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10 Fantastic Middle School ELA Routines

Try these 10 practical and engaging middle school ELA routines.

Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog and Laura from Language Arts Teachers have teamed up to bring you 10 middle school ELA routines to try in your classroom.

In this blog post, we bring you 10 practical and engaging middle school ELA routines. These strategies are designed to enhance the flow of your lessons, boost student engagement, and foster a strong classroom community. 

Whether you’re looking for new ways to start and end your class, innovative reading and writing activities, or effective classroom management tips, we’ve got you covered.

10 Middle School ELA Routines

Beginning of Class (Laura)

The way students enter your classroom, how long it takes for them to get started on something productive, and what the transition into “learning time” looks like can make a huge difference in the flow of the rest of the class time. Think about your own beginning-of-class flow and consider how you feel about the following questions:

  • What works well for logistically and physically getting students into the room for each class?
  • Do you use a timer or other strategy to where students have to be seated and working by a certain point?
  • Exactly what ARE students working on each day for the first few minutes that doesn’t involve extra work for you to set up? Examples: daily warm-ups, independent novel reading, journaling, etc. 

It is important to develop beginning-of-class ELA routines to help students get in an ELA mindset when they enter your classroom. 

Student Classroom Mailboxes (Kristy)

A great way to keep students and yourself organized is to give each student a mailbox. A cost-effective way to create these mailboxes is to use hanging file folders. Number your students based on their class list number (e.g., 1 – 30). That number will be written on the file folder in the hanging folder. 

Any paper that needs to be distributed to students from you, other staff members, or the school, can be in their mailboxes. You will need to teach students to check their mailboxes regularly. One way to do this is to hand back assignments, rubrics and quizzes in the mailboxes. Students want to check their mailboxes to get their marks! 

For more classroom management ideas check out the Classroom Management Category on the website. 

Reading + Writing to Problem-Solve (Laura)

Ever feel like half your workload during class comes from students asking questions about instructions you’ve explained several times, or asking questions that are already spelled out on their assignment? The fact that we’re reading/writing teachers makes it quite natural to incorporate reading and writing as a means through which students can solve these types of problems on their own. 

I’m a fan of making it a policy for students to rewrite the instructions or rewrite the question in their own words and THEN show me their question when they’re not sure what to do. Nine out of ten times (that’s not hyperbole!), the act of having to summarize the instructions or the question in their own words solves the problem they were having. 

If they still don’t know what to do, then I at least have something concrete to work with by seeing where the breakdown in understanding was. This strategy has saved me significant amounts of time during class because it almost completely eliminates interruptions, while putting the ownership of learning back on students. In fact, this is the piece that makes running stations in my middle school classroom not only possible, but my number one preferred way of teaching. 

Daily Reading (Kristy)

Getting students in the routine of reading daily, either at the beginning or end of class, is a great way to reinforce the importance of this practice. Students need to be given class time to read. We cannot expect all students to pick up this habit without laying the foundation during class time. 

I like to start each class with 10 minutes of silent reading. Students must be reading a novel or audiobook. This is not the time for them to pick up a magazine or go to the library and “search” for a book. I believe that classrooms need to have quality classroom libraries where students can find books that interest them. For more information on creating a classroom library check out this free resource – A Teacher’s Guide To Classroom Libraries.

Daily reading is probably my most favourite ELA routine. 

Writing Endurance (Laura)

When you’re frustrated because your students claim they can barely write more than a sentence or two, and you’re panicked about how you’ll build their writing capacity to meet the grade-level standards, check out these ideas. 

Here’s what to do (and it’s fun!):

  1. Pick an image or quote from the LA Teachers Pinterest board that you want to use that day. Copy/paste it onto a PowerPoint or Google slide so your students have immediate access to it. Put on some soft, instrumental-only music for the background. I go to Pandora and type in “new age” for lyric-free tunes. 
  2. Set a timer for 3 minutes and let it run as your students “free-write.” 
  3. My rules for free writing include “keep your pencil moving at all times” and “if you don’t know what to write next, just copy the last word you have over and over until a new thought comes into your head.”

This totally works because then they’re not allowed to just sit there doing nothing. I gradually work up to 20 minutes of writing in the upper grades. As you get to know your students, you can even go higher. Every so often, just add another minute or two. When done on a somewhat regular basis, like twice a week, your students will build thinking and writing endurance, which extends to all your other writing assignments. 

Fun Fridays (Kristy)

It is great to build fun into your classroom through academic means. Rebrand Fridays to “Fun Fridays.” These can be a given or they can be earned through a whole class reward system. Give students time to engage in social-emotional activities, like digital escape rooms or board games. This does not have to be the whole class period. It can be a 10-minute vocabulary game or a monthly digital escape room. You might only have time to incorporate a Fun Friday monthly or quarterly, but students (and teachers) sometimes enjoy a change from the daily ELA routine. 

