My Middle School Language Arts Classroom…

I have spent the past few days beginning to plan out next year. I am a third year teacher, so some of my units are ready to go, others need tweaking, and some are being rewritten from scratch! However, I wanted to share what my normal day looks like so that other teachers can possible get some ideas!

I teach in a team setting: I teach Language Arts and my students have a different teacher for math, and a third teacher for science/social studies. I have two classes- my homeroom and my afternoon class.  I teach Language Arts in a 2 hours block.  M homeroom stays with me all morning, then we go to lunch, afterwards I get my afternoon class before they go to special.  Because of this, we start each day with a Do-Now. I am in charge of the Do-Now for my two classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. Traditionally, we use DOL as our Language do-now, but I want to change that next year. Granted, the ease of use is a big temptation, but the research shows that DOL doesn’t help kids use correct grammar in context. And I am willing to bet half my students just put any old answers down and wait for us to go over the correct answers together. So this summer I am revamping all of my grammar plans! This means I need a do-now. It has to be something quick and easy (we have a ten-minute homeroom) but also needs to hold students accountable. Any ideas?

Word Study: This year, I plan on using a mix of direct instruction, inquiry, and grammar in context for grammar. Right now I am writing my curriculum, based on our state and district standards. I am using Don and Jenny Killgallon’s Story Grammar for Elementary School: A Sentence-Composing Approach and Grammar for Middle School, Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, And Style into Writer’s Workshop and EVERYDAY EDITING: Inviting Students to Develop Skill and Craft in Writer’s Workshop. Last but not least, I am waiting for Constance Weaver’s The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching. I know, it’s a lot! But when I went to the Columbia Teacher’s College Reunion Saturday back in March, I went to great session on teaching grammar in middle school. The presenter introduced all these great books to me, and I was inspired.

We have a district spelling curriculum, which means we have a spelling pretest on Mondays. Students complete a spelling contract during the week (that I wrote) and take a final spelling test on Friday.

Vocabulary is something I am still struggling with. Last year I followed Linda Rief’s model. I had my students find 5 vocabulary words each week from their reading. They then defined them, wrote each word in the sentence that they found it, and handed it in. For extra credit they included the etymology of the word. I just didn’t feel it was successful with my students, so I am searching for a new idea this year.

Reading Workshop: Reading workshop, reading workshop, reading workshop!!! I start my reading workshop with a mini-lesson. My students have one Language Arts binder that is divided in 8 sections. (I may amend this to 6-7 sections this year.) One section is devoted entirely to mini-lessons and notes from mini-lessons. The section begins with a table of contents that the students fill in each day, noting the subject of the lesson.

This year, I plan to use more short texts in my mini-lessons, so that my students have common texts but can still focus on their independent novels. This will allow me to differentiate more in conferences, but all the students will have common texts at hand. For this purpose, I am reading Less is More: Teaching Literature With Short Texts, Grades 6-12 by Kimberly Hill Campbell.

After the mini-lesson and guided practice, we break into independent reading. During this time, students read independently, putting into practice the skills we have learned. During this time, I have individual conferences with students and pull small groups. I also sometimes (especially at the beginning of the year, when I am building the reading foundation) just read with the students. This models an adult enjoying reading, something they don’t always see. They also see me enjoying their literature, children’s, middle-grade, and YA, valuing it.

I do teach whole-class novels, as they are required by the district. But I love the novels we do together, and they allow us to have a common text. Plus, I don’t assign the reading for homework- we treat it as a read-aloud/whole class novel. I do a lot of text marking, teaching them how to annotate their books. It’s a skill they will need in future years and one I never learned (and wish I did!). Our whole class novels are: Tuck Everlasting, The Giver, and The Devil’s Arithmetic .

Writing Workshop: My students keep a writing notebook. I start the year with a lot of activities from Notebook Know-How: Strategies For The Writer’s Notebook. My students have a little bit of experience with the workshop method in the primary grades, but not since then. I really have to ease them into it. For the first half of the year, their weekly homework is to write 4 entries in their notebook. I collect these as a homework assignment.

This year I will be using the front half of the writer’s notebook for their writing and the back half for notes and mini-lessons. I am hoping this helps keeps them more organized. And to be honest, it will keep me more organized, too!

In 6th grade, we focus a lot on persuasive writing because it is tested on the state tests. But I start the year with launching the writer’s notebook. Then we ease into personal narrative. I am working on what we will do after that! I do know I will be doing my poetry unit again because it was such a success. 🙂 And I plan on doing my multi-genre projects again at the end of the year. Right now, I am paging through Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for Teaching Writing, Grades 3-5 for ideas.

