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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best of 2016 TpT Products

As the year ends, I wanted to look back at my most popular products and show how I use each in my classroom. Each of the links below take you to the products in my TpT store. 

1. Editable Flipbook Syllabus Template-This product was created out of sheer necessity. Every year, most of my students "misplaced" my syllabus and it was a constant struggle for students to remember all of the policies and procedures of my classroom. Knowing that my students never seemed to lose their interactive notebooks, I thought they were the perfect place to insert my syllabus. So I created a flipbook syllabus that fit perfectly within the dimensions of their composition notebooks. At the beginning of the school year, this is the first thing I give to my students. I pass them out and the students participate in a syllabus scavenger hunt to get acquainted with the information. They take the syllabus home and go over it with their parents (syllabus requires a signature of student and parent). The next class students put the flipbook together and glue into the front cover of their interactive notebooks.


2. New Year's Puzzles for Grades 4-12-The few days at the beginning of the 2nd semester (after Christmas break) are always a time for re-teaching policies and procedures and getting the students back into the swing of school. I use this product for one day activities that my students can work on during the class period. They are also great because they require no planning time to get them ready. 

3. The Westing Game Novel Detective Notes-This product was created as a way for my students to keep all of the details of this mystery organized and in one place. This novel is chock full of characters and clues. My students were always getting confused and lost in the details. This product is the perfect tool to help my students be good organized detectives.

4. WWII and Holocaust Book Reading Journal-Each school year, I do a Holocaust/WWII unit with my students. I have done the unit as literature circles with 5-6 books around this theme. I have also had each student read a different book. This product came from the first time I did this unit with each student reading a different book. I needed a way to keep each student accountable for their reading and their learning. This journal gives students a different theme related prompt for each day of reading. My students like the independent reading feeling of this product and by second semester, they have the skills and the responsibility to do this independently. We then discuss broad themes that are found in all of their books and learn more about the Holocaust & WWII.

5. WWII Novel Scrapbook Project-This product grew out of the same unit as the product before. I needed a way to assess my students at the end of the Holocaust/WWII unit. Since each student typically read a different book, I couldn't just give an exam over 20 different books. This product includes multiple intelligences and pushes students to use their higher order thinking skills. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Regaining Your Sanity During Christmas Break

Teachers, it's time to start the countdown! Christmas break is almost here and it's important to begin thinking of how to recharge and rejuvenate while on break. Don't wait until break begins to start thinking of ways to stop, relax, and savor your time away from school. Remember that teaching is stressful and we all need this time to regain our sanity by recharging our batteries. I struggle with this as well so I thought of some ways that I can relax and regain my own sanity. 

1. Get lots of sleep: One thing we as teachers always seem to skimp on during the school week is sleep. Christmas break gives us the perfect opportunity to catch up on some sleep. I don't mean binging on sleep but a new routine will help your body respond to the increase in sleep. Go to bed at a reasonable time now that you won't need to stay up late grading and planning for school. Turn off your alarm clock. There is nothing better than switching off that alarm and allowing yourself to sleep in...even if your internal clock only allows you to sleep in an extra 30 minutes.  Consistent, long night's of sleep will do refresh your body and mind. And those naps you never wanted to take as a child, take them all now!

2. Turn off your email: We live in a 24/7 world and we all tend to check our email constantly during the school week. Be brave and turn on your away from office feature during break. If you feel that is too drastic, set specific times during break to check your school email. Remember you are allowed to enjoy your break and need to be taking things more slowly. Constantly checking your school email and voice mail requires you to remain in the school routine. Start as soon as break begins and follow through.

3. Create a relaxing environment: If your home looks like mine, it's not always the relaxing place I need it to be. Weekends are spent cleaning the house, then it's Sunday and time for school again. It's hard to relax if their are cleaning and other house chores that need to get done. Take some time your first day and do a bit of cleaning. Yes, I know you are tired and cleaning takes energy, but it will result in you feeling much happier relaxing the rest of your break.

