That is literally the million dollar question, right? Sometimes when students ask, "Why do we have to do this?" I'll respond with, "Because it might help you earn over a million dollars more in your lifetime than if you don't." Then I start walking away. Within a few seconds I'll hear, "Wait...what?"
...and there's the hook.
I always have these packets printed and ready to go for when this happens:
ll pause class because this is ALWAYS one of the best teachable moments of the year. I'll say to students, "Can we talk about money in your life for a couple of minutes?" (That usually gets their attention.) I might then say something like, "If you didn't have to go to school and could be done today and just start working, would you do it?" Some of the class will say, "YES!" and others will shake their heads, "No."
When I ask, "Why?" I'll often get responses like:
"It just seems like school is such a waste of time. Like, when am I ever going to use algebra in my life anyway?"
"Really, Mr. K, no offense, but I don't know why we have to take a history class if I want to be a mechanic some day."
"I'd still go to school because I want to get a good job when I'm older."
This is when I know the hook has been set and it's time to reel them in. I'll say, "Those are all definitely valid points, and I'd be happy to discuss all of your answers individually, but have any of you ever played The Game of Life?"
[This is when I'm always blown away by how many have played this game that's been around since 1860!] I'll ask a student who has played the game to explain it for others that haven't played it before. Once they're done I'll ask, "In The Game of Life how come some jobs you get pay more than others do?" The typical responses of:
"Some jobs require more skill."
"You have to go to school longer to be able to do certain jobs."
Then I'll ask them if they know what percent of students who start high school in the USA will finish. I'll take a number of guesses and then write on the board, "85%," and then let them know that the flip side of that means that 15 out of every 100 students in the USA who start high school choose not to finish for a variety of reasons. I'll add to that, "When I think about those 15/100 I often wonder if anyone has showed them what I'm going to show you. Want to see?"
This is where there's a resounding, "Yes!"
I'll select some students to hand a packet to each of their classmates. Once they have one I'll say, "Yes, yes, yes... I know... this looks like just another packet of homework that you've seen a million times in your life. The only difference is... you don't have to do it. It matters to me, but it also doesn't matter to me if it doesn't matter to you. What I can tell you though is the information inside of here might actually change your life. So let's start... but you'll want to get your calculators out because this is YOUR money we're going to be talking about here so I don't want you to miss out on some money."
As students begin to look through the packet I find it amazing how many students that don't normally dive into schoolwork actually dive into this.
You'll need computers, calculators, and need to be prepared to answer a lot of questions and help students double check their math because they want to know if they've got it right. That's a good thing.
As you move through the activity with your students you'll realize that you're doing something that really matters to them. I love that.
I've encouraged students to build upon their skill set my entire career. It doesn't matter to me if a student wants to be a surgeon, a welder, a police officer, a teacher, a dental hygienist, or a marine biologist. They need skills.
Maybe a four-year institution will provide them with the skill set they need to do what it is they want to do. Maybe it will be a two-year technical college, and maybe it will be something completely different. The main point is that they're seeing the math, money, and dedication behind what it is they want to do. That, too, is a good thing.
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies
For the best deal on my financial literacy activities for middle school students check out my 5-pack of economics resources. Just click on the image to take you to my store on Teachers Pay Teachers!
I love Fridays when we start class by watching CNN 10. If you haven't incorporated this into your weekly schedule, I don't think you'll regret giving it a try!
One of our goals throughout the year is to find connections from the past to the present and what might be happening in the future. CNN 10 helps bring about some great discussions!
There is also a segment called "Ten Second Trivia" where your students will call out loud their guess to the correct answer. Once the answer is revealed, CNN 10 will do a 2-3 minute story about that topic. These trivia/news segments will tie into something that is happening regarding that topic in the news today so your students will see why it is important.
I have two free resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers store that connect with CNN 10 that you might find helpful in your own classroom.
The first is "My CNN 10 Journal" that has 180 days of journal entries available for your students. You, of course, wouldn't have to use all 180. Maybe you do one per week, or just use it a few times throughout the year. The additional sheets can just be deleted.
Students will journal about a story that stood out to them from that day's news, a summary of the story, and make inferences about what they think might happen next with the story.
An additional resource that works well with the "My CNN 10 Journal" is an end of the year research project called "The Year in Review." Students will create a booklet that has a variety of stories that happened over their school year such as a worldwide event, national event, local event, something from sports, entertainment, and even a feel-good news story among others.
This is a nice way to end the year with students, and they are also nice booklets to keep year after year so students can see what was going on in the world through the eyes of students that were there before them.
