Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Make Your Own Reading Guides to Improve Student Tracking!

Super quick tip today - but something that I use nearly every single day at school. It's one of those great tips - quick, easy, and cheap!


I'm sure you've seen the EZ Reader highlighting strips that sell at Amazon (and many other places). I actually bought and used these in my classroom a couple of years ago. They are called Reading Guide Highlight Strips and sell at Amazon in a pack of 12 for $13.00.
Reading Guide Highlight Strips
Well, they really are a great product . . . for the first couple of weeks. Then they began disappearing (but no one took them - you know how that goes - no one ever admits to taking anything), and they got bent up and wrinkles, and the highlighted plastic comes out, etc. My students literally beat them up.
Teaching Tips for Reading Class

That's when I decided that I wasn't going to spend my money on any more of these. Which is fine, except that they really did help my students read more fluently and not lose their place on a page.

Here's where my consumer savviness (really that just means I'm a tightwad!) comes into play.

First, get a few pages of transparency film - I used the kind you can run through a copier.

Classroom Teaching Tips
Next, I cut it into four equal sized pieces, but you can use the sizes that work best for your students.

The third and final step is to make a straight line on the transparency film for students to use as a guide when reading.
Classroom Teaching Tips
Sometimes I turn the transparency film long-ways (landscape orientation) and draw the lines on that way. That seems to work out better for some books that have wide pages.
Classroom Teaching Tips
Here is a reading guide laid over a Read Naturally passage
And there you have it - Short, simple, and sweet! And economical!!

Take care and please stop back again!

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stop the Insanity! Sanity Savers for the First Week of School


Welcome to the Best Back To School Tips Blog Hop and Giveaway! And a BIG welcome to everyone who is popping in from my friend's blog at Two Boys and a Dad Productions!

By visiting each of our 6 blogs, you will have the opportunity to enter 6 giveaways! Each blog will be giving away a $25 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card!

Remember - typically, Teachers Pay Teachers holds a Back to School Sale, so the timing is PERFECT! Woo Hoo - I'm so excited!!



Starting a school year on the right foot is tremendously important - but I know that you know that already! :)  It promotes a calm, positive atmosphere for students and teachers.

Every year I have a few moments of panic as I feel my To-Do List spiraling out of control – the first week is sheer survival mode! But the more prepared you are, the less you will worry and sweat the small stuff!

Repeat to yourself: “I am flexible, don’t sweat the small stuff, and I can do this!” Because you CAN do this! 

Seriously – deep breaths and positive mantras are necessary! And remember to laugh! Keep it in perspective - this is truly not Life and Death!

Here are my Sanity Savers for Teachers at Back to School Time!


1. Learn students’ names – Read over your student list and practice saying difficult names prior to meeting your students. If possible, check with last year’s teacher about any names that could be mispronounced. I had a student years ago that I simply could not remember the pronunciation of her name for the first few days. It embarrassed her and I felt terrible each time I stumbled over it.  Luckily, she was very gracious, but I felt like it reflected poorly on me – and it did.

I also take the time to label student desks with first and last names as a cheat for myself. Usually I am able to remember students’ names based on where they sit in the room long before I can remember all of their names as they are moving around the room. My school allows us to attach name plates on the desks, which helps both students and teachers.

And while you are labeling, name tags can be attached to lockers, coat hooks, and often teachers provide name tags for students to wear, either self-sticking, or on strings to be worn around their necks. Specials teachers, like phys. ed., art, music, etc., appreciate the name tags on students. There are many name tags available on Teachers Pay Teachers – many very cute options! I usually attach desk plates to the desks with clear packaging tape. Yes, you will have to instruct the students not to pick at the tape!
 
Click the picture to visit Teachers Pay Teachers!
At this point, I assign a student number – typically the numbers are assigned alphabetically. I know it’s risky – there are bound to be students who don’t show up, and new students who are assigned to you at the last minute. Some teachers don’t assign numbers until the second day – it’s up to you. There are pros and cons for each method. But once a number is assigned, don’t change it! That leads to confusion.

Students then use the numbers when they write their names on their papers (such as John Adams #1, Sue Bennett #2, etc.), which really helps when putting grades in the computer or grade book!


1½. Carefully Read Your Students' IEPs!
Sorry about the 1 1/2, but this was too important to leave out! :)
While we're on the subject of students, I need to mention here that you really do need to read over the IEPs of students who are in your classroom. I always read through IEPs (and 504s) with highlighters. I make notes on the IEP cover, and I cover it with sticky notes. My IEPs are in a special binder that I keep handy by my desk. I also list students and their accommodations and modifications on a separate sheet that goes directly in my lesson plan book and grade book.