4. Eat well: Just like sleeping, teachers tend to slack on good eating habits when we get busy and overworked. Take the extra time to enjoy your meals. Spend time having meals with friends and family that you have missed seeing. Spending time with those we care about can boost our souls.

5. Binge-watch something: Break is the perfect time to catch up on shows that you never had time to enjoy during the school week. You have permission to binge-watch any show you choose. I myself am planning a Gilmore Girls marathon! The sheer joy of being able to do something unproductive for a few hours is bliss to the overworked, over-scheduled teacher. When in doubt, shout "On to the next episode!"

6.  Get some fresh air: If your classroom is anything like mine, the air in my junior high classroom is really stale and usually stinky. Whether you live in a cold place or hot place, get outside and breathe in some fresh air. It's a great way to clear out the cobwebs and rejuvenate your body. Take the dog for a short walk, play with the kids, sit outside with a good book (if it's not a frozen tundra (teehee), and if you are feeling really motivated, take a fast walk or jog outside instead of hitting the gym.

7.  Plan something to look forward to: You might not have the time or the money for a week in a fancy beach resort, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some treat time planned into your break.  Simple things like meeting friends for lunch, going to the movies or theatre or having a well-deserved night out will help you to feel more relaxed and to enjoy your time off. Try to do something you don't have time to do during the regular school week. If your anything like me, I never have the energy or the time to go to an actual theater to watch a movie. I have already purchased tickets on Fandango to go see Passengers with a giant bag of popcorn in my lap.

8.  Indulge yourself: Look after and treat yourself.  Extra-long baths, a manicure, a pedicure, a stroll through a bookstore, or even an afternoon at Starbucks surfing the Internet and taking in the scene are all things that might make you feel better.  You know what works for you – the kind of activities that feel terribly indulgent are just what the doctor ordered when you’re recovering after the first half of the school year. Just do it!

9.  Get inspired: Take some time to inspire yourself and boost morale for the second half of the school year. Search Pinterest for motivational quotes and videos. Spend some time reading your favorite teaching books that you typically do not have time to read during the school year. 

10. Allow yourself just one day for school work: Typically there will be some work to be completed over the holidays: preparing lessons for the first week back or getting your classroom ready.  You’re likely to worry about all that needs to be done until you take control of it.  The easiest way to do this is to tackle it head on.  Some people prefer just to get on and get everything done the first few days of the break and then relax.  Others prefer to gear back up for school by working at the end of the holiday. Do what works best for you. My go-to activity for my class (and myself) to do the first day back is a Looking Back Looking Forward: New Year's Resolution Activity. You can find it in my TpT store as a freebie.

One more tip to save your sanity! Remember there are 6 more days of great ideas, freebies and giveaways!  

Today you can enter to win the following

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Laughing All the Way Secondary Blog Hop

       As teachers we know how trying the month of December can be for the best of classrooms. This year is going to be no different in my middle school ELA classroom. It's always difficult for my students to keep their heads in the game, instead of off in dreams of sleeping in and not having to come to school for two weeks of break. By this time, we could all use a break, even though it's just not possible.  Even though the students think it's torture to ask them to think for the next 4 weeks until break...I often get the "Ms. U why can't we just watch movies and do easy stuff? It's almost Christmas. We should do stuff that's fun." So I tell them that we are going to do something REALLY fun...sing Christmas carols and decorate our classroom Christmas tree. Keeping to myself the rest of the details. Typically students try to size me up and call my bluff but I always keep my poker face on. Eventually curiosity gets the best of them and they go with it.
       "Singing" Christmas Carols: As a way to pull in the excitement of the holidays while still keeping my eye on common core, I use Christmas carols as text for close reading. By this time, my 7th graders are starting to get the hang of the process so I can push them a bit. I find that these songs are typically ones they can sing but have never thought about the meaning of the text they are singing. It's a perfect close read situation...they are familiar with the text but have not looked closely at it.  For my close readings, I use a lesson structure that allows me to scaffold the questions, increasing their intensity and difficulty with each read. For example, I use the song "Deck the Halls." Using this text, I created three sets of questions:

