Sunday, November 13, 2016

Build a Positive Classroom Culture with Appreciation Day

Writing by Rachel

When I was a student, one of the most angst-filled days was Valentine’s Day. For a dollar, students could send a flower and a note to another student. What started as a creative fund-raiser and way to show appreciation was suddenly full of pressure and rife with anxiety: Did I have enough money to send all my friends flowers? Would I get any flowers?

Skip ahead a decade--As a teacher, I was determined to make sure students felt appreciated. Students who are appreciated are better collaborators. They take intellectual risks and demonstrate intellectual curiosity. They are more invested and participate more willingly. They feel connected to their peers. But how could I build a culture of appreciation? I remembered those flower days and the beauty of receiving a flower not because of the flower but the thought behind it. As a teacher in inner-city schools with high populations of students who qualified for free and reduced lunch, charging for flowers was not an option. And, that hadn’t been the beauty of flower day. It was the thought—the appreciation—behind the flowers that I wanted to capture. And, so was born, Appreciation Day.

Step 1: Discuss with students what it means to appreciate someone. (See pages 17-25.) Near Thanksgiving is a great time to start this; they’ve worked together for a few months and it fits the theme of being Thankful. Be sure to brainstorm a few appropriate appreciation messages.

Writing By RachelStep 2: Pass out the appreciation notes and give students time to fill them out. (Pages 27-35 double-sided with page 36.) Be sure to prompt students to look around the room and to appreciate not only their inner circle but also some other people. Ask them to think about what they know about their classmates’ strengths in class—as a partner, a talent or attitude, or a specific conversation—and extra-curricular talents and interests. Ask: How is someone different than you in a way you admire? You may want to ask students to write a specific number of notes, say 3. They need not sign them. It’s most important that they be honest, personalized, and positive. My students easily can spend 20 minutes writing notes. Have lots of them.

Step 3: Collect the notes and put them in envelopes labeled with each student’s name. Yes, I always skim them to make sure they’re positive. I also write appreciation notes for each student. And, if a quiet student does not have many notes, I write an anonymous one for them. Set them aside for about a week. Long enough for students to forget what them.

Step 4: Declare it Appreciation Day! Toward the end of the period, pass out the envelopes with the Appreciation Notes. Even the coolest high schooler gets a kick out of reading his/her notes. 

Appreciation Day is flexible. Depending on the school, I've done Appreciation Day only for my classes, with a team, and school-wide. It works all ways. (See pages 9-13). It's also a great fit for Teacher Appreciation Week. (see pages 14-16.) Kids are not the only ones who like to be appreciated!

What amazes me about Appreciation Day is how simple and effective it is in reinforcing a positive classroom culture. Appreciation Days are pure fun and joy. They let students know this community is one in which they are each seen and appreciated, where their differences are valued, and their contributions are important. Don’t Hate. Appreciate! A guide to bring Appreciation Day to your class is available for free in my store.  

Friday, April 8, 2016

Spring Writing Prompts

by Sharon from Classroom in the Middle


“I can’t think of anything to write about!” We’ve all had students who use this as their go-to response whenever it’s time to do a little writing, and at this time of year, maybe it does seem like they’ve used up all of their best ideas.  As spring arrives, maybe teachers can even say the same thing.  Still, there is lots of writing practice that kids need to do now, and having something interesting to write about can make that a whole lot easier.  Here are some of the ideas and sources that I like to use when I need some fresh prompts.

Narrative Writing
Students of all ages love to have choices.  A general topic with follow-up questions encourages kids to own the topic and start thinking about what they are going to write right away.  For example, given the overall topic of “spring sports,” students could answer each of the following questions to narrow it down to a topic they could actually write about: 
·        Will my writing be fiction or non-fiction?
·        If fiction, will it be realistic or fantastic?
·        If non-fiction, will it be about me or other people?
·        What sport?
·        What happened?
Students should be able to put their answers together to create an individualized writing prompt such as “I’ll write a realistic fiction story about a high school baseball team and what happens when their star player breaks his leg just before the big game.”

