Black History Month – Middle School

Showing “Courage in the face of Racism” is a central idea that can be applied to nonfiction, historical fiction, images, video and more when exploring the plight of the African American.  I have taught middle school ELA for many years, and the history and struggle of the African American is a sensitive subject, and can often be confusing for students.  The time period that I like to focus on is the century between the end of the Civil War and Civil Rights movement.  Students are often unaware of the struggles that African Americans still faced after slavery was abolished, but before the Civil Rights movement.  After many years, I’ve adapted the idea of showing “Courage in the face of Racism” to learn about the African American throughout history.

First, I use a list of words that can be categorized as a “courageous” word or a “racist” word.  I assign an individual word to each student and they become the “expert” on their word throughout the lessons.  Using historical fiction, articles, a webquest and a reader’s theater, this topic is explored.  Click here for a free PowerPoint presentation of the words that I use for this unit.

Second, I use Mildred D. Taylor historical fiction pieces to give  accourage-precurate examples of an African American living in the South during the Great Depression.  Click here to view the unit in its entirety or click on the picture to the left.  This was a time of economic struggle and discrimination.  The students are able to see how courage was needed to fight and stand up for basic human rights.  The excerpts in the unit are taken from “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” and “The Gold Cadillac”.  They are also found in the book 101 Read Aloud Classics.  As Mildred D. Taylor celebrated her 40th anniversary, her book covers have been recently updated.  Click here or on the picture to see the article.  roll

Next, I use article from  You do need an account to access these articles, but it is free to use.  Here are the links below:

Slavery in the North

Front of the Bus is an excellent site to find informational text.  You can search by subject, grade level, or Lexile level.

I also like to incorporate technology whenever possible.  Because seventh grade studeimg_0319nts find this century between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement so confusing, I created a simple virtual field trip that gives and overview of the time period.  I use this on
Google Classroom and ask simple questions about the content of the slides, video links and images within the field trip.  The Virtual field trip can be found in the “Courage in the face of Racism” unit above, or in my “Song of the Trees” unit which is available here.

“Song of the Trees” is a short novella which can be used as an extension to this unit, or on its own.  The book describes the white men trying to take advantage of the Logan family while the father is away working because of the Great Depression.  It touches on “courage in the face of racism”, protecting the environment, and paints a true picture of the economic struggles and prejudice at this time in American History.  I use it with my seventh graders, but could be used effectively for grades 4-6 as well.

Lastly, I try and incorporate poetry into the unit as well.  Langston Hughes is probably the most prominent African American poet during the Great Depression.  The unit includes a reader’s theater where the biography of Langston Hughes is acted out and students are called to explain how “their word” is once again exemplified in the piece.

My entire Langston Hughes unit can be found here.

This unit is BRAND new and has not yet been rated.  It is currently at a discounted price, so check it out as this price will be going up soon!  It includes “I, too, Sing America”, “Poem”, “April Rain Song”, “Mother to Son”, “Harlem” and “Dreams”.  This unit also includes the reader’s theater of Langston Hughes, as mentioned above.

Finally, “A Long Walk to Water” is the perfect middle school book to use to study Black History Month.  Especially during this political time where refugees are being banned from Sudan, this unit touches it all.  Please click on the photo below to read my blog post on this incredible unit.



Johnny Tremain

Johnny Tremain is a class novel teaching the events leading up to the American Revolution in a historical fiction novel.  Character, Johnny Tremain, faces obstacles and matures in this coming of age novel where he interacts with historical characters and plays a believable role in these events.


Pre-Reading Activities and Webquest:

First is a 7 page PDF file to use as a pre-reading activity to correspond with the novel, “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes. It includes 2 pages of teacher instructions and ideas, 3 printable pages for student use and 2 rubrics for grading.

There are two classroom activities to complete, which are teacher directed. Then, there is an assignment for students to complete. The assignment is a deep study on Boston’s Freedom Trail to prepare for the setting of the novel. Directions for each slide and two grading rubrics are included.

The activities will probably take one class period and the PowerPoint presentation could be done in class with a partner or assigned as a project. The instructions are clear to the students. I have used these lessons with my seventh grade students in preparation for reading “Johnny Tremain”. I hope you find this helpful.


