30 Middle-Grade Novels to Add to Your Classroom Library NOW!

Give me a bookstore, a library, or a fellow reader’s bookshelf, and I will browse with wild glee. I love books. The sight of a bag full of books simple makes me happy. Reading has been something that has found its way back to me time and time again. Even when life seems too busy or too full of commitments. I always make my way back to reading.  Using the 10 criteria that I outlined in a previous post about diverse texts, I wanted to write up a blog post about 30 book recommendations I would make right NOW to any middle school English Language Arts teacher to add these middle-grade fictional texts to their classroom library. I use

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The Best of Writing Mindset in 2018

As we close out 2018, I am so thankful for this tiny blog space that I share with you all. In January 2017, I started Writing Mindset as a way to reflect on teaching; however, it has transformed how I do business. I am constantly on the lookout for writing inspiration for the blog, and how I can put new ideas into my classroom to share. I sent out a newsletter to subscribers today talking to them about 2018 accomplishments. So much has happened this school year already that it seems a bit poetic to talk about endings…when we are in the middle. However, the end of 2018 marks many accomplishments in terms of blogging, writing, and reading.

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It All Starts With The Book Talk!

Reading and writing are all too often cyclical. Everyone knows good reading fuels good writing and vice versa. As a middle school teacher, I really wish that I was able to teach reading and writing separately or even give them their own block of time, but I do also love the impossible harmony that is being a reading AND writing teacher. This post will explain how I start my week with students. I always start each hour the first day of the week with a book talk about a middle grade or young adult novel or nonfiction book. It kicks off my mentor text work with kids, and it gets them excited about a book they may or may not have heard about before.

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How to Choose and Break Down a Mentor Text

I am constantly reading books. This wasn’t always the case, and largely, I think I have to attribute my reintroduction to reading all the time to my mentor text work. I am constantly on the mission to find books to recommend to students and use in the classroom with my students for our “write like an author” study. As teachers we are bombarded with an onslaught of a million decisions, pounds of papers to grade, and work that is largely impossible to master. It’s exhausting.

But, it is also exhilarating.

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Plan for Multi-Genre Project: Novel Reflection

Looking at these documents, you may think I am a little bit crazy. I am okay with that. However, I am excited to have a go at this project with my third hour group. I am constantly evaluating how I end a novel unit, and I enjoy reflecting on the type of paper writing I express as important to my students. When my grade-level colleague and I attended MCTE in October and listened to Kelly Gallagher, we got excited about the idea of a multi-genre project with our sixth graders. We teach a variety of paper genres throughout the school year, including the five-paragraph essay, but we wanted students to get a chance to be innovative and inquisitive about the world around them.

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All About Narrative Writing: Pacing, Strategies, and Mentor Texts!

I am pretty sure that October may be one of the toughest months to teach in considering that it consists of conferences, the end of the first marking period for my middle school, the flu starts circulating, and it is my birthday month. The last part is not a bad thing, I just find it easier to resent less “me time” with all of the to-do lists piling up. I have been sharing my mentor text work on the blog, but I also wanted to take a minute to share how I completed our personal narrative writing units this year so far, and also the changes I made from previous years. What you take away from this may be a sneak peek into how I teach personal narrative writing or how perhaps you can spice up a unit with some mentor text writing.

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Mentor Text Warm-Ups: How I Started

I am not sure I have ever enjoyed teaching grammar this much. Would it be too much to say there is joy in grammar? The journey with mentor texts began back in the summertime when my main focus for summer reading was around the works of Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti, and Linda Reif. I was intrigued by the idea that this often used strategy happens at the elementary school level with picture books and at the high school level with higher-level writing craft and organization moves. But, where were my middle school student examples? My middle schoolers were coming to me without basic grammar skills and therefore lacked some key moves in their writing.

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Plan for Mentor Text Warm-Ups

After reading Linda Reif’s The Quickwrite Handbook: 100 Mentor Texts to Jumpstart Your Students’ Thinking and Writing this summer, I knew I wanted to incorporate more mentor text work into my classroom this year. This was my ONE thing that I wanted to add that would change up a major system as to how I taught students writing. I also read other texts over the summer that supporting this mindset. It was clear to me: I want my students to call themselves authors.