Another possibility for narrative writing is current events.  Students could read an article or two and maybe watch a video clip of a recent event and then tell the story in their own words.  In this case, their writing would still be narrative, but it would also an exercise in summarizing.  Of course, this would also work with a historical event that the kids are studying.

Informative or Explanatory Writing
Just as narrative writing works so well with current events or historical topics, explanatory writing works great with topics that students know a little about from science. 

If your kids have had an outdoor science class to conduct an experiment or make observations, follow it up with a writing prompt.  Ask the class what they learned from the outdoor lesson, and turn it into a simple prompt: “Explain . .  . .”

Spring is a good time for how-to topics, too:
·        how to use a telescope
·        how to measure weather elements like wind speed
·        how to plant a local crop
·        how to set up an outdoor experiment to test the speed of wooden race cars
·        how to play an outdoor “minute to win it” game that the student creates

Opinion/Argument Writing
I like to use two big, overall subjects here – the news, and things that affect the students directly.
·        The news – This year, there is so much good material available thanks to the upcoming election.  Rather than ask which candidate the students support, turn it around and ask their views on a certain issue, such as building the wall on the Mexican border.  Then have students write about which candidate would best support their own position on that particular topic.
·        Topics that affect students directly – free college for everyone (also an election year topic), rules for an end-of-year occasion such as an 8th grade dance or a high school prom, spring sports offerings at your school, the school dress code – all are topics that kids might be thinking about at this time of year.

Newsela is one source that I like to use for current topics; Time for Kids is another one, especially when quick, easy-to-read articles are needed.  Both have a good variety of articles available on their website.

I have a number of posts that include writing prompts in the “Journal Prompts” section of my Classroom in the Middle blog.  One of them is a link to a guest post that I wrote about using picture prompts.

The two resources shown below, from my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, provide ready-to-use prompts for any season. 

My Writing Prompts Package contains three PowerPoint presentations, each with 25 writing prompts shown one per slide.  There is one PowerPoint for narrative writing, one for informative/explanatory writing, and one for opinion/argument writing.

This FREE Writing Prompts Sampler contains eight writing prompts - a few of each type.  In addition to providing some free prompts, it will give you a good idea of how the prompts are written and displayed in the larger package.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Febuary/March Freebies


Leone LessonsA freebie from Leone Lessons Grades 6-7

Students use the familiar story of Little Red Riding Hood to identify & accurately apply plot elements.

Laura Torres

A freebie from Laura Torrres     Grades 5-8

This packet includes an informational article about five parts of the body that humans don't need and why we might have them. After a close reading of the article, students will answer questions on main ideas, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. A coordinating creative writing prompt will help develop critical thinking skills on the topic.

Leah Cleary 


A freebie from Leah Cleary Grades 6-12

Introduce three major Muslim Empires--the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals--with this webquest. Use the short PowerPoint as a visual when reviewing the answers with students.

History Gal 


A freebie from History Gal         Grades 6-11

Presidents' Day Coloring Page and Word Cloud Activity

Stephanie's History Store



A freebie from Stephanie's History Store  Grades 8-12

Students match a historical woman to an aspect of her life she was known for, use a word bank to match the women and a famous quote of theirs, match the woman's name to her image, and lastly answer two opinion questions. The file includes two versions of the activity, one for US History and one for World Civ/European

Fun ACT Prep


A freebie from Fun ACT Prep         Grades 10-12

Interested in showing the critically-acclaimed film "12 Years a Slave," but worried about its R-rating? This detailed guide will help you to plan a worthwhile viewing of the film.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The In-Through-Out Interactive Notebook Model

by Danielle
TpT Store: Nouvelle

I’m super excited to share how my students use Interactive Notebooks in my 9th grade ELA classroom. I am late to the Interactive Notebook game, but I knew that I wanted to try them this year. I looked around at all of these great middle school products on TeachersPayTeachers, and asked myself how I could get my high school students to “interact” without having them feel like I was babying them.

I read extensively about the left-side/right-side set up, and worked on applying it to my notebook. What could the mnemonic “the left side LOVES student work and the right side is RESTRICTED to teacher input” mean for secondary students? Moreover, how could I decrease the general amount of time lost to cutting and gluing?

