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.

Three Tips for Middle School Back to School Open House

Tip Number One for a Middle School Back to School Open House : Use Stations!

We have found a really successful way to navigate your middle school back to school open house night. Setting up stations in your classroom that the parents and students can work through during that back to school night, adding some unique touches that will make your classroom stand out on that night, and using an ongoing slideshow during your event will make your room unforgettable as parents and students make their way through the open house.

Use Stations!

Our number one way to make your middle school back to school open house event a success is to set up stations in your classroom for the students and parents to work through when they first come in your room. You may be wondering why stations are going to be so helpful on this night.

Why Stations are Helpful

Picture it.  You just had five parents and students walk into your middle school back to school open house at the same time. They don’t have anything to do other than talk to you!  This can lead to an awkward time for parents standing around and an anxious feeling for you to hurry up and finish speaking with one parent to get to the next. Using stations can make everyone feel comfortable. It gives students and parents both a chance to see how organized you are and how happy you are to have them. Everyone will be able to see that you have taken the time to organize and set up these stations just for them. It just makes your guests feel valuable and happy to be there. Also, if parents don’t have time because they’ve got a child at another school and they’ve got to get to another open house, or they’ve got to get a child to football practice or soccer practice, the stations give them the chance to quickly be a part of the event and leave information for you.

Suggested Stations You can Implement

Stations are going to make your middle school back to school open house a game changer!  As you read these suggestions, you may start you think of other stations you could use, and that’s the beauty of this. We suggest that you have a sign at your door that parents see immediately. And that sign needs to direct them to what they should do when they walk in your room.  We have our sign say, “Parents and Students, welcome! When you come in, please look at the presentation on the screen. It will tell you what to do.”

Stations for Students

  • Station 1: One of our most successful and fun stations for students involves candy. We buy jars from The Dollar Tree. We put different types of candy in three or four jars and have the students guess how many pieces are in each jar. We provide slips of paper, and students write their name and their guess. Then between back to school night and the first day of school, you see which student had the closest guess. On the first day of school, the kids are so excited because they can’t wait to find out who will win that jar of candy.
  • Station 2: Meet the teacher. We have things set up so that our students learn a little bit about us. You could have a picture of your family, your dogs, your college diploma to let them know where you went to school, a hoodie from where you went to school, an old yearbook open to you as a middle schooler, or anything that shows the students a little bit about you to let them start to feel comfortable with you before school even starts.
  • Station 3:  About Me, the Student ~  Here, students fill out a card writing “one thing I want you as my teacher to know about me”.  This goes in a box or jar for you to read later.  On the first day of school, you already know something about each child, and you can put this to use to make your students feel welcomed.
  • Station 4:  Birthdays!  We have students can fill out a Google form that we’ll share with you, if you’d like to use it. And it lets them put their name and their birthday in a month. That’s something that gives that personal touch to the student. You can use that all year long as you make each student feel special on his/her birthday.
  • Station 5:  All for the siblings! Often times, there are younger siblings who are at the back to school open house with the parent and your student. Have a station just for them.  Consider providing a  guessing jar for these guests, some coloring pages, or fidget toys so that they’re not feeling lost. You just want your room to be as welcoming and inviting as you can for your students to make them feel loved and welcomed.

Stations for the Parents

  • Station 1: Information Station!  This is, of course, where parents can provide some of their contact information. Parents are filling out so many forms in back to school season, so you may not want to have them fill out everything. Consider using a form where you ask them the best way to contact them, whether it be through texting, emailing, or calling.
  • Station 2:  Essential Classroom Things to Know!  Here, provide handouts for parents on things you can inform them of, like your grading policy, what they can expect you to send home for homework, the main way you will communicate with them, and more.
  • Station 3: Volunteer station!  If you have a need in your classroom for parents to help you,  like field trip chaperones, supplying your classroom with tissue, or helping with PTO, this is a wonderful opportunity to have them sign up for that. We have book clubs throughout the year, and we like to give our kids a snack during book clubs because that generates excitement. During our back to school night, we have a station where parents can sign up for Book Club snacks, and that is so helpful. We go ahead and have the month that we’re going to host each book club and and let parents know that we’ll be contacting them during that month to tell them when to send the snacks.
  • Station 4:  Talk with us!  During this night, you want to speak with the kids and the parents and you can make your way around. But you definitely want to spend a few minutes talking with each person who visits your classroom.

