Back to School in Middle School

Hi friends,

I have had multiple ideas of posts I have wanted to share with you all about preparing for teaching in middle school, so I decided to combine them all in to one HUGE post :).

This post really came to be because, in my true nature, I am not a middle school teacher ha! My degree is in Elementary Education.

SUPER long story short, I was looking to leave my most recent school and had been eyeing my new school almost the whole school year. They FINALLY had an opening in February for Kindergarten! I applied (despite being completely terrified of the reality of teaching kindergarten).

Again… SUPER long story short, in the process of the application and the interviews, one other position opened during this time (7th and 8th grade language arts) and they instead asked me to take this position for a variety of reasons. I am getting my Masters in K-12 Reading, so that's how I am kind of qualified ha!

In all honesty, I am way more excited than I can convey (while still allowing people to think I am somewhat sane) about teaching middle school language arts. It was never my dream, my plan, or even really a thought… but sometimes we need stuff thrown at us to realize what we want. Two years ago I was "NEVER leaving my school or fifth grade," but a cross-state move, three schools, and three grade-levels later I'm putting my foot in my mouth.

So how does an elementary teacher prepare to teach middle school ELA for the first time? I am not an expert, but I am hoping to bring some of my elementary heart and flare to the middle school world.


So my cute little elementary teaching heart and brain have never had to make a syllabus before. Ha! I went on the hunt for one. I found some absolutely beautiful ones on Pinterest, but they weren't exactly what I wanted. 

I also had been learning to make infographics in a couple of my grad school classes so I created these for me (and now they are available for you all!) They are completely editable in PowerPoint. Make sure you download the fonts (in product description) or you will open the PowerPoint and it will be a #hotmessexpress. 

Notebook Organization and Tabs
So going into a middle school language arts setting isn't completely foreign to me. Last year I had to leave my job, apply for a new job, find a house, and move all our stuff across the state in a matter of weeks. I applied for a job that was advertised as 6th grade self-contained. Long story short, (I have a lot of these) after I was hired I was told I was only teaching ELA. 

We only had two classes of 6th, but I quickly had to learn a whole new type of organization that I wasn't used to. At the end of 1st semester I was SO over their notebooks. I knew I was partially to blame. I went to the store, bought 50 notebooks, and then glued in labels after counting the exact number of pages I wanted them to have. 

I learned some really important things even after I got my 6th graders SUPER organized. 

Make a notebook for EVERY class you have. I initially only made one notebook for myself, but that didn't work because I would do the lesson with 6A and then 6B would just copy my examples and we weren't learning together.

Also, sometimes I would get ahead and/or behind in a class and… just don't even get me started. Next year I have 5 ELA classes, but 4 of these classes will have two notebooks each. This means I will have 10 notebooks, but trust me when I say to have a notebook for every class.

Know EXACTLY how many pages you want for each section. I CANNOT promise you that ALL of your students will use the number of allotted pages you have designated (because some of them are in a continual hormonal brain fog) but this helped about 95% of my students (and me!) stay on track.

I am such a freak about our notebooks, but I can say it was SO worth it to have all this determined ahead of time. I made all of my 6th graders' notebooks, but this year, I think I am going to offer lunch or Starbucks to some super trustworthy 7th and 8th graders to help me. I have seen what happens when I let all the students do it and #icanteven #sorrynotsorry.

This is how they are organized in for next year. 

NOTEBOOK 1: 7th/8th Grade Reading/ELA Notebook
They know that this notebook is only for writing in. We NEVER glue anything into this notebook. Trust me, when I say you need to make this very clear to your "big kids," and some still just won't get it.
  • 2 pages (front and back) for the table of contents. This gives us 4 whole pages to write our contents. 
  • 36 pages (front and back) for bell ringers. This gives us one page (front and back) for each week of bell ringers (more on bell ringers in a second). 
  • Reading Response is the rest of the pages in the notebook. This is where they write all their responses to our reading units.
NOTEBOOK 2: 7th/8th Grade Interactive Notebook
I found it was SUPER important to have a separate interactive notebook. Students then knew that we ONLY glued stuff into our Interactive notebook. Before this rule, students were glueing all over the place, on top of writing, and/or we would run out of room in some notebooks:
  • 2 pages (front and back) for table of contents again
  • 35 pages (front and back) for interactive reading lessons
  • 16 pages (Front and back) for interactive vocabulary lessons
  • 16 pages (front and back) for interactive writing lessons
  • 35 pages (front and back) for interactive grammar lessons
Notebook 3: 6th Grade Books and Movies 
I will be teaching at a charter school this year and one of the 6th grade electives is "Books and Movies." I'm basically FREAKING OUT (in a good way) about this.

