How Would You…?

Oh, Target, why must you so gleefully bring the end-of-summertime sadness? It’s still July for crying out loud and school’s an entire month away, yet you tempt and repulse me with your beautiful stacks of fresh notebooks, grading pens, and glue sticks. (Anyone else obsessed with the purple kind? Wait, only 25 cents per glue stick?! You know me too well, Target – I’m in.)

complicatedAll of this Back to School signage also means that my teacher tribe is slathering on the aloe vera (too much sun, my dear?) and firing up computers as course planning sessions begin. Teacher-friend Jennifer N. reached out this week, wondering about her new junior high assignment. Here’s what I had to say:

Hi Laura,
Would you mind sharing how you would structure (time allotted to each lesson/activity) a one-period ELA class for grades 6-8? I would REALLY appreciate it! I am new to junior high this year, and I am trying to do all I can to make this work!!! The new curriculum that I have is very general in terms of time, and I desperately want a specific and consistent schedule for each class period.
Thank you,
Jennifer N.

Hi Jennifer,
I’m so glad you checked in with me. First, welcome to junior high! I love that it’s not even August yet and you’re already thinking through these important structure issues; this proves that you’re destined to have a great year!

For that age (and, heck, even for 9-12), I would start every day with a consistent bellringer, a mini-lecture that takes 5-to-10 minutes. In my world, I use M.U.G. Shot Monday (mechanics, usage, and grammar), Lit. Term Tuesday (explaining literary terms/devices), Words on Wednesday (vocab. lessons), Brain Thriller Thursday (game-based activity where they solve a riddle or complete a fun activity with their assigned three-student team), and S.S.R. Friday (sustained silent reading). The first four days’ bellringers are short activities. Kids often have a lot to contribute during those mini-lectures, but I try not to let the bellringers roll past 10 minutes – I give it 12 minutes at the max. The Friday reading takes up the entire period, and you can learn more about how I handle my S.S.R. program, including how I have no papers to grade with this assignment, by clicking here.

Now, for the meat of each class period (Mon. through Thurs.), I like to break up the lesson into two or three smaller chunks, each running between 15-and-20 minutes. Students (and many adults I know *looks at self*) have rather short attention spans. I need to keep things lively and moving, so I switch up activities at this pretty consistent pace.

Here’s an example of a 55-minute class period, which is the schedule where I teach:
5 min. – Bellringer to start the class
17 min. – Opening group activity for today’s lesson
15 min. – I read today’s text aloud to class
15 min. – Answer text-based questions in either small groups, full class, or as a solo written assignment
3 min. – Wrap-up message from me/pack-up time

Even when we’re having a lighter day and, say, playing games to review for a test, I still try to keep things moving. Here’s another example:
7 min. – Bellringer to start the class
20 min. – Flyswatter Game (Review Game #1)
20 min. – Quote Race (Review Game #2)
5 min. – End-of-period word game for three-student teams
3 min. – Wrap-up message from me/pack-up time

Now, these are just rough estimates, of course. I don’t stand there with a stopwatch and a clipboard, making sure each train departs on time.

This year, I’m also adding more end-of-the-class activities to soak up those extra few minutes that bubble up sometimes. I’ve already built some great stuff to use for both the whole class and those individual early-finisher kids who seem to chug through everything just as quickly as I can throw it down. You can read more about my plans for this here.

One last thing: Even if I taught on a longer block schedule, I’d still use the 15-to-20 minute rule of thumb. I might even schedule a five-minute stretch/snack/check-your-cell-phone break in the middle of a class block that runs longer than 90 minutes.

Whew! Guess I had a lot to say on this topic, Jennifer. Sorry for the rambling, but I’m hopeful this helps give you a sense of how I’d run the show. If more questions/concerns arise as you get into your course planning and/or school year, please don’t hesitate to send me another message. I love talkin’ shop!

Have a great school year,
Your fellow teacher in the trenches

Teach on, everyone!

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8 years ago

It’s really helpful to see how another teacher structures their lesson. And it’s a bit of a relief to see I’m not crazy. As you know, my lessons are three hours long, and I still use the 15-20 minute rule. We do have a 15 minute break in the middle, but that’s still a loooong stretch of time to keep teenagers engaged. I struggle to pay attention for that long, even when I’m sitting in some fantastic professional development seminar. I want to say the mind is willing, but clearly it’s not.

On a completely different note, I played Word Addiction with the class this week and they LOVED it. 100% engagement! It was funny to see how different groups approached the task. Some were providing a running commentary of all the words they’d tried and were full of excitement and disappointment when they got ‘close’. Others sat in a zen-like trance and stared at the paper, only erupting into action once they’d figured a word out. Best close this year. Thanks!

Laura Randazzo
8 years ago
Reply to  kelleycowley

Awesome, Kelley! Thanks for the real-world feedback from your classroom. I was more of the furrowed-brow-pencil-scratching-head-shaking type when I played Word ADDiction. For folks new to the party, click here to grab a free copy. Thanks again, Kelley!

8 years ago

Thanks so much for this. I read over the SSR stuff and I’m really grateful for how much work and detail you put into this for us. I am reluctant, but I am going to try it for a quarter to see how it goes, as you suggest.

-Danielle @ Nouvelle

Laura Randazzo
8 years ago
Reply to  nouvelletpt

Great, Danielle! I know that huge shifts can be nerve-racking, but I really love this system – and my kids do, too! Please don’t hesitate to let me know if questions/concerns arise as you roll out the materials. Have a great new year!

6 years ago

Thank you Jennifer for the question and, of course, Laura, Online Mentor Extraordinaire, for sharing how you block things out. As a brand new teacher, I was told I would have to break my 83 minute block up, but seeing a rough sketch is so helpful! I can’t wait to start using your Bellringers! You are the Yoda to my Skywalker!

Laura Randazzo
6 years ago
Reply to  Kris

Awesome, Kris! So glad you found this post and that it’ll give you a rough idea to build on. (I tried to write that how Yoda would say it, but I’m no George Lucas.) 🙂

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