5 Fall Activities for the Upper Elementary & Middle School Classrooms

The crunchy, colorful leaves, the cozy cardigans, the slight nip in the air, the warm caramel apple cider…all these elements make us so happy. We are team fall all the way! Here are 5 fall activities for the upper elementary & middle school classrooms.

The span between September to October is our favorite season for teaching. There are boundless opportunities to incorporate all aspects of autumn into the classroom. 


The beautiful fall weather in all its splendor makes for a spectacular backdrop for descriptive writing. Students can take a fall stroll and complete a scavenger hunt looking for specific autumn elements. They can observe the fall landscape and weather first-hand and use their findings to write the perfect descriptive essay. We have a blog post detailing how to complete a fall descriptive writing unit in your classroom. Check it out here:

In addition, here is another perfect fall fun writing activity that incorporates using that spooky holiday of Halloween. Students can write stories with spooky elements or their own version of a scary story. I have assigned basic spooky stories to elementary students and high schoolers. Both the young and old students love it. The best part is to play a spooky ambiance video on the projector while sharing those stories. It makes writing come alive!

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Scary Story Halloween Book Writing Activity

A favorite spooky writing unit I have used for elementary to middle school is our Scary Story Halloween Book Writing Activity. In the Scary Story Halloween Book pack, your students will choose a spooky writing prompt, utilize protagonist and antagonist character analysis sheets, a spooky setting map, and a story plot map, all essential prewriting tools for any young writer. My favorite part is the haunted house writing papers students can use to publish their work. Check it out here!

Procedural Writing Prompts

Fall also paves the way for various procedural writing prompts. After teaching students how to write a procedural piece, there are a variety of how-to topics they can tackle. Here are some ideas:

  1. How to Rake the Leaves
  2. How to Carve a Pumpkin
  3. How to Choose a Halloween Costume
  4. How to Bob for Apples
  5. How to Make S’mores

We love s’mores so much that my mother, Tami Parker, wrote a children’s book on how to microwave them! This book is just perfect to teach students how to write a procedural piece. 

In addition, here is a Procedural Writing unit written specifically for the picture book above. 

A priceless way to incorporate fall into the classroom is using ever-popular pumpkins. 

Pumpkin Math Day

When teaching elementary, we had a pumpkin math day in which we would learn all about estimating. We would make predictions as to how many seeds were in a pumpkin. Each group received a pumpkin and with some help from me, we would carve them and scoop out all the seeds. Next, we’d group them into 5’s and practice our 5’s multiplication tables by counting. We’d compare our estimates to our actual totals. Students would find the differences in the comparisons. We’d regroup the seeds into 2’s and 10’s and practice counting that way. Using the seeds, we would also graph our findings across the classroom into a cute pumpkin pictograph and bar graph.

Decorate a Pumpkin like a Book Character

Another simple but pleasant pumpkin activity is to have students decorate a pumpkin like a book character from an independent novel they’ve been reading or they can decorate their pumpkin as a nonfiction character or scary animal. These always turn out so interesting. 

Grab your Alligators and Crocodile book today!

Students can explore symbolism by decorating a pumpkin template on a piece of paper. Ask your students to decorate the pumpkin symbolically based on a character they are currently reading. Students can even apply symbolism to decorate a paper pumpkin to describe themselves.

3. Books!

There are countless wonderful picture books to relish in the fall season. Here are our favorites:

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak 

Pak’s series of books celebrate saying goodbye to one season while welcoming another. His illustrations are the cherry on top of the peaceful and perfectly described fall season.

Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland

This picture book is best described as a beautiful poem that sticks with you. This book portrays how fall is the lead way into winter, while appreciating autumn in its splendor.

Where’s My Mummy? by Carolyn Crimi

This cute picture book is best for kindergarten-4th grade with its friendly creatures and premise of a kid mummy wanting to play with his mummy. We have a full unit and adorable craftivity with this book. 

Here is a FREE onomatopoeia game perfect for grades 2nd-4th for Where’s My Mummy?

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

This picture book has been a favorite among my middle schoolers. It does a beautiful job teaching personification, foreshadowing, and imagery. Utilize this book to help teach writing as well as reading elements. 

Some awesome spooky short stories for middle schoolers specifically are: 

  1. The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs
  2. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
  3. The Californian’s Tale by Mark Twain
  4. The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell 
  5. The Tell-Tell Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

4. Fall & Spooky Art

Autumn and art go together like pumpkin spice and coffee. I love to incorporate fall arts and crafts into writing and reading units. Here are some ideas I have used in the past:

Students complete a watercolor painting of fall and write an accompanying poem

They can also complete a watercolor painting to illustrate a fall descriptive essay or to illustrate a fall simile or metaphor.

