How to Acquire New Vocabulary: At the Middle School Level

While vocabulary instruction has drastically changed in the past decade, some of the basic principles of language acquisition still pertain to building students’ vocabulary. For instance, a voracious appetite for reading has long been linked to a stronger vocabulary—and this belief still stands, as it is widely supported by research. Additionally, repeated exposure over time also helps to solidify words to memory. Both of these basic methods, reading and repetition, are still utilized in classrooms today.

However, best practices focus on more than mere memorization. Vocabulary acquisition can and should be taken to the next step to ensure that terms are not only committed to memory, but are essentially committed to a student’s academic and everyday language.

Teach connotation: Too often, direct vocabulary instruction relies on a student’s memorization or understanding of a word’s definition—which makes sense since students must know what a word means before adding it to their lexicon. However, if focusing solely on a word’s definition, students are missing a key aspect of the importance of vocabulary, which involves context and connotation. Vocabulary instruction is more than knowing the meaning of a word—it’s the ability to choose the most appropriate form of a word or term for a specific context or purpose. Take the words smell, scent, odor, fragrance, and aroma. The definition of each of these terms is rather similar; at a glance, students may declare these terms to be synonymous. However, teaching these words in their appropriate contexts and with an understood connotation allows students to see how each of these so-called synonyms would serve a strikingly different purpose.

Scent, fragrance, and aroma all have a generally positive connotation. Scent and fragrance are more frequently used when describing non-food items like flowers, perfume, natural surroundings, etc. Aroma differs slightly in that it often denotes a combination of smells, like a laundry room’s aroma of fresh cotton, rain, and rose petals, for example. Odor, conversely, typically has a negative connotation. You wouldn’t likely want to describe someone’s cooking by saying that it has a “unique odor.” Something with an odor is usually deemed smelly, stinky or unpleasant. So, even the simple practice of matching scenarios to their most appropriate terms helps middle schoolers to begin to see the value in vocabulary. Words are much more than their definitions; they allow speakers and writers to specify more precisely depending on the context or situation.

Teach using synonym/antonym games: Another method to help prompt middle schoolers to step outside of their everyday language boxes involves a modified skit from the game show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Have students sit in a circle. Explain that students will go from person to person saying essentially the same phrase, “I feel happy.” The catch, however, is that students must replace the word happy with a new synonym each time. If a student cannot think of a new synonym for the initial emotion, he or she is eliminate from the circle. After a while, switch from synonyms to antonyms. For instance, students would respond to “I feel happy” with “I feel…sad, forlorn, melancholy, depressed, low, glum, gloomy, blue, unhappy, negative, sullen, etc. The key here is for students to begin to see the vastness of their options for expressing and expanding upon a simple emotion such as “happy.”

Encourage the use of expressive words in student writing: Once vocabulary instruction is solidly underway, begin to track overused, misused, or “elementary-level” terms in student writing. Prompt students to be more specific when saying that they “went” somewhere. Perhaps they moseyed to the store; strolled to the store; travelled to the store; wandered to the store; meandered to the store; rushed to the store. Again, the point is for students to see the plethora of options at their disposal when writing or speaking. The more they practice, the more equipped they’ll be to say precisely what they mean.

 

Getting Through Homework Time with Multiple Kids

A child’s homework routine can make all the difference at school. Even at the elementary level, a consistent homework plan helps young students to develop good study skills, as well as a strong foundation for time management, organization, and responsibility. But what happens when homework time becomes a jumbled rush for completion? This is the case for many families when siblings of varying ages need guidance to complete their homework. With the craziness that is the average school night, parents can only do so much when it comes to homework help. Logically, a parent can only help one child at a time—so what are some strategies to ease the stress of homework time for a family with multiple school-age children? Read on to find out!

Keep everyone organized by planning and maintaining a consistent homework routine. This should include specific homework times and areas of the house where homework will be completed. Avoid allowing teens to complete their homework in their bedrooms, as this is likely the least productive place for them. Keeping everyone in the same general vicinity of the house can allow parents to bounce from helping one child to the next. To keep the practice smooth and productive, insist that homework happen without distractions like television, social media, video games, etc.

Set aside time to help the youngest children first. Since their homework assignments will likely be easier and shorter, consider helping them prior to the older kids.This schedule also makes sense since younger children usually have an earlier bedtime, which will allow you to help the teens with their assignments once the younger ones are asleep.

