BEAST Those Resolutions: In And Out Of Your Classroom!

Happy New Year, Teachers!! Here's my resolution for 2017...

Haha, just kidding. That gave me a chuckle, so I wanted to share it with you.

As the New Year approaches, it is a perfect time for us to re-evaluate some of the things going on in our classroom. It's a great time to approach re-writing or revising classroom--especially if something isn't working in the way you would like. Even if your classroom feels like a well-oiled machine, it's still a great time to re-visit classroom rules. Check out a post on that by clicking the picture below.

I want to share a freebie with you today. This freebie in my store will help you to re-launch your classroom in January while helping your students to reflect. In September in my classroom, we publish hopes and dreams. By January, I've found that many of the students are ready to revise their hopes and dreams too. Maybe they have reached their previous goal, or maybe their priorities have changed. Click the picture to download the freebie in my store!

It's a simple template, but it's effective. Before students write their resolution and publish it, I like to have them spend some time talking with partners about what surprised them so far this year, what they were able to accomplish, what was challenging for them, etc. I have a whole-class discussion too so that students can think about goals through an academic and social lens.

Now, on a PERSONAL level, Teachers... what are you doing to take care of yourselves? All year, and especially in September, I was really focused on taking care of myself. In December, though, I feel like I really let that slip out of reach. I was spending too much time at work (9 PM is NOT when I should be getting home!!), and it was making me really cranky. I  have had major teacher burn-out this year so far if I'm being completely honest with you. I've had so many drastic life changes in the past 6 months or so, but I've also had new challenges to grow through in my professional life this year. I've been recovering all break. I am glad I spent the time relaxing, but I did not do all the things I wanted to do during break. I'm fine with chilling out and watching tons of Netflix, but there are FUN things I wanted to do that were too much for me. I was too tired to go out for hikes with my dogs--that's pretty darn tired for me. That leads me to reflect on the changes I need to make in 2017 to make sure I am at my happiest. I don't want to feel like a curmudgeon each day. I have 3 resolutions to get 2017 more in line with what I want my life to be.

The first thing I want to do is get my nutrition back to where I want it to be. You might think that that doesn't have a lot to do with teaching, but I really notice how I feel is directly related to what I eat. I also don't drink coffee in the morning (caffeine doesn't work for me... booo!!), so my food HAS to fuel me to get me up and ready for my students at 8:45 AM. To me, that means that what I eat directly impacts my teaching abilities (just like how much I exercise, sleep, and hydrate does too).

I am a little bit nervous to be trying this out, but I'm committing to a 28 day reset nutrition plan. You can check it out by clicking the picture above. I am trying the vegan one, but there is a regular one for omnivores too. The whole point of a reset is to cleanse your body. Basically, you eliminate certain types of food that typically cause problems to clean out your body, and then you re-introduce them into your diet gradually. You see what foods you experience negative reactions to and you make a decision about moving on with those food groups in the future. Sometimes, you might find that you are bloated or your body is irritated in some way due to a type of food you are eating, but, just by eliminating it for a short time, you are able to re-introduce that same food later with no aggravation whatsoever. The pause "resets" your body.

The reset I purchased is awesome because it teaches you a bit about the science behind the nutrition plan, gives you grocery lists and meal plans, and includes tons of recipes. I am probably not going to follow the meal plan exactly--but I will be following the rules of the reset. I just like to cook a lot of things in bulk, so I don't want to cook 4 different recipes each day. This can be easily tweaked for your needs! One tweak I will be making is including eggs in my diet because I am vegetarian but not vegan. It will be interesting to see how my body reacts to certain types of foods after the 28 days.

The second thing I need to do to get my happy-go-lucky teacher energy back is get back into my normal exercise routine. Believe it or not, I actually LOVE exercising. I used to hate it, but I hadn't found a routine I liked yet. It is as simple as that. If you think you hate exercising, I am willing to bet you just don't know what exercise you like yet. POP Pilates changed the way I felt about exercising. The more I did POP, the more interested I became in other types of exercise that I used to dislike. I am also committing myself to doing PIIT28 for the next 3 months. It is a high intensity and Pilates blend, but it's ONLY 28 minutes each day (OK, maybe add an extra 5 for stretching before and after, but I can definitely manage that). If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, you can check it out below.

