September 28, 2011 / Fall 2011 / Middle School Moment

Middle School Moment: Channeling middle schoolers’ energy into yearbook

Written by Lisa Birkley

What has 50 legs, questions everything, talks all the time and cannot follow directions? A middle school journalism class. In fact, that is my middle school journalism class.

However, the news is good. You can tame this beast with the proper tools and the patience of a saint. To help them produce their yearbook, a few key points must be followed at all costs.

Keep them moving. They must have something to do at all times. I get about 10 minutes to present materials and explain the task, and then get them working.

For the yearbook theme, we had a contest. Three groups each came up with themes, with a cover, endsheets, folios and a two-page layout. The presentations were given to a few eighth-grade classes, and those students voted for their favorite. It was an effective introduction to yearbook production for the staff.

Have them read examples of good writing for modeling purposes; however, make sure the examples will keep them entertained so they will finish. High interest, sixth- to eighth-grade reading levels work best – just the type of writing they should be doing for their audience.

Projects, projects! Sometimes research and interviews are not good enough. They need tactile and kinesthetic learning. We did a day we called “Try Its.” We tried out five of those crazy, “As Seen on TV” products: Best Brownie Maker, Microwave Smore Maker, Can converters, slipper dust mops and a toe massager. Every student who tried a product had to fill out a questionnaire, which helped the writer gather data. The staff took pictures. It was a good day for the students and a great day for the writer. Her article was amazing and all the readers loved it.

Oh the questions! I probably answer the same question five to 10 times in a class period. They are willing to work, but the explanation must be clear and delivered on an individual basis. A middle schooler needs assurance he or she is doing a good job.

Field trips are a blast. We went to the zoo for a photography lesson. I gave them a scavenger list of about 25 types of shots to get, such as a high shot, a low shot, and a landscape. Back at school, they learned how to download to the computer and clean up the photos in Photoshop. Then they uploaded them to Online Design and each did a mock spread using their own pictures, captions and story. We had a great day, and the spreads were used as their midterm exam.

These kids can sell anything, or middle school kids will buy anything. Either way, you will have money for the book or treats for the class. We also did a big yearbook sales campaign. We made posters, fliers and a commercial that aired at school.

You have to adjust to middle school students, but in the end, I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

  • I am writing a middle-grade novel in which the protagonist is a yearbook editor, and in researching tasks for her, I came across your article. It is so charming, and you sound like a great teacher for them! I taught middle-school for several years, and well do I remember the frenzy and finesse you describe. (I especially like your point that middle-schoolers will buy anything. So true.) So thank you for this!

Lisa Birkley

Lisa Birkley advised 14 high school yearbooks before becoming the journalism teacher and yearbook adviser at Highlands Middle School in Fort Thomas, Ky., because “I wanted to go back to those crazy, confused and chaotic children with whom I started my teaching career.” She was the first high school teacher to receive the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2005.