Monday, January 25, 2016

Can You Solve My Valentine's Day Problem?

Hi, Teachers!

Today's post is short because I worked my bottom off today! What did I do? I created the coolest Valentine's Day logic problem ever, of course! I'm linking up with 4th Grade Frolics to share what I made with you. And more importantly... I want to know if YOUR students can solve it! So, I officially challenge your class to solve my epic logic problem. 


So, I really love when my students get to work on fun, holiday themed projects, but I don't have tons of time to spend on problems/projects that don't fit with my curriculum. Therefore, I created a really fun and challenging problem for Valentine's Day that really hits the Math Practices standard "Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them." That's definitely my favorite standard. Take a look by clicking below!

The Great Chocolate Disaster: A Differentiated Valentine's Day Logic Problem

This problem is on sale for only a dollar while it makes its debut in my store, but it won't be for long! Grab it at this low price while you can. It will go back to it's normal price some time before Valentine's Day. Want to take a look inside?

The Great Chocolate Disaster: A Differentiated Valentine's Day Logic Problem

The premise of the problem involves students putting their teacher's chocolates back into the right spots inside of the chocolate box. You know they are always more motivated when you are involved! To ensure everyone can use it, I made a version for both male and female teachers. It's perfect for active and tactile learners; students will cut out each of the chocolate pieces and move them to their designated spot inside of the chocolate box until they have solved the puzzle. It is a concrete method of solving the puzzle for younger learners who may not be as familiar with logic puzzles. Here are some of the chocolates!

The Great Chocolate Disaster: A Differentiated Valentine's Day Logic Problem


If you use the black and white-version, it can be a nice display for your classroom. Cut out the chocolate box when the puzzle is complete and color the chocolates. Take a piece of construction paper and glue the "box" onto the bottom half. Then fold the top half of the construction paper over it to cover it, which will make your top for the box. Students can decorate the "top" of the box to be whatever they want. Then glue the finished puzzle onto the bottom half of the paper.

The puzzle includes:
  • 2 versions of the same problem so both male and female teachers can use it each year 
  • teaching tips so the puzzle runs smoothly for teachers and students 
  • 3 differentiated clue sheets for early elementary students, upper elementary students, and middle school students 
  • black-and-white and colored versions of the pieces for the puzzle 
  • an answer sheet for students 
  • an answer key for teachers
I can't wait to use this with my students! I tested this problem out on Mr. Word On Third several times. Thanks, Mr. Word On Third!!! You rock!

If you're still looking for easy gift ideas that students can make for their families, check out my previous post here. You can see one of the easy gift ideas below.

No More Stress! 3 Easy Kid-Made Gifts For The Classroom

Are you ready for Valentine's Day? What will your students be doing? What will YOU be doing? Comment below!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

How To Make Your Students LOVE Editing

How To Make Your Students LOVE Editing By A Word On Third


Hi, Teachers!

Before I share a lot in my post, have you headed over to TeachersPayTeachers to take advantage of the site-wide sale? My whole store is 28% off, and so are a TON of other stores. Head to the sale by clicking below. Now is the time to empty your wish list!


Today's topic is getting kids to love EDITING! Do you dread asking your students to edit their pieces during Writer's Workshop? I used to, and I'll tell you why. After about 4 or 5 minutes, several students would come up to me and say, "I'm done!" with a smile on their face. Obviously, you can't edit a whole piece in 5 minutes, but editing is a task that is really developmentally difficult for students in the younger grades. I've got the perfect trick for you! Try having students play the game Prove It with a partner.

How To Make Your Students Love Editing by A Word On Third

First, prepare your game. Take the editing checklist you typically have students use independently and cut it up into pieces. Pop the pieces in a bag or envelope. Now you're all set up! I use a Teacher's College checklist. Above you can see a picture of what my game looks like.

Now, you'll have to model playing the game. I have students take a piece out of their bag and prove that they did what that piece of the checklist says, so that's what you'd model with a student partner. Both partners look at one page at a time, with one editing pen only. I ask students to notice what we do when we play the game. You may want to prep your student volunteer ahead of time. I typically have students take turns editing their pages. Partner A checks for capital letters on page 1, and then Partner B does the same. When you've moved through the checklist, you've finished one round of Prove It. Repeat with the other pages until you finish. It's important to teach partners what to do if they see a mistake their partner missed. Talk about using kind words to support a partner through the editing process. Here are some of my kiddos enjoying Prove It today!