Tip Number Two for a Middle School Back to School Open House 

Add some Unique Touches to Your Classroom!

Tip number two, for a wonderful middle school back to school open house is to add some unique touches to your classroom that parents and students don’t see in every other classroom that night. We’re so excited to tell you about the first one.

  • Unique Touch:  Let one of your stations provide a place where parents can write their child a note that you will keep and give to their child at an opportune time during the school year. Parents can write more than one note to their child if they wish. Once complete, the parents will leave the notes with you, and you will file those notes away and use them at different times throughout the school year. Of course, the easiest time is for the child’s birthday. Some parents want to write a birthday note to their child. So on that child’s birthday, you can pull out that note and give it to the child  It will really light up their day. We have found that it’s best to be careful and not make a big show of it for that student who might be new, who won’t get a note from a parent or a student whose parents couldn’t come to open house.  It’s best to give it to the student discreetly. Parents may write a note just telling their child how much they love them. And if you notice one particular day where that student seems to be feeling a little bit down, feeling not so good, you can say, “Oh, I’ve got a note for that child.” You can slip them the note from their parent and enjoy the smile that comes over that child’s face. It is just priceless, even for middle school students!   If you’re wondering how you could handle taking care of kids who don’t have notes, one suggestion is to write them a note yourself. This is really easy, again, for the birthdays, because you’ve already got their birthdays written down.
  • Unique Touch:  Using the birthdays another unique touch.  You want to celebrate your students’ birthdays throughout the year, and if you’ve got that calendar with their names on it, then you’ve got that set. To make this special during the open house event,  have a birthday poster that you can hang in your classroom.  When students write their birthday on this poster, all the students can see everyone’s birthday.  Even middle school students want everybody to know when their birthday is. They’re going to tell you “my birthdays in three days, Mrs. Temple.” So having a display will be great. There are so many different cute things on Etsy that you can display for these birthdays, or you can you can make something yourself. We’re even going to provide a display you can use too!

Tip Number Three for a Middle School Back to School Open House 

Use an Ongoing Slideshow on your TV or Screen

Our third tip is to have an ongoing slideshow that will help everything run smoothly. Use a PowerPoint or Google slides that you have on your screen at the front of the room. It will display information about who you are, your name, your classroom number, what subject you teach, as well as directions, pointing them to what they’re supposed to do while they’re there – the stations and where they go.  You can include any other information you’d like, like a quote that expresses how excited you are to have them, or a couple of pictures of yourself. And you will put that slideshow on loop so that it ongoing so that parents can always look up there to see to see that.

We are providing you with a free resource that provides printables for the stations, templates for the PowerPoints and even instructions for how to set up your stations and the supplies you’re going to need that you can pick up at the Dollar Tree.  This resource also includes some pictures from our past years of open house.

Click here to be taken to our free resource on TpT.

We are sure that your next middle school back to school open house will be a blast!  We’d love to have you connect with us. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, and even TPT just look for ELA core plans.  You can also listen to our podcast titled Two Middle School ELA Teachers.

After Twenty Years Lesson Plans

This year, I tried something different with my After Twenty Years lesson plans.  I began with the following essential question:  What makes someone a good friend?  After asking this question, the discussion in the class took off, as you can imagine with all of the drama surrounding middle school friendships.

Next, I asked the students to read only the first paragraph of the story and then stop.  I wanted to see if they were reading close enough to get a picture in their heads of what was happening.  To make sure, I gave them a close read guidance worksheet, one that asks the questions that the students should be be asking in their own heads.  It includes questions like, what does “depeopled the streets” mean and what does it mean that the officer walked “impressively”? Adding this close read activity into my After Twenty Years lesson plans has made a huge difference.  It seems that they actually realize what they are missing if they simply read the paragraph without stopping to figure things out.

Once we have a discussion to make sure students understand what is happening in the first paragraph, I let the students read the rest of the story independently, encouraging them to do a close read by underlining and annotating by writing in the margins, etc.  When students finish, I ask them to simply write down what happens in the end in one or two sentences and then turn it in.  This allows me to see which ones “got it”.

