All posts by brainwavesinstruction

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in Middle School

As you know, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is right around the corner.  In celebration of King and to build awareness of his legacy, I like to have students read and analyze his speech, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?”

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Have you ever read or heard this speech?  If not, stop reading this post right now, and check it out!

It’s such a powerful and motivating speech.  My favorite part is that he gave this speech to a group of junior high students.  Now, 48 years later, another group of students is hearing his message…and his words are just as real and relevant and important as ever.

When teaching this speech, I like to have students build background on Martin Luther King, Jr. by completing a timeline.  Then, to help them develop context for the speech, they work in small groups to investigate Jim Crow Laws, Segregation, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, and The Civil Rights Movement.  After reading the speech, students are encouraged to react to the speech, connect to the speech, and analyze the speech.  My favorite part is the reflection they write in response to King’s words.

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King’s message in “What is Your Life’s Blueprint” is clear…

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and it’s just as powerful and inspiring as it was the day he delivered the speech.  Now, that’s something worth celebrating on his day!

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Brain Waves Instruction

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Favorite Winter Read Alouds in the Middle School Classroom

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I start each of my middle school ELA classes with a read aloud.  I’ve found that it’s become an essential part of the culture of the classroom.  While I read to students, they complete short vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension activities.  Reading to students sets a calming tone at the start of the class period and fosters an environment where reading is celebrated.

In the winter months, I like to infuse some seasonal read alouds into class.  Here are some of my favorites…



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(Click here for printable copies of each poem.)


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Yes, middle schoolers love picture books, too.

There are many benefits to reading aloud to students including motivating students to read on their own, increasing their accessibility to texts, encouraging higher-level thinking, enhancing their background knowledge and improving their own reading fluency.  However, my favorite reason for reading aloud to students is that it creates a community of readers…and that always warms my heart on a cold winter day!

Brain Waves Instruction

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P.S.  I’ve put together all 3 poems into a printable resource. Click here and print for seasonal read aloud fun!

Motivating Homework Twists

Homework?!  Why does it have to be such a hassle?  Who knew that assigning, grading, and managing homework would be so time consuming?  In fact, I’ve found that one of the most tedious tasks is tracking down students with missing assignments and managing makeup work.  This homework chase got me thinking…

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Then, I remembered that there are two assignments that 100% of my students complete every year.  Yes, ALL of my students, even the ones who never complete homework, hand in these assignments.  One assignment is when they bring in song lyrics and the other is when they write a poem and then completely dirty it up.  I love those days.  My students are practically giddy coming into the classroom and begging to share their work.  Now…the other 180 days of the year…well, I’ve decided to infuse a few homework twists into regular homework assignments.  Here are 3 homework twists that have worked for me…and the results…well, there’s nothing like a room full of students proud and excited about HOMEWORK!

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Homework Motivator #1:  Break all the homework rules and tell students that instead of perfect, neat assignments, you want them to bring in the dirtiest and messiest homework ever.  Tell students that they can run over their work with their bikes, soak it in ketchup, or tear it into bits.  They just have to bring it in sealed in a plastic bag.  Also, have them create a clean version that you can actually grade.  Yes, that means that they do their homework twice (very tricky), but they don’t care.  They all try to outdo each other in dirtiness.  It’s so fun!

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Homework Motivator #2:  Tell your students that they don’t have to do their homework.  All they have to do is find someone else to do it for them.  It could be their parent, sibling, friend or neighbor.  Then, all they have to do is grade the homework (which means that they actually have to do the work to get the correct answers – sneaky, right?).  The next day they should hand in the homework already graded.  Super motivating!

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Homework Motivator #3:  Have students answer their homework in a secret code.  The secret code can be something you create – like assigning numbers to letters or pig-Latin or you can have students create their own code and provide a code-cracking key.  You could even have students write all their answers backwards. This is a super fun and engaging way to get students motivated about doing their homework.

Each of these ideas have truly helped increase the homework completion in my classroom.  It’s amazing what a little novelty can do.

I hope they help reduce the homework chase in your classroom, too.

Brain Waves Instruction

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Trick AND Treat for Middle School Students

Aside from April Fool’s Day, there are few holidays that strike instructional fear in the hearts of middle school teachers like Halloween.  The frenetic energy associated with Halloween pulses among the lockers, spills into each classroom, and oozes in the form of distracted stares out the windows as visions of bags full of candy dance in the minds of all adolescent students.

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For years,  I tried to fight against the Halloween holiday with a ‘business as usual’ lesson plan.  Literature studies, poetry analysis, essay writing…anything to keep them busy.  The results?  Not so great.  Fake-mustache adjustments, pre-candy eating, and whispered plans for the evening invariably seeped into the lesson and my ‘business as usual’ mantra was lost on the distracted middle schoolers dressed as vampires, zombies, and aliens right before my eyes.

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Finally, I realized that if I can’t beat ’em, I should JOIN ’em.  No, I didn’t dress as Frankenstein’s bride.  Instead, I designed a lesson for Halloween day that I thought I would share with you.  It’s a compilation of two activities that give students a trick AND treat.

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The Trick:

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This activity is a spin on one of my favorites.  It’s a 16-step directions-following activity.  Students have to read the directions carefully because if they don’t, they’ll be drawing a pumpkin and adding examples of Halloween figurative language all over their papers before they realize that if they had followed the directions (i.e. read everything first), they would have only had to write their names on their papers.  It’s a fantastic trick.  I like to hype up the activity (and encourage students to get right to work) by telling them that I’ll be displaying their finished products.

FYI:  This activity goes particularly well if you’ve covered figurative language first.  I like to teach this Figurative Language Unit right before Halloween.

The Treat:

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In this activity students will read a passage about Halloween and answer questions.  When all the questions are answered they’ll reveal a “No Homework” statement.  Of course, this is the treat.  It’s an even better treat if you assign them pretend homework – like writing an essay or reading a lot before you hand out the reading comprehension treat.

These activities make Halloween a much more festive time in my classroom.  And the best part?  I don’t lose out on any instruction.  Students are still writing figurative language and practicing reading comprehension skills.  The Halloween spin just makes it more fun.

You can find all the FREE resources to Trick AND Treat your students here:

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Happy Halloween!

Brain Waves Instruction

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