The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Lesson Plans

This post contains a FREE sample from our The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Lesson Plans unit!

When my colleague Tammy and I first began developing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas lesson plans, we had our students in mind.  We did not want to bore them with generic vocabulary work and comprehension questions.  We wanted to challenge them as readers and engage them with this wonderful and profound story of the Holocaust.  There was so much to include:  a look at the impact of the point of view, the irony included, the conflicts, the theme, and of course the author’s craft.  We created a teaching unit that would not bog down our students with busy work.  Instead we created one that would help them engage with this unforgettable text.

We are quite proud of our The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Lesson plans, activities, and handouts, and we would like to share it with you.  Click on the link below to download a free sample from our teaching unit.  If you like it, consider purchasing our entire unit.  All of your planning will be done, you can reuse the unit year after year, and you can rest assure that you will teach the novel with the purpose of helping your students become better readers.

Click here to download a free sample from our The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Lesson Plans unit!

Literacy Centers in Middle School ELA

If you had asked me ten years ago if I would ever use literacy centers in middle school ELA, I would have replied, “I teach middle school, not kindergarten.”  Today, however, literacy centers in middle school ELA are all the craze, so I wanted to figure out if there was a way I could use them.

I started some online research on how teachers incorporate literacy centers in middle school ELA classrooms.  I found that many teachers  rely on centers during guided reading.  While the teacher works with small groups, the other students are using centers.  Centers are also perfect for individuals or small groups who need to be pulled by the teacher for writing instruction.  In addition, I found out that a lot of teachers simply use centers once a week or month so that students can work together and have time for hands-on, student-centered learning.  Of course, centers are perfect for early finishers too.

I was convinced that adding centers to my teaching repertoire would be a good idea, but I didn’t want activities that just provided busy work or ones that were simply fun.  I wanted centers that would challenge my students and make them better readers and writers.  After much planning, revising, and creating, I had the following tenliteracy centers in middle school ELA to try out in my room.  We spent five days rotating through them, and they were a huge hit with my students!    You can click the first one to download the complete center.

  1.  Poetry Fun
  2. Fun with Fables
  3. Informational Text Time
  4. Quote Analysis
  5. Extreme Makeover Writing Edition
  6. Strong Verb Paragraphs
  7. Argue Your Point
  8. Vocabulary Memory
  9. Would You Rather Expository Writing
  10. Creative Writing

While researching the use of centers for my classroom, I came across several ideas to house the centers.  One teacher keeps hers in bags which hang neatly in her room.  I liked the portable center plan, but I decided to house mine in three ring binders.  This way, students can grab a binder and take it to their desk or designated area to work.  All ten binders fit nicely in a crate.

lit center pictures of all notebooks and crate

As for grading the work, I decided to have students keep a “Center Portfolio”.  Each student has a three-pronged folder, and each time work from a center is complete, it goes inside this folder.  I created a checklist to be placed at the front of the folder, and students check off each center as they go.  Once a work sample is complete from ten centers, the folder is turned in for a grade.  I developed an easy checklist to help me grade the work quickly and efficiently.

I plan to add to these centers as time goes on.  The other day, I saw one of those Great American Mail Race letters in my workroom box, and I thought to myself, “This would make a great center!”  Students could respond to letters and participate in the race themselves.  I think this would make a great center because it provides an authentic writing experience.

I’m glad I’ve added these centers to my classroom.  Now that I have them created and inside the notebooks, I will have them for life!   I’ve even considered using them for emergency substitute work. One thing is for sure, my middle schoolers love to work cooperatively, and they definitely learn from one another. Centers allow this to happen!

You can create your own literacy centers for middle school ELA just by thinking of important lessons and developing fun activities to engage and challenge your students.  If you’re interested in the centers we have created, you can purchase them here.  Everything is ready for you to print and place in binders, including the checklists for grading them.

literacy centers cover page

Happy Teaching!

Middle School ELA Christmas Writing Activity

I wanted to share my favorite middle school ELA Christmas writing activity that I do each year a couple of days before our Christmas break.   We  play a gift exchange game, but students do not have to spend any money.   The best part is that students have a ton of fun, and I tie in some writing instruction as well!

So, here’s how this middle school ELA Christmas writing activity works.  Students bring in something from home – nothing new and something that they can give away. They can bring it in wrapped or wrap it at school with wrapping paper provided by me. The number one rule is that they must not tell anyone what their gift is, not even their BFF!  It can be a gag gift but must be appropriate for school. I’ve had students bring in everything from a potato to a cute pencil pouch.  Some students get really creative.  One girl brought in a can of beans with a note that said “homemade bubble bath”.  I usually spend some time giving examples of what is and what is not appropriate.

