Creating a Tour of Canada

Sorry it’s been a while – life got in the way.


Here’s what my classes have been up to:

Touring Canada

We read about Canada from the textbook and did the obligatory end of the section questions.  We also labelled maps and watched some Discovery Channel videos.  I think it’s important to use the textbook and teach them how to answer questions from the end of the section because otherwise, when they get into higher grades, they’re clueless about it.  So we practice looking for the information, putting our finger on it, deciding how to answer the question using a complete sentence.

Now that we’ve got some background knowledge, it’s time for a little fun!

www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comMy students are planning a tour of Canada.  They can take their tour anywhere in the country they like.  We discussed possible themes for their tours: hunting, hiking, shopping, ghost towns, sports, etc.  Then they started their plans.

www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comPlanning Packet

I took them through this paper step by step.  As students filled in the blanks, we discussed possible answers they might like to put down.  I’ve found going through it together helps them complete the work more quickly.  Otherwise, many of them spend ridiculous amounts of time deciding how many days their trip will take, then never get to the rest of the packet.  🙂

I used manilla folders to organize all of their work.  The folders stay in my room.  This way, they never are stuck not being able to work because they left their papers at home.  They also won’t lose their work (which is an ongoing issue with 6th graders!)

I simply have each table group gather their folders at the end of the hour, then bring me the stack.  Each group of folders goes in a hanging folder in a crate.  The next day, I give the stack back to the table and they’re ready to go.

I also put all of the worksheets they will need in their folders to start with.  That way, they have everything they need and we don’t have to waste time handing more out.

At the beginning of the hour, I have the class look through their folder, decide what they need to work on that day (I generally give them about 4 choices).  Then, I take a chart on a clipboard and go down the list alphabetically and ask each student what their plan for the day is.  This takes about 30 seconds and I just note the date at the top, and an initial for what they’re doing.  This helps keep them accountable and I can see at a glance if they’ve spent too long on any one thing.


Now the fun part:

Each class will submit their tours at the end of this project.  I’ll choose the top 5.  Those tours will earn a Klondike bar (get it? for the Klondike Gold Rush?).  Then, the principal and counselor will choose the top tour from each class (from the top 5).  Those students earn a $5 McDonald’s gift card.  I posted a picture on the board of a Klondike bar and the McDonald’s logo to keep the prize in view.

klondike bar McDonald's

Here are the papers I used.  They have instructions, as well as point values, etc.

Canada Tour Packet 


Stopping the Tattling

tattle tale meme

I’m always amazed at how many of my sixth graders still tattle.  While I want them to report certain behaviors, sometimes it’s not really necessary.

We had a counselor a number of years ago who had a really good strategy for helping students decide whether to report a behavior.  He called it the 3 Ds.  The students needed to ask themselves whether the behavior is Dangerous, Destructive, or Disturbing.  If so, it should be reported to an adult.stopping the tattling

I still use this in my classroom today.  I teach it to the students at the beginning of the year.  We discuss what each of the terms mean and then go over examples and non-examples.  For instance, if a student is going to tell me that he saw someone using pen when they are supposed to use pencil, that would be a non-example.  We discuss together why that’s not really dangerous, disturbing or destructive.  On the other hand, if they see a student hurting another student, that would be appropriate to report.


no more tattling www.mrsfenger.wordpress.comI also talk to them about the fact that we are a team and we help each other.  Therefore, they need to report anything that does fit the 3 Ds.  Otherwise, someone or something could get hurt or damaged, and since we work together, we don’t want that.  I make a point of dealing with any behavior that is reported.  This builds trust in the students and they are more willing to report problem behavior in the future.

Between building a family kind of feeling and teaching them explicitly what should be reported, the students have a clear expectation that if they report something, it will be addressed.  I often ask students if they believe that I will deal with it, and they always say yes, they believe it.  That’s the real key, is following through after something has been reported.  Sometimes, it takes as little as a quick conversation with the other student (often they don’t realize they shouldn’t do whatever it was).  Sometimes it make require a phone call home.  Either way, the students can rest assured that it has been dealt with.

This has worked wonders with my students.  I get very little tattling, but they are clear that I want to hear about things that fit the 3 Ds.

Relationships Matter: AMLE

Just read an article that reaffirms everything I believe about teaching middle school students:

AMLE publishes a newsletter at  The article is entitled Relationships Matter by Sara Davis Powell.  It’s worth a read!  Simple things we can do to build a relationship with our students and let them know we care.

Click on the link below to see the article:

Relationships Matter article

Engaging Families in Middle School

Do your middle school students try their best to stay away from the middle school when it’s not in session?  Do your middle school parents tend to shy away from the building? Are you searching for ways to bring families into the school setting?

One way our middle school gets families engaged is by holding Curriculum Nights.  We hold a Family Math Night, a Family Science Night and a Family Language Arts Night each year.

First, the hook for kids: we offer extra credit to any student who attends.  We also offer prizes and fun activities, but, let’s be honest, it’s the extra credit that draws them in!

We plan several fun activities related to the content.  Our Family Language Arts Night is coming up next week and our theme is Read Around the World.  Plans include a photo booth with international style props, teaching a few foreign language words along with sharing a travel themed book, coloring a bookmark, creating a book poster (like a movie poster), using the computer lab to look up information about other countries, and playing Scrabble.

When families arrive, they sign in and receive a passport.  As they travel to the various stations, they get their passport stamped at each location.  When they finish, they can show their passport for a small prize before they leave.

