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7 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Teaching Split Grades

Use these seven strategies to help you be successful when teaching split grades classes.

As a middle school teacher, one of the toughest challenges I have faced – and maybe you have, too – is teaching a split-grade class. While this may seem daunting at first, in the long run, it is often a rewarding experience for both the teacher and students.

Let’s be clear: creating lesson plans appropriate for each grade’s curriculum, grading the work, and managing the classroom dynamics all present challenges. 

But I’m here to share some tried-and-tested strategies for teaching split grades, which will help you keep your sanity and deliver the rewarding experience we all hope for in teaching.

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7 Strategies for Success with Teaching Split Grades

1. Set Up Effective Systems

The first step to success in teaching split grades is to be extremely organized. The best place to start is setting up systems that will be effective for you and your students. 

Things to consider: 

  • How will you keep track of classwork? A set of filing bins labelled for different subjects can help you track your photocopying and grading. Assign a student to be the “Assistant Teacher.” Their role is to collect student work in order of the class list. This will save you so much time trying to organize a bin that collects all student work. Use an Expanding File Folder and file folders (or this set) to keep track of each assignment/test/quiz you collect. This system organizes your marking by type, not just in one big box. You could also use zipper-close bags to store student work you need to assess. 

Here are two options:

  1. Mr. Pen- Mesh Zipper Pouch, A4, 6 Pack, Zipper Pouch with Label Pocket, Plastic Mesh Zipper Pouch, Large Mesh Zipper Pouch, Mesh Zipper Pouch Large, Zipper Pouch Bags, Board Game Storage
  2. Waterproof PVC Canvas Zipper File Storage Bags Document Filing Folders Organizers Pouch Holders (9Colors, A4)

2. Group Curriculum Expectations And Standards

When teaching split grades, review the curriculum expectations for both grades in all subjects you teach. Create a spreadsheet and cut and paste to align the expectations. This may seem tedious initially, but it can be a lifesaver in the long run. If you are more of a visual person you could also do this with chart paper and sticky notes.

Once you have your spreadsheet, look at the big ideas for commonalities. You can now stack curriculum but differentiate for who is in your class. For example, in Ontario’s English curriculum for grades 7 and 8, there are a lot of common expectations with just slight differences, such as more complex texts for grade 8. This is easy to deliver and differentiate without reinventing the wheel twice!

One way to do this is to use the same short story but change what students do with it. For example, this bundle of short stories and activities or this one with even more stories and activities can work across split classes. 

Another option is to use different rubrics for the same task. One grade has a version, and then there’s a version with more advanced criteria for a task in the higher-level grade. This requires just a few tweaks rather than starting from scratch, so it can save you time and effort.

Finally, consider using literature circles – not just for novels! Podcasts are a great option for listening skills, and students can be grouped based on their choice of topics with any of my lesson bundles. 

3. Try A Flipped Classroom

Along with staggered teaching with mini-lessons for smaller groups while another group works, and then switching, you can try a flipped classroom. This means a group does solo learning before tackling live learning in class. 

Class time could be used rather than having students pre-read at home. During this time, you could teach the other grade. Check out these recommendations for flipped classroom tools.

4. Use Inquiry-Based Lessons When Appropriate

A way to extend the flipped classroom approach or to adapt it to fit your students better when teaching split grades is using an inquiry-based approach. This strategy encourages students to think critically and use and develop their research and analytical skills to ask questions and explore answers.

Social Studies, History, Geography and Science units lend themselves well to inquiry-based lessons. Check out these ready-made units with integrated inquiry-based learning lessons or history or geography units that cover everything you need for grades 7 and 8. 

You can find the Grade 7/8 History Unit Bundle on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD and the Grade 7/8 Geography Unit Bundle on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD. There is also a Grade 6/7 Social Studies Bundle that you can get on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD.    

You can also get Grade 6/7 and 7/8 science bundles. Find the Grade 6/7 Science Bundle on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD and the Grade 7/8 Science Bundle on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD

5. Teach Mentorship Skills

When teaching split grades, this is an option for building leadership skills in specific students. Stronger students can help others, so you don’t need to be always available. You could set this up as subject experts with different students for different subjects. 

Using the leadership approach means it’s not about ‘taking care’ of other students but about developing everyone’s skill set. Rotate mentors so no one feels they have to be the “responsible one” at all times.

6. Try Team Teaching

If you’re lucky enough to have another class in the building that’s the same split, then team up when you can for best practices or resource sharing. Or check with your board to see if there’s another school in the community that does and you can chat with them to work together since support does make the job that much easier. You can also find teachers in other areas who might have a similar teaching role in the Teaching Middle School With 2 Peas and a Dog Facebook Group. Introduce yourself in the group and let teachers know who you hope to connect with. 

7. Get Parents On Board Early

Many parents worry when they find out their child will be in a split-grade classroom. One of the best tips I can offer is to open and maintain lines of communication as soon as possible. Call parents/guardians during the first week of school. Introduce yourself and let them know how much you are enjoying getting to know their child. Let them know the best method to reach you (e.g., phone call, email, note) and how you will be keeping them informed of things from the classroom (e.g., Google Classroom). 

Provide some information about how you’re tailoring lessons for students, some expectations, or what their child might expect in class. This does not have to be all of the details of what you’re doing. Instead, provide enough to demonstrate that you understand their concerns. 

This early approach can help if and when issues arrive later in the year. If you receive pushback, you can share the research supporting the benefits of teaching split grades, such as those covered by this article from the Canadian Education Network.

A Final Word on Teaching Split Grades

Ultimately, teaching split grades poses similar challenges to those faced in single-grade classrooms, including covering necessary curriculum and classroom management. While specific to split-grade classrooms, the strategies included here can apply equally to single-grade classrooms, too, especially regarding differentiation. 

Best Strategies For Teaching Split-Grade Classes

And if you’re looking for more advice, check out this post for even more strategies to help you and your students be successful and less stressed this year!

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