Teaching middle school students can be challenging unless you develop the right mindset. They are not elementary school students nor are they ready for high school so you have these three middle years that they need a bit of both elementary school magic and high school independence building.
Teaching Middle School Students
Check out the ten tips below for teaching middle school students.
Develop a Sense of Humour (Kristy)
When you teach middle school you need to have a sense of humour. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and watch that viral YouTube video all the kids are talking about – Kitty Yoga anyone? My students make me laugh almost every day. If you take things 100% seriously all the time you will stress yourself out. Go all out for school spirit days. Don’t be afraid to laugh.
Show Genuine Interest (Darlene)
Make an effort to greet students by name as they enter the class. Make eye contact and smile. If you can, ask them a question about their life. It only takes a few seconds, but these seconds will make a big difference in students’ behaviour and motivation. All because the message you are sending is “You are important, and I’m happy you are here.”
Pick Your Battles (Kristy)
Part of being a good middle school teacher is knowing when you make an issue out of something and when to hold your thoughts. For example, if I got upset every time a student left their pencil case in another classroom, in their locker or at home I’d be a millionaire. This is not something I want to get upset with students over. I have a loaning pen/pencil system in my classroom. Read about it here.
Encourage Participation (Darlene)
Class participation can accomplish many goals as an instructional strategy. In addition to engaging students, participation promotes speaking and listening skills and can be a quick formative assessment tool. The trick to getting everyone to participate, even the kids who are shy or anxious, is to create an atmosphere in which it is safe to fail.
When you can, instead of asking for answers, ask for ideas. It’s much less risky to share an idea because it becomes clear that a student can’t be wrong. And when kids are wrong, give them a chance to save face by “phoning a friend” who might give the right answer.
Remember That They Are Still Kids (Kristy)
We may think that our students are fully grown, but they are still kids. They still need our guidance, support, and understanding. It is our job to help them grow into independent adults, not expect them to arrive in our classes as these independent adults. When a student does not do their homework, I ask them why, before I issue a consequence (many times the consequence is just to have them complete the missing work – unless it is a severe pattern of missing work then it becomes a more serious intervention).
Most of the time they genuinely forgot, or got busy with other homework and then ran out of time. One of my best classroom management strategies is providing students with the opportunity to use homework passes this allows them a choice in due dates which helps with submission rates.
Give Kids Choices (Darlene)
Middle school kids are looking for validation. When you give them simple choices about a project’s due date or classroom decor, you are showing them that you value their input. They take ownership of their role and become much more motivated to succeed.
Stick to a Routine (Kristy)
It does not matter what age group you teach – stick to a consistent class routine. We always start with 10 minutes of silent reading every day. Students know this routine and come to class ready for this. I see a lot of teacher wasting the first 10 minutes of class trying to get their technology to work and letting students socialize.
Set the tone every day with a bell ringer, silent reading, partner work, stations etc. Just be consistent. Students appreciate routines and structure. Don’t forget to spice it up sometimes with some magic like a guest speaker, an escape room or something else special. Kids love that too.
Encourage Movement (Darlene)
Imagine this: You are at a conference where you are required to pay strict attention. For 6 hours straight, you must sit in a hard seat that has bars attached, preventing you from moving your legs much. Every 50 minutes you walk to another location that has the same uncomfortable seat. Does this sound like a nightmare? Yet, this is what we do to kids every day.
Middle school kids are wiggly individuals (working out those body issues, remember?). Encourage them to move by setting up stations, or share with someone across the room or rotating seats mid-lesson. Moving a bit is good for the body AND the mind. Read more about moving by using puzzles and games in the classroom here or using stations in the classroom here.
Maintain an Organized Classroom Space (Kristy)
To help students develop and maintain their independence it is important to have an organized classroom space. This will allow students to access materials without being reliant on you to give them scissors, rules, pens, pencils etc. Along with routines, students know where they can find commonly used items like textbooks, school supplies, and lined paper. Organization helps maintain order in your busy classroom and reinforces that importance of being organized. Read more organization tips from other teachers here.
Switch Your Mindset (Darlene)
Middle school kids are in a tough space both physically and mentally. They’re starting to look like adults, but don’t be fooled! It’s quite possible they still sleep with a teddy bear. When they call out in class, it’s because they often can’t control themselves. Switch your mindset a bit, and think about the calling out differently. As long as what they are calling out is about the task, we can look at it as enthusiastic participation. Gently and respectfully remind them that calling out prevents others from being able to share.
Free Middle School Lesson Plans
Looking for some middle school English ideas? Check out these two free resources:
About The Authors
Darlene Anne has been teaching 6th-8th grade ELA for 20 years, and she still loves it! She blogs at ELA Buffet, where she shares valuable lesson ideas and strategies for teaching middle school English. You can also find her quality middle school ELA resources on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Kristy has taught ELA and almost every other subject to 7th and 8th-grade students for over 15 years. She is guilty of always having a book in her hand – even at the dinner table! She writes the blog 2 Peas and a Dog and shares her education resources for middle school teachers on Teachers Pay Teachers.