I did PIIT28 last year for a few months, and the changes I noticed were incredible. I had WAY more energy than I had ever had before, I felt strong, and I felt really good... endorphins EVERYWHERE. The best part is that I could handle fitting this in before work. 

This leads me to my last resolution. This is really important to me, and I think the first 2 resolutions I shared will help me meet this one.

I am leaving work every day by 5 o clock, no matter what. No more 9 o clock nonsense!! That isn't good for me, and therefore, it's not good for my students. I will probably stay at work until 5 each day, but I do not want to stay later than that. Since September, I've been staying late on Fridays until I was completely prepped for the next week. That meant that I had no work to do over the weekend, which was nice, but I would be SO TIRED when I got home on Fridays at 7 or 8 PM. I'd probably stay until 6 or 7 two other days a week too. I rarely leave before 4:30. Put that all together, and it's just too much for me. I love teaching, but it does not need to come at the cost of my personal life. I can do both. Do you guys have trouble with this? Sometimes I imagine the teachers who are active online blogging about best practices or researching them can have trouble with this. Because I am genuinely interested in teaching and enjoy finding different things on Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers, I can have trouble drawing the line between just enough and too much time spent on school stuff.

I'll be following a lot of my own advice in my previous Teacher Tired posts. If you feel like you need to spend more time taking care of YOU, check out this post.

So, that was a little long and ramble-y, but I wanted to share these things with you guys! I used to have such a good balance between work and my personal life, so I'm going to hop back on the balance bandwagon and get going! I'm actually feeling much more positive now than I did when I started writing this post. It was cathartic to write this. What are YOUR resolutions? Are you beasting it with something that inspires you to keep moving forward right now? Are you struggling a bit but eager to figure it all out? Comment below!

How To Differentiate Your Word Study Instruction

How To Differentiate Your Word Study Instruction by A Word On Third

If you have wildly different spellers in your classroom, you are not alone. Every year, I have some students below, on, and above grade level. Each year, the number of students in those groups changes, but I can pretty much always depend on the fact that I will have wildly different spellers. Here are some tips for teaching word study that I've learned over the past few years that have really helped me to improve my instruction!

1. Start with real, balanced data.

DO NOT just rely on a developmental spelling assessment!!! That is the biggest mistake I used to make. I felt so liberated when I stopped doing this. Definitely administer a DSA, but make sure that you are using a child's writing samples as data as well. If a student spells really well on a spelling assessment but it doesn't transfer over to their writing work, they haven't truly mastered those spelling patterns you are testing them for. Check out this writing sample I just found with a quick Google search...

I'm sure you can learn a lot about the above writer just from this tiny sample here! This writer has got some great knowledge of consonants, consonant blends, and vowel blends. They can probably benefit from some long vowel work and suffix work. Look at how the writer spelled "craziest," and "board." What if that writer was able to do that on the test? What if that was because the words on the test were more familiar for that writer?

So, the moral of the story is... check a writing sample AND developmental spelling test. That gives you a clear picture of what is going on for that speller.

2. Create a word cycle for groups of students with similar needs.

Once you've assessed your kids, try to break them into no more than 3 groups. (That's my preference, anyway--I find 3 to be seriously manageable.) If you're worried that this won't work for you--let me share another completely new idea to me that helped me feel comfortable with this.

Research suggests you will not damage kids by having them work slightly under their spelling level.
Studies actually proved that kids who learned in a truly balanced literacy classroom slightly under their level still outperformed students who were instructed at their level. What does this mean? We have some wiggle room! If you can teach a kid at their level... do it. But if you find yourself wanting to break your kids up into 6 groups, stop giving yourself pointless headaches.

Once you've broken your kids into groups, figure out what activities you want kids to do each day to learn their words. Now stagger this so you can be with one group each day. I recommend starting your cycle off first with your highest group since they will be able to be more independent without you. That will give you time to introduce new spelling principles to the other groups.

Here's what a sample of my typical cycle looks like. I have 3 days of word study each week, so each cycle lasts 2 weeks.

