New Year, New YOU!

So the holidays are over and the final days of the year are quickly dropping off one by one.  The new year rises in the distance with a shiny new glow, a glow of hope, prosperity, and dreams.  The end of the year always comes as bittersweet.  There is so much to be thankful and look back on but we are all so ready and excited to take on the new year and await what it brings! We all have high hopes for ourselves in the new year and I bet that doesn't exclude your classroom!  Do you hope the new year brings you joy in your teaching?  Are you ready to make this year the best teaching year you've had?  Start the year off with an amazing mindset and a kick butt attitude!  I have some perfect tips to help get your new year in the classroom off to an awesome start!

Here we go, let's take it all in!  5 awesome tips to help get our years off on the right foot!  

  1.   Get Organized!  
No, I don't mean get out your pots and pans and organize your kitchen cabinets!  Take a good look at your classroom.  What is/are the areas that drive you the most BONKERS?  Is it your centers area?  Or maybe your library!  Mine was always my desk..  Maybe it's not an area of your room, but instead your files or your plans.  Take some time to reflect on how the year has gone so far and find 1-2 areas that you can better organize.  Take one day over your break or before you go back and get those areas functioning better for you!  If you take the time to do it right, now, then you'll be happier once school's back in session and that area isn't driving you crazy any more!  And since it IS the end of the year, you know all of the stores are having sales on their organizational containers - if that doesn't entice you, I don't know what will! ;)

     2.     Pre-Plan!

The loom of Sunday night planning fiasco's are coming, but they don't HAVE to be!  Get in front of your planning while you're ahead!  Take your school's pacing guide, plant yourself at your desk or on your couch with some Netflix and start planning ahead in the areas of your weeks that you can.  You know you're always going to have spelling, start getting those ideas written down now!  And what about your centers?  You have them every week too!  You can get those filled in weeks in advance to help save you some time!  I realize some things can't be planned in advance due to needing data, etc. But there are many definite areas in which you can get a jump start and save you much valuable Sunday night time!  

     3.     Set Some Goals!

You may or may not already have your New Year's Resolutions planned out or written down.  But what do your classroom or teaching goals look like?  Don't have any - you NEED to!  Creating and writing down goals will make you 10 times more likely to meet 'said' goal than by not making one.  What is something you NEED to work on with your teaching?  Maybe your goal for the new year could be to be planned and copied for the next week by Friday when you leave.  Umm, weekends to yourself?  That sounds amazing!  Or maybe your goal could be to grade 1 set of papers each day before you leave school.  Maybe you want your goal to include your students?  Whatever it is, write it down.  Post it for you to see, others to see, your class to see!  Want your class to do the same?  This is a great time to get their goals going and focused too!  Check out this amazing Beyond the Data Binder packet to help get you started!  

     4.     Try Something New!

It was Albert Einstein who once said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results."  Make this year DIFFERENT!  Try something new in your classroom!  Spice up those old lesson plans and get something fresh in there!  Haven't done interactive notebooks yet?  Now's your chance to try them!  Haven't dove into close reading with your kids?  Do it now!  What are some of the new and hot teaching trends that you see and read about that you always think, 'some day I will..'?  Well TODAY is that someday!  Get on Pinterest, get on TPT, and try out something new.  You won't regret it!

     5.     Have Fun!

Finally, for this new year to be the best it possibly could be, you HAVE to have FUN!  Get ready, close your door, and teach!  Jump, dance, sing, make crafts, do reader's theatre, whatever it takes!  Ignore the Negative Nancy down the hallway who constantly complains about all of the meetings and little things you have to do.  Yeah, they aren't going away - so get over those!  Stay focused on what really matters - the KIDS!  Smile every day that you get to be there with them.  Hug them, they'll hug you back!  Be thankful for the job you have.  Start each day with a positive note or thought either for yourself or for the kids.  If you can do this, I know you'll have an amazing year teaching!

I hope you ALL have the most amazing new year!  :)  

Are you counting it down? It is getting SO close! Whether you have 3, 6, or 8 days left before Christmas Break, we have resources to make you sing! If you missed the daily freebies from our 12 Days of Christmas, no need to shout "Bah hubbug!". We have all the links for you! 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway - Daily freebies and a fun gift card giveaway! The links are listed below. Use them the last few days you have this December or save them for next year! Either way, they are sure to make learning fun this time of year! Also, head over to our social media pages December 14th - 16th to enter the giveaways for the two gift cards!


It's that time of year again!!  No..  not Christmas.  No.. not Back to School.  EVEN BETTER!  It's SHARK WEEK!  And for the third year in a row an amazing team of bloggers are coming together to provide you with some enticing shark week freebies! (Note - some of the freebies may only be free for a limited amount of time!)

