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Middle School

Why You Should Incorporate Science Stations In Every Unit

science-stations-in-a-middle-school-classroom

I find it so frustrating when a student is literally sleeping on their desk while I’m trying to explain something, but the moment… the actual moment we break into groups, they’re awake and chatty. This is the reason I incorporate science stations into my schedule almost weekly! 

Students who are socializing are much more likely to be engaged with the content, even if they’re not spending every single second talking about what they’re supposed to be learning. 

Science Stations Aren’t Only for Littles

Incorporating science stations in the classroom took me a long time to figure out. I did more so by accident than anything. I took small bits of information and placed them around the room, all while asking my students to go find each part. 

Elementary school teachers use stations or centers all the time. Why do we stop using science stations in middle school? I’d argue, we shouldn’t. 

These are my seven reasons why science stations in the classroom should be included in your science class!

1. School is not fun

Sorry, it’s not. Very few kids are truly internally motivated to be good students, and even they have rough days. We’re constantly competing for their attention. They want to talk to friends, scroll TikTok, or play games. The last thing they want to do is listen to teachers blab. 

Take advantage of kids wanting to be social and include stations. Direct instruction and inquiry both have value. Don’t misquote me here. Incorporating stations that include inquiry, instruction, or even just practice can engage students differently. Suddenly, they want to participate. Or at least willingly write down whatever the rest of their group does. Count it as a win!

2. Stations allow exploring content with different learning styles

I’m big on this and always have been. All kids learn differently, but being exposed to content several different ways boost what they remember. Before I intentionally incorporated stations, I always found a way to make sure kids were drawing, writing, talking, and listening. 

Some kids really do like to hear information, which is where direct instruction strategies can come into play. However, seeing pictures, talking about it, doing research, touching, or even reading engages kids with the content in so many ways. 

Stations allow you to address a variety of learning needs, not just one.

3. Science Stations Allow for Movement! 

Movement wakes up those sleepy kids I talked about earlier. Students are moving their legs from one place to another. They move their mouths as they talk. They’re likely trying to steal a pencil from a person in their group. 

Movement gets their blood flowing and their hearts beating much more efficiently than sitting at their desk. They’re awake and interacting with the content, and their peers. 

Including stations where students are not sedentary the whole class period has been one of my favorite additions. They talk, laugh, move, and it seems as though they overall enjoy class. But it’s in part because their body is not in chill mode. It’s in do mode. 

4. Science Stations give students accountability

I have never had a student sleep through science stations. Ever. Even the most difficult students will at minimum copy what the rest of their group wrote down… most of the time. It’s not ideal. But hey, sometimes I’ll count that as a win! 

Other times, the accountability lies within the group itself. If most of the group is writing an idea or answer down, the one student who may not be feeling it that day will participate because everyone else is.

5. Science stations naturally “chunk” your content

Chunking is usually an accommodation we see on student IEPs or 504s. That just means it’s good teaching practice. Science stations allow us to chunk information or tasks so our students can focus on that specific information or task before moving on. 

I love to use this graphing review station activity at the beginning of the year. They’re graphing skills are always less than ideal. 

Asking a student who struggles to make a graph to make eight is completely overwhelming. When I put one graph at a station and let them work with peers, suddenly the intimidation factor is gone. They still work through eight total graphs, but they do it one by one without becoming overwhelmed. 

6. Stations allow you talk to students! 

You heard that right. YOU have the chance to talk because you’re not tied to the front of the classroom. Finding out who your students are is the key to building relationships with them. 

You can start a conversation with every student in your classroom. Start by asking if they have a pet and if so, what’s their name. If not, do they want one?  

Do they have siblings? How many?  Do they play sports? Play an instrument? Like a certain video game? 

Asking non-academic questions signals that you’re interested in them. The flexibility given to you while students work in science stations allows you to naturally build rapport with them. 

Before long, they’ll call you over asking if you can settle their argument about whether the square on their paper looks more like a diamond or a square!

7. Students get the chance to work with other people all the time

Middle school students like to talk. We’ve agreed on that. Socializing is one of the reasons science stations in middle school are so great. 

I give kids plenty of opportunities to work on something with partners of their choosing or by themselves if they want. 

The problem happens when I let kids choose their own groups. One group is always too big or someone gets left out. However, structuring science stations gets kids talking to every student throughout the year. 

I use student grouping cards to randomize groups for the day. If students get stuck in a group they don’t like, they know it’s only for the day. 

Usually by the end of the quarter, everyone has worked in a group with everyone else. Sometimes with friends, sometimes without. But it all works out. 

Science stations are my favorite way to add variety to my classroom. On station days, the energy is bigger. Students are more excited. It seems as though more gets done by everyone, not just the kids who want good grades. 

If you haven’t already tried using science stations in your classroom, try it. It might just be the change you’ve been looking for. 

Best Teaching Practice, Labs, Middle School, Science Pedagogy

Five Direct Instruction Strategies to Spice Up Your Science Lessons

direct instruction strategy using interactive notebook and doc cam

Up until recently (I’m in my 30’s), I kept a few of my middle and high school notebooks that I really loved. Why did I feel the need to hold onto some and not others? I realized, I liked learning from those teachers. They weren’t boring. As I reminisced and looked at specific pages, I could remember what was going on in class that day or what the teacher said. 

Here’s the thing about my notebooks. Most of the time, my notes came from direct instruction. It makes perfect sense looking at it as a teacher now. Each notebook I kept was from a teacher who used direct instruction strategies that kept me engaged and continuing to learn. 

NGSS & The Resistance of Direct Instruction

The rise of NGSS has emphasized inquiry and student exploration in science classes. I’m not against it. Inquiry and investigative skills are critical. 

In this push for inquiry-based learning, it seems as though direct instruction is almost demonized. Teachers are discouraged from using direct instruction strategies and encouraged to let students draw their own conclusions. 

In my professional opinion, there is a need for both. 

Sometimes, kids just don’t get it. I’ve sat with so many groups of kids who are totally picking up the information and can make connections with inquiry. 

I’ve also sat with kids who look at me with blank stares, or pretend to get it when I can see on their face that they’re just trying to make me go away. 

Most of the time, I talk to kids who get about 90% of what they needed out of inquiry, and they just need a little more information to clear the rest up. 

Using solid, direct instruction teaching strategies is the best way to get all your students on the same page, and accommodate those who don’t have strong inquiry skills, yet.

The Reason Direct Instruction Is Important in Science Class

Don’t be boring. These direct instruction teaching strategies are pulled from my personal vault, and hopefully will keep you from reading directly off a Powerpoint and keep kids hands from aching while they panic-write. Yes… panic-writing is a thing. 

Remember, there is a purpose for including direct instruction in your classroom. Direct instruction is an accommodation! Just like you include group work, inquiry, discussion, and reading into your lessons, listening is just as important. 

Direct instruction in science class gives every kid a basic foundation of knowledge to work from. Every year, I have a student who legitimately tries to convince me the Earth is flat. After some pointed direct instruction they can construct a basic argument with correct information, even if they don’t believe it. 

Here are five direct instructions strategies you can use to increase engagement

1. Investigate first, not only

NGSS discourages direct instruction and pushes inquiry based learning, a little disproportionately in my opinion. By following up an investigation with a little bit of direct instruction, you’ll be sure every student is on the same page as far as what they should have gleaned from the investigation. 

When I do this, students engage with me and ask why their data is a certain way or they try to talk out and question what happened in their group. These conversations are learning experiences. 

We want kids to build their investigative skills. We also want them to walk away with the knowledge they were supposed to have after that investigation. Direct instruction helps. 1.

2. Make your prep less time intensive

We all know Google is forever, so kids have information at their fingertips. Don’t spend hours making the perfect Powerpoint for note taking. It’s likely that your students will get overwhelmed, ask you to go back, and have a hand cramp halfway through. 

If you do decide to use Powerpoints, I’d suggest guided or fill-in-the-blank notes to go along with it. Not only does this help accommodate students, but everyone can focus on what you’re saying instead of making sure they scribble down what’s on the slide. 

