What to Say in Sticky Situations
Finding the right words to respond to middle schoolers’ behavior can be a challenge. Here’s your back-to-school survival guide
What to Say …
When You Witness Bullying
Start by getting the student’s attention, whether your style is a sharp “Hey!” or deadpanning “Excuse me.” Whatever your rapport with the kids, your tone should convey a disapproving reaction to whatever you’ve heard or seen. Try not to draw attention to the victim; instead, focus on how the bully is creating a negative atmosphere by telling him, “You’re disrupting everyone’s group work” or “You’re being disruptive.”

How to follow up: Pull the victim aside after class to check in with him. “I noticed Joe was being unpleasant to you earlier—do you want to talk?”

When to call home: You’ve contacted other professionals in the building (such as the school psychologist) and the behavior still continues.

What to Say …
When You Hear a Racist Comment
Look the offending student in the eye and say, in a stern voice, “Speak with me after class.” According to Diana Ling, English teacher in Tenafly, New Jersey, “You want to acknowledge the comment without distracting from the lesson.”

How to follow up: Say to the student, “Do you know why I’m asking to speak with you?” According to Ling, sometimes students aren’t aware they’ve said something offensive. “Explain why it’s wrong if they don’t understand, and that you won’t tolerate that language in your classroom,” she suggests. If the problem seems to be more ingrained, check out some of the ideas for changing school culture at .

When to call home: The student’s behavior continues, even after your one-on-one conference. Unfortunately, sometimes these attitudes stem from parents’ own casual comments, in which case you might want to include a guidance counselor in the discussion as well.

What to Say …
When a Kid always Forgets Homework
Start with an observation: “I’m looking at my grade book and see that you’ve missed ten homework assignments since the beginning of the marking period.” Then show the student the actual page in your grade book—seeing a line of zeroes paints the picture quickly. Get the student talking about what the problem is and go from there. Does she need to purchase an agenda? Does she need to find a quiet space to complete her work? Pack her bookbag the night before instead of in the morning?

How to follow up: Show the student the grade book again at the end of the week as a visual indicator of her progress (or lack thereof).

When to call home: After you’ve worked out a plan to help the student remember her homework, let mom and dad in on the plan.

What to Say …
When a Student won’t participate
Once the class is engaged in a discussion, check to make sure that even if the student is not speaking, he is paying attention. “Check for nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, note taking, or nodding,” advises Michael Cohen, supervisor of 6–12 English in Tenafly, New Jersey. If you don’t see nonverbal signs, then call on that student to answer a very basic question pertaining to the conversation that you know he’ll be able to answer. Successfully answering even just a basic question is a great way for a student to build the confidence needed to take bigger risks in the future.

How to follow up: After class, recognize that student’s risk taking with a “Thanks for participating today” or “Good discussion!” as he walks out of the room. Verbal acknowledgement will encourage the student to continue participating in future classes.

When to call home:
Call to report any positive changes in behavior—and to encourage the student to continue.

Web 2.0
How to Teach With Wikis
Find ways to use wikis, collaborative websites that any user can edit, to help kids push further and think deeper.

Get Started
If you’re new to wikis, you’ll love the Web 2.0 tutorial at It provides a teacher-
friendly overview of several Web 2.0 tools, including wikis. The educational benefits are broken down and you can see examples of other teachers’ wikis. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet, explore some of the many services that offer
free wikis to educators, including , , and

Create Your Own Math Book
Start by telling students that by the end of the year, they will have created their own virtual textbook! Then, as you progress through the year, have small groups update a wiki on a weekly basis with the topics you’ve been learning. For the first part of the school year, model how to organize the material under distinct subheads (e.g., for algebra, “Variables,” “Functions,” and “Operations”), as well as include hyperlinks to past material. Later, students can take control of the wiki themselves. Have students share their updates with the whole class.

Rewrite a Classic Tale
For his most recent novel, Paper Towns, young adult author John Green created a related wiki,, incorporating many of the same characters, places, and historical figures as the novel. Invite students to explore Omnictionary or another book-related wiki. Then challenge them to create a wiki for the book you are currently reading in class. Ask students to think about how the wiki can deepen and extend the experience of reading the book. You might keep the wiki strictly factual or have a blend of fact and fiction, like Omnictionary. A wiki for To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, might include a biography of Harper Lee as well as an entry on Boo Radley that reveals more about him than we learn in the book.

Go Back In Time
Begin by inviting students to choose a historical figure from the period you’re studying. As a jumpstart to research, have students study that person’s wiki on Wikipedia. Then ask students to explore books, articles, and other online sites. Once students have completed their research, have them create their own wikis for the figures they have been learning about. When finished, talk about the places where students’ wikis can hyperlink to one another. 

Learn Spanish
Some foreign language teachers use wikis as a way to organize vocabulary words by theme or unit of study. That way kids have quick and easy access to an online dictionary customized just for your class. You can also use your wiki to link to people who speak the language you are studying as well as to places where the language is prevalent. Contributing to a wiki is an excellent way to encourage language practice.

For that Science Center
Talk about the parallels between wikis and the scientific enterprise—a group of people working toward a common goal, sharing information along the way and fine-tuning the results. Then challenge students to identify ways one would improve the accuracy of an existing wiki that covers a topic you are studying in class. Another fun science class-wiki idea: Start a brainstorming wiki for a science fair, where students can post and respond to one another’s ideas. —Hannah Trierweiler Hudson