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August Pinterest Pick 3

Wow! Can you believe it's almost time to head back to school? I know...Some of you might already be back in school. If so, I hope you are off to a great start!

Today I'm doing my first link up with Lisa at Pawsitively Teaching, Marissa at Inspired Owl's Corner, and Ashley at Just Reed, for the August Pinterest Pick 3 Linky Party!

In this post, I'll be sharing 3 of my favorite back-to-school pins!

Click on image to see original pin.
I love the idea of giving fellow team members, colleagues, or new teachers a small gift to begin the year! This idea comes from What the Teacher Wants. She leaves Flair Felt Pens in a bucket in the teacher's lounge with this beautiful sign and a note for each teacher to take a pen. On her blog, you are able to download little tags to add to the pens that say, "Teachers Like You Make Bright Futures!" Add a smile to your colleagues' first day with this small gift!

Click on image to see original pin.

Keeping with the back-to-school gift-giving theme, here is a cute and simple idea from The First Grade Parade. In the past, I have put together little gift baggies for my students, but these are very simple and very fun for the students!

Click on the image to see original pin.
Ok, so moving on from the gift-giving...

Close reading is a hot topic at every grade level. Get prepared in advance to get your students excited and organized with this fabulous Close Reading Kit. Laura from Adventures in Literacy Land shares this wonderful kit idea and plenty of resources for close reading.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas! Feel free to check out or follow my Pinterest board here. Better yet, link up with us to share your favorite August pins!
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Back to School Giveaway

Hey Teachers! It's time for the Back to School Sale on Teachers Pay Teachers! The sale will be held this Monday and Tuesday, and my entire store will be 20% off! To celebrate, I'm giving away a $10 Teachers Pay Teachers gift card. You may enter below. The contest will end on Monday at midnight, and I will announce the winner on Tuesday morning. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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4 Ways to Help Upper Elementary Kids Master Sight Word Spelling

At the beginning of my teaching career, I taught first and second grade. A big component of the primary grades is learning how to read and spell sight words. We practiced, practiced, and practiced until I felt the students had mastered the words.

Then I switched schools and began teaching 4th grade. I needed to make many adjustments to teaching older children, but one thing I was unprepared for was the students' spelling. I had 4th graders spelling "said" as "sed" and "what" as "wat." I was simply astounded. After all, weren't these first grade sight words?

If you are an upper elementary teacher, you can probably sympathize. I remember asking other teachers for spelling help in an online discussion forum. I received responses such as...

 "I've been frustrated with this for the past 10 years!"

"Nothing seems to help!"

"When you find something that works, let me know!"

This post isn't devoted to addressing WHY some big kids can't spell basic sight words, but instead, to HOW we can HELP these kids with poor spelling.

4 Ways to Help Upper Elementary Kids Master Sight Word Spelling:

1. Develop a list of words that students should spell correctly in ALL student work.

The list of words I developed are the most common sight words that students misspell. I call these words "No Excuse Words." They are available as a free download in my TpT store here. Although this list is for 4th grade, it certainly could be used or modified for other grades. Click here to preview an editable version of my No Excuse word list.

 No Excuse Words Freebie

I copy this list of "No Excuse Words" for each student at the beginning of the year, and they keep it in their student binders as a reference both at school and at home.

2. Big kids need word walls, too!

When I realized my 4th graders had such poor spelling skills, I declared in my mind that I would NOT post a word wall. After all, weren't word walls for the primary grades? However, I began to realize that as a teacher, my job was to provide the support my students needed to learn. And if a word wall was an effective way to hold students accountable for their spelling, then a word wall for big kids was an effective tool.

Upper Elementary Word Wall

I found a word wall to be effective for my upper elementary students because word walls are so EASY for the student to reference. Instead of needing to take the time to pull a list of words out of their desks to see how to spell a word, a student only needed to glance up at the wall. I also found it made my job easier. Instead of spelling out words for students, all I needed to say was something like, "This word is misspelled. Check the "W" section of the word wall to see how to spell it."

Click here to preview a set of word wall cards I created that match my "No Excuse Word List." Blank cards are included for you to add additional words.

3. Add 2-3 sight words to your weekly spelling list.

Although many of the No Excuse words seem like 1st and 2nd grade words, if the kids can't spell them, they should be reviewing how to spell them throughout the week. Continue reviewing troublesome words throughout the year.