Furthermore, students can make a leaf collage and complete a personification writing piece in which they give names, personalities, and conflicts to their leaf personas.

Halloween Writing Craftivity – Students design a monster inspired by paint chips and then write all about their creature. 

Snowmen at Halloween Writing Craftivity – After reading Snowmen at Halloween by Carolyn Buehner, students design their own spooky snowman craft and write an accompanying story. 

5. Fall Figurative Language

There are countless opportunities to pair fall and figurative language together. Here are some simple ideas! 

a. Challenge students to write and illustrate fall idioms

b. Challenge students to write and illustrate fall/Halloween similes and metaphors

c. Students create pumpkin “pun-tastic” alliteration examples. 

d. Explore onomatopoeia using spooky sounds! Check out our FREEBIE here:  


Fall makes teaching so fun, and it sets the stage for many lively learning opportunities. From exciting writing units to beautifully-written picture books, fall can awaken a love of learning in your students. We hope you’re able to use some of these ideas in your classroom in the next two months. Your lessons will be “un-be-leaf-able!” 

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5 Activities to Honor & Remember 9-11

This year marks the 21st anniversary of 9-11. On September 11, 2001, almost 3,000 individuals lost their lives in a series of deliberate attacks on American soil. Two hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, causing its two towers to collapse. The Pentagon in Arlington, VA also had a plane fly into it, and a fourth plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field. The last aircraft was likely headed to the White House or the Capitol. First responders also died helping those injured individuals on 9-11. As educators, we must include in our classroom activities to honor & remember 9-11 each year.

As educators, this is a significant day. No matter what subject you teach, you can talk about September 11 in the classroom. When teaching middle school history to students I always told them, “History is ugly, but that’s why we need to learn it.” We owe it to those who lost their lives on that horrendous day. 

Here are 5 activities you can complete with your students to learn about September 11 for your upper elementary to middle school students. 

1. Read a Book to Honor and Remember 9-11

Read a book. One of the best ways to teach students about the events of September 11 in an age-appropriate way that does not scare them is through the familiarity of a picture book. Here are 3 books we recommend on the topic:

The following two books tell of varying perspectives from unlikely entities that became tremendous sanctuaries of safety. 

Click here to grab your copy today.

The Little Chapel that Stood by A B Curtiss

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Beautifully illustrated book tells of the historic chapel less than 100 yards from the Twin Towers that miraculously survived on 9-11. Firemen hung their shoes on the fence and raced to help the people in the towers: Oh what gallant men did we lose who never came back to get their shoes. The story of terror overcome by courage and bravery that teaches us no one is too small to make a difference.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman

Publisher’s Synopsis:

The John J. Harvey fireboat was the largest, fastest, shiniest fireboat of its time, but by 1995, the city didn’t need old fireboats anymore. So the Harvey retired until a group of friends decided to save it from the scrap heap. Then, one sunny September day in 2001, something so horrible happened that the whole world shook. And a call came from the fire department, asking if the Harvey could battle the roaring flames. In this inspiring true story, Maira Kalman brings a New York City icon to life and proves that old heroes never die.

Branches of Hope: The 9/11 Survivor Tree by Ann Magee

Publisher’s Synopsis:

In this moving tribute to a city and its people, a wordless story of a young child accompanies the tree’s history. As the tree heals, the girl grows into an adult, and by the 20th anniversary of 9/11, she has become a firefighter like her first-responder uncle. A life-affirming introduction to how 9/11 affected the United States and how we recovered together.

Video from National Geographic is a great accompaniment to book:

The following video from National Geographic is a great accompaniment to the book to show how the burned pear tree was recovered at a Bronx nursery and how it was brought back to life and replanted in its original spot. The survivor tree’s story is so deeply symbolic of the recovery of America and its people from the trauma of 9-11. 

2. Interviews: Secondary and Primary Sources

Your students’ parents remember exactly where they were when 9-11 occurred. We are teaching some of the last generations of kids, depending on the age of your students, whose parents were alive on 9-11. 

I remember I was in my eighth grade taking an algebra test on September 11, 2001, when the first tower was struck. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, until about an hour later when we were sent to the auditorium instead of our elective class. We were told what happened and then they played a movie. Looking back, I’m sure the teachers just couldn’t go on that day and didn’t know what to do. Kids were picked up one by one as parents weren’t sure what was happening to America that day either. 

I like to teach students about the difference between secondary and primary sources. Interviewing someone who was alive on 9-11 is a primary source. Then, they as students, become the secondary source of that event. I love to give the homework assignment of interviewing a family member about what they remember of 9-11 and where they were. What were they feeling? What was their perspective? Students write down the answers to their interview and during the course of it, they learn even more through discussion with their interviewee. They come back to class and share their interviews. It’s fascinating to hear the stories. The students are always so curious and enthralled when they hear their peers’ interview stories. 

