5 Ways to Ruin Your Middle School Classroom Climate

Classroom climate is really important, and especially in the middle school.  We want our classes and our classrooms to feel safe, to feel engaging, respectful, welcoming, and supportive.   In order to highlight what it takes to create this type of environment, we want to discuss five ways to ruin your middle school classroom climate.

1.  The first way to ruin your middle school classroom climate is to nitpick your students. 
Another way of describing nitpicking is “fault finding”.   Teachers do this when trying to catch their students doing something they shouldn’t, or looking for any little thing to stay on them about.   Instead of staying on students about every little thing, we need to be mindful of watching for students doing the right things.  We certainly have to address issues in the classroom, and there are times when we need to say something to a student for doing something that is distracting to others, but we can say or do something in a way that doesn’t come across as “nitpicky”.  Imagine a kid who is tapping his pencil all the time and about to drive you crazy.  If you look at him every five minutes and say, “Stop tapping your pencil!” he may end up doing it more and more.  Imagine instead of telling him to stop, you say, “Put that pencil in your desk for now.”  This way, his behavior is redirected and changed completely. Later on, when you can talk one on one with that kid, say, “Thanks for putting that pencil up when I asked you to.”

At other times, just ignore it. You’ll be surprised at how this will create such a better atmosphere than staying on kids about small things.  We really have to pick our battles.  We don’t want to let the small stuff become the only stuff.  Sometimes, teachers too easily make small things their focus.  If a kid doesn’t have a pencil, just give him/her one.  Don’t make a big deal out things like this that can be easily solved.


2.  The second way to ruin your middle school classroom climate is to handle problems in front of your entire class.

We all know that handling a problem with a student in front of an audience does not work. We don’t want to call a student out in front of everyone because that student may retaliate. Then, you may retaliate, and before you know it, you’ve got a battle going on in front of everyone. There are better ways to handle a student who is causing problems.  For example, if there’s a kid who’s talking when he/she shouldn’t be, I might just look at that student, put my finger to my lips with my teacher-look that means business.  I might walk over there and just simply put my hand on the desk, and that takes care of it.   We also don’t want to use sarcasm. Sarcasm makes kids shut down. It makes them feel stupid.


3.  The third way to ruin your middle school classroom climate is to keep your class boring and “stiff”. 
If you want to ruin your middle school classroom climate, keep it boring. Do the same thing day in day out for the entire school year. That’s going to create a place where your students don’t want to be. For your classroom to be positive, you want them to be there, to look forward to coming to your room. Think about times when you can add games so that the kids get excited and pay better attention. Some of the ones online right now that are so fun for the kids include Gimkit, quizzizz, Blooket.  If you haven’t yet, check those out.  You can get a free account for those.
Learning platforms like Nearpod, where you can make sure all of your students are engaged are also great for your classroom climate. Nearpod allows you to see all of your students’ responses in real time and allows you to incorporate fun activities in a lesson.  If you’ve never tried using Nearpod, I encourage you to do so.  It is a game changer when it comes to teaching and keeping students engaged!

Other ways to avoid monotony in your classroom are to incorporate storytelling into your lessons, let students work with partners and in groups, use videos, bring in humor every single day. Take the time for a few minutes to focus on a funny thing that a you or a kid did or said. And just for a few minutes in that instant, you’ve made your classroom happy. You’ve brought that little bit of joy in there, and it makes your kids want to be in your classroom.  Just make sure to change things up from time to time.

Watch out for your class feeling too “stiff” as well.  Sometimes we feel that in order to have good classroom management, our students have to be silent, sitting face forward with their hands folded nicely on the desk.  We sometimes need to lighten the mood in the room, not too much, because that can lead to a chaotic environment, but just enough so that it is a fun, positive place for students to learn.   Little things like giving a student a high five when he/she does something good, or having another student give that high five. Or if a kid sneezes, say bless you.  Even that simple little gesture can lighten the climate of a classroom.


4.  The fourth way to ruin your middle school classroom climate is to yell at your students and give them commands without explanations. 

Yelling is not effective in today’s classroom.   It’s just not worth it.  Use a firm “I mean business voice” when you need to, but don’t yell.  Also, when we give commands to our students, it is so helpful to tell them why we want them to do what we’re asking them to do.   You will be so surprised at how much better a student will respond to what you need them to do if you give an explanation for it.  For example, I could say “I need you to be quiet.”   Or I could say, “I need you to be quiet because we’re about to read. And when I read, if somebody is talking, I can’t concentrate, and I keep rereading the first sentence over and over again.”  I promise that students will respond better when they have that explanation.

Another tip I’m going to throw in here, because I’ve found it really works, is to change up the way you ask students to be quiet or to sit down or whatever you need them to do.  Students hear the same thing all day long from all of their teacher.  They constantly hear “Be quiet.”  “Stop talking.”  They hear these so much that they sometimes stop paying attention to them.  If you can change the way that you say those things, they will listen and respond better.  Here’s an example. Instead of saying, “Stop talking,” try this. “If you’re talking… stop.” Then follow it up with your reason behind it.  “If you’re standing, I need you to have a seat because I’m about to give you some instructions, and I want all eyes on me.”   You’re going to be amazed at the difference that will make.


