Mindfulness in the Classroom

Mindfulness is the act of slowing down and noticing what is happening. The purpose of mindfulness is to calm our thoughts and focus on the present moment. 

(GUESS WHAT? I've put together exclusive FREEBIES for mindfulness. Click here to receive them!)

Mindfulness meditation is a way of focusing the mind so that it is fully attending to what’s happening right now, to what we’re doing, and to the space that we’re currently in. Cultivating mindfulness means to be present, to pay attention, and to be aware of our emotions and the way that we respond to them.

Recent neuroscience research points to many benefits of mindfulness meditation: 
   ➧ increased focus
   ➧ a sense of calm
   ➧ decreased stress
   ➧ decreased anxiety
   ➧ improved impulse control
   ➧ greater empathy for others
   ➧ improved conflict resolution skills

Our students need opportunities to practice mindfulness mediation. Since the human mind often wanders from the present. Our brains have a tendency to become absorbed with thoughts about the past or the future. This kind of thinking makes us anxious. 

Academic pressure now affects kids as early as kindergarten, resulting in less time for play and other stress-reducing activities. Today’s students are faced with an unprecedented amount of anxiety. The pressure only grows greater in middle and high school. Surveys have found students reporting stress and fatigue as much as 75% of the time. 

What’s needed is a way to decrease anxiety and help students to manage their emotions. That’s where mindfulness comes in.

Infusing moments of mindfulness in the classroom is not only powerful, it’s also quite simple. In general, to practice mindfulness, have students start by bringing attention to their own body.  Then, have them breathe in through their noses and out through their mouths.  When they notice that their mind has wondered away from the present moment, they should gently bring their attention back to their breathing. 

It’s also a great idea to intentionally plan moments of mindfulness in the classroom! Here are some simple ways to do just that…

1. A Mindful Moment
At the beginning of class, or after a transition, have your students close their eyes and take several deep breaths. Ask them to pay attention to their breathing and what it feels like.

2. A Mindful Break
Once or twice during a standard length class, just stop. Have your students stand up and stretch and then sit back down and do 30 seconds of mindful breathing. This takes no more than a minute, and it gives everyone a needed break.

3. A Mindful Quote
Use motivational and inspirational quotes to help focus students’ minds during a moment of mindfulness. 

It’s as easy as sharing a quote, or you can download this free set of mindfulness quotes and put together a container to pull from all year long.

If you'd like me to send you a free set of 24 mindfulness quotes and the materials to make a container like above, add your name and email address below:

    4. Attention Check
    During a long lesson, stop and ask your students to pause and “check their attention.” Is their mind on what is being done in class, or has it been wandering? This gives kids the chance to deliberately redirect their attention to the matter at hand.

    5. Finger Labyrinths
    Traditionally, labyrinths are used for mediation and relaxation. Often, people walk through labyrinths. Give students the same sensation with finger labyrinths. 

    I’ve made a collection of them that students can use when they need to focus their minds. Students simply trace the spiral paths as they practice mindfulness.

    Add your name and email address below to receive the finger labyrinths and mindfulness quotes in your email inbox!

      6. Mindful Closure
      At the end of class, have students close their eyes and focus on their breathing again. Ask them to think of what they have learned and perhaps congratulate themselves on their progress and accomplishments.

      As teachers. we have many opportunities to introduce students to mindfulness practices. Of course, one of the most important ways we can do this is by cultivating mindfulness in ourselves. If we, as teachers, are present and aware of our own emotions and responses, we set an invaluable example for our students.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!
      Mary Beth

      Attack Of The Adolescent Brain! What Every Middle School Teacher Needs To Know

      Teaching adolescents can be hard. Being an adolescent is harder. During some of my most difficult days in the middle school classroom, I always found comfort when I remembered how I felt when I was a middle schooler. Those tween days of awkwardness and change were some of my worst. Something else that helped me as a teacher? Science! I found that understanding the adolescent brain was super helpful. That's why I thought I'd share a few facts about the adolescent brain that might make it easier for you to teach middle schoolers.