How To Differentiate Your Word Study Instruction by A Word On Third

3. Teach the routines and activities as a whole class first.

Nothing is worse than a chaotic class with a bunch of different stations. Check out my tips on interactive modeling by clicking below.

4. Connect word study to reading and writing.

There are a few things that allow me to do this really well. I have students work on word hunts and participate in interactive writing with their group.

Word Hunts are great because the kids look for words that follow the spelling principle we are working on. Let's pretend we're working on long a (with a, consonant, and silent e) and short a (with just an a). They will read a part of a text while making meaning, stop reading, go back through that part and search for words that follow those principles. They don't have to be a part of their word sort. A few things to note--if you don't emphasize the importance of reading for meaning, this will not be as powerful at all. The kids will just start searching for words instead of connecting this to their reading work. Also, I work with kids the day after they do this and we discuss their results. Then we clarify any errors and participate in something else. Usually it's interactive writing, but sometimes it's shared reading.

Interactive writing is great because everyone involved is active, it can strengthen other content areas, and it's FUN! And lucky for you... it's no prep! Click the below picture to be taken to a short post I wrote specifically about how to use interactive writing in your word study period.

Here is a little sample of a REALISTIC finished product! It's quick... it takes 10 minutes!

Editing writing is perfect for getting kids to transfer skills from spelling work to writing work. All you're doing is having kids look through their writing samples (which might also be in their reading notebooks as well as their writing notebooks if you have your kids write about their reading) to edit for the spelling principle they are working on. You're teaching the long vowel, consonant, e pattern? Great. They can now edit with this pattern in their work! It doesn't even matter if it's always being used at the correct time 100% of the time--they are trying it. They might use that pattern instead of a different long vowel pattern, and that's OK. They'll get to that skill when they are ready.

You can read more about how I do this and even grab a freebie for my word hunts by clicking the picture below.

And, another freebie I've found for teaching sight words can be found below. 

My kids really like Rollin' Rollin' Rollin' and stamping letters. We don't do all of these when we work on our high frequency words, but some are classroom favorites. Tip Top Type even helps to solidify typing skills, which I know stresses teachers out in third grade now that standardized testing is a thing.

I also have my advanced spellers work on their vocabulary. Since some are so far above grade level, I find it more meaningful for them to think about nuances in word meanings and starting to use some new words in their speech and writing. BUT... that's another post for another day!

What do you do for your spellers? And are you ready for the holiday season? Are you counting the days down until break? Are you trying to squish as much in as you can before your kids are gone?

Growth Mindset Resources

Growth mindset--it's one of the latest buzz words in education, but it's for good reason. When we have a growth mindset and we teach our students about having a growth mindset, the learning that can go on in our classroom (both socially/emotionally and academically) sky rockets! Taking the time to teach my kids about how their brains work and how we can build our strength at any skill by practicing has compeltely transformed some of my students' attitudes.

I have found some AMAZING resources for teaching about having a growth mindset, and I wanted to share them with you!

I bought this unit on TeachersPayTeachers for $12.00. Let me tell you--I RARELY spend that much money on that site. However, this is one of the best purchases I've ever made for my classroom. Here's what it includes:
  • Complete teacher's guide with step-by-step instructions for each of the ten lessons
  • Link to a page on Angela Watson's site with embedded video clips for teaching growth mindset
  • 20 page interactive student journal (all the materials you need for each activity)
  • 10 pages of a growth mindset bulletin board set, provided in full color and black and white
  • Printable posters and certificates of completion for the end of unit
This unit is DYNAMIC and FUN! I will definitely be using this each year. I'm so pumped about using this in my room. My kids are too. They love learning about how their brains work. Ideally, had I found this sooner, I would have used it a lot in the beginning of the year and then sprinkled in the last half of the lessons here and there throughout the year. However, it's working just as well using it now. I recommend finding the time to fit this in--it's fabulous!

Here's another video that I really like. I watched this and changed my thinking as a teacher, but you could show parts of this to kids too.

Are you new to the idea of a "growth mindset?" Are you teaching any of this to your students? Comment below! 