I decided to set up every lesson using the In-Through-Out model. This means that my students work in a backwards C on a spread.

The IN (upper left) is a bell-ringer or anticipation activity that helps students focus or activate prior knowledge about a topic. Here are some activities I’ve used with amazing results:

*Explain why “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” from Disney’s Mulan is ironic.
*Write the first paragraph of a story that starts… (use a prompt for whatever genre you’re studying)
*Defend (character)’s actions in the chapters you read for homework.
*Create a plot diagram of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”.
*List three causes of World War II.

The THROUGH (right side -> teacher input) can be any number of things: scaffolded notes, in-class group work, graphic organizers, annotated close reading, and structured writing practice. I do give my students some foldables because they love cutting and gluing, and these can be easily completed while listening to an audio book. Here are some things we’ve done on the right side:

*Identify the elements of Dystopian fiction and characters.
*Review/Learn drama terminology using a foldable.
*Analyze the diction in a Sandra Cisneros story using an organizer.
*Create a glossary of words found in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
*Annotate an Emily Dickinson poem.
*Analyze a political cartoon using the SCIM method.

The OUT (bottom left) is independent practice or homework. This has really helped focus the work I give students – I have to choose the most important part, because it’s got to fit on the bottom half of the left page. I know that seems like a silly, self-inflicted rule, but think about it: if a student can identify irony in four or five well-constructed examples, do they really need a two-sided worksheet? Here are some quick and effective ways to use the OUT section for independent practice:

*Identify three literary devices in a text.
*Compare two political figures’ opposing views on a given topic.
*Describe the Pathos used in an essay.
*Analyze the meaning of a given quote in a piece of fiction.
*Create three metaphors for school.

The IN-THROUGH-OUT method of setting up the notebook has also helped me with my lesson planning. There is a natural beginning, middle, and end of the spread, and so it’s easy to tell if I need to add more independent practice or add more structure to my input.

I have also facilitated the notebooks in my classroom by taking pictures of my model notebook for our class website. I use sticky notes to put the various task descriptions on the page, and I go ahead and paste in all blank organizers for students. I’ve also started giving students a unit overview that includes what we’ll put on each page.

Next year, I’m going paperless, but I will still stick to the same format as I move to Digital Interactive Notebooks. I think it’s a great way for students to visualize how the pieces of the lesson connect.

This has been a game-changer in my classroom. Students are more focused than ever, and I love that they have an artifact of their learning that endures beyond the end-of-semester paper toss.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Text It to Me: Using Text Generators in the Classroom

by: The Engaging Station 
TpT Store: The Engaging Station

As educators, we are constantly seeking ways to make texts relevant to our students. What better way to establish that relevance than to have students use text generators to create conversations between characters, people in history, interviewer and interviewee? That is short-list of the options.

As many districts move towards a 1:1 classroom, we are granted a plethora of options to enhance instruction, one of them being the online text generator. My students were reading Romeo and Juliet, and rather than have them simply summarize the conversations by writing on a worksheet, I had them summarize the conversations between the characters using a text generator. In doing so, they had to first comprehend the complex text, and then paraphrase it in their own words.

I tried out two text generators: and Ultimately, you'll know your students better and will decide which is best for your lesson:


1. - This site allows students to see the changes instantly on a mock iPhone. They can customize everything from the carrier to the battery percentage to the Wi-Fi connection in addition to creating messages. This site is definitely more interactive, but it also takes students more time to become acclimated with all of the features.

2. - This is a much simpler version of the text generator. Students can pick a carrier and time and then get right into creating the messages. This generator is to the point, simple, and accessible. It does not offer all of the extra features that ios7text does, but for some students, it is less distracting.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

How to Show Movies in Class—Without Feeling Like a ‘Bad Teacher’


By Mary Kate Mikulskis

TpT Store: Fun ACT Prep
You know it’s true: Students and teachers alike equate “movie day” with “free day.” Sure, it’s easy to just pop in a movie and kick up your feet (a la Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher), but showing films can actually be a rewarding and educational experience for students. While movies should never be a substitute for reading, they can enhance a powerful lesson and help students to make meaningful connections. So, how can you avoid the negative connotation of being “that teacher who shows all those movies?”