3. Incorporate drawing

I remember sitting in 6th grade science with neon gel pens, drawing fault lines that my science teacher was drawing on the board. When I was fed up making Powerpoints and watching my students fight for their life to copy every word, I remembered this simple strategy. Drawing.

I figured I had nothing to lose, opened up my notebook under a doc cam and started drawing, talking, and teaching my students. The engagement was incredible! 

I used this strategy when I taught tides to my 7th graders.

We drew pictures and wrote less words.

In 8th grade, many of those students went on a science trip to San Diego. The 8th grade chaperone came back and told me that he and the instructor were impressed at how well the kids understood and could explain how tides worked. All we did was draw! 

Edutopia has an amazing article I share with parents every year called The Science of Drawing and Memory. The gist is that if students are drawing, regardless of artistic ability, more areas of the brain are engaged and students remember more.  

4. Frontload quick topics

Another one of my direct instruction strategies is frontloading. While some topics are amazing to investigate straight away, others need a little bit of background information.

For example, when I begin my Earth, Moon, Sun Systems unit, I always frontload rotation and revolution with quick direct science instruction. It’s foundational to what students will learn in the coming weeks, but there’s no need to investigate. 

On the other hand, I spend more time frontloading vocabulary with my heredity unit. Heredity vocabulary is hard, so I teach them the words in context to each other before we really dive into heredity. It helps so much! 

Frontloading is a very simple direct instruction teaching strategy, but so effective in keeping kids from being confused when it’s used right

5. Know what you’re talking about! 

Of all the direct instruction strategies I’ve talked about so far, I think this is the most important for engaging students. 

Actually learn what you’re talking about! So often, it’s tempting to buy a powerpoint off of TPT and present it.

But by spending a little bit of time learning about your topic, you can have authentic conversations with kids. Those conversations and answers to their questions are what they remember and make learning more than scribbling down some information. 

This comes with time, and generally comes topic by topic as you teach more. If you don’t feel comfortable with one content area, that’s okay! I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about Newton’s laws as I am about eclipses, and that’s okay! 

BONUS: Keep students organized

I started this post by telling you that until recently, I still had notebooks from middle school. I’m sure the reason I kept these notebooks was because they were more than a collection of scribbles. 

They were meticulous. I was proud of them. They were neat. Each one was organized differently. 

Helping your students organize their notebook as you’re teaching is incredibly helpful to how they feel when they open it. You want them to be proud. 

Whether or not you have them cut and glue in note pages, draw, or a combination, find a way to keep them organized. 

Inquiry-based learning is great. But it needs to be paired with purposeful and solid direct instruction. By utilizing these five direct instruction strategies, say goodbye to students scribbling something just to get it down and hello to a reengaged class who doesn’t hate notes.

Best Teaching Practice, Middle School, Science Pedagogy

Save a life: Where is your AED on campus?

Show middle school students where they AED on campus is so that they know in case of an emergency.

I’d be willing to bet that you haven’t had to look a student in the eyes, hand them your keys, and say, “go get the AED.” One of my best teacher friends had to a few years back. For a student who collapsed from a cardiac emergency and was supposed to show up to my class in two class periods.

I can guarantee you don’t want to waste time telling them what an AED is if you find yourself in that situation. They don’t know. They’re in middle school. They’re likely going to get nervous and try to ask questions, but there’s not time for that.

Turns out, the student had an unknown condition that caused them to go into cardiac arrest. The quick thinking of the teachers and the very quick arrival of first responders who used an AED on site saved this student’s life.

Teachers don’t think they’ll need their campus AED

Before this incident, I didn’t realize that we had an AED on campus. I sat in CPR classes, required for coaches only, every two years where they were used. I never thought I’d need to know actually about them.

Showing middle school students where the campus AED is may be your most important classroom procedure.

This blog post has been in swirling my head, needing to be written since this incident. Teachers don’t think it will happen on their campus. But after Damar Hamlin collapsed on the football field on national TV, I had a stirring to write it again. 

Because you never know when and who it could happen to. And I didn’t realize it was even a possibility until it happened to one of my students on my campus. 

I’m not going to go into the details about this event because it’s not my full story to tell, and I’m still very good friends with the teachers who were involved. 

I’m going to be frank though. An AED can save someone’s life. Where are the AEDs on your campus? Do you know? 

Changes to the First Week of School

After this incident, I made a big change to my first week of school every year since. We go find the AEDs. 

Admin always asks that you do a few things that first week of school. It might be fire drill practice, an intro lesson to campus rules, or maybe passing out paperwork and logistical tasks for starting the school year.

These tasks take time, but never a whole class period. 

Get out and show students where the campus AED is

One of these days is the best to take a tour and find your AED on campus.  

I like using the fire drill practice day because we’re already going to be out of the classroom. We just make a few more stops.

Here’s the tricky thing about cardiac arrest. It’s an electrical problem with the signals in the heart, unlike a heart attack which is a blockage in the arteries. 

This means it can happen to anyone. 

When I decide to tour campus and show kids where AEDs are, I share the story about my student. When it happens to someone you know, it hits differently. Kids get silent. They realize it is real. 

Share a story to make a connection

You can share this story. Or this story about a 16 year old at tennis practice. The story of Damar Hamlin or Christian Ericksen. Middle school students connect with stories.

After I share the story, we watch this video of how an AED works. It’s simple and short. 

Then we go on a campus tour. 

AEDs are usually in the front office and the gym. Check with your campus nurse to be sure. If there is one in the gym, check with the PE teacher to see if you can sneak into a corner of the gym for just a minute each class period one day. 

Before you leave the classroom, remember – you have middle school students! Be VERY clear with your expectations. 

Be clear on your expectations before leaving your classroom

Tell them in no uncertain terms that they are to walk, not run. They may not put their hands or feet on each other.  They may talk quietly outside. Yelling is unacceptable. 

When we get to a door leading inside, usually the office, I make them all stop and reiterate expectations. The office is where people answer phones and have meetings. They should not talk unless it’s necessary. And I explain that If I have to call them out for being too loud – at my discretion – I will call home (and I follow through!). 

When students know where the AED on campus is, it can save precious moments in a medical emergency.

Depending on where your classroom will depend on where you stop first. If the PE teacher asks you not to come in, you can probably look through a window and point the AED out. 

If you can get cooperation from the nurse, they might open the wall case up and let the siren sound. Always tell kids the alarm is to draw attention to an emergency. Do not waste time explaining why they are running in the office. Once they grab the AED, adults will follow. 

Physically walking students to the AEDs on campus and showing them what it looks like may save seconds or minutes in an emergency. In an emergency, those moments matter. 

Prepared students and teachers know where the AED on campus is

I was watching the Bills game when Damar Hamlin collapsed. After watching what seems to be thousands of hours of football in the last two years with my husband, the Bills are my team of choice. 

As news updates rolled in, one article caught my eye. The NFL has what they call a “60-minute meeting” with all the medical personnel and officials one hour before kickoff at every game to prepare specifically for cardiac emergencies. 

How many football games have you watched without a cardiac emergency? I’ve watched almost three years worth! 

Yet little did I know that before every game, this group of people met in case there was one. They wanted to be prepared. 

By showing your students where the AEDs are on campus, you’re conducting your own “60-minute meeting.” Chances are your students won’t need to know. But in case they do, it could save a life. 

Middle School, Professionalism

Last Day of School Activities for Middle School Students That Don’t Suck

last-day-of-school-activities-outside

There’s nothing quite like the last day of school. Teachers are over it. Grades are in and kids are wild. Every year it feels like a disaster waiting to happen. It’s my least favorite day of school. Yet every year, I survive. The secret to my success is keeping a well rounded library of last day of school activities in my back pocket. No matter the year or group of kids, I always have a plan going into the last day of school. 

Today, I’m sharing some of my favorites. 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I earn a very small commission from items purchased through affiliated links, but your purchase price is always the same!

Classroom Cleanup

You can actually put this in the category of the last couple days of school if you want. There’s no reason you have to do all the end of year cleaning yourself. Each class can be responsible for something different – wipe down counters and clear our sinks, wipe off desks, pick up 15 pieces of trash, clean whiteboards… whatever you need to straighten up for the end of the year. The teeniest, tinyist piece of garbage counts!