Five For Friday

Long time no post! I think I will be posting less (probably only a few times a month) so that I can focus on putting some more stuff into my TeachersPayTeachers store. For now, here are some things that were going on in my classroom this week!

I'm super excited about this new development in my classroom. I have a student who struggles with unpacking in the morning and a few multi-step routines. I've tried a few different checklists for this student and still haven't gotten the results I wanted. I got this idea a few weeks back from watching one of Amy Harris' scopes. I am putting post-it notes on this checklist for my student when I have a task which involves many steps. I like this because it's practical and easy to use in a pinch.

A Great Way To Give Additional Support To Students For Multi-Step Tasks - A Word On Third

I also made one for unpacking in the morning on the other side. That one is laminated since it will be the same each morning! I keep it on my clipboard each morning, give it to him, and then he returns it to me when I sign his homework each morning. So far this system has been working like a charm for me!

A Great Way To Give Additional Support To Students For Multi-Step Tasks - A Word On Third

We also had a birthday in our class. I love our birthday celebrations. Every time we celebrate the birthday, our morning message becomes a giant birthday card. That child will get to take home the morning message along with our class mascot that day. The birthday kid also gets to choose the greeting and activity we do too! Here's the morning message before the kids arrived.

We've also been preparing for Thanksgiving in our room. We are having a turkey-decorating contest in our room. Well, there won't really be a winner, but we are trying to disguise our turkeys! Turkeys are due on Monday, but here's what's been returned to school so far.

Another thing I love about Thanksgiving is when I send these letters out to my students each year.

Erica Bohrer created these, and they are free!! Check them out by clicking here. I grab every chance I can to tell my students what they mean to me. :)

Finally, we've been working on improving our reading comprehension. In writing class, we're working on writing literary essays (a little mini-unit that lasts for 2 weeks), and in reading, we're doing lots of character work right now. These two units fit together so well, and I feel like they really help the kids to take off.

One of my favorite ways to get the kids to be able to identify themes is to use the prompt, "Sometimes in life." We read Be Good To Eddie Lee, which is an AMAZING book. Do you know it? If not, I highly recommend it. You can check it out here:

The kids came up with some AWESOME themes, like "Sometimes in life, people judge you by your outside instead of your inside," (that one led some incredible conversations), and "Sometimes in life, cruel people can change to be better." I love this book for all that it can do for social-emotional development in my classroom.

So, that's what has been going on in our classroom! I've also been working HARD on creating a conferring toolkit that I'd like to put onto TPT in the future. It will probably take me a long time before it's ready, but it's coming eventually!

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

How To Help Your Class Focus During Holidays

How To Help Your Class Focus During Holidays by A Word On Third

Holidays can be really fun, but they can also easily lead to chaos in your classroom, which leaves teachers feeling overwhelmed. Whether you're insanely festive or super turned off by holidays. I like to have a game plan in mind for each holiday. There are some things I am super mindful of for a while before holidays, and there are others I really only focus on on the actual day of the holiday or the day we celebrate the holiday together as a class. Read some of my tips below to hold onto your sanity and to prevent too much Teacher-Tired from setting in this Halloween!!

In the days or weeks leading up to the holiday...

1. Remember to revisit your regular routines and new ones through interactive modeling.

I think it's easy for us to remember to do this during the first few weeks of school, but sometimes we forget to reteach things when the going gets rough! When you are going to have a day off of school, when it's been a while since you've taught something, when you return after a substitute teacher is in the classroom... you're going to need to re-teach some stuff. You just are. Students are more successful when you re-model these things, and you can shorten the process of interactive modeling by having a student model the desired behavior (but only if this is a true reminder!). Holiday time in my classroom means LOTS of extra modeling.

You can read more about how to do that by clicking the picture below.

2. Keep your kids moving.

That means two things to me: plan brain breaks for your class to do when they need to calm down or re-energenize, and plan for lots of movement/activity in your regular lesson plans.

Planning frequent brain breaks is actually going to save you time. By investing in the time it takes to do a brain break, I promise you are getting that time back AND THEN SOME by not having to deal with off task behaviors as often. If you use GoNoodle like I do, some brain breaks are as short as 60 seconds. Plenty of the Energizers Responsive Classroom books have are similarly short. Of course, if you have more time, you can do some for more than that!