How To Make Your Students LOVE Editing By A Word On Third

Here's a word of advice to you... have your kids spread out across the room while they play. Students can lose checklist pieces easily if they aren't careful! I let my kids work in the hallway too if it's quiet outside.

How do you get students to have more fun with editing their pieces? Comment below! And go grab some items on TPT! The sale ends tonight! :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How To Stop Messing Up With Homework

A Word On Third - How To Stop Messing Up With Homework


Hi, Teachers!

I'm stoked... TeachersPayTeachers is having a sitewide sale tomorrow and Thursday to start your year off right. Everything in my store is going to be 20% off, but you can get even more off if you use the code "start16" when you check out. Some of my products will be less than a dollar, and some will even be less than fifty cents! That's a small price to pay for peace of mind and free time if you ask me. If you have anything in your wish list, now is the time to snag it! I know I'm going to get the products on my wish list. Click the picture below to check out the items in my store.


Okay, now that that's out of the way, I can get to the juicy stuff. Are you...
  • Struggling to grade homework?
  • Finding that kids complain about homework?
  • Struggling to get kids to complete homework?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, it is time to re-think your homework policy in your class. I just stumbled upon an article about Finland's schools that inspired this post, which you can read here. The article covered a few things, including the topic of homework. This is something I've thought about for a long time. Way back when I received Responsive Classroom training, we discussed that while we should implement logical consequences to manage behavior, homework completion was the exception to that rule. Homework is a sensitive subject because students, teachers, and families can all have drastically different expectations and needs. Here are a few thoughts I have which can help make homework a breeze for you.


1. Stop assigning so much homework.
Yup, I said it. I know some people will disagree with me, but I think this is really important. Research backs this idea too, and you can read about that here. If a kid spends 6 to 7 hours in school all day and only has 4 or 5 hours of down-time when he or she gets home, we have to consider how much of that time should be filled with homework. There have been many times I have gotten weird looks when I share how little homework I assign my students, and it can be uncomfortable for me. When I put myself in my student's shoes, however, I know I'm making the right choice for my kids. Here's my general rule:

A Word On Third - How To Stop Messing Up With Homework

So see that nasty pile of books, binder paper, and notebooks in that picture? That is just too much for one night. I don't care if you teach 12th grade, kindergarten, or something in between. I think this rule is the cut off for kids. I teach third grade-so 3 x 10 = 30. That means 30 is the maximum number of minutes I expect kids to spend on homework each night. Many nights I assign less! When kids don't get a chance to process information, rest, and do the things they need to do in their personal life because of homework, homework is not only a chore, but something that is limiting their life. According to the Edutopia article I linked earlier, it can decrease a child's interest in learning. Now I KNOW that's not what you want! We also need to remember that while we might value homework, maybe parents don't. Guess what? That's OK. I have a few students who are really irregular with homework completion, and I have learned to accept that that is OK. Homework doesn't have to be a one-size-fits-all.

If something I assign is too challenging for kids, I ask parents to write a note on the homework saying it took too long. Then I'll know to re-teach that child that concept.  Since I choose to have kids read and write about their reading for 20 minutes each night, that means I can only assign 10 minutes of homework for the rest of the night. Remember, homework is about practicing previously-taught skills, and it shouldn't take your kids a long time. If you sent home a math worksheet, can they do only even or odd numbers? Can you ask kids to complete 5 word problems instead of 50? These are important things to consider. If you teach in a grade that is departmentalized (for example, you only teach English), you may want to consider that students have homework from other teachers also.


2. Assign things ahead of time.
This might not always be convenient for you, and that's OK. However, you might find that this is easier to put in place than you think. I expect kids to write in their reader's notebook once every week. They know it will always be checked on Mondays. That means that students can complete this any day of the week (even weekends, if they'd prefer) on a day that is convenient for them. Now kids with after-school activities have the ability to budget their time wisely, and parents will thank you that they don't have to rush to get something done on a busy night. I write assignments like this on the homework board and it never changes. Some things that I find are easy to schedule ahead of time are:
  • Spelling/word study assignments (read my next idea and you'll see how I handle this one)
  • Reader's or writer's workshop homework (for older grades, think about assigning a certain number of notebook entries and checking them one day per week)
  • Math practice (whether kids practice on a website/app or you have word problems for homework, consider giving more than one day for assignments to be completed)
  • Major projects
It's nice for kids to have a homework routine that they are comfortable with. We teach routines in our classroom, so it is natural for them to be incorporated into homework too, right? I'm sure a lot of you do this already.