2 Reader’s Theaters:

The next is two reader’s theaters to correspond with Chapters 6 & 8 in “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes. Each reader’s theater uses the exact dialogue from the chapters to present the events in the novel. These are ready to print and use.

Chapter 6 – The Boston Tea Party. This read aloud goes through the events leading up to and including Johnny’s role in the Boston Tea Party.

Chapter 8 – So A Man Can Stand Up. This read aloud goes through a secret Sons of Liberty meeting where James Otis explains the purpose of gaining independence from Great Britain.

Each theater comes with the roles of the characters and a narrator. I usually make a class copy then print one copy for each of the parts to use. I highlight the character’s lines in these scripts so the reader’s theater will move more easily. The students really enjoy participating in these types of interactive role plays. It is a unique way to close read or re-read text.

Chapter Printables:

This product is a 35 page printable packet to coincide with each chapter in the novel “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes.  It includes a full key.  The printables come in a zip file with the files broken down into four sections with the appropriate keys.  They are all PDF files.

The printable break down the novel into reading chunks to fit into 27 class dates.  Each day has a literature based vocabulary word and activities to correspond with the reading.  The activities are varied throughout the course of the novel, thus corresponding with most of the common core learning standards.  Reading Strategies are varied and guided reading continues throughout the novel.  The implementation of the literature based vocabulary adds to increased student reading comprehension and is offered with practice activities for each word.  There are text based examples for each chapter.  Literary elements are introduced and explored.  There are numerous opportunities to inference and explain rationale.  Visual interpretations and prediction are other skills used to master comprehension.  There are also varied reading strategies to use as a class for discussion purposes.

As the genre of this novel is Historical Fiction, there is a section devoted entirely to this genre.  In addition, students must determine between history and fiction with both characters and events.  The historical aspect of the Pre-Revolutionary War is closely followed and taught using the combination of history and fiction.  Characterization, theme and symbolism are thoroughly explored within this unit.  In addition to cause and effect, expectation vs. reality, and chronological order development.  This printable bundle would be sufficient to teach the entire novel in 27 classes of about 40 minute classes.

Chapters 1-3:

Words of the day, literature based vocabulary development and practice

Literary elements:  personification, setting, foreshadowing, symbolism, irony

Text examples

Visual interpretations, predicting

Reading Strategies:  Back to Back and Front to Front; Cause and Effect

History:  Paul Revere – historical account

Responsive writing

Comprehension questions

Chapters 4-6:

Words of the day, literature based vocabulary development and practice

Reading Strategies:  Reality vs. Expectation; Back to Back, Front to Front, Kagan Mat

History:  Whig vs. Tory

Comprehension and application questions

Guided Reading questions

Reviewing Literary Elements

Writing Strategies Choices:  Informational, literary, argumentative, expressive

Historical Fiction

Theme of Maturity

Chapters 7-9

Words of the day, literature based vocabulary development and practice


Reading Strategies:  Jigsaw Learning, Fish Bowl Discussion, guided reading

Writing Strategies:  reflection/expressive writing, Acrostic Poetry

Cause and Effect, Historical Fiction


“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Chapters 10-12

Words of the day, literature based vocabulary development and practice

Chronological order/historical timeline

Writing Strategies:  responding to history; reflection/expressive writing


Visual interpretation

**Available ONLY in this BUNDLE:  Activities for Chapters 1-4:

Included is a 2 page PDF file with three creative activities to correspond with Chapters 1-4 in the novel.  Students will be able to choose one, or complete all the activities, using creative means.  Students can be an architect, an author or an artist.  A fun way to review reading!


Independent Reading Assignment:

This is a 4 page PDF file that gives instructions for students to independently read “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes and assess their comprehension through a PowerPoint Presentation. The project has clear objectives and two grading rubrics. There is a graphic organizer for slide material.

This activity would allow students to read the novel independently and present their understanding of the text upon completing the book.


50 Reading Comprehension Questions:

Lastly, a PDF with 50 multiple choice type questions for the young adult novel, “Johnny Tremain”. “Johnny Tremain” is a historical fiction novel written by Esther Forbes highlighting the events leading up to the American Revolution. Half of all the questions are “right there” type of questions and the other half of “inferential” type questions. The inferential questions are higher level thinking and deal with the figurative language, vocabulary and themes presented within the novel. These questions would be most useful for middle school aged children. The questions have four possible choices with the correct answer highlighted for each.