Read-Aloud: My favorite part of each day is at the end of class. That’s when we have our read-aloud. During the read-aloud I model higher-level thinking and other comprehension skills. And the students love it! We experience various genres and everyone. To see what we read this year, check out this post.

As for how I choose my read-alouds, it’s all about the kidlitosphere! I read reviews, read Newbery contenders, and of course turn to some of my personal favorites. The read-alouds change with each class and each year. This way, they stay fresh and personalized!

I still have a lot of work to do for next year, but I am getting excited. I love my grade level and I love teaching language arts. Hopefully, this post can help some other middle school English teachers!

47 Responses

  1. It was fun reading how you are going through the process of setting up your language arts class. I have been going through a similar process this summer with a lot of literature reviews and trying to think about just how I want to structure my class. I am very excited to be in a new position. Last year my district adopted scripted instruction for my reading intervention classes. I switched to a regular 6th grade position at another school where I have more flexibility to develop my own curriculum. I am still mapping out exactly how it is going to look. Maybe I will do a post on my site once I have worked out the kinks. I know that I will be constantly refining it and molding it to what works best for the kids.

    We read a lot of the same books, such as Notebook Know-How and Rief’s books, but I also got a lot of new ideas for resources to look into.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  2. Your class sounds like a great place to learn and I love your devotion to learning yourself. Glad to hear your scrapping the DOL. I would recommend Regie Routman’s Reading Essentials. She has lots of great ideas for the reading block and might have some suggestions that fit your Do-Now category. For vocabulary instruction, Isabel Beck’s Words to Life is a resource several teachers at my school have used. It includes a little more direct instruction related to a small number of vocabulary words each week. Hope these are useful. Have a great time planning for your little learners.


  3. Sounds like you’re really getting it all together! Don’t you hate that you have to squish so much into one little Language Arts period. Even with approximately 90 minutes I am still struggling. THAT I hate.

  4. Although I think the series is geared towards high school students, SparkNotes has several small paperbacks with daily grammar, Shakespeare, journaling, etc. They have a variety of subjects as well and I think they could be easily adapted to middle grades. I’ve done a few on my own and they’re pretty fun.

  5. Thanks, everyone!

  6. Great job planning ahead. I wish I could get it all together so I will be more prepared, but you have inspired me. So I am going to start a plan too. Have you came up with any ideas to use besides the DOL?
    I need something to replace mines too.

  7. Tish-

    I am still on the hunt for something to replace DOL. Right now I am leaning towards some type of free write in the mornings. But I am not certain, yet!

  8. For vocabulary I like the approach in Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Kucan. 🙂

  9. “Help!!!!” is my response to “My Middle School Language Arts Class…” I’ve just been notified (two weeks before the start of school) that, due to cut-backs, I am the new middle school Language Arts teacher. I have been teaching Literature (which I love) for the past three years, five days a week, 38 minutes a day, to grades 6-8. I now have a very generous (Ha!) 45 minutes per class to teach literature, vocabulary, writing, grammar, and spelling to my middle school students . Any ideas/suggestions as to how I can effectively “squish” all of the above into 45 minutes a day and still make my classes more than “drill and kill?” Thanks.

    • I know this post was 4 years ago, but I just came across your comment and am curious as to how it turned out.
      I was just notified that I will be teaching Language Arts given 45-48 minutes per day. In the past, we had Literature for 42 minutes and English (writing, grammar, and vocabulary) for 42 minutes. I am unsure how to even start organizing a class with all and about half the time to get it all in to benefit the students without failing! I have taught both Literature to 6th and English to 7th and 8th for 5 years, but would love feedback about how to organize it all in a shorter amount of time.
      Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Ms. F.-

    WOW! That is definitely stressful!! But at least language arts is the best subject there is. 😉 Unfortunately, I am lucky enough to have a 2 hr block period with my kids everyday. I do know many teachers who manage their workshops in a 45-50 minute daily period. My first suggestion would be to join the Yahoo group REALWRITINGTEACHERS. it’s a fantastic resource and the teachers there would definitely be able to help you!

    My suggestion would be to divide up your workshop. Have reading days and writing days. And be consistent, so the kids know which day is which. As for grammar, I love the Killgallon books. They can allow you to do word study/grammar in 10-15 minutes lessons. It’s great!