3. Teach organization strategies.
When students are home, they need strategies to complete homework successfully. Talk about what makes for a successful homework experience. You may even want to consider providing a homework checklist. I have one in my store which you can download for free! Just click the picture below to grab it.
Sometimes all kids need to be self-directed is a little structure. You can read about how to use this product in a previous post I wrote here. It covers a lot of the same ideas in this post! I'm really passionate about this topic, though, so I'm writing again.


4. Give students choice.
Let's be real here. We've all had homework assignments which were so boring we would rather get into a fight with a tiger or jump off a bridge. Those are not useful homework assignments. It's a tricky situation for you as a teacher, because you can't please everyone with one assignment. That's why I give students choice whenever I can. I find this to be very easy with certain assignments too. For example, my kids can write whatever they want when they write about their reading. If I want them to have a genuine connection to the text they read (which they also choose), how can I force them to "make a connection" to what they're reading!? Maybe they don't have one! 

Here's a new product I just put into my store today. It's a FREEBIE, whoo hoo! You can try it out in your classroom or use it as homework, like I do. This choice menu is designed to help your students practice their 5 weekly word wall words. Simply tell students that choices involving a partner can be done with a family member if it is going to be completed as homework. Remember, student choice = increased student engagement! This choice menu includes a choice menu which can be re-used every week and a blank template for you to write in each week's word wall words. All you have to do is write your 5 words, copy each page, and you'll be ready for the week! 


Click the picture to download it in my store. If you use this in your classroom, I recommend asking families to donate old, unwanted magazines and store circulars. You might also want to get some cheap letter stamps.


5. Involve families.
Some homework assignments don't get completed because families don't know how to help. Teach students how to do the homework, possibly in school first. Reach out to families through parent-teacher conferences, and especially at Back To School Night. Discuss your homework policies, and show families your regular homework assignments. Answer questions about homework assignments and show parents a copy of what you expect to assign. This will make a world of difference in your classroom!

If you really want to make things easier for families, consider updating your class webpage (if you have one) so that families can read about homework. Even if families listen really well at Back To School Night, it's easy to forget some things! I have a tab on my class webpage which

  • explains the homework policy in detail 
  • explains typical due dates
  • has PDF files of regular assignments (like the reading log or the choice menu I use each week in word study)
  • log-in information for class websites that might be used for homework

So, teachers, I hope this helps to make your life a little bit easier! Now that you've read this, do you plan to change your homework policy? If so, how? Do you have any homework tricks which you think could help other teachers? Comment below!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How To Rid Your Class of Fake Apologies

A Word On Third: How To Rid Your Class of Fake Apologies

Hi, Teachers!

Picture this: 

You're just coming in from recess and the kids are very wiggly. You've just gotten into the classroom and Katie starts complaining to you that Natalie excluded her from a recess game. You're flustered because you didn't get to everything on your to-do list during lunch, and you have to launch into math right now. You call Natalie over and ask them each about what happened. The rest of the kids are getting louder and louder, waiting on the carpet for class to begin. It becomes clear that this is going to take some time, so you tell the class to open a book while you address this. Katie and Natalie are still battling it out, and it is becoming evident that Natalie definitely did exclude Katie. You aren't successfully getting her to see how Katie was feeling, you're under pressure to start class, and that's when it comes out of your mouth.

"Natalie, tell Katie you're sorry." Natalie looks at you, and her eyebrows furrow. 

"SORRY." She rolls her eyes as she walks away in a huff. 

You can tell she didn't mean it, but she did say it. And what can you do about it anyway? Katie looks visibly annoyed, but you have to teach now. You tell the class to come to the carpet to start math.

Sound familiar? I bet it does! But rest-assured... it doesn't need to be a problem anymore. Teaching students how to give apologies of action is an amazing tool that you can give to your students... and yourself! 