The other free CNN 10 resource I have is the CNN Hero of the Year resource that allows students to look at the Top 10 individuals who CNN has selected to possibly win the $100,000 prize to help aid the charity they are working on. This resource is totally free and will be updated yearly to focus on that specific year's CNN Heroes.
Links to each person's video story are available as well as a persuasive writing assignment for students to choose one of the heroes they would like to see win the top prize.
Instructions are also included for you to create a Google Form survey so your students can see how their hero ranked compared to others in your class/classes.
CNN 10 never disappoints, plus it gives you 10 minutes per class on Fridays to quickly enter grades, fine-tune that lesson you're working on, or take care of the hundreds of things you need to complete as a classroom teacher!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies
One of my all-time favorite topics in history stemmed from the night of March 5, 1770; The Boston Massacre. There was so much happening around this event, which makes it such a riveting topic for your students. There were colonists feeling as though they were being unfairly taxed, the King of England authorizing a standing army in the American colonies, and a prominent lawyer and patriot, John Adams, voluntarily risking his life, his profession, and his place in history by representing Captain Preston and the British guards who were on trial for murder.
In this lesson your students will view an edited version of the HBO mini-series, John Adams, and will decide the fate of Captain Preston and the British guards by choosing a verdict and completing a CER (Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning) assignment as a final task. CER is probably something you've heard quite a bit of talk about in your district and maybe haven't quite found the right topic to allow your students to try one. Well, here you go!
I teach 50-minute class periods and am able to complete the viewing, and explanation of the CER to my students in one class period. Students then have time to begin their CER before the class period is over and then have time to finish outside of school or during class the next day. Click the image below to get this resource for FREE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
What is nice about using CER in a Social Studies classroom is that this process helps students practice the skill of making a claim that they then support with evidence. We participate in National History Day each year where students create a project about a topic in history following a common theme. For example, the theme for 2020 is "Breaking Barriers." Students will have to develop a thesis and support that thesis with evidence they discover through their research. Using the CER method helps them make the National History Project a little easier for them to back up their thesis.
As a follow-up activity to the Boston Massacre Trial you might be interested in having your students analyze "The Bloody Massacre" by Paul Revere or recreate Revere's iconic image. Click the images below to find these resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies
My students and I have a lot of fun with little class competitions. I put students into groups of 3’s and have the 20 pictures and 20 maps all cut up and put into plastic baggies.
Once each group has a baggie, I’ll tell them that they will have 10 minutes of time to work together to collaboratively do their best to match the landmark to the location on the map. I use an online classroom stopwatch that can be displayed on my projector.
Students then work cooperatively and will make 20 stacks with the photo of the landmark on top of the map with showing the location of that landmark.
When 10 minutes is up, I go through the answers with them via PowerPoint and have them make a row of ones they have correct and another row of the ones they didn’t have correct.
The team with the most correct at the end will get Dum-Dum suckers or Lifesaver mints (whatever I have in stock).
Sometimes things like this are a great way to spend 15 minutes starting a Monday to get everybody back in school mode, talking, and cooperating. It's a win-win-win all around!
Let's get real - being in charge of students in a classroom day in and day out can be stressful at times, tiring, wear your patience thin, make you second guess your career choice, and ... wait ... where was I going with this? Oh, yeah - building relationships with students. If you're like me, you got into teaching because you wanted to help kids and give them a good experience in school with the time you have with them.
Whether you're just starting out as a teacher or you're a veteran teacher, the relationships you build with students are what you're going to remember most about the day, the year, or your career. So this blog post is going to provide you with 5 different ways that are simple, free, and can make managing your classroom much, much easier for you.
1. GREET THEM AT THE DOOR
Think about how much money Wal-Mart spends each year paying the greeters they have at the front of their stores so the first interaction customers have inside their business is one that is positive.
You can give your students that same feeling of a positive interaction by greeting them outside of your classroom as they are entering. A simple, "Good morning, Sam." and a smile can go a long way with that student. Especially if Sam has been having a rough go of things lately. You might have the "Sam" who doesn't respond or even acknowledge your greeting, but you keep making positive deposits into Sam's account knowing that you're welcoming that student into your room.
Also, you may be having a rough day, but you might be that positive adult role model in one student's life who looks forward to seeing you and getting that welcome every day.
This one is just kind of a silly one I'll do when I know a student is going through a bit of a tough time whether that be with friends, school, or family.
During work time I might call them up to my desk and say something like, "Hey, I know things haven't been going all that great for you lately and we all need a little pick-me-up during our days. So, if you're ever feeling down you can just read this, ok?" That's when I hand them a folded notecard that only says, "THIS" on the inside.
