• Megan Mariano

My First Year in 7th Grade: How it Went, What I Did, and What Will Change

Updated: Jun 3


I received a call from my administration in July 2021 that I would be teaching a 7th grade section of ELA for the upcoming school year. Prior to that, I only taught 3 sections of 6th grade, 81 minute classes. To this day, I still don't fully comprehend the logic of the change. The third section of 6th grade went to the prior 7th grade ELA teacher (so now she teaches two sections of 7th and one of 6th).


Read about how it went for me, what units I did, and what will change (if I teach it again next year because we all know how schedules can change any time which is wonderful for planners like me).


Quick Reference

Here is what I did in order:

  1. September: Investigating Characterization

  2. October: Realistic Fiction Writing

  3. November: Historical Fiction Book Clubs

  4. December: Companion Website (Multi-Genre Writing)

  5. January: Research on Controversial Issue

  6. February: Research Argument Essay

  7. March: Memoir Reading

  8. April (part of): Literary Essay focusing on Author's Craft

  9. April/May: Verse Poetry and Song Writing

  10. June: Mystery Reading and Writing


Pros and Cons

Pros

  • I was able to build off things I taught the year prior. This was a huge pro. I felt like my students were able to elevate to such higher levels of thinking since I could just continue off of the basics from the year before. I feel like so many of them could be in a high school class right now ha! For example, in 6th grade, I spent a ton of time teaching them writing proper reading responses, essays, etc. I was able to add a new layer to those this year. (More on that later).

  • I did units that I could never get to with my 6th graders. There were always units I wanted to do but just couldn't squeeze in the time.

  • I had much more sophisticated conversations and the students cared more about their work. I think me having them the year before had that ingrained in them already. They already knew what was expected of me.

Cons

  • It was stressful to plan. It was so difficult to plan something different than what I already did. I worked closely with the previous 7th grade teacher, but ultimately, I have a certain way I do things, so it was so tough to make it better than my already meticulously planned 6th grade school year.

  • I felt disconnected as a teacher of a team. When I only taught 6th, I was part of the 6th grade team, 100%, but now, not teaching an entire 6th grade section made me feel like I had less weight in the class as a whole. Similarly, I was such an outlier for 7th grade. I never knew what was going on for the entire 7th grade team and being on a completely different floor didn't help. It's no one's fault, it just was what it was.

  • I didn't like the schedule at all. 7th grade gets less teaching time in my district. I don't get them for full blocks like in 6th. I had to cut so much out and I feel like I couldn't finish anything.

So, would I do it again? Well, yea, because like it's a choice. In the beginning of the year, I hated it. The kids were an immature mess and they didn't seem to want to deal with me again (because I was not the most pleasant the year prior due to the pandemic). We caught a nice groove, though, and they were my favorite class by mid-year.


Yes. I'd do it again. There are things I'd love to perfect. Some of the units I did were really cool but could be way better.


What I Did and What I'd Change

September- Investigating Characterization

Much like my 6th grade classroom, I ran my class based on reading and writing workshop, for the most part. When I am at a loss, I usually look at Lucy Calkins' units and add my own twists. I do not use her as an end-all be-all...too wordy for me.


I started with a reading unit based on Calkins' Investigating Characterization Middle School Unit of Study. This focused heavily on author's craft and following one author's writings. I started with short stories written by authors who also had novels. Students read the short stories then read books by the same author to focus on craft. You can find this unit here.


A student highlighting a short story.

Sample slide from my Investigating Characterization Digital Notebook.

What I'd Change: I liked the way this unit went for the most part. I only used stories based on the books Flying Lessons and Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh and Hero Next Door edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. I felt these were a little young for my 7th graders. I want to look into more YA short stories that are also written by authors of traditional texts.


October- Realistic Fiction Writing

This was the first writing unit. I used Calkins' Realistic Writing Unit to kickstart this. The students mostly focused on social issues. I also built off a lot of what we did in the prior unit, using the stories as mentor texts. Read about this unit here.

A slide from my Realistic Fiction Writing Notebook.

What I'd Change: Honestly not much...I think it went great!


November- Historical Fiction Book Clubs

This was my first book club unit with them, also inspired by a Lucy Calkins' unit. I actually hate historical fiction, so I was sort of dreading this unit. I ended up loving my mentor text, We are Not Free by Traci Chee, which told the story of Japanese internment through the eyes of teens. Students focused on connecting their books (they had a choice from this list) to history, setting, and character struggles. You can get this unit here.

