Teaching Tweens

10 Tips to Help Middle Schoolers Manage Themselves!

I have a 5th grader and an 8th grader at home.  I just received letters from both the HIGH SCHOOL and MIDDLE SCHOOL informing me that I now, officially, have BIG kids!  How will I not have any little kids anymore?  My mommy heart is crying crocodile tears, but my mommy brain is spinning with thoughts of "how in the world will these two handle the new responsibilities of middle and high school?"

So, instead of looking at baby pictures with teary eyes and a glass of chardonnay, I stepped out of my mommy-self and put on my teacher-thinking-cap.  I work with big kids every day.  I help big kids get organized in my classroom.  I advise parents JUST LIKE ME on how to help their kids adjust to middle school.  Plus, my son has survived middle school with great grades and minimal drama, so I must have done something right. So, I sat down and made a list.  (Doesn't everything seem easier to handle when you start with a list?!?) Actually, I made 2 lists...one for teachers at school and one for parents at home! I'll share each list in a separate blog post :)

TOP 10 Tips for helping BIG KIDS Manage Themselves at SCHOOL

1. Each student should have a dedicated homework folder.  This folder goes to EVERY class and only work that needs to travel between school and home goes in it.  Now there is no need for kids dragging 50-pound backpacks home or forgetting something important in their locker!

2. Teach kids to use their planner/assignment book.  Spend time at the beginning of the year teaching this skill, then follow up throughout the year with occasional check ups.  Reward those students with fully filled-in books.

3. Use Google Classroom!  It is SO easy to set up and manage.  You can post assigments, a calendar, e-copies of work, online textbook links, video links, just about anything you can think of.  This is a life-saving resource for kids who forget papers...all they need is an internet connection and device!

4.Use remind.com to make parent/student communication quick and easy!  Just sign up for an account, then you can send texts to remind parents and students of upcoming due dates, tests, etc.

5. Create a team blog to use as an online assignment book.  Our 6th grade team all has "ownership" of a blog and we all post our daily assignments in one place.  This is especially helpful for students who struggle to fill in their planners.  Google Sites and Blogger are really easy to set up and use!

6. Have a box of extra copies in your classroom.  Put a file folder in for each day of the month.  Toss in a few extra copies of papers passed out each day for absent or absent-minded students.  If today is March 30, the papers go in file #30.

7. Don't let important materials leave the room!  I like to have ISN/Journal storage bins in my classroom.  I also don't let textbooks leave...students have online textbooks for home.

8. Offer a "Get Out of Jail Free" card!  Let kids know that we understand mistakes happen and occasionally we are all forgetful.  I like to give out one or two homework passes per quarter and my team uses "oops" coupons which students can attach to late work for no point loss.

9. Reward GREAT behavior!  Our school is a PBIS school and we give coupons to students who are caught being good.  Then, each teacher has a "store" in their classroom where students can redeem their coupons for candy, late work passes, leave class early passes, sit in the teacher's seat reward, etc.  Students really love these rewards and it helps keep them on task!

10. Offer help, but set boundaries.  I like to open my class for lunch one or two days a week to students who have questions, need extra help, or need to make up work after an absence.  I also make myself available via e-mail.  However, many students (and parents) try to overuse this help, so make sure you set boundaries about how quickly parents should expect a response from e-mail, how many times a student can come in at lunch, or how late in the day is acceptable to send e-mails about homework.

Have questions about how I organize things? Have other ideas to help students become more responsible?  I'd love to hear what you do! Comment below or e-mail me at teachwithmrsb@gmail.com!   


Let's face it...no matter how old the students are, they are still crazy on holidays!  ESPECIALLY those holidays that lead into breaks!

So what can a teacher do to get through the holiday or the day before a holiday break? (other than pop in a movie!)

I'll let you in on my tried and true holiday-crazed-kids survival plan!

First, for each holiday, I gather a collection of holiday-themed worksheets...yes, worksheets-they DO have value at times! Then, I think of ways I can get kids up and moving for SHORT amounts of time. Next, I think of things students always want to do in class, but rarely are allowed to. Finally, I make it all into a competition with some sort of prize attached!

Sounds simple, right?  That's the best news...IT IS THAT SIMPLE!

