Click above to listen to Podcast Episode 55: “Engaging Classroom Activities for Middle Schoolers“
There are many fun activities for middle school students that are not only great options but can be used in school, at home, or at after-school activities. Developing engaging classroom activities for middle schoolers which are fun and interesting can help increase the flow of learning, which is always the goal in your lesson plans.
However, we’re not dealing with younger students and sometimes it is difficult for this “too cool for school” age group to find an activity or a fun game that they will engage with. It is hard to find the balance between being too childish and too mature to get to that sweet spot that gets the students excited about participating each day.
Developing engaging classroom activities for middle schoolers can be a challenge, but finding a fun way to excite your middle school students be it in small groups, whole class, a scavenger hunt, class discussions, or even a memory game can help challenge students to engage within the learning process in some of the best ways they don’t even realize they’re doing.
Engagement is so important during these years and grade level since it will influence whether or not they enjoy learning, their perception of school, and most likely whether or not they will continue to pursue further education. Finding effective ways and great ideas for engaging classroom activities for middle schoolers can play a big role in these things.
Don’t forget to check out our feature on Brain Breaks for Middle School, too!
What makes Engaging Classroom Activities for Middle Schoolers intriguing?
We know that junior high is a challenging time for our students; they’re no longer “babies”, but they’re not mature enough yet like our older students are. Those who deal with these students on the daily know that this is a good time to work on concepts like team building or social-emotional learning because they need it at this juncture more than ever. It is a great opportunity to give them a little help becoming older while also emphasizing hard work, time management, and balancing fun activities to further enrich learning.
The secret sauce to developing engaging classroom activities for middle schoolers is finding a classroom activity that appeals to their interest and provides enough challenge for them to learn, but not so much that it becomes too difficult. Finding engaging classroom activities for middle schoolers is a balance of keeping them in a comfort zone that makes them okay with student participation while also giving them something new to grow into. They can be tangible things like classroom games or an interactive graphic organizer as well as experiences that are fun and exciting, but also educational.
It is important to not just look at these students too superficially. Although these older kids may dress differently and act differently than their younger counterparts, they need the same things- attention, care, and help when needed, but mostly it is hearing about how much you care and want them to do well; because giving them the tools to have confidence when they’re having a tough time while stimulating their minds as well is equally as vital for classroom success.
Ultimately, they’re not high school students, so they still have that element of being younger kids and, as we know, can still be so much fun if you give them a great option to shine.
Initiating student engagement as the classroom teacher is the best thing when you know you have your students’ attention and they’re surprised when the end of a class period comes. Imagine finding a way to get them excited about a vocabulary word or current events by using a simple game, short video, or another outside-the-box way to encourage critical thinking. These types of activities can be found anywhere depending on the way you look at them and within your own passion. Your students are going to respond better if the topic interests them, so finding things that do just that will make your job easier, but no less important.
Here are some engaging classroom activities for middle schoolers that will get the students involved in education and participation while learning their ABCs:
ABC’s of What? ABC’s of Anything!
- Poster Board, Chalkboard or whiteboard to project
- Construction paper, markers, and glue to make construction letters
- Black sharpie marker for free-hand writing, although templates could be added if you want. Either way is effective.
This classic game can be utilized with any subject matter.
It is a great way to reinforce any subject matter. It also can be used as a show-and-tell activity. You basically give each kid/student something to talk about and then have them share their “ABCs of” with the class using the black sharpie marker for writing on the whiteboard. This is a very simple activity that can be independent or group work and can actually be used in the school hallways or classrooms (#instantbulletinboard).
This can be added to the end of any lesson or any number of hands-on activities to reinforce what has been taught and for students that need extra practice or help.
This is a great way to get them excited about learning. They think they are being involved in something out of the ordinary, but in reality, they are just getting extra help and following simple directions.
There is no better feeling than seeing the light bulb go off in their heads. It’s awesome!
Let them Lead
Let your students lead the way with the content and watch how they gain new confidence in their abilities to learn and then teach others what they know.
We know that the best way to learn is by teaching the information to somebody else; you can turn this concept into a fun classroom game with any subject matter (ie. make it a competition, a time limit contest, etc.)
Given that kids are more likely to follow directions when they understand why you have given them those directions, it is important that they know what it is that they are doing and how it is that you expect them to do it while also having a great time.
For this reason, many activities should have a variety of ways in which you can present them (and they can present them back to you) so that everyone in the class has an opportunity to get everything that you are hoping they get.
Learning how to lead is an important skill that will help in almost every aspect of their life, from choosing friends and deciding what activities they want to engage in, as well as where they want to go or what career path they may want to take.
Through the activities you set for them, they will learn to take control of their learning, which can set them apart from everyone else and give them the skills necessary to do well and be happy in life. This is why student choice and hands-on learning are so vital.
Creating their own questions and answers
Having them write their own questions and answers to tie into the curriculum or real-life situations that they can learn from will help them learn better than having it done for them every day by you. If you do choose this route though, make sure to have someone go over the questions at least one time so that they are answerable.
All throughout the day you are teaching your students. What they don’t know is that these little lessons are building up inside of them and at an unconscious level they are soaking it all up like a sponge, and having them create questions based on content is a great way to see this in action.
You can also have them write out their own ideas about things that you have been covering so far or things that will be coming up in the near future and use those as a review source for a few minutes before moving on to something else. They can then keep them posted in their notebooks or in organized places within the classroom.
