Teaching middle school is not easy. I’ve tried it before and struggled. It’s a difficult age for students as their bodies go through physical and mental changes. They are developing in different areas at once and it can be confusing for some, and a pain in the ass for others. While in school, middle school students are adjusting to a heavier workload compared to elementary school, making new friends (and perhaps losing others), and dealing with hormonal changes in their own bodies (hooray puberty!). All in all, it’s the armpit of life!
In class, many students may pay attention early in the year, but as the school term progresses, that participation may drop. Homework, family duties, friends and social life, sports, etc., all kinds of things begin to drag students down. I remember when I was in middle school (many years ago), and it was the same for me. I was involved with track and field, cross-country running, the school band and choir, and my homework on top of that. I tried my best to participate in class but would tend to sit quietly until the class ended so I could get on with my day.
I doubt anything has changed much, in fact maybe things have gotten harder with students having smart phones and tablets (things I didn’t have back in my days). For middle school teachers, getting your students to actively participate and communicate is vital to their learning. Regardless if whether teachers teach ESL/ELL, science, math, social studies, art, or Physical Ed., here are some tips for using communicative activities in your classroom.
Tips for using communicative activities in the classroom
Here are four important things to remember before starting your activity.
- Give one instruction at a time.
- Make sure your instructions are clear.
- Teach students to work in pairs first, then have them work in larger groups when they are ready.
- Have predetermined signals for when things get a little too noisy. Walking around the room is an excellent way to watch students as they work and it lets them know their teacher is watching.
Those four rules seem pretty basic, and they are, but they are always important to remember. You’d be surprised how often teachers forget the basics of communicating instructions to students. I forget now and then.
Two fun activities
Purpose: This is an activity that helps students practice their speaking skills by talking about activities and topics that are meaningful to the students.
Number of People: First individually, then in pairs
Materials: All you need is a sheet of paper, pencils, colors, a calculator and compass.
- First, the teacher discusses what students typically do on the weekends (sleep, do homework, play sports, etc).
- Then, the students use the compass to draw 14 circles on sheet of paper.
- After that, the students divide the circles into 12-hour clocks (two clocks for each day of the week).
- Students then mark off and label “pie slices” of the clock to show how they spend their day.
- When that task is finished, have the students draw a table with four columns and eight rows.
- Students should then label each column: Day of the Week; Activities; Hours; Percentage .
- Have the students fill out each column with the appropriate information for Days of the Week, Activities, and Hours.
- To find out the percentage for each activity, students should divide the total hours of each activity by 168 hours (total hours in a week; 24 x 7 = 168 = 100% of the time each week).
- After adding up the hours for each activity and finding its percentage, students should add up the percentages to make sure it totals 100%.
- Next, have the students draw a large circle in the center of a new sheet of paper, then divide it according to the percentages for each activity. Have the students color each piece a different color and make a key.
- Finally, have the students discuss their chart with one another.
Wrap-up: Have the students discuss as a whole class the different percentages they all received and compare times and activities. The students can also write a short essay about how they spend their time during the week, and how they can better manage their time.
Purpose: To have students practice their speaking skills about a person or character is meaningful to them
Number of People: Groups of 4-5 students
Materials: Biographical information about different people from magazines, the Internet and/or books, poster board, markers
- First, the teacher should explain that a portrait is a picture of someone (ideally middle school students should already know this).
- The teacher should also explain that a symbol represents something else (again, middle school students should already know this).
- The teacher should say that the students will make symbol portraits of someone important to them.
- After that, divide students into groups of four or five (or less depending on class size)
- As a group, the students select a famous person (living or dead). They must select someone they either know a lot about, or can easily find information on.
- Next, the students make a list of fifteen facts about that person with information from the sources they used.
- Then, the students look through their list and discuss symbols that can represent each item on their list.
- The students draw each symbol on a piece of paper before it goes on to their final poster board.
- The students agree on fifteen symbols and draw them on their poster board.
- When each group completes their board, the teacher can have each group present it to the class – with each member talking about three symbols.
Wrap-up: Once each group has finished presenting their poster, have the students think of an individual from their own lives they look up to. They can write a short paragraph or make a poster about that person to hand-in for the next class.
Each activity can be used with middle to high level ESL/ELL students. These are great activities to get students who are usually quiet to participate in discussions. Discussing things as a class can be stressful for some, so small group discussions and group work help lower the stress levels. They are also great ways to have students get to know their classmates better. These are just two activities I found while reading articles looking for fun things for students. If you have another activity that better suits your own classroom, use it!
(source: Rivera, C., 2006. Communicative Activities for Middle School Classrooms. English Teaching Forum No. 2., pp. 34-36 )