When they open it they'll look at me confused and say, "THIS?" I'll say, "Yes, just read "THIS" if you need a boost. Don't dismiss "THIS" because "THIS" has done a lot of good for a lot of people so make sure you keep "THIS." You'll be guaranteed at least a smile, and then you know you just made a little connection with a student in a fun way.
It's super cheesy, I know, but give it a try. It works.
4. INVITE THEM TO SHOOT BASKETS IN THE GYM DURING YOUR PREP OR LUNCH
Last year one of my students kept telling me how good he was at basketball and that I was way too old to keep up with him. So finally one day I said, "Alright, tomorrow. Lunch. You and I. Gym C." He got the biggest smile on his face and the next day we played.
We shot around for a while, I found out about his family, what he likes to do outside of school, and then we played one-on-one. My lungs felt like they were on fire after about five minutes, but it was a great connecting moment and one that I don't think either of us will forget.
Not every student likes basketball, so find out the thing that is their interest and invite them to show that off in a way. For example, if you have a student telling you they have a karate test this coming weekend, ask them to show you a move they'll be tested on that was the most challenging for them to learn. Just little things like that will show them that you care about their interests as well as their education in school.
5. Tic-Tac-Toe on Test Day
This has been my go-to on test days for two decades now. I'll walk around the room while students are completing their exams, and if I can tell that a student is a little stressed out, I'll draw a Tic-Tac-Toe board on their test, draw an "X" in a box and then motion to them that it is their turn. When they realize what is happening, a smile never fails to emerge. Sometimes I'll screw up on purpose (without it being obvious) so they can get the win, which might just be the boost they need.
These are just some things that have worked for me over 20 years teaching middle school students. I guarantee I'll use all five of these this year as well. The main point is to do things that mesh with your style and personality that will show your students that they matter to you. There's that old saying in education that the student who is the hardest to love is the student who needs it the most. Maybe one of these five ideas will work with that student. Even it is just for the moment.
Best of luck this school year!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies
One of my favorite things about being a teacher is when students are engaged, talking, creating, and enjoying the moments of the day. I've always been a doodler and enjoyed making little drawings or sketches in my notebooks when I was in school (usually when I probably should have been listening). This Revolutionary War caricature activity is one where even my most reluctant students would take part in. Why? Because you don't have to be a skilled artist because all you have to do is trace the body, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, hat, etc... I also think they participate because it's fun to see the caricature start to appear!
Sometimes I'll start the first day of school having students create a caricature that will be displayed in the hallway. That way at each student I teach will have something that is displayed, which makes it so they start out the year with something they've created being part of the school they go to. Might seem silly, but when there's 150 caricatures up on the wall students want to show their friends which one they made. You'll be guaranteed to hear students giving compliments to one another, which is the trick to get them talking to one another - especially to those who they normally don't interact with.
Watch the video below to see how easy it is to make one:
I've also made caricature packets to make Civil War Caricatures and one that honors the branches of the United States military. I've used the latter as an option for students when Veterans Day or Memorial Day was approaching. Some of my students have asked if they could make one for a family member who is currently serving.
I've never had another bulletin board that allowed me to make connections with students when they're walking into class more than this one. This is the first thing students see on the very first day of school and it never fails that I'll have a number of students stop on their way in and say something like, "Wait...what's this for?" (pointing to the large ruler taped on the wall). They'll measure themselves and then stop and look at who is on the board that is closest to their height. Before I even introduce myself to them or their class I'll have a little conversations about if they ever heard of any of the people on the board, how tall they would like to be when they're done growing, or if they could imagine being as tall as Robert Pershing Wadlow who was 8' 11"! Just like that I've connected with 10 or so students before they've even set foot in my classroom.
This fun bulletin board has been my go-to bulletin board for students on the first day of school for quite a few years. There are even blank cards that are editable so you could put your own picture and height on one, the picture and height of your principal, fellow teachers, or anyone else that you think your students would enjoy seeing.
Students love seeing how tall Robert Wadlow Pershing was when they stand at the ruler and look up!
The ruler goes up to 9' and is accurate, but you'll have to do some measuring on your own as you put it up to make sure you're on the money.
Here's how I put this history bulletin board together.
You can find this bulletin board in my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking HERE
That is ... literally ... the million dollar question. If you are a classroom teacher then you know that not every one of your students is thinking how great it would be to graduate from high school and then dive right in to more school - and have to pay for it on top of that!!
For those that follow me on Instagram or Teachers Pay Teachers you know that financial literacy, and financial responsibility are important to me.
There isn't too much scarier as a new teacher than the first time you have to make a phone call home regarding one of your students. Even as a veteran teacher you still never know what type of parent you are going to get on the other end of the line. Whether you're calling about grades, behavior, an incident that happened, or just calling to inform them on what you've been seeing in class - you're entering an unknown,, and that's why I put together this free resource on tips for calling parents for you to use.