      Adolescents sometimes get a bad reputation for being unmotivated and even lazy. As teachers, we know what a big impact kids’ academic performance can have on their future. We can be tempted to think that they’d see that too. Don’t our middle-school students know that they’re only hurting themselves if they slack off? The answer in many cases: Nope. 

      Some adolescents are naturally motivated – real self-starters. However, for most, things are a little more complicated. Speed of brain development and common performance anxiety are two things that can seriously affect a young student’s level of motivation.

      The frontal cortex is the area of the brain that controls reasoning, attention span, perseverance, and motivation. This structure is not fully developed in adolescents. In fact, it keeps changing and maturing well into adulthood.

      A kid whose frontal cortex develops early is more likely to be a focused and conscientious student. Those who develop more slowly can tend to be inattentive, disorganized, and give all the appearances of being just plain lazy.

      Anxiety plays a role in students' performance as well. Let's face it, anxiety about schoolwork is another motivation-killer. When a kid is worried about his/her ability to complete an assignment, they often react by avoiding it. They may do this without even consciously realizing it and as a result, may not be able to explain their behavior. Anxiety of this type can grow to the point where it actually physically limits access to the frontal cortex. And that means – you guessed it – zero motivation!

      First off, let's keep in mind that the typical adolescent student is not behaving this way on purpose. Many of them are simply not yet mentally up to the challenge of getting organized and motivated. That's where we come in! As teachers, we can help adolescents become more successful.

      One good way to get unmotivated middle school students moving is to provide the structure that they aren’t yet able to create for themselves. Show them what good study habits look like, provide examples, and let them know that you expect them to follow these examples on their own. I found that making it a point to teach students HOW to do things like organize their binders and HOW to actually study were so important. Sometimes it's essential to slow down and spend time teaching students critical skills. Units like this "How to Study" Doodle and Do resource that combines doodle notes and learning stations can do wonders for students. 

      Another idea is to be consistent, firm, and relentlessly positive. Having structure in place can help to reduce your students’ stress and anxiety over schoolwork. Our attitude and interactions with them are equally important. This is where it pays off to spend time encouraging students.

      I love surprising students with positive notes or cards to show them that they matter and that I care. The notes can be quick to write, you could even write them on the top of students' papers, but their impact is great! If you'd like to give it a try, I've put together a FREE set of positive notes that you can pass to students right HERE.

      Does it ever feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster with your adolescent students? Fear! Anger! Tears! Joy! What’s up (and down) with that? Overly-emotional reactions are common in adolescents, who are undergoing rapid physical, psychological and social development

      Puberty is the beginning of major changes in the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that forms emotions.The amygdalae, two almond-shaped clusters in the brain, are used by the limbic system to connect sensory information to emotional responses. As the amygdalae enter a new stage of development, adolescents are prone to intense anger, fear, sadness, and excitement.

      The limbic system is under the control of the frontal cortex, which is tasked with moderating impulses. However, as we’ve already seen, the frontal cortex does not always keep pace with other developments in an adolescent’s body. So, where does this leave us teachers? All alone, facing a classroom full of raging, unrestrained amygdalae. No wonder being a middle school teacher can be so challenging!

      Don’t give up hope! As additional areas of the brain start to help process emotion, older adolescents gain some equilibrium and have an easier time controlling their emotions. But until then, they will often misread the intentions of teachers, reacting with anger or tears to even the gentlest attempt to redirection.

      Again, our best bet as educators is to set clear, demonstrable expectations for your middle school students’ behavior. Once these are established, be firm, consistent, supportive, and - let’s say it again - relentlessly positive. You can easily spread a little kindness with motivational posters and quote cards.

      You might want to all combine reinforcement with intentional classroom exceptions. I've put together my favorite tips in this short video. 
      Giving students a little guidance along the way as they grow into their amygdalae isn't a bad idea either. You might carve out times to teach about classroom community and positive emotions to guide them during their development. This could be as easy as creating a random acts of kindness chain to display around the classroom.

