Are you looking for some free activities you can use in your classroom right now to reinforce common core standards for ELA? You’re in the right place. Browse all our free plans here. If you need more, visit our shop and purchase a full version. We hope you enjoy these free resources!

2024 Cicadas ELA Activity and Fun Solar Eclipse ELA Lessons!

Solar Eclipse 2024 ELA Activities and 2024 Cicadas ELA Activity

      In the upcoming months, two remarkable events are set to unfold across the United States, providing educators with a golden opportunity to infuse their classrooms with unforgettable and truly once-in-a-long-time activities. One of those is the complete solar eclipse that will be occurring this April in 2024 and the other is…the cicadas are coming! We have the perfect 2024 cicadas ELA activity as well as some engaging and fun lessons for the 2024 solar eclipse that you can use in your ELA classrooms!

Cicadas Haiku Writing Activity

     Let’s kick things off with a buzz, literally! We’ve got the much-anticipated arrival of cicadas in several states this year. Now, how can we turn this natural phenomenon into a captivating learning experience for our students?  Well, we have the perfect 2024 cicada ELA activity, writing cicada haiku!  Before you do that, you may want to do a little research project with your students. 

     You know middle schoolers are at the age where they don’t know what it’s like to experience these bug reunions.  They were either toddlers or unborn the last time they arrived.  You can start by introducing them to these bugs.  I did this in my own class, and many of my students had never even heard of a cicada. 

 Mini Research Project on Cicadas    

     Once I generated my students’ interest and told them my own stories of experiencing them, I assigned them a mini research project.  I had them create a top-ten facts about cicadas slideshow.  Some used Canva and others used Google Slides, but they really got into this.  They embedded links to YouTube videos and added lots of pictures and facts.  Of course, I let them present their presentations to the class, and we had great discussions about what information was credible and what may not have been.  We all learned a great deal about the broods that will be visiting us soon.  It was wonderful. 

     Once the cicadas emerge here, I plan to bring a few into the classroom for inspiration as we write cicada haiku!  We may even go outside to write the poems.  I have developed brainstorming pages and sample poems to show my students along with directions for writing these poems.  You can grab this free 2024 Cicadas Activity Haiku  pdf here.   

2024 Solar Eclipse Middle School ELA Activities

     It’s interesting that in the same year of 2024, there is another major event on the horizon.  A total solar eclipse is coming in April. We are in SC, and we had a total solar eclipse here in 2017.  You may have been a part of that.  It was amazing!  I don’t think we will get in on this one completely, but I will still use parts of the activities that I did with my ELA students back then.   Creating a black out poem is fun and goes perfectly with this event!  We’ve put together an incredible resource to make this specific 2024 solar eclipse event a memorable learning experience for your students.  It has the black out poem directions as well as an informational text about solar eclipses, a fun analysis activity with the classic ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ song, acrostic poem, haiku, and more. It’s a comprehensive package to explore the wonders of a solar eclipse through various ELA activities.  You can find this resource on our Teachers Pay Teachers store.

     We hope these upcoming events add an extra layer of excitement to your ELA classrooms. Don’t forget to check out our free cicadas haiku writing activity!

Join us as we reveal surprising events in 2024 that promise to infuse excitement into your classrooms. This year in 2024, there are two natural phenomena that can become captivating learning experiences for middle school ELA students. This episode is filled with creative ideas and resources. Listen in to uncover the surprise elements that will add a unique touch to your teaching toolkit. Be sure to grab the FREEBIE mentioned in this episode here!  Also, check out the TpT resource mentioned about the total eclipse of 2024 here.  Don’t miss out – let the adventure begin!

Download this episode.

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!

The Devil’s Arithmetic Lesson Plans

Every February, we read The Devil’s Arithmetic as a whole class novel in my seventh grade classroom.  The first year that I read this novel, my The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans only consisted of reading, learning new vocabulary words, and answering comprehension questions for each chapter.  My, have my plans come a long way!  Now when it comes time to read this novel, I know that I will successfully teach Common Core based standards as we examine the literary elements and author’s craft.  More importantly, however, together, we will feel a minuscule hint of what it was like to be a part of the Holocaust. It is that “hint” that the author provides that keeps me from moving on to a different Holocaust novel.  Jane Yolen takes us into Hannah Stern’s world – one in which she takes for granted at first before she travels back in time and finds herself in a concentration camp learning all about the devil’s arithmetic.

There is so much that I am able to teach while we read this novel.  I would like to share a few of our activities.  I am also including a link in this post for you to print these activities from our The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans.

First, I must tell you that the first seven chapters of this novel do seem to read slowly if you’re using this as a whole class novel that you read aloud.  You may want to consider having students read these first chapters independently or with a reading partner.  In recent years, I typed up all seven of these chapters as a readers’ theater script, and we read it that way.  Whatever you do, do NOT give up on the plot.  Once you hit the end of chapter seven, your students will beg you to keep reading!

The first The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans activity I would like to share with you is one you can do prior to reading the book.  On the day that you plan to begin the unit, tape The Star of David on random desks throughout your classroom. (The free download has a printable page of stars for you to use.)

As students enter the classroom, begin to treat those students who have a star on their desk differently than you do the other students.  For example, make them stand instead of sit.  Have them remove their shoes and put them under their desks.  Take away their pencils and give them to those students who do not have stars.  Tell them that they cannot talk, but allow those without stars to talk all they want, etc.  Your point is to make the “the have nots” experience just a “pinch” of what it feels like to be mistreated for no reason at all, and to allow the “haves” to experience what it feels like to watch others be mistreated for no apparent reason.

Once you can tell that your point has been made, which probably won’t be very long without a riot, hold a discussion allowing both students with stars and without to talk about how they felt.  This discussion can then lead you into the beginning of your Holocaust unit.

I am also sharing two other handouts with you.  The first one should accompany chapter three.  It will allow you to teach the literary elements of symbolism and foreshadowing and take a look at how the author uses them in this chapter.  The next activity page goes with chapter seven.  This is where the reader meets that unforgettable and slightly eerie character – the Badchan.  Students will examine his poem and then write one of their own.

We hope you enjoy these free activities from our The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans.  Click here for your free download.

If you enjoyed these free printables, consider purchasing our entire teaching unit for this novel.  All of your plans will be complete, and you can use them for years to come!  Happy teaching!

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!

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”!