For Kids: 5 Things to Know about Middle School
(by a 7th grader!)
A SELECTION OF OUR MOST
POPULAR POSTS OF ALL TIME
These are among the most-read articles at MiddleWeb since we began in the summer of 2012. We encourage you to browse this list and also use your favorite search engine with a search string like “MiddleWeb (your topic)” to turn up other valuable articles from among our large collection. We hope the few we share here will whet your appetite!
Cross-Curricular Teaching Tips
Beginning your first year as a middle level teacher? Our resource collection points to plenty of how-to advice that will guide you through the first weeks of school and the semesters ahead. Prepared with both novice and level-switching teachers in mind.
Genius Hour gives students the opportunity to be autonomous in their learning. Sometimes, though, they need a little start-up help. Experts Gallit Zvi and Denise Krebs share lots of starter ideas for students and classrooms and urge readers to add their own.
What can you and your students accomplish the last few weeks of school? In this MiddleWeb Resource collection curated by co-editor Susan Curtis, educators share activities that align learning with fun, offer ideas for responding to stress, and suggest strategies to help sustain your classroom community.
The last weeks of school are a time when a little hard work and lots of organization can pay big dividends in a learning experience that is smooth, structured, and fun for all, says middle grades educator Elyse Scott, who shares a dozen end-of-year activities.
Brief encounters with academic vocabulary can add hundreds of words to a student’s collection every year. How to find the time for those short lessons in a busy school day? Marilee Sprenger offers ten possibilities in this extremely popular guest article.
To improve student outcomes, says teacher educator Curtis Chandler, it’s important to invest extra attention in the first five minutes of class. He shares a variety of techy and not-so-techy ideas to ignite student interest and energy for whatever else is to follow.
Meaningful academic conversation makes for sticky learning, but most students don’t bring a high proficiency in the needed skills to the classroom. Expert Jackie Walsh describes a step-by-step process that can help teachers cultivate deep student discussions.
“I’ve been accumulating guiding principles for creating highly motivating homework assignments for many years,” writes expert Rick Wormeli. “Here are a baker’s dozen. Choose the ones most appropriate for students’ learning goals and your curriculum.”
ELs are capable of doing the same kind of thinking that non-ELs can do. They might just have to temporarily show their understanding differently than their peers do. EL teacher Tan Huyhn shows how teachers can focus on the ELs’ thinking and differentiate everything else.
Learn how Socratic Seminars can help students develop effective habits of discussion, explain their ideas, and support them with evidence in this guest post by Sarah Tantillo, who provides a complete how-to with many resources!
Former special education teacher Cheryl Mizerny says the same techniques used to help kids with dyslexia succeed can benefit all students in the core subjects. Now an ELA educator, she highlights useful tools, instructional techniques, assessments, and SEL strategies.
Successful co-teaching requires partners to discuss difficult truths, says special educator Elizabeth Stein. While not every relationship will reach the “pinnacle of positive communication,” Stein suggests four elephant-in-the-room conversation starters.
Veteran teacher-educator Jennifer Gonzalez (founder of Cult of Pedagogy) knows the anxiety and frustration associated with learning to teach with technology. In this excerpt from her new book, Jenn shares her 7-step framework for adding more digital prowess to your teaching practice.
Effective note-taking can deepen understanding, but students rarely develop this skill on their own, writes Curtis Chandler. With a few tweaks we can help middle schoolers transform the painful process of note-taking into a terrific tool for thinking. Tips & links!
Assessing students’ prior knowledge allows you to customize your teaching by anticipating their needs. Consultant Barbara Blackburn provides 8 simple strategies to help you gain an understanding of what your students do and do not know before launching into a lesson.
Vocabulary knowledge is the heart of reading comprehension and academic achievement, says literacy consultant Brenda Overturf, “and it means way more than just learning words.” Students must have the tools to decipher unknown academic words. She shares three of the best.