Ask the older children to self-manage and take the initiative to start homework on their own. Depending on afterschool activities, families may be even more limited when it comes time to hit the books. This is a reality for many families, so encourage teens to get a jump start and jot down any questions or difficulties that they run into while working. This way they will have something to refer to when it is their turn for parental help.

Make a homework checklist for elementary-age students to highlight expectations and guide their efforts. For younger learners, parents will likely need to prompt the elementary children to get started, stay focused, and move between tasks or assignments. The checklist also helps children to begin to self-monitor while working.

Encourage older siblings to assist the younger children with their homework assignments. This sort of practice mimics the peer-teaching strategy, in which students build their own knowledge by teaching someone else the concept or skills. The younger sibling is not the only one to benefit from the tutoring assistance. By helping the elementary schooler, teenagers also develop communication skills, interdependence, and self-confidence when demonstrating concepts or tasks in a way that the elementary schooler can grasp.

Utilize alternate times for completing homework. Afternoons can be chaotic, but mornings can be equally stressful. However, if one of your children is an early riser, consider using some of the morning time for homework help, quiz review, or independent reading assignments to free up time later in the day. Just be sure that if you allocate part of the morning for homework that you carve out enough time to complete everything necessary.

Mindset Matters: Growth Mindset for the Middle Schooler

Growth mindset, a common buzzword in the education world right now, is a research-based belief system that has the ability to drastically change adolescents’ perceptions of themselves as learners. I would argue that growth mindset is even more important for children to explore during the middle school years. Why? Well, the entire concept of growth mindset involves challenging our notions of ourselves—something that middle schoolers are already grappling with daily on a social-emotional level. Intellectually-speaking, growth mindset centers around a belief system that intellect, ability, achievement, and motivation are not only interconnected, but fluid—that is, we can grow our brains and abilities by using deliberate and beneficial strategies and thought processes.

For middle schoolers, this concept can be extremely life-changing. Consider typical responses from middle schoolers when confronted with a challenge, setback, or failure:

“I’m just no good at this. I never will be.”

“I’d rather just do something easy so that I know I’ll do it right.”

“If something is too difficult, I’d rather give up than exert effort and still fail.”

“My best will never be as good as some other person’s best.”

“If I have to work really hard at something, it must mean that I’m bad at it.”

“I don’t have a math brain. I’m good at English, but math isn’t my thing no matter how hard I try.”

These unfortunately common thoughts and comments are very prevalent in the middle school classroom. Students who have not been exposed to growth mindset truly believe that intelligence is primarily fixed—we are either born smart or not. The danger behind a fixed mindset is that it is essentially like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Adolescents’ negative beliefs about themselves as learners inevitably show up in their actions, almost as a self-sabotaging belief system. To combat this, middle schoolers must begin to see the learning process as exactly that—a process.

Encourage middle schoolers to take risks. As opposed to sticking with their known talents or remaining always in their comfort zones, push students to go for the challenge. Whether the challenge is academic, social, or athletic, middle school is the time for children to explore new and unfamiliar tasks or concepts. The key to stepping outside of our comfort zone is that it teaches us about how to improve our weaknesses while capitalizing on our strengths. Trying something new or difficult is not about immediate perfection—adolescents need to embrace the failure and missteps because that is where the learning happens. We grow, not when something comes easy to us, but when we succeed through the difficult aspects of a new skill.

Teach middle schoolers how to use failure as an opportunity to learn something about themselves. This practice involves open dialogue and honest feedback. One essential aspect of growth mindset is that criticism or feedback should not be taken as an insult. When reviewing a teacher’s or peer’s feedback on an essay, help adolescents to understand that the critiques should not be taken defensively. The aim of feedback is to praise areas of strength and assist in areas of need, with the end goal always being student improvement.   

Perhaps one of the hardest lessons of growth mindset for middle schoolers is the fact that we should not measure our own successes against the successes or failures of others. Why is this so difficult? We’ve all experienced the competitive, and sometimes downright judgmental moments during our adolescence. So, it should come as no surprise that middle schoolers are always comparing themselves to their peers. Stress the fact that one person’s success does not discredit your own. If a friend or peer does better on a quiz or assignment, do not internalize that as your own failure by comparison. Instead, help teens to realize that they can learn something from their peers—and that they, too, will be sought out for help at some point.