Student Discussions About Reading (Laura)

We’ve all been there, wishing our students would actually talk about what they’re reading while staying on task! But the struggle is real – five seconds into a 1-minute “turn-and-talk” session, you realize students are claiming they’re done. 

To help all students stay focused while talking at a higher level about what they’re reading, use the “Tents for Talking” strategy. “Tents for Talking” is a simple way to give students the terminology they need to practice using the genre-specific vocabulary that is so central to reading and writing success.

Here’s How it Works:

  • Use my free “Tents for Talking” printables and print them out for each genre.
  • You only need one copy for each small group of students.
  • Fold each one into a tent shape and place it in the middle of the group.
  • Students take turns talking about whatever reading passage you’ve been using in class, referring to the “tent” to choose words and phrases for their discussion.
  • Let students make one comment or ask one question about the passage and, in that comment or question, they have to pick a word from the tent.
  • If the student asks a question, then anyone else in the group may answer it (using a word from the tent).
  • If a student simply makes a comment about the reading and uses a word from the tent, then the next student can either extend that comment (also using a word from the tent), make a whole new comment, or ask another question.

Get students in the accountable talk mindset by using this ELA routine. 

Assistant Teachers (Kristy)

Classroom jobs are important at any grade level. They allow students to demonstrate responsibility and ownership of a task. One of the classroom jobs that is perfect for middle school is the Assistant Teacher role.

I like to assign two students to this role each week. Assistant teachers can help with everything from handing out papers, to taking things to other classrooms and the office, to providing support to their peers.

Try the rule “ask three before me” in your classroom to help all students build independence and make an effort to pay attention during instructions. Students can ask the assistant teacher questions so you can work with small groups. Circulate around the classroom before you start working with small groups to check in with students who might need help or some extra encouragement to get started. 

Students need to be able to ask the teacher questions, but sometimes the questions are more of a procedural nature (Where do I hand this in? When is this due? What page are we reading?) and can be answered by a peer. 

For more classroom management ideas, check out the Classroom Management Category on the website. 

End of Class (Laura)

What is your end-of-class procedure? 

In other words, who ends the class – you, your students or the class dismissal sound?

It’s a classroom management issue that doesn’t typically get the attention it deserves.  Your end-of-class exit procedures are about how you feel regarding the way your students exit your classroom and what’s working or not working. The way class ends either adds to your energy and to your own peace of mind, or it detracts from those feelings and becomes another source of chaos and exhaustion for you. 

Think about your own end-of-class procedures (or lack thereof) and consider how you feel about them and what needs to change or simply tighten up. I’ve been to so many trainings and workshops that emphasize closing the lesson and bringing things full circle, restating the objective or the learning target. 

But, if you can get things cleaned up and feel mentally ready for the next group coming in, then that’s a win, especially as our class time becomes shorter and shorter (or is that just me?).

Attendance Questions (Kristy)

Daily attendance questions serve as a warm-up activity, typically utilized within the first few minutes of class as students settle in. These questions are usually brief and not intended to spark lengthy discussions. Instead, they aim to quickly engage students at the start of class or an activity. 

If you’re not incorporating daily attendance questions, you should start! They effectively signal the beginning of class and can be utilized in various ways to boost student engagement, foster classroom community, and much more.

Want more information on ELA Routines? Check out 22 Interesting Ways to Use Daily Attendance Questions

Additional ELA Routine Resources

We hope these 10 middle school ELA routines inspire you to enhance your teaching practice. From starting your class with engaging activities to ending it with clear procedures, these strategies aim to create a smooth and productive learning environment. By incorporating these routines, you’ll not only improve student engagement and classroom management but also build a stronger classroom community. 

About The Authors

Laura leverages her 20+ years of classroom teaching experience and instructional coaching systems to serve busy middle school English Language Arts Teachers through her online presence at www.languageartsteachers.com. Relying on her B.A. in English and her M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction, Laura’s passion lies at the intersection of crafting classic learning experiences for students while ensuring user-friendly methods of delivery for teachers so they can go home earlier each day.

Through her educational consulting, realistic instructional strategies, hands-on workshops, and back-to-school MSELA Summit each July, Laura helps educators teach with confidence while reducing their overwhelm. When she’s not teaching, training, or tackling her own curriculum projects, Laura can be found racing up and down mountain trails or through city streets depending on which marathon or trail race is next on her calendar.

Kristy has taught ELA and other subjects to middle school students for over 17 years in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, Canada. She is guilty of always having a book in her hand – even at the dinner table! She shares teaching content on her website, 2 Peas and a Dog, and sells middle school education resources on Teachers Pay Teachers or Shopify.

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