The next step in my After Twenty Years lesson plans is to allow students to read the story readers’ theater style in groups.  I actually typed up the story with different parts: narrator, Jimmy, Bob, etc.  In groups, students assign parts and read the skit. They love this! It does not take a lot of time, as the story is pretty short.  Once they are done, they discuss what happened.

Finally, I allow students to rewrite the skit, modernizing it.  For example, Jimmy could send his old friend a text.  Once skits are complete, I allow them to perform them for each other.  We discuss O.Henry’s style of having a surprise ending, and then I follow up by letting students read “Hearts and Hands” by. O. Henry.


Click here to download our close reading guidance sheet for the first paragraph of the story.

Click here if you would like to download our entire teaching unit for “After Twenty Years”.  With this unit, you will have a prereading activity, a vocabulary preview sheet, an activity to teach theme, the readers’ theater script, and two performance task activities.  In addition, you will also receive the story “Hearts and Hands” along with activities and handouts to teach that story too!

Happy Teaching!



Text Dependent Analysis Prompt for Our Writing Test

I teach in South Carolina, and this is our first year having a text dependent analysis prompt for our writing test.  There are so many steps in teaching twelve and thirteen year old students to successfully accomplish this type of writing.

Scroll down to see our “GAME PLAN” for the test day!

tda cartoon

One of the main steps in preparing students for a text dependent analysis prompt for our writing test is to teach them the difference between analyzing and simply summarizing.  I do this early on with the help of pictures.  For example, I place a picture of a family on the screen. I then ask students to tell me what they see.  They respond by saying things like, “There are three children.”  “The house is a mess.”  “The father has a mess on the counter and flour on his face, and the mother is dressed up”.  I then tell them to analyze the picture.  What I am looking for is an answer like the following: “I think the traditional roles are reversed in this household.  It looks like the mother is going to work, and the father is a stay at home dad.  It also looks like the dad is struggling a little with the cooking and cleaning.”  I then ask this student to support his/her statement.  She does so by pointing out ways in which the picture proves what she is saying.  This is the easiest way to show what analysis is and what it is not.  Analyzing is not simply pointing out what is there.  Instead it is digging in deeper to discover something and then looking to the text to support whatever you think or believe.

Of course, this is only one small step in preparing students for a text dependent analysis prompt for our writing test.  We have a tremendous amount of other things to cover too, including simple things like how to write an introduction.  Students must know how to write a topic sentence, for example, which is a huge feat within itself!

I did want to share our “game plan” that we go over before the day of the test.  We expect all of our students to follow these steps on the day of the test.  Before they even attempt to write, they first must analyze the prompt! Below is our detailed game plan.

You can also print this text dependent analysis for our writing test game plan by clicking here!


Game Plan

  • Before reading the text, find the text dependent analysis writing prompt.  That way you will have in mind what you will have to write about before you read!
  • Read the prompt three times – YES 3 Times!!
  • Underline what it is asking you to do.
  • Pull out key words from the prompt, and think about it.  Make sure you are not missing anything!  What exactly are they telling you to do? Spend time analyzing the prompt!
  • Write your topic sentence – the one for your entire paper.  Remember, use words from the prompt to write it.
  • Now, go back and read the text.  It may be an article, a story, a poem, or two different things to read.  Annotate the text as you go – keeping in mind what you will have to write about.
  • Before writing, read your prompt again.
  • Stop and think for a few minutes.  How many paragraphs will you need?  How will you do what they are asking you to do?  Go back and look over the text thinking about what you must do.
  • Brainstorm!!! Use scratch paper to get your ideas out.  Write what the prompt is asking you to do at the top of your scratch paper.  You will need to continuously look at it to make sure you are writing about what you are supposed to write about! You can do a bubble map, a T chart, a list, or whatever helps you to get your thoughts out on paper.
  • Plan out your paragraphs with topic sentences for each and bullets for your main points. (Now you are organizing – introduction, body, conclusion)
  • Go find evidence that you can use BEFORE you write – circle it or highlight it.  You may want to write these quotes from the text on your scratch paper.  Remember, you MUST cite evidence to prove what you are saying.
  • Write a rough draft.  For the LOVE of your English teacher, make sure you CITE TEXTUAL EVIDENCE!!!!!!!!  Also, make sure you stick to your topic sentence and explain yourself.  Don’t forget to hammer the topic sentence home in the last sentence of each paragraph.
  • Revise your rough draft – Work on your word choice and make sure your essay makes sense.  Do you need to add more evidence?  Did you “Hammer home” the topic sentence by the end of each paragraph? Can you make your introduction better?  Can you improve your conclusion?
  • Edit your rough draft –Does it fit?  If not, what can you take out?  Did you capitalize the beginning of every sentence?  Look for grammar gremlins (its, it’s, etc.)  Do you have the correct punctuation at the ends of your sentences?  Do you have commas where needed?  Check your spelling.
  • Write your final draft in the text booklet. Take your time, and write as neatly as you can.  Make sure you indent.
  • Read over your final draft and make neat changes.

