6 Ways To Ease Your Students' Test Anxiety

Do you have students who display signs of anxiety during testing season? Whether you're stuck administering the PARCC test, the STAR test, or some other standardized test, the anxiety that comes along with testing is very real for some students.

If you work hard to build students' confidence and a healthy classroom community, you already know that that anxiety can be very damaging. Here are 6 tips to help off-set some of that negativity.

6 Ways To Ease Your Students' Test Anxiety by A Word On Third

1. Meditate.

You might be thinking, who has time for that weird, fluffy stuff? First of all, it's not all fluff at all; meditation is scientifically proven to have so many benefits. Second, we need to make time if it means our students will feel better. Meditation will help your students clear their minds.

A meditation might only be 1 or 2 minutes long for students at an elementary age. It doesn't have to take long. You can search YouTube for pre-exam meditations, kid-friendly meditations, or a 1 minute meditation that's not specific to kids or testing at all. Try this one with your class.

2. Be honest.

What is the test really about for you? In my state, standardized testing is really about evaluating the teacher. It has no bearing on my students and their future class placement. If your situation is similar, you might tell the kids just that. 

Each year, I tell my kids that the test is meant to measure how well I've taught and how much they learned. I tell them that they can get a 0% or 100% and neither score will impact them positively or negatively. They'll be in the same class no matter what their scores are, and they won't miss out on any opportunities due to a low score. All they need to do is try their best; they're already prepared.

It also helps to remind the test that it doesn't measure them as an entire person. A test can't measure how friendly, artistic, creative, or hardworking you are. It just measures how you can show what you know on that particular day.

3. Model being calm.

This one is probably a no-brainer, but it's important enough to mention. If the test stresses you out, your kids will be stressed out too. If it's hard for you to not be frazzled by the test, then model other self-care and calming techniques for your students. If you ooze peacefulness, your students will pick up on that. Try to hide your own anxiety about the test if you have any.

4. Celebrate.

There are so many ways to celebrate taking the test, and doing this boosts your classroom's morale. I saw this adorable idea on Instagram and decided to follow suit. I grabbed some light-colored pants and had my kids sign them; now on testing days, I wear my "smarty pants." It makes my kids smile and relax, and since I administer the test, I walk around in my smarty pants which is comforting to them during the test.

While I do not believe in giving kids prizes for behaving well, I do think it's nice to share a few treats every now and then for no reason other than to celebrate! I've been giving my kids a small treat (pencils, erasers, etc.) every morning of standardized testing, just like @thirdgradegoals on IG!

A post shared by Marla Savage (@awordonthird) on

5. Use positive affirmations.

Have your kids say a password to enter or exit the room. The trick here is to make the password a positive affirmation. During testing this week, our class password was, "I can do difficult things." Click here or on the picture below to learn more about using a password in class.

6. Communicate with parents.

Tell the parents what they need to know about the test (see point number 2 on this post). What are they responsible for and what are you responsible for when it comes to testing? I tell my parents the best way to help their child is not to study or cram for the test; instead it's to get their child to bed early and help them to eat a nutritious breakfast.

Parents often get stressed about their child's performance on the test because they worry about how it will impact their child. That's why it's so important for you to model being calm to your students and their families!

Good luck with testing, guys!! On a separate note, did you download the free growth mindset learning progression I shared with you last week yet? If not, what are you waiting for?! Click here or on the picture below to grab it! 

By the way, if you haven't already subscribed, we'd love to have you! Join our community by signing up in the box right under my bio to the right. That way, you won't miss any blog posts. I promise not to clutter your inbox! Make sure to follow me on Instagram for more classroom ideas than I put on my blog.

Download This Free Learning Progression Before You Forget!

A few days ago, I posted a picture on my Instagram account that got a really positive response. You guys saw my self-directed learning progression and you all said you wanted it! Since you wanted it, it's up for free in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, so grab it now before you forget!! Click here or on the picture below to grab your copy.

I like this learning progression because it helps the students to assess where they are in three areas: academics, problem-solving capabilities, and social-emotional development. The rubric is also growth mindset-friendly because it moves from "Not Yet" all the way to "Wow!!!"

I used my school's poster maker to make a big copy of this progression. It hangs on our wall next to our class rules. We refer to it often. I also use these with students sometimes--they just circle the one they feel best describes where they are at a given moment.

I have two versions of the rubric, one that mentions "CARES" (a Responsive Classroom idea) and one that just mentions "good classroom citizenship." Pick the one that works for you and start using it!