      Here's the thing...middle school students are challenged to engage in rigorous educational activities at a time when their brains are going through immense changes. It's just plain hard to be an adolescent sometimes. Of course, it is their personal responsibility to manage their own behavior and study habits. However, by understanding the underlying physiological causes of their sometimes frustrating behavior, we can be ready to offer students the support and guidance necessary for success!

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Mary Beth

      The Benefits of Teaching Creative Writing

      This is an era of standard-based teaching, with lots of curriculum to cover in very little time. Teachers are pressured to make tough decisions that will have a serious impact on their students' education. We can't do it all, so what subject matter shall we prioritize? What's most important? If it's not likely to be on "the test", can we afford to spend time on it?  

      Something has to give, and creative writing is all too often the first candidate for the chopping block. It's a subject that doesn't fit well into a standardized test. It's tricky to grade. Its value is difficult to justify by means of the standard research data. 

      Add fun creative writing lessons to your middle school classroom!

      In fact, the value of creative writing has also been called into question by some Common Core designers. These leaders see the emphasis on "self-expression and emotion" that's associated with creative writing as being somehow detrimental to "lucid communication". 
      These developments are unfortunate for a number of reasons. Creative writing does, indeed, allow for self-expression and emotional release - benefits that shouldn't be disregarded. Much has been written about the psychological and emotional benefits of creative writing.

      Let's take a look at some of these practical values of creative writing, and consider some arguments for keeping it in our classrooms!  

      Easily infuse creative writing into your classroom with these fun creative writing lesson plans for the middle school!

      It has been shown in studies that children who have the opportunity to study creative writing improve their performance in other subjects. Math, science, and language studies skills have all been shown to benefit from practice in creative writing. 

      Writing encourages broad, creative thinking and helps build a problem-solving mindset that is open to multiple alternatives. In other words, kids who write regularly tend to become innovative analytical thinkers. This skill translates well to study of any subject, and will also benefit the student in their later career.

      Speaking of writing regularly, it's easy to add some quick creative writing lessons into any class period with this set of 5 FREE Creative Writing Lessons. 

      Make creative writing fun and engaging with these quick and easy creative writing lesson plans.

      The language of literature is different from what's used in day-to-day writing and conversation. Creative writers get a chance to experiment with new words and unfamiliar turns-of-phrase. Students can take time to find the word that conveys their thought with the greatest clarity, precision and style. 

      This is an excellent mental exercise. It's also fun! Students who build their vocabulary through creative writing go on to become adults who communicate clearly and vibrantly. This is a skill that's valued in the workplace, and earns the respect of colleagues. 

      Get students building their vocabulary with this set of 101 This or That Writing Prompts. Students get to choose the writing prompt that appeals to them as they develop their skills as a writer!

      Get students writing with fun and engaging creative writing lessons.

      The creative writing class experience involves group review of a student's work. Creative writing students learn to accept constructive criticism, and to use it to improve their work. Students are also given the opportunity to analyze the work of others, to weigh its merits, and to offer thoughtful, respectful guidance. This ability to work cooperatively in a group setting will prove to be invaluable in adult life.

      Students can practice the skill of peer editing and review as they review creative myths, fables, or even persuasive advertisements. Giving students a chance to work together and build a community of writers is a wonderful and essential part of creative writing.

      Free creative writing lessons plans for middle schoolers!

      Creative writing gives students the chance to assert themselves and their opinions, and to develop their “voice.” This, along with the opportunity to see their own words on paper, helps to build self-confidence. Students who regularly put their thoughts out for their fellows to read, and even criticize, are less intimidated by other challenges. A student who has gained confidence and found his or her own unique voice through creative writing is better equipped to succeed in the adult world.

      I saw some of the greatest growth in my students during my favorite poetry writing unit. Giving students a chance to write creatively as they experiment with different styles of poetry builds such confidence! 

      Infuse creative writing into your classroom!