In a successfully differentiated class, writes middle grades learning expert Rick Wormeli, “we often allow students to redo work and assessments for full credit.” Several stipulations and protocols make it less demanding on teachers and more helpful to students.
If we expect students to achieve mastery, teaching consultant Rick Wormeli says, we must provide helpful feedback, document progress, and inform our instructional decisions with pertinent performance data. Yet many conventional grading practices render our data useless.
To create classrooms where vocabulary learning thrives, Valentina Gonzalez recommends an interactive word wall – a large graphic organizer displaying critical vocabulary with related ideas and visuals added by students. Great across subjects, for ELs and everyone else!
Recognizing the need for a reliable, research-based method to test listening comprehension skills, Monica Brady-Myerov at Listenwise has worked to bring an easy-to-use method to the classroom, drawing on curated NPR content to engage students with important stories.
Responsive Classroom’s 50 brain breaks give kids a chance to rest their brains by redirecting their minds. Some are calming, some are energizing, and all help students refocus & release stress. Quick, easy and student approved, says teacher Linda Biondi.
How can something as simple as Wait Time have such an incredible impact? It’s the difference between a student, especially an EL, fully being engaged and participating, and a student becoming frustrated and checking out, writes teaching specialist Valentina Gonzalez.
Jackie Walsh shares resources and strategies teachers can use to partner with students and create new roles and responsibilities in classroom questioning. Replace traditional “interrogation” with methods of inquiry that reveal understanding and strengthen learning.
When it comes to student learning, we usually think about how to get information into memory, says expert Marilee Sprenger. But we also have to get the information out. Be sure to use these 7 brain-based steps to strengthen connections and make memories permanent.
New Year resolutions about teaching and learning are too limiting and ultimately frustrating, says co-teaching coach Elizabeth Stein. Teachers can help students (and themselves) pursue goals all year using 5 self-reliance strategies to insure progress.
Although our assessment of students is critical to learning, we also want students to learn to assess themselves, writes teaching consultant Barbara Blackburn. Encouraging students to take measures of their own progress is both more rigorous and more empowering.
Middle school advocates have long championed thematic curriculum design and project learning. Now is the time to actually do it, say Nancy Doda and Mark Springer, who describe a path to interdisciplinary and integrative learning.
Class Management and Behavior
Even with all the usual basics in place, the small things novice teachers do could be wreaking havoc on your whole classroom management system. Middle school veteran Jennifer Gonzalez identifies unproductive habits, along with more effective alternatives.
Every child has assets and the potential to develop even more. By focusing on what’s right with our students through Strengths-Based Teaching, we help them gain authentic self-esteem and a genuine growth mindset. Teacher Cheryl Mizerny shares her own classroom strategies.
Teachers should be friendly with secondary-level students but avoid adult-style friendships, say master teachers and multiple book authors Larry Ferlazzo and Rick Wormeli in this excerpt from Classroom Management Q&A.
As the “let’s be nice” novelty of the first weeks of school fades away, you’re tired and the kids are restless. It may be time to refresh your systems for maintaining positive behavior. Discover ways to overcome the challenges of DEVOLSON in Rita Platt’s resource-rich post.
Effective group work sparks student engagement and builds communication skills for the future. But how do teachers structure teamwork activities so kids are cooperative and everyone learns? Instructional expert Barbara Blackburn offers a step-by-step blueprint.
The developmental needs of tweens are unique, and flourishing as a middle grades teacher requires special skills. Teaching expert Rick Wormeli offers five customized strategies that are attuned to the particular requirements of the adolescent brain!
Julia G. Thompson, author of the 1st Year Teacher’s Survival Guide, considers what it means to have a culturally responsive classroom. Tips and resources to help new and novice teachers and others who want to review their current practices.
When it comes to high expectations, learning consultant Barbara Blackburn says actions speak louder than beliefs. Using her own classroom mistakes as a backdrop, she points out the teacher behaviors that signal struggling learners whether we mean what we say.
