environment so that there is movement, choice, and success.

When I began to read the book, my first thought was, “Great, I have some extra strategies that I can use whenever I need to. Sort of a backup plan in case I have a walk-through observation. Put these ideas in my back pocket.” However, as I read the introduction, I realized that this would be doing a disservice to my students. This book is written purposefully. There is an art to each strategy.

Well supported ideas for engagement

The best way for the reader to use the book’s “At a Glance” charts which include the “Structure or name of activity” – what it is being used for, the skills, practices and page – is to find the right strategy. Once you choose the strategy that meets your needs, you are set to go!

Each strategy contains a brief explanation of the activity, skills practice, time frame, materials needed, variation, and learning goal examples. Although the strategies are focused on middle school students, teachers can easily adapt them to differentiate to the needs of their age group. (I know this, because I tried using it with my fourth graders the first day I received the book!)

Copyrighted material. Click to enlarge.

I always love hearing about other teachers and their practice. It helps you become a better teacher. You learn about what works and what doesn’t work. Good news: each teaching practice in this book includes a story of a teacher applying the particular practice in action. For example, a seventh grade teacher uses Inside-Outside Circles as an avenue to help students practice for upcoming tests by having them share problem solving ideas for finding the value of x in equations.

Yes, many of the structures look familiar. I am sure that many readers will sometimes think, “I used that idea before. What’s new about it?” But sometimes we forget the familiar and the “what worked in the past” activities.  As I was reading the book, I thought, “I have used this in the past. Why haven’t I been using it now? Wait, I can adapt it to meet the needs of my current students.”

For every teacher’s desk

What student doesn’t like to play games in the classroom, and what teacher doesn’t want her/his students to enjoy learning? Each of the 22 activities in Middle School Motivators is interactive and fun, and they all promote positive social experiences. They are energizing and exciting.

This spiral bounded book should be on every middle school teacher’s book shelf or on their desk ready to use. I actually think that this book should be in a handy spot in the teachers’ lunch room ready to be read, shared, and discussed. It’s the kind of book that is a magnet for the teacher who wants to make the lessons come alive, reinforce what is being taught, and have students leaving the classroom at the end of the day anxious to come back.

Copyrighted material. Click to enlarge.

Linda Biondi is a fourth grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, NJ, and a long-time Morning Meeting practitioner. She’s also the recipient of several educational grants, a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project, and a participant on the NJ Department of Education Teacher Advisory Panel and with ECET2 Celebrate Teaching.


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