  • One set for the first read that focuses on KEY IDEAS & DETAILS. These questions assess my students' ability to find the main idea, identify story elements, and determine key details of the passage. 
  • One set for the second read that focuses on CRAFT & STRUCTURE. These questions assess my students' ability to focus in on author's craft and word choices made by the writer. They analyze how the text is structured and why the author wrote the text the way he/she did. 
  • One set for the third read that focuses on INTEGRATION OF KNOWLEDGE & IDEAS. These questions require students to analyze the text further by using all that they have already discovered while also relating to other texts and media. 
       Each of the sets of questions can be done in various ways: partners, cooperative groups, individually. You know your class' ability best. Let that knowledge be your guide.

       Looking for a way to implement this activity with no prep or hassle? You can purchase my exact set of questions along with the text in my TpT store by clicking on the link below.

       Decorate the Class Christmas Tree: It wouldn't be the holidays without a tree in the classroom. My students always love to see the tree show up and I can always get them excited to help trim the tree with their own work. Every year, I have the students choose their favorite book they have read so far in the school year and create an ornament book review. It's a great way to get them reflecting on their reading life and an awesome way to offer suggestions to other students who are looking for the next great book to read. To do this, I created a template for my students to use.

Students draw the cover of the book they chose and then write the feel the book is "a gift". Then they cut them out and fold them. I laminate them and add yarn or string. I then return the ornament to the students so they can trim the tree with them. 

Student Example Using The Seventh Wish
The Trimmed Tree in my Classroom
       You can find this Reading is a Gift Ornament FREEBIE in my store by clicking here.

I hope the holidays are as wonderful in your classroom this year as I am planning mine to be. Happy Holidays!

Remember to enter our giveaway to win a Starbucks or Target gift card!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Teachers Pay Teachers Sale


Happy Monday everyone!! I am so excited to share with you that TpT is having their annual Teacher Appreciation Sale May 3 - 4! That's tomorrow!! If your cart is anything like mine, it's FULL to the top with great products. My cart is full of products I want to use the end of this school  year and during the upcoming school year.

Now is the time to open up your wishlist and add more to your cart. Look ahead to next year at your curriculum and / or buy products that you have had your eyes on for awhile. It's your time to be appreciated!!

I'm linking up with Jen from Teaching in the Tongas on a TpT Wishlist Linky. Be sure to check out her blog for most wish listed products from other sellers.

So here are my most wish listed products from my TpT store The Marvelous Middle. Click on each of the photos below to see the product in my store.

This item is one that I currently is something that I created when I taught 6th grade. I love teaching mystery and The Westing Game was one of absolute favorites. My students always had so much fun trying to "out-sleuth" each other and be the one to figure out the "Who Dunnit?"  Now that I teach 7th and 8th grade I still have readers who love to read this book independently. Sometimes if I have a reader struggling to keep all the clues straight, I print off this product for them to use as they read. They love having their own detective notes. 

My second most wish listed item is a product that I use every year with my class. Every year, we do a Holocaust unit and this response journal is what I use with my students while they read. I have used it for literature circles and I have used it for whole class novels. It works great either way. This product is a good way to assess your students' learning quickly. They also enjoy that the questions / activities change each day that they have reading to do in their novel.

The last item is one of my favorite projects that we do in my classroom each year. It is also done during my annual Holocaust unit. After the students read their novels, they create scrapbooks that require them to synthesize all the content from the novel. This project touches on plot, setting, characters, and theme. It requires them to write about their reading and construct something that the novel's main character would have kept in their own scrapbook. They must get into the shoes of the main character and think like they do. I have yet to have a class that does not love this end of novel project.

So what are some of the items on your wishlist? Please share them in the comments below. I am always on the lookout for engaging activities for my students.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Spotlight: Beneath by Roland Smith

Book Summary

Patrick has idolized his big brother, Cooper, all of his life. The two brothers are close but are very different. Pat is scared of many things, including tight spaces. Coop, on the other hand, has a love of exploring dark and deep places. Coop decides to start digging in his back yard and soon digs a tunnel through the neighborhood. During the dig, Coop hits a gas line and there is an explosion that injures Pat. Coop is full of guilt and decides to move away without saying goodbye to Pat. 