Pictionary Relay

last-day-of-school-activities-pictionary

This is one of my favorite last day of school activities! Write a list of about 12-15 words your students can draw for Pictionary. Throw in a few words that are kinda tricky. Break your students up into groups of 4-6. Each group should have a white board and marker or scratch paper and pencil. With you standing somewhere in the center of all the groups, whisper the first word to one person from each group.

They have to go back to their group and draw the word. Once someone guesses, a new person runs to you, and whispers the word they just guessed. Give them the next word on the list. Then the whole process repeats again! The first group through the whole list wins!

I love this game because it is so engaging and kills so much time. I play 2-3 rounds, depending on how much time I have. Have a few lists – even take mine from the picture! That way early classes won’t spill the beans for your later classes.

I always enforce the rule that if they’re running, they have a 30 second penalty. The game stays more tame this way.

Go Outside

If you have space to go outside, do it!  Play kickball against another class or let kids have free time to talk and play. I taught at a campus for a long time where the last day of school ALWAYS consisted of at least an hour of free play outside on the field and donuts. If our kids were content, we’d stretch that outside time out as long as possible. Be sure to give kids boundaries though. This is the last day of school, and there are still rules. 

take kids outside on the last day of school.

Play Uno

I’d like to say play board games, but when it comes to last day of school activities, Uno is the best option. Everyone knows how to play and you can put kids in bigger groups. Big groups means you need fewer decks of cards. Uno is engaging, easy, and competitive making it perfect for the last day of school. I keep about four decks in my classroom at all times.

Trust me – stick with Uno. I even tried Yahtzee one year and while it was okay… it wasn’t great. It just wasn’t fast paced or competitive enough. Other board games might take a long time to set up, clean up, or figure out how to play. Uno is best. 

Have a Fancy Day

Full disclaimer – I haven’t tried this atypical last day of school activity personally, but it was suggested by a trusted mentor teacher who did it for years. Plan a school wide dress fancy day. Ask students to dress to the nines. When students show up dressed fancy, they carry themselves well and take pride in their actions. Your students are less likely to have major behavior incidents.

Watch a High Interest Movie

If you can pull it off, watch a movie! Pick a movie that is high interest and has a great ending. Think about movies they might not have seen yet like Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, or The Day After Tomorrow. Watch the movie for a few days before (hellooo time to wrap up your last minute list) so that it ends 5-10 minutes before the bell on the last day. (Then, have them each pick up 10 tiny pieces of trash!) Your students will be so interested in the movie, they won’t be disasters in your classroom. 

Make a Brochure For Next Year’s Classes 

On the last day of school, have students write a brochure to next years students and parents.

If you are required to plan academic activities all the way to the last day of school, consider having students make a brochure for next year’s students. Get them thinking. Create a quick questionnaire that helps them think of all the things a new student walking into your classroom on the first day of school would need to know. Then, ask them to make a tri-fold brochure [here’s a link for a free starter template!] you can show students and parents at your open house next year! This is probably best as a 2 day project, depending on how long your day is.

If you’re the teacher who likes to have a plan for the beginning of next year, check out this blog post!

Don’t let the last day of school be your least favorite. With a variety of engaging last day of school activities in your toolbox, some coffee, and a few deep breaths… you’ll be on your way to summer break!

Classroom Management, Middle School, Uncategorized

Save time with these three spectacular digital strategies to check for understanding

strategies-to-check-for-understanding-blog

Teaching life shifted when schools shut down in March 2020. Suddenly teachers had to learn how to teach 100% online. As I’m sitting to write this, it seems as though online to in-person flip flopping is coming to an end for most schools around the country, but who really knows for sure. I learned through the whole online teaching process digital strategies to check for understanding were going to be very absolutely necessary.

I never have been the greatest at looking over student work to check for understanding. Sure, I’d walk around and try to catch mistakes, but I’ll be the first to admit it shouldn’t have been my only strategy. And looking at papers to check for understanding just took so long!

COVID Made Me Do It

Pro tip: If you have an iPad, use the free Notability app and connect it to your digital classroom platform to scaffold digital worksheets!

When I was forced to use digital tools during COVID, I realized I could see what kids did and didn’t understand as they were completing their work, and quickly! I could suddenly help kids in the moment instead of waiting two weeks after we moved on and I was finally catching up on grading.

I realized that I had to teach heredity and genetics completely online. I’m a fairly techy person, but how was I going to teach such a vocab heavy, somewhat confusing topic online and keep kids accountable? Teaching heredity vocab and Punnett squares online really helped me see the variety of ways I could digitally check for understanding. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to type answers into a Google Doc. It’s not so easy to make a Punnett square!

Even as schools opened up through the pandemic and we did more in-person learning, I still used these digital strategies to check for understanding and great tools to help me keep track of their progress instantly. While schools now are less likely to move fully online, these tools work great for snow days or digital learning days! 

These three digital tools help save me time and sanity, and I still use them all the time!

1. Boom Cards

If you have not learned about Boom Cards, let me explain them quickly. It is basically an interactive Google slide with features like drag-and-drop, type, multiple choice, and others. The advantage to Boom Cards is it automatically grades each box so you don’t have to sort through 25 individual Google Slides presentations in order to grade each one.

I find most of my Boom Cards in stores on Teachers Pay Teachers, but there’s a Studio option to make your own. If you click on this link, it will show you how to make your own boom cards set.

What I can actually see from Boom Cards

I love that Boom Cards are easy to assign in Google, and I get analytics for individual students. I can see what the students’ score is, how long they spent on the deck, what questions they got wrong, what their answers were, and how long each attempt took them. As a bonus, I can see this in real time. When I see several students are struggling or getting a specific question wrong, I can redress it very quickly.

If you want to see more about progress monitoring with Boom Cards, you can read about it here. The author of the blog I linked is primary teacher, but the analytics breakdown is the same.

The solution for your “get it done fast” students

I found that I had students who would rush through, get wrong answers, skip cards (we all have that kid who will click random things to “complete” it. My solution is to tell kids they needed to have an 80% or higher since they can redo it multiple times, with the clarification that if they had tried and done it three times, they could send me an email. I then look it over to see how to help them.  

The boom learning subscription is $25 per year for multiple classes and up to 150 students. I believe I had like 172 students and I emailed them and asked if that was okay, they told me as long as it was in my roster in Google Classroom that was fine.

Pros: Creative, easy to find, cheap

Cons: Some students rush, Decks don’t always take long to get through

2. Formative

Formative is my all-time favorite teaching tool, and I will never teach without it again. Period. I will start by saying it is $15 per month, but it literally saves hours per week. I’m not exaggerating. I can assign something to kids 10 minutes into class and it can be graded with feedback and sent back to them before they leave. 

As far as digital strategies to check for understanding, Formative is what I have dreamed of for years but didn’t know how to make! Go check out my blog 7 Reasons You Need Formative In Your Digital Classroom!

There are two options for creating assignments. First, you can click the + button on the top of the screen and you’ll be able to add one of 6 types of teacher directions and one of 17 answer options. You’ll begin to build the assignment right onto a blank page. Second, you can upload a PDF and overlay those answer options by clicking on top of the PDF.

Auto-Grading In Live Time Is True Magic

Most of the answer options are auto graded instantly. There’s even a way to auto grade short answer and essay questions.

I love that I can see students working IN REAL TIME.  I can see what question they’re on, what they’re typing as they’re typing, and I can see whether they got it right or wrong. Formative codes the answer as green, yellow, orange, or red based on the type of question and whether or not you chose to include partial credit.

Flexibility with Show Your Work

As far as checking for understanding with Formative, there are so many options but I think the most flexible is the Show Your Work tool. 

By adding a show your work tool, students either draw or type onto a blank canvas to give you an answer. You could also add a background for students to type and draw on top of. Check out the picture to see how this turns out on the teacher end! 

Earlier I talked about how Formative helped me teach heredity digitally. It’s a very vocabulary heavy topic, and all I could think was how do I even start this? To introduce the vocabulary, we took about 20 minutes of notes. Using the show your work answer choice, they uploaded photos of their notebook before the end of class. Next, they had to work through a few multiple choice and short response questions to see if they got it!