The main thing to remember as the phone is ringing on the other end is that one specific child you're calling about is the best child that parent has to offer you.
If this is the first parent phone call of your career don't be afraid to ask a veteran teacher that you trust if they would do a mock phone call with you. They'll be able to give you feedback and pointers on what to say or how to say what it is you are trying to get across. You could even ask them to sit in the room with you when you make the call.
Also remember, parents are busy, and this might not be the best time for them to have this conversation. When the parent picks up, be clear and confident. For example:
"Hello. Am I speaking with Nancy Johnson?"
"Yes, who is calling?"
"Hi Ms. Johnson, My name is Jason Smith, and I am Madysen's Reading teacher here at Lincoln Middle School. Is this a good time for us to have a conversation about Madysen's reading scores? It would just be 5-10 minutes of your time."
"I'm actually at work right now, but I'm done at 4:00."
[This is where things can get tricky. You might still be teaching a class at 4:00. You might be coaching at 4:00. So then what? This all depends on you at this point. If 4:00 doesn't work for you for a variety of reasons (teaching schedule, coaching, picking up your own kids from school, etc.) then be honest, but offer options.]
"I unfortunately am not available at 4:00, but it is important to me that you and I are able to have this conversation because we both want Madysen to do well so here are some times that would work on my end...
[If you feel comfortable giving out your home number or cell phone number you could do so and make contact during the evening]
The main point is that you're showing the parent that you care about their child and are trying to keep them informed and involved in their child's academic life. Think about how you are phrasing your words. Some simple phrases can keep a phone call home less threatening for the parent receiving the call. Instead of "talk to you about..." try "have a conversation with you about..."
I've put together a set of 20 tips that you can download free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Just click the image below (and don't forget to subscribe to my mailing list for free resources and updates! Also be sure to check out the great information and resources available on www.classtag.com
A few years ago I could just sense the restlessness in the room as our year was coming to a close. We had 8 actual days of school left and two of those days were going to be taken up with final exams.
We needed a little friendly competition while I tricked them into reviewing important concepts we covered throughout the year. Then this idea for an American history end of the year activity came to me; The American History Tournament of Champions was born!!
This has been a hit in my classes because it is something that every student is able to do. There is public speaking involved, organization, argumentative writing, persuasion, teamwork, and logic involved. Everything you would want in an American history end of the year activity that doesn't involve you just lecturing on those last days.
Here's how it works. My 5 classes usually consist of 30 students. I have 100 different images and terms taped up in the hallway for my classes to look through based on topics/people/events we've covered. Before we go out to look, I tell the students that they have the option to present on their own, or they work with up to one other person.
I then release students to the hallways for them to look through all of the topics and tell them they should choose 5-10 that they think had the greatest impact on American history. Not that they were necessarily a good thing (example: slavery), but that the impact cannot be ignored. I tell them 5-10 because they will be choosing their topic on a lottery system.
Once all students are back in the room I have students come up to my desk and select a folded up piece of paper in a hat. Each piece of paper has a number between 1-15. Once everyone has their number, I start with number 1 and ask, "What is the topic you will be fighting for to be the champion?" Then I move my way down the line.
I will put the topics on the screen in the tournament bracket in a way that seems like there could be a good argument made either way. Example: George Washington vs. Thomas Jefferson, Cotton vs. Tobacco, The Civil War vs the American Revolution, etc.
Once students see how the bracket board has been laid out, they now not only know who they are competing against, but who the two possibilities are that they would be competing against if they advance to the next round. They end up using their time to divide and conquer, and here's the miracle that came out of this - every student in the room was excited, engaged, and talking about history! I sat back in awe that I was able to make this happen.
How I ran this in my classroom was I set the topics up in a way that would combine students who were stronger speakers with stronger topics with each other. Once both sides shared their informative/persuasive speech, I had students write the name of the topic that they felt had the strongest defense. I know its hard in middle school, but I really emphasized maturity and that they weren't voting for a person, but for the information given.
I set up my tournament so a coin toss determines who speaks first. One side speaks for up to 90 seconds, then the other side speaks for 90 seconds. Then the other side can speak for 60 seconds, and the other side gets to speak for 60 seconds. Then the class applauds for both, I take the ballots, and count up the votes.
At the end of the hour I let the class know who will be moving on in the next round and who they will be competing against. The thoughts these kids have, the discipline they exhibit, and the fun we have talking about history makes this American history end of the year activity a sure-fire way for those kids to come back in the future and see if their topic won again!
You can find this in my Teachers Pay Teachers store as well as one for:
Famous Scientists in History
Have a great end to your year!
Matt @ Surviving Social Studies