Reading literature and/or informational text and being able to answer questions based from text is central in today’s Common Core Learning Standards.  Although the idea of formal testing can be intimidating, there are some benefits in improving measurable reading comprehension.  There are even some fun ways to create better readers!

Reading Comprehension Questions in Education Island.

What skills are being mastered by answering questions?

Reading Comprehension:

One of the primary standards that needs to be addressed in the 21st century is teaching students to become efficient rigor.  Reading comprehension is the foundation in developing literacy.  Guided reading levels, or Lexile levels, have been created to meet a student’s individual need and build reading at their appropriate speed.  This product is for comprehension questions to assess a student’s understanding of a piece literature at their specific reading level.

In addition, by answering the “right there” type of questions, students will need to recall information and use close reading skills to go back into the reading to find the details to answer the question.  “Inferential” type of questions require students to read the material, arrive at a response, analyze their response, and draw a conclusion based from this multi-level thinking.

Close reading techniques are best to use when reading a piece of text for the first time.  Close ( or sometimes Cloze reading) follows three basic steps:
Look over the text (book or article).  Look at the title, any bold words or heading.  Glance at the pictures, charts, graphs, etc.  Make a prediction!
Read the text.
Re-read the text looking for specific details and mastery.
Complete the assessment task.
Assessment Strategies

By answering a variety of questions based from a piece of literature, student’s knowledge in finding answers by using close reading strategies will dramatically increase!

How can you use these questions in your classroom?
Upload questions into Powerpoint presentations or internet classroom games sites like com, to create interactive classroom games.
Print out questions to use as a formal assessment for students when completing the book individually or as a class.
Send questions home as reading reinforcement when completing nightly reading assignments.
Print out questions and cut into individual pieces for differentiated instruction and use in many different classroom strategies to increase lesson rigor.
What are some instructional ideas to implement the use of these questions in my classroom?
 Jigsaw – this is a strategy where students study chunks of content in expert groups, then teach their content to each other.

Divide students into groups of 4-6 people.  These are called Jigsaw Groups.  Jigsaw works best when you have the same number of students in each team; although this is rarely possible, try to get as close as you can.

Divide the questions into equal piles for each group.  (If you have 4 students per group, give each student in their Jigsaw Group the SAME five questions).  Then, give the students time to read and answer their five questions together.  When the class seems finished, give each group the answers to their questions.  Have the students discuss how they decided on their answers, where they found the answers, and how they will teach the questions.

Next, create new groups where there is one “expert” from each Jigsaw Group.  Each Expert Group should have one student from each of the Jigsaw Groups.  Distribute ALL the questions to each student.  As the new groups go over the questions, each student will have the opportunity to be the “expert”.  The reason this works:  Cooperative learning has been identified as one of the nine instructional methods proven by research to make a significant difference in student performance (Marzano, Pickering & Pollock, 2001)

     2.  Reciprocal Learning is one of the driving instructional means.  These are activities where students coach each other through exercises that apply to the content.

There are two types of Reciprocal Learning that could be used.  The first is a “Think, Pair, Share” and the second is a “Back to Back and Front to Front”.  In a “Think, Pair, Share”, students in pairs or small groups are given a question or topic.  Then, they are given time to think about their response.  Then, the partners share their thoughts with each other.  Finally, they share their responses with the class.  In the “Back to Back and Front to Front” method, students stand back to back with a partner.  The same procedure is followed.  Partners continually change throughout the unit.

The reason this works:  Students who work in peer partnerships make measurable academic gains, develop more positive attitudes toward subject matter, become less dependent on the teacher, and spend more time on a task when working with a partner than when working independently (King-Sears & Bradley, 1995).

3.  Flipped Learning is a strategy where the students complete the traditional instructional work at home and class time is used for reinforcement, clarifying and challenging learners.

Students will take home the book and questions.  For “homework”, the students will read and answer the questions at an individual pace.  Students will answer the questions.