2. Teach Daily Routines and Procedures This is truly a sanity saver!

By explicitly teaching and modeling expected behaviors over the first few days and weeks of school, you ensuring a safe classroom community which provides you with more time to teach, decreased discipline problems, and improved learning and productivity. The structure is appreciated by teachers and students - especially at-risk students.


In my classroom, we model the correct procedure, then a student models the procedure incorrectly, then after a short discussion, the same student models the correct routine. By modeling correct, incorrect, then correct again, students have the opportunity to approve the positive behavior. 

Hint: Select a student who may struggle to perform that procedure correctly, incorrectly, then correctly again. He received instant feedback, gets the negative behavior out of his system right from the start, and receives positive behavior approval, which is very valuable to attention-seeking students.

Some procedures to consider practicing include lunch count, pencil sharpening, lining up, hallway behavior, proper manners, hanging up coats, getting drinks – and so on! Write out a list of your expectations and be sure to discuss them and model them during the first several days.

Hint: You don’t need to recreate the wheel here – for a couple of bucks, you can purchase tried-and-true procedures products on Teachers Pay Teachers. Many are editable so that you can personalize them for your class and needs. Worth their weight in gold!



3. Make Lesson Plans -  My first few days of lessons and lists never fit nicely in the little squares on a lesson plan book. Instead, I type them out on a full sheet of paper - in list form - leaving lots of room to pencil in additional stuff that pops up. These papers are kept from year to year as valuable references. Plans typically change - I mean, ALWAYS change - but remember your mantra - "I am flexible, don't sweat the small stuff, and I can do this!"

A rough outline of where I am headed for at least the first couple of weeks is a MUST for me. I write out (in very general terms) plans for the first couple of weeks because it makes me feel calm and knowing where I'm headed relieves a lot of my stress.

I still write my actual lesson plans by hand (on my computer template) even though I end up drawing arrows, scratching out, and revising. Confession - at least by hand I have a reason to buy those pretty colored markers to make my scribbles and scratches cool looking!

Hint: Have you seen the incredible Teacher Planner options on Teachers Pay Teachers? I'm looking over the choices myself because I'm finally going to buy myself a super organized Teacher Planner from a fellow teacher who's been there, done that!


4. Hang a list of your students outside the classroom door. Students and parents will appreciate knowing for sure if they are or are not supposed to be in that room. Some students get really nervous about walking into the wrong room. 


Click to visit Teachingwithamountainview.com
Personally, I like to decorate my classroom door with students’ names for a bright, cheerful, and warm welcome! You know Pinterest can help you find just the right door d├ęcor!


5. Organize your teacher desk! Being unable to find what I’m looking for drives me CRAZY! I figure that having an organized desk is completely in my control. I can’t control many things that happen in the first couple of days, but I can control the chaos on and in my desk. Get it put together and move on! I’ve seen some teacher desks that have so many papers shoved in them that the teacher can’t really even use the desk.


When I have piles of papers, I try to be honest with myself – will I really use that worksheet? My old boss once taught me to touch each paper only once – “Put it away or throw it away, right away!” If it’s super cute, but just not right for your class, either throw it away or pass it on to someone who can use it – DO NOT CLUTTER YOUR DESK WITH IT! Truly, there have been times when I’ve sat down to work, and had to move to my small group table because there’s no work space on my desk – NOT GOOD!


6. Sticky notes are your friends! 
Stock up on them for the beginning of the school year. Take them to every meeting that you attend and make a list of things you must do. Also, write down the names of the new people in your building so that you don’t have to ask (Yep, I’m bad with names, so I learned this trick fast!)



I have them sticking to my computer, my purse, and the wall beside my desk. If you have Windows on your computer, you can right click on the desktop and get a sticky note right there on your computer!


7. Prepare a Sub Tub Sooner Rather than Later! 

You won't regret it! I've written a longer post about an easy way to keep a Sub Tub filled HERE. You think you won't get sick, and often you are able to suffer through it, but occasionally we get so sick that we are simply UNABLE to make it to school.
I've learned (through experience) that basic sub plans (Emergency plans) are so, so incredibly important. I personally don't have any sub plans for sale at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, but I have purchased some from other teachers and they are truly Lifesavers! Invest (yes - it's truly an investment!!) in a quality set that suits your grade and subject. You won't be sorry, you will be relieved!

LOL - no, this is not me! She's just a nice model!
Well - those are my top jobs for preparing myself and my classroom for the first day! If time allows, continue working on the classroom, library, and working on making your classroom as efficient as possible. Keep high traffic areas clear, keep work spaces tidy and uncluttered, and above all - KEEP SMILING!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway Want more chances to win a Teachers Pay Teachers $25 gift card? Continue this blog hop by hopping over to Jewel's School Gems by Jewel Pastor by clicking on the link or her logo.