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Summer School Round Up: Week 2

Week two flew by without even slowing down to catch a drink of water. It was tough this week to balance wanting to do the things that summer allows like landscaping, working on an assortment of house projects, leisurely drinking coffee, and writing. I was having some jealousy over those that got to have the time off. My goal was to make it to the beach at least three times. Let's just say my fingers are crossed. 

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Summer School Round Up: Week 1

I can't believe the whirlwind of the first week of summer school is over. There always seems like there are two camps in education: Those that can see why people work summer school and those that think we are crazy. The former camp has been refreshing to return to after working writing camps at the university for the past few summers. And really, teaching is teaching. Isn't it? That depends on who you are talking to. I wonder sometimes if why we all often get into teaching is something we feel renewed with on a day-to-day basis. Do I have to remind myself, what is my why for teaching? Yes. And often. 

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Using Visual Thinking Strategies for Writing Workshop

Coming off of the 2017-2018 school year, one of the areas that I know I need to read more on, reflect on more, and gain strategies on is working with my English Language Learner students. I attended a SIOP or Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol training last week and took away a few strategies. I was also left with wanting more areas of ESL instructional strategies to be taught more directly to teachers; this will be more to come in another blog post. One strategy that I immediately took away from the training was the use of Visual Thinking Strategies. 

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5 Ways to Respond When You Are Asked to Censor Classroom Material

Imagine the plate spinner at a circus performance. So many intricacies of hand-eye coordination, focus, and practice have gone into making sure that the plates don't fall to their demise and break into thousands of pieces. Censorship in the classroom is best described as the plate spinner. There is an intricate balance that goes into contemporary content, current events and issues, parent and family input, school curriculum, administrative support, and more. Sometimes, you will find teachers not wanting to put themselves in that fight. All of these factors lend to the dizzying effect of plate spinning, but the question is what breaks when we don't present this content to students? Controversial content comes with major risks and rewards. The American Library Association has put together a pretty cohesive timeline of banning content in the past 30 years. Words like "censorship" and "banning" are used with intention in this purpose because often we are asked as educators to keep information from our students. 

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10 Criteria for Choosing Diverse Texts for Your Classroom

Can you hear me clapping? Can you hear me screaming in happiness? If you can't, imagine one excited English teacher from Kalamazoo, MI that is proud and excited her district is approving thousands of dollars in research to help infuse the curriculums and classrooms in it with diverse literature in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade. Currently, I am working on a team of teachers to read, research, and review hundreds of diverse texts. 

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How to Do an Essay Workshop for Struggling Writers

I would like to take a second to pause out of all of the hustle and bustle of testing and the end of the month of May to realize that it is really, the end of the month of May. I have spent 9 months with my students. Thinking back about accomplishments, it is easy to see how far they have come. Then, I do what all teachers do, and I focus on what they don't know. My missteps, my come-up-shorts, my "yes, you tried, but you didn't quite make it" mentality. This is the ugly stepsister of make-up or catch-up growth: Realizing you still have a long way to go.

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Paper Grading the Pomodoro Way

I woke up last Saturday morning and said to myself, "I have a plan today." As I typed those words I chuckled because the best-laid plans are often disastrous. And by disastrous, I mean bargaining with myself to put off chunks of grading so I can take in or on other aspects of my life.  My plot involved getting through 94 argumentative essay drafts in one day. These were the final writing assignment given to my Advanced students before the writing post-tests. This was also the last step I had to take before going through test preparation and state testing

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My Plan to Get Through May State Testing...Alive

It is always good practice to revisit experiences that are similar from year to year. I wanted to look at the Testing Post from last year to see what I did to survive, and what my new additions are for this year.  The goal here? My students and I make to June with our sanity, AND we still are pushing ourselves to learn new information each day. 

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10 Ways to Use Your Cell Phone to Make Your Teaching Life Easier

The title of this post is also what I named my This I Believe Personal Narrative assignments in the fall. Let's talk cell phones. I would like to start this post by recapping every single conversation I have ever had with a new teacher, a seasoned teacher, or an intern about the use of cell phones in the classroom.

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How to Rock a Focused Writing Warm-Up

I am not sure what I did before warm-ups. I think what I did before warm-ups when I was first starting out was make a warm-up activity that was catered to each and every lesson. As a new teacher, this was exhausting. After doing some research a couple of summers ago, I moved to canned warm-ups, and I have loved every minute of them. What I mean by canned warm-ups is that each day has a theme and each week uses a specific form. In other terms, there is a plan. 

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