I wish you and your students the best of luck!  🙂


Simple, Compound, Complex Sentences Review Game

We just finished playing our simple, compound, complex sentences review game in my seventh grade ELA class, and my students had a blast!  Have you ever noticed that you can teach a concept over and over, but some students just refuse to pay attention?  When this happens, playing a review game can really help.  We have been working on learning the different types of sentences all year, but today on February 19th, we were finally ready for some game playing action, and magically, my students finally cared enough to figure out the difference between a compound and a complex sentence.

Before you are ready to play this simple, compound, complex sentences review game with your students, you must have taught the different types.  Teaching the types of sentences (simple, compound, complex) is no easy task.  There are many steps to the process.  First, students must understand subjects and verbs, and then they must be able to identify the types of clauses – independent and dependent.  Once this groundwork is completed, it still takes time for them to figure out what type of sentence they are reading or writing.   After you have drilled it and taught it until you’re blue in the face, change things up and try this simple, compound, complex sentences review game.  Those students who get that glaze over their eyes when any type of grammar instruction is taught will perk up and pay attention, and I guarantee you that your students will beg you to play again!

Materials you will need:
Decks of cards (You can buy them at the dollar store.  We found two packs for a dollar there.)
A PowerPoint with different types of sentences.
Students will earn points by correctly identifying sentences (presented in a PowerPoint) as simple, compound, complex, or compound complex.

How to Play

Students will draw a card and earn the points presented on the card if they correctly identify the type of sentence.
Numbered cards = that number of points
• Ace =fourteen points
• King= thirteen points
• Queen = twelve points
• Jack = eleven points
Jokers = Double or nothing
Note: If a player draws a joker, he/she must draw the next card on the deck. The sentence is now worth double the amount on the second card. If the student correctly identifies the sentence type, he/she earns the double point value. Here is the kicker though, and part of what makes this game so fun.  If he/she misidentifies the type of sentence, he/she loses all of his/her points so far in the game and must start over at zero.  That’s why we call the game “The Joker”.  It’s a game of luck and a game of knowing your ELA stuff!  If you draw a joker, it’s all or nothing with the next sentence, so students know they better get it right!

So students place this card face up on their desks.  Then, the teacher shows the first sentence on the PowerPoint presentation.  Students read the sentence to themselves and decide if it is a simple, compound, complex, or compound complex sentence.  Once a desired amount of time passes for the teacher, he/she will instruct for pens to be put down and then he/she will explain the sentence by pointing out the clauses.  After an explanation, the answer will be given.  If students chose the correct answer, they earn the amount of points shown on the card.  If they got it wrong, they earn zero points for that round.  Next, new cards are given out and the game continues.  The jokers can hit at any moment, which adds excitement!  Everyone wants to know when someone ends up with a joker and everything is on the line!

This simple, compound, complex sentences review game can be played in small groups or as a whole class. You can download our directions here  for free and make up your own sentences, or buy our PowerPoint for only $5 and have all of the work done for you!

In our PowerPoint, there are three slides per round. The first slide will give a sentence. The second slide highlights the clauses (independent and dependent) in the sentence but does not yet give the answer. This way, you can use this slide to give hints if needed or to make sure students are paying attention before you give the answer. This is what makes this game an incredible teaching tool!   The third slide in the set will give the answer. At this point, students give themselves their points if they answered correctly. Then, the next round begins. There are 110 slides in this PowerPoint, enough for several class periods of play! All types of sentences are used. Also, full directions and student answer sheets are provided. You can save this simple, compound, complex sentences review game, and use it for years to come!


Happy Teaching!