3. Virtual Tour of 9-11 Memorial and Museum

I love the story of redemption that the 9-11 Memorial and Museum symbolize. Built where the original World Trade Center was located, the 9-11 Memorial and Museum strives to educate others about that tragic date and memorialize those lives that were lost. 

Description from Website: Located at the World Trade Center in New York City, the 9-11 Memorial Museum tells the story of 9-11 through media, narratives, and a collection of monumental and authentic artifacts, presenting visitors with personal stories of loss, recovery, and hope.

If you don’t live near NYC and don’t have the opportunity to take students on a field trip to see it, try the virtual tour: 

The virtual tour is in a video fashion where you follow along with other students as they explore. You can pick where to explore next in the museum, listen to various stories told by tour guides, and explore the building itself with symbolic exhibitions that show artifacts of 9-11 and that commemorate the lives lost.

The website itself is a treasure trove of valuable resources. The link below lists countless primary source accounts of survivors, children of NYPD and firefighters who lost their lives, and even grown adults who were children in the elementary school down the street from the World Trade Center. Each video comes with a set of discussion questions, as well. 

4. Oral History of Courage of First Responders/Writing Letters

Mr. Rogers said it best, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother  would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ” 

Discussing with students about the first responders who jumped to action, risking their own lives, to help others is a beautiful lesson of courage. It teaches students how we should put others before ourselves. It teaches them selflessness. The following website contains the oral histories of survivors of 9-11 as well as first responder accounts. 

After listening to the oral histories of first responders or their family members, it is a great springboard for discussion of how our police officers, firefighters, healthcare workers, and so many other first responders are so courageous and deserve our gratefulness. Having students write a thank-you note to your local police or fire departments, hospitals, etc. to show their gratefulness for their courage to our community is a wonderful way to remember lives lost and to express gratitude. By expressing thankfulness, students can truly understand the bravery of those who chose these careers. 

If you would like a template or graphic organizer for a letter campaign, please grab our Veterans Day Letter/Card Writing Project. You can easily use these to write letters now to first responders or write letters to veterans, as well. In addition, we also give you an address to mail them to. Plus, if you mail them now, most likely they will reach our veterans this November, just in time for Veterans Day.

5. Write a Poem about 9-11 & Illustrate the Poem

Writing a poem about 9-11 is a way for students to connect to the event and express their feelings. 

The Library of Congress’ website has a collection of poems about 9/11 that were written within a year of this historical event. 

Reading some of the poems aloud can give students inspiration for their own. (Read the poems ahead of time to choose more age-appropriate ones depending on the grade-level of your students.)

Students can then write a poem of their own about what they learned and illustrate it. 

If you are looking for even more ways to educate your students on how to honor and remember 9-11, Tunnel to Towers has developed an inspiring curriculum for you to share with your students. Their non-fiction, 9-11 educational resources are based on first-person accounts for grades K-12. For their resources, please click below.


We encourage you to take some time to educate your students about 9-11 in an age-appropriate way. By reading a picture book, performing interviews, exploring various websites and oral histories, and writing poetry, students are bound to remember the historical significance of the day and teach their children about it too. Please include these activities to honor & remember 9-11 this year. Their units are divided for K-2, 3-5,

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More Tips for Teaching Middle School

For Part 1 of this series, I talked all about my personal story of switching over to middle school from high school and the perks of teaching middle grades. In Part 2, I listed 3 major tips to help you teach middle school. For the final part, I’m going to give you 3 last tips to help guide you in this new endeavor you’ll be undertaking, or if you’re already a middle school teacher, these tips can be awesome reminders. Let’s dive right in!

Tip #4:  Make extra copies!

If you read Part 2 about middle school students having trouble with executive functioning skills, you will undoubtedly understand that sometimes they lose items and papers. Learning to be mini-adults can be tricky, and their brain is filtering through so much. With their struggles with organization, they are bound to lose some papers. I have developed a full-proof system for lost papers. 

It’s so simple. I make extra copies! If a student lost their paper, I simply go back in my basket and give them an extra one. If I have a class of 15 students, I’ll make about 5-7 extra copies just in case. 

Now, if their lost paper causes them to be late on an assignment, this means they may be penalized late points on their grade. I think about the situation. If that student never ever loses anything, and it’s not typical of their behavior, I normally do not penalize late points. However, if they are a repeat offender, sometimes a way to teach them to keep up with their work is to penalize them by taking points off for lateness.

Furthermore, if they are a continuous repeat offender of losing papers, I do talk to them about staying organized. I ask them: where are you putting your papers? Are you placing them in the right folder or notebook? Are the papers just strewn about in your backpack or locker? 

Go to the root of the problem with their repeated behavior of losing things. I have some students that are super reliable and never lose a thing. I have some students that lose some papers at times, and I have others that lose everything you give them.  