Ultimately, teachers have the final say in the classroom. But when they share some ownership with students, they create a true community of learners and reap benefits for themselves. Expert Barbara Blackburn shares three ideas about building student ownership.
Social Emotional Learning
Middle school students are a unique breed, says educator and consultant Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy), and they need teachers who are tuned in to the intense dichotomies of adolescent life and learning. She offers teachers new to the middle level eight helpful tips.
Some teaching practices help strengthen students’ self-efficacy, motivation and confidence, while others create learned helplessness. Author-consultant Sarah Tantillo identifies 17 common teaching actions that lead to student inertia and offers better alternatives.
“My learners are young and impressionable,” writes 4th grade teacher Mary Tarashuk. “Teaching them true respect, for themselves and for others, just might get us on the path to improving some bigger problems we see around us.” Learn how Room 4T’s Pay It Forward project supports that goal.
After 20+ years of teaching, Cheryl Mizerny knows middle school is where she’s meant to be. In her first post at “It’s Not Easy Being Tween” Mizerny shares six aspects of young adolescents that make middle-level teaching the toughest job she’s ever loved.
Most educators use praise in their classrooms. However, students can interpret praise positively or negatively and teachers need to know the difference. Author and consultant Barbara Blackburn looks at six characteristics of effective praise that can motivate students to strive and thrive.
In his powerful book “Not Light, But Fire” teacher Matthew Kay shares three rules of discussion – each centered around listening – that he teaches his students. His goal is to transform the classroom into a true “safe space” for difficult conversations about race and life.
Eighth graders present a time-stop video and describe the creation of their “I AM Wall” in their school – part of a project on stereotyping that included reading S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. The video, set to the song “Iron Doors” by The Lighthouse and the Whaler, is amazing to watch.
For teachers to help students not only survive but also thrive through this frightening pandemic, we need to underscore both their and our fundamental need for kindness and gratitude. Author-educator Dr. Debbie Silver shares the science of anxiety and lots of options to help.
First day routines evolve over the years, says veteran teacher Cheryl Mizerny, but she has found that addressing 7 questions most students bring to class will help them feel welcome and excited about learning. A student advisory panel supports her observations.
English Language Arts
You’ve taught students to read closely, to annotate, to discuss – now what? Teacher/writer Marilyn Pryle shares five reader-response activities she uses to help students interact with texts in creative ways, inviting higher levels of thinking and understanding.
ELA teacher Amber Chandler is in a quandary. She wants to give her students time each week to “read for enjoyment” but knows the research on Sustained Silent Reading reveals little impact on fluency. Can she bridge these muddied waters? All ideas welcomed!
Literacy expert Regie Routman takes teachers for a ride and demonstrates how to avoid roadblocks that make writing less than doable, effective and gratifying. The destination? Classrooms where students routinely write to think, problem solve, create and explore.
Learning to read hard nonfiction is a life skill, says principal Rita Platt. It allows students to dive deep into content, enriches vocabulary, and can be a jumping-off point for developing lifelong pursuits. Platt shares strategies her school uses to spark interest.
To ensure all your students benefit from frequent reading conferences, it’s important to keep them short, focused and effective. Author and literacy consultant Jen Serravallo shares 7 tips for being efficient with your time without sacrificing impact or feeling rushed.
Each school year Cheryl Mizerny’s 6th graders explore three whole novels as a class. In this post, she shares the 10 techniques she’s developed to maximize the experience, including “reading like writers” and applying fiction’s life lessons to their own world.
There are good reasons to have students do collaborative writing, writes teacher-author Jeremy Hyler, who uses the strategy in his classes to encourage team brainstorming and to let each students “write to their strengths.” Included: Using mystery puzzles for argument writing.
Amber Chandler describes a PBL unit, built around the dystopian novel The Giver, that takes students deep into the book’s ideas by having them create and debate their own ideal communities and explore unintended consequences. Tips and handouts included.
When students are challenged to “close read” a movie, they must not only learn how to deconstruct the story, they must also understand the many techniques that are used by filmmakers to create the total effect, says media and film literacy expert Frank W. Baker.