Valentine’s Day Candy Gram Fundraiser

If you are looking for a way to make money for your school, you should definitely try a Valentine’s Day candy gram fundraiser! We make a great profit each year at our school with our cute and simple candy grams.  Each one has a poem, and students can choose to send them to their friends, teachers, or secret crush.  A week before Valentine’s Day, we provide an order form to students. Different options are provided for each candy gram (two teacher poems, two friend poems, two secret admirer poems, and two be mine poems).  We also have a generic one that just says Happy Valentine’s Day.  Each candy gram comes with candy – Blow Pop, Air Head, Hershey Kiss.  We charge $1.00 for each one, but you could charge less and still make money from your Valentine’s Day candy gram fundraiser.

At our school, each homeroom teacher is in charge of taking orders.  We make several posters to hang around the school for advertisement and to generate excitement.  We have an hour at the end of the day which we call our Accelerated Reading hour.  On Valentine’s Day or the closest school day, we will have students deliver the Candy grams during this AR period.  You may choose to have them delivered during homeroom, last period, lunch period, or whenever suits.

You will love this Valentine’s Day candy gram fundraiser, and you can use it every year!  Download our complete FREE packet here!  Enjoy!

Teach Students How to Write Topic Sentences

Over  the years, I’ve tried so many different ways to teach students how to write topic sentences. And, I’ve definitely learned that if I assume students know how to write one, I end up kicking myself for not starting with the basics!   This year, something popped in my head that seemed to help my students, so I wanted to share it.

My magic idea?  Umbrellas!

I was trying to find a way to teach students how to write a topic sentences for an introduction and topic sentences for each body paragraph in an argumentative essay when I stumbled upon the idea.  I drew a large umbrella around my topic sentence in my introduction.  I explained that everything in the paper would have to fit under this umbrella.  For the three body paragraphs, I drew smaller umbrellas.  I told students that while each body paragraph had its own topic sentence (umbrella), these three topic sentences still had to fit under the larger umbrella – topic sentence for the entire essay.  The illustration explains it better!

topic sentence umbrellas


This is basically what I said to my students to explain:  The topic sentence in the introduction is like an umbrella, a big huge one that lots of people could fit under.  You see, everything in the entire paper must fit under this big umbrella and that’s why you must choose a good one. Then, in each of the three body paragraphs, there is also a topic sentence- represented by smaller umbrellas.  Only the information in that paragraph must fit under it.  However, this umbrella still fits under the big one in the introduction.

If my big umbrella is something like “The Burmese python is a beautiful creature” then all of my small umbrellas will have to be something about what makes the snakes beautiful.  This would be hard to do.  Under my first small umbrella, I might write the following topic sentence:  The patterns on the snakes body make the Burmese python beautiful.  This works well as it fits under my big umbrella.  However, I can’t think of anything else to say under my next two umbrellas.  There is just no way I can write that many paragrraphs about why this snake is beautiful.  This means one thing, my topic sentence under my big umbrella is not a good one.  I need something else.  What if I changed it to the following: The Burmese python is an interesting creature.?  Now, i’ts much easier to come up with my smaller topic sentences for the body of my paper.  I can still use the umbrella about the snake being beautiful, but under my next umbrella, I can write the following topic sentence: The Burmese python has interesting eating habits.   Under the last umbrella, I could write the following topic sentence: The Burmese python kills its prey in a unique way.

topic sentence umbrellas mistaketopic sentence umbrellas python example

So far, this illustration I used to teach students how to write topic sentences has been wonderful!  I even brought in a big umbrella and a smaller one as an illustration.  My next idea is to look for the “umbrellas” in informational texts.  Hopefully this will help us with identifying main ideas too.

You can print all of the illustrations above by clicking here.

Happy Teaching!


Cover for "Among the Hidden" Test Bundle plus Activities and Reading Signposts

Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden was not a novel I used as totally my own choice.  As we started our new school year in August, we had a request from our administration.   They wanted us to use a class read aloud during our grade level self-selected reading time for the start of the year.  I must admit that I was not overjoyed at this request.  But, I looked for a title that was new for me too and hoped for the best.  And, I was HAPPY once I made my choice!  Among the Hidden was awesome!  I had long heard of the Among the Hidden series from my son and other teachers, but I had never taken the time to read it.  Reading it with my seventh grade boys was fun!  🙂  Of course as we read, the ELA teacher in me kicked in.  Although I knew at the end the boys would take an Accelerated Reader test on the entire novel, I wanted to be sure they were comprehending the novel along the way.  So, I made up tests to use for after chapters six, twelve, eighteen, twenty-four, and thirty.  You can look at the types of questions I used on the Among the Hidden here.