Shark week is such an energy packed week on TV we won't be able to compete with their hype - but we're gonna try!  So what do I have in store for YOU!?  Take a bite out of this!  

I'm currently working on some very engaging phonics intervention games and activities!  I thought you might like to try them all out at once!  So today I give you:  

In this packet you'll find two engaging and ready to print games as well as a Bossy "AR" passage for fluency and comprehension practice!  

 The phonics vowel spin & color games are perfect for centers, small group intervention, or whole group partner time!  Everything is ready to print and no prep!  Students use the spinner with a paper clip and compete with their partner to fill up a specific number of squares in their grid by identifying words that match where their spinner landed.  Your kids will LOVE these games and will be begging for more!!  

Next in your freebie is my (SOON TO COME) phonics mazes.  They are set to be up on June 30th, maybe sooner, so if you <3 them stay tuned!  These are great for quick early finishers, centers, etc.  They go quick, but it's easy to put an activity with the mazes such as writing sentences using the words being colored, or draw
a picture of each word colored.  Your students will love these as well!

Finally, in your freebie is a shark themed read, highlight & sort passage.  These passages were designed for 2nd/3rd grade students who need longer more rigorous passages but still need to
focus on phonics!  Students read the passage and highlight the specific phonics content - in this case the AR sound.  Then the students sort the words in a way they seem fits.  The second page of the passage is to help extend the questioning and comprehension of the passage with a bit of creative writing!

If you LOVE these freebies and want to see the REAL DEALS, make sure to check them out!  

Remember - the phonics mazes are soon to come!

Want MORE shark week freebies - Check out the next stop in the hop! Just click the shark below to keep on reading!  

20 Whole Group Differentiation Techniques for ANY Grade!

Crap..  I said a bad word!!  We all know, as teachers, that the 'D' word is one of the most feared words in education.  Yes, we all know its a must do - but it truly is one of the hardest elements to incorporate into your every day classroom routine and lessons.  Many teachers feel more comfortable differentiating (eek!  I said it again) when the students are in small groups.  That seems and feels like the most natural way to differentiate, and rightfully so!  But what about when the class is together in whole group?  Whether we like it or not that has to happen at some point in our day.  So I've gathered 20 different whole group differentiation techniques that can be applied to any classroom, any grade, and any subject!  There's a printable copy of all of these ideas at the bottom of the post.  I have mine printed and in my teaching binder so I can refer to it when writing my lesson plans and sometimes even when I'm teaching!  I hope you can find one or two that you've never tried!  :)  

#1:  Sketch & Write
     After asking a question, give the students a choice on whether they want to write their answer in a sentence (or two) OR if they want to sketch out their answer.  This gives the students a little more freedom and takes the pressure off of those who don't like to write.  Make sure though, that everyone gets a chance to explain their drawing to check for accuracy!  

#2:  DOK Questions
     You've all probably heard of Blooms Taxonomy - but the 'new' up and coming questioning technique is asking a variety of DOK (Depths of Knowledge) questions.  There are 4 different levels.  Most elementary classrooms will be asking mostly level 1 & 2 with a push for level 3.  Upper grades need more level 3 & 4.  DOK is different from Blooms because Blooms is all about the verb.  DOK is what you do AFTER the verb.  Here's a quick visual for reference.  If you want more info on DOK, let me know!  By asking a variety of DOK questions during your whole group time, you can easily differentiate for each of your learners.

 #3:  Assign Roles
      During your model and core teaching, assign a few students with specific roles or jobs that they have to accomplish by a certain point in the lesson.  I usually think of the students that I know will either struggle paying attention OR those that will or have been struggling on a specific part of this concept.  These roles can be as simple as "Brandon, I want you to watch me model and when I'm done, tell me what the first thing I did was."  This gives Brandon a specific thing to be watching and listening for!  It could also be a question you want a student to answer.  Example:  "Carrie, when I'm done modeling I want you to tell me what the word product means."  Giving these roles can be very powerful!

#4:  Grouping
     This is one you probably already do well in practice.  Grouping during whole group for small discussions can help bring those lower level students out of their shell when talking with others either on their own level, or talking to those above them.  This can be done in a turn and talk or a stand up - pair up technique.  But get them talking!  

#5:  Two Models
     One of the most important pieces of a strong lesson is the teacher's model.  This is when the teacher shows the students the thinking behind how to solve the problem in front of them.  This thinking is usually done on the level of the students that you're modeling for.  But if you have a variety of levels in your room for the model - it isn't fair that you cater to one level or the other.  So why not do two models!?  Start by modeling something more on or below level.  Then give those specific students a task to practice that concept with a partner back at their desk for 3-4 minutes.  Then with everyone who is left with you, do another quick model but with a harder problem.  Then send them back to their seats to practice for 3-4 minutes.  During this time you can check in on the first group you sent back and now you're all ready to move more into the lesson.  

