Our Best ELA Lessons to Make it Through the 2nd Semester


Teaching ELA during the second semester of school presents some interesting challenges. Students and teachers are both looking forward to the upcoming summer break, state testing is just around the corner, and there are usually some big end-of-the-year projects. 

We know how difficult the second semester can be, so we are here to share with you all some of our best ELA lessons for the middle school and high school classroom to make it through second semester. 

Danielle from Nouvelle ELA knows that Spring semester = Shakespeare season. If you’re looking for the perfect way to introduce ANY Shakespeare unit, look no further! In this best-selling escape room, students will explore the Globe Theatre, William Shakespeare’s Life, and Elizabethan London. This digital and print resource also includes optional research to extend students’ learning. The Introduction to Shakespeare Escape Room will dismantle the scary stigma of Shakespearean texts and leave your students eager to read!

The Daring English Teacher always likes to tackle poetry during the second semester. There are so many different options for teaching poetry, and it is a good way to teach students analysis skills. By using the SWIFT acronym, this poetry teaching unit incorporates sticky notes and poetry analysis for some engaging, fun, hands-on poetry instruction! It is a complete poetry unit, and your students will love it!

Tracee Orman always loves to start the year off with an organized routine, which includes daily writing. One way she practices this with her students is with Motivational Monday quotes and prompts. Starting the week off with an inspirational and POSITIVE quote and prompt allows students the perfect opportunity to not only practice writing, but work on their own mental health. As a bonus, the prompt is visually appealing and hangs in the room all week as a positive reminder.

Jackie from ROOM 213 always loved starting a new semester mid year, as it gives everyone a chance for a new start, a reset. Check out this blog post to find out three ways you can transform the start of your new semester, including tips for setting expectations and creating climate right from the start! (NOTE: even if you aren’t starting a new semester, the first day back after a long holiday is the perfect time for a reset).

Bonnie from Presto Plans likes to start off the new year on a high note by doing the 30-Day Happy Teacher Challenge. The Happy Teacher Challenge is a FREE activity designed to help you connect with students, build staff rapport, organize your school life, keep yourself healthy, and help you focus on the positive! Click here to check it out. You can even get your students to join in on the fun with the Free Happy Student Challenge by clicking here

As we work through the 2nd semester Addie Williams likes to focus on skill-building for writing and literary analysis.  One of her favorite activities to use with any novel or short story is a deep dive into characters using her Character Sketch resource.  Set your students up for success with these graphic organizers that will guide your students through either a paragraph or full essay to analyze a character.

Creative Ways to Bring Nonfiction into Middle School ELA

Are you looking for creative ways to incorporate more nonfiction texts in middle school ELA? I find nonfiction can offer really valuable opportunities to support students with information literacy, research skills, comprehension, structuring arguments, and other essential ELA skills. One thing I especially love about nonfiction is how it can be seamlessly integrated into so many different units of study! Nonfiction texts can be paired alongside novel and film studies, explored on their own, or used as a springboard to inspire creative student projects.

Whether you’re looking for natural opportunities to incorporate more nonfiction into your existing lessons, or fresh ideas for standalone units, I have lots of ideas to help you bring more nonfiction into your classroom! Here are five creative ways to bring nonfiction into middle school ELA.

1. Nonfiction Article of the Week

Incorporating regular, structured opportunities for students to engage with nonfiction text can be a great way to help them build essential ELA skills, like reading comprehension and making connections. Once a week, I like to share a high-interest nonfiction text - such as an article or video - with ELA students. Usually, I begin by focusing the class with a series of question prompts, which they can respond to in writing or through a whole-class discussion. Next, we read the article or watch the video together. From here, the possibilities are endless! 

One week, reading an engaging newspaper article could spark a lively classroom debate. Another week, students might view a nonfiction video before making a text-to-self connection in a written response. By the end of the school year, students will have had 40 weeks of exposure to various nonfiction texts, and plenty of practice responding to articles and videos in a variety of different ways.

If you’d like to try out a nonfiction article and activity in your middle school ELA classroom, check out this free resource about the history of hot dog eating contests!

2. Infuse Nonfiction into Book Clubs

Another way to infuse nonfiction into middle school ELA is by pairing historical information, primary sources, or even news articles with a related novel study. There are several different ways to approach this type of blended learning, depending on the needs of your particular class. 

Connecting students with opportunities to carry out meaningful, relevant research related to their reading is one way to bring nonfiction into your existing literacy program. If you are doing a whole-class novel study of The Giver by Lois Lowry, for example, you might want to have your students carry out some research about the mathematical, scientific, or philosophical concepts explored in the novel while they are reading. Working in groups, students could explore a variety of different concepts through their research, and then share their findings with their classmates.

If students in your class read at a variety of different levels, you might also want to consider running “book clubs” in small groups. In this case, you may select a variety of books for your students that center around a similar topic or theme. For example, you may structure your book clubs around broad concepts like “survival” or “dystopian societies,” or you could instead focus on novels that are all set in similar time periods. Taking this approach, students reading either Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or Refugee by Alan Gratz could collaborate on a historical research project about WWII or the Holocaust to complement their fiction reading.