4. Require No Excuse Words to be spelled correctly in ALL student work.

If I conferenced with a student or checked their work and noticed that No Excuse Words were not spelled correctly, I highlighted the words and returned the assignment to the students. It was then the student's responsibility to use their No Excuse word list or the word wall to correct the spellings and then turn in their work again into the "No Excuses" bin. I generally had the students make these corrections as part of their morning work. As the year went on, fewer and fewer students needed to make "No Excuses" corrections. They learned to check their spellings before they turned in their work so they wouldn't need to correct their work later.

I'd love to hear any successful and creative ideas you use to help your student with their spelling!

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10 Time-Saving Tips to Plan Your Plan Time

As a brand new teacher, I felt prepared to plan a daily classroom schedule and make lesson plans. What no one ever taught me, however, was how to use my plan time effectively. So I found that during my first several years as a new teacher, I wasted a lot of plan time during the school day. Consequently, I ended up staying late after school many afternoons to catch up on everything that needed to be done for the next day.

Many teachers spend hours setting up or tweaking their classroom schedules over the summer to ensure they make efficient use of every minute of learning time with their students. If you have not set up your classroom schedule or lesson plan book yet, some teachers find using Planbook.com to be very helpful. I personally like to create my own plan book pages. Click here or on the image below to access an Excel lesson plan template of what I have used in my fourth grade classroom. It could be edited for various grades and contexts.

Teacher Lesson Plan Template Plan Time

I love this form because it provides a schedule for each day, and the lesson plan boxes are large enough that I can type or write in each lesson’s objective, activities, or simple plan.

Yet, do you see how small the boxes are for my plan times when the kids are at special classes? My lesson plan template failed to tell me what I should be doing while the kids were out of my room so I made efficient use of my plan time.

So… in the past, my plan time has generally involved WASTING A LOT OF TIME. How? By trying to figure out what I should be doing…by checking e-mail…by chatting with other teachers in the teacher's lounge…

And then, by the time 3:30 or 4:00 rolled around and I should have been heading out of the school building, I was panicking about not feeling prepared for the next day because I didn’t have materials ready or copies made.

So here are 10 Time Saving Tips to Plan Your Plan Time:

1.       List out all the times you have available for planning each week.

These generally fall into the following categories:
- Before School
- Plan Period
- After School
- Time at Home

I have included a general form for you to organize your plan time here.

 Plan Time Template

2. Record weekly meetings you have each week on your Plan Time Organizer.

For me, this meant I would plug in my weekly faculty meeting, 4th grade team meeting, math committee meeting, and student support meeting. Some weeks I may not have had these meetings, but I allowed room in my schedule for them anyway! Make room in your schedule for margin! (More on that later!)

3. Decide in advance how you will handle e-mails, phone calls, and parent communication.

Set specific times to check and respond to e-mails. Otherwise, e-mail has the ability to dictate the entire direction of your day. I always got one 15-minute break each day while other team members took my class to recess (Lucky me, I know!) I used that 15 minutes, the end of my lunch period, and the first 10-15 minutes after the kids left my room for the day to respond to e-mails or phone calls. If communications took longer than that, I tried to schedule a block of time on my Plan Time Organizer to handle lengthier communications.

4. Record when you will prepare materials and lessons for the next day.

I always did general lesson plans and made most of my copies the week before I actually taught my lessons for the week. However, I blocked out a chunk of time each day to gather all materials needed for the next day and to take time to review the next day's lessons. By having everything prepared for the next day, I left school knowing that I wouldn't be panicking in the copier line the next morning to frantically prepare for the day as the students were arriving.

5. Record when you will plan lessons for each subject or class for the following week.

Allot time to plan each subject. Try to stick to the time you have allotted for each subject. If you have a special unit or project to plan out, record when you will set aside time to complete that planning.

6. Allow extra time in your schedule for margin.

Plan for things to take longer than they should! That way if your spelling planning doesn't take the entire 30 minutes you allotted for it to take, you can get ahead on another task you need to complete. Leave some "empty" chunks of time in your schedule to catch up on work or to complete tasks that came up on the spur of the moment.

7. Decide on when you will leave school each day.

Set a time to leave the school building, and make every effort to stick to that time. For example, it was generally my goal to leave school at 3:30 every day except for Wednesday. I stayed at school until 4:45 that day to finish up my lesson planning for the next week and to catch up on other work. Afterwards, I met my husband for dinner, and I had a good feeling that I wouldn't need to stay at school late on Friday afternoon to finish up things for the following week.

8.  Schedule time for making weekly copies and other tasks that need to be completed each week.

By having the majority of your copies made a week in advance, you limit the stress that can be created by having the copy machine breaking down when you need it most.

Also schedule time for creating your weekly newsletter or class blog post if you do that on a weekly basis.