While this was great for long-term digital learning, it’s also an option for single snow days or digital learning days!

Watch Them Change Their Answers!

To give you a less specific example to a digital classroom, I love using the show your work feature to assess Punnett squares. I give students Punnett square practice problems and ask them to show their work inside of the box. They can click wherever they want and type their answers. I can watch my screen and see students doing this in real time, so if they are doing something incorrectly, I’ll say, “Hey Shane, be sure to use the alleles with As, instead of Bs.” I can see students delete the Bs and re-write the answer with As!

How Much Time Do You Waste Opening Google Slides?

After students are complete Google interactive slides, they can upload a photo of specific slides to the Show Your Work box. Stop spending time scrolling through… let’s say 112 Interactive Google slides assignments to make sure students completed them. In answer box 5, upload the slide number 7 that says, “Punnett Square Practice.”

Here is the coolest part! While you are grading, you can look at every single one of your students question 5 at one time. And you can batch grade them too! Select multiple answers and use the slider on the right to grade them all at the same time! TALK ABOUT TIME SAVER! 

I I know I talked about Formative a ton, but it really is an incredible tool. Including Formative into your digital strategies to check for understanding is a must. I highly recommend it to any teacher in any grade. There is a 30-day free trial when you sign up for the free account.

Pro: Literally everything. Plus they’re always adding new features.

Con: Price per month (although, I think it’s worth every ounce if time I get back)

3. Teachermade

The third tool I used to digitally check for understanding is called Teachermade. It’s pretty similar to Formative, but it is a little more clunky and a little less flexible. For example, you can still upload a PDF as a background and overlay questions on top of it. That is huge! I know I have so many pre-created curriculum PDFs or something that’s not in a digital format I got from TPT. It’s nice to pop digital question boxes on top of the PDF. Most of these questions on Teachermade are still auto graded. There are nine student answer options that include matching, multiple choice, short answer, and more. 

Teachermade is a great option if you don’t have $15 per month, but I don’t find the website as easy to navigate. For example, I can see every student’s individual paper (remember, autograded!), but I can’t see every student’s question number 5 at the same time. And as far as I can tell, there’s no way to see live student work. They have to submit work before you can see their score. With that said, it’s still an amazing auto-grading tool that gives you fast feedback. 

The Teachermade PRO account would definitely be the way to go, as the free version limits you to 100 student submissions per month.

Pros: Cheaper than Formative, Auto Grading

Cons: Less features than Formative, harder to navigate

Are you ready to use digital strategies to check for understanding?

These three tools help me see where students are struggling and how I can help them so much faster than traditional paper pencil. Boom cards are great, and then I would suggest choosing between formative and teacher made for more flexibility in using your work sheets you already have in a digital way.

I know none of these tools are free. Good programs rarely are. If you’re struggling to come up with financing for these programs, reach out to your admin (I showed mine how Formative worked and he loved it – we ended up with a site license!) Ask if they can get you some funding. If that’s not an option, ask PTO. Oftentimes, this is something that they will spend money on because it directly benefits students in your class.

These three tools gave me great digital strategies to check for understanding so I can see where students are struggling and how I can help them so much faster than traditional paper pencil, even while students are in class with me! Boom cards are great, and I would suggest choosing between Formative and Teachermade for more flexibility in using your worksheets you already have in a digital way.

Digital Learning, Middle School

The Epic Test Review Game You Didn’t Know You Needed

test-review-game-for-middle-school

Test review can be torturous. Students hate it and we hate it, but it’s something we feel like we have to do. And engaging students in the process can be like pulling teeth. Games like Grudgeball work fine, there’s only so much higher level thinking we can get from them in that setting. They don’t really want to review any more than we do. But what if you could spend that precious time having your students create a test review game that is engaging and makes them think?

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test-prep-review-game-classroom

How do you explain a classroom without using the words teacher, student, desks, learn, or school?  It’s a little tricky, right?  You have to really understand what a classroom is to explain it well without using those words. Truly understanding something is different than simply reciting it. Our goal is always to engage students in what they are learning and drive them to think more critically.

I don’t want students to repeat what I said or what they read. I want them to engage with the content and walk away with their own, true understanding. This is what led me to create this epic test review game! Click here to grab an editable copy of the game template!

Tell Me More About This Magical Test Review Game

My desire for students to think critically and truly remember content from all year inspired me to have students create their own test review game called Forbidden Lingo. This is almost identical in concept to Taboo. I needed a way to review what we learned all year long with my students so they did well on our end of the year benchmark. This game project was just the solution.

test-review-game-activity

Students make their own Forbidden Lingo playing cards using terms they’ve used for the unit of study (maybe a single unit, maybe the whole year). Each card has a vocab word at the top. Then, they have to select five Forbidden words players are not allowed to say while they’re playing the game. 

Year after year, this game has been my go-to for test review! I usually set aside four days for students to work on this project in class before they take their test. With a little modification, it can also be used for any grade level or content area.

Playing Is Easy

Two teams sit in a circle with every other player being on the opposite team. When a player grabs a card from the deck, they see a main word at the top they’re supposed to get their team to guess using verbal clues. There are also five words they are not allowed to say. Each player tries to get  their team to guess as many words as possible in a one minute time frame.  The team with the most points at the end of the round wins.

Preparing for the Project

About a week in advance, tell kids they need to bring in how many notecards you’re going to use. This will depend on how many . They don’t need their notecards on the first day, so this gives some wiggle room for kids that forget them… because they will.

I also offer the opportunity to buy notecards from me for one cent. Check with your admin and email parents before you do this! I usually them the opportunity to buy half as many notecards as they actually need and cut them in half. This helps students take some ownership in the project, and I am not going out and buying notecards for all 200 of my students. 

test--prep-review-game-cards

If asking students to pay a small amount for their cards isn’t allowed, see if you have a supply closet or if your PTO will buy them. They’re not super expensive. If I end up buying them with my own money, it’s rarely more than three of four dollars.

I actually use the money I get from them to go buy more notecards for the next year. The money does NOT make its way to my Starbucks fund :).

We’re Playing a Game in Class Today!

Ask your students: How do you explain a classroom without saying words teacher, student, desks, learn, or school? The strategy is a lead-in to how Forbidden Lingo is played. I listen to their answers and talk about how they had to think outside of the box to come up with an acceptable clue. 

Then, I put a real Taboo Game card under the doc cam and model how I might describe that word while avoiding the taboo words. 

Finally, I pick up the deck and give clues so they cannot see the word I’m trying to get them to guess. This whole process helps model how they are able to give clues when they play. 

Break the class up into groups of six or eight. Give each group a small deck of Taboo cards to play with. Give them 8-10 minutes (about one minute per person) to play before bringing them back to their desks. You can give the winning teams candy, but I give them bragging rights!

Four Parts To Making An Engaging Test Review Game

Vocab Words

A vocab word is the main word students will put a the top of their Forbidden Lingo card. This is also the word they’ll try to get their peers to guess. Present students with a list of words they must include as vocab words. It’s nice to give them a list of optional words they can choose from, too.

test-prep-review-planning-template
Click the image to grab your editable test review game template for Forbidden Lingo!

Forbidden Words

Forbidden words refer to the five words they’re not allowed to say while they’re explaining that card. I let them use their notebooks and textbooks. I usually print some of the articles we used during a specific topic to use as well. Make students plan their words on a template and check in to make sure they’re on the right track. 

Students will want to use words like pizza if they’re talking about the Earth’s Crust. I don’t let them. You’ll read about why in the next section.

 Explanations

The idea of the game Forbidden Lingo is to avoid using those Forbidden words to explain their vocab word. But this is an academic project. I require my students to use the five Forbidden words they chose for their vocabulary word to write sentences explaining their vocabulary word

For example, say the vocab word is classroom and they forbidden words are teacher, students, desks, learn, and school. The sentence your students should write could say:

A classroom has a lot of desks where students sit and learn from a teacher at school.