#6:  Choice Boards
     Choice boards are very simple to make and very fun for students to complete.  On the board you can have a variety of tasks, problems, or even questions about a specific text in reading, science, or social studies.  You can even go as far as labeling the difficulty of each box.  Let the students know that these boxes are easy, these are doable, and these are harder.  Then guide them as you walk around to which boxes they should probably be completing.  

#7:  Text Levels
     This example works best when working on a unit or nonfiction type topic.  For example:  Let's say you're studying Dr. Martin Luther King.  In the unit, expose the students to a variety of text levels regardless of their level.  Use an excerpt from a more difficult text and an excerpt from an easier text and require that all readers use all levels of text for their activity or question.  Exposure to all levels of text is a great way to show students what's out there and where they can be striving for as a reader.  This can work in math too with exposing them to a variety of difficulty in the types of questions and problems.  It is OKAY to ask a question that only maybe 1-2 students in the class can answer.  That is great exposure for them!  

#8:  Discussion
     Again, this is one you all probably use on a daily basis - but it has so much potential to be a truly powerful differentiation tool.  A good teacher will use the discussion coming from the back and
'forthness' of questions and answers between teacher and students or students and students to help guide where their conversations with each person go.  Discussions can be very differentiated if the teacher is receiving the data back from the students correctly and responding appropriately.  

#9:  Feedback
     This idea goes right along with #8.  Giving academic feedback to a student is a wonderful and easy way to differentiate for each student individually even when whole group.  When a student gives an answer - the teacher's response needs to be academic based as opposed to just 'good job' or 'you're right!'.  We are all guilty of it and yes, we can say that sometimes, but to get a true discussion the teacher needs to respond to a student's answer with appropriate academic based feedback.  So for example if a student, when asked what's the main idea of the article, says "I think the main idea is about how penguins survive in the winter."  The teacher would respond with "Excellent, how do you know that?"  (Making them justify their answer).  The student would say, "I know this because throughout the text the headings all referred to penguins and they all had the same topic in common of everything they do to survive in the winter."  This is where academic feedback can be powerful.  Instead of saying "Good job" and move on - validate that student's thinking not only for them, but for the rest of the class to hear.  Teacher would say "I love how you were able to find those commonalities throughout the headings of the article and use them to find the main idea.  That's a great reminder to use those text features when trying to find what the entire article is about."  In those two sentences you've validates that child but also TAUGHT the class how to find main idea.  Feedback is powerful!

#10:  Sentence Frames
     Sentence Frames are an easy way to help differentiate for the lower level students when being asked to verbally or write a written answer to a question.  This allows the student to do more of a 'fill in the blank' but still left to fill in the most important parts of the question as well as have a model to format their answer both verbally and written.  

#11:  Visuals
     Such a fun and easy way to differentiate - use visuals throughout the lesson you're teaching.  Remember though, that it is important to teach the students HOW to anchor their learning to the visual.  You can't just have it up and expect the students to use it.  In your model, show them when it is appropriate to use it and how it can be helpful.  This can help any level of learner!

#12:  Using Text Excerpts
     This is a grand idea to help all learners feel included in on a discussion of a specific text.  Find a text that meets more of your higher level of students and from that, find an excerpt or two and cut those out.  This is what you will give to your lower level of students.  Your discussion and questions will come from primarily the two excerpts you've taken but the higher students can pull from the entire article to help answer and justify their answers.  Everyone feels apart of the discussion and you've used one text but easily given everyone something they can handle!

#13:  Talking Chips/Colored Cotton Balls
     My teachers went CRAZY over this idea when I presented it to them!  Talking chips are a great way to hold students accountable.  Each student is given a certain number of talking chips and by the end of the given time, the chips must be gone.  For each time they contribute to the discussion or answer a question they can put their chip back.  The colored cotton balls are a twist on this idea!  Give each student the same number of cotton balls, each student a different color. Same rules as above with the talking chips - but with this idea, you can monitor who has been talking more and who needs to contribute more!  

#14: Learning Contracts
     Learning Contracts are similar to choice boards.  The nice thing about a learning contract and the way you can differentiate for your students.  On learning contracts you can have different sections of difficulty and then assign the students to do a certain number of questions or problems from each section.  So your higher students will have more to do in the harder section but your lower students might have more on the easier side - but both getting exposure both all types of problems.  This also allows them to have choice even though they have been told the number of problems in each area to do.  

#15:  Task Cards
     Task cards are very popular right now and can be a very simple way of differentiating.  Have a variety of leveled cards for your students to pick from to give them a wide exposure to different questions.  OR you can color code the task cards and assign specific students to a specific color of card allowing everyone to participate in the activity at once, but having differentiated problems!