There are also tons of learning structures and games that you can work on with kids while simultaneously teaching content. You probably know the game Scoot; this is a perfect example of moving around while learning. I recommend involving meaningful problems rather than just worksheet problems and perhaps allowing kids to talk while they play too.

You can click the pictures below to learn some ideas for both of these ways to keep your kids moving. You'll get to read about Scoot, Go Noodle, and more in these posts!

3. Double down on the positive reinforcement.

I know this might seem like a no-brainer, but I need reminders to do this too. Consistently using reinforcing language (specific language that gives brief but exact positive feedback on desired behaviors and actions) will really keep the ship sailing smoothly... and it will make you happier too! Again... click the picture below to read more about this.

So add these goodies to your pre-holiday bag of tricks! They will make you so. SO. SO. much happier!!

On the day your class celebrates the holiday together...

1. Embrace the excitement.

Have you ever heard the expression, "If you can't beat them, join them?" I think that's kind of appropriate on these days. First of all, it puts some joy back into your day! Second of all... I think we need to remember that our students are KIDS, not robots. OF COURSE they are going to be excited!!!

You can roll with the punches by doing a few different things. First, I suggest giving your kids an appropriate outlet for their excitement. So, some unexpected holiday... "cheer" enters your classroom? No problem! Sometimes I will say something like, "WOW! That's so cool! Let's talk about it for 30 seconds, and then it's time to go back to work." Then I hold the kids to that 30 second rule. I might pre-emptively say, "I'm going to give you 5 seconds to really cheer loudly because I know you're excited about this. Then we will go back to what we were doing."

Those kinds of things save you so much time. You would have spent more than 5 seconds telling the kids to stop cheering, but one is a LOT more fun, understanding, and realistic.

Can you play spooky music during reader's or writer's workshop as long as the kids are demonstrating their awesome stamina? These are things to think about. If the music becomes distracting, turn it off and let the kids try again in a few minutes. This can be used to your advantage.

2. Inject holiday-themed activities into your day when possible.

This one comes more naturally to us, I think. For example, this Halloween, I'll be working on a few different things with my kids. In writing, I always use my Mysteries of Harris Burdick book (my kids LOVE this one) to come up with some spooky writing. I teach the workshop model, so I teach a mini-lesson on planning across fingers, and then the kids do it and write. For our share, we share our spooky stories with our partners.

I also work on a math lab that involves the holiday. Sometimes it only takes a day, sometimes it takes more. It depends on what I'm teaching. If I can't find or make a lab that I like that focuses on the content and skills I'm working on in a particular unit of math study, then I usually just give the kids a day to review other skills in an unrelated but meaningful math lab.

If you need some stuff to work on in math this week, try out this lab that I created. It's really fun and it focuses on addition, subtraction, money, etc. It'll hold you over for at least 4 days!

Pick books to read aloud that focus on the holiday. Can you pick a nonfiction book or article about the holiday to practice important nonfiction skills? Can you pick a fun fiction book about the holiday and work on some character work or other important skill? There's so much to do!

If you're looking specifically for Halloween ideas for the week, click here to read about how I've prepared for Halloween in the past. I'm using a lot of the same ideas this year!!

How do YOU like to prepare for holidays? What goodies are in your bag of tricks? Comment below!

4 Morning Meeting Greetings Your Students Will LOVE

4 Morning Meeting Greetings Your Students Will LOVE by A Word On Third

The first component of Morning Meeting (the greeting) is really important because it lets kids feel welcome in their class. These 4 Morning Meeting greetings are supposed to be useful for any teacher of any subject area. Whether you teach a special area class, like art or music, or you teach a specific content area or grade, my hope is that these activities can be used and adapted to your liking depending on what you want to do with your class.

4 Morning Meeting Greetings Your Students Will LOVE by A Word On Third

This one can be as easy or hard as you want it to be. You can use pre-made cards (like playing cards or some sort of flash cards you might buy at the store) or you can make your own. Matches can be numbers, words, animals... you name it!