This. Totally. Throws. Them. Off. (at least in middle school). They don’t understand how they’re supposed to use the words after you told them not to. Try your best to explain, model, explain again, model again, not lose your mind and keep going. Eventually I made an anchor chart with an example of this and hung it up. This seemed to help a lot.

Deck Logo

All card games have logos. I ask them to make a deck logo on all the cards like they would find on a normal deck of cards – uniform and colored. Remind (coughwarncough) them they have to make 20 to 30 cards, so their logo shouldn’t be exceptionally detailed.

Students Play Each Others Test Review Games

As students finish up working on their Forbidden Lingo, they form groups and play. They should be able to combine decks because they should all have their own logo and it’s easy to sort cards out once it’s time to turn them in. 

test-review-game-deck-logo

THIS IS THE BEST PART! They’ve made all the cards. Each card has the Forbidden words they’re not allowed to say during the game. They had to justify those words by using them to explain their vocab word. Since each student’s card is different, they have to think of their feet! Now, they have to use new words and make new connections to get their team to guess the vocab word.

This is the easiest, best test review game ever. The kids think deeply. They make connections. They have to synthesize information very quickly. It’s all hidden in a game they’re really excited to make and play with friends!

Forbidden Lingo is one of mine and my student’s favorite projects every year! Click here to grab an editable copy that will work great for any topic!

Middle School, Projects

Your Tried and True Strategy to Teach and Troubleshoot Punnett Square Examples

punnett-square-examples-blog

As soon as I start my heredity unit with my middle school students, someone asks the question, “Why do I have blue eyes and both of my parents have brown eyes?” Without fail. It’s not a super simple answer when they’re just learning about heredity. Students have to learn how to complete a Punnett square. I am always so excited to show them Punnett square examples of how this eye color phenomena actually happens!

Some kids really get it and others looked at me like I am an alien. It took a couple years for me to realize teaching Punnett Squares can be tricky because they seem so simple. When I really took a look at why some kids were struggling, I realized Punnett squares are a little more complex that I originally thought.

So many things that can go right and wrong. Even kids who complete the Punnett square correctly don’t always know what the information is trying to tell them. So let me help walk through a few tips and tricks that have helped me! 

What Are Punnett Squares?

punnett-square-examples

Punnett squares are a diagram showing us all the possible genetic combinations of offspring created by two parents for a specific trait. In other words, it helps us predict the likelihood offspring will have specific traits. Can two parents with brown eyes really have offspring with blue eyes? Simply, yes. Getting kids to the place where they can answer this on their own takes a bit of work.

The Secret Sauce to Students Getting It

There’s a strategy to teaching Punnett squares in a way that makes sense to your students. The last thing you want to do is start by working through several Punnett square examples. Although this works in theory, there’s a lot of background students need to complete and collect information from Punnett squares.

Focus on Vocabulary!

Do not skip this! Kids need to know a lot of vocabulary to learn Punnett squares well. Strong vocabulary knowledge gives students the ability to set up simple and complex Punnett squares and the understanding they need to analyze the information they find. 

I’d suggest teaching the words trait, offspring, allele, dominant, recessive, homozygous, heterozygous, dominant, recessive, genotype, and phenotype. 

Spending time on this vocab will result in stronger science students who are ready for high school! 

Don’t be the teacher who moves right from vocabulary to Punnett square examples. There are so many small mistakes students can make that will really throw them off later, but being able to make sense of Punnett squares in their head before you actually teach it helps so much! Click here to find this investigation and more resources to teach Punnett squares!

Be intentional about Punnett Square Practice Problems

From setting up Punnett squares to analyzing what kind of information they’re telling us, be intentional about how you work through Punnett square examples. Scaffold each step and be sure your students are ready to move on before introducing the next skill. Don’t just give them Punnett Square practice worksheets. Guide them through every step.

Punnett Square Setup

I’m going really elementary here. Ready? Draw a square and then, starting in the middle and a little bit above the top, draw one line vertically separating the square into two equal rectangles. Next, starting a little to the left and in the middle, draw a line horizontally. This creates four smaller boxes and splits both the top and the left side into two sections as well. 

One set parent allele goes on the top; one letter above each box in the outside spaces. The other set of parent alleles goes on the left side; one to the left of each box in the outside spaces.

punnett-square-example-gif

How Do You Do Punnett Squares?

Each one of the parent alleles on the top of the Punnett square falls and is written into the two boxes below it. Then, each letter from the side scoots over and is written in the two boxes to the right. It’s kind of a drag and drop. 

Your capital letter is the dominant allele and the lowercase letter is the recessive allele.

Another great way to explain this is to tell students to think of it as the distributive property in math. When you have 2(4x+y), you distribute the 2 outside of the parentheses into the 4x and the y. This turns into 8x+4y. Students distribute the letter outside of the Punnett square, the parent allele, into each box. You can see this in the color coded GIF!

Be sure to tell students the capital letter always is first in an allele pair. No matter what. 

So, What Do Punnett Squares Actually Say?

Once we’ve ended up with two alleles, one from each parent, in each box and completed the Punnett square, we can answer the question: what are Punnett squares? These alleles are the possible allele combinations, or genotypes, the offspring can inherit from the parents. 

how-to-do-a-punnett-square

Genotypes are different from phenotypes. Genotypes are the allele combinations, while phenotypes are the physical expression of those alleles. While a Punnett square can have BB, Bb, and bb genotypes, it only shows physical expression of brown and blue eyes. 

The example we walked through shows you why vocab is so important! Students really need to know how all these words work together in order to complete and draw information from Punnett squares.

Kids Still Struggling? Here’s some troubleshooting help!

While students are working, pay attention to what they’re doing. It’s easy to sit and grade or answer emails. Don’t do it! Until your kids have a good understanding, walk around, check work, and correct as needed. I explain how why scaffolding is so important in my blog post Five Easy Tips To Teaching Heredity In Middle School.

These are some issues I’ve run into while teaching Punnett square examples and how to remedy them.

Punnett-square-practice-worksheets-bundle
Get seven full days of no-prep lessons to use in your middle school classroom so you can save time and energy planning your Punnett Square unit!

Students only put one allele inside of each box.

It’s possible that there was some miscommunication (or not listening) when students were learning where to place alleles on the Punnett square. If you see this with a few kids, pull them over and reteach or do a few more examples. If you see this a lot, reteach everyone. Do more examples together. Employ the I do, we do, you do strategy. Use whiteboards (maybe even in pairs) for quick checks. Make practice stations where struggling students can work with and listen to conversations their peers are having.

Students don’t know how to analyze a Punnett square.

For whatever reason, teaching how to read and analyze a Punnett square is overlooked. Be sure to scaffold your Punnett square instruction. Complete a few simple Punnett squares, then ask what genotypes and phenotypes a few Punnett square examples show. Next, ask something like, “what percentage are heterozygous?” Or, “What is the possibility that the offspring will have freckles?” and specifically teach students how to find answers to those questions. We often forget that we’ve been doing this so long it’s easy! Students are brand new to this. Give them the proper support to be successful.

Students are just lost.

Remediate vocabulary! Punnett squares are so vocabulary heavy and kids really, really need to have a good grip on it. If you find most of your students are struggling overall, reteach vocabulary. Give each word hand gestures or have them create a game. If most of your students are lost, don’t push it. Go back and reteach, starting with vocab.

I’m a huge proponent of student investigation in science. I think it’s so valuable. But there’s also value in direct instruction. If your students are struggling, sometimes the best thing to do is just tell them what to do. I can set up the coolest investigations for seasons, moon phases, and tides, but at the end of the day, there will always be a kid who tells me the earth is flat. And you can let kids investigate Punnett squares, but you’ll still have to follow up by teaching some of the information directly. It’s okay to tell kids the right answer. 

Back to our question, can two parents with brown eyes really have offspring with blue eyes? Absolutely, they can! Don’t tell students though. Be intentional as you work through Punnett square examples with them. Then they’ll be able to find the answer out for themselves!

Life Science, Middle School

Five Easy Tips to Teaching Heredity in Middle School

teaching-heredity-in-middle-school

Teaching heredity in middle school is so much fun because kids have so many cool questions about how it works! And you get to give them answers! 