During the next class period, class time can be used to dig further into the concepts for each question.   The text can be reviewed and deeper connections made.  With the shift to more learning outside of the classroom, the content moves from playing a “supporting” role to playing a central role.

The reason this works:  “Class time is now maximized in order to adopt various methods of instruction such as active learning strategies, peer instruction, problem-based learning, or mastery or Socratic methods, depending on grade level and subject matter.”  ( 2014)

4.  Mind’s Eye is a fourth strategy which could be implemented, however, it would require additional preparation by the classroom teacher.

How it works is that the teacher would choose 10-30 words from the text that evoke strong feelings or images in students’ minds.

Before starting the lesson, teachers give students a very limited overview of what they are about to read, so they have some content to build on.

Read the words slowly and dramatically.  Instruct students to create movies in their minds of what they think will happen in the text.  As each new word is read, students should try to incorporate it into their mental picture.  Students can then draw a picture, write a questions, make a prediction, or describe a feeling the mental picture gives them.

Then, students will read the book and compare it with their initial thoughts.  The questions will then serve as a formative assessment on the text.

The reason this works:  The impact of Mind’e Eye is based on the principle of dual coding, the idea that storing information in two ways (through language and images) makes learning stick better.  This has been shown to be especially true for reading (Sadoski and Paivio, 2001).

I have numerous reading comprehension bundles in my store.  Here is a free sample of the quality of my work:  The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, by Paul Goble.  This is a Guided Reading Level N.

Here is a link to all the products I currently have available in my store:  Reading Comprehension Questions in Education Island.

Please follow me at my TpT store:  Education Island, to stay current as I have over a hundred book question bundles that I will be publishing in the next six months.  I’m working on some larger bundles by Lexile Level that will be available soon.

This is a link to literature specific to winter.
Stay connected with me:



People who have used my products have said:

“This question assessment is very well thought out and provides many ideas to incorporate into a Native American unit. Thank you for sharing!”  Dana B.

“These are great questions! I am so happy with my purchase, Thank you :-)” Buyer

“This was a terrific list of questions, I was able to pick and choose for a variety of assessments as we read the book.”  Amy D.

“Hoot” by Carl Hiaasen – vocabulary

Currently, I’m teaching the novel, Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen for the tenth time.  I finally think I have mastered the vocabulary instruction portion of the unit.

First, I give the students a master list with 24 words found in the novel.  Then, I work on a word each day.  Words are assessed at four quarters in the unit.  Then, the students complete a poster or PowerPoint presentation.  They need to find a visual representation for each word using a common theme.  I put some examples below.  Click on the photos to see my entire unit:  



A Long Walk to Water – Activities

The book, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, is one of the best books I’ve ever taught!  I teach this book to my seventh grade students and each year it gets better. You can check out my complete unit HERE!

foldable tn

I roughly follow the NYS Module for the book, but I have so many wonderful experiences to share.  Here is a BUNDLE of PRINTABLES for the unit.  water center

Here are some ideas to enhance this book and make it completely awesome!

  1.  Teach an author study about Linda Sue Park!  Check out my entire unit HERE!


2.  Take your students on a field trip to meet Linda Sue Park!!


3.  Create a timeline of the events in the novel.  Check out student work here:


4.  Personification!  Explore the figurative language in the book!persontn


5.  Create your own Walk for Water!  Raise money for Salva’s organization Water for South Sudan Inc.





7 Tips for the First Day of Middle School ELA/English Class 2017

Welcome!  This blog has been updated on June 20, 2017!

I always have student teachers and colleagues asking, “How do you run the first day of school?”  Well, after 18 first days of school, I have some suggestions.  But, this is a link to a back to school digital storytelling projectdear future selfie!  It’s one of my newest products created to get to know your students using the latest technology.  It’s interactive and relevant to the students!  Check it out in my store! But first, check out this free sample of a handout that I give to my students in the spring and place on my website as well: Avoiding Summer Brain Drain.

1.  Make sure every student has a place.  What I mean by this is, when the students are entering your classroom on the first day of school, they want a place to go.  They are nervous, confused (for some it might be their first day of middle school) and they need a seat assignment.  I’ve done this several ways:  handing them a number on their way in and they find the table with that number; displaying a seating chart on the document camera, or placing their name on an index card and they find it on the desk.  I really prefer the document camera because it requires them to read the chart, navigate themselves through the classroom, and helps them to become familiar with the room.