For major projects or writing assignments, I place the details on Google Classroom. That way, if they do lose the paper, they can just visit Google Classroom to find it. Our overall goal is to have them do the work and to educate them. If giving an extra copy can help us accomplish that, I don’t see why not.

Tip #5: Keep them Busy with Authentic and Fun Assignments

Keeping middle schoolers busy with authentic work and fun assignments helps avoid downtime. During downtime, middle schoolers can get into trouble. This is obviously not true of every middle schooler. Some students are great with downtime and love to read or can handle working on unfinished work, or can quietly play an online game, but others have a more difficult time with self-control, which goes back to executive functioning. 

For this reason, I like to pack my lessons full from bell to bell. Another way to make sure your whole class time is utilized is through games. Middle schoolers absolutely love competition. Kahoot, Blooket, Jeopardy, and any review games are always exciting for students. When students are having fun learning and doing authentic work, they are busy and less likely to fall into scenarios that can get them into trouble. 

I like to give middle schoolers lots of options during Study Hall if that’s something they have. I teach English so every marking period, students have a different independent book project. Therefore, they are always reading a book and working on their project. The independent book projects vary, such as passion projects, pizza box reports, and even just a standard essay. A variety of lessons, projects, and fun assignments help kids stay busy. 

When I say keep them busy, I don’t mean with busy work. Give them authentic assignments that are enriching and that relate to what they’re learning in class. My students know that they rarely get free time.

Some ways to keep them busy is for early finishers, have various websites on your online learning platform they can visit to practice skills. My students can play Wordle or even Globle, which is a geography game similar to Wordle. Freerice.com is another neat website to practice vocabulary skills. 

If students are taking a quiz and some finish early, tell them they can read, visit the websites for extra practice, or work on their independent project. Don’t give free time as an option. When free time is given often, it’s an invitation to behavioral issues. Like a student of mine asked the other day: “Can we have free time today?” Another student chimed in, “Naw, man. You know Mrs. R doesn’t do free time!”

Tip #6: “If You Give an Inch, They’ll Take a Mile”

My unofficial teaching philosophy for middle school is “If You Give an Inch, They’ll Take a Mile,” or like a southern teacher of mine used to say, “Give them a drop and they’ll take the whole bucket.” 

When teaching middle schoolers, I hate to admit it…but I can be strict. I would love to say that my class is free-flowing, but that’s just not me. Students have a set of rules they must follow when they enter my classroom, and I hold to them hard and fast. For instance, they need to ask permission before they get up. That includes getting a tissue or using hand sanitizer. I know all too well that if you allow them to get up whenever they want, then half of your class is up. Thus, a domino effect of distraction is quickly created. 

I do explain to them the reasoning behind each of the rules. Examples from my own personal experience of allowing the opposite of those rules are given. Also, I give them the logic behind it. From that point, I expect them to follow the guidelines I’ve set forth. 

When it comes to allowing chatter, I simply don’t permit it during independent work. I tell the class that this is quiet time and they may not talk at all. Their attention should be on their work and not on talking to their classmates. If I allow whispering during work, then within five minutes it’s a full-blown loud party. 

I also understand though that middle schoolers NEED to socialize and talk. If you do not give them any opportunities to do so, their need to talk will bubble over into quiet independent time or into interruptions during your teaching. Because of this, I build in time for them to socialize. Socializing with each other can be accomplished during partner work, group projects, and homeroom.

Nevertheless, when it comes to rules, stick to them. Follow through on consequences. If you allow middle schoolers to take an inch or get too comfortable, they will take a mile. 

For example, we had a rule in which students could use their cell phones during downtimes at the beginning of September 2020, as a way to ease the burden of wearing masks and all the changes they were going through. Soon, all the students wanted to was to be on their phones. Students were turning in sloppy work, unfinished assignments, and doing the bare minimum to get to their phones. We evaluated that policy and quickly did away with cell phones. I have numerous examples from the past five years in which giving an inch has become a mile and not in a good way. 

This stems back to executive functioning. Self-control is a skill they are still developing. Not all middle schoolers struggle with this, but enough do so that it can derail your whole class. Evaluate and analyze what areas in your classroom may prove true of this old saying.

End of the Year Student Gifts and Editable Awards

Last, if you would like some awesome End of the Year Student Gifts and Editable Awards, check out our latest product.


By making extra copies, keeping them busy with authentic and fun work, and sticking to your rules, your middle school classroom can be successful and produce well-educated and well-behaved middle schoolers. Nevertheless, remember that the beauty of teaching middle school is in the mess. They are still learning and developing, transitioning and growing into mini-adults. The position you’ve been given has awarded you the opportunity to steward them well. Do not take it lightly, but have fun in the process.  

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