“How come I have blue eyes and both of my parents have brown eyes?” 

“How come all siblings don’t look the same if they have the same parents?” 

“Is it true that cancer is genetic?”

“If freckles are genetic, are a moles?” 

Kids are so engaged and interested in heredity once you start talking about it, so you have to really be prepared because the ins and outs of teaching heredity are pretty tricky! 

So, here are five tips to teaching heredity to help you be 100% ready and for students to be successful tackling this tricky topic! 

1. Prepare

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I’m guessing since you’re reading this, you’ve looked at your standards and know you need to teach heredity. That’s the first step! Spend a little bit of time really looking into those standards and figure out what major benchmarks students need to walk away knowing. 

Emphasize your time on teaching and practicing vocabulary, Punnett squares, and a culminating project where students can see traits being passed from parents to offspring.

The most important aspect to teaching genetics and heredity is for you to learn the content. There are so many new and content specific words students never hear anywhere else. Genetics and heredity is very abstract (we see the outcome, not the process), and some students will have a hard time getting it.  

If you are unsure about the content, you won’t teach it to kids well. Then they get confused and frustrated. And you get frustrated. So spend some time to learn, or refresh, what you have to teach. Do some research and reading. Watch some Youtube videos. Write some notes to be sure it makes sense. And make sure you know the vocabulary!

Want your complete heredity unit laid out for you? Download the free Middle School Science Teacher’s Guide to Heredity so that you will save time planning and stop stressing over your heredity unit!

2. Speak Their Language

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Please don’t try and learn the latest middle school lingo. That is not what I mean!

First, as you get a handle on heredity content knowledge for yourself, try to think of ways to explain it better to your middle school students. When I was in 6th grade (pre-technology), my science teacher Mr. Zecher would draw pictures in different colors on the board as he taught and we drew the same pictures in our notebooks.

I still remember the different types of fault lines, and I kept my science notebooks for years! If you can plan for one or more of your lessons on heredity to include drawing pictures, awesome! 

Next, try to use everyday language or examples wherever you can while teaching heredity. My students could not figure out dominant and recessive alleles, so we talked about wrestlers going against each other from the same and different weight classes. Which wrestler is stronger? Which one would win in each match? How does that relate to dominant and recessive alleles? In this particular heredity lesson, my 8th graders finally got it! 

Read this blog post explaining how I compare density to suitcases! It illustrates this point perfectly!

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of making simple connections while teaching heredity.

Want a step-by-step roadmap to help you plan your heredity unit so you can save time stressing over what to teach and how to teach it? Download your FREE Middle School Teachers’ Guide to Heredity right now!

3. Simplify Teaching Heredity

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You do not have to teach every life science standard before you start teaching heredity. Simply put, students need to know these few things, and only these few things, before they can fully understand heredity: 

First… each sperm and egg cell has 23 chromosomes and when they fuse to create an embryo, they create 46 chromosomes, or 23 pairs – one from mom and one from dad, and

Second… genes, or alleles, are located on the DNA inside of each cell. 

Consider spending a little bit of time reviewing or skimming the Cell Theory or how DNA is structured, but don’t go too deep. There is no need to spend weeks teaching every cell-related topic. 

Keeping it simple in preparation for teaching genetics and heredity will free up your middle school student’s brains to think about it more clearly without all the noise of every other lesson they’ve heard about DNA in the last month. Of course, this wouldn’t apply unless you’re expected to teach cells and DNA before your hereditary unit based on state standards.

4. Emphasize Vocabulary

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How the heck do you get a 12 year old to remember what phenotype is shown by a homozygous recessive allele pair?! 

I actually have an answer for you. Teach vocabulary. 

In my opinion, there is a lot of emphasis put on investigation in science. While that’s actually a very good thing, there is a time and place for direct instruction and this is one of them. 

Asking middle school students to learn these hard words requires teachers to teach vocabulary strategies. Front-load vocabulary by introducing it through stations, teach prefix and suffix strategies, or asking kids to draw pictures. 

Whatever vocabulary strategy you decide to use, include some direct instruction. Say the words and have kids repeat them. A “homozygous recessive allele” pair includes three new words that all need to be in the same sentence, but also sound like gibberish. Practice how these words relate to each other. 

Finally, spend a few days on practice through games, worksheets, or activities. 

5. Build On Previous Lessons

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Many students have noticed family resemblance. Maybe they have the same eye color as a parent or they look very similar to a sibling. That’s the easy part of planning a middle school genetics lesson. That’s what students observe. Use it as a launching point for your heredity unit. 

Fortunately, that’s not where we stop teaching heredity! Teachers begin the process of explaining how kids look like the rest of their family. It’s tricky because student’s can’t observe the process, just the outcome. 

The key is to give students the proper support as they learn more and more. 

First, start with vocabulary because that’s necessary for Punnett squares. Use simple, straight forward Punnett squares at first. 

Punnett Square Story Problems Are A Perfect Example

Then, add more complex concepts once you know they’re doing it correctly. Think of this like using simple addition before giving kids story problems. Your simple addition would be a Punnett square with given alleles all set for them to complete. The story problems require students to think and understand.

For example, you could say, parent one has blue eyes and parent two has heterozygous alleles and has brown eyes. Create this cross. 

The story problem is more complicated and shows the student’s knowledge of vocabulary and Punnett squares. Students need to know both to level up to the critical thinking required for a story problem

There are a lot of things to consider while planning for your heredity unit. You want students to be successful. By preparing, speaking their language, simplifying it, emphasizing vocab, and scaffolding every step, you’ll set your students up for a win!

Don’t forget to download your free Middle School Science Teacher’s Guide to Heredity filled with easy strategies, clear information, and the step-by-step order you should teach your heredity unit in! Download the guide here so you can stop Googling, curl up on the couch, and watch your favorite show without stressing!

Life Science, Middle School

Teach Summarizing Skills In Science

Use a doc cam to teach summarizing skills to middle school students

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“Summarize this passage. Just write it in your own words. No, you can’t just change some of the words to make it yours. Is this copy and pasted?” I’m sure you’ve said those things. It’s what teachers say when they want students to summarize a passage. I’ve realized by the time students get to middle school, they have heard all those common phrases I just shared, but rarely have we spent the time to actually teach summarizing skills. 

So, how do content area teachers teach summarizing skills? 

Summarizing is a critical thinking skill. There is not one single answer. It requires students to really think about what they’re reading and understand it. Plus, summarizing is hard. There’s no time in the day for a science teacher to add summarizing to their plate. Students should know how to do it, right? 

Wrong. As a content area teacher, I knew it was my assumed responsibility to make sure my students were reading and writing. Summarizing creates an opportunity for students to do both, and trust me… your ELA teachers will love you for incorporating it.

This fool-proof method of teaching middle school students summarizing skills is easy. I was actually pretty impressed with what my students came up with. The key is breaking it down into bite-sized chunks and presenting it in a way that is not intimidating. 

PREPPING TO TEACH SUMMARIZING

1. Find your text. 

I really like using Newsea to find informational text. There are a lot of articles you can access for free when you make an account. Furthermore, each article has multiple versions including  3-4 different reading levels you can choose from. When you are just starting to teach summarizing, I’d suggest starting with a slightly lower reading level. You want students to be able to focus on the summarizing skill without being overwhelmed by the text itself. 

2. Format your text. 

Find nonfiction articles to teach summarizing on Newsela.com
Use Google Docs to clean up articles to make them easier for students to read. Remember, this step is for classroom use only!

Hear me out. This is not completely a requirement, but I do like doing it. When a paper looks organized and has few distractions, students feel comfortable with the simplicity. Here’s how I do it. 