Over the years Cheryl Mizerny has crafted poetry experiences that her students really enjoy. Her reading and writing ideas enable kids to understand poems without dreading the annual “poetry unit” she herself disliked as a tween. She shares 10 of her favorites.
When you think of Greek and Latin roots, you think high student engagement, right? No? ELA teacher Amber Chandler plans to make all those old roots rock this fall as she introduces the concepts of language development and acquisition to her students.
Teachers can help students explore important connections across different genres and subjects using “text sets” – collections of books and other media with a common theme. In this MiddleWeb article, teacher educator Amanda Wall details an assignment creating text sets for ELA and math. ALSO SEE: Use Text Sets to Spark Unstoppable Learning.
Teaching students to write effective arguments supported by reliable evidence is one of the notable “stretch goals” of the common core. Expert Sarah Tantillo has added a critical new step to her own strategy in an effort to help more students reach the goal.
Most guided reading programs emphasize daily ability grouping with too little emphasis on developing self-directed readers who love to read for pleasure or enrichment, says literacy leader Regie Routman, who points out equity issues revealed in recent research.
Educators may be reluctant to try memoir writing with middle grades students, but the rewards are considerable, says 8th grade teacher-author Jake Wizner. He shares three insights that can help guide teachers as they enrich the student writing experience.
As summer approaches, finding a balance between post-testing fluff and demanding, multi-week projects can be a challenge. Middle school teacher Cheryl Mizerny shares a bevy of her own classroom-tested activities that are brief, enjoyable and likely to spur learning.
History and Social Studies
Middle level students want to know how their studies relate to their lives, writes teacher-author Sarah Cooper. “The history we teach reaches them best when it involves novelty, humor, meaning, a sense of self, and a connection to the real world.”
Project learning in history class can increase student investment “and make them care about this stuff,” say our Future of History teacher-bloggers Jody Passanisi and Shara Peters. Here they describe and reflect on two 8th grade American History units (Civil War and Reconstruction) that incorporated Project Based Learning.
Moving current events front and center has been one of the most influential paradigm shifts in Sarah Cooper’s years of teaching U.S. History. How does she find the time? Learn three simple ways to help students stay attuned to the news and make historical connections.
In earlier years Jody Passanisi provided sources to her 8th grade history students. More recently, as they look to the Internet for information, she finds they need to understand not only how to cite sources they uncover but also why they need to credit ideas.
What should new social studies teachers keep in mind as they begin their first year in the classroom? Three contributors to MiddleWeb’s Future of History blog share their best tips. (Also see contributor Lauren Brown’s Refreshing Advice for New History Teachers for even more help.)
Most educators who teach propaganda use examples from the World Wars, says media literacy expert Frank Baker. “But propaganda is happening today—all around us.” Baker introduces a new resource that can help teachers and students exert their “minds over media.”
Historical accounts are seldom objective, write history teachers Jody Passanisi and Shara Peters. They recommend several strategies from their own classrooms that educators can use to help students detect bias and compare varying perspectives.
The global pandemic “will be in the history books, won’t it?” Absolutely, 8th grade teacher Lauren Brown told her students. She’s devised a simple home assignment – students create a ‘primary source’ for future historians by jotting down their questions, concerns and observations. See her suggested prompts to get kids started. (UPDATED to include Lauren’s Google slides.)
Michelle Russell’s first week back in math class went great. Learn how she launched her classroom communities, thanks to teachers whose activities and ideas she scouted out online. Michelle has included all the students’ favorites in case you’d like to try some yourself!
Inspired at EdCamp, Michelle Russell is trying optional math homework. Students decide how well they understand topics and do homework if they need practice. The next day begins with discussion and then a “homework quiz.” Michelle reports on how it’s all working.
Imagine an open-ended math task that gets students asking questions as well as answering them. Jerry Burkhart shows how a problem like this can help teachers differentiate instruction for advanced students while stimulating curiosity and perseverance for all learners.