I think 6th gave might be my favorite now and I love books that have been turned into movies. I plan to do Holes, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter (obviously). I plan to use my reading units, so this is the breakdown for their notebooks.
  • 2 pages (front and back) for the table of contents. This gives us 4 whole pages to write our contents. 
  • 18 pages (front and back) for bell ringers. This gives us one page (front and back) for each week of bell ringers. I only have each 6th grade class for a semester. 
  • 10 pages (front and back) for vocabulary. We will do some vocabulary during our units. 
  • 15 pages (front and back) for Reading. We will use this for mini-lesson and maybe some interactive notebook lessons. 
  • Reading Response is the rest of the pages in the notebook. This is where they write all their responses to our reading units.
I based all this on my pacing guide and how many pages I thought I would need for each section.

You can get the these tabs in my TPT store. There are a variety options, and also an editable PowerPoint to make your own. They are just black and white, but I print them on Astrobrights Cardstock for durability and color! :).

Pacing Guide 
As I mentioned in the Notebook section, I based our pages on my pacing guide. Now, I actually was given the previous teachers pacing guide. I honestly am not one for reinventing the wheel, but I have found that if I don't do the pacing guide myself then I am just winging it all year and when I supplement with TPT resources and units I just don't accomplish what I need to. 

You can download these 7th and 8th grade pacing guides for FREE in my TPT store (just click on the images) so you can see all of the resources I use and when I use them throughout the year.

I also created an editable version that you can use too! It has been updated for this school year.

In general though, I use all of Lovin' Lit's Interactive Notebooks (and I mean ALL- I think I have every single one), my seventh and 8th grade reading units (Freak the Mighty is posted- all others will be posted this year).

These are the units I have completed as of July 2017 and/or I am required to teach. I still haven't completed To Kill a Mockingbird, The Crossover, or Booked (and I have a couple others I want to do now that I have a year under my belt) but the bundle is available and I add all my new units to it FO' FREE).

 Freak the Mighty (my all time favorite book in the whole world- I even wrote a blog post about it here) is what I started the year with in both 7th and 8th. I have my 7th graders in 8th grade again, so we are going to read The Outsiders this year. 

This is also a break down of what my week looks like. I knew that I couldn't teach reading lessons, writing lessons, and grammar lessons every day all day so I had to split it up more. This is what I have planned for my weeks so far.

Bell Ringers
Okay, so Bell Ringers are one of those things I had always heard about when I taught elementary, but never really needed at that time. We did morning work, we formed consistent routines, and they were ALL MINE all day long. One of the biggest adjustments for me (going form elementary to middle) has been the switching of classes…. and let me tell you, I had a heck of a year with this. 

To keep it brief, when I was hired for my 6th grade position, not only was I told I would be only teaching ELA, but I was also told there was an issue with my teaching partner situation. By December, I was on my 7th (YES 7TH) teaching partner. I was the only consistency my kids had, but I was struggling when they were coming into my room after whoever was their math and science teacher that day.

I had always loved Harry Wong's First Days of School, but again, my classroom management had been "manageable" until this last year. He talks about kids needing to have something to do right when they get into class. My instinct was always morning work, but hello middle school (no time!). So, I made my  ELA Bell Ringers, and swear I'm not product pushing, they changed my life. 

My kids got to work right, away, they were different each day of the week, but the same every week (in format), I gave them a stamp, graded every Friday, and I had kids coming straight into class (without wrestling, touching, being all around insane- that's a win in middle school), and they were learning! I also had like zero copies at this school so I needed a way to do Bell Ringers that required no printing or copying!

Here is the general layout each week:

This was the layout for fifth and 6th grade each week. 

I learned quickly that I had to be diligent about grading or they wouldn't do it. Eventually, I didn't even have to check. I started letting the first 3-4 students who did quality bell ringers work, grade their classmates. They would just stamp for me. It even made some of my super reluctant workers get theirs done, because even 6th graders want to grade! 

Eventually I just bought some stamper markers (instead of initialing because you have no idea how much time that wastes) and then it was really fast! 