 

Cyber Safety for Today’s Teens

It goes without saying that technology has fully inserted itself into most aspects of our day-to-day lives—and children and teens are no exception. Children are learning to swipe smartphones before they learn to turn the pages of a book, and many of them are swiping on their own devices. For parents, the endless exploration of technology raises many concerns for children and teens. Parents need not only be aware of what their children are getting from the constant connectivity, but also what they may be putting out into the digital universe. Yes, the horror stories surrounding teens and technology are vast and worrisome, but these hard-learned lessons can provide other families with safe cyber practices that will make all the difference for security and peace of mind.

Limit screen time, especially for youngsters. We may have grown to rely on our devices in the adult world. I, myself, use my phone for everything from navigation, to paying bills, to making grocery lists—the list (no pun intended) goes on and on. However, for children, it is essential that their screen time be limited and purposeful. Use screen time as an occasional reward, but make sure that everyone is clear about how long they can use the device and for what purposes.

If you feel that your child must have a phone for staying in touch, consider phones or plans that provide programmed options for usage. For instance, there are ways to program children’s phones so that they are only able to call or text a set list of phone numbers. You can also set restrictions on how data is used or what websites or apps your children can access. The key here is to keep your children’s circle small when introducing them to their first phone—the stricter the parameters, the more peace of mind parents will have about children using technology.

Be aware of your child or teen’s social media presence. Keep a very watchful eye on your child’s use of social media and limit access to devices when concerns arise. You should insist on access to or control over your teen’s social media accounts whenever necessary. If you suspect that your child is cyberbullying or being cyberbullied, take the phone. Keeps records of any evidence that your child is being bullied, including text messages, screen shots, profile posts or photos, etc. Schools today are cracking down on bullying; however, parents must present documented, repeated instances of harassment or bullying before school officials will intervene.

Along the same lines as cyberbullying concerns, parents should monitor social media accounts to ensure that children are protecting themselves and being digitally responsible. Teens today are so concerned with obtaining “likes” and gaining “followers” that they lose sight of how vulnerable they may be making themselves online. Explain to them that, even with privacy settings, nothing is 100% private when it comes to posts, comments, photos, etc. Make sure that teens are not using personal information, like a full name, specific address, current location, or school. Social media sites make it extremely easy to tag one’s location, but too often teens fail to consider who might be keeping tabs on their location. Gently, but firmly, remind your children that not everyone on social media is who they claim to be.

Talk about the permanency of our digital footprints. This means that, once posted online, ownership no longer belongs to you. Even deleted material is not ever fully erased if even one person has captured, saved, or screenshotted the post. Not only can deleted posts resurface, people can edit or manipulate the photo or post in any way they choose. Teach children and teens to think carefully before making a post.

From a Teacher to a Teacher: Kindness in the Classroom

Dear fellow educator,

I think it goes without saying that these are crucial times for our young people, not only with regard to education, but also in forming the next generation’s principles. All politics aside, our students are coming of age in a time where kindness, empathy, and integrity have been shoved aside in favor of judgment, rivalry, and naiveté. As we move into a new school year, fervent introspection has me focusing on one question: how can we craft and nurture ‘goodness’ in our schools?  

Perhaps one of the biggest perceived roadblocks in our quest to add kindness to the curricula is the fact that we are here to educate, not parent our students. No matter what age, our students come to us with a belief system and moral gauge that far exceeds our reaches. With so many uncontrollable variables at play in our classrooms, how could we possibly begin to stomp out hate that may have been engrained in a child since day one? Is it even acceptable, as mere educators, for us to take on that role or responsibility? These perplexing questions may forever go unanswered.

Instead of looking at changing the child’s cognizance, I’ll begin to nurture kindness by looking at my personal practices in the classroom—let’s consider it a ripple effect of sorts.   