#16:  Side by Side Reading
     Side by Side reading is very similar to the variety of text levels.  The only difference is that you have the texts copied next to one another creating (hopefully) one large text or article for the students to read. Then when you assign the article you are making it look like specific sections are being assigned to specific students when in fact you're really assigning specific levels to specific students.  This idea may take some prep work and some cutting and pasting to create your perfect article.  This can work in math to by mixing up the level of problems throughout the page but knowing which problems are which levels when you assign them to students!

#17:  Jigsaw Text
     If you haven't done a jigsaw text activity in your class you need to RIGHT NOW!  It's a fantastic activity!  Take an article or page and give it to everyone but break it down into manageable sections.  Then number your students off into the number of groups that equals the number of sections.  (5 sections means 5 people in each group)  Have them get into their groups and then have each person take a section of the text.  When they know which section that they are responsible for - they then
break out into their 'specialist' groups - meaning if I'm in charge of section 1 then I'm going to meet with everyone else in the class that's also in charge of section one.  While in the specialist groups - they read the text or solve the problems and become experts on that section.  When time is up - they go back to their original groups and present their findings on their sections.  This allows students to focus on small portions of texts or pages but still have collaboration and exposure to the entire text.  Jigsaw baby!

#18:  Graphic Organizers
     G.O's are one of the most common way to differentiate.  Take any concept you're teaching and find a way to push your higher and assist your lower with the way the G.O. is organized & the types of questions that are on the G.O.  Everyone is working on the same topic but being pushed where needed!

#19:  Weather Reports
     Also known as checking for understanding, have a specific type of weather report somewhere in the lesson.  This can be having a thumbs up or down, a fist or five, or my favorite - using unifix cubes in red, yellow, and green for the students to show me what they are feeling throughout the entire lesson.  You can read more about that idea HERE!  This can help differentiate by knowing how the students are feeling and getting the concept, which will help with questioning and grouping your students!

#20:  Open Ended Exit Tickets
     Exit tickets are great, but having something open ended will truly get a feel for what the students are capable of doing and give them a chance to shine.  Put a few different questions and give them a choice for which question to solve to make their ownership even more.

Whew!  That was a long one, but I hope you got an idea or two out of it.  I would LOVE to hear your ideas on whole group differentiation.  Please let me know if you have any question about anything.  If you'd like to have all of these ideas on one document, you can download that HERE!  Happy Teaching!  

I've Done My First Read - Now What!?

Are you and your students completely engrossed with the 'new' close reading strategy fad?  Yes, it is what many teachers were already doing - rereading to find text evidence. But what I love about Close Reading is how specific it gets and gives the students concrete objectives for each read.  There are so many different versions of close reading, a teacher can truly make it their own with keeping the best pieces.

One of the pieces of close reading I really focused on this past year was the types of questions being asked during each read and teaching my students how to identify those questions.  By the end of the year, my students were able to read the questions of an article prior to reading the article, and they were able to tell me which read they would be able to answer that question on and why.  This took a lot of work - but it was so worth it!

One of the ways I was able to do this was by teaching my students what each read was about, specifically starting with the first read.  That first read is supposed to be the 'big picture'.  I'm not supposed to remember specific details of events.  I might, but I'm not required.  I need to know those big ideas - and with that I should be able to answer some big idea questions.  In our classroom - here were those questions:

  • What is the main idea?
  • What is the author's purpose of the text?
  • What is the genre of the text?
  • What is the theme? (if not nonfiction)
  • What is the author's perspective about _____?  
These questions were asked after EVERY first read no matter what our overall objective was.  So if I was teaching making inferences and we had completed our first read - we took time to go over these questions to make sure we had that 'big picture' in mind.  But was we came to find was just asking these questions after each first read, got a little redundant.  So of course I had to find ways to put a spin on it!  So today I get to share with you 7 different and engaging activities you can do after a first read on any article or text!    No matter how you tackle a close read - these activities can help spice up your close reading and get the students truly engaged in knowing that 'big picture' of the text before you dig deeper!

#1 - Color Coded Questions
     This is a fun and simple idea to help minimize the work your students do, but allowing them to still be able to hear and be a part of the entire discussion.  All you need is different colored beads (or something similar to) and the recording sheet.  Pass out the beads, one to each student and assign one of the first read questions (see above) to each color.  I write my colors and questions on the board for a visual.  Have the students get out a crayon that matches their color of bead.  As they read the text, they use their crayon to underline evidence to support their answer for their question only.  After reading, record their answer for their question only.  Then go over each question calling on the students with that bead.  If it wasn't their question - they then listen and record the answer to the other questions!  Quick, fun, focused, and simple!  (See bottom of post to download recording sheet)

#2 - Group It!
     This easy idea can be done on scratch paper or post its.  Using the same first read questions, ask one question at a time and give them about 1-2 minutes to answer.  Then pull out a popsicle stick of a fun way to group the students.  These fun ways can include:  birthday month,  tallest to shortest, youngest to oldest, etc.   Pull out a popsicle stick or verbalize how you want them to be grouped.  Group them quickly and then in their groups they go around sharing their answers for the question.  They must then pick what they think is the strongest answer to be shared.  Allow each group to share their answer and discuss.  Go back to your seat for question #2 and repeat!