  • First, copy and paste the text from the article into a Google Doc.
  • Second, clean it up. Delete any stray words and fix any funky paragraphs. Make sure there are actually paragraph breaks. Bold the article title. If you can bring the main photo onto the Google Doc, that is awesome. This will also help students feel less overwhelmed. Instead of looking at a huge page of words, they’ll see a picture. 
  • Next, space it out. Go to FORMAT > LINE & PARAGRAPH SPACING in your toolbar at the top of your Doc. Use the line spacing to make sure you’re giving students more room than single space. I would suggest 1.2 line spacing and I’d check the option that says “Add Space After Paragraph.” This makes your paragraph breaks a little more noticeable. I also like to make sure paragraphs aren’t too long or too short. Too short and you can’t summarize but too long and it’s really overwhelming.  
  • Finally, do some tweaking. Again, not completely necessary. If I’m running onto a third page, I like to adjust the margins or the font size to keep it on one page – front and back. If you’re really tight on space, you can delete a paragraph or two. There is nothing wrong with that. 

Need some help? Watch the video below!

3. Print

You’ve finished finding and formatting your article, now you should print it. I also use a template that helps students stay organized. You need one article and one template per student. 

We’ve got everything ready, and now we need to actually teach summarizing skills. Download the free Practice Summarizing Template here! (Be sure to click the download button once you open the file!)

Introducing summarizing to your students. 

The reality is, students know how to summarize informally, so draw that out of them. Start by asking students to give you an overview of a popular movie. Or if you’re feeling up to it, ask them to give you an overview of a movie featured in an Olaf Presents episode, and then show them that clip of Olaf summarizing the movie. This is such a fun way to engage them! 

Up until this point, try to keep summarizing out of your vocabulary. Kids instantly check out because it’s traditionally so hard. But, as you pass out the article and template, mention that summarizing is a skill they know how to do, but it’s important to learn how to summarize text. 

Circle key words while summarizing a non-fiction text.

How to teach summarizing skills.

1. Read the whole article.

I’d suggest doing this out loud. Ask basic questions like what the article is about or some words they recognize. Maybe ask about something they thought was interesting. Just start talking about it. 

2. Draw a physical line between the paragraphs and number each one.

The reasoning for this is two fold. First, it makes each paragraph much less intimidating because you’re chunking the information for them. Second, the numbers correspond to a space on the template where they will actually write their summary. 

3. Read the first paragraph and circle 5-7 key words.

These can be words that are repeated or words they find important . I like asking them to circle words they are unique to that paragraph. For example, moon might be used in every paragraph in an article about the moon phases. They don’t need to circle it every time, although they can. However, if illuminated shows up for the first time in the third paragraph, that is a great word to circle. 

4. Write down all the circled words on the template in the first section.

Teach summarizing skills by using key words to create a new sentence.

This should give them a good idea of what the main idea of the paragraph is about.

5. Read the paragraph one more time.

Next, Ask them to put the article away and look at the 5-7 words on their template. 

6. Use those 5-7 key words to write one sentence.

Your students might use all of the words or they might not. But they’ll have one full sentence that is actually written in their own words and is a summary of the first paragraph. 

7. Repeat!

After each paragraph is summarized, students will move onto the next paragraph and repeat the steps. Read, circle, read, write. 

You’ll find after students have summarized each paragraph, they’ll have a summary of the entire article when they combine all of their mini-summaries. 

Tips for Classroom Management

Teaching students how to summarize is hard. I suggest a few things as you are actually teaching this skill. 

First, do the first two or even three paragraphs with students. I love using a doc cam (This one is my favorite if you’re looking for one!). Students should follow along with you, but you can gradually release control as you move from one paragraph to the next. When you move to the second or third paragraph, ask students to write their own sentence, give them a few minutes, and see if anyone wants to share.

Next, I’m all for working while students work. This is not one of those lessons. Plan to walk around and answer questions. I like to tell students, “raise your hand when you’ve completed a sentence and I’ll check it.” When I come across a good summary, I like to ask if I can read it out loud. Students benefit from hearing other student’s summaries.

Finally, this is NOT something I’d ever give for homework, at least until they’ve become very familiar with it. If most students aren’t done, plan to finish it the next day. The goal is to teach summarizing skills, not overwhelm students. It’s hard enough as is. And trust me… I’ve overwhelmed a few too many students for my liking. 

My promise to you is that teaching your students to summarize nonfiction text will no longer be like pulling teeth. With the right format, you can train your students how to summarize fluently and, hopefully, never hear, “Do we need to write this in our own words?” again! 

Still have questions?! Keep reading! 

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I teach summarizing to my students? 

Start teaching them right away! The first time you teach them, it will probably take a whole class period – just to teach and model the process. After that, it will take less and less time. In addition, as students become more comfortable with this process, writing summaries for a would make a great (and easy) sub plan. But only when they know what they’re doing. 

What if my students say it’s too hard?

First of all, yes. It is hard. Not much in life is easy! I didn’t really learn how to take in a lot of information and summarize it until my first year teaching. It would have been a really great skill in college! 

Second, I sometimes let students work in partners or groups to talk about how to form their summaries using the key words. Hearing other’s conversations can help students who don’t quite get it yet. It also gives them a safe place to work through their ideas and piggyback off of each other. If the whole class is struggling, try an article that has a lower lexile level. You can even start with something they’re more familiar with, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. 

How can I make this more engaging? 

Using high interest articles can definitely help to teach summarizing. One year, I used an article about whale poop! Kids loved it! 

You can also set up rotating stations. I’ve placed students in groups and given all the groups 3-4 minutes to come up with a summary sentence for paragraph one. Then, two students from each group get up and move to the next group and I give them another 3-4 minutes to write a summary for paragraph two. With this set-up, students get to talk to a lot of different people and they get to take breaks and move around the classroom. Read about how I use grouping cards for this type of activity!

Middle School, Reading & Writing in Science

To the teacher feeling unsupported & struggling with bad student behavior

no-support-from-school-administration

My third year of teaching was like watching an episode of The Bachelor. It was more often than not so terrible that you just couldn’t look away because you had to keep watching and see what happened next.

In my hypothetical classroom Bachelor episode, you might see a scene where two students are giggling across the room to each other. When the camera zooms in, you see that one of them is trying to breaking markers, trying to get the ink stick out. In the chaos, the teacher finally sees the teal puddle on the floor, starts yelling, and sends the student to the office. Right before the commercial, the preview shows the student laughing with the principal in his office and skipping back to class. All you say is, “No way! There is no support from school administration!”

Spoiler alert: that was me and my classroom. I felt completely unsupported by my administration.

Every other teacher on my team was excellent, out-teaching me by at least 10 years. By their own admission, this group of students was one of the most challenging behaviorally that they had ever taught. So picture with me a third year teacher in a class of already unruly 7th graders. Throw in a new student mid-year who has blue hair, talks to everyone in a high, nasally voice (yes, on purpose to annoy everyone), yells, “I’m a blueberry!” at random times, and quickly befriends the two students whose behavior is already not being addressed the way I’d like it to be by my administration. 

What does a teacher do in this situation? I felt like I had no support from school administration when it came to behavior issues. Overwhelmed and ready to leave teaching, I knew something needed to change. However, after living through that year, I realized I had learned how to implement five practical steps to help me curb classroom behavior issues while feeling unsupported by my school administration. 

Before I really dive in, I think most school administrators are great people.

I also think a lot of administrators have the best intentions but have their hands tied in areas where teachers want them to step in, including classroom discipline. Ready for the honest truth? It’s your job as a teacher to teach, correct, and train student behavior in your classroom. It is not your campus administrator’s job. You have to do the leg work so when you do need an administrator to step in, they can see you’ve tried all your tools and need help. 

I think it is wise to have some type of positive classroom management system. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to be focusing on what you can do to help shape student behavior into what you want instead or just rewarding good behavior. So, how do you manage your classroom when you feel like you don’t have support from school administration? 

1. Stop sending students to the office. 

Stop sending students to the office when you feel unsupported by school administration. It undermines your authority.
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If you feel like you have no support from school administration, the best thing I can tell you is to learn how to handle everything possible in your classroom. You should address and work to solve any behavior you possibly can, excluding major incidences of course. 

I remember sending kids to the office when they were “unmanageable” and feeling like they got sent back with a hug and a Starburst! Like it was a REWARD! Or I’d send a student up with their phone and get a sticky note from the office assistant back saying, “I let them keep their phone. Come see me when you have a minute and I’ll explain.” I felt so helpless and angry. Do you know the feeling? 