3. Debates on Current Issues

If you’re looking for a collaborative way to incorporate nonfiction into your middle school ELA class, why not try a debate on a current event or research-based issue? Debates are a great way for students to flex their critical thinking muscles, practice working in teams toward a common goal, and learn how to effectively craft an argument.

If I’m running a formal debate unit, I like to use classroom debates as a springboard for teaching effective research practices. This includes evaluating credible sources and ensuring arguments are supported with valid evidence and examples. However, if you want all the fun of a debate unit without the time commitment, you can also incorporate impromptu debates into your morning routine! 

For this approach, I like to begin by getting students to take an “agree” or “disagree” position on a statement (like “a hot dog is a sandwich”). From here, you could give the “agree” and “disagree” sides ten minutes to craft their arguments, based on quick nonfiction reading or research. After the brief debate is over, your class can evaluate the data presented by each side and declare a winner!

4. TED Talks or Podcasts

TED Talks and podcasts are two really useful tools in any ELA teacher’s toolkit. Both can be really effective ways of exploring learning outcomes related to speaking and listening. They also offer alternative ways for middle schoolers to experience nonfiction texts beyond traditional reading.

If you’re wondering where to start, I recommend curating a list of links to student-friendly videos or podcasts that you can share with your class throughout the year. Once every week or two, I like to make time to view a TED talk, listen to a podcast, or engage with other nonfiction media. Once the class has finished the video, students can then respond to a related writing prompt writing prompt. You might like to have each student keep a video journal and check it periodically to assess ELA skills, including comprehension, as well as use evidence from the text to support ideas and opinions.

To extend your students’ understanding of nonfiction media, you might even create an opportunity for them to create their own videos to entertain, inspire, and educate an audience! This can be a great way for students to practice working together, learn how to write a script, and build their confidence in public speaking.

5. Text Structures Challenges

When students understand some of the common structures used by authors to organize nonfiction writing, it can help them focus on important ideas and anticipate what is to come. I like to begin by sharing some of the most common types of nonfiction text structures, including:

  • Cause and Effect
  • Problem and Solution
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Sequence
  • Description

Once students have a solid understanding of the basic features of each text structure, it’s time for them to apply their skills! I love reading challenges because they encourage students to put their new learning into practice in a collaborative, engaging (and maybe even a little bit competitive!) way. In the Deserted Island Reading Mystery, students must correctly identify various informational text structures to reveal a secret passphrase!

I hope these ideas give you some fresh ways to incorporate nonfiction into your middle school ELA class!

Need other ideas for bringing nonfiction into middle school ELA? Check out some of the other Coffee Shop Blogger ideas below:

5 Ways to Analyze Nonfiction and Rhetoric by The Daring English Teacher

Spring Break Activities for English Language Arts


Tip #1 from Tracee Orman - Leading up to and coming back from breaks can be so hard to get students back into the swing of things. That's why I had no shame in showing a movie to ease our way back in. I tried to plan watching movies based on (or related to) the literature we just read. And because I wanted to hold my students accountable for watching, I created these handouts (I usually picked a different one each day so as not to overwhelm them with too much work so they could still enjoy the movie) to use with ANY movie. 

Tip #2 from Room 213 - It can be hard to keep everyone - teachers and students alike - engaged and focused in the days leading up to spring break. That's why I never planned anything too dull or difficult for that time. However, I also don't think we should take the time "off" and plan a bunch of filler. If we do that, students might just take those days off as they think they don't count. So, I used that time to work on skills that needed some fine-tuning using games and challenges. You can find out more and grab some ideas and strategies on this post.

Tip #3 from The Classroom Sparrow - One of the ways that I keep my students engaged during the last week before s the break is using team-building activities. Not only does it give students a fund send-off for their time away, but this is also a great opportunity to allow students in a classroom to work with different peers. I think working with different students is really important for social development and it is highly encouraged in my classroom. One way I get everyone interacting and engaging with their peers are through these spring break escape room-style games I created. They are perfect for the week before or after the break and you can use one or all of them, depending on the time available in your classroom!

Tip #4 from Presto Plans - Students tend to have a little extra energy in the days before - and after - Spring Break. Once activity that you can use to stay on task is a Spring-themed reading mystery, which will have students up and moving around the classroom and working collaboratively to examine evidence. The Mystery of the Stolen Flowers is not only timely, but it will also help your students develop their close reading, inference, and text evidence skills at the same time. The backstory involves a newly established high school gardening program - and the sudden disappearance of one teachers' beloved pink lilies. Click here to learn more about this engaging Spring reading mystery!

Tip #5 from Nouvelle ELA - Spring has sprung, so if your student are starting to closer resemble squirrels by the day, then this pop culture resource will make your students go nuts! Students get to engage in 15 standards-aligned activities that center awesome short texts to hook them. So, if your students love video games, short films, TV episodes, music, and more, you can leverage their interests to transform that squirrelly Spring behavior into productive, academic conversations!

Whether you're still waiting for your break or you're back from your break, we hope that you will find something in this post that will help you get back into the swing of things!

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