  • Use seating charts to recognize the “lonely students.” This is a concept used by a veteran teacher from Texas throughout her entire career. On Fridays I’ll ask students to write down the names of two people that they would like to sit with next week. I will make clear that these requests are not guaranteed to be granted.  Students will occasionally get their wishes. However, the key here is that I am not concerned with the seating chart in the least—who sits beside whom is of no concern to me. I am looking instead for the names that are not written down—which child is never sought out as a seating partner? Are these missing names indicative of a bullying problem? Do I recognize signs of grief or depression in any of the students that are not requested as seating partners? By analyzing the seating requests, I am better able to reach out to the children that may feel lonely or withdrawn and potentially change the course of their unhappiness.
  • Praise acts of kindness just as much, if not more, than test scores, grades, or GPAs. Academia is designed to breed competition through class rankings, SAT scores, honor roll lists, etc. Several schools in Montgomery County celebrate their seniors’ achievements by posting each student’s college admittance for the coming year in the local newspaper—a great opportunity for young scholars to shine. However, with such recognition comes an inevitable ranking or hierarchy among graduates. Seeing my name and future university in print, followed by so-and-so attending Harvard, would undoubtedly sour my sense of accomplishment. Yes—that’s the real world—someone is always going to be smarter, more successful, better… Consider this: Focusing on achievements in kindness would not take away from anyone’s academic achievements. This praise and acknowledgment would simply be an additional measure of character—one that is just as important (and sometimes as lucrative) as academic success. If a student is struggling academically, try showing appreciation for that student’s kindness. Highlight students that have shown acts of kindness to others—use this as an opportunity to place value on the concept of being a good person.
  • Model empathy at any opportunity. Seeing as I teach middle school, empathy is something that many of my students are still grasping. During the adolescent years, the brain is primed to self-serve. This sometimes creates an inability to see things from another’s perspective. It’s not that they don’t want to—it’s that the adolescent brain is still maturing. Demonstrate how empathy works by expressing your own instances of relating on an emotional level. Try starting the conversation with, “You know that we all make mistakes…” or, “I’m upset that you’re getting down on yourself for one low grade…” or, “I see that you’ve really tried to improve and I admire your effort.”

 

Pre-Back to School Advice: For Middle Schoolers

Middle school may be referred to as the awkward or “lost years” for the majority of people. I not-so-fondly remember my own middle school years as confusing, intimidating, and all-around stressful. Good, bad, or ugly, these mystifying years are truly transformative for young people, which could be why I’ve ended up working in the middle school classroom as an adult. In addition to the physiological and hormonal changes going on for this age group, middle school itself is a transition socially, academically, and emotionally.

Middle school, for most students, means leaving the elementary school nest and entering an entirely new school day model. Not only are the peers new, but the entire concept of the school day is much different from elementary school—lockers, subject-area teachers, different classrooms for each content, an increase in homework—all of these things make for an exciting and anxious transition. Since the start of a new school year can bring stress in addition to the excitement, middle school parents can put a few practices into place towards the end of the summer to allay the nerves and ensure a smooth start.

  • During the final two weeks of summer, parents should begin to set up a more consistent sleep schedule for their middle schoolers. This schedule should fall closely in line with the school year sleep and wake time. Some families may wait to readjust the sleep schedule until the week before; however, that may not be enough time for children to fully adapt to the new sleep/wake time. 
  • In addition to getting an adequate amount of sleep, middle schoolers need to have restful, uninterrupted sleep. A tough, but very effective way to ensure that your preteen is getting quality sleep is to remove the standard distractions. Your child may be vehemently opposed to this at first, but consider making phones and other screens off limits during sleep time. This is a great way to ensure that late night scrolling, texting, or gaming does not interfere with the rest that is essential for middle schoolers.
  • The agenda book is a little-known life saver when it comes to tracking assignments, due dates, and other obligations. Many schools issue agendas free of charge, but if not, definitely purchase a weekly planner for your child. Nowadays, there are online homework forums like Edline, Google classroom, and Blackboard; however, the agenda book is the surefire way to ensure that homework is accounted for and completed. Teachers are not always capable of posting or attaching digital documents or reminders for homework on a daily basis. For this reason, the agenda is your best option. This practice also promotes self-advocacy and responsibility; students that write down each assignment are engaged and aware of the tasks. The agenda also helps middle schoolers to begin prioritizing based on how their week at school is looking. Talk with your child about the importance of writing down ALL assignments with details about deadlines and any other vital information. It may also help to arrange a homework buddy system with peers in the neighborhood—stress from forgotten assignments or absences can be alleviated by a simple text or visit from a homework buddy.
  • Discuss the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and a substantial lunch during the school day. Because of growth spurts, hormonal changes, busy schedules, etc., preteens and teens need to maintain nutritious eating habits to keep up with their bodies’ needs. Hunger can increase fatigue and irritability while decreasing motivation and concentration—not ideal for student success. Plan easy, nutritious snacks that your middle schooler can store in his locker for between classes. A water bottle can also come in handy to keep children hydrated throughout the long school day.
  • Since most schools are handling lunch funds through online accounts, it doesn’t hurt to plan to put a little money in your middle schooler’s cafeteria account as a backup plan, even if she is a preferred packer. We all know that the mornings can be hectic—kids oversleep, someone is sick, lunches get left in the car/bus/refrigerator—you get the picture. A little back-up lunch money can ease the stress of forgetting to pack lunch for both you and your child. Visit your school’s website to find more information for loading and account or prepaying for the beginning of the school year.
  • Encourage small literacy practices in the evening hours to get a jumpstart on the larger reading assignments that your middle schooler will have. Begin with 30 minutes of silent reading or journaling and build from there. The intent is to acclimate your middle schooler to the idea of downtime so that they aren’t jarred from the three months of summer freedom. Even a small amount of time can prepare students for the structure of nightly homework. Help encourage this practice by doing your own silent reading or journaling while your child is reading. Unless typing or research is involved, limit your middle schooler’s use of technology or screen time to promote good study habits.

