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It won’t be long until the signs that summer is over start appearing. Although we love our summers, there’s something nice about hitting the reset button and starting fresh with a new school year, isn’t there? To help you get started on the right track, I wanted to take a moment to let you in on what I do the first week back for middle school ELA.
I’ll break the first week down day-by-day, beginning with Monday on day one. On this first day of the week, you’ll start right away with laying down some of the important groundwork for your middle school ELA classroom community…
Before the class begins, you’ll place two things on each of the students’ desks: a student profile sheet, and half a sheet of paper so students can create a name card or name tent.
When the students enter, you can greet them at the door and tell them to have a seat either wherever they like or at a designated spot. You might choose to have a seating chart posted on the screen or on the board for them to find their individual seats. I personally like to use a seating chart on the first day, but of course, this is totally up to you. Here’s what’s on the radar for day one:
The welcome presentation is a short way to welcome students and tell them that you’re excited that they’re there. It’s also an opportunity to share a little bit about you and your course. After the presentation is complete, give students the opportunity to create their name card or tent and put it on their desk. This will make it much easier to learn students’ names, which we all know is a struggle in middle-to-high with so many students coming in through the door.
Next, you can bring their attention to the student profile sheet on their desk. You’ll go over each of the sections of the profile and explain how to complete it. I personally would suggest having the students complete this at home. The simple task will give you a good idea of which students may have trouble passing things in on time so you can kind of address this issue immediately.
Now it’s time to decide which of the following activity options works best for your class.
The back-to-school passport station activity has students move through four different stations in the room where they will reflect on their summer, get to know other students, set goals, and share information about themselves.
The back-to-school snowball ice breaker activity has students share information about themselves. This activity has students crumple their information into paper balls and throw it around the room. Other students retrieve it and continue the activity.
At the end of class on Monday, you may want to remind students to bring their completed student profile the next day. And I also like to ask them to bring in a three-prong folder or duo-tang to hold all of their bell-ringer response sheets. Now, you might be saying to yourself, but wait we didn’t go over any of the rules and the syllabus…
In my experience, students spend the first day of middle school and high school going from class to class, listening to a list of teachers’ rules that are all basically the same, and they already know these rules because they’ve heard them year to year. Then, they’re read a syllabus. I like to personally leave this kind of content until day two.
On Tuesday, the first thing you’re going to do is greet students at the door and tell them to find their assigned seat or to find a seat anywhere, depending on the process you choose. Once class begins you will begin collecting the student profile sheets that they completed for homework.
If you have a student who has not completed it, I would avoid disciplining the student in the middle of class. That’s probably never a good idea. Simply ask the student to write their name at the top and submit the incomplete assignment. Then you can put those aside and speak to them privately after the fact and explain the consequences of not completing work in your class.
Once you have that out of the way it’s time to move on to Tuesday’s lesson. Here’s a basic overview of what you will do on the 2nd day of school: you will review the bell-ringer procedure, go over class expectations and learning styles in a stations activity, and share the syllabus with the students.
The first thing you’ll need to do is choose a bellringer set that works well for you. Then, you’ll review each of the Monday to Friday bell-ringer activities and explain how they will work. You’ll have students create their bell-ringer booklet where they add the first four weeks of response sheets. Or, if you like, you can give them the full year depending on how you want to do it and once they have their bell-ringer booklet completed.
Then, you can ask them to actually complete the bell-ringer activity for Monday since they didn’t do one the day before and then the Tuesday one as well. So they’ll be doing 2 bell-ringer activities today. You’ll briefly review these with the class as you normally would and then it’s time to move on to the next activity.
For the stations activity, what you’ll do is you’ll set up chart paper at 5 different stations in the classroom. At the top of those pages there will be 5 questions:
You’ll put students into groups, and then you’ll have them move to each station to discuss and jot down their ideas and thoughts on the chart paper. I’d say 3 to 4 minutes for each station should work, depending on how long you have your class for. Once each group has gone through each station, then you can go and look at each of those chart paper responses and discuss it as a whole class.
When that’s done, you’ll finally pass out your course syllabus and allow students to read it with their group. Have them discuss what’s on the syllabus and give them an opportunity to ask questions. I much prefer this method to just reading it to them so that they’re not tuning out.
Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll do on Wednesday. I’ll also explain each in more detail in a moment…
After the bell-ringer has been completed for that day and reviewed, you will actually give your students a book talk on something either you read over the summer, a young adult book that you love, or any book of your choosing, really. The book talk that you provide should follow the structure that they will be using to complete their own book talks. You can use this opportunity to model what a strong example looks like.
Then, you’ll give them an opportunity to choose their date. I usually say that if they don’t sign up by Friday, then you’ll assign them a date so that most students will sign up. I suggest not having the first book talks until four weeks into the semester as this gives that first presenter adequate time to prepare and get comfortable with their peers.
Now you’re going to help your students find a book they’re interested in reading. There are a few different ways you can do this. If you want to keep it simple, book the library and bring the students down to peruse the stacks. If you want to keep it within the classroom, you can also bring books to them. Or you can simply use your own classroom library books and have them do a date with a book. You should also tell students that they need to have their independent book chosen by Friday and that it needs to come to class with them.
On Thursday, you can choose between one of the following two options:
The zombie escape room tells the story of students arriving on the first day of school to find out that their teacher has turned into a zombie. They need to complete ELA-inspired puzzles to turn their teacher back to a human. This can take the whole class and requires some preparation ahead of time, but I think it’s totally worth it! You have to check out the video that I use to hook students in.
The buried ship mystery activity gets students working together to infer information about a real-life mystery of a ship that was found buried in downtown San Francisco. This takes less time, and it’s a seriously interesting mystery! I know your students will love either of these options…
Finally, you’ve made it to Friday! You can start the final day of the week with your bell-ringer. You can try four free weeks of bell-ringers using this link. Once that’s completed, you can tie up any loose ends or complete any activities that were not finished from the week back to teaching middle school ELA. After that’s all done, tell your students to take out their independent novel and do some silent reading.
With silent reading, it’s important to set expectations from the beginning of the year or you’re going to have problems later on in the semester. When it’s time for silent reading, it should be silent. I allow students to get comfortable and allow them to sit where they want. You can do the same if you want, but it’s totally up to you. There should be no fake reading aloud, and if you’re an English teacher I think you know what I’m talking about. This is when students stare at the book but they’re not actually reading it. If you notice a student is doing this, encourage them to give their book back and find another one.
There you have it…Your first week back to middle school ELA has been planned! I hope you have a great first week back, and please let me know if you have any questions at all.
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