We found several versions of printable passport templates here: or here:

We’ve also done a more structured evening, with groups enjoying opening activities during the check in period, then moving from one location to another en masse.  However, the more relaxed version we tried last year was very successful.  Busy families could come in when they were able to, join activities as their time allowed, then head out to get to their next event.

Generally speaking, our Family Nights bring in about 25% of our student population.  Given the busy schedules most families have, we see this as a rousing success!  100 middle school students coming into school in the evening is pretty impressive.

My Students Inspire Me

As I headed out for my run today, I realized something.  While I hope that I can inspire my students, they definitely are an inspiration to me.

Running along, against the wind, through the cold, dodging snowdrifts, avoiding cars, generally having a tough time of it, I kept thinking about quitting.  At best, I’m a reluctant runner.  I’m always happiest when it’s time to stop and walk.  I never have been able to understand the runners who say they can’t stand tapering before a race.  Tapering is the BEST!  It means I don’t have to run as much!

So, tonight, trying to get my 3 miles finished before it got dark, I kept trying to talk myself out of walking.  What really kept me going wasn’t knowing I was getting stronger, or that my pace would be faster, or even that I would finish sooner.  No, what kept me going was thinking about my students.

Some of them are working harder than they ever have before to complete and turn in all assignments so they will be eligible for Reward Day.  This is a tough task for some of them.  These are students who regularly have failing grades, even through elementary school (remember, I teach 6th grade, so these kids are coming to me from elementary style classrooms!)  For them, completing their work and turning it in is just as tough as completing my run is for me.

When I thought about quitting tonight, I kept picturing them, pushing through and completing an assignment.  If I ask them not to quit and not to let me down, how can I not do the same?

Realizing that my running for me is as hard as their assignments are for them is humbling.  It’s also inspiring.  As I pushed through the thoughts of stopping to walk, I realized that’s what I’m asking of them.  To push through when they’d rather take it easy.  They are my inspiration and tonight, they inspired me to keep going and complete 3 miles – longer than I’ve run straight for several months.  It’s a small victory, but, as I tell my students, each step along the way brings you closer to your goal.  In my case, that’s a half marathon in May.  In theirs, it’s an afternoon at the movie theater with their friends.

If we can keep inspiring each other, we all just might reach our goals!  I plan to tell them tomorrow about my run and how they inspired me to keep going.

How do you inspire your students?  How do they inspire you?

Motivating My Students to Achieve

Spartan PrideAs a proud Spartan fan, I watched the football team closely all season.  The team did everything right:  they all stuck together, through good times and bad, they worked hard, they celebrated the wins and learned from the losses and ended the year on a high note.

This has inspired me to use their example with my students.  It took me quite a while to figure out how to do that.  It finally clicked for me last week:

First, our school holds a Reward Day each trimester.  Students who have no office referrals or D’s or E’s on their report card enjoy a fun activity or field trip.  The others go to an academic support room which is designed to help them (hopefully) avoid this in the future.  So, our “Rose Bowl” will be having the entire team (59 students) eligible for Reward Day in March.  That will take quite a bit of effort on their (and our) parts.  Last trimester, we had 11 students who were not eligible.

Each week, the Spartans focused on their football game that Saturday.  Our “football game” will be our Catchup and Pickles.  Each Friday afternoon, students who have missing work “catch up” on the work, while students who have all of their week’s work turned in “pick” an activity.  If 75% of our team is a “Pickle”, we will consider our team to have won that week.

The Spartans are well known for dancing in the locker room after a win.  The team chose a song that they felt embodied their celebration.  We’ll be taking nominations for celebratory songs next week and we’ll choose our song on Friday.  When we “win”, we’ll celebrate by dancing.

It also occurred to me that the Spartan defense has a special saying, “the No Fly Zone”.  We will have a “No Fail Zone” in our rooms.  🙂

Finally, to help our students, we will be creating special teams.  We have two interns who, along with the two of us (the homeroom teachers) will divide the team into four smaller teams.  Each of these special teams will choose a name and the adult will help that team pull together and succeed.

I’m super excited to set all of this in motion.  When we explained it to the students Friday afternoon, they were also very excited, so I’m hopeful that this will really take off.

As we go along, I’ll try to update and let everyone know how it’s working.

What do you do to motivate your students?  Do you think this will work?

Encouraging New Vocabulary Use

I have to credit my intern with this idea:

Our reading curriculum is adding huge numbers of words that our students are introduced to on a daily basis.  We have spelling lists, vocabulary lists and amazing word lists.  While we do our best to convey the importance of learning these new words, sixth graders do tend to ignore us.

My intern thought a friendly competition between the classes might help.  We brainstormed some ideas and settled on having the classes keep track of each time they purposely use one of our words.  When a student uses one of our words, they can take a dry erase marker and add a tally to their class’s total on our window.  We thought using the window would be motivating, since it’s something different.

The window itself says “Team Titanic’s Wonderful Word Wall” and has a spot for the Bows and one for the Sterns (we name our homerooms according to our theme, which, this year, is the Titanic Team).

The kids have really taken to the idea and go out of their way to try to use a word from one of our lists.  It has to be used correctly and show that they understand what the word means.  It also needs to be part of the discussion, not just some off the wall tangent.

Students can also find the word written in a book, on a sign, etc and get a point for their class.

While it’s not going to solve all the world’s problems, it certainly has made my students more aware of words and their meanings, which is all I can ask of a sixth grader some days!

I tried to get a picture, but because it’s a window, you mostly just see right through it!  I don’t have the photography skills to get a good view of it.  😦

Oh well, you get the idea!