  11. Teaching vocabulary is always a challenge in the elementary school classroom. Part of this challenge comes from children entering our classrooms with a wide variety pre-developed vocabularies. Children who have grown up enjoying a wide variety of experiences usually have a vocabulary that demonstrates that. Children who have not had the opportunities of those experiences usually have a less developed vocabulary. I recently took an online class from Knowledge Delivery Systems ( by Donna
    Walker Tileston focusing on teaching vocabulary in the classroom. This class gave a lot of practical advice for teaching children with all levels of pre-developed vocabularies in the classroom.

  12. You mention a very successful poetry unit. I struggle on that one and would love to hear what you did. Any chance you’d be willing to share that unit?? I just started R/W workshop with 6, 7., 8th graders and need all the ideas I can get.

    Many thanks,

  13. Sheila-

    email me at thereadingzone atttttt gmail dotttttt com. I would love to share!

  14. I am a first-year Language Arts teacher, and I, too, would love to hear about your poetry unit. If I email you, may I hear more about it, too?

    Thank you!


  15. Have you ever heard of Caught’ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School by Jane Bell Kiester? I am currently using it, but I am not convinced it is working with the grammar instruction. It sounds similar to your DOL.

    I am a second year Middle School Lit/LA teacher with 15 years experience on the elementary level (self contained). I went for an add on to my certificate due to my love of reading, writing, and self-sufficient children! 🙂 However, I work in a small school and do not have a partner teacher to bounce off ideas. I’m trying reading/writing workshops based on Nancy Atwell and this Jane Kiester along with trying to meet my state standards with the grammar requirements. I am finding that I am trying to do way too much in way too little time, and my classes are 90 minutes a day!

    I have been successful with the writing and okay with the reading, but the grammar is on the back burner. So, I guess what I would LOVE is some advice on how to tackle that! Please share!

    • I didn’t have much luck with Caught Ya’ book. My kids got bored quickly and it wasn’t much more than DOL in story format.
      I use student writing samples on the overhead and have kids edit them. I try to choose papers with errors that have shown up repeatedly.
      Also, I use strong examples of writing and have the students write a blurb about what “worked” in the piece. I have found that helpful.

  16. I’m LOVING your site. I feel the same way about LA and use MANY of the same strategies!!! For vocabulary, I focused on Greek and Latin roots last year and saw good results. Have you looked into that approach??

    I’m finding good info on your site–and several resources I had not heard of before. THANK YOU!

    • What did you use as a basis for your Greek and Latin stems? That’s such a good way to teach vocabulary, but I haven’t seen a good book/system in years that smoothly incorporates that into a balanced literacy approach to reading/language arts. Any ideas? I’m a coach (former middle school LA teacher) who works predominantly with High School but am working this year with some 6th grades and am always looking for good ideas! Thanks!

      • I used a book called WORD JOURNEYS. My students who tested above grade-level got their spelling words from the Greek/Latin word roots listed in the book. Each week they studied three roots with English derivatives.

  17. I am intersted in a middle school 90 minute block teacher workshop for the fall ’09 school year. Please forward me any information you may have available. Thank You.

  18. […] picture how it was going to look in my classroom.  This summer I stumbled across a blog post on  The Reading Zone  that suggested reading the professional resource Notebook Know-How  by Aimee Buckner as […]

  19. Wow! I stumbled on this site and became renewed and inspired. Your excitement of Language Arts is contagious.

    I am a 6th grade LA teacher as well. A few years ago, I changed from DOL to DGP (Daily Grammar Practice). It’s a fantastic program that only takes a few minutes each day. You give the students one sentence per week to work with. On Monday, students identiy the parts of speech for each word On Tuesday, they identify sentence parts and phrases. etc. There is a specific task for each day of the week.

    DGP truly makes sense. The repetition helps kids to understand and remember grammar concepts. The programs are for 1st-8th grades

    The program is fairly inexpensive. It was created by Dawn Burnette of Peachtree City, Georgia.

    As you can tell, I am sold on DGP and completely recommend it to all LA teachers!

  20. Thank you so much for this post! I’ll be returning to teach middle school English–after a 7 year absence–and was looking for “a way” to structure the class period. Would you mind answering some questions for me?
    1) Did you every come up with an acceptable Do Now?
    2) How many minutes approx. was each segment (esp. your reading and writing workshops)?
    3) Now that your teaching block has changed, how are you structuring your day with the reduced time?

    Thank you and all the best!

  21. Thank you so much for this post, it was inspiring to me. I am a second year teacher and teach at a very small private school. I will be teaching 6, 7, and 8 grade literature this year (along with 3 other classes) I have been reading a lot about reading and writing workshops over the summer but any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated. My classes are only 45 min long and there are no other lit teachers at my school to bounce ideas off of :/

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  23. I recently came across your blog and this posting in particular. I loved reading about your reading workshop. I am starting reading workshop this semester and wondered if I could ask you more about it. Thank you so much!