Let me break it down for you.  Let's take Halloween as an example.  Halloween this year was on a Monday, so in my 6th grade ELA class, we celebrated "Monster Monday" (I've had years when I've called it "Witchy Wednesday" or "Freaky Friday"...you get the point!).  I hung a few decorations and turned the lights down.  When kids came into class, they picked up a "Monster Monday To Do List".
I created a list of grammar worksheets, silly challenges, and physical movements that all tied into Halloween some way or another.  I told them the first 2 students to complete all the challenges would win a prize from me (this time it was ghost-shaped Peeps candy from the Dollar Store). The students had fun working together on the worksheets, and they LOVED having the chance to draw on the whiteboard!  I had fun watching them do jumping jacks and moonwalk.  Because it was a challenge, they all got competitive and worked hard to win!  

This is the best way I've found to keep kids engaged during holidays!  It is super-easy for teachers, too!  Once you've found the worksheets and thought of the activities, you can use the same plan year after year.  Now, I can actually enjoy holidays with my students because I know they aren't just wasting a class period watching a movie.  Plus, since the kids are interacting with each other and with you, it's a great relationship building day!

I do this for many holidays: Halloween, before Winter Break, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, before Spring Break!  Here's another example, this time of a Winter Break to do list:

I hope that gives you some ideas to get through those tough-to-manage days ahead!  

If you are looking for some ELA activity sheets to get you started on your collection, I just added a bunch of new Color By Code holiday-themed activities!  Visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Store to check them out!


3 Simple Activities to Help You Get Back Into the Swing of Things!

I know some states have been back to school for a while, but here in Michigan, we are just getting ready to go back! Kiddos in Michigan start the Tuesday after Labor Day every year...state law!  We like to get as much summer vacationing "up North" in as we can!

Today was my first "official" day back at work, but I've been working in my classroom a little bit over the last few weeks.  Isn't setting up fun?  Seriously, no sarcasm!  I LOVE setting up my room, especially since this year I HAVE a room!  I'll post my classroom makeover in a future post because believe me it's a big change from what I walked into a few weeks ago!

Now that my room is ready to go, I sat down today with my teaching partners and we planned out our first week!  I'm super excited to share what we've got planned with you because it is SO student-centered and EASY for the teacher to implement!

Since Labor Day week is just a 4-day week, here are 4 days worth of plans, all ready to go!  All the activities are in my TpT Store, so if you are a middle school or high school ELA teacher hop on over and your first week will be all set!

Day 1: Get to Know You Station Rotations!

The first day is a wild day...especially for incoming 6th graders or 9th graders.  Students are overwhelmed with new teachers, new rules and routines in each hour, and wondering which friends are in their class.  Many teachers begin day one with a lecture of expectations or a reading of the syllabus.  Others start with icebreaker or get-to-know-you activities.  I've decided to do things differently!  I'm not going to stand in the front of the room and talk at my kids.  I'm just going to say  a general "hello, I'm Mrs. B", then sort the kids into 7 groups and let them loose at stations.  (To make grouping easy, each desk will have a sticker on it when the kids come in to identify their group.) Each station consists of an activity designed to get kids talking to each other, to get them to understand me and my classroom, and for me to get to know my students.  Here is a breakdown of the stations:

1. Syllabus Search-students read the syllabus looking for answers to questions I've asked on a worksheet.

2. ELA Continuum- students place a sticker along a continuum to show their perceived ability and interest in each ELA area.

3. Book Recommendations- students talk about books they've read and jot down favorites.

4. Goal Setting- Students create a speech bubble for a bulletin board by writing down a goal for the year.

5. Questions for the Teacher- students have a safe, anonymous place to jot down questions for the teacher.

6. Brainstorming the Perfect Teacher, Student, Classroom- students list ideas for what could be used to describe the ideal teacher, student, and classroom. (Further discussion to follow at a later date)

7. Taking a Selfie and Posting to Instagram - students will use an iPad to take a selfie and then create a bio for themselves which will later hang in our classroom so we can all get to know each other.

Our first day is just a half-day, so we may need to finish these activities on day two.  I'm thinking the kids will really enjoy this, and it will give me time to meet kids at their groups to start building relationships right away!

Day 2: Class Rules, Routines, and Expectations!

The second day, we will get down to the business of rules, routines, and expectations.  This can be a very dull lecture, so I decided to make it more fun.  I've created a set of posters in "tween talk" to keep kids interested and to let them know that even though I do expect them to follow the rules and routines, I am not a big meany!  I used these last year, and my 8th graders really responded well.  We all laughed together, but my message was loud and clear.  The file is in PDF form, but I showed it like a powerpoint presentation.  After presenting and discussing, I will print the posters to hang in my room as a visual reminder to all students.