A Word On Third: How To Rid Your Class of Fake Apologies

Apologies of action are different than your typical apology because... well, they're sincere! They include words or actions that are decided upon by the person who needs to do the apologizing. Here's how to teach this to your kids.


1. Start by having a discussion about apologies.
I like to talk to the kids about what happens when we break the rules. Sometimes we break rules and it hurts a person's feelings. I ask kids if they have ever had their feelings hurt. Undoubtedly, everyone raises their hands. I also ask the kids if anyone has ever hurt someone else's feelings. Most children will raise their hands for this one too.

Then, I ask the kids if they have ever received a forced apology. Everyone agrees that it feels awful. What I do next surprises kids. Assuming you aren't working in a Responsive Classroom school, it will probably surprise your kids too. I ask the kids how they felt when they gave a forced apology. Everyone also agrees that it feels terrible to say sorry when you are not ready.


2. Brainstorm ways to fix a person's hurt feelings.
I chart these ideas with the class. I usually have to guide the conversation at the beginning so the kids understand what I mean, but they take charge of the conversation as soon as they understand what I'm asking of them. The kids chart things like: inviting that person to play with you, making a card for that person, walking that person to the nurse if you hurt him or her (which I believe is only a good strategy in the case of carelessness), giving that person a compliment, and giving a sincere apology. I talk to the kids about how apologizing is still a kind thing to do--but only if it is genuine. What I do next is have the class create a class book with all of these strategies. If we don't have as many ideas as people in the class, the students work together. Here's this year's book.

A Word On Third: How To Rid Your Class of Fake Apologies

I also make sure to discuss what giving a sincere apology might sound like. I do a lot of interactive modeling around this. In my classroom, should one choose to apologize, I tend to expect something like this: "I'm sorry for _____. I will be more careful next time/I won't do it again." 

These ways to fix hurt feelings are now ways of giving an apology of action instead of an insincere apology. 


3. Teach and model how to request and give apologies of action.
All I do for this is interactively model giving and requesting the apology. Here's a great article by Responsive Classroom on interactive modeling. The kicker here is that I don't say sorry. I model this a few different ways. Each time I model something, the kids have to notice exactly what I did. It's really an inquiry lesson about social skills. I only ask guiding questions if I have to, but I prefer to let them do all the thinking.

First, I set up the scene. We pretend I said something rude to a student which hurt his/her feelings. I've already talked to this student ahead of time so he/she can prepare. I tell that student that they should say, "Miss Savage, I need an apology of action for saying ____." I make sure the kids notice that the person requesting an apology of action does not ask for it. Instead, they state that they need one. We talk about assertion here.

Next, I respond by saying, "Ok. I need a little bit of time. I'll come back when I'm ready." After I've "cooled off" (we discuss how appropriate lengths of time might vary depending on the situation, and that some situations might not need cooling off), I go to the apology of action book and look through it. After I find an apology style I'm happy using, I give that apology to the student. 

It will require some re-modeling from time to time, but that's the gist of it. You'll need to adapt it to your class as you see fit. Below, you can see a student wrote a note as an apology of action and popped it on someone's desk. It was simple and didn't use up a lot of time, but THIS. IS. SO. POWERFUL. for your classroom community and individual students. I would never go back to my annoying, frustrating forced apologies. It was a lose-lose situation.

A Word On Third: How To Rid Your Class of Fake Apologies

 Now that I use this system, when students have a problem and they come to me, I always ask them, "How do you think you will solve that?" This is usually the conflict-resolution strategy my students depend on. I love it because it's student-centered and... well, it actually works.

How do you handle conflict resolution in your classroom? Comment below!

Monday, January 11, 2016

How To Use QR Codes In The Classroom Without Going Crazy

Hi, Teachers!

I'm linking up with Fourth Grade Frolics again for a Monday Made It post! I'm going to show you some things we've made in our classroom this week.


I hope you enjoy this week's post! My favorite "Made It" is getting technology into the classroom. I believe that technology has GOT to have a purpose in the classroom and truly transform your teaching. Doing a boring worksheet on an iPad is still a boring worksheet. Recently I found a great post on edSurge from one of my favorite teacher bloggers in the whole entire universe, Kayla Delzer of Top Dog Teaching. Literally every single thing she does jives so well with me! 