If you don't discuss CARES in your classroom, I absolutely recommend introducing it at the beginning of the year. These social skills are all-encompassing. If you've got these 5 qualities under control, you're in a really good place! I always mention these to my students and say that one of our class goals will be to develop these qualities as individuals.

Did you download the learning progression yet? If not, what are you waiting for?! Click here to grab it!

By the way, if you haven't already subscribed, we'd love to have you! Join our community by signing up in the box right under my bio to the right. That way, you won't miss any blog posts. I promise not to clutter your inbox! Make sure to follow me on Instagram for more classroom ideas than I put on my blog. 

3 Teacher Routines You Need To Have A Smooth Day

We've all had days in the classroom where we feel like a chicken running around with no head. Truthfully, preparing ahead of time takes the majority of this kind of stress away. These 3 routines will let you feel more zen in your classroom.

3 Teacher Routines You Need To Have A Smooth Day

1. Prepare for the next morning before you leave.

For me, this means my morning message is ready, my schedule is posted on the board, and the morning Do Now is ready to go for my kids.

I don't want to run around like a crazy person if something delays me in the morning. Doing this takes a few extra minutes, and I don't leave the same time the kids do, but this makes me so much happier. My mornings are spent on my terms, greeting my kids at the door--not rushing to catch up.

The few extra minutes it takes to do this is well worth the investment and sets a productive, calm tone for the day.

If the idea of this sends you into a panic, have students help you with these jobs. My students know how to read my lesson plans and set up the daily schedule. Students can clean your room, prepare many materials for games or centers, etc. At the end of the day during dismissal procedures, this is all my students do while they wait for the bus. Class jobs are great for building responsibility in the classroom, but they're also great for helping you!

2. Use your prep periods wisely.

Close your door. Stop talking to your neighbors. Put your phone away.

Use each prep period to complete a specific task. When I started doing this at the suggestion of my super organized colleague Ali, my life changed. I will never forget her for sharing this brilliant, underestimated tip with me.

Here's what my schedule looks like this year. Make one that works for you.

One of my biggest changes? I make all of my copies for one week at ONE TIME. For me, this is usually Friday afternoon. If you don't want to stay after school on Friday, can you do it on Thursday? Prepare for the week ahead by gathering all of the copies you'll need and make them. 

You'll feel good because you won't be worrying about paper jams or waiting in line to copy when you only have 5 minutes before your lunch period ends. Nothing asks for a chaotic day more than being unprepared or preparing last minute and worrying about it.

You can make it pretty and Pinterest-y by using a system like the one below. Or, you could do what I do and just grab 5 file folders (one for each day of the week) and shove your copies in there. 

3. Teach a rock-solid quiet signal.

Use interactive modeling to make sure your quiet signal is never ignored. The second it is even a little bit off, reteach and remodel it to your class. If your quiet signal isn't taken seriously, you won't feel calm or have a smooth day. You'll be fighting with your students for their attention. Even if it seems like it's going 99% well, your students will eventually get 1% worse incredmentally until you notice your quiet signal is meaningless. That's not an intentional choice your students are making--it's just human nature!

Caltha Crowe is a masterful Responsive Classroom educator. Watch her above to see how she uses a quiet signal with her class. Remember--interactive modeling only needs to take a few minutes. This is not so much about introducing the quiet signal perfectly (though obviously, that helps) as it is about being a stickler to make sure it is followed. Expect perfection when it comes to quiet signals, and you will not regret it.

Obviously, there are so many things we can do to feel prepared and in control of our day, but these 3 practices really make a huge difference for me. I feel much less stressed when I practice these daily.

By the way, if you haven't already subscribed, we'd love to have you! Join our community by signing up in the box right under my bio to the right. That way, you won't miss any blog posts. I promise not to clutter your inbox! Make sure to follow me on Instagram for more classroom ideas than I put on my blog. 

4 Quick Morning Meeting Activities Your Students Will Love

I'm always looking for more Morning Meeting activities. They not only spice up my Morning Routine, but they often serve as good brain breaks for my class mid-day when they need a quick energizer or break. Here are a few of my latest favorites.

4 Quick Morning Meeting Activities Your Students Will Love by A Word On Third

1. Questions & Clues

Have your class sit in a circle. Write a word on an index card and tape it to a student’s back. That student will be the guesser, and his/her job will be to ask questions to determine what the word is. Have the student spin around in a circle so all of the students in the class know what the mystery word is. Assign one student to be the counter.

