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February 3, 2023

Rigor in the Classroom for Grades 6-8: What It Looks Like

Note: This is the third in a series of four grade-level articles on rigor.


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Are you trying to increase rigor in your grades 6-8 classroom? Perhaps you aren’t sure what rigor is or what it looks like. It isn’t doing more work; it’s about incorporating challenging, appropriate instruction in your classroom.

Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels; each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels; and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2018).

Let’s look at several examples.

Exploring a Theme

After reading a series of fairy tales, determine common themes that seem to recur. Create a parallel chart or semantic feature analysis of four of the stories, noting commonalities and differences in plot, characters, conflict, etc. Write a brief analysis of each fairy tale, concluding with an overarching theme that connects them. Justify your ideas with textual evidence from the fairy tales.

Finally, decide how this theme is present in your own life. As the protagonist in your own story, to what degree are you learning this life lesson?

In the first example, students are asked to make connections across several literary texts and identify a theme that appears in each of the fairy tales. They must develop a rationale for their chosen theme by using textual evidence from each story. Finally, they go beyond the text by applying this theme to their own life and determining whether they are learning from the wisdom in the theme. This could also be easily adapted to social studies with any topic that involves themes.

Solving Problems

Students identify an issue or a situation related to social studies, such as a proposal for affordable housing for the city. Research the issue to determine all aspects of the situation. Next, they discuss their perspective on the issue and identify any ramifications of the real-life situation or of the possible impact of the issue. Finally, they design a public relations plan appropriate to a variety of groups to advocate for their position on the issue.

In this example, which could also be used with science or language arts, the focus is on using research for analysis. In addition to discussing what they have learned, students must identify the different impacts the issue has on a variety of people. The public relations plan is not a summary; rather, students advocate for a position, addressing the positives and negatives of their solution.


Students identify a situation or problem that can be improved or solved using geometry. They design the plan and describe why it would solve the issue. Example: Our main offices in the school will be closed for renovation next month. This will require relocating the offices. Find a different location in the school that could be adapted for use by the main offices, and create a design plan for the offices, using skills you have learned in geometry. You must fit all existing furniture into the new space. Generate a list of other considerations you would need to make, and include and justify your solutions.

Once again, not only are students analyzing geometrical information to solve the problem, they must consider all aspects of the solution, then justify their responses.

Systems and Interactions

We have been discussing systems and their interactions. Choose one of the three types of interactions: inputs, processes and outputs. In your group, identify a research question based on our discussion, but one that we have not explored. Next, design and conduct an investigation to answer the question. Write a report in which you analyze your data, draw conclusions and cite your evidence.

You’ll note that in this question, students must identify a research question based on what we have learned—and not learned—in class, but in this case, they also are asked to design and conduct the investigation. Additionally, they must analyze the data they collected, then draw appropriate conclusions, justifying their conclusions with supporting evidence.

A Final Note

Incorporating rigor in your classroom does not mean simply doubling the amount of problems you give students. Rather, you incorporate specific aspects of higher-order thinking into engaging activities to give students opportunities to rise to the challenge.

More from Barbara: Let's Up the Rigor: K-12 Instructional Strategies

Looking for how to apply these strategies? Register now for Barb Blackburn’s 2023 Virtual Conference free webinar, Let's Up the Rigor: K-12 Instructional Strategies. Learn about a variety of instructional strategies for all grade levels and subject areas that will help you adapt what you are doing to incorporate more rigor!

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Barbara Blackburn

As a teacher, a leader and a university professor responsible for graduate training for educators, Barbara Blackburn has used her knowledge and experiences to write over 30 best-selling books.

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