Building an Effective Classroom Culture in Middle School

Teacher with middle school students in a library

Creating an effective classroom culture of high expectations can be difficult to achieve, especially when you are first starting out in teaching. In order to have a productive academic year, with less stress for you and more success for students, clear expectations and consistency in your classroom are key. Here are five tips to help you build an effective classroom culture:

  1. Give clear instructions. Delivery of explicit directions to your students at the start of the lesson is key. When giving clear directions, be sure to include what you want the students to do, the volume at which it is to be done, as well as instructions for classroom movement and transition into the activity. Making these three expectations clear at the beginning of the activity will help your students transition quietly and effectively.
  2. Consistency. There is nothing more important than consistency in the classroom. When students know what to expect from you, and understand that the consequences apply to everyone, they will respect your authority, and your lesson will run a lot more smoothly. This goes for consistency in structure of your lessons as well. Students in my classroom know that they come in, sit down and start their warm up, which is a quick task I leave on the board to get class started while I am transitioning between blocks. Because they know the expectation, behavior becomes much easier to manage.
  3. Be honest and transparent with your students. Students value teachers who are honest with them, will allow them to ask questions, and share connections they make as the lesson goes on. Creating a safe space that makes students feel valued is one of the most important aspects to having a healthy classroom culture. 
    “The saying, ‘They won’t work for you until they like you’ is true, especially for middle schoolers. When my students feel invested in me and know I respect them, they are more likely to be active learners. I often find my students disappointed when I don’t call on them when they knew the answer. Because they know I care about them, they intrinsically want to make me proud.” – Mackenzie Ball, CMS
  4. Teaching tolerance. One of the hardest parts of being a middle school teacher is correcting student-student behavior in the classroom. Sometimes it’s hard for students to see how their actions are affecting others. From day one, it’s important to show students that bullying in any form will not be tolerated. It is also important to explain to students what actions are considered bullying. This can be accomplished many ways. My favorite way to accomplish this is through reading. I choose topics and stories from all kinds of authors, both informational texts and fiction, that follow the themes of kindness, generosity and helping others. Some classic stories I love are “Thank you Ma’am”  by Langston Hughes, “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” by Walter Dean Myers, and “Amigo Brothers” by Piri Thomas. If there is anything that I want my kids to understand after one year in my classroom is that tolerance of others is one of the most beautiful personality traits that an adult can have.
  5. Creating a competitive learning environment. My best lessons engage my students the most. In my classroom, an easy way to increase student engagement is to make the lesson a competition, and offer a prize for those who work the hardest. One of my favorite lessons this year was one that I adapted after getting the idea from a colleague. I created a relay race to help my students review for the end of the year standardized test. All year, we had worked on strategies for annotating and answering questions. In order to practice these skills, I split the class into teams of 5, and cut up a practice test into sections. I first gave my students fifteen minutes to read the passage together as a team. Then I gave each team member a card with different tasks necessary to answer the question. Each student had one minute to complete their task card, and then pass the test question to the next person on their team. At the end, the team with the most correct annotations and strategies won a point for their team. This activity not only taught my class teamwork and gave the lesson a sense of urgency, but showed them the importance of speed and accuracy when answering test questions. And most importantly, we had fun doing it!

When it comes down to it, the most effective classrooms are those where students feel safe to be who they are while learning. When a teacher is clear with expectations, consistent, and honest with students, the possibilities for learning are endless.



About the Author
Sari Goldstein

Sari Goldstein

Sari Goldstein is a graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in political science and a minor in psychology. She spent most of her 3.5 years in state college, PA, but also spent one semester studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. After graduating from college she began working for Teach for America in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. She teaches middle school language arts, and is hoping to continue making a difference in the lives of students nationwide. Her passion is creating educational equity and higher literacy rates within Title I schools.