One idea that I have used is creating a tip sheet of different times of year that you can put up on the board for all to see. Maybe it’s a tip for Valentine’s Day, or a tip for the 4th of July, etc. It doesn’t even have to be something that you are covering within the lesson plan.
If you can find a way to tie it into what you need to teach them at the moment, then that is even better! These small little tips can help the students to be better prepared and give them a sense of independence. It can even help with respect since you are letting them take on more responsibility for what they learn in your classroom.
Have them help with their homework and then have them teach it to a younger sibling who may be having trouble with the same concepts, or a parent who has no idea what it is they do all day in school. It will not only help them understand what they are doing better, but it will also help their younger sibling or parent to feel part of the process and less like “the one who has no idea what is going on”.
Have students help with a project that they have done for school. For example, if you are a teacher, have your students make posters and charts about your lesson or their projects to display in the classroom. If you can have a collaborative relationship with a business professional, I suggest having the students create small posters to hang around the office that define vocabulary words used in meetings or that share strategies that are being discussed in class that could help.
Have them go online and take an assessment to see where they are in each subject, which can be a powerful source of motivation.
Ask the students to pick out some books that explain a certain topic or subject. Have them read the book(s) and then create flashcards for each chapter to review the information from each book.
Have students use YouTube videos, TED talks, a blog post, and other online resources to get more in-depth on a topic they are studying. Flipping your classroom is clutch in making this work really well.
There are so many possibilities that can utilize the time at home in a way that has them “learning by accident”, reinforcing what is going on in the classroom but in a way that isn’t monotonous.
Plan how many activities you plan to execute per day and week
It is important to plan for a number of engaging activities throughout the unit because chances are your students are going to be more engaged with a problem related to what they’re studying. If you have an idea of how to make the subject you’re teaching that week more interesting, it will galvanize your students’ learning.
A great example of this is having them cook or do gardening activities, which are a wider arena of valuable learning experiences. The math involved in cooking and gardening oftentimes has a hidden meaning behind what they’re doing which makes it easier for the student to see what they’re doing and why it matters. Having these kinds of activities planned as often as possible will make sure your students have a better grasp of their subjects.
When you are planning, try using different methods to decide what kind of activities or projects you want to do with the entire class. For example, how have you planned out which activities and subjects to cover? The first thing I do is divide the class into different categories of students and see if their interests coincide with what I want them to know.
If a student shows great interest in cooking or computers, for instance, I want to find a way, even if it’s ever so slightly, to incorporate that into the class. By doing this, you are able to find more uses for your subjects and engage the students further.
The other thing that helps me figure out what projects and activities will keep my students engaged is when I divide them into groups based on how different their interests are. This way I can have them work on projects that cover a topic in which they’re interested and more inclined to study, which then makes learning fun for them (and more entertaining for us to watch).
The last thing I do is plan certain activities for certain days of the week or month. These activities will help me test my students on how well they’ve been learning what they were supposed to do and will help me figure out if I need to go over things again.
Requiring students to show their progress and engagement with certain activities can be really hard for students. Instead of using test scores, try getting them to show their progress by writing about what they’ve learned. For example, telling your students that you’ll be asking them to write journal entries based on certain projects or activities will make it easier for those who haven’t been able to grasp how to do something in class.
I’ve found that the students who are struggling or feel like they aren’t learning anything will find it easier to write about what they learned and used in one of these projects or activities. This way, you can tell which students aren’t grasping how to do something and then allow them to make up for it by doing the journal entry.
If a student isn’t grasping the material because they’re feeling discouraged, this will be a good way to ease their anxieties about schoolwork.
Similarly, you can use this as a way to learn about which students are having trouble and then teach them more in small groups or spend extra time on that project or activity.
To make it easier for a student to write up this journal entry, I recommend sending home the directions ahead of time. This will allow them to know what they’re supposed to go about doing and will make it easier for you when you grade them.
In addition, I recommend that you have the students do these journal entries based on a specific topic or project so that they can be graded the same way. This makes it easier to grade everything and see if they really learned what you wanted them to.
All students learn differently and having them show their progress in different ways is a great way to cater to their needs while also trying to figure out which methods of engagement work best for them. This will help them make progress in their schooling.
Fostering ALL the relationships
The last thing you can do to engage your students is try to get them more involved with each other as well. Survey them about what they think of the subject you’re covering or bring up something they learned from one of their favorite books or how to do something.
Wherever you go, there are bound to be people who have either learned or know someone who has learned the best way to learn something really easily. By finding out what they did while learning, you can use that as a way to let your students learn about something easily.
All you really need are a few decent listening skills to make sure that the student is explaining themselves clearly. Most of the time, these people will get excited about their ability to teach you what they’ve learned and you’ll be able to see how you can apply what they did to your student.
This way, it will be easier for you to find a way to connect with your students on the subject matter that you’re teaching them. They’ll see that they are able to explain things in their own words and this will make it easier to understand what they’re saying and therefore learn the material you’re trying to get them to learn. All this is done by empowering the students to realize they can teach anyone, even you.
As a teacher, I’ve found that my students enjoy hearing other people talk about what they know. When I ask them if they want me or another student in their class to tell us how to do something – they always respond with a resounding yes!
It’s also a good way to get them excited about learning something. If everyone in their classroom is engaged, they’ll be more likely to participate in whatever activity you layout for them in the days ahead.
And of course, the best engaging classroom activities for middle schoolers include the 4 keys
There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom. If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.
This article was originally published on July 13, 2021