#3 - Reverse It!
     This is a fun one!  All you need for this is index cards and markers.  You have a bit of prep work for this one but I promise it doesn't take too much time.  Prior to the first read, create index cards with the ANSWERS to all of the first read questions of your text.  Write each answer in a different color.  (ex:  all my main idea answers are in blue)  You'll want to make multiple copies of each card so you have enough for everyone to have their own card.  So when I did mine I made 5 of each answer card so altogether I had 25 cards.  Before the first read, pass the cards out to the students and review with them what the 'big picture' first read questions are.  Tell them that today you're going to reverse the roles and that you've given then the answers to the first read questions - but they have to figure out which first read question they have been given.  Complete your first read and then give the students time to write which question they think their index card answers - write it on the back of the card.  Then have the students group themselves by color (technically it's by question but they don't know that!)  Have them make sure everyone in their group has the same color then have them compare their answers - which technically is the question they just wrote.  If someone in their group has a different question written down, odds are they are incorrect and need go go back to their seats to rethink - which gives you an opportunity to give some one on one help!  Have each group share out and discuss!

#4 - Poster Time!
     Gather up some small poster boards for this one - you can even reuse some that are used up on one side.  After the first read, group the students into small groups (3-4) and give each group a poster board and a marker.  Have them create 3 first read questions and write them with space in between on their board.  When done, have them trade with another group.  Now they must answer the questions created by that group and justifying their answer!  Trade back and grade - then group back together and share out!

#5 - Dice it Up!
     This idea is simple and ready to go - just add dice!  Same first read questions, but put the students into partners and have them roll to see which question they get to answer first.  OR even better and if you want to do more whole group - create your own first read dice by taping index cards to each side of a square tissue box and rolling it as a class and recording your answer!  (Freebie included in the download below!)

#6 - Note Taking!
     Have you kids practice the art of note taking while you're doing your first read.  Make a version of the Lotus Diagram (see below).  In each of the 8 squares is one of the first read questions/concepts.  In the middle of the Diagram is the title of the article/story.  Have the students place a star in 3 of the boxes.  Those will be the three questions/concepts that the student focuses on - all 8 would be overwhelming!  As they do their first read, stop ever now and then and give the students time to take 'notes' - they may need this modeled to them.  They can write evidence or summarize something from the text - but they need to write it in the box that matches their question that they stared.  When done - have them partner up with someone else and compare notes - discuss as a class.  (Blank one included in the download)

#7 - Evidence Flow Chart
     This is one of my favorite ones!  After completing the first read - pick out different pieces of evidence from the text and write it on the board.  Have the students then create a web or flow chart of "What does this show me?".  This means - based on this evidence - what do I now know?  For example the sentence:  "The bear picked up the chair and threw it across the room." would be a great piece of evidence to show me the genre as well as a character trait for the bear.  It's almost like a role reversal!  After doing this a time or two whole group - your students might enjoy doing this in smaller groups!  

I hope you are leaving with a fun idea or two to help get your readers engaged and conversing after that first read.  If you're interested in any of the printables, you can get them here for free!  Let me know what YOUR favorite first read activities are - I'd love to hear them! :)  

Get organized in 5 Simple Steps!

What time of year is it?  Beginning of the year?  Great!  Then you're probably motivated to get organized for the upcoming school year.  Middle of the year?  Then your room is probably a mess from the previous 5 months of not having time to clean it!  So you NEED to organize!  Is it the end of the year?  Then times what I just said by 2 because you know you didn't organize it in the middle of the year ;)   The lesson learned here is that there's no one time to get organized.  Now is the time.  I'm not going to sit here and tell you to get bins and put things in them, I want to share with you some tangible things you can do right now that will impact your organization now and hopefully in the future!

  #1   So one of the best things is to get yourself into a routine of being an organized person.  Routine is your friend.  Say that again:  Routine is your friend. Here are 5 things to do before you leave each day: 

     • Clean off your desk!
     • Get papers/materials out for the next day 
     • Grade at least ONE stack of papers
     • File away the papers you copied today
     • Check one item off of your to do list 

Write them down right now so you don't forget them and start doing them everyday before you leave school.  You'll be amazed in the matter of a week how much more organized you feel!  

