They’re not little kids anymore, yet they’re not fully acclimated to being a teenager. Between the more designated content areas to P.E. (let’s face it, it’s not considered recess anymore), middle school carries its own special milestones and rewards — along with its own challenges. So how would you design a middle school classroom and outline management procedures that fit well with this group that falls in the limbo between elementary and high school?
Throughout this article, you’ll gain insight into the differences between the middle school classroom and that of the elementary level, along with some classroom ideas for middle school and some organizational and decorating tips.
What’s the Difference Between the Middle School Classroom and Classrooms for Younger Students?
The first difference you’ll notice between these two types of learning spaces is the middle school classroom decor and overall setup compared to that for younger kids. Many of these spaces still have tables since collaborative activities and learning centers still make up a major part of the lessons. However, the middle school classroom possesses a slightly more subdued color scheme that appeals to older kids as opposed to the bright, whimsical hues you often find in elementary classrooms. Naturally, you’ll also find that the seating and tables are taller, thus allowing for growth spurts, but not as small as furniture designed for an elementary class. While you still might find a reading section close to the classroom library, you’ll likely see some beanbag chairs or a small sofa as opposed to a rug and large cushions.
Both types of classrooms invoke a stimulating, student-friendly atmosphere where supplies are organized and easy to access, and each “corner” or section of the room serves a specific purpose. Plus, these sections and storage units are set up to promote more independent tasks where the students will have to obtain their own equipment and remember the designated containers for turning in work and getting their make-up assignments immediately upon their return. And, of course, these areas are clearly labeled with conspicuous signs. You’ll also find the classroom rules for the middle school posted in a highly visible area with short, bulleted points that are easy to remember, along with operational procedures posted throughout the room.
Organizational Tips for the Middle School Classroom
One of the most important aspects of effective middle school classroom management is organization. Hence, the first thing that comes to mind in relation to classroom organization is the “stuff.” Starting with the designated spot for turning in work, you can use trays for papers or dishpans for bulkier items like folders. Label each one with the class period, or you can start a color-coded system where a set of storage units and containers pertaining to a particular class period are assigned a color. For instance, first period’s storage is red, second period’s is blue, and so on.
Try Color Coding
Also, if you’re labeling or using a color-coded system, or both, you can place rolling drawer containers by each table. These drawers can hold supplies for a project, extra necessary items, like pencils, erasers, paper, or assignment folders or journals. Basically, having everything students need close by cuts down on time wasted by trips to get forgotten writing utensils or homework and prevents the confusion that comes with not knowing where to find the supplies.
Utilize a Class Bulletin Board
In addition to materials, you also need to organize all the information your students need to know on a daily and weekly basis. So, you’ll need to clearly assign and label each bulletin board or wall section for middle classroom announcements and schoolwide news, class rules and expectations, lists of assignments, or major projects for a grading period. Since the students are older and responsibilities increase at each grade level, you can use wall hanging pockets or labeled shelves with magazine holders to store copies of assignments. That way, the students can pick up their make-up work immediately upon their return. This method works well in conjunction with a class database or wiki where you can “store” assignments and project instructions and rubrics online for families to access from home.
Middle School Classroom Display Ideas
In addition to the rules and announcements, you can exercise creativity in your middle school classroom decor. For example, if you have a computer center, you can post a colorful list of “dos and don’ts” for this area. Another idea is to display a word wall since vocabulary proves to be imperative in all content areas. From mathematical terms to vocabulary related to technology literacy, you can display a running record of all the new words that your class has acquired.
Create Bilingual Labels for Shared Spaces
Some years, you will have students who are still acquiring the English language. In that case, you can display some of the important parts and places of your learning space in both English and the students’ native language. If you teach a foreign language, like Spanish, for instance, then you can do something similar so students can connect the name of the area or object with its equivalent in the target language. By employing this practice, you’re making your middle school classroom more accessible and inclusive.
Use Quotes to Inspire Your Space
And you can’t forget the positive power of displaying motivational quotes and posters of famous trailblazers and advocates, like Dolores Huerta, who spoke out for the rights of farmworkers, and Dr. Mae Carol Jemison, who was the first African American woman in space. Students at this age explore their own identities and even think about the future and how they might make an impact on the world. So, surrounding them with positive inspiration can get them on their way toward meeting their goals.
Middle School Classroom Tools and Technology
As many teachers and parents know, technology has become a mainstay in education to prepare students for their future careers. Moreover, middle schoolers have probably been utilizing computers and tablets for almost their entire school career, but what if you took the use of tech to the next level? Here are some ideas for tools and tech to incorporate into your middle school classroom:
- Pear Deck — You can ramp up your presentations with this interactive add-on to Google Slides. Your direct instruction includes video, audio, and GIFS that further engage and involve the students.
- AllSlides — As a handy research tool, this website gives your students access to every single news and informational outlet known to humankind. Plus, it includes engaging critical thinking exercises where students learn to detect bias and gain perspectives on various topics and issues.
- littleBits STEAM+ Class Pack - Get hands-on with littleBits to learn the foundations of electronics and circuitry. This is the ultimate learning toolkit with enough Bits and resources for the entire class to engage in STEAM activities and lessons.
- Sphero BOLT programmable robot - BOLT is Sphero’s most advanced coding robotic ball to date, providing even more ways to express inventive ideas and experience the power of programming. Packed with plenty of programmable sensors and a colorful LED light matrix, Sphero BOLT is paving the way for the next generation of coders, which is ideal for middle schoolers.
One other factor to remember about the middle school classroom is that you have an almost infinite number of possibilities to guide this unique age group on an impactful, rewarding, and skill-building journey of learning. The time limit (be it 45 minutes or an 80-minute block) and content area focus can still incorporate cross-curricular projects that facilitate innovation and imagination.