My mentor text for the unit.

Students made connections to current events.

What I'd Change: I definitely have to change some of the books on my original list. The one in my store is fairly updated. Some of the books were just very uninteresting to the students. I also think they need more time early on getting background on their history of the books.


December- Companion Website (Multi-Genre writing)

Yet another inspired by a Calkins' unit, but I definitely went in my own direction. This was a writing unit that was super intense. They had to create companion websites for their historical fiction books. Think of a Wiki or companion book (see here for example). They had to focus on writing sections: explanatory, narrative, investigative, and author's craft analysis. These were all sections they had to plan and write then put into a website.


Click the picture below for a sample student website.

You can find this entire unit here! Stay tuned for a blog post.


What I'd Change: This was a tough one for my students. It was a lot for them to tackle. I had them use Wix to make their website and it was super frustrating for them. I will use Google Sites in the future and focus on using more mentor writing samples for each section of their site.


January- Research

This was more mid-January and we did a big research unit. I had such a hard time planning this unit since my research unit in 6th grade is so massive. To be honest, it was very similar, the major difference being they chose any issue they wanted to research (it had to be a controversial issue) and the big focus was on taking hand-written notes. What was also a big difference was they had to use the internet for research, whereas I didn't really get into that in 6th; I had the 6th graders use books.


It wasn't all willy-nilly; we spent tons of time on how to research online properly, finding trustworthy sources, etc. Lots of different note-taking strategies were taught, as well. You can find a digital version of this unit here.


So many notes!

What I'd Change: Not much! I liked how this unit came out. Perhaps diving into online research more.


February- Research Argument Essay

All of this research segwayed into a research argument essay. Normally, they write essays using this basic essay format, but I took another approach, keeping it traditional (opinion and their three reasons). I had them add layers of complexity by adding in counterarguments and they used lots of highlighting to help.

This is not a blog or product yet, but stay tuned!


What I'd Change: I always have a difficult time teaching them how to incorporate counterarguments into their writing. I have to research this a bit more.


March- Memoir Reading

What else could I do at this point? It was so tough to come up with more units that were different from the year prior! I decided to do a memoir reading unit. I know that I love memoirs, so I thought they would too. This was set up similar to the historical fiction book clubs where they had to choose a book from a list. Lots of focus was on what influenced the writer, challenges, important moments and more.


I used Americanized by Sara Saedi as my mentor text.



This is not a blog or product yet, but stay tuned!


What I'd Change: Not much with this one. I liked this unit.


April (part of): Literary Essay

Another essay, but a mini-unit. This did, honestly, gear them up for state testing, but I'd always rather do "test prep" in the context of what we are learning. You can read about this essay here. They used their memoir and compared/contrasted it to a short story (provided by me) with similar themes, moods, etc. They zeroed in on how each author used different techniques to show the literary element.

What I'd Change: Nothing...this unit went well.


April/May: Poetry/Song Writing

This is where I got exhausted haha. I ended up doing a poetry unit focusing on verse poetry. I read aloud The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (they really liked that book) and they used their own choice books for that, too. Most of the skills were review and basic poetry elements.


I also squeezed in a song lyric activity. We analyzed song construction and they wrote their own lyrics.


Both of these units I got on TpT but I added my own twists, as I always do.

Student sample of his original song.

This is not a blog or product yet, but stay tuned!

What I'd Change: I think I am going to scrap the verse poetry and focus only on the song component. They really enjoyed listening to and analyzing songs and actually really seemed into writing their own song. I think I can focus on poetry elements just fine this way without actual books.


May/June: Mystery Reading and Writing

Mystery was the theme of the end of the school year. I was hoping to do book clubs with mystery, but didn't have time to find books for students to read. Instead, I used a mishmosh of short stories, music, and movie clips. We will be wrapping up the year with mystery writing. I also bought a murder mystery game on TpT.


Murder mystery game outside!

This is not a blog or product yet, but stay tuned!


What I'd Change: This unit was thrown together because I was exhausted. I am hoping, if I eliminate verse poetry, I can have more time to do mystery book clubs.


Bottom Line

I am a perfectionist, so it was a very stressful year for me...planning from scratch and dealing with tween/teens post-pandemic. On the whole, I did not appreciate all the work I had to do while trying to recover from the pandemic. I am hoping, if I do it again, I at least have a basis of where to improve for next year.


**Read about what I do in 6th Grade!** Click below:



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