5.  The fifth way to ruin your middle school classroom climate is to show no interest in who your students are as people.  
The last, and probably the main way that you can ruin your middle school classroom environment is to show no interest in who your students are as people. It’s important to become interested in things your students are interested in.  It’s important  for your students to know that you are an adult that they can come to if they have a problem.

  • Set up T-Mail in Your Classroom

One simple thing you can do is to set up a T mail (not e-mail) station in your classroom.  T-mail stands for Teacher Mail.  Make a space in your classroom for a  basket or a box where your students can drop you a note.  Just make sure other students don’t have access to it.  You could also do this digitally using a Google Form or Google Doc once a week or month, or however often you wanted to.   Take the time to read these notes and respond to them. So many kids are just so shy and timid that they’re never going to say anything to you, especially in front of anybody. But when you have that place set up… that safe place, they’re going to feel comfortable in even asking a question about content. This also provides a way that they can talk to you about some of the students who may be bothering them in your middle school class; something you haven’t noticed.  Sometimes students need our help, and they’re not sure how to get it. T-mail provides an easy and non-threatening way.   This will do wonders for your classroom climate because it will show your students that you see them as people, and in turn, they will see you as a person…one who cares!

  • Making speaking personally to each student intentional

Another thing you can do is to  get a calendar, and each school day on that calendar for that month, write a different student’s name. On that day, that name will remind you to go speak to that kid personally and ask them something about his/her life, something like, “How’d you do in your game last night?” or “Do you have any brothers and sisters?”

  • Use the Ten-Two Strategy

Or you can do something called the 10 to 2 strategy.  This is especially beneficial for any student that you’re having trouble with in class.  Here’s how it works.   For 10 days, spend two minutes with that student one on one, asking him/her questions or talking to him/her about things that he/she is interested in. That’s why it’s called 10 to 2.  Ten days, two minutes. You will notice a tremendous difference in that student’s attitude and behavior because he/she is going to realize that you really care about them as a person.

  • Start a “Secret Shout-Out Program”

And one last thing you can do is to have a year-long “Secret Shout-Out” program with your students. This is somewhat like Secret Santa. Each student is assigned to another student in the class, and they are responsible for providing secret shout outs throughout the month or throughout the nine weeks. Provide notecards to students and tell them to write compliments or quotes to inspire their secret shout out person.   They turn these cards into you, and you will deliver those, keeping everything anonymous. Stress that students should keep it a secret. This is really a wonderful thing to do to build your classroom climate because kids love getting these, and they enjoy making cards for others as well. They will always look forward to receiving their personal “shout out”!

Four First Day Activities for Middle School ELA

Ahhhh, the first day of school.  No matter how long you teach, it seems that there can still be anxiety of what to do on that day.  We want to share four first day activities for middle school ELA that you will love! We’ll cover what students should do when they enter your room, the rules that we have found work all year, exciting icebreakers that you can use, and even a lesson to begin on that very first day.

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Students Entering the Classroom

To begin with, we make sure we’re standing at the door so that we can greet students as they enter.  This is one of the important first day activities for middle school ELA to ensure success.  As students enter, we tell them to look on the screen in the front of the classroom.  On the screen, we have  directions telling students what to do.  First on the list is how to find their seats.  We have their names on their desks and use alphabetical order until can can learn names.  We are firm believers in having a seating chart for the first day. It actually makes your students feel more comfortable because they don’t have to worry about things like who am I going to sit next to or who’s in this class. We’re from the generation of Harry Wong, The First Days of School. If you’ve never looked at that book, you might want to check it out on Amazon. He believes in seating charts. We start that from day one.  Also on the list displayed on the screen, we tell them to begin working on the bell ringer that we already have on their desks.  The last direction displayed is for students to remain silent as they work.  We make sure we have pencils provided.

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Bell Ringers

A Bell ringer on day one is an important first day activity for middle school ELA.  We start with “paper and pencil” copies because we don’t know things such as who has a device or who’s new to the school.  The screen instructs them to start the work on their desk. That work is the very first bell ringer. In the past, we used longer, more traditional student surveys when students first entered, and we ran out of time.  We break that long survey down into small pieces, and they make up several days of bell ringers. By providing an interest inventory in small bites in bell ringer fashion, we can get to know our students while they’re learning the routines of our classroom at the same time.  Our back to school bell ringers have one “fun” would you rather question. For example, the bellringer asks students if they would rather be invisible or to have the power to read people’s minds.  This “fun” question helps create the climate from day one; your kids will enjoy it. We even ask for a few volunteers to tell us why they made their selection. It both relaxes the atmosphere, and it really gets them in the practice of coming in and immediately focusing on the bell ringer.  Plus, students are tired of back to school surveys.  They usually do them in every class on that first day.  By breaking up this activity into bell ringers, students aren’t presented with the monotonous in your room.

Click here to download these first week bell ringers!

