Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School Nuts and Bolts: Start of the Year Routine and Handouts

By on August 17, 2010

I’m asked frequently about the nuts and bolts of middle school: classroom management, paperwork, first day rituals, etc…So I wanted to do a series of posts that addresses what I’m doing right now, real time. The start of the year is vital, as we all know, and setting up routines is key for tweens because they are anything but consistent in every sense of the word. They depend on your classroom routine and count on it. So set up routines you can stick to, or if you stray from them for one reason or another, can return to easily when needed.

My first day (s) of school look something like this:

1. Hand out card to determine random seating – Basically, I stand at the door to my classroom and greet kids, giving each of them a card from a standard deck. They must find the corresponding card that is taped to a desk. It gives them a little something to think about while I’m meet-and-greeting. It’s random seating on the first day, and then I get to know them and might shuffle some of them around over the course of the next week or so. Seating changes periodically (I’ll post about the need for that later). For 4th quarter, they are permitted to sit where they want with me having the final say. By then, however, we’ve built community and hopefully they are making better choices then they would have made at the beginning of the year. Besides, tween years are like dog years: for every year of growth, it counts as 7 on the non-tween, human scale. Tweens are just mutable that way.

2. Handouts that I, over the course of the first few days, go over, collect, etc...I use the following handouts:

  • Welcome Letter and Homework Policy
  • Publishing Agreement for online or print purposes of their face, voice, or student work
  • Movie Permission Sheet – on the occasion that I want to show a movie that relates to the curriculum or clips from YouTube that are content-based, I don’t want to hand out a sheet per movie. I do one sheet at the beginning of the year that is a catch-all for all potential uses.
  • Computer Survey – who has access, who does not. I don’t want to limit what I attempt during the year (blogging, Elluminate tutoring, etc…) because of the few who are still out in the cold, but I need to devise options for those who don’t typically have access.

If you want to download some of my handouts, here they are:

7th grade intro letter

Publishing Release

Video Permission Form

I always keep a folder on hand for each period that contains copies of these as well as a Reading Survey and a Writing Benchmark prompt for any student who matriculates in after the first few days. Just make the folder and assign a student in each period to hand it out to any student who walks in the door, so things function seamlessly right from the get-go as seen through the eyes of the trickling-in student.

3. Find a Fib activity – I begin to build community immediately in my classroom. Don’t worry about going over the rules. There’s still time for that. It’s more important to going over who you are, what kind of teacher you are, and what kind of expectation you have for them as individuals in your class. The Find a Fib activity begins the process of Think Aloud, begins a structured paring activity that shows already that this is a class of collaboration, and makes you “for one brief shining moment” the most interesting person in the room. And that helps with classroom management in the end.

4. Folder Creation – Eventually we will make our Works in Progress Folders and Portfolios. These will house our creations, and will be decorated with illuminated letters that use symbols that represent their contents and our curriculum.

5. Poetry, Quickwrites, Quickdraws – Don’t let the first couple of days be curriculum free. Even if you have items that are dictated by your district that must be accomplished in those critical days, if you want those tweens awake and alert, get their brain juices flowing right now. At least devote the beginning of class to establish your content, even if the rest of the time is in the hands of the set-up gods.

6. Intro to Time Management – post with pictures to come.

7. Intro to my website – I’m still putting it together, but if you want to check it out, it’s at http://web.me.com/bulldogradio.

8. Who does what in your small group – I name each spot at the small group table based on my curriculum. I’ve written about this before here. At each table, there’s a Bella, a Skullduggery, a Wart, a Prince Hal, and a Tatiana (this varies from year to year based on my memory or lack thereof.) This way, you can create fluid groupings very easily. “All Bellas, please go get your group’s writer’s notebooks.” “Could I please see all Prince Hal’s over here at this table for a conference about your latest draft.” “Only Tatiana’s may raise their hand during this next activity, so if you have a question or comment, agree as a group on its wording and Tatiana’s will represent you guys today.” And so on.

The sooner your class runs smoothly, the sooner you can get beyond the nuts and bolts and deeper into the content that you really want to share. Make sure your personality is part of the routine of the class and the students will not only obey the rules, they will want to obey them.

Good luck in the start of your school year. Check back for more tween teaching advice, and please share your own. After all, blogging’s a two-way street. I look forward to learning from you all.

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  1. Heather Cousins
    August 19, 2010

    Can you post the link for the questionaire on interent/computer availability please?

    • tweenteacher
      August 20, 2010

      I will absolutely post that link. Give me a couple of days as it is currently on my school computer and I am not at school this weekend. Thanks for your interest, and I will post that link early next week.
      -Heather WG

  2. S Henchey
    August 21, 2010


    Don’t you just love the first day?

    I truly appreciate your mention about actually teaching from the start. With paperwork and management to address, it’s so easy to push the curriculum aside for the first few days. However, I’ve found that even 20 minutes of instruction on the first day can set the tone for the year. Plus, it allows your excitement about your subject matter to shine through.

    Looking forward to more posts throughout the year!

  3. Corby Kissling
    December 15, 2011

    This post is brilliant. I was scouring the internet hunting for middle school blogs when I came upon this post. Thank you so much for posting this. While I’ve been gifted with the skills to teach, I’m lacking in the organizational department. This will totally help out! Off to see what else you’ve got on here! 🙂

    • Heather Wolpert-Gawron
      December 15, 2011

      Thanks for the kind words. I am also organizationally challenged. Thank goodness for recent tech tools that help me out in that category! Please feel free to check around and let me know what posts you find the most helpful!
      aka Tweenteacher

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