Once students have brought in their gifts, we complete the first writing assignment.  I explain to students that we will be playing a gift exchange game and that someone in the class will choose their gift.  The thing is, however, students will not be able to open the gifts that they choose.  Instead, they will read the paragraph out loud that describes the gift.  A day or two before the game, students must write a paragraph describing the gift in an interesting way.  They cannot use the name of the gift or anything that would be a “dead give away”.  Instead, they must describe what someone could do with this gift in an imaginative, creative way.  For example, if a student brings in a potato, in the paragraph, I could not write, “This is something you bake or boil and eat.”  I could not use the word potato.  Instead, I would have to describe an imaginative use for it, like, “This will be a perfect paper weight.  If you are often bothered by your papers flying all over the place when your windows are open, then this is the ideal gift for you.  It is just the right size, weight, and color to nicely hold your papers in place.  Also, this gift can be used as a pencil holder.  It can hold at least ten or twelve pencils or pens nicely.”

Once all of the wrapped gifts are in class and all of the paragraphs are written, we are ready to play the game.  This is perfect for the day before the break!  Each wrapped gift has the paragraph with it.  I pull Popsicle sticks with students’ names on them to decide the order in which students choose gifts.  Each student chooses a gift and reads the paragraph out loud.  No one can open a gift until everyone has one.  Students can “steal” a gift from another student when it is their turn or choose from the pile.  Of course, the only thing they have to go on is the paragraph, but if a paragraph does a good job describing some wonderful use of the gift, people will want to “steal”it.  I allow a gift to be “stolen” three times before it is “frozen”.

Once all students have a gift, they open them one at a time so we can all oooh and ahhhh or laugh.  Then, it is time for our final writing assignment.   Students must write a thank you note to the person who gave the gift thanking them for it and telling them how they will use it.  Students must be creative with their thank you notes and be grateful no matter what it is that they received.

christmas gift game for blog

This middle school ELA Christmas writing activity is loads of fun, adds a festive atmosphere to your classroom, and includes two creative writing assignments!  Click here for the free download of the directions, a rubric, and a cute handout for kids to use to write their paragraph.  Merry Christmas!

P.S.  I always bring in a few extra “gifts” for those students who may forget one.  Remember, anything can be a gift, even things like paperclips or erasers in your teacher desk drawer!

Looking for more ELA based Christmas lessons?  Check out our fun and meaningful activity that focuses on analyzing figurative language in the song “Mr. Grinch”!

Literature Circles Using Reading Signposts in Middle School ELA

Have you heard of the reading signposts?  If not, you need to purchase the book Notice and Note Strategies for Close reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.  More information is provided about the signposts later in this post.  Mainly, however, this post will explain how we hold literature circles using reading signposts in middle school ELA.

We call literature circles book clubs in my classrooms.  The kids just get more excited about a “club”.  We recently had our second book club meetings in my seventh grade classroom, and I must say that it was a success!  Four main ingredients contributed to the success:  snacks, comfortable spots, great novels, and the six reading signposts.

First, snacks. Snacks generate excitement.  It doesn’t have to be something huge, just a cookie will do, or a Blow Pop, but allowing students to have a little treat during meetings keeps them looking forward to the discussions!

Comfortable spots- carpet pieces, comfy chairs, bean bags, anything goes.  When students get the chance to get out of their desks for a while, they see that as a treat, and the opportunity to have book club meetings should be a treat!

Next, good novels!  Don’t put boring books on your list of book club books.  You want books that students will fall in love with and won’t soon forget!

Finally, the remainder of this blog post will be about the six reading signposts.  Wow, they have seriously changed my ELA world!

Recently, I introduced my students to the six reading signposts which are described in Robert E. Probst and Kylene Beer’s new book, Notice and Note Strategies for Close reading (which by the way, you need to order ASAP if you have not already).  The signposts are a game changer when it comes to teaching students to complete a close read.   Basically, there are six noticeable concepts that are present in most all novels.  These are called “signposts”.  Each signpost has a question that accompanies it.  When students recognize a signpost, they are to stop and ask themselves the question that goes along with it.  This will help them to comprehend and analyze what they are reading.  For example, one signpost is “Words of the Wiser”.  This is present when an older character gives advice or insight to the main character. (I bet you can think of plenty of young adult novels with this signpost, right?) When students notice this in a text, they should stop and ask the question that accompanies this signpost, which is “How might this change things?”  Each time students see this signpost, they stop and ask themselves the same question.

Click here to see a chart of the six signposts and the questions that accompany them.  

As students are reading their novels, they place post-it notes where they see one of the reading signposts (contrast and contradiction, memory maker, tough question, again and again, aha moment, words of the wiser).  I do not require them to stop and write anything, only to mark the signpost and think of and answer the question that accompanies it.  I provide bookmarks with the six signposts, definitions, and questions for them to use while reading.

In preparation for the book club meetings, students look back through their books at the Post-it note marked signposts.  They choose two that they think would make worthy discussion for the meetings.  Students record those two on their book club preparation sheet, complete with the question that accompanies the signpost and their own answer to that question.  Then, this is one of the main items on the discussion agenda during the meetings.

By far, having book clubs or literature circles using reading signposts in middle school ELA has worked wonders.  My students agreed.  I asked them to give me honest feedback about using the signposts as springboards for discussion during the meetings.  They all assured me, “Mrs. Temple, it works great!”

Check out our book club resource before leaving our site!  It has all of the resources that we use, including signpost bookmarks and preparation sheets for students to use along with their signpost post-it notes to prepare for the meetings.

book club pic