Students are given a Welcome to Haven Questionnaire. They work on this questionnaire independently at their seats.
As a class, we discuss the findings. What are people excited about?
Before discussing number two, I always ask them, "Who is the bravest person in the class? Who can admit what makes them most nervous about middle school?" This gets them talking and sharing right away. Usually every hand goes up for something they may be have originally been embarrassed to share.
This sets the stage for effective discussion right off the bat. And allows them to discuss a topic that is on all of their minds: transitioning to middle school.
I begin reading aloud, United Tates of America, by Paula Danziger. I only read the first chapter and maybe second chapter if time allows. Before I begin, I pass out a graphic organizer. I explain that as I read, the class should be listening for similarities and differences between Haven Middle (our school) and Biddle Middle, the school mentioned in the text. In the story, Skate Tate is also experiencing her first day of middle school. She is getting used to her busy new schedule, trying to remember her locker location, and adjusting to brand new teachers... just like them!
I begin modeling under the document camera as I read, finding the similarities and differences.
Together, as a class, I urge the kids to listen and find their own similarities and differences between the story and their real life experience at Haven Middle School. They begin to follow along and chart what they hear. I draw attention to students who are taking their time to write at appropriate times, always saying "I like how ________________ is writing thoughtfully. He/she must have heard something meaningful in the text." This sets up a positive dynamic right from the start of the year.
At the end of class, I give them time to explore the classroom library. I say, if you see a book you like, grab it, take it back to your seat, and write down the title. If there is time, they can share the titles they gravitated towards.