None of these are exactly pedagogy busting. But I'm happy with how all of them are going.
I have tried various discussion protocols over the years, but I've been having a lot of success with a fairly simple one this year. Instead of having students independently write their answers to questions at times, I have them answer them verbally to each other. I usually put about six questions up on the board, place an "L" or "R" next to each (for left and right, as in who should answer it), and let them go. As we all know, middle schoolers love to socialize, and this allows them to do so in an on-topic kind of way. I particularly like using them when the class needs a little more energy or a break from too much quiet work.
I have always done some vocab activities, but as I've tried to integrate more primary sources into my curriculum, I have found them increasingly necessary. There are so many types and I think I will go into more detail of successful ones in a future post, but most of the activities really do help preemptively prepare kids for some tough readings. I don't think I've ever done one and thought, "They really didn't need that." Instead, I'm usually thinking, "I can't believe they didn't know that word!" Besides helping them with the reading, I like that these activities tend to be fun and interactive. It makes for a nice balance to a class that will end with them trying to interpret a difficult ancient text.
No More Class Pencil Sharpeners!
Perhaps it's just me, but I have been involved in a 15-year war with my students over the pencil sharpener. When I first started teaching, I felt like at least once per day a student would find it a great idea to grind their pencil while I was talking. Eventually, I got them to stop this, but then they would just stand by the sharpener waiting for me to stop talking. Which after a few seconds led to me just telling them to do so while the class waited. To make matters worse, they are so hard on electric sharpeners that it seems to take forever. So this year, after a student seemingly sharpened their pencil for 20 minutes, I just tossed it into the trashcan. Since then, when they ask me about it, I tell them to bring their own handheld sharpener in the future and offer them a pen. And it seems to be working. Free at last!