Teaching theme in middle school seems to stump teachers and rightfully so. Theme is a concept that requires deep thinking; a skill middle school students are developing but have not yet mastered. So, how can you teach theme in a way that students will understand and retain the information?
First, begin by teaching the difference between topic and theme.
Students are bombarded with the idea that topics are themes. Everything from "theme" parties to sadly, teachers who misunderstood the difference between the two. How do you combat this?
I begin with helping students plan a "theme" birthday part. They have free reign over all aspects of the party...no expenses spared! Once they have planned every detail from the venue, to the guest attire, to the food, to the decorations, we talk about how this is JUST the beginning of theme and that actually the "theme" of Hawaiian (a party theme for example) is actually a topic.
We've all been there. It doesn't matter how great your resources are or how much time and effort you put into creating an engaging unit...if it is a less-desirable text, many students just WILL NOT get into it. What's a teacher to do?? I mean, it's not like your school has tons of money to purchase new class sets of novels...and you certainly don't either.
This is what I did to engage students when they just did not like the text we had to read:
Let me give you a little back story. For 12 years, I read Paula Fox's Slave Dancer. The story is rich in figurative language, imagery, advanced vocabulary, character development and examples of developing mood and tone. It really is a beautifully written text that provides valuable teaching opportunities.
The problem though is this:
I can make learning about figurative language engaging.
I can make learning about mood and tone engaging.
I can make learning...
Stuck on how to introduce your Spooky Story unit? I'd love to share how I start mine!
Halloween Spooky Stories HAVE to be my favorite units of the year!! All the suspense and mysteries left unknown just make me (and my students) so excited! Below are my students' and my favorite spooky stories to read during the scariest month of the year and the literary elements and skills to be taught with them.
"The Tell Tale Heart" by Edgar Allen Poe
This is a story of a deranged caretaker who labels himself as mad. Every night for a week, he stalks the old man in his sleep and is convinced the old man's eye is evil. He kills the old man on the 8th night and thinks he is successful until his mental illness takes over and the "heart beat" of the old man drives him completely mad, and he confesses to the murder.
Literary elements to cover-
All of our lives were turned upside down when Corona hit in March and shut our world down...including our classrooms. Many of us scrambled to make this new way of teaching work, and we worked our butts off for our students! Our summers were given up in the name of preparation for the Fall where many of us are either all virtual or operating on a hybrid model. Although it would be tempting (and somewhat terrifying) to think we need to rewrite our whole curriculum to accommodate online learners, it doesn't have to be that difficult. There is a way to incorporate major portions of our "normal" routine into this new way of teaching.
Response to Reading
Most Language Arts Classrooms have a way that students respond to their reading (mostly in writing) and respond to each others' ideas about the reading. Digital learning has made it very difficult to monitor this with traditional methods. A very successful way to transition this practice to digital is...
First Chapter Fridays are designed to introduce students to novels that peak their interest and motivate them to read! Generally, there are no strings attached (or grades) to First Chapter Fridays…just high-interest books that you think kids will love!
When it’s time for FCF in my classroom, students are able to grab comfy chairs and pillows so they can relax and listen to the book I’ve chosen to share. I choose books that I know they will like, not necessarily “educational”. This also cues them for 30 minutes of “just reading”. No activities, no assessments, no interruptions from me…just reading for fun. The list of novels below can get you started on FCF in your own classroom!
Need some more ways to motivate students to read? Sign up for that list here!
I love middle school literature circles. Well, once I learned how to plan and manage them to my students’ benefit...then, I started to love middle school literature circles. In my 15 years of experience, I learned that there were 3 main keys to literature circle success.
Provide students the opportunity to be responsible for their own learning.
Literature Circles are such an effective way for students to learn the idea of taking responsibility for their learning. They are an opportunity for us to use our creativity and innovation to create an experience for students to take responsibility themselves. The two ways I do this are:
I think one of the best parts of being a teacher is that we have free reign to indulge in all things organization, all in the name or productivity for the classroom! Seriously, I LIVE for my beautiful, completely customized PaperPlum yearly planner, the color-coordinating pens and stickers, and my Target binders with matching organizational tabs...oh my gosh, I love it! (Guys...bear with me here...I promise there’s value for you in this blog too!) An all-too-real reality hit us this past Spring though, when no amount of beautifully organized binders could help us if we weren’t allowed back in our school due to health pandemic scares. It kinda kicked me in the rear, if I’m being honest. “What do you MEAN, I can’t go back into the school for my things!?!”
Please tell me I’m not alone! I didn’t think so…
We all had to adapt quickly to this new way of teaching, and for the foreseeable future, the e-learning...
You guys, I taught my daughter how to lie. I’m not proud of it, but I did. Not intentionally, Judgey McJudgerson! If it weren’t for those DANG reading logs, we would have gone our whole lives without one lie. (Ok, we lied about practicing the blasted violin too, but seriously, THAT’S ALL!) The lesson on lying came every Monday morning when I was presented with the reading log that needed my signature, and I really had no idea how much my daughter had read at home, but we sure told Mrs. Carter that she got in her 120 minutes a week! (Don’t hate me, Mrs. Carter.)
One night on the patio with some girlfriends, I learned this was a very common practice. As a mom, I was like, “Yeah! Bad moms unite!!” As a Language Arts teacher, I was like, “Wait, what!?” It hit me that reading logs were, well, useless (and a nuisance for parents)!! I had struggled with this as a teacher for much of the...
We’ve all been there...sitting in front a pile of projects that we have no desire to grade. Why? Because you’ll have the projects that didn’t follow the rubric, the projects that did the bare minimum, and the projects that got it all wrong. Of course you have the ones that are consistently beautiful and meticulous, and you strategically place those in the front so you can mark them off the list and feel accomplished, or you sprinkle them between all the others to give you something to look forward to.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on why I was getting crummy project submissions when I spent so much time and effort in creating the perfect “prompt”, the detailed directions, the fair but challenging rubric, the differentiated approaches to the projects, and the “creative” choice boards. After thinking that the problem was in my teaching and vowing to teach the heck out of some literary elements on the next unit (but...
There is no doubt that we live in trying times. The news is riddled with stories of global unrest, stateside unrest, racial tensions, conflict between countries, oppressive governments, and the list goes on. It is our jobs as educators to introduce our students to literature that not only brings these issues to light, but literature that will help them make the connections to the issues in ways that encourage them to make a difference.
Below are the top 10 novels for middle school students that shine a light on global issues, and the best news is, you probably already have these novels in your library! Grab this free list of 100+ Literary Elements and Terms to use when reading these novels!
Refugee by Alan Gratz-
Following the story of three characters fleeing from Nazi Germany, 1990s Cuba, and modern day Syria, students receive historically accurate accounts of the challenges and hardships faced by refugees fleeing for their lives.