Back To School Tips

Without fail, the summer always seems to end the same way—abruptly. While families have been soaking up the sun with days filled with themed camps, pool time, beach vacations and fireflies, classrooms have been prepped for a new surge of activity. For most of us, the backpacks are buried in the closet and homework has long been forgotten. However, all of that is about to change. Signs that school is just around the corner are everywhere—the stores are stocked with school clothes, while ads are displaying the hottest new school supplies. One thing is for sure, it’s time to get in gear for the school year ahead.

  • Set a schedule. Start a school schedule at least a week prior to school. Include bedtime, morning wake-up and routine, and lunch preparation.
  • Gauge feelings. Talk to your children about their feelings and concerns.  Ask questions that prompt conversation and help them feel in control. What subjects interest them most? What friends are they excited to see? What new challenges await them?
  • Aim high. Talk to your children about the expectations for the different parts of their day. Consider creating a visual “to do” list that includes a morning routine, homework, and other responsibilities. Encourage students to check off listed items prior to leisure or screen time.
  • Drive by. Drive or walk by the school, take a tour of the classrooms, visit the website, and visualize the school day from start to finish. What will the bus ride be like? What will lunchtime entail? Where are the gym, art room, music room and restrooms?
  • Phone a friend. Reconnect with friends from last year. Schedule a play date or meet for ice cream. If your child is shy or new to the school, this is a great way to have a friend waiting on the first day of school.
  • Give control. Students often have mixed feelings about going back to school. Shop for supplies early and allow them to make selections. This decreases their anxiety, limits pressure on you, and avoids the last-minute crowds.
  • Strike a pose. Take your child shopping at his or her favorite store to pick out new school clothes. Your child’s style may not be your style, but here’s a chance to encourage positive self-image and expression.
  • Ease into it. Don’t suddenly stop summer fun, but slowly infuse learning opportunities. Take a trip to a museum, paint pottery, or visit the library.
  • Be available. As your child eases into a new school routine, regularly make time to listen to your child’s first impressions, new discoveries and fresh challenges. Be proactive in helping your child adjust and advance, and you will stay informed as new challenges arise.
  • Be an advocate. Before school starts, schedule a meeting with the school nurse, teacher, or guidance counselor to discuss significant changes, learning concerns, or summer progress. Remember to initiate a follow-up chat once school gets underway to ensure any issues were addressed.

Encouraging Student Effort in the Home Stretch

May is the time of the school year when many students and teachers begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, making it a difficult month to focus and persevere. Even as the adult in the classroom, I notice the excitability in the air when the school year has begun to wind down to mere weeks. The difficulty then becomes maintaining the attention of children and teens when, truth be told, they are likely daydreaming about their soon-to-be-realized freedom. Below are tips for holding students’ interest at the end of the school yearand quelling the impatience that comes with it.