Day 3-4: What is Your Theme Song?

This is my ABSOLUTE, MOST FAVORITE activity to do with my kids!!!  We are jumping right into learning and they don't even know it!  Isn't that awesome?  This is a 2-day activity with the first day being a quick intro (or review) of the definition of "theme".  Then, in groups, students analyze lyrics to theme songs of popular TV shows (such as Scooby Doo, Phineas and Ferb, and Friends).  They have to explain how the theme song matches the theme of the show.  (I also have youtube clips for each song...I love hearing the kids sing along!).  Then, once they've discussed all the TV show theme songs, I ask them to pick their own personal theme song.  They have to pick a song and find the lyrics to bring back to school the next day.  I always share mine first...it's "The Good Life" by One Republic.  On day two, the students write an essay explaining WHY they chose the song to be their theme song.  I share my example (included in the activity), but give no further help.  These essays are my first look at students' writing AND I get to know about my students based on their song choices!  I also ask students to share their song choices with each other...another kind of an icebreaker!

Whew!  That's a full week of lessons and a full week of fun, without a full week of prep because it's all done for you!  You can click on the pictures above to see previews and full descriptions of each activity.  So get back to doing the fun stuff...decorating your room and enjoying the last few days of summer!  I've got you covered!

Let me know how these activities work in your classroom by commenting below, by leaving feedback on TpT, or by emailing me directly at teachwithmrsb@gmail.com!  I wish you the best back to school EVER!


I just found out that I will be teaching 6th grade this year!  I taught one section of 6th grade my first year in middle school, and was just trying to keep myself one step ahead of the kids while I learned new curriculum!  Now that I'm feeling confident with my 8th graders and 8th grade curriculum, this is a great time to dive back into 6th grade, too!

So, guess what have I been up to this week?  CREATING new activities!

The major grammar focus in 6th grade is commas.  Commas can be so confusing to kids because there are SO MANY rules about when to use them!  Commas are either over-used or under-used by novice writers...some people sprinkle them all over their work, and others avoid using them at all costs!  I've always been pretty confident in my comma usage - I was taught to use a comma anytime you take a breath - I still think about that when I write, but that was pretty much my entire education regarding commas. It wasn't until I began teaching with a heavy focus on grammar that I really researched ALL.THE.RULES.  I never realized how many different ways the cute little comma is used!  Nor did I realize that standards involving comma usage are found in all grades (1-10) in the Common Core State Standards!  That means that every single school year, students are being explicitly taught how to use commas in their writing!  That's awesome!  Our students will be comma rock stars by the time they hit high school and never misuse that cute little comma, right?

WRONG! Even though teachers are teaching commas starting in 1st grade, 8th graders don't always know when and when not to use commas.

Now that I'm teaching 6th grade, I've got the time to really dig deep into commas with my students (and hope I won't have to spend as much time re-teaching commas with them as 8th graders!).  This month, I've been busy creating activities to help me review and teach commas.  The first thing I did is create anchor charts to hang in my room to answer this question:

I created one poster for each major comma rule (10 in all) ranging from 1st grade standards on up through 8th grade standards.  I know it seems odd to be reviewing 1st grade skills with 6th graders, but believe me, they need reminders!  (Of course, I won't tell them which are 1st grade standards, like using commas in dates and lists, but it sure doesn't hurt to review!) No matter what grade you teach, you can use some or all of these posters in your room! You can see samples of all 10 posters in the product preview in my TpT Store.

Here's a sample of a poster for a 6th grade standard:

Once I finished the posters, I got busy making a few new Color By Code activities!  My 8th graders loved these and actually asked me to make more!  If 8th graders actually admit to liking something school-related, it must be good!  So, I made 2 versions to review commas- one with elementary comma rules, and one with middle school comma rules!

In the process, I discovered a super-cool new clip artist who calls herself "Mae Hates Mondays" and draws big-kid friendly clips. Even her store name is PERFECT for middle schoolers!  I'm loving her clip art teens so much that I had to make another picture with them!  So I made a third Color By Code activity to help students identify simple sentences, compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences, and sentence fragments.

I mean how great are these characters???

So now, I'm ready to head back to school to teach these 6th graders how to use commas like rock stars!  Click on the pictures of each product to learn more!  I hope you find them useful, too!


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