#2      Organization doesn't always mean visual distress.  (Sorry, I just laughed out loud when writing that.  You walk into those rooms that give you visual distress, so you know what I'm laughing about).  Organization can also mean behind the scenes.  We're so immersed in technology these days, why not let it do the organization for you!  Here are 4 apps to save your organizational sanity! 

     • Classroom Organizer (Apple, Android) - This is a great one to use to help organize your classroom library!  And it's FREE!

     • iDoceo ($$) - (Apple only) - This is an amazing app, and SO worth the money!  Anything from gradebook, class seating charts, organizing notes and forms - this is it!

     • Wonderlist - (Apple, Android) - Post it notes to go is basically what this app does for you!  Have you ever had a list and left it at school?  Or had a list that had school AND home items?  Wonderlist can help organize all of your list needs!

     • Confer ($$) - (Apple, Android) - Do you do running records and have a hard time staying organized with all of your notes?  Then this is the app for you!  Yes, it does cost money - but think of how much time you will save and how much more information you'll be able to track about your students!

#3      Sometimes, all it takes is a visual to help stay organized.  Monkey see monkey do!  Here are 3 visuals for both you and students! 

     • Dry Erase Reminder Board - Keep a dry erase board by your door with the word 'Reminders' written at the top.  Write EVERYTHING on it that you need to be reminded of - maybe even if it doesn't involve the students!  Let them help you stay organized and then think of what kind of model you're setting for your students!

     • Absent Work Bin - If you don't have one, GET one!  There are TONS of ideas on Pinterest on how to start them!  

     • Label EVERYTHING - This isn't good for just you - it helps your classroom turn into a self functioning space.  The classroom is for the students.  By labeling everything it helps keep the students just as organized as yourself!

#4    Sometimes being organized does cost a little money.  So get out your pocketbook!  (Do we even call it that anymore?)  Here are 2 products you NEED to buy! 

     • Weekly checklists - You make them anyways, why not make something PERMANENT that you can keep all year long!  Here's are some great ones from Ashley Schroeder!  

     • Trash Bags - Yes, I said it.  Binge and purge people!  Get rid of it if you haven't used it if you haven't used it in 2-3 years.  If you need it later, you have my permission to buy it!  

#5 - LAST TIP!  Organize your post it notes.  I can't tell you how much better my desk looks and how much I get done because my post it notes are organized.  Here's what I'm talking about:  

<--------  This way I'm not just looking at 4-5 different notes scattered all over my desk!  Grab if for free here!  Thank you Brooke!

So I hope you found SOMETHING today to help you get a little more organized, because face it - we can ALL use help in that area!  If you <3 these tips - you can grab them on this printable handout!  Feel free to print and share them with a friend :)  Grab it HERE!

Ok, so I'm not going to lie.  The BEST way to get organized in when you have adorable post its, papers, and calendars to make everything look pretty - am I right?  Blair Turner Papers can help you with that!  She has just the most crisp, clean, and beautiful papers for every possible classroom and at home need!  She is letting me give TWO of my amazing followers a $50 GIFT CARD to use at her website!  If you haven't been there, definitely check it out now!  Are you drooling yet?

Use the RaffleCopter below to enter!  The winner will be announced on Sunday, April 17th!  Stay tuned!  Enter below and good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Helping Students Understand Theme!

You know every teacher has his/her list..  The list of concepts and skills that we LOVE to teach and those that we LOATH to teach.  Some that I LOATH are measurement in math like capacity..  Ugh!  One that I LOVE to teach is Theme in reading :)  I think its something that I can connect to so easily in so many ways which is why I have fun and enjoy breaking it down for my students.  But, if you're one who teaches theme, you know that that is definitely not the case for all of your students.  This can be an extremely challenging concept.  Why?  Because it is an abstract one.  The theme isn't something they can go back to the text and point to.  It's a type of inference per say.  Students need to be able to truly understand the entire plot of the story as well as the depth of the character to be able to identify a strong theme in a story.

So I did a lot of reflecting from these past few weeks, as I've been teaching theme (yay!) to my 3rd graders on what I did to really help them understand it.  I've come up with 5 tips that I think might help you too.  :)

1.    Vocabulary needs to be taught first.  It won't matter how much of the plot or how well they know the characters, if they don't have the vocabulary of the theme 'words', then they won't have a chance to identify the theme.  Some of the main themes we teach in our building are:  perseverance, cooperation, honesty, responsibility, acceptance, kindness, friendship, greed, and contentment.  There are many more to be added to that list.  But look at those words!  Those are some pretty hefty words even for third graders!  The first thing I do when beginning a unit on theme is teach the students the individual vocabulary words we will be using throughout our unit.  You'll be surprised at how much foundation and understand they actually have of the words, they just need a word added to their meanings.  So get out the crayons.  One of the best ways I introduce these words is by having them not only write and define them, but also sketch them out.  Click on the photo below to download for FREE!