Good luck in the giveaways and on your first day back at school!

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Powerful Plan - Back to School Prep! Eeks!

Welcome to What's Up Wednesday!
Hints, Tips, and Strategies for Making Teacher's Lives Easier!

In my neck of the woods, when the festivals begin, we teachers know it's time to start thinking of school. There is still a month or so left, but I like to get settled into my room as soon as I'm able.

I'm hoping that you can find some tips for making your back to school prep a bit easier. I have been known to waste way too much time prepping, so I made a list to improve my efficiency and thought many of you might also benefit!

Powerful Plan for setting up the school classroom

First, you need a tall mug of coffee or tea - or some beverage FULL of caffeine and energy! I am the Caffeine Queen Teacher for a reason . . .



1. Sketch out a quick diagram. 
Focus on all teacher and student work spaces, like teacher desk area, small group area, library, etc. Include all of the big furniture pieces and shelves. I also include large carts that need a planned spot. I like to keep carts and some smaller shelves between work spaces so they are handy when we need them.

2. Clean and Dust!
I know - YUCK! It's a drag when you really want to jump in and arrange and make your room look like a classroom, but this is the best and easiest time to do the dreaded cleaning. It will save you time in the long run.

3. Start arranging the BIG furniture pieces.
After wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes blowing dust around, I begin by moving all of the big furniture items around the room. Of course, don't hurt yourself trying to move filing cabinets, etc., ask others for help and know your limits! But it's hard for me to get started decorating until I have the general arrangement of the room. 

My teacher's desk, filing cabinets, the small group table, and the student desks are the first to be arranged.


I decide where my teacher desk goes, and the rest of the room falls into place from there. At my school, the teacher desk needs to go where the power cords and wires are. But once the desk is in place, it's easier to arrange everything else.


Setting up your school classroom for the new school year!

4. Next come the shelves and carts.


Classroom library prep for school

My bookshelves are really big, so they get arranged next. The books and bean bag chairs can wait a while, but (honesty time!) when I found the boxes, they went on the shelves fairly quickly. I usually wait to put out books, etc. in case I decide to move the shelves - which I've been known to do. I try to create cozy corners where students will want to read.

Carts - the more colorful the better, IMHO - they can be used in so many different ways! I recently inherited this cart with the missing drawer. I'm planning to use it for small group supplies and possibly Monday - Friday master planning. My only trouble is running out of floor space for all of my rolly-carts and shelves.

This one is big enough that it needs a special place in the room. I plan to keep it between my teacher desk and my small group table for easy accessibility for both work spaces.


Quick, easy tips for setting up your classroom
Now that I have so many carts, I can be creative with their purposes. . . sounds like another blog article! :)

5. Bulletin Boards
I generally keep up the same bulletin boards all year. I decorate out in the hallway for seasons (with student work and smaller displays), but in the room my bulletin boards are considered Prime Real Estate! If the bulletin board isn't for reference or to serve some other functional purpose, it isn't going up in my classroom!

Math Story Problem Strategy Posters
CUBES or CUBED Poster Set (Place value not included)
I began by putting my CUBES/CUBED Math strategy posters near the floor, but quickly realized that students in the back wouldn't be able to see them, so they ended up above the whiteboard where they were last year (If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?)

Solving math story problems - great strategy!
Click to visit my TPT Store for CUBES/CUBED Poster Set!
Even if you don't have a plan for your bulletin boards yet, at least get up the background paper or fabric and borders up. You can decide on the decorations or posters later, but you will definitely feel better when the bulletin boards are started!

Reading Strategy Posters - Reading Skills Reference Posters
Click to visit my TPT Store for Reading Strategy Posters! With and without Animals!
And while I was climbing on desks, I added the gentle reminder to FOCUS! I'm sure you've seen it on Pinterest - not my original idea - LOL! It's obviously Time To Focus!

Classroom Prep - Back to School Style
Yep - got this idea from Pinterest!
6. The Teacher Desk.
I really don't feel like I've made any progress until my teacher desk has been put together - mainly because I've already had to tear it apart to find the stapler (for hanging bulletin boards!) and tape (for who-knows-what!)

Here is what I found when I pulled out my middle desk drawer (after removing a gigantic pile of papers that I shoved in on the last day!)

Teacher Desk Drawer Chaos!

Everything from old Christmas candy, penguin and cannon shaped pencil sharpeners, sea shells?? Wha??

Hints for Organizing the Classroom and Teacher Desk
Love me some school supplies!
At this point, you're obviously thinking that you should not be taking ANY tips on organizing a teacher desk from ME! (I don't blame you - my teacher desk tips end right here!)