I also decided to use a Venn diagram with the fourteenth chapter of Among the Hidden. (I placed this in the sample unit.)  I wanted to use this to be sure the kids had a clear contrast in mind of Jen’s wealth and Luke’s poverty.  And, I think anyone reading Among the Hidden can appreciate the allusions Haddix uses.  🙂  With my students, I focused on the Alice in Wonderland and “Give me liberty or give me death.” examples.

As we completed Among the Hidden, I had my kids write some poems based on the novel.  And, they worked with a partner to choose a mini-project to complete.  The best news is, many of the boys were hooked on the series after reading Among the Hidden and read more about the Shadow children. Score!

Now, feel free to take a look at a little snip-it of my lessons for Among the Hidden here.   You will see that I added a vocabulary component that I will use the next time I use Among the Hidden with a group.  🙂

Here is a picture of a student’s “Good-Bye, Luke” handout from the end of Among the Hidden.  If you like these samples, consider purchasing our entire teaching unit for this novel.

Oh!  One more thing!  I decided to purchase the book from Audible from Amazon.  I downloaded the app to my iPad and then if  a student was absent, he could listen to what we read in class.  Great option to have!



Middle School Novel Units

We have a lengthy list of middle school novel units to share!  As seventh grade teachers, we use the following middle school novel units for book clubs, as class reads, and for independent novel studies.  Our favorite whole class novel that we begin each year reading is The Man Who Loved Clowns.  Our students fall in love with our class a little more each day as we read this book that makes us laugh and makes us cry.  Another book that we love to read as a class is The Devil’s Arithmetic.  This profound book is not only a great read, but our students learn so much about the Holocaust.

Over the years, we have created standards-based, engaging, and fun lesson plans and activities for several novels suitable for middle schoolers. Each title includes a handout for each chapter of the book and tests as well.  While we developed these lessons with middle school in mind, some of the middle school novel units in this list can also be used in upper elementary grades.  Check out each title below to download a sample free lesson plan or activity from each one! You can use these free handouts today in your classroom, and if you like them, come back to download the entire unit.  You’ll have it for years and years, and your planning will all be completed for you!  Oh, and if you have Pinterest, make sure you pin this page so you will always have this list of middle school novel units!  As we continue to create units, we will add them to this page.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is a middle school favorite!  Your students will love the award winning book Because of Winn-Dixie.  While this book is often used in elementary school, this is one of the middle school novel units that is perfect for struggling readers in the sixth, seventh, or even eighth grade.  Print free lesson plans for Because of Winn-Dixie.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, an unforgettable tale of the Holocaust, is sure to hook your most reluctant readers.  Print free lesson plans for one of our best middle school novel units, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson tells a heartfelt story of friendship.  Your middle school students will hang on to every page of this book!  Print free lesson plans to teach this novel.

Bud, Not Buddy  by Christopher Paul Curtis is an excellent middle school novel.  With a backdrop of the Great Depression, Curtis weaves together a story of friendship, family, and acceptance.  Print free lesson plans for Bud, Not Buddy.

The Cay by Theodore Taylor is a story of survival and friendship.  Your students will not want to stop reading this awesome and powerful story!  Print free handouts and lessons for The Cay.

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is a powerful and touching story of the Holocaust.  Check out our lesson plans and tests for this novel.  Plus, recently we created an interactive notebook edition of this novel unit.  If you use interactive notebooks in your class, check out this post to download a free interactive activity!

Double Dutch by Sharon Draper is sure to be a hit with your middle schoolers.  Check out our free lesson plans for this novel.

Freckle Juice by Judy Blume is a fast and easy read.  It’s another one of those great middle school novel units for struggling readers in middle school.  These lesson plans would also be suitable for elementary school students.  Print free lesson plans for Freckle Juice.

The Great Gilly Hopkins is sure to be a hit with your middle school students!  Gilly proves to be a realistic, hilarious, and somewhat wayward character who really just needs to be loved.  Print free lesson plans for The great Gilly Hopkins!