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Rules

Our second tip for first day activities for middle school ELA is to go over the rules and procedures. Once the bell ringer is complete, and we’ve spent a little bit of time going over it, we go over our rules for the year. We have been teaching for a while, and we can remember years where we had a list of ten rules.  It was just too many. We’ve narrowed our rules to four; they are the ones we use every single year. And in fact, everyone on our team at school has adopted these rules because they really just cover everything.  It’s best to keep them simple. And so our classroom rules are the following:

  • Respect others.
  • Be on task at all times.
  • Don’t talk during instruction time or during announcements.
  • Stay seated during instruction time.

And that’s it. We do spend a little bit of time elaborating on each one of those; especially number one – respect others.  We have a discussion about what it looks like to respect the teacher, what it looks like to respect our classmates, even what it looks like to respect ourselves.

Click here to download a list of these rules.

First Day Activities for Middle School ELA  ~ Procedures

Procedures are different from rules. Every teacher has a way that he/she wants things done in his/her classroom. For example, every teacher wants papers passed in a certain way.  So you want to spend a little bit of time going over some of the major procedures in your classroom. You don’t have to do all of them on the first da.  The main thing is to know that going over procedures is one of the important first day activities for middle school ELA.


One procedure we go over in our first day activities for middle school ELA is our stations. These stations are just a set of drawers. Sterilite makes the ones we use. In each drawer, we have things that students may need during a class period. Since these items are there at their fingertips, students don’t have to get up. If they don’t have a pencil that day, they don’t have to involve us in that.  Our students simply open the pencil drawer, and they get a pencil out. This is the same for tissue, hand sanitizer, highlighters, and anything they need daily. If you’re reading a novel, the novels are in the station. So the students have everything they need at their desk. And there’s no need to ask where something is; they know since you go through this procedure from the beginning.  We cannot tell you how much this helps with classroom management. When kids are getting out of their seats, especially middle school kids, they’re not simply going to the pencil sharpener.  They’re going to also hit someone on the head or neck. It’s just the nature of who they are. But this eliminates them having to get up so much.  Stations eliminate a lot of problems.


It is important to decide how you will handle students needing to go to the bathroom.  One thing that we started doing in our school last year is when a student goes to the bathroom, their phone stays in the classroom. It can be placed in a basket, a pocket chart, or it can just be placed facedown on the teacher’s desk. Another thing we have found that works is using bathroom passes.  We give each student four passes for a nine weeks. We use a Google Form for that because the Google Form is a record. It has a timestamp, and you can print that  spreadsheet  if you need to have any documentation for administration. The bathroom is just a situation, and you have to come up with a procedure that works for you. Be sure to consider school requirements when deciding on your bathroom procedure as one of your first day activities for middle school ELA.


First day activities for middle school ELA need to include a little bit of fun. And so we’re going to share with you two icebreakers that you can use on that first day back. You probably won’t have time to do both of these, but you can choose your your favorite one and do it.

Classmate Bingo

We give the students a bingo card, and they walk around the room asking their classmates questions based on the card. And when they find a classmate that matches that square, the classmate initials it.  For example, one square has them find a student who talks in their sleep. This really gets the students engaged. But again, they’re up with a purpose, and they’re up with something in their hands. So they have a task to complete. You can set a timer and give a challenge to find a certain number of initials in a certain number of squares.  We have a copy of a bingo card we use for you!

Click here to download the Bingo card for Classmate Bingo.


If you’ve never used Nearpod, you need to check it out because it is a game changer when it comes to teaching. You can sign up for a free account. We found this icebreaker on Nearpod, but you don’t necessarily have to use Nearpod to complete this icebreaker.  This is how the icebreaker goes. You tell students, “I want you to think of an object that begins with the same letter as your last name, and write that object down.”  Once they’ve done that, you put the students with a partner; the two partners have to combine those two objects to invent something new. And then you can have them draw a picture and write a description and let them just be really creative.  Finally, have them share their new invention with the class.  Kids love this!  If you’re looking for this activity on Nearpod, it’s called “1+1=!1”   Here is an example.  If the first partner’s last name, began with the letter L, they might write down the object leaf. And then the second partner whose last name started with a letter B might write down the word bouquet. So when they get together, they have the words leaf bouquet. And now they have to come up with an invention using these words. So they might say, “okay, leaf bouquet. This could be a Mother’s Day gift for elephants.”

Poetry Activity

One of our FAVORITE first day activities for middle school ELA is for students to write an I Am From poem. This stems from George Ella Lyons, original I Am From poem, and you can find that on on YouTube so you can let your students listen to that. If you Google this type of poem, you can find templates. We  have students brainstorm things about their lives and things that that they remember as a child -things from their house and yard and more.  Then, they write a poem repeating the line “I am from” throughout the poem. This activity will most likely continue into the next day or days during that first week, but it is the BEST activity to start with because students enjoy it, they are proud of what they write, and it lets you start to know who they are and where they come from.

Click here to download a brainstorming form for this poem and some sample poems. 

Click here to download a list of revision tips.  Students can use these tips to revise their poems after they’ve written a first draft.