Have the guesser ask the class 5 yes-or-no questions to the class about the word. They might ask what part of speech it is, if it’s a word associated with a particular subject area, etc. Everyone in the class can respond to the yes or no question with a thumbs up for yes or a thumbs down for no. Once the 5 questions are up, the counter will inform the guesser that his/her questions are over, and it is time to receive 3 clues. The guesser can call on 3 students to give clues about what the word is. After the 3 clues have been given, the counter tells the guesser to guess.

By third grade, I tend to do this with math, science, or social studies vocabulary, but you could do this with sight words too!

2. Silly Sentences

Have your students work in partnerships. Write a word wall word down somewhere on the morning message (or perhaps have them identify and circle one that's already written on it).

Tell the partnerships to brainstorm a silly sentence that is grammatically correct using words that start with each letter of the word.

For example, the word CAT might create, "Carly Ate Toes."

Share a few sentences and use the class to help revise any sentences that are not grammatically correct. Repeat as many times as time allows! Practicing spelling and grammar at the same time is a big win in my book.

3. People To People

This is one of my favorites for when my class gives me that "eyes-glazed-over" look. This gets everybody giggling. My kids laugh especially hard when you match ears with far-away body parts like knees! Watch how to play below. You can even teach your kids to play by having them watch the video and using that as the example for interactive modeling.

4. Bingo Mix

These are a lot of fun because they teach you more about your class! Students start with the same bingo board, like the one in the picture below. To get bingo, students must fill up their whole board. If you have early finishers, have them try to get a second round of bingo using new names again. I typically have my students mingle for about 3 minutes when we play bingo.

Students ask their classmates about the statements in each box (like "enjoys reading") until they find someone who fits that statement. Then they write that student's name in the box. If you want to take it a step further, have students ask a follow-up question to learn even more about their classmates. 

Bingo boards are really easy to make, but I already have a few freebies for you to download here so you can start tomorrow with no prep. If you want some to last you the whole year, you can grab these for only 99 cents; they will last you all year! There are even themed bingo boards for each holiday. So, if you'd rather pay 99 cents and save yourself some serious time, click here or the picture below.

Want to find even more Morning Meeting activities? Check out my previous post with 3 other ideas here or by clicking the picture below. Also, which activity looks the most fun to you? Share your favorite with me below.

By the way, if you haven't already subscribed, we'd love to have you! Join our community by signing up in the box right under my bio to the right. That way, you won't miss any blog posts. I promise not to clutter your inbox! Make sure to follow me on Instagram for more classroom ideas than I put on my blog. 

Are You Looking For Free & Easy STEAM Activities For Your Class?

It seems like everyone has a MAKER space in their classroom for STEM & STEAM activities nowadays. I love exposing my kids to these kinds of rich tasks, but it can be really intimidating to get started. Do you feel the same way?

It's also challenging to find ways to fit this stuff in. It's not usually in our curriculum! How do you create worthwhile STEAM tasks that can be completed within a reasonable amount of time anyway?! What kind of magical, time-bending creatures do they think we are, anyway... TEACHERS? Oh, wait... yes, we're teachers. Sorry, forgot that was in the job description! ;)

Anyway, that's why I'm really happy that Guinness World Records reached out to me to share their new book Science & Stuff. I've been struggling with these questions for some time, and this will help me with finding some answers. If I'm being honest, I usually just delete emails that I get from other companies trying to promote books and other materials. I'm not willing to share anything I'm not super excited about on my blog.

I'm totally pumped to try out the ideas from Guinness' new book Science & Stuff. Click here or on the picture below to check out the book for yourself!

First of all, my students love these kinds of science books. Engaged readers = happy teacher! Does your class constantly pick up the Guiness, Who Would Win?, or Nat Geo Kids books? Year afte ryear, mine never put them down! Let me know in the comments below if your classes are as obsessed with these books as mine are.

I also appreciate how useful this can be during my science instruction; I can whip out a page or two during every science unit I teach when I'm introducing a new unit of study or encourage students to dig deeper in areas of interest. I'll also use the book to supply me with close reading or shared reading passages that are engaging, informative, and useful in my balanced literacy classroom.

However, what I think you'll like the most and what I like the most is the STEAM experiment guide! There are 10 challenging STEAM experiments for any class to try included in the book. This was the part that got me interested in checking out the book! There are directions, materials lists, and lots of other useful information to get your class experimenting.