Fast forward a year...Pat receives a strange package from Coop. The package contains a voice recorder and a cryptic message. Coop never felt the need for technology, like most teenagers. Receiving a voice recorder from Coop shocks Pat but he follows his brother's directions and they begin communicating via recordings. Eventually Pat begins to worry about Coop and sets off on a mission to find him. In order to find Coop, Pat must overcome all of his fears...Can he do it??

My Thoughts

Beneath is a fascinating account of Pat's search for Coop and what happens when he finds him. Through Pat's narration and Coop's recordings, the book is written in a diary and epistolary format. Both points of view are woven into the story, which I find could be problematic for struggling readers. Luckily, the text formatting also switches depending on the point of view. It's important that struggling readers understand the format before the story will make complete sense. 

Pat is the true hero of this book. The reader sees him struggle to overcome his fears in order to save Coop at all costs. There is also a strong female character that goes on the journey with both boys. 

Once I added this book to my library and did a short book talk, my students could not wait to get their hands on it. Always a good addition when there is a waiting list to read it as soon as it gets to my library! 

With a Lexile of 610, this is a perfect book for struggling middle school boy readers looking for a book that reads quickly and is full of adventure. It has enough adventure to keep them on their toes, while still presenting a character with strong traits. Pat's character develops steadily over the course of the book and would be excellent to graph his change from the start of the book to the end of the book.

My favorite thing about this book is as crazy as it's premise seems, there are many things in the story that are well within the realm of possibilities. I am already screaming for a sequel!! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Middle School Mob $100 TpT Gift Card Giveaway

Hey everyone!!

The Middle School Mob is coming together to celebrate our 500 Facebook followers! We are giving away a $100 TpT gift card to thank our followers for joining us in our Middle School Mob antics.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Plickers in the Classroom

If you are anything like me, you are always looking for a fresh way to assess your students. Additionally, my assessment needs to be exciting and fast-paced to keep up with the attention span of my middle schoolers in the afternoon. I came across Plickers and it checked all the boxes. Formative assessment...check. Technology driven...check. Fast-paced...check. So I decided to test it out with my 8th grade class to see if 1. I could get it to work and 2. the kids enjoyed using it as an assessment.

So what is Plickers?

It's a classroom polling system which can display results in real time. That's the key. As soon as the students respond, results are posted instantaneously. In my opinion, the immediate posting of results is essential in a classroom full of tweens and teens. They love the instant gratification and the game-like feel.  And along the way, they lose sight of the fact that they are also learning. It's a win-win!

How did I get started?
  1. I downloaded the Plickers app onto my phone. They have an app for iPhone and Android.
  2. Go to and sign up for the service. It's free and there are not hidden costs to use it. YAY! 
  3. Click on the Cards link in the toolbar. This will take you to the page to download the Plickers cards.  They have multiple choices for cards. Choose the set that works best for you. Then just print them, cut them, and laminate them. Hint: If you don't have the time or you would rather have cards that are less likely to be destroyed by middle schoolers, you can purchase a set of 40 hard, laminated ones on Amazon for $20.00. I actually saw them on Amazon before realizing I could do them myself from the Plickers website. After getting the ones from Amazon, I'm pleased that I got them. They were high quality cards that were all ready for my classroom without all the hassle. 

  4. Create a class on Plickers website and assign card numbers to your students.
  5. Create your questions. 
Links to helpful resources I used
  • A step-by-step "Getting Started Guide" which walks you through the entire process was what I used. There is also a webinar you can watch but I didn't need to after using the guide above.
  • A step-by-step YouTube walkthrough that helped me because I could follow along and do it as I watched the video. So easy to follow and helped this visual learner.
  • Another helpful YouTube walkthrough to see Plickers in action.
Once I had done those steps, I was ready to use it in my classroom. We had just completed a short review unit on figurative language so that's the content I used to create my questions. Simple eleven questions to get my feet wet.