7. Class Library Love.
 Now is the time to arrange the books and other knick-knacks around the room. You saw my library shelving area above with the bookshelves, these are book bins. I arrange mine by reading level - the new labels will have to wait for another day!


Classroom Prep - Back to School Style
Organized books - wish they'd stay that way!

8. Organize. . . Everything.

Organizing the Classroom - Tips, Hints, and Strategies!
Little Toolbox Organizer frees up desk space!
You saw my desk - I don't have room for actual, useful office supplies, so I made one of those handy storage boxes.

And on the subject of organizing - here is my math drawer. It's WWWAAAAYYYY more organized than ever. 
Classroom Prep - Back to School Style
This is actually organized chaos!
It's amazing how the hanging files helped - I tried to get by without them for years, but believe me, it's worth the $5 for hanging files that actually fit the filing cabinet! The organized feeling is PRICELESS!

9. Decorate!
Finally! This is my favorite part! I like filling the empty areas and making the room look more homey. I've read that when students feel comfortable in the classroom - as in rooms with homey-touches, they perform better! That's kind of how I operate. I want to feel like my classroom is my home-away-from-home, and I want my students to feel that way as well!

Miss DeCarbo - Click to visit her site!
I love these classrooms!
The First Grade Parade - Click to visit her site!
You've seen other blogs with the little lamps and cute reading areas. If my room was big enough, I'd absolutely add those touches. Do what you can. We all know the way some of our students live - they benefit from those loving touches.

Please share your ideas and tips! What have I forgotten? Leave me some comments below!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sandbox Spelling - Improvement in a Small Box!


Today I'm posting about an idea that I loved and used successfully from Pinterest! The original Pin was very simple from Kindergarten is Crazy Blog. Here is her pin:

Fun, kinesthetic learning for students

I created five "Spelling Sandboxes" and my students used them (and fought over them) several times a week during word work time.

They are very simple to make, inexpensive, and you get a big bang for your buck!

First, you need sand! I got these bags from a local plant shop, but bags of sand are available from craft stores and home improvement stores.

Fun, kinesthetic learning for students

Next, you need a pencil box - this one was less than $1.00 at Walmart! Get them during the Back to School sales!

Here is the finished product! (I think you can figure out how to make it from here - if not, feel free to email me! LOL!)
Fun, kinesthetic learning for students
Spelling Sandboxes were a HIT in my classroom!
All of my students LOVED this station and spelling work became much more fun and less of a chore. And once they are made - you have them for years to come!

What are your spelling hints, tips, and tricks?

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Magnetic Tape - A Teacher's Best Friend!


Happy Hump Day - I still struggle with the term "Hump Day" because when I taught middle school, it took my students five minutes to settle down after hearing it . . . ((eye roll))! Now that I am teaching fourth grade, my students don't even flinch!

My helpful tip this week is something that I've been doing for years, but yet maybe someone out there hasn't heard of it yet. 


Magnetic Tape! It's MAGIC for teachers!

You have probably seen the rolls of self-adhesive magnetic tape - like this one from Amazon. (I am not an Amazon affiliate - just FYI!)

Click on the pic to visit Amazon!
Have you seen this nifty little magnetic tape dispenser? They sell this at Amazon, Walmart, and I'm sure many other places.  My honest evaluation is that it isn't even close to being as strong as the roll. 

This magnetic tape is actually like "tape" - imagine that! It's fairly thin, and not nearly as strong as the roll-type. The roll-type is much thicker and stronger. But this is so darn easy to use!! And the bonus - No Scissors Needed!

Click on the pic to visit Amazon
I tend to go through several rolls of both types every year!

Question:  Why does one teacher need so much magnetic tape? 

Answer:  Because I have a small room. I do have a magnetic white board, however, and I use it to change up posters, worksheets, spelling lists, you name it!

Sometimes I put the magnetic tape directly on my posters, especially if I know that I will be using it for years to come.

Other times, for a rubric or writing prompt, I do this:
Instant bulletin board
Weekly spelling list - in a page protector with magnetic tape
It's so simple!
Instant Bulletin Board
Use plenty of magnetic tape so it doesn't fall!
Make sure to use enough self adhesive magnetic tape that it doesn't fall down or hang catty-wonkers on the board. If I was using the magnetic roll tape, I wouldn't need so much.

I generally have 3 or 4 magnetic page protectors around my room and switch them up quickly and frequently. When I'm not using one, I stash it on the side of my filing cabinet that no one can really see.

I also LOVE these cute little clothes pins to hold up papers. Click on the pic below to visit The Pin Junkie and see how she made them.
Magnetic Tape is a Teacher's Best Friend!
Click the pic to visit The Pin Junkie
What are your favorite tips and hints for magnetic tape?

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