Because I want to make sure you enjoy the experiments as much as I do, you can download half of them right now for free by clicking here or clicking the picture below. You'll be taken to an awesome experiment guide.

We'll be trying to break a world record by the end of the year in my class using some of these experiments! Since we're about to study measurement, I figure we'll have a marshmallow catapult Olympics and measure the distance of each marshmallow's flight. HOW FUN IS THAT!? I'm stoked. Are you going to try to break a record? If so, comment below and tell me which one you'll try!

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1 Amazing, Easy Trick To Quickly Help Your Reluctant Writers

If you teach writing, chances are you've had more than a few kids who are reluctant writers. I always have a handful every single year. You know... the kids who go to the bathroom, get a drink, get a tissue, sharpen their pencils, and try to share personal stories with you... all during that short writing period! Working with reluctant writers is one of my favorite challenges of teaching. This tip changed everything for my writers and me.

1 Amazing, Easy Trick To Quickly Help Your Reluctant Writers

All you need to do is use a timer to break the writing process into small, more manageable chunks. Check in with each child when you set the timer and make a plan for what he or she will do during the allotted time. When the timer goes off, come back and check in with the child. Repeat the process.

Start with small increments of time and work your way up. Once this is in place for a week or so, it will be easy to check in with your other writers who don't need this support. When I start doing this with my classes, I set the timer and immediately call a strategy group to the carpet. Then two things might happen:

  1. I finish the strategy group and check back in with the writer when I'm done, or more realistically... 
  2. I check back in with that writer when my strategy group kids are doing their active engagement/independent practice.
Yes, it's a bit of a balancing act, but so is everything else about teaching!

The kind of timer you use is really important. I like to use Time Timers because the amount of time left until the buzzer goes off is NOT being displayed by the second. That is really distracting and overwhelming for someone who is already a reluctant writer. However, kids can still budget their time appropriately because they have a rough idea of how much time is left.

I always have at least 4 or 5 of these timers for my students to use. If you want a Time Timer, you can click the picture above to check one out on Amazon. (This is not an affiliate link or sponsored post, by the way. I just really like Time Timers.) Ask your guidance counselor or school psychologist if they have one you can borrow. I guarantee after a week, you'll see a difference if you're consistent.

Here's what the breakdown of what a writer's independent writing portion of a lesson might look like in your classroom during a narrative writing unit.

  • 10 minutes - Revise all pages by adding dialogue and using words other than "said"
  • 10 minutes - Revise all pages by adding actions
  • 10 minutes - Revise all pages by using the "Show, Don't Tell" strategy
Usually my reluctant writers get pulled for strategy groups often, so we'll incorporate those strategies into each chunk of time. Sometimes writers will finish before the timer goes off, and other times they will need a little more time. If they're on task the whole time, that's perfectly OK.

The important thing to do is to involve your writer in the decision making process. Don't make all the choices for them. Ask them what they think they need to accomplish in the designated amount of time. If you don't agree with the amount they should get done, you can adjust, but it's awesome if you can stick with the writing strategy they choose to work on.

If you want to try this tomorrow but you know you don't have a Time Timer, try using this online stopwatch and projecting it or setting it up on any devices your students can use. I just make the window small and hide the numbers counting the seconds. You will love how independent this makes your students while still holding them accountable!

If you want to create a buzz around writing, you might want to also check out this writing activity that I do in my class every week. Kids write a class news report to share what they are learning in class with their families. This can be as fancy or simple as you want it to be: editing is not a necessity! This has everything you need to film from start to finish. You can do it during lunch or pull kids to work on this during writing.

By the way, if you haven't already subscribed, we'd love to have you! Join our community by signing up in the box right under my bio to the right. Also, make sure to follow me on Instagram for more classroom ideas! 

How To Make Time For Self-Care When You're An Exhausted Teacher

Have you ever noticed that every month or so, teachers will often say to each other, "It's that time of year again! I'm exhausted!" and nod in agreement? While I agree the demands on us are high--we can't just sit there and let ourselves reach exhaustion every few weeks. It's not sustainable.

You can't pour from an empty cup. If you don't take care of yourself, nobody else will. Make yourself a priority.

If you're busy and you feel like "you don't have time" for anything extra, then self-care is extra important for you in particular! These are my secrets to help you make time for yourself... and to fit it in without slacking on all of your other demands. Or... you know... going crazy!

How To Make Time For Self-Care When You're An Exhausted Teacher by A Word On Third

1. Double dip.

I practice this every day. If there's something I can do that will make me happier or healthier, I pair it with something else.