The kids came in and I passed out the Plicker cards and there was instant interest. It was new and the shapes printed are the cards are funny looking so everyone was curious. I told them I wanted to try something new with them that day and they are usually good sports about being my guinea pigs. I explained how to use the cards (the correct letter of answer had to be up and they should keep their fingers along the edge so the shape could be read).

The first question was up on the board, my iPhone app was open, and I said a little prayer that it would work. They put up their cards and I scanned the room. I was shocked by how quickly the answers registered on my phone and on the screen. IT TOTALLY WORKED! And they totally loved it! Yes!! <insert fist pump here> 

What did the students like about Plickers?
  1. Technology was used.
  2. They knew immediately if their answer was right or wrong.
  3. No one could cheat off of them because no one could see their answer on the card.
 What did I like about Plickers?
  1. I know instantly if my students understand a concept. 
  2. My students get immediate feedback on their learning.
  3. It's free to use and requires NO student technology.
How can Plickers be used?
  1. Quickly take the pulse of the class: Ask your students "Do you get this?" or similar question and have them hold up their cards to answer yes or no. You can do this with a saved class or a demo class (if you want anonymous answers).
  2. Create a review game: Create a group of questions in your saved class. To conduct the review, have students hold up their assigned cards to respond to each question. Every student responds at the same time and you see quickly the status of your class.  The advantage to this over regular review games is that all students answer at same time. They can't wait for someone else to answer. They all are required to answer.
  3. Take attendance using a question or just have them hold up their cards to check in. You will know those that are absent immediately. Note: In order to do this, students would need to be trained to get the correct card out quickly.
Final Thoughts

Does it work 100% of the time? Probably not. Sometimes you may need to re-scan a student's card if it's not visible because of being hidden behind another student's card or head. If you project the results on a large screen, like a Promethean Board or Smartboard, then students can see if their answers have been recorded and lower or raise their card to be re-scanned. 

If you decide to print, cut, and laminate the cards, there may be issues recognizing the codes due to overhead glare from indoor lighting. Lamination tends to create a glare. This can be adjusted in the way the cards are held.

With that being said, give Plickers a try in your classroom. If you are looking for a new and interesting way to assess in your classroom, it's worth a go. I'm glad I did and will be adding Plickers to my toolbox of assessment techniques. If you are interested in trying Plickers and / or have more questions, feel free to leave me a comment and I would be happy to help you through the process.

Happy Plicking!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Language of Love: Using Love Songs for Close Reading

February is the month of love and a great time to bring the language of love into your ELA classroom. To tie in with the month, I use love songs as close reading text. Love songs are full of imagery, figurative language, and emotion. Because of this, they are perfect to have students analyze using close reading. It's also a way to bring music into the classroom, which my students are always up for.

I typically begin this with my students the beginning of February and I scatter the poems throughout the month. I currently have 9 activities so I do a few every week. The students seem to like this much better than taking the whole week of Valentine's to do the songs.

Close reading is something that must be practiced and used consistently for students to get comfortable with the process. I use a close reading process of three reads in my classroom. Here are the steps I use for this specific close reading activity:

1. We listen to the song together so students can get the "feel" for the song and this allows them to get acquainted with the text in a way that doesn't seem scary. I do allow the students jot down notes in the margin as they listen. These notes typically include specific feelings or thoughts they had as they listened to the song or effects within the sound of the song they notice. I view this as a pre-reading warm-up and gets them excited about the text. 

2. The First Read: The students then read the text of the song on their own or in small groups. The purpose of the first read is to read for understanding by determining key ideas and details. The activity typically has 1-3 questions for the student to answer during this first read. 

3. The Second Read: The students read the text on their own or with a partner. The purpose of the second read is analyzing the craft and structure of the text. This could include looking at figurative language, word choice, word meaning, or text structure. The second read is "the meat" of the analysis, in my opinion. This is not a time for "right there" questions. This is a time for deep thinking and analysis for the students, which is why, at least at the beginning, I allow them to work with a partner. 