      In a standards-based and data-driven educational environment, it's not always easy to justify the need for creative writing. It's also not necessarily an easy topic to teach. However, for all of the reasons above, I feel that it's well worth the effort to include creative writing in our regular curriculum. In addition to the well-documented emotional benefits and "soft skills" it encourages, creative writing also develops a range of practical skills that are valuable in adult life.

      Here are a few FREE creative writing activities that you can download right away:

      ➤ Limerick Writing Lesson
      ➤ Spooky Story Writing
      ➤ Spring Poetry Writing Lesson
      ➤ Pinwheel Poem Writing Lesson
      ➤ Winter Myth Writing

      I hope you've found some great reasons to teach creative writing!

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Mary Beth

      Favorite Literature for Middle School Students

      I don't know about you, but I love teaching literature that not only challenges students to become better readers, but also to become better people. There's nothing quite like a beautiful piece of literature that nurtures students' minds and souls. That's why this round-up of my very favorite pieces of literature to teach in the middle school classroom includes literature that teaches lessons about kindness, community, gratitude and hope. I'm sure some of your own favorites have made the list, but I hope you'll discover something new to share with your students!

      Lesson plans for Thank You M'am by Langston Hughes.

      My favorite short story to teach is "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes. As you may know, "Thank You, M'am" is the story of a boy who tries to steal a woman's purse. What the woman does next surprises the boy and sheds light on the idea that it "takes a village to raise a child." Students learn about the power of community and gratitude in this sweet story. 

      When teaching this unit, you might have students build an interactive file folder as they read. Be sure to include information about the Harlem Renaissance to help students learn about Hughes. Then, have students fill their folders with information about the story's setting, characters, plot, and theme. You might want to have students complete a reflection after reading the story. Give students a chance to "walk" in the main character's shoes. I promise, their responses will be touching and powerful. Check out all of my lessons for this unit here.

      Speech analysis lesson for "What is Your Life's Blueprint?" by Martin Luther King Jr.

      I can't express enough how much I love this speech! It's "What is Your Life's Blueprint?" by Martin Luther King Jr.. King gave this speech to a group of middle school students. In the speech he outlines three steps for students to follow to have a meaningful life. He includes statements like, "Don't allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth." His words are so inspirational and empowering!  

      This speech is wonderful to teach in honor of MLK Day, but truly, it's perfect any time of the year. You might want to include background information on King before beginning a close reading of the speech. Through multiple readings of the speech, students will not only develop their reading skills, but they'll also be able to thoroughly process King's message. You might even have students write about their own life's blueprint when they finish analyzing the speech. Find all of my lessons for this speech here.

      Doodle notes, task cards, and lesson plans for Wonder by R.J. Palacio

      You knew that this book would make the list, right? Palacio's story of about a boy named Auggie born with genetic abnormalities is both tender and heart wrenching at times. As Auggie tries to fit in at a new school, he ultimately discovers that it is often more important to stand out. Wonder introduces characters that transform and grow right along with the reader. The book's ultimate message is one of kindness, and that's why it's one of my very favorites!

      I think this book works great with literature circles or as a read aloud. When students finish the book (whether after reading or listening), I love the idea of giving students task cards with targeted questions about the novel. If your students are up for it, you could always throw in some doodle pages. My collection of task cards and doodle pages can be found here.

      In Virginia Hamilton's version of the folktale, "The People Could Fly," students will discover perseverance and hope. This folktale tells the story of slaves who rebel against their cruel owners and fly away. When the characters in the story discover they can fly away from the violence of their world, there is a sense of hope and inspiration. This folktale highlights the power of the human spirit in a moving way.

      If you teach this folktale, you might include background information on Virginia Hamilton, slavery, and the folktale genre. Then, give students a chance to investigate the folktale's setting, characters, plot, and theme. You might want to have students reflect on what the folktale made them think about and how the folktale made them feel. All of my favorite lessons for this folktale are here.

      A Christmas Carol lesson plans and activities for the classroom

      This classic tale just had to make the list! In my classroom, we always read the play version of "A Christmas Carol." The story of Ebenezer Scrooge's transformation from a grouchy miser to a generous gentleman never gets old. I love how this play teaches about forgiveness, community, reflection, and kindness. 