Click on the above picture to be taken to the article she wrote about using an app called Audioboom in the classroom to improve reading fluency. Seriously, go click it. You will LOVE how easy it is to use this app if you have iPads in your classroom. I've been doing it in my classroom, and WHAT A DIFFERENCE it makes! I decided there were more ways to utilize this app, and I've created something to help others use it. Since you've already clicked the link and read through the article and you are now an Audioboom expert, you won't need me to describe how to use the app. Which brings me to...


I created a book recommendation form for my classroom! I have a few kids who are really struggling to pick books they like, and I have a few who are trying to branch out and get more comfortable with other genres. Giving book talks is such a powerful thing to do in your room, and it helps to solve those problems. You can give the book talks, your kids can give the book talks... everyone can! I created a template to let students recommend other books to their classmates. It's a freebie in my store. You can grab it by clicking here.

A Word On Third: How To Use QR Codes In The Classroom Without Going Crazy

I like this form because it helps kids talk about the main characters, what they want, and a little bit about the obstacle in the book (part of the "Somebody wanted but so then" framework), but it doesn't give the whole book away. After all, the problems in books are introduced right at the beginning! It also gives kids a chance to say what they admire about a writer's work and why others should read the book. Of course, I included a section for kids to write where they found the book too. This is important critical thinking work that we as adults do SO quickly when we recommend books, but it's work kids need practice with. 

If you use this template (which I hope you do!), you might...

  • Print, cut, and provide these templates for students to write on and then post in the room. Perhaps they might be posted in the library.
  • Give these templates to students to use as a rough draft. Have students speak from them during a reading lesson or a Morning Meeting share.
  • Give these templates to students to use as a rough draft. Have students speak from them while they tape a video or audio recording of themselves. Use video or audio files in a way which works for you. You might even have students use an app which creates QR codes so you can print the recommendations and students can scan them when they need a good book. (Yep, this is where I used Audioboom.) You might separate QR codes based on genre and level so students can find recommendations which will apply to them. I suggest writing the book’s name and title above or below the QR code cut-out. Make sure to post these where the kids will actually use them!
A Word On Third: How To Use QR Codes In The Classroom Without Going Crazy


As you can see, I've used painter tapes to tape some readings and book talks onto the books as well. They will come off easily because I used painter's tape. How's that for a teacher hack? Make sure you model how to fill out this book talk first. Talk about what types of things kids might write about. How do readers admire an author’s craft? Also, make sure students tell classmates how to find the book they recommend. Is it in your classroom library? Which bin or shelf is it on? If these recommendations are to be useful, kids will need to be specific.

Now, if you waited to read that post about Audioboom by Kayla Delzer, READ IT HERE. I'M LINKING IT AGAIN. IT'S AMAZING. GO READ IT.


We've been studying immigration in my class. One project my kids worked on was creating dolls which represented an ancestor who immigrated to the United States. The kids had to interview a family member to learn more about this family member. Everyone made a REALLY cool doll. These were some of my favorites! I gave the kids a card stock template of a person, and they dressed the person to fit their ancestor's culture, time period, etc.

A Word On Third: How To Use QR Codes In The Classroom Without Going Crazy

Aren't these awesome? If you want to get crafty with something like these, kids can talk about what they learned about their family and heritage and you can PUT IT ON A QR CODE. Yeah, that's right. I said it. When you hang it up, kids can scan the codes to learn about their classmates. This is great public speaking practice for students as well. This is actually a really easy concept to apply to lessons, and it can be done independently or during group work. Students create a project? Great, have them talk about the important math thinking they did during the project. Then they can post it with the QR code. Easy peasy! This SHOULD NOT be a lot of hard work for you. Technology should make your job EASIER.


Finally, I updated my bulletin board for the winter. I have the most insane life hacks to make this easy for you, which I wrote about in this post. I will admit that this is last year's picture. I forgot to take a picture before leaving today. The only difference with this bulletin board is that I used some tissue paper on the trees and on the ground as my snow. That was a lot easier than pulling cotton apart!Again, you can use the same QR code method to have kids talk about what they post. We are going to be displaying our family trees and immigrant dolls all around this bulletin board. Luckily, nobody is across from me in the hallway. More wall space! WAHOO. 


