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Looking to "Challenge" Your Middle Schoolers?

Share Looking for a fun challenge for middle schoolers? A new series from The Learning Works offers just that -- challenges in language arts, math, science, social studies, and more! "Middle School Challenges" are prefect for use as class openers, teamwork activities, time-fillers, or classroom contests.


In what country or U.S. state do the following books take place? Language Challenge Book Cover

  1. The Incredible Journey by Shelia Burnford
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  3. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  4. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  5. The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Unleash your middle schoolers on the library or the Internet, challenging them to locate on a world map the locations of those and ten other great works of literature. The "challenge" makes an ideal individual or team activity!

Sometimes people have names that seem to suit their occupations. Sally Ride, for example, is an astronaut. Rollie Fingers was a famous baseball pitcher. Challenge students -- individually or in groups -- to create some suitable names for people with these occupations:

veterinarianlion tamerbanker
chefpilottrick driver

Or invite cooperative groups of students to create a brief improv matching one of the situations below and one of the roles:

Taking a flight on a small planea teenage girl and a teenage boy
Going to an expensive restaurantclass brain and class cut-up
Watching a horror moviea father and a 12-year-old daughter
Going to the orthodontista teenage girl and best friend

Those are just three sample challenges among -- literally -- hundreds that teachers can create using Middle School Language Arts Challenge. Ready for a few more quickies?

Provide time limits as teams of students attempt these challenges:

  • Aba is a loose traditional garment worn by men in the Middle East. Use a dictionary to find as many other words as you can that begin and end with the letter a. Select five of the most interesting words and write sentences using those words. (Option: Find words that begin and end with h, l, m, n, or t).
  • Use a dictionary to find as many five-syllable words as you can.
  • An anagram for earth is heart; an anagram for cafeterias is irate faces. Challenge students to create anagrams from the words unabashed and articulate.

Additional activities challenge students to rewrite sentences with misplaced modifiers; practice the use of foreshadowing in their writing; place the pesky periods or apostrophes where they belong; decipher word puzzles; and to practice dictionary skills by matching common words with their "worldly origins." And that's just the beginning! Activities are included to practice and extend in the areas of literature; creative writing; journalism and journal writing; punctuation, grammar, and usage; vocabulary; public speaking and drama; and games and challenges. And they're all there at your fingertips, all set for any moment you might need them!


Math Challenge Book Cover

It was a dark and stormy night. As the clock struck midnight it began raining cats and dogs. Will there be sunny weather in 96 hours? Explain why or why not.

Divide your middle schoolers into teams and challenge them to figure out the answer to that logic puzzle See how many will come to the conclusion that it won't be sunny because in 96 hours it will be midnight, only four days later.

Or invite students to assign a point value to each letter of the alphabet, e.g., a = 1 point, b = 2 points, c = 3 points Then challenge students to come up with words that have a value of 100 points or more. (For example, the word fuzzy has a value of 104 points because f = 6, u = 21, each z = 26 points, and the y = 25.) Who can come up with the shortest word worth 100 points or more?

Those are just two of the 100 or more math challenges you'll find in Middle School Math Challenge. The math skill addressed by each challenge is noted along with the activity; skills attacked include creative problem solving, geometry, percentages, number patterns, probability, algebra, fractions, prime numbers, logic, place value, and many more. And -- best of all -- each challenge page can be reproduced for use with the whole class.


Currently, five Middle School Challenge books are available. In addition to the language arts and math challenges, books are available to challenge students' vocabulary, social studies, and science skills. The challenges are appropriate for students in grades 5-8.

And, just in case the challenges challenge the teacher, the publishers have seen fit to include the challenge solutions in the back of each book!

For more information about the Middle School Challenge series, or for a catalog of across-the-curriculum products from The Learning Works, call 1-800-235-5767, or check out their Web site at

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1998 Education World

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