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How to Teach Middle School Students

How to Teach Middle School Students:
Teaching middle school students can pose a particular challenge for teachers. Your students are caught in a strange developmental phase -- they are no longer children but they also cannot take on the responsibilities of an older teen or young adult. Understanding the needs of the early adolescent brain can help you present your material so it meets the standards of your school but also fulfills the learning needs of your students.

Divide your lesson into chunks: 

Research has shown that middle schoolers learn best when their lessons are divided in 7-10 minute chunks of different activities. Lessons should be a combination of learning from lecture and processing activities.
A processing activity is one in which students must manipulate information or relate the information to something they already know. This might be an activity like writing an alternate ending to a story they have read, conducting a lab experiment, or participating in a debate with their fellow classmates.

Limit the amount of lecture: 

Studies show that middle school students can only handle 10-12 minutes of direct instruction (or lecture). After 10-12 minutes, their brains begin to filter out information of the lecture and turn to other thoughts. While lecture is an important component of teaching, you need to supplement it with processing activities.
If you are giving a lecture, be sure to present it in an engaging way. Don't just read off of a worksheet or set of notecards. Read as if you are telling a story.
Be sure to make eye contact with your students as you are presenting the material. Make sure they know that you are speaking directly to them because you want them to understand the material.

Teach with visuals: 

Research has shown that middle school students respond most positively to visual images when they process information. Visual images give students concrete, easily digestible information as opposed to abstract information (which they won't be able to grapple with until they are 18-20 years old).
Dynamic visuals -- or visuals that move as opposed to remaining static -- have been shown to have the most significant impact on students. Look for charts that have moving elements, films, or a series of interactive images as opposed to just one or two static images.
You should also consider using manipulatives, which are physical objects that students can touch in order to learn material from the lesson. They are commonly used in math (such as using blocks to teach geometry), but you might also consider using objects in other areas, like bringing in an old copy of a magazine from the 1930s if you are teaching history.

Build your lessons around your student's voices: 

Middle school students need to interact with information directly in order to fully understand it. They no longer view you, as the teacher, as a fount of knowledge; they need to form opinions about the material on their own.
Incorporate the Think-Pair-Share method. When you are teaching a particular lesson, ask the students a question about the material. Have them write down a response to the question and then share their ideas with a partner. Then, as a class, discuss your responses out loud.

Value your student's emotions:

As middle schoolers, most students will relate to the world around them emotionally rather than through logic or reason. As you teach your material, be sure to present it in terms of its emotional impact.
The extent to which you can do this in each discipline will vary. But you should incorporate methods such as storytelling into appropriate disciplines like English, social studies and even subjects like science and mathematics.
Humor is also a key element in connecting with your students emotionally. Make sure your jokes are appropriate and avoid anything bordering on snark or sarcasm.

Keep your lesson plans diverse: 

Above all, make sure your lessons incorporate a wide variety of activities. Ask your students to take notes, write reflection pieces, work in groups, conduct investigations and play games. This will prevent boredom and help your students develop a broad range of cognitive skills.
Be sure to incorporate activities that require memorization and repetition on the part of your students. This is a valuable skill that still needs development in the brain at this age. You can use flash cards, rhyming games or simply ask students to repeat vital pieces of information out loud to practice this.

Build in time for reflection: 

Encouraging time for your students to write in a journal about what they have learned or how they experienced the lesson for the day will help them see the broader goals of the class.

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