  • Fake it until you make it in order to sustain engagement. Yes, this is the opposite of what the body and mind is telling us. Towards the end of the year, students are not the only ones dreaming of long summer days and sleeping in. As the adults in the room, it is our responsibility to set the tone of the classroom, even when all attention is elsewhere. Students, no matter the age group, feed off of the energy that you bring into your lessons. When we lack motivation or energy, students undoubtedly pick up on that lethargy. When this happens, all bets are off for maintaining a focused and engaged classroom. So, even when you are fried—which you certainly will be—remember the mantra above: fake enthusiasm and let the energetic tone be contagious. 
  • Talk to your classes about the importance of follow-through and self-sufficiency. Remind students of all of the hard work that they have done over the course of the school year. Stress the importance of finishing strong and working diligently through the last assignment of the year. Now is not the time to let distractions interfere with the momentum that has been built since day one in the fall. Instead, encourage students to finish the last leg of the race that is the school year as if each assignment decides their final grade. 
  • Keep creative with lessons and assignments. Obvious? Yes, but necessary nonetheless. Try not to let the allure of summer sunshine blind you—plan engaging lessons that allow students to explore, create, or choose from different options in terms of assignments. Avoid the go-to “busy work” plan that leaves students will dull or redundant worksheets. 
  • Think outside of the classroom. When possible, plan activities or lessons that could take place outside. Keep the activities structured and organized, as to maintain control of the learning. Rotation stations allow for collaboration while ensuring that groups are small and productive at the same time. Feel free to have small blocks for silent reading outside. This practice helps students to see reading as a leisure activity, as opposed to simply a completion box to check. 
  • Consider holding catch-up or work periods to ensure that students are thoroughly completing assignments even as they weeks are winding down. Provide students with additional copies of tasks that they may have misplaced, make-up work from absences, reassessments, etc. For students that are all caught up, have options for them to partake in.

How to Perform a Close Reading: Middle School

Middle school is such a huge transition. From the larger school, the locker situation, and the new faces, to the noticeable increase in homework and advancement of skill sets, many students feel overwhelmed at first. In terms of critical thinking skills, middle school students are still on the beginning tier—they are building a foundation and finding strategies that work for them.  As we progress from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing the content (i.e. close reading), we must alter the strategies to explicitly teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve in one fell swoop—it must be practiced.

With our transition-plagued, middle school readers, we want to be transparent about how we approach the subject of close reading. The goal is to gain a richer understanding of the text by questioning, dissecting, and relating to it. This practice should help to cultivate a love of reading in our novice readers—not stifle their interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept to their middle schoolers.

  • Use one of your favorite paintings or photographs to practice close reading strategies in a more subtle fashion. Cover the image with post-it notes. Then, while slowly revealing portions of the painting, ask your middle schooler to describe what they think is happening in the painting. The key here is that they closely “read” the scenario without having the full picture to reference. This is a subtle way to prompt a young reader to look at the context clues in the illustrations. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What emotion is this painting evoking?” Or, “Where do you think this scene takes place based on the background?” These questions motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Familiarize your adolescent with unknown words by helping him search for definitions. When reading any text, even an article, poem, or short story, there are bound to be some words that your child is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking if he or she knows what a certain word means. If she doesn’t, use a dictionary or web search to define the word together. This practice allows kids to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading. Enrich this practice by asking middle schoolers to find synonyms and antonyms for these newly-defined terms.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that helps middle schoolers make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other titles that might fit the story? Ask students to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title. Be sure to ask her why she thinks that. After reading, refer back to initial assumptions or predictions and discuss new findings.
  • Encourage your middle schooler to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that sometimes, questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.
  • Seek clues from uses of figurative language and other creative writing approaches. For example, ask why a certain poem contains repetition. Does it create a sense of urgency? Help to establish rhythm? Solidify the theme or central message? Look into an author’s background to identify influences or common themes. An understanding of the writer helps when investigating the text during close reading.

How-To Stay in the Know: News for Middle Schoolers

With the prevalence of smartphones, middle schoolers have almost constant connectivity and sources of information. Today’s middle schoolers may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events; however, with the current state of affairs for national and global news, it is important that preteens are receiving accurate, appropriate information. As much as we want all kids to be properly informed, they must be careful with what they are watching and the information that they are receiving. Much like the qualms with social media, middle schoolers are equally vulnerable when it comes to today’s current events. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with middle school-aged students.

Be cognizant of the inevitable biases present in news media. Middles school is right around the time that students begin to learn about performing sound research, obtaining evidence, and citing sources.  Whether reading articles, watching national or local news outlets, or simply receiving social media updates and tweets, adolescents need to be aware of the fact that nearly every news story contains some thread of subjectivity or bias. Of course, people in the business of reporting the news go to great lengths to simply report—with total impartiality. However, the human component of news just inevitably does not allow for stories to remain 100 percent neutral at all times. For this reason, students should know how to identify bias in anything they watch or read involving news. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip?

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is likely a newer concept for middle schoolers. When it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that middle school students can do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Middle schoolers should utilize age-appropriate outlets to ensure that the news is something that they can understand and appreciate. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for middle schoolers.