      Teaching "A Christmas Carol" as a play is a great way to get lots of students reading in class. Just assign new parts for each scene and you'll be able to involve all of your students. I even have a student read the stage directions. After finishing the play, you might have students write a letter to Marley as if they are Ebenezer Scrooge. Have them recount the events of the night and then share what he's learned. Students love the chance to take on Scrooge's persona. You can find this activity and more right here.

      Poetry Lesson Maya Angelou "Life Doesn't Frighten Me"

      I'm a big fan of Maya Angelou, so it's no surprise that her poem, "Life Doesn't Frighten Me," made the list. The poem encourages students to recognize the courage that is inside of them. Angelou celebrates conquering one's fears and taking on the world. What's more exciting than that? 

      This is a great poem to teach because its structure and vocabulary are truly accessible for students. It also lends itself to fun writing prompts about fears and courage. You might have students write a new stanza to add to the poem, complete an analysis flip book, or even have students doodle in response to their learning. The options are endless with this inspiring poem. You can find my favorite Doodle and Do lessons for this poem here.


      I hope you found a few new pieces of literature to share with your students. As a review, here are my favorites:

      --- Story - "Thank You, M'am" by Langston Hughes
      --- Speech - "What is Your Life's Blueprint?" by Martin Luther King Jr.
      --- Book - Wonder by R.J. Palacio
      --- Play - "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens and dramatized by Frederick Gaines
      --- Folktale - "The People Could Fly" by Virginia Hamilton
      --- Poem - "Life Doesn't Frighten Me" by Maya Angelou

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Mary Beth

      Positive Notes for Students

      Let's face it, there are times when we all could use a little encouragement...and our students are no different. Sometimes, a little note does just the trick! That's why I put together a collection of note cards that you can share with students on any day of the year! I've even got ideas for how to use them in the classroom.

      First, things first, if you'd like a free set of the note cards, just add your information below. Then, check your email and download the cards instantly. (I'll provide another link for signing up at the end of this post in case you want to keep reading.)

      Sign Up & Download the Positive Note Cards!

      Add your name and email address to receive the Positive Notes in your email inbox!
        Join thousands of teachers and receive exclusive freebies (like the positive notes cards) in your email inbox! Spam-free. Unsubscribe at any time.

        The collection of positive notes includes two versions. One set has a "nature" theme. This version is black and white so you can just print and go!

        The other set has a "sweets" theme. It's full of color and whimsy!

        Both sets include 18 different cards with words of encouragement. There are even 3 blank cards that you can hand-write messages on. They're designed to be super versatile! Here are a few ways that you can use them in your classroom:

        DESK CARDS

        Just cut out the positive notes and fold them along the dotted line. This way they can stand up all on their own. Then, place them on students' desks when they could use a little encouragement. These are especially fun to display before a big exam or as a celebration for awesome behavior!

        WORK CARDS

        You can also cut apart the cards and staple them along the tops of students' papers. It would be super fun for students to save them and try to collect them all during the school year!

        NOTE CARDS

        Since the cards can fold in half, they also work perfectly as note cards. Just cut them out, fold them, and then write a personalized note inside for each of your students. 


        The positive note cards make awesome gifts, too! First, fill a clear plastic bag with some treats. Then, add a positive note inside the bag and tie it up with a ribbon. Just like that, you'll have a super sweet gift for students! Just imagine handing these out during the holidays or at the end of the school year! Your students will love them!

        If you'd like to use these positive notes in your classroom, I'll happily email them to you. Just add your information below and check your inbox!

        Sign Up & Download the Positive Note Cards!

        Add your name and email address to receive the Positive Notes in your email inbox!

          Join thousands of teachers and receive exclusive freebies (like the positive notes cards) in your email inbox! Spam-free. Unsubscribe at any time.

          Thanks so much for stopping by,
          Mary Beth

          P.S. Have you seen this set of FREE posters that spread a positive message?

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