When I taught first grade, I would make matching sets of cards with pictures of farm animals and the sounds they made. The kids had fun moo-ing and oink-ing and got to practice decoding words really quickly while they were greeting each other. It was more for fun than anything else, but there can be a lot of value in this. How easy would it be to make math cards with equations that have the same sum or difference?

4 Morning Meeting Greetings Your Students Will LOVE by A Word On Third

This is a great greeting for the beginning of the school year--it helps kids get to know each other, but it's a little less intimidating because there's no hand shaking or direct eye contact. 

The "popper" can share anything when they "pop," but it might help to teach into what a pop looks like when the popper is showing self-control.

You could also adapt this to be the closing section of a unit or lesson.

4 Morning Meeting Greetings Your Students Will LOVE by A Word On Third

This is ALWAYS a favorite of my students! Baggage claim mimics the times at the airport in which you lose your bags. Students start by writing their name and the answer to a question on an index card (like "What's something people might not know about you?" or "What is something you learned about chemistry?"). This index card will be their baggage. Then, they greet each other and read their fact in their baggage. Afterwards, they switch bags. Now they've "lost" their bags. Students now greet other students, reading off their baggage and swapping bags again. 

This is a great way to review information in an active way for a few moments, and it's an effective way to get kids greeting each other too. Adapt it as you wish! I find that posting a small anchor chart with the language kids should use when greeting other people is useful. I just wrote it on a big piece of construction paper and keep it in my easel's storage for easy access on days when I've chosen to use Baggage Claim as my greeting.

4 Morning Meeting Greetings Your Students Will LOVE by A Word On Third

The mingle greeting is my tried-and-true greeting for days when time is just not on my side. Only have a few moments to fit in your Morning Meeting? No worries--I just do a mingle greeting! I tell kids to greet as many people as they can within 30 or 60 seconds. Beforehand, we talk about what would be an appropriate amount of people to greet. We talk about how you can't really greet the WHOLE class and make them feel welcome in that amount of time. You'd be leaving out key parts of a greeting (like eye contact or smiling) if you tried that. 

So, which of these greetings is new for you? Which are you up for adding into your lesson plans? By the way, do you plan your Morning Meetings? I find they are much more successful when you take the time to plan them ahead of time. Just planning out my greeting, sharing, and activity ahead of time makes a big impact on fitting each component into the 15 minutes I have for Morning Meeting each morning!

How To Make Remarkable Math Labs For Students

How To Make Remarkable Math Labs For Students By A Word On Third

Sometimes I feel like if I have to look at/copy/grade/distribute/think about another darn worksheet, I'm going to


Okay, while I do think that worksheets do hold some value sometimes... I don't think they are always the answer... not by a long shot! I will admit, I do like a VERY quick worksheet to use as an assessment tool. Otherwise, not really so much. I prefer to use math labs in my classroom as much as possible because they allow for choice and differentiation, and they are much more math manipulative-friendly. I have created a few math labs, and while they were painfully time-consuming at first, I've found the sweet spot that lets me create them quickly! Let me share how I do that with you.

How To Make Remarkable Math Labs For Students by A Word On Third

1. Start with your objective.
What is it that you want students to be able to do? How will you be able to measure it? Work backwards from there. It sounds simple, but I think it's easy for us to get caught up in a fun activity we saw on Pinterest that might not always be the best use of our students' time.

For example, maybe I want my students to be able to compare and order 4-, 5-, and 6- digit numbers. If that's my objective, now I need to think... how can I get my kids to practice that?

2. Create a problem that lets students meet your objective.
Sometimes simple is better. It's easy for us to get super ambitious and bite off more than we can chew, but every single math lab won't be theatrical. I love how the teachers at Ron Clark academy completely transform their classrooms for particular units of study... but they even say themselves that they can't do this ALL THE TIME. It's just not possible! If something jumps out at you, take advantage of it and get creative. But it's OK to start simple too.

