National Geographic Inside Lesson Plans

One of my favorite curriculums to use with middle school students is National Geographic’s Inside series. I love how it is cross-curricular, with most of the units directly connecting to science and social studies, and it is aligned to CCSS ELA standards. My students have always found the readings to be highly engaging. I also appreciate how budget-friendly it is. It is possible to teach the curriculum with only the student books. The online materials, workbooks, and writing curriculum are all nice, but not necessary, and as I spent most of my career working at schools with a budget of $0, having a curriculum that worked well without all of the “extras” was a necessity. I only have two concerns with the series: academic vocabulary and grammar.

The series does include academic vocabulary, but I find it is poorly developed. The practice activities usually consisted of one or two worksheets, which were included in the workbook (which I often did not have access to). Thankfully, I already have a standard set of vocabulary activities I know work well and my students enjoy. I used my 30-weeks of Academic Vocabulary as inspiration, and created academic vocabulary units for each unit of levels A (blue book) and B (green book). Each unit includes the eight academic vocabulary words for each of the eight units. Since the curriculum repeats some words, this resource also repeats some words. In my class I start each unit by working together to complete the chart and scatter the other activities throughout the unit (each activity takes about 5-10 minutes). The assessment is given near the end of the unit, separate from the unit assessment. The activities consist of the aforementioned chart, cards to add to our word wall, sort cards, clip cards, match-it cards, worksheets, a scrambled word recording sheet, and an assessment.

When it came to dealing with the grammar, I decided to supplement unit-by-unit. Over the years I developed fairly extensive plans for each unit that included a variety of grammar (and other) supplemental activities. When I found myself having to change districts mid-year, leaving my class in the hands of a long-term sub (who happened to be my best language tutor) who wasn’t trained as a teacher, my principal asked me to leave as many plans as possible. I quite happily turned over my entire unit plans for the rest of the year, including what supplemental resources I could leave. Those plans were later used by a mid-year hire teacher who told me how helpful they were. This got me thinking and I realized my unit plans could be useful for other teachers.

It took awhile to find the time, but about a year ago I finally got all of my plans written up in a format that is easier to use, and understandable to more than just me. Each zip file (one for level A and one for level B) contains plan tables (day, class activities, homework) for each unit. Whenever a supplemental activity is mentioned I try to link to it so you can easily download it for yourself. The zip file also includes templates/handouts for whatever assignments and resources I could freely share without violating copyright laws. Not included in the lesson plan download are the word wall cards I made for the vocabulary in the various readings. These are available as a free download, or from my post Vocabulary Word Wall (which describes in detail how I use them). Another thing I did not provide was a lot of detail on how I implement each activity. We are all professionals and have our own styles, how you implement the activities will be different from how I implement them, and that’s OK–even good! Unfortunately I cannot put zip files on this blog for direct download, so I had to post the plans on Teachers Pay Teachers, but they are free.

It is my hope that these plans will be of use and benefit to other teachers. I greatly miss working with this particular curriculum (though I do enjoy National Geographic’s Pathways, the curriculum I use with my adult students) and am always excited when I teach a similarly themed unit and get to delve back into some of the resources and activities. Happy teaching, everyone!

Need some of those links again? Here they are:

To make things even easier for you, I’ve put together a bundle for each level. The bundles contain all of the plans and supplemental activities that I’ve developed for each book. This allows you to get all of the supplemental resources I’ve created for each book at a 20% discount. Please note: some products are repeated in the bundles.

Teaching both books and don’t want to try and figure out which products are included in both bundles? No problem, there’s a bundle that has everything for both books, this one at a 25% discount.

Many people have contacted me about plans for Inside Fundamentals, the orange books. I only used that level very briefly and many years ago. In fact, I only taught the first six units from it. I haven’t had time to put together proper plans to share, but I did throw together an activity list for the six units I taught and a couple of bonus units (telling time and body parts). The list is a bit of a mess, and I couldn’t find links for all of the activities, but I’m happy to share what I have. Hopefully I’ll get some time later this semester to put together a proper “plan” and search for some of the missing links. Feel free to contact me with any questions and I’ll do my best to help.

Reading & Writing for Academic Purposes

It was less than two weeks before the start of the school year when I received a call from the district office. The district-level supervisor for my department wanted to see me, and the ESL program head, in her office. I was nervous, but since I didn’t really have a choice, I went. Turns out I was right to be nervous, not because I was in trouble, but because I was about to be asked to do the seemingly impossible. 

My wonderful supervisor had, without consulting anyone in the department, applied for a grant to help improve long-term English language learner’s academic reading and writing skills. The grant had been approved, and now it was time to put the program into place. The problem was, no program actually existed. ​​I was handed a blank sheet of paper and told to develop a program that would improve student scores in reading and writing, specifically on the WIDA, NWEA, and P-SAT tests. The target student was a long-term, high intermediate to advanced EL. You know the students, we all have them, those who have an excellent grasp of English, but always miss exiting the program just just a few points, usually in one or two skill areas. The types of data needing to be tracked was listed out, counselor cooperation to redo student schedules was promised, and I was told to keep everyone in the loop.

With no idea of where to start, I headed to school and started digging through our supply closet, looking for inspiration. In the back, unopened, and just waiting to be discovered, I found Fountas and Pinnell’s LLI Teal System, and inspiration struck. I moved the boxes to my classroom, pulled out all of the nonfiction texts, and started trying to find the titles I thought would most interest students. I continued pulling in resources from places such as Reading A-Z, NewsELA, my own library at home, and our primary curriculum series, National Geographic Inside. I spent the year planning out units, staying one step ahead of students, and trying to explain the hoped for benefits of the class to administrators, parents, and students.

By the end of the year, the students and I had had a lot of fun. Since there was no set curriculum, we were able to explore topics and themes that we were interested in. Each unit was themed around a book from the LLI series, supplemented with other resources, and culminated in a written paper of some kind. We learned about bionics, artificial intelligence, chocolate, and even famous April Fool’s Day pranks. The final data was better than we had hoped for, with students achieving their highest scores ever on the WIDA reading and writing sections. My sixth and seventh graders improved an average of 209% on their NWEA reading test, and the eighth graders all passed their P-SAT (average score of 410). Many of the students were finally able to exit the ESL program, which made everyone very happy.

Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to teach the class for one year. My position with the district was originally part time, but in January of that school year became full time. Full time work was not something I wanted to continue with, so at the end of the year I left the district. My successor did continue to use the materials, but I wanted to share them with a wider audience. The button above will link you to my Teachers Pay Teachers store, where you can download a zip file for free. In the file you will find a materials list with links for the various commercial resources (such as the LLI system) and a folder for each unit. Each unit’s folder contains a lesson plan and the materials I am able to disseminate for free. In the lesson plan I provide Word documents and links to other materials I used (most are free) and Google doc templates of the Word files. I’ve tried to be as clear as I can in the plans, but please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Happy teaching, everyone.