A student example
4. The Third Read: This is the final read for students. They have read to determined the main idea of the text. They have broken the text up and dived into analyzing its parts and figured out how the parts add to the overall effect of the text. This third read is bringing it all back together and asking the students to integrate all of the information from the previous two reads and determine the overall effect of the text. They may look at the mood or tone of the text. They may look at how the title is related to the song. This is a time to decide if the author succeeded in their purpose for the text. And it's a great wrap-up of the process.

This process remains pretty close to what I do in my classroom during each close read activity, whether it's fiction or nonfiction...essay, speech or poem. This is the process that seems to work for my students and allows them to step through the text successfully. 

If you are interested in the songs and questions that I use, you can find them in my here in my TpT store. 

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Start Your Year Inspired! TPT Sale!!

One of my favorite things about Teachers Pay Teachers has been all the wonderful educators I have connected with throughout the world. It's been such a fantastic journey!

So I wanted to share with you some fabulous products! Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site wide sale beginning tomorrow (January 20th) and extending to January 21st. It's a wonderful time to stock up on products on your wish list.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year's Ideas & Giveaway

Well, Christmas break is coming to a close and it's time to prepare for going back to the classroom. Most of my students have been spending their break sleeping in, playing video games, and hanging out with their friends. Very few (if any) have spent anytime looking back at the past year or looking forward to the year ahead of them. 

Goal setting is not an automatic skill with middle schoolers but it an essential life skill. Most students get overwhelmed with goal setting because they focus on the goal and it's overwhelming. It doesn't occur to them that breaking the goal down into steps makes it all less scary and easier to attain each step along the way. It's less stressful to be working toward the big goal by achieving the steps. This allows them success with long-term goals and showing the importance of short-term goals through the process. Students need to be taught the process of goal setting, including breaking the goal into smaller, manageable steps and creating a timeline to achieve the goal. 

My students struggle with both goal setting and assessing progress towards those goals. So the start of a new year is the perfect chance to offer practice with these life skills. One way I do this is using my Looking Forward Looking Back activity. This activity does two things: 

1. It prompts students to look back at the past year and reflect on their hits and their misses. They are asked to talk about their proudest moment and the best part of the past year. They are also asked to reflect on something they would change from the past year and talk about how they would change it for the better. 

2. It prompts students to look forward to the new year and practice goal setting. Some sections offer fun, creative ways to put down on paper things they would like to do during the upcoming year (places they would like to go, experiences they would like to have). But there are also in-depth, real life examples of the goal setting process that students must work through. They are asked to come up with two resolutions for the new year (one for home and one for school) and then they must take that resolution (goal) and break it into manageable steps. This not only lets them practice goal setting, which I feel is the easier portion of the process, but it pushes them to break down the long-term goal into smaller short-term goals (or steps) to help them work toward their goal. It is more likely that their long-term goals will be kept if they also create short-term goals that they can attain to keep them motivated to stay on track. 

You may download my Looking Forward Looking Back activity by clicking here

Feel free to look at my other New Year's products in my TpT store while you are there. 

Happy New Year!!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Favorite Posts of 2015

Hey all! As we close the books on 2015 and go forward into 2016, I'd like to share with you three of my favorite blog posts from 2015 by linking up with Sara @ Years that Ask Questions.

This post combined my two loves: Christmas and Reading. And it was a great moment in my classroom that allowed my students to reflect on that one favorite book they had read recently. 

I loved linking up with Whitney @ With Love From Texas. Whitney challenged us to put down in words our core teaching beliefs. It was a great way to get geared up for the upcoming school year. It gave me some time to reflect on my own beliefs and showed me that even though I knew what I believed in, it wasn't easy to get them down in words. Sometimes beliefs are in the heart and hard to pinpoint. This was a great lesson for me that it's always important to ground yourself in your core beliefs. These beliefs should always be your guiding force.

This was the blog post that started my journey. I was late to catch the blogging bug and I still struggle keeping it. I often struggle with things to say and roping the fine art of getting myself down in words (which shouldn't be all that hard for an English teacher). So this reminds me of where it all started and what my focus remains today.

Thanks for taking some time and stopping by to see my top posts of 2015. Happy New Year and enjoy the second half of your school year!