What did you make this week? Make sure to link your post up on Fourth Grade Frolic's link party. Go read the other posts for some cool ideas too!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

No More Stress! 3 Easy Kid-Made Gifts For The Classroom

A Word On Third: No More Stress! 3 Easy Kid-Made Gifts For The Classroom


Hi, Teachers!

It's scary to think about this but... Valentine's Day is right around the corner!! Are you already thinking about this? A lot of teachers are wondering about what gifts they can make for families during holidays. Winter holidays, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day... you name it, it's an extra thing for us to think about! I'm a little late for the winter holidays... but I'm early for Valentine's Day! WAHOO!!

Here are my 3 favorite gifts to share with parents on special occasions.

1. Shrinky Dink Poems

A Word On Third: No More Stress! 3 Easy Kid-Made Gifts For The Classroom


I LOVE SHRINKY DINKS! Let me say that again.

I LOVE SHRINKY DINKS!!! 

I used these all the time as a kid, but little did I know I'd use them as an adult too. Shrinky dinks are AWESOME and easy-to-use life-savers during holiday time. The things you can do with shrinky dinks are endless. I have my kids write "I Am" poems on them and then I bake them for a winter holiday gift to families. Shrinky Dinks can be bought at most craft stores or on Amazon here. Before shrinky dink paper is baked, it is the size of regular printer paper.

You can find a million "I Am" poem templates on Pinterest or Google. Click the picture below to be taken to one I like to use by Fabulous in Fifth!


Here's what I do with the I Am Poems. I keep it short. It gets done in 2-3 days depending on how much time we have to get this done.

  1. Model using the template with the kids and write my own I Am poem.
  2. Let the kids work in writer's notebooks or on writing paper to write their own.
  3. Have the kids re-write their poem very neatly on lined paper (this will set them up to publish).
  4. Have the kids trace their poem again neatly on the shrinky dink paper. (Paperclip or tape the shrinky dink paper and the regular paper together so they don't slide. This makes tracing much easier).
  5. Have the kids decorate their poem.
  6. Go home and bake the poems for a few minutes in the oven. I bake a few at a time to save time. Two or three go in the oven for a few minutes. Every poem will be done baking in 10 minutes. 
A Word On Third: No More Stress! 3 Easy Kid-Made Gifts For The Classroom

Read the shrinky dink directions before trying this. Some paper lets kids use colored pencils on it, other brands/types let them use sharpie markers. When you bake the papers, you pop them on baking sheets with parchment paper or brown paper bags underneath them. They will curl up in the oven, and every now and then you might have to fix them, which is easy to do when the papers are hot and still shrinking. EXPECT THEM TO CURL UP A LOT and then straighten out again. I had a fit the first time I tried this thinking I ruined everyone's poems. Not the case. Just pop them back in the oven until they straighten out and shrink. This year only one student had to be fixed. Just trust me when I say wait it out before freaking out. If something gets stuck on itself, use your fingers or a knife to separate it and then put it back in the oven.


2. Coupon Books
 
These really are as easy or as hard as you make them. You can find tons of templates on Pinterest and Google, or you can easily make your own. Some come with things printed on them (like "good for one free hug") and some come blank so kids can write their own idea on them.

Click the picture below to be taken to one I found on TPT. It even has a QR code on it so moms can scan it and see a special surprise!



Honestly? I like the blank ones better. I talk to the kids about writing coupons they will really do for their families. If mom or dad hate washing the dishes, can you do them? Don't say you will if you won't or don't know how to. Can you give a free hug? We brainstorm some ideas as a class and then let the kids make the coupons. Sometimes I just give squares of construction paper for them to design. They might not always look cookie-cutter perfect, but don't parents want something their kid made instead of something their parent made?

3. A Handmade Card

Think about it. I bet you've saved a lot more handmade cards than you've saved coffee mugs or boxes of chocolate. I have a box full of heartfelt letters kids gave to me. Those will be more meaningful to parents too. Guess what? I'm going to re-iterate what I said for the previous gift idea. Not everything has to be cookie-cutter perfect.  Give some kids construction paper and let them go wild. Do you have extra sequins, glitter, or foam stickers they can use? Can they use different colors of construction paper and glue things onto their cards?