9. Record major assignments that will need to be graded each week.

By keeping a record of what you will need to grade each day, you will become aware if you need to limit the amount of work you collect for a grade. For example, if students turned in book projects that I knew would take me a lengthy amount of time to grade, that week I tried to have students spend more time looking over their own work, or I tried to spot-check assignments so I was not so bombarded with grading at home.

10.  Keep a list of things to do in upcoming weeks.

As things pop into your mind that need to be done, record them on your Plan Time Organizer along with your projected timeline to complete them. However, devote your time to completing tasks that are essential for the current week and next week.

Keep in mind that your "Teacher Plan Time Organizer" is a work in progress. As the school year unfolds, you will find that you forgot to include something on your organizer or that you need to allot more time in a specific area than you first thought. That's okay! Your plan is a flexible and changing document, and you many need to update it many times throughout the year.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about how you "plan your plan time." Please feel free to comment about what you have found to be helpful as you try to maximize your time as a teacher!

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7 Steps to Make Classroom Management More Manageable

Today I am remembering back 11 years ago when I had my very first class of students-- It was a multi-grade class of 1st and 2nd graders. I had the curriculum organized and was finding my way as a new teacher. What I remember most was the struggle with classroom management. How could I keep these little people from continually calling out, from repeatedly chatting with friends at inopportune times, and from asking me to repeat my directions over and over?

Enter the struggle with classroom management. It is a struggle that most new teachers face. I'm devoting my post today to 7 things I have learned over the year that have greatly helped make classroom management more manageable. It is my hope that you might be able to use or adapt some of these ideas to make classroom management more manageable for yourself. At the end of the post, please feel free to leave comments to tell what tips you have for new teachers or for teachers who need fresh ideas in the area of classroom management.

1. Decide on the classroom rules. 

State these in positive terms. Having more than 5 rules makes them difficult for students to remember. Post these in a prominent place in your classroom. Here are the rules in my classroom:

2.  Decide on rewards for appropriate student behavior.

Give smiles and praise. Send positive notes or e-mails home. I also have a ticket system I use with students. I give each student a ticket pouch, and they earn tickets for outstanding behavior and good academic work to add to their pouches. Once they earn 25 tickets, they are able to trade them in for a reward. 

3.  Decide on consequences for students who do not follow classroom expectations.

Try to have consequences follow a logical progression. A verbal reminder might suffice. I also have "Don't Forget" cards that I give to students to keep in their ticket pouches. If students aren't following the classroom rules, I tell them to give me a "Don't Forget." They just put it in the "Don't Forget" bucket on my desk.

If students lose their allotment of "Don't Forgets" for the day or week, they need to have a meeting with me where we discuss an appropriate consequence. I try to make the consequence "fit the crime." For example, if they have not been following directions, I might move their desk to the front of the classroom.

The student I meet with also must fill out a "Student-Teacher Conference Form" to take home and have a parent sign.

4.  Introduce the classroom expectations, rewards, and consequences to the students on the first day of school.

Thoroughly explain these, and have students tell why the rules are important. Be sure to explain your rewards and consequences.

5.  Review the rules, rewards, and consequences with the students each day for the first one to two weeks of school.

Allow the students to practice the rules with plenty of positive encouragement, yet firm reminders, from you.

6.  Be fair and consistent with your expectations.

7.  Review and discuss your expectations as needed.

If you would like to have copies of my tickets, Don't Forgets, and Student-Teacher Conference Form, I have developed a Classroom Management FREEBIE that you can download here.  If you like the forms, please leave feedback. Also feel free to comment below with your own classroom management ideas or any ideas you have found to be useful.

Download this FREE product here.
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Back-to-School Read Aloud- Do Unto Otters

I'm excited to be doing my very first blog post! It is back-to-school time, and I thought I would showcase one of my favorite books to read aloud to students during the first week or two of school. The book is Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller.

I believe that a true education does not merely train the mind-- it must also train the heart. This book helps students think about and reflect on how they would like to be treated, and it encourages them to treat others, or "otters," in the same manner.

I particularly like the page spread that encourages children to be FRIENDLY by

1. Saying a cheerful hello,
2.  Showing a nice smile, and
3.  Making good eye contact.

I don't know how many times I have welcomed students into the classroom by giving a smile and a pleasant "Hello," only to have my greeting be returned with no response or direct eye contact! We as teachers have the obligation to teach students how to respond to greetings appropriately. Periodically reviewing elements of this book helps children respond in a friendly, polite, and considerate way to others.

Author Laurie Keller's website offers several printable activities that teachers can use with their students when reading this book.

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