Using Mini Lesson for ELA Content: A Strategy for Keeping Middle School Students Engaged!


“Earth to Kaitlyn! Kaitlyn!!” I say in my best ‘Positive and Peppy, but I Need Your Attention Voice’ while snapping my fingers and waving my arms.

Even though I was doing my best SNL Spartan Cheerleader moves, Kaitlyn sat at table five doing her best bored teenager impression while staring out the window.

I mean, I’m sure it’s an impression. She really can’t be bored. We’re learning about Objective Summaries! Objective summaries of informational text at that! Woo hooo, right?!?! And we’re ONLY 20 minutes in!

On some level I knew my lectures that would impress Ben Stein would have to go, but this was the moment where I actually decided to make the change.

What I did:

Took the standards and condensed them into mini lessons.

  1. Each mini lesson includes:

    1. Content specific vocabulary: I pull out 3-6 power vocabulary words to go with the standard I’m teaching. This is the vocabulary that is essential for understanding the concept. For example, when teaching connotation and denotation, I define connotation, denotation, literal, and figurative. I try to teach this section in 5-7 minutes. I actually set my phone timer for 7 minutes max and gave it to a student. They were responsible for keeping me on track! (this is a great tip for those students who struggle to remain focused!)

2. Whole class practice: This is where we practice applying the skill. This is more teacher guided and directed and should not take more than 8-10 minutes. For example, continuing with the connotation and denotation example, I show a video from Series of Unfortunate Events that explains the difference between figurative and literal. We take the info from the video and make a chart. After that, I show them several words, and we talk about the possible connotative meaning compared to the denotative meaning. We do the first 1 together, the 2nd one as a table group, and the third one on their own.

3. Finally, I let the students practice the skill on their own or with a partner with something I call Quest Activities. These are usually completed in stations so the students have an opportunity to get up and moving. Quest activities are designed for students to work with the concepts and vocabulary on their own to build and create a foundation for the standard. Again, with the connotation and denotation example, the students had to (1) determine if a word had a positive or negative connotation, (2) author’s attitude based on the connotation used, (3) changing a neutral word in a sentence to make it a positive and then a negative sentence, (4) determine a sporting team’s record based on their team name (Seattle Sloths vs. Savage Storm), (5) personality graphic organizer where students determine the connotation of certain personalities.


These have been amazing and a total game changer! Not only for me, but for numerous other teachers who have tried them as well.

As with all things, you can totally create this on your own. However, I know your time is precious, and you have 1,007 things on your to-do list, so I out some things together to help you out! I have bundled 14 of my best selling mini lessons in a great download! These are your POWER STANDARDS for middle school ELA all on ONE SPOT! Plus, I have included a Parts of Speech mini lesson as a bonus!!

Just CLICK HERE to get the bundle and start using today!

Let me know if you change one of your lessons into this mini lesson format! I would love to know how it goes!

Happy teaching, my friends!

Savannah Kepley