Make this a valuable experience for them by talking about the components of a friendly letter first. Click the above picture to be taken to a blog called Mrs. Winter's Bliss which has a great anchor chart for this. Then brainstorm what makes a good letter. If it's Father's Day, get students to write more than, "I love you, Dad! Happy Father's Day!" Talk about other things kids can write, and maybe even list them on the board. Some ideas kids might come up with if you guide them are why they appreciate their dad, what makes their dad special, their favorite memories with their dad, etc. 

On Mother's Day and Father's Day, be mindful of students with unique family structures. Has a parent passed away? Will they write to a grandparent instead? Does a student have two same-sex parents? How will you handle that? Make sure to be inclusive with your kids so nobody feels left out.

So those are my 3 favorite EASY, stress-free gift ideas to use in the classroom. What are your no-hassle gift ideas? How would you use shrinky dinks? Comment below!

Monday, January 4, 2016

What's Your #1 Best Teaching Tool To Use In A Pinch?

A Word On Third: What's Your #1 Best Teaching Tool To Use In A Pinch?


Hi, Teachers!

I hope everyone had a good first day back today! A lot of my colleagues and I discussed how we treated today like it was the first day back at school. We did a lot of interactive modeling with our kids, and we also used a lot of reminding and reinforcing language. We'll do this on the first day back after spring break too. Was your day crazy? If so, it's not too late to try those strategies tomorrow! You can also start discussing your student's hopes and dreams for 2016. I am not emotionally drained or exhausted right now at all. I definitely used to be when I treated days back after a long break like they were any other Monday. Go check out my FREE template with lesson/discussion ideas by clicking the picture below or read more about it in this post!

A Word On Third: Setting Hopes, Dreams, & Goals In The Classroom

So have you ever felt like your lesson was missing that special spark? I am really reflective and am always thinking about what I could do to make each lesson "pop" just a little bit more. The universe must have been listening, because I recently stumbled upon a company called Mentoring Minds (you can visit them here). They sell a product called the Master Instructional Strategies Flip Chart. Have you heard of this? It's only $25. You can see it in their online store by clicking the picture below. 

I really like this product! I tested it out for a few weeks in my classroom, and it has been helping me find that "pop" factor when I feel like I'm missing it! It's my go-to tool that I use in a pinch right now. I really like that I don't have to rely on technology working to use it. If our internet is out, Google is no help to me, I'm someone who prefers something tangible in front of me anyway. Here are my 3 favorite ways to use it.

1. I write objectives.

I don't know about you, but I am always making sure I have a meaningful objective in my lessons. That's how I start planning. I think, "What do I want to the kids to be able to do?" and only then do I ask myself "How am I going to get there?" If I'm stuck, I consider Bloom's Taxonomy first.

A Word On Third: What's Your #1 Best Teaching Tool To Use In A Pinch?


I love the Mentoring Minds Flip Chart because one portion of their chart includes power words for each section of the Bloom's Taxonomy to help me write my objectives! It's so nice. Back in college, I learned to write "Students will be able to..." and fill in the rest of that sentence with my objective. What I didn't realize is that "Students will be able to understand multiplication," is NOT a good objective. 

There is NO way to measure that! 

When I flip to the Application page on my flip chart (I know I want students so apply knowledge of multiplication), I can find verbs that truly help me to measure growth. Therefore, "students will be able to understand multiplication," quickly becomes, "Students will be able to solve multiplication problems." It means the same thing in my head, but it really does set me up for clearer plans and student understanding of my expectations.

We have spent a lot of time working on this as a school in the last few years. I feel like an expert at this now, but I'm not going to lie. There were times when I did NOT know what verb to use to convey what I wanted. I'm really happy this is easy to grab now. I keep it next to me when I plan.

2. I make my bag of tricks bigger.

I don't know about you, but I'm always searching for extra little things to do to make my day easier, make my instruction clearer, etc. I wrote about some of my favorite tricks to use during classroom transitions here
A Word On Third: What's Your #1 Best Teaching Tool To Use In A Pinch?

This flip chart is awesome for building up my bag of tricks one by one. Let's say I'm having trouble keeping a student engaged. I'm going to turn to the student engagement portion and try a tip they suggest. Once I've really got it as a habit, maybe I'll try for another one.