2.     The next piece that is crucial in being able to identify the theme of a fictional text is a clear understanding of the plot.  They have to know the ins and outs of the story, the beginning, the middle and dare I say it - the end! :P  I love having the students use a variety of graphic organizers or flow charts to help with this process.  We do a lot of sketches as well.  For example:  I'll be doing the first read of the text and then I'll stop where I think the beginning of the story has 'ended'.  On their paper, the students will visualize and sketch what they truly think is the most important event so far in the story and then write 2-3 sentences about it underneath.  Then the students will pair-share and discuss similarities and differences.  We continue this throughout the entire story.  Then when we get to the discussion about theme, the students have a solid understand and even some 'notes' they have taken to refer back to if needed.

3.  It's all about the characters.  They need to understands the characters completely.  The who's, what's, when's, where's, and why's.  More so too they need to look for the change in the character.  A lot of times we'll use a character trait wall to do this.  Basically I divide my front board into two sections and write beginning and ending above each section.  As we read the students think of character traits to describe the main (or other) characters and add their words to the wall - same for the ending.  Then we analyze what changes we see in the character(s) - which helps us identify the theme!

4.    Another big tip with theme is making sure to connect it to texts and media that they already know.  I use a lot of movie references in my theme unit.  We watch a lot of clips of old fairytales and fables/folktales, etc.  I have a really fun movie Tic-Tac-Toe game that the kids just LOVE playing!  

This packet has the tic-tac-toe game plus three other amazing and hands on games that will just make your kids go crazy for theme!  Make it fun, make it engaging, and make it about texts or media they already know - they'll soak it up!  

5.    My final tip for teaching theme is talk about it with EVERY text you read.  The students can't just have these few lessons in a week or two and then not hear about it again.  It's like skills like genre, setting, and problem/solution - you talk about it with every story you read, short or long.  Have fun with it by keeping track of all of your stories and their themes.  Here's a great example from Beth Newingham!  (Click to see more)  

Hopefully I've given you some tips that maybe you hadn't thought of before.  If you have any questions, please let me know!  I'd love to hear what you do when teaching theme!  Make sure to comment so we can all learn from each other :)  

Thinking Outside the Box with Classroom Management!

Teaching encompasses a lot of different and important pieces in order for a teacher to be or have success.  They need just the right lesson, tools for the lesson, strategy, visuals, oh - and classroom management.  The one piece that could take any well thought out and strong lesson and rip it to shreds is having no management of the kids.  So what do you do?  Yes, the clip up/down charts and Class Dojo (which is what I use) are fantastic and they do work great... for a while.  But have you ever noticed that they wear off after a few months of so?   It's like a new toy that loses its shine.  There's no motivation behind it anymore.  That's because that one tool cannot be the one and only thing that you rely on when it comes to keeping you students interested in wanting to 'be managed'.  Intrinsic motivation isn't always something our little ones come to us with, therefore we have to give them that motivation.

Having the clip chart and Dojo can be great for an overall record keeping tool for management and can work but it cannot be the ONLY thing you rely on for the entire year.  Believe me...  it WILL lose it's charm.  The key to managing your classroom is having a 'bag of tricks' per-say to pull out.  Think of it like a 'boxing ring'.  You're in the ring with your students.  You need to have the right moves, tricks, and be ready to swing at a moments notice.  Follow these few tips to help!

1.    Put your gloves on!  No, that doesn't mean I want you to fight with your student.  It simply means to make sure you have the right gear.  What tools will you use?  We've already discussed how using one overall tool won't be affective.  You have to keep it new and fresh for them to keep their interest.  Keep a 'bag of tricks' handy to keep things upbeat and fresh in the classroom.  Here's what I use!

I literally keep a 'bag of tricks' cards on my desk at all time.  Each of these cards has an easy but extremely motivating idea on them to keep the students engaged and interested throughout the day or lesson.  The activities on them are mostly goal oriented and help those students who lack that intrinsic motivation.  If you'd like to learn about them, check them out HERE!

2.  Get in the ring!  You have your tools ready to go, how step into the ring with your students.  This means commit and don't back down.  There's never an okay time in education to let your feet come off that ground - keep them planted firmly.  You've heard the phrase 'give them an inch' right?  I'm pretty sure a teacher coined that phrase!  Stick to your guns, rules, procedures and don't ever take no for an answer.  If that means you're still practicing how to line up quietly in April (like I am this year) then do it!  Don't let that guard down!

3.  Give them the golden belt!  This is all about rewarding your students.  They work so hard day in and day out and need something to show for it.  All of my 'bag of tricks' cards are all working towards some type of 'prize' but that prize doesn't have to be tangible.   It can be something very easy, fun, and small.  I know my class loves Karaoke!  (YouTube has great kid friendly Karaoke videos to use!)  Here's a great list of free rewards from Teaching in the Fast Lane!