    • Of course! My email is

      • I would also love to email you to find out more about your poetry unit and the schedule/set up of your workshops? This is my first year in the 7th grade and I have only taught workshops in the 1st grade… sort of wondering how to make it work at this level.


  24. For vocabulary, nothing beats Beck and/or the “Words Their Way” approach. However, I love your approach of having the kids keep track in their reading notebooks. I have wanted to try that approach but didn’t get to it this year. Do you teach it in correlation with a strategies for decoding unfamiliar words? I’m am finding 6th graders still need a lot of help with that active reading skill.

  25. Thank you so much for posting this. I am going into my second year of teaching 7th grade and NEEDED this!

  26. […] Posts My Middle School Language Arts Classroom…It's My Blogiversary!Vista PrintThe Hunger Games by Suzanne CollinsChains by Laurie Halse […]

  27. This has been so helpful. I will be teaching 7th grade LA this year after teaching Science for the past 5 years. I have been reading Nancie Atwell, Laura Robb and a few others for ideas on teaching a workshop. It’s overwhelming but I am excited about finally getting to teach LA. I am stumped on how to set up units. Will you share your poetry unit?

  28. Thank you for the info. it is very hepful. I hope to begin teaching Middle School ELA this school year. This will be my first year of teaching.

  29. I appreiated your site and the replies you received. I am a Reading teacher (my first love) and because of budget cuts and a new schedule, I have been asked to teach
    Reading, grammar, spelling and writing everyday for 70 minutes to 7th and 8th graders. Your site provided me with some ideas and resources I will look into. Thanks

  30. I love your ideas! I taught English for 10 yrs, switched to History for 3 and am now back–but I feel at a total loss because the curriculum changed when I was gone.
    I still use DOLs, but the ones I have focus on one type of correction. We do the same type for a week, then I give a grade for at least showing the corrections they made for the week. If they seem to have a real problem–practice worksheets along with the normal application. Since they don’t want the additional work, students complete the Do Now as expected.

  31. Looking for a model similar to 4 Block Literacy instruction for 8th graders with a heavy focus on writing/ reading Have a 74 minute block every other day for LD students.

  32. I can appreciate the twists and turns of being an English teacher. I’m always looking for new and creative ways to bring the language to life int he classroom. I love your insights!

  33. I teach 5th and 6th ELAR. I have 2 5th grade classes and 2 6th grade classes for 2 periods daily. I am feeling a little overwhelmed with it right now. I feel like I can’t fit everything in and have the kids get the maximum benefit from it. I am mostly struggling with writing and just balancing my time, organizing the classroom activities to fit in small group time… Just feeling awful about it all right now. I want to do so much more!

  34. What research or articles did you use to structure your class in this way? I am in total agreement, but I need something research based to share with teachers.

  35. I noticed this post is quite old and when reading another post I saw that you were being forced to reduce your reading workshop from 2 hours to less than 1 hour. I am wondering how this is working for you as that was 3 years ago and I will be faced with the same thing this year! 😦 How does your workshop look today?

  36. I just stumbled upon your blog via a Google search, and I’m glad I did! I’m a recent M.Ed. graduate starting my first full-time teaching job in a few weeks, and I feel overwhelmed with all that I need to plan! I’ve not really been sure where to start, but your post gave me some helpful direction. I completed my full-time student teaching in a social studies classroom (with a middle childhood licensure, I have two content areas), so it’s been tough for me to figure out how to start planning for an ELA classroom. Thanks for your post! Feel free to visit me at my blog,

  37. I am going to be teaching 7th and 8th grade ELA for the first time and I am thankful for your help here. I had previously taught high school English for 9 years and all of this is very foreign to me. I am wondering what happens to these kids when they get to high school and the reading and writing workshop model no longer exists for them. I have yet to meet a high school English teacher structure a class in this way. I’m stumped.

  38. At what point during your lesson do you teach grammar rules, drill and skill practice, rote memorization, etc? Even though we are supposed to implement common core standards in our teaching this year, we are still teaching to the state test, which test each grammar term in isolation from a written passage.

  39. This was great. I am a first year teacher and am trying to put together a routine for teaching the writing portion as well as the reading portion. This has given me some ideas. I was completely stuck. Was there any success with how you taught the students to write persuasive essays? I could really use some tips and tricks for introducing and the basics. Thanks!!😃

  40. Thank you! Thank you! I’m a first year teacher and I’m freaking out, but your blog has given me a lot of directives.

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