How do you get to know all your students in a crowded classroom? Teacher Michelle Russell put a new plan into action this fall in her largest class (28). Selecting names at random, she set out to have a quick chat with one student each day for a month. Discover how it went!
When Michelle Russell reviewed video of the math classes she had recorded, reality turned out to be much different than what she had imagined was happening. In her usual transparent style, Russell describes what she’s learning and what she’ll do to improve her practice.
Science and STEM
Providing STEM students with real-world problems fuels their curiosity and investigative interests. But where do teachers find problems worthy of investigation? Veteran science teacher and STEM curriculum consultant Anne Jolly breaks down the most desirable components of a good problem and points to some examples.
Anne Jolly, author of STEM By Design, describes a successful 12-step process used by teacher teams in Mobile AL to design STEM lessons. Developed with grant support from the National Science Foundation. See all of Anne’s MiddleWeb articles about STEM lesson plans here.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all STEM curriculum design for middle school, says expert Anne Jolly, the best programs she has seen have eight things in common. “Over the course of their middle school journey, students should be thoroughly immersed in all of these components.”
Becoming a STEM teacher means accepting the need to change traditional teaching methods and give up some control. Master science and engineering teacher Anne Jolly identifies 10 best practices.
Classroom studies should emulate what is happening in the real world of scientists, says NGSS leader and NBCT Kathy Renfrew. This means students are not only questioning, investigating, talking and writing – they are reading about science. She suggests reading strategies and resources.
Anne Jolly picks 6 global engineering challenges that can produce “real problems” for MS students to address through STEM lessons and projects.
The unique design of STEM lessons allows students, regardless of ability, access to real-life learning experiences. Giving students with special needs authentic STEM experiences can help them get ready for a future where all types of people live, work and solve together.
When stay-at-home kids (or students) need an engaging project to grab their interest, introduce them to creating STEAM-y musical instruments they can craft from household items. STEM educator Anne Jolly shares ways to help 4-8 graders try out ocean drums, panpipes and more.
Other Interesting Stuff
Where is the literacy in the ELA classroom when all of the students are engaged in designing and producing video game projects using science and other content? Kevin Hodgson explains why the work his sixth graders are doing satisfies writing standards.
Teaching experts Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker contrast the typical characteristics of effective and ineffective classrooms using two simple but compelling bullet lists. Excerpted from the 2nd edition of their bestselling book Seven Simple Secrets. We selected this with new teachers in mind but recommend it to any teacher ready for some reflection.
Have you been there as a teacher? Overwhelmed, weary, dissatisfied – not taking care of your physical and emotional health – not happy with your professional performance? Cheryl Mizerny got there this fall and shares some of what she’s doing to bounce back.
Standardized testing and the end-of-year rush leave Michelle Russell feeling low on energy, ideas and patience. She shares strategies she uses to bounce back and help her students do their best, starting with strengthening school relationships and having some fun.
Every school has unique procedures, traditions, and personalities. What if new and transitioning teachers, starting fresh in an unfamiliar space, had a checklist to make induction easy and systematic? Author-consultant Frank Buck supplies that tool!
Where does humor fit into the classroom? Just about anywhere! Check out these refreshed resources on why humor works, how to share it, and where to find it. Funny math, ELA, social studies, and science resources abound.
The first step toward gamifying your classroom can be as simple as taking the “ew” out of “review” with these helpful game-oriented apps, selected and described by tech integration expert Curtis Chandler. Included: Quizizz, Kahoot, Classcraft and Class Dojo.
Online teacher marketplaces may seem harmless, but when sellers offer materials that violate copyrights and ignore intellectual property rights of original creators, they set a poor example for kids and the profession, says teacher Brent Gilson, a “reformed” TPT vendor.
Although some teaching strategies have been around for a long time, not all the “classics” are actually effective at engaging students in authentic ways. Bryan Harris and Lisa Bradshaw, the authors of Battling Boredom, explain why some common practices just don’t work.