Here are some suggestions:
1) Prepare to be approved: First and foremost, get approval from your administration and parents. Know your district’s policy, but, at the same time, don’t automatically assume that “no” means “no” in this case. I’m a big believer in the saying, “It doesn’t hurt to ask.” The key isn’t just asking; it’s informing. Be prepared with detailed lesson plans and assignments aligned to standards. Don’t just tell your principal what you are showing; show him or her what you plan to do with the film. For instance, the film Coach Carter may appear to be just a fun film about a basketball team. However, when I show administration my “Deepest Fear Narrative Essay” aligned to CCSS narrative writing standards, or my “Argumentative Editorial” assignment (also CCSS aligned), they are much more supportive.

2) Understand the film’s rating: Not all ratings are created equal. I love the website Common Sense Media. The site clearly explains why the film has the rating it does, outlining specific instances of profanity, violence, sexual content, etc. It also gives recommendations for an appropriate age range and has input from kids and parents, too. I always consider Common Sense Media’s recommendations when deciding whether or not to show a film. This is helpful information for both administrative approval and is useful to include on parent permission slips. Check out Common Sense Media before assuming a particular film will be prohibited simply based on its MPAA rating; try to make your case.

3) You don’t have to show it all: The film 12 Years a Slave, for instance, is intense (hence its R rating). Administrators can be hesitant to show films with a particular rating. Being able to clearly outline what you will and will not be showing can ease some of their anxieties. I have my free “12 Years a Slave Viewing Guide” clearly marked with the scenes to show, to fast-forward, or to cut entirely, complete with minute markers. I feel more prepared, and it’s clear to my principal that I won’t just be sitting in the back of the room passively as the film plays along from start to finish.

4) Set the tone: Make it clear to your students that movie day does not equal free day. I set three rules for my “movie theater” (in addition to our everyday classroom rules): a) no talking, b) no texting, c) no sleeping. Always have something productive and meaningful (not just rote comprehension questions) for students to work on as they watch the movie. I rarely, if ever, show a movie straight through from start to finish. Instead, just like reading a book, we pause and discuss, write, and reflect throughout the film. When I show Freedom Writers, for instance, I pause the film every few scenes and give students time to respond to personal journal prompts that relate to the film. This gives them a chance to process each scene and make connections; plus, it’s a quick way for me to check that they are attentive and engaged.

5) Go beyond basic Q and A: Sure, giving students a simple list of questions to make sure they are paying attention forces some level of accountability, but is our objective for showing a film simply to make sure they pay attention? Journal prompts, graphic organizers, and character growth charts are just a handful of creative and engaging ways to not just keep students attentive and accountable, but to get them to think critically.

Showing movies can be part of a meaningful, engaging, and educational unit that your students will love and administrators will approve.

Here's an Idea: Doodles and Stories

Here's an Idea: Doodles and Stories

by Doc Running TpT Store: Education with Doc Running

There are many reasons that I love social studies.  One of these  is the opportunity find out the interesting stories behind people and events.  For me Leonardo da Vinci's artwork is of course noteworthy, but I loved learning that he taught himself to read and write and, at his heart, he was just fascinated about the world.

I find that when it’s time to study various wars, we tend to focus on causes and battle wins.  The stories are out there, though finding the stories can be difficult. That is why I was thrilled to find the stories of five lesser known figures from the Civil War.

The stories include that of Robert Small, a talented slave who literally sailed his way to freedom, and Mary Walker, a doctor and surgeon who dressed in union uniform and helped wounded soldiers on both sides of the battle field.

When we look at these stories, I really want us all see a bigger picture of the Civil War.  To connect with my visual learners, one option I gave for working with the stories was doodles. I was inspired by the Google doodles. Ours were much simpler but still fun. I provided blank words related to the Civil War and then students created doodles for one of the stories that they’d read. The doodles became part of a large wall of ideas, facts, timelines, and analysis of the Civil War.

For me, and others, the stories made the war more interesting. And, the doodles were a big hit. I'm sure the doodles will be a part of future projects. You can find all the stories and activity here.