Regardless, these are the things I like to think about when I plan a lab:

  • How can the kids get manipulatives into their hands?
  • How can I get the kids working with each other?
  • What opportunities can I give the kids for proving/explaining their thinking?
These 3 things will really allow for great problem solving skills to develop. With those things in mind and knowing how much time I wanted to spend on this skill, here's what I created for my class this year.
How To Make Remarkable Math Labs For Students by A Word On Third

WHOO HOO! Freebie for you right there if you're working on ordering and comparing numbers and/or place value right now!!! Seriously, go use it. I'm not selling it because it took me 5 minutes to make. I can't sell that in good conscience. FIVE! MINUTES!!! But my point is... if I can do it in five minutes, you can too.

This is what I would consider REMARKABLE because it's not a worksheet, it's a differentiated, hands-on lab with manipulatives, cooperative learning, and student choice involved. The more students think about how to "stump" their partner, the more math they need to understand.

The manipulatives in the above lab are the numbers that the kids cut out--they can be put on a broken number line that the kids make. You can also use base-ten blocks or digi-blocks to model each number if needed. It would be easy to adapt here for the different types of learners. It's differentiated because the kids get to decide how challenging they want to make this. They can make their numbers random or they can make their numbers 4,909 and 4,990, and 4,099, etc. (By the way, I did not suggest this, and a lot of kids tried it because they wanted to stump their partners later!).

The kids are explaining their thinking because they are trying to stump their partner, and they are going to check each other. This is something I teach into all of the time in my classroom. Because they're trying to stump each other, they're motivated. They love working together! 

Now bonus points if you can make your problem have a real-life application, but just giving them a problem like this to solve is OK! It's definitely more meaningful and useful than a problem about 34,506 watermelons. Don't you think?


I thought there would be more to this blog post, but I realized that this was all I do when I create my problems. Isn't that LOVELY?? Good math labs aren't ALWAYS complicated, though they can be if you feel like getting clever. I promise you that it took me 5 minutes to think up this lab and it can take you that long too. It took me another 5 minutes after that in Microsoft Word. THAT'S IT. 10 minutes of invested time gave me a lab I can use over and over again each year, and it's way easier to grade than a worksheet, and way more interesting and valuable than a worksheet. That's a win!!! Now, here's a lab that took me way more than 10 minutes to make...

 How To Make Remarkable Math Labs For Students by A Word On Third

For Halloween every year, I work on this math lab with my students. This simulation lasts 5 days. I'm going to start using it in just a few weeks. IT'S SO MUCH FUN!! I wanted students to have a meaningful math lab that kept them focused during Halloween time, so I told them they were going to be responsible for planning a party. The problem I wrote describes that students need to buy food, decor, etc. and fit those purchases into a budget. This lets them be creative (they have lots of items to choose from when purchasing!), but use their problem-solving skills for a problem that they might actually encounter in real life.

However,  to make this lab more exciting for my students (and to get in the spirit of Halloween),  I have "Teri Bull" and "Gob Lin" request my students' help. Teri Bull and Gob Lin leave notes for the class (which are included in my math lab). I put the notes in a spooky envelope that I decorate, and I leave it somewhere in the room for students to "find." When we open it together, I act like I'm not going to let the class help Teri Bull and Gob Lin since I have other math lessons planned already. In fact, I even leave fake math lesson plans on my desk since my students use my lesson plans to update our class schedule each day. I really ham this up and make it believable! Of course they beg me to abandon my plans and let them do this really cool project. I always "cave" and let them do it.

By third grade, a few students know that I'm playing with them, but I always over-hear kids whispering things like, "Do you think Teri Bull really exists? Do you think we'll be invited to the math party we're helping them plan???" while they smile. I love letting kids be kids. While many of them think this is fake, there's still that shred of possibility that these two crazy characters planning a party could exist.

How To Make Remarkable Math Labs For Students by A Word On Third

Adding in the theatrics really make the kids excited about this stuff. So, while some teachers are just about ready to pull out their hair since it's so hard to get kids to focus during Halloween time, I'm thanking my lucky stars I have this in my bag of tricks!! At the end of this 5 day project, our party plans disappear... Teri Bull and Gob Lin must have stolen them for their party!

If you love this idea and don't want to spend the time making this lab yourself, you can purchase it here in my TeachersPayTeachers store. AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN! It's on sale from today until Sunday! It won't be on sale forever, though.