Flush by Carl Hiaasen  is just as good if not better than Hoot.  Carl Hiaasen’s second novel for young readers is filled with his usual quirky characters, and it centers around environmental themes, and life lessons.   Noah’s dad is furious that raw sewage is being carelessly dumped from the Coral Queen casino boat.   In fact, he is so upset that he sinks it and ends up in jail.  Noah is determined to right the wrongs of his father while all the while seeking to find justice himself.  Click here to view free lesson plans to teach this novel and a test for the first seven chapters.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen has become a middle school favorite!  Print free lesson plans to teach this novel.

Holes is a must-read for middle school students!   Print free lessons and activities for the novel Holes.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen is sure to be a hit with your middle schoolers.  In his first novel for a younger audience, Carl Hiaasen brings readers right into the middle of a mystery, involving endangered miniature owls, a goofy police officer, the Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House, and three middle school kids who are determined to do whatever it takes to fight for what is right.Of all of our middle school novel units, this one has the greatest reviews, and it is an unforgettable book!   Click here to view freelesson plans to teach this novel and a test for the first seven chapters.

Island of the Blue Dolphins is full of suspense and action.  Print free standards-based activity sheets and a portion of a test for this novel.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos is a lighthearted novel suitable for middle school kids.  Your students will laugh at Joey’s antics yet sympathize with his needs.  Print free lesson plans for Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key.

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is the touching sequel to Stargirl.  In this novel, Stargirl writes letters to Leo as she tries to come to terms with their complicated relationship.  Print free lesson plans for Love, Stargirl.

 The Man Who Loved Clowns by June Rae Wood is a number one favorite among middle schoolers.  They will laugh like never before, and they may even shed a tear or two!  This moving novel tells of the hopes, struggles, and fears of a teenage girl and her  special relationship with her uncle who has Down -Syndrome.  Your middle school students will love this book, and they will never forget it!  Click here to view free lesson plans  for the novel.

Maniac Magee is a page-turner your students will not forget!  View free lesson plans for Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Number the Stars, a book about the Holocaust, by Lois Lowry is a Newberry Medal award winning novel.  This compelling story will hook your reluctant readers and pull them into and unforgettable story of friendship, courage, and hardships.  Print free lesson plans for Number the Stars.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer tells a powerful story that your students will never forget.  This book is short and a suspenseful page turner.  It’s perfect for reluctant readers!  Print free handouts for On My Honor.

Rules  by Cynthia Lord will keep your middle school students interested as they read about twelve-year-old Catherine and her autistic brother David.  Catherine just wants a normal life, but there is more than her younger brother that complicates that.  Print free lesson plans for Rules.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is always a favorite among middle schoolers.  This classic is timeless and will never be forgotten.  Print free handouts for The Outsiders.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan is a heartfelt, touching story that will captivate your students.  This is a short and easy read for reluctant or struggling middle school readers. Print free lesson plans for Sarah, Plain and Tall.

Small Steps, Louis Sachar’s newest book stars Armpit, one of the guys from Camp Green Lake.  Armpit is now in his late teens and while trying to make something of his life, finds himself in some tough situations.  This humorous and touching book gives a real world outlook and teaches a notable life lesson – The secret to life is to take small steps and just keep moving forward.  Your students will love this fun loving, adventurous novel!  Print free lessons to accompany Small Steps.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is also an awesome novel for middle schoolers!   Your students will fall in love with Stargirl and laugh as she tries to fit in with the students at her new high school!  As soon as they finish reading Stargirl, they will rush to read the sequel, Love, Stargirl!  Print free lesson plans for Stargirl!

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume is suitable for students in the third through sixth grade.  Your students will automatically fall in love with the character Fudge and laugh through every page!  Print free handouts for tales of a fourth grade nothing.

Tuck Everlasting is a touching novel your students will not forget!  They will love to read about Winnie as she becomes friends with the friendly yet unusual Tuck family. Click here to get our free lesson plans for Tuck Everlasting.

The Tale of Despereaux  is a magical story that your students will remember forever.  Print free lessons for The Tale of Despereaux.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham is sure to be a hit in your classroom!  Print free lessons for this novel today!

Check back often!  Our list will grow!  Happy teaching!