Click here to see my Back to School Mega Bundle!back to school tntn

2.  Make the room inviting.  At the end of the school year, I have my students create a “key to seventh grade”.  This is a colorful bulletin board that gives suggestions and tips for incoming seventh graders.  You could always do this on a larger scale yourself.  I also hand up motivational posters, have personal pictures, and plants to make a “homey” feel.  I always ask the students to look around the room on the first day and make observations and predictions based on the room itself.  Check out the photograph of my bulletin board:

2Keys to 7th grade

3.  Don’t overload your students with the “rules and regulations” – they get this ALL DAY.  Yes, I distribute a course outline, but I graze over it.  What I really like to do is model and practice classroom routines.  For example, when the students walk into my classroom, they pick up any handouts they will need in class that day.  So, I actually have the students get out of their seats, walk back into the hallway, and enter the classroom by picking up the handout and taking their assigned seat.  In addition, I make them greet me on their way in and I give them a warm welcome into the class.  This helps students understand that their expectations are to enter the classroom, pick up any necessary materials, and take their assigned seat.

4.  Start with a “get to know you” activity!  Students are always nervous on the first day of school.  Try some easy activities and begin teaching!  I always begin with discussing homophones.  It’s a term not all students remember, but the know words like to, two, too.  I have them brainstorm a list of homophones and we discuss them.  But my newest product is going to cut the ice!  It is a “Fortune Teller” foldable activity specifically for ELA.  It’s probably best to use with upper elementary or middle school students.  You can check it out here!  But, students cut and fold the fortune teller then play with it with a partner.  One student chooses a genre and then count the number of letters in the genre.  Then the students pick a title of a book or poem.  Again, count the letters in the title to find your fortune.  When they choose the last title, it will unfold for a fortune that reflects some type of theme in the book!  It even includes a blank one to create your own!

fortune preview

5.  Set a daily routine.  After the first three steps have been completed, I address the students to their “bell work” and how they will expect class to run each day.  I have a specific place on my chalkboard that the students must fill into their agenda each day for the class assignments, upcoming events, or messages to home.  Some days this might simply say, “Pleasure read tonight”.  But, it ALWAYS says something.  I tell students to expect homework each night, however many nights are simply to pleasure read.  Getting them in the habit of writing their assignments down in one place each day also helps with organization (which is often a challenge for middle school students).  However, that’s an entire post in itself.  On the first day of school it reads, “Complete interview tonight”.  Yes – I give them homework on the first day of school (it’s really more for dramatic purposes though).  Then, I direct the students to the front screen where I will have their “bell work” each day.  On the first day of school it reads, “look over the course outline”.  Again, it just gives the kids some security.

6.  Refer back to their previous grade!  Students find comfort in what they already know.  I like to remind them of the summer reading they were assigned in the last school year and just discuss what they read and share experiences.  This gives them comfort in the familiar, however reminding them that they will have a task due based from their summer reading soon (wink, wink).  Just for reference, here is a link of the summer reading expectation from my school:

7.  Complete an activity that will help you get to know your students!  As I said earlier, kids are overwhelmed on the first day of school with rules and regulations.  I try to complete a fun “get to know you” type of activity that the kids can just talk about themselves and things they love.  I also try to get the kids thinking about goal setting.  Because middle schoolers LOVE taking selfies, my first day of school activity is a goal setting worksheet, “Dear Future Selfie”.

future selfie preview

7.  Assign Homework!  Yes, I said it!  The kids are shocked, curious, and excited to do this.  I love the element of surprise when I assign homework on the first day of school.  Basically, the kids go home and interview an adult on how they use reading, writing, listening and speaking in their daily lives.  It helps the students to gain purpose and to allow them to see the relevancy of ELA first hand.  On the second day of school, we discuss their interview results.  Again, this activity allows students to bring in what is familiar to them to successfully begin to build trust between teacher and student.  First Day of School Interview Assignment.

interview preview

Because you’re reading this blog, I have the two visually appealing, worksheets bundled together here.  I really hope this helps you on the first day of school!  Have a great year!

IMG_4252Lora Randles, Education Island