This will be a difficult project for students. I suggest that you resist the urge to help them as much as you possibly can. They will learn a lot about problem solving if they complete this on their own. I recommend putting students in small groups and allowing them to work on this project for 3-5 days, depending on your students’ ability level and the problem you choose to use in your classroom.

Included in this product, you will find:

  • A teacher directions page to help you create your lesson plans quickly (with standards addressed included for quick copying and pasting into your personal lesson planning template)
  • 1 letter introducing the problem to students
  • 3 differentiated price list pages with different numbers to address different learners or grade levels
  • 2 planning pages for students to use to solve the problem
  • 2 pages for students to write their final decisions and keep track of/check calculations
  • 1 follow-up letter thanking students for helping to solve the problem
If you need more info, which I doubt you do, you can read more details about how I use this in my class here.

So where do YOU go for your favorite math labs when you don't want to create them? I love using Terc Explorations, Nimble With NumbersFront Row's IBL projects and browsing Howard County's math website (click on the standard you're teaching and then click on centers).

4 Morning Meeting Activities Your Students Will LOVE

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

These 4 Morning Meeting activities are supposed to be useful for any teacher of any subject area. Whether you teach a special area class, like computers or gym, or you teach a specific content area or grade, my hope is that these activities can be used and adapted to your liking depending on what you want to do with your class.

Find Five can be Find Ten or Find Three too! I love using this at the beginning of the year. I break the kids into small groups and ask them to find 5 things that they each have in common that you wouldn't know by looking at them. This prevents students from saying obvious things like, "We all have brown hair," and forces them to look a little deeper. 

This is a great way to review things you've taught or activate prior knowledge also. You could have the kids find 5 questions they all have about chemistry, the topic you're about to study, or 5 things they learned about the Civil War so far. Physical education teachers might do this before a competitive game and ask kids to find 5 ways to show good sportsmanship. This activity is great during a Morning Meeting, but as you can see it can be used at different times of the day as well.

Team Art is another great one for community building. Break your class up into groups of 4-6 students. Assign each student a colored crayon/marker/colored pencil. Now that group will need to first plan and then draw a picture without exchanging markers. They will need to use teamwork to complete this challenge and talk about what they are doing.

Afterwards, you can show the drawings and ask the kids what they learned too! Did they see a lot of or very little of a certain color? Depending on the plan they had for what they would draw, what might that tell the group about how they worked together?

What Do You See? is an activity I actually dismissed when I first learned of it, but I found that my kids really enjoyed it. Ask the kids to bring something to draw with and lean on to the carpet. Personally I like dry-erase boards for this better than pencils and papers because you don't need to waste a piece of paper on this activity.

Ahead of time, have about 10 interesting items arranged on a tray. You can choose these items with a particular interest in mind (for example, if I was about to teach about dinosaurs, I might lay out a plastic T-Rex, a plastic Stegosaurus, a fossil or two, a brush for cleaning fossils, etc.) or you can pick some objects according to category (lay out a few school supplies and some foods).

Give the kids 30 to 60 seconds to look at the uncovered tray. Cover it. Then have them draw what they saw. See if the class can list all 10 objects without looking. You can talk about ways to remember the items too!

Questions & Clues is a lot like that game Headbands or whatever they call it these days. Jot a couple of content-specific words and phrases on index cards. Tape it to a student's back. Have that student stand in the middle of the circle and turn around so everyone can see the card on his/her back. Then, the student must ask 5 yes-or-no questions to the class to identify what the word is. The class can answer yes or no with a thumbs up or down. If a student is not sure, they should put their thumb to the side. This will keep everyone engaged.

I like to assign a student as a record keeper (making sure to keep track of all 5 questions being asked).

This game is tough but will help students to sharpen their questioning skills. Eventually they may start by saying "Is this a noun?" "Is it a science word?", but at first, you're going to need to teach into how to narrow down your questions. Of course, adjust as needed. You can have the guesser guess with more than 5 questions.

So those are my activities for you this week! Which one are you most excited to try? I haven't done Find Five yet this year, so I am thinking I will do that with my class ASAP.