Enough is enough. Sending students to the office is a temporary solution. The truth is the office can only do so much. Oftentimes, you undermine your own authority when you send students out. They know you can’t, or maybe won’t, do anything about their behavior and continue to act out.

Dig in. Find your grit. Handle your classroom. Stop sending kids to the office! How can I do that? Keep reading, teacher friend! 

2. Set expectations all day everyday.

When you feel like you have no support from school administration, set expectations as often as you can.

I could talk about expectations all day long. It’s the bread and butter of my classroom management style. NEVER stop setting expectations! When you feel like you have no support from school administration, telling kids what you expect from them gives them the opportunity to act appropriately. 

During transitions, I used to say something like, “Get into your groups. Are we good? Go.” When I realized I was setting expectations rather than giving directions, my monolog sounded something like this. “Hold up your pencil. Hold up your notebook. You need to bring both of those with you to your lab table. When you move to your groups, push in your chair and make sure your stuff is off of the floor so we have clear walkways. I expect you are walking to your groups, keeping your hands, feet, and pencils to yourself.” 

Do you see how I set expectations for the entire transition? This is what my students nee to hear in September, January, and May. I never stop. Take it a step further if you know you have a student who you know struggles with walking and briefly say, “Jordan, you’re gonna walk right?” To keep them from feeling targeted, you can ask a few more questions to other students. 

3. Follow Through and Grace

If you don’t feel like you have support from your school administration, it’s probably because your administrators don’t follow through with what you expect them to do! When you’re learning how to handle your classroom, follow through is your most important tool! You can set expectations with students all you want but if you don’t follow through when those expectations are not met, they’re worthless! 

Hear me out. Follow through does not equal discipline. Every little thing students do wrong should not be met with an iron fist. Your students will do things incorrectly. If you try to control everything, you will lose your mind. When students do something wrong, give them a little bit of grace – resist the urge to yell and scream! Build natural consequences into your expectations. 

Phones are hard to manage right now. Like really hard. In fact, the most angry I’ve ever been with a student was over a phone. Like, steam coming out of my ears angry. Anyway, I digress. When you set expectations with phones, build the “consequence” into your expectation and follow through! 

In my classroom, students listening to headphones should have their volume set so no one else can hear their music, and they should be able to hear me talking in a normal voice. This is what I might say to build my consequence into my expectation. “If I or anyone else can hear your music through your headphones, you will have to put your phone and headphones away for the rest of class.” Then, my students know what I want and what happens if they decide not to follow the expectation. 

If one of your students runs to their lab table, ask them to come back and walk. Maybe you have to ask them to push in their chair.

What happens when students don’t want to follow expectations I gave them?

But Kelly, what happens when they don’t put away their headphones? Or they don’t come back and walk to their group? Or what if…? I hear you. It’s never that easy, is it?

This takes some practice, but I promise it is gold. Screenshot the next couple paragraphs. Print it out. Tape it to your desk, because students will always push your boundaries. 

FOLLOW THROUGH is your biggest and best tool when you feel like you have no support from your school administration.

Do not send students to the office when they begin to push boundaries.Your job of correcting and managing behavior is not done the moment they push back. You are strong and capable! 

Let’s keep going with the phone example.  

If you can hear a student’s headphones across the room, get their attention without disrupting the rest of your class. Ask them if they remember the expectation. If they say no, remind them what it was. Yes, even if you know they know, and you want to roll your eyes – your goal here is to build trust and not get them in trouble. 

Next, ask them to put their headphones in their backpack because they didn’t meet the expectation. If they say no, take a deep breath. Collect your thoughts. Stay calm. Get on their level – squat next to them, pull up a chair, or maybe even ask them to come see you in a corner or to step outside, if you haven’t already. 

Then you should say something like, “I told you what would happen if I could hear your music. At this point, you have two choices. Let this be your second chance, put away your headphones in your backpack, and get back to work. Making a good decision lets us continue with both of our jobs. If you choose not to put them in your backpack, I’ll have to call home after school to talk about how we can be sure expectations are followed.” 97% of the time, kids don’t want to be in trouble at home. Giving them the option prompts them to make a good decision. 

Talking to students and following thorough with consequences helps students know what their behavior should look like.

In those cases where a quick conversation doesn’t work, I take it a step farther.

If they still say they’re not giving up their headphones, keep in mind what your school discipline plan is. I’d respond with something like, “Okay, if you’re choosing to not put your headphones in your backpack. I can’t make you. After school and before I call your parents, I’m going to go talk with the vice principal to make a plan so you can manage your phone appropriately. If you want to use your phone, you have to follow the expectations. If you decide you don’t like that, you can go back to your seat and take about a minute to decide.” 

Students want to make a good choice.

Honestly, if you can give them an out without involving their parents or admin, they will likely take it. You’ve spoken to them respectfully and they feel you’re not out to get them in trouble. 

Finally, I’d bet money that students who still don’t make a good choice after all that is a student you struggle with a lot. With that said, I can only suggest what you might do from there. Each student and situation is different. You can ignore it until the end of the day where you’ll follow through with parents and admin, or invoke your campus discipline policy to remove them from your classroom. If you’ve talked to them, give them several options, and they still refuse, you can go to your admin the steps you took (and they need you to take) before they can take action on their end. 

4. Always have a plan.

I know you’ve heard the saying that says something like if you don’t have a plan, your students will have one for you. It’s true. 

When you are pulling out lab equipment or trying to find the other half stack of copies you set down somewhere last hour, students have a lot more time to get into trouble. If you are planned and organized for the day, your students are much less likely to have time to goof off. Furthermore, if you know what your transitions are, write out expectations for each one – because let’s be real… it’s hard to remember everything you want to say – and communicate those to your students, it will shift the whole dynamic of your classroom. Hello structure, goodbye chaotic mess. 

5. Loop parents in

When you feel like you have no support from your school administration, keeping in contact with parents is a must. Requirement. Non-negotiable. In my experience, most parents I talk to assume that if they are not hearing from their student’s teacher, their student’s behavior is fine. We as teachers know we don’t always reach out because we have a lot on our plates, but we need to recognize and do something about the fact that parents still believe if they haven’t heard from us, everything is peachy. But administration needs us to take the small steps of communicating with parents before

no-support-from-school-administration
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Little problems like talking too much or going to the bathroom for seven minutes every class period turn into big problems later. If you’ve tried to work it out with the student by chatting with them or having natural classroom consequences and you’re still not seeing a change, it’s time to call or email parents. Get them involved. Almost every single parent I’ve talked to (and trust me, it’s a lot) have been supportive and helpful. At least they try their best to be, and that’s really all you can ask.

I might have a hard truth for you right now. Not a single administrator I’ve taught for would try to help me solve a problem with a student if I haven’t at minimum attempted to reach their parents. After you’ve tried to solve your behavior problems in your classroom and communicated with parents, your administrator is much more likely to help. Quite honestly, they have more ability to help. Doing your part unties their hands when you need them to act. 

BONUS: Start a countdown and take a deep breath.

This might be the worst advice ever because it sucks. You will not have this group of students forever. Tell yourself whatever you need to get through the day. I have taught some bad classes and through some tough years. When I have a class with students that gives me grief, I look at the clock and think 17 more minutes today, or there are only 7 more Mondays. Seven Mondays sounds easier than 36 days, am I right?

The hard truth is that even when you’ve done all the things, sometimes your principal still can’t or won’t be able to help. 

This too shall pass. Like I told you in the beginning of this post – my third year teaching was atrocious. I was looking to leave the profession. With no way out and my 17th student coming back from the office with a Starburst, I decided that I was not going to let these kids get the better of me, and I was not going to rely on the office. That year royally sucked.  

Want to know what still blows my mind? The next year was my best year. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was growing so much in learning how to handle behavior in my classroom the year before. By the time I was in my 4th year of teaching, I knew how to squash behaviors before they started and how to manage them when they showed up. Mostly. There are still days. There always will be. 

Have a plan. Set expectations. Follow through when they’re not met. Talk to parents. Control what you can. You’d be surprised at how much these small changes together can really transform your classroom and help you feel like you can do it, even without support from your administration. 

Classroom Management, Middle School