4.     Know when to go for the TKO!  Again, not asking you to hit your students!!!  This just means to pick your battles.  Don't 'die on every hill'.  You can settle situations and arguments easily without having to make a show out of everything.  Just do small 'jabs' until you truly need the TKO.  You'll know when it's time.  

5.    Fly like a butterfly, stink like a bee.  What I mean is to stay positive.  This is probably the part of the job that gets me down the most.  Happy classroom = happy teacher.  If you do all of the above on the list then you'll be able to accomplish this tip easily.  When you find yourself getting frustrated then it's time to reevaluate your tools and see what you need to switch up.   A few new tools and a new outlook on things just might help do the trick.  

After everything said so far, the best that you can do, is do what works for you.  Don't worry about what the teacher next door is doing or what you learned or did 5 years ago.   Go with your gut, that's your best instinct you have.

As always, let me know if you have any questions!  I'm happy to help!

Cooperative Learning with Placemat Consensus!

     Teachers always have lots of reasons to get that pain in the pit of our stomachs...  Testing season, report card deadlines, group work...  Oh GROUP WORK!  Can you hear the tattling now!?  Working together in groups can be the most rewarding experiences in many lessons but also can be some of the most challenging.  There are so many personalities to consider and so many 'forest fires' to prevent before the lesson even begins!  So is it worth it!?  Absolutely!!

     My biggest piece of advice for any teacher asking about group work:  Accountability!  Make sure in some way each and every student is being held accountable for the work he or she has been given.  This way not just one-two students are doing the work, all voices are being heard, and no one is wasting time! (hopefully!!)  If you love this idea and are searching for more amazing cooperative learning ideas, definitely check out my Engagement Strategy Cards on TpT! And make sure to read to the end to grab an amazing freebie!

Using a placemat consensus can be a very easy way to do just that!  Haven't heard of them?  No biggie!  They are very easy to use and to make.  Picture this:  A square or circle in the middle of a large piece of paper with lines coming out of the middle sectioning the paper into a certain number of sections (one for each student).  So if you have groups of four, you'll want four lines to create those sections, and so on.  Here are just some google images I found online of basic placemat consensuses.

Nothing to them right!?  The power is what you DO with them.  There are SO many ways to use a placemat consensus in all subject areas, their possibilities are truly endless!  Here's how they work:

Using a Placemat Consensus

     Placemat consensus's are used to help guide students to a common understanding.  Formally, they are used by the teacher presenting a question and each child solving or writing their answer in their section of the placemat.  Then together they compare and discuss each answer and formulate what they think would be the best answer taking someone from everyone's original answer.  

Here are some other fun ways to use a placemat consensus: (freebie at the end!)

  1. Place a math word problem in the middle and have each student solve - compare and vote on the winning answer.
  2. Giving each student a section of a book/text to read, write a quick summary of their section and then together write an overall summary of the book/text.
  3.  Place a story/short text in the middle along with questions at the bottom.  Assign each student with a question, have them answer and then share.
  4. Place a dollar/coin amount in the middle and have the students use coins or draw coins to make different amounts of the same total - CHALLENGE - have one person go at a time and no one can repeat the answers before them!
  5. Write a number in the middle and have each person given an operation and create an equation where the number in the middle is the answer.  (ex:  30     15+ 15, 10 x 3, 30/1, 50 - 20)
  6. Place a short text and give each person a part of speech to search for:  have them record as many as they could find and then share out and discuss.  
  7. **Pictured Below**  Place a short text in the middle and give each student a specific concept to analyze and answer.  Have multiple texts to allow the students to rotate throughout the lesson so each child gets to use each section of the placemat consensus.                                          

It's so important that when students are participating that they all have the chance to have their voice heard.  100% participation is required!  If we aren't, as teachers, being intentional about planning for ways to make this happen for our students then we are doing them a disservice.  Interested in getting 
a few more ideas on how to get all of your students completely involved in your lessons and upping your engagement?  Check out these amazing Engagement Cards!  Over 60 perfect ideas for any subject or grade level.  Definitely check them out!  Here's what one buyer had to say about these cards:

"I have loved trying each of these. My goal for this year was active engagement and these have been career changing!"


"I LOVE this product! It is so fun to have all these different ideas together in one place. As an instructional coach, I use this by picking one engagement strategy at a time to teach to my teachers. They love having new ideas, and I love that they are right there at my fingertips."

If you have other ideas on how to use a placemat consensus, I'd love to hear all about it!  I'm always looking for ways to continue to incorporate this amazing quality tool!  

If you'd like to get started, you can download my differentiated nonfiction cards I use (pictured above) HERE for free!   

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