SPOILER ALERT! One of my favorite tricks in this flip chart was turning the lights off and using a flashlight to highlight attention to something. Okay, how cool is that? It's so much fun! Obviously, that would lose its magic if you did it all the time, but there are lots of other ideas in there too. Something as small as moving around the room while teaching can make such a difference. My students are usually learning during mini-lessons at our meeting area, but rather than just sit in my teacher's chair, I'll move around if the lesson allows it. Such a small behavior makes such a big impact!

3. I have behavior intervention strategies at my fingertips.

Do you guys ever have those days in which a student is really having a tough time and you feel like melting into a puddle on the floor because you just can't figure out what would help? It makes me so sad when I don't just instinctually know what to do to make things click for my kids. 

A Word On Third: What's Your #1 Best Teaching Tool To Use In A Pinch?

I love how I can pull this chart out on the fly to help me come up with a strategy to use. Giving directions is hard? Ok, did I give clear, simple directions? Yes? Ok, did I write directions or use a visual to show the meaning? No? Ok, I'll do that now! It's really nice to pull out and use in a pinch.

So those are my favorite 3 ways to use this flip chart! This tool is fabulous for new teachers! If it's out of your price range, see if you can get your administrator to buy you a copy for you, your grade level, or your school. You could also use your petty cash account if you have one at school (a lot of teachers don't know about these). Do you have any go-to tool(s) that you use in a pinch? Comment below and share it so we can all try it out!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Stop Procrastinating! The Best Way To Boost Your Class Now

Stop Procrastinating! The Best Way To Boost Your Class Now With New Year Resolutions


Hi, Teachers!

January can be lovely for some and tough for others. The kids are coming back after a long break, and you have to re-teach and re-model a lot of things. Personally, I LOVE January. I view it as a chance to tighten up all of the things I wasn't completely pleased with after the first six weeks of school. I'm spending the first week back reteaching what I know my kids need to be strong with for our class community to be strong. I'll also be spending some time goal-setting and making action plans with my kids.

During my second year of teaching, my year was not off to the start I had hoped for. In January when we arrived back in school, I completely changed things. I had a huge rule generation discussion with my class, and we changed our class rules. We based them off of hopes and dreams. This action transformed my entire classroom community and greatly lowered my stress level. Now, I do this at the beginning of the year. It really helps. However, I'm looking forward to continuing this type of work with my students to improve their community even more. Click here to get your hands on the template I am going to use in my classroom this year... for free!!

Stop Procrastinating! The Best Way To Boost Your Class Now With New Year Resolutions

When using this resource in your classroom, I recommend that you connect a child’s hopes and dreams to his/her school growth so far this year. What does that child want to accomplish in class? Is it academic or social/emotional? I also recommend that you discuss the importance of making a plan to help each child reach his or her goals.  THIS is the piece of the puzzle that so many people forget about! What good is a goal if you don't know how to get there!? For example, if your student wants to improve her reading fluency, she might try to accomplish this by asking her partner to coach her during partner reading time, or she might choose to record herself and listen to her own reading. If a student wants to make more friends, he might do this by asking others to play with him at recess. I suggest brainstorming possible goals and plans to reach those goals as a class before sending students off to write their goals and plans of action.

After new hopes have been established for the New Year, you might spend some time in the following days revising your class rules. Ask students what they need to reach their hopes and dreams. Do they need to add, change, or remove one of the class rules? Do you need to discuss what students need each rule to mean now with their new goals in place? Connecting these goals to your class constitution and letting students drive this experience is powerful work that motivates students to make good choices and be self-directed. I can't wait to do this!

If you're interested in reading more about this, check out this really amazing Responsive Classroom article. Think about this through the lens of doing this work in January rather than September.


On a more personal note, I'm finishing up my lesson plans today, and then I'm working on mapping out my big goals for the year in my personal life and my work life. I want to spend some serious time on myself today. Here's my resolution...


Haha! That makes me laugh. That's not really my real resolution though. I'm still working on mine, but it's going to most likely involve the school-home connection since I've been working so hard to build that up this year. We shall see! What are your New Year's Resolutions in school or in your personal life?  Comment below!