I need to exercise, and I need to play with my dogs daily. That means that I go for a run and take my dogs with me. Now I've accomplished both at the same time. 

I like to read personal development books. I listen to a podcast or audiobook while I cook, clean, or drive to work. It makes my chores more enjoyable.

I need to pack my lunches for the week. Can I make larger dinners and pack the leftovers for lunch when I'm cleaning up afterwards?

This is all about working smarter, not harder. When you say, "I don't have time," it's a hint that you might not be using your time as efficiently as possible. There are endless resources to get better with this.

2. Take short breaks.

It might not feel easy to accomplish all of the time, but scheduling breaks is scientifically proven to help you be more productive. This article shows how taking breaks will help you. After all, you give your kids brain breaks; you need them too! All you really need to do is set aside 3 to 5 minutes to reap the benefits. 

I recommend taking your break at the beginning of your prep and lunch periods. Even if you feel like you just have to finish something first, scheduling your break before doing anything else will help you be more productive later. It also ensures you fit your break in. How many times have you said to yourself that you would eat your lunch as soon as you finished making copies and grading those papers only to realize you didn't get to eat your lunch. You have to make this a priority, remember?

How you take your breaks is up to you, but it's really important that you take them during the school day. You might decide to do a quick YouTube exercise or yoga video to get your blood pumping and wake your brain and body up. You might also do a quick breathing exercise or meditation. You can even just decide to walk around your school once or twice. Maybe you can even walk outside if the weather is nice! Once in a while, I open up a book that I am reading strictly for pleasure during lunch. Even if I only read it for 5 minutes, it's really nice!!

3. Make an effort to include one sweet thing in each day.

Oddly enough, I feel like this is the easiest item on this list to accomplish, but it's often the first one to be neglected. This can be literally anything, and only takes a few seconds. Here are some things that make the cut on my list:
  • Wear extra fluffy socks
  • Bring a pair of slippers to work for after your students leave.
  • Pack your favorite snack.
  • Play your favorite songs over your projector speakers once the kids leave.
  • Play a nature video in the background during your lunch and prep periods.
  • Make your favorite cup of tea.
  • Put your favorite scent in your essential oil diffuser.
  • Put your phone down and pay attention while you snuggle your dog.
  • Give yourself a compliment.
  • Tidy up a space you spend time in often until you're happy with it.
  • Sing to your favorite upbeat song on your drive home.
  • Call someone you love.
Make a list that makes you happy and stick with it! I'm sure some of the stuff on my list would be annoying to you, so don't pick anything that would bother you.

4. Practice the 80-20 rule.

Scientists say that our most important tasks, which tend to take up 20 percent of our time, tend to yield 80% of our results. That means we need to spend some time thinking about our priorities.

What does that mean for an exhausted teacher? It means you don't have to make that font pretty. You don't have to put that copy on the prettiest colored paper when you can't find it. You don't have to use your prettiest hand lettering on your anchor charts. 

Those kinds of things aren't going to lead to the most significant learning outcomes. If you're exhausted, you need to ask yourself what you value most. Maybe you can come back to those other nice things when you aren't exhausted again.

Give yourself permission to be human and to prioritize well for you. Let some things go.

5. Implement basic healthy habits one at a time.

Being mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy is really important, but it's not easy to get started all of the time. How many of us have set New Year's Resolutions and given up on them a few weeks or months later? It's because we're busy and we've bitten off more than we can chew.

Let's say I decide to get more sleep. Some people say they will get 8 hours of sleep per night, but they fail at it over and over again. That's because you're really not changing one habit at a time; you're changing many! You have to get to bed earlier, do different before-bed rituals (like washing your face or packing your lunch) earlier, stop binging on Netflix when you are supposed to be going to bed, put your kids to bed earlier, etc. That's a lot of different habits just to get more sleep! The take away here is that you need to do those things one at a time if you want the habit to stick.

If you want to drink more water each day, that is simple enough that you probably can just buy a bigger water bottle and plan to drink 2 of them during your work day. However, you can't plan to drink more water, eat healthier, meal prep, and exercise all at once if you haven't gradually implemented those habits into your life. Therefore, that means you should focus on implementing one of these tips first rather than trying all give at once.

These tips have really helped me to practice self-care. Double-dipping helps me in particular. I regularly make extra servings of a weekend lunch so I have lunches for the week. What's the tip that you are going to try? Comment below and let me know how you're going to implement it!

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