5 Ways to Prepare Students for Middle School

Today’s guest blogger here on Minds in Bloom is Sara from Secondary Sara. She’s written a post that I know you’ll find incredibly helpful: It’s about five ways to prepare your students for middle school. Enjoy!

Transitioning from the primary grades to middle school is a challenging thing to do for many students. This secondary teacher gives five tips on ways to prepare students for middle school. Teaching them these skills and habits makes them that much more prepared!

Ever wonder what the middle school teachers receiving your graduates really want? Not sure how best to help your 4th, 5th, and 6th graders transition from primary to secondary grades? I’ll let you in on a secret: We middle school teachers are equally concerned about helping kids learn how to “be students” as we are with the content knowledge that they have when they arrive.

For example, I work in a K-8 building by day and tutor high school students by night, so I spend a lot of time with students who are in transition: watching the 5th/6th students get ready to join my 7th grade homeroom, helping my 8th graders get ready for high school, and prepping juniors and seniors with the college admissions process. If there’s one issue that students in K-12 have in common during a time of transition, it’s this: study skills.

At all points in the journey, our students need explicit instruction on how to adjust to the next level of their academic careers…

  • Students entering junior high are learning how to deal with higher volumes of homework, more long-term projects, and their first experiences with midterm and final exams.
  • Students going into high school are dealing with higher frequencies of tests and quizzes, even harder content, and higher stakes.
  • Students preparing for college often don’t know how to adequately prepare for the SAT/ACT, how to write an essay that will appeal to the admissions audience, and how to get everything done in addition to their regular homework from school.
(All of this in addition to raging hormones, social issues, and extracurriculars. Whew!)
Don’t worry – we middle school teachers know that the 6th and 7th grades are scary. We expect students to have a learning curve with lockers, changing classrooms, organizing binders, and exams. We’re prepared to deal with friend drama, new academic rigors, and even puberty.

But there are few things that primary teachers could do that would really, really help us out.
With whatever precious minutes you have to spare, give your students these five things to prep for middle school:

#5: Calendar Skills

 
 
Transitioning from the primary grades to middle school is a challenging thing to do for many students. This secondary teacher gives five tips on ways to prepare students for middle school. Teaching them these skills and habits makes them that much more prepared!

Planners, assignment books, and calendars need to be completed daily and independently by students, and they are the fastest way to help parents know what their children should be doing. Using your calendar method of choice, please help them learn how to record not just when something is due, but what they could do TONIGHT to work ahead, study, or prepare. Breaking down bigger tasks into smaller pieces is one of the toughest skills that we have to work on in middle school, and we appreciate if you fight the good fight along with us!

(Bonus points to you if you’ve got an online calendar for students to double-check their homework from anywhere, like we often do in secondary, BUT make students write it down in addition to that resource. Not every future teacher will post the work for them, and there’s more to write down than just the final due date anyway!)

#4: A Healthy Fear of the Final Draft

 
Transitioning from the primary grades to middle school is a challenging thing to do for many students. This secondary teacher gives five tips on ways to prepare students for middle school. Teaching them these skills and habits makes them that much more prepared!
Primary teachers are the MASTERS of teaching the writing process, and we SO thank you for it! At the same time, anything you can do to emphasize the final draft/publication step is greatly appreciated.

This is particularly true if your students will be transitioning from a mastery grading scale to one with points and percentages.

(Go ahead and forewarn your students that I might take off points for formatting, grammar and spelling errors, or not following directions/prompts. Feel free to make me the bad guy.)

 
If you need help, 5th and 6th grade teachers might like my Interactive Editing Checklist and Task Cards set, which breaks down editing vs. revising and other strategies to make a final draft their best work.

#3: A Love of INDEPENDENT Reading

 
Transitioning from the primary grades to middle school is a challenging thing to do for many students. This secondary teacher gives five tips on ways to prepare students for middle school. Teaching them these skills and habits makes them that much more prepared!

I’m so blessed to have talented K-6th grade teachers who send me passionate readers! However, with all of the competing demands of grades 7-12, students will have increasingly less free time to read for pleasure at home.

Encourage students to read at home AND at school so they don’t become dependent on solely in-class reading minutes. Help them break down longer books into page-per-night goals so their goals seem more manageable and have the accountability of smaller deadlines. (We find that page/day goals work better than just minutes-per-night goals.) Talk openly about when and how you read books, or let other students share how they pencil in reading minutes at night.

 
If students learn how to fit in reading at home in addition to other demands, we may truly grow a generation of lifelong readers!

#2: Self-Advocating Skills

 
I know how counter-intuitive this may sound. Right now, you might be engaged in epic battles with students regarding reporting vs. tattling, independent vs. teacher-dependent problem solving, or independent research foundations.
However, that student who asks you five million questions often comes to middle school and clams up tight, afraid to ask his intimidating new teachers for help or admit he has a problem. This problem persists into high school, when the day is even faster-paced.
 
Teach your students how to ask good “we” questions, when to ask “me” questions, and how to check their resources for the answer. (Or even better, revamp your business letter unit to include a How-to-Email-a-Teacher lesson. It helps the introverts and extroverts alike learn how to write a polite request for help!)

#1: One Solid Study Method for Tests and Quizzes

 

Transitioning from the primary grades to middle school is a challenging thing to do for many students. This secondary teacher gives five tips on ways to prepare students for middle school. Teaching them these skills and habits makes them that much more prepared!
My students love different the features of Quizlet to study vocabulary!

…OTHER than just blankly rereading the notes.

The easiest way you could help is to tell students at least two ways to study before any test or quiz.

I know one innovative 5th grade teacher who does skits and verbal sharing during class to teach kids what studying “looks” like; another uses logs and checklists so that students must prove that they have studied at least three ways before a test takes place. I use the various features of Quizlet‘s online flash cards extensively when I teach vocabulary and Greek & Latin roots!

When my team starts preparing 7th graders for their first-ever midterm exams, we help them to:

  • Read and understand a provided study guide
  • Gather the correct papers/handouts/notes to study
  • Read those notes more than once
  • Start studying more than one day in advance
  • Rewrite notes or convert them into flashcards
  • Redo practice problems, homework pages, or already-completed questions
  • Repeatedly use paper or online flashcards (like Quizlet)
  • Find a friend or parent to quiz them on the material
  • Practice writing short answer responses in advance
  • Invent and answer questions that COULD be on the test
  • Get enough sleep and avoid panicking
 

A Parting Note of Thanks

 
Despite the requests for backup listed above, we really do think that primary and middle grades teachers are fabulous. Working in a K-8 building has only deepened my appreciation for the tears, germs, and sweat that go into a day of teaching younger students, and I salute you.
At the end of the day, we will be grateful for your students and the work you put into their success.

Even if you only start these battles, we will happily jump in and end the war!


Secondary Sara
 

Secondary Sara is a 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts teacher from central Ohio. She earned her Master’s degree in ELA for grades 7-12 at THE Ohio State University and also tutors high school students. Find her on TpT, Pinterest, Facebook, and her blog!

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