Starting the Year off Right in Middle School ELA
Updated: Nov 21, 2019
In my district, I generally have three days with the students in the first week of school (81 minutes for each class). During those three days, I do not start my first unit. I do not start my first unit until the first week of school.
With that said, I do not spend the first week playing getting-to-know you games. I do have them participate in collaborative activities, but I don't have them create all-about-me collages, or play "find someone who", etc. At this point, most of my kids know each other, and if they don't, they certainly will once the school year gets going.
What I Do:
I like to spend the first few days establishing a reading/writing culture. I also use this time to lay down my behavior expectations. Here's what I do:
I meet my students in the hall and greet each student. I have them say their name to me before they walk in. Once inside, they find their assigned seats. (I do flexible seating, but I do not start that right away...they all do have assigned seats, too.)
I take about 5-10 minutes to introduce myself and what my general expectations are for behavior. This doesn't take long, because my behavior expectations are simple: I will respect you as long as you respect me, my classroom, and each other. (I will be posting a blog post about this soon). I do not have a system. If I treat them like a human, I usually always get treated like one, too.
Then, I jump into a station activity to get them moving and for me to walk around and get to know them. I use Laura Randazzo's free Back to School Stations.
All of this usually takes up my first period of the block. For my second period, I complete a Rights of a Reader and How to Care for Books activity. These are inspired by The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. We discuss what our rights are as readers and what we need to do to care for books. They decide on a list of about 10 for each with a partner (they do this on paper). I go through them and add the most common 10. I then display this on a bulletin board in my room. You can get the activity here!
I start off with a similar activity at the end of yesterday. They create a list of ways to sneak in reading. This, again, is based on The Book Whisperer.
I segway this into a discussion about my reading expectations. I briefly show them the Reading Record they will be using all year. My overall expectations are they should be reading 30 minutes a night and hopefully 40 books by the end of the school year. The Reading Record is the only way I track this and if they don't get to 40 books, that's ok (most of my students got to 20 last year).
I then have them fill out my Language Arts Survey.
If there is still time, I have them start their summer reading assignment (my students just had to read any book they wanted over the summer). Since I do book reviews all year, I have them do a book review.
I get the students into their first books. During this time, the rest of the class is doing my Back to School Digital Escape room. I don't have grandiose expectations for the escape room. It's mostly something for them to do while I am in my library with individual students. I use the results of the survey they did the day before to help get them into a good book. This also gives me my first one-on-one with the kids.
I don't have time for much else, so I let them work on their summer reading assignment.
If there is extra time or an extra day, I have them complete The Importance of Reading brochure. This is a collaborative activity to be given to parents on Back to School Night. If I don't have time, I do it the following week.
That's it! The following week, I dive right into my first unit, A Deep Study of Character. That is why I don't really do any writing activities in the first week. I don't really establish those expectations until we start our first writing unit in October.
If you want to know more about what I do everyday, I wrote a blog post about that here. I know everyone has different schedules, but I do feel it's important to establish the culture of the classroom before diving right into academics.
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