This is the layout for 7th and 8th.  I (and my 6th graders) loved Picture of the Week, but I am teaching at a new school that uses the Core Knowledge and I needed a way to get our 7th and 8th Grade Foreign Phrases in, and that was the best option. I might switch some pictures for other activities when we need to mix it up.

You can purchase any of the Bell Ringers by clicking on their image below :). These seriously might be one of my favorite resources ever. All of these resource include 2-3 FREE WEEKS of Bell Ringers so you can try them out before purchasing

Classroom Economy in Middle School 

I recently posted a picture of my "Middle School Money" classroom economy. A lot of people have asked how I manage this in middle school. Truth is I have never technically done it. Buuuuuut… I did go from self-contained 5th grade to 6th grade where I had each class for about 90 minutes. This meant I went from having 10-15 minutes every day for classroom jobs (which included banker jobs who did all the economy stuff for me) to "how can I do this in 30 seconds?"

Why am I doing this in middle school when I will have 125 students?! 

  1. Because I love it!
  2. I honestly feel like middle schoolers are kind of the forgotten kids, and they don't get stuff like this. I mean how many middle schoolers will love to be able to purchase gatorade, candy, chips, and other snacks?
  3. I used to be a bank teller, in high school and college, and I can not tell you how important it is that I think students know how to write a check, balance money, and take care of money. 

Adding money to balance sheets:

  • When I taught self-contained elementary, I had a banker job, but this quickly became inefficient and my middle schoolers were just plain sneakier :). 
  • In middle school, I give them the money, they add it to their balance, and give me the money back almost immediately. I honestly didn’t initial when they added the money, and they were honest (i.e. no one was just adding money as they pleased). 
  • In general, I can keep of track of who is getting money and who isn’t. However, sometimes, in the early stages, I do initial each time they add (or have a trustworthy student help) so they “know” I am checking.  
Check Books and Balance Sheets
  • My students can fill out checks and balance sheets whenever they want (as long as it doesn’t interfere with instructional time). Most of mine do it once they’re finished with their Bell Ringers. 
  • I am VERY particular with what I will accept. Essentially, they can’t waste my time when they want to purchase something: 

    1. Students must have the check filled out completely and must TRY to sign their name in cursive.
    2. They must write the amount correctly in word form. 
    3. They must make the check payable to me. 
    4. The memo must say EXACTLY what they want to purchase (i.e. blue Gatorade, large Snickers bar, tropical Skittles)
    5. They must have all this recorded, subtracted, and balanced on their balance sheet. 
  • If all of the above is done, I simply initial their balance sheet, rip up the check (unless they are purchasing something like a book from Scholastic, in which I save the check until I remember to order the book), and then tell them to grab their purchase. 
  • They know to  grab their purchase quickly and go back to their seat. 
  • If they have done this correctly, it take maybe 5 seconds of my time and my middle schoolers are ecstatic they can buy food.

Of course I made everything hashtags and Middle schooler friendly with emojis. If you want to try this idea you can purchase it in my TPT store :). 

Back to School Activities for Middle School and High School

Lastly, I knew I had to change my community building and getting to know my students activities from an elementary mindset to more middle school type of activities. If I am being honest, middle school was seriously one of my favorite times of my life. I seriously LOVED middle school, so thinking like a middle schooler isn't that hard for me. 

Even better, my "little" brother is starting his freshman year of high school this year so he tells me when my ideas are "dumb." He is VERY honest. 

All my new activities have a social media theme, but all of them are designed to help me get to know my students and build a classroom community despite our 55 minutes together and the fact that they are a bunch of teenagers :). 

The social media profiles took me FOREVER, but I'm hoping to use them for a lot of our ELA activities throughout the year too! I was thinking we could make Facebook and Twitter profiles from book characters (provided my little brother says that isn't dumb :). 



Whew! That was a BIG one, but I hope you got some new ideas as you head into a new school year as an upper elementary or middle school teacher. 

Lastly, I bundled all of these resources (AND MORE) for back to school. I don't know if I will offer this forever, but it has a little bit of everything in a bundle that saves you 25%. Think of it as a Middle School teacher survival back! :). 

Happy Summer Friends!



  1. This. Is. Awesome. Thank you : )

  2. I love your Bell Ringer system (actually I love all your ideas)! I teach World History to 6th graders and American History to 7th graders. What would your five topics be for teaching SS? I think I'd need to make two sets (one for each subject), but would love to use the template for both. Please advise me. :)