Monday, October 24, 2016

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!

Monday, October 17, 2016

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!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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).

Monday, October 10, 2016

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.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Do You Have Balance?

Today's post is all about balance. You may have noticed I haven't been blogging as much as I used to blog. I used to blog 2 times a week religiously, but I'd sometimes blog as much as 4 or 5 times a week! It was a lot, and it took up a lot of my time.

This summer, I got married, my grandma passed away, I went on a honeymoon, I ran a few summer camps, I nannied, and I was settling into the house I just moved into. I had a LOT on my plate. I wanted to be super-teacher-blogger-entrepreneur-extraordinaire, and I just wasn't finding the time to do it all the way I wanted to.

I realized that I was spending a lot of time on all work and not a lot on play (you know, besides the honeymoon thing). Now, that's not to say I don't love teaching. I sure do! And I love blogging too. But... I was so overloaded that I wasn't doing anything the way I wanted to do it. I didn't know how to find time to play with my dogs, cook food, do typical chores, and run my TPT store. I could do that and sacrifice sleep, but that wasn't going to work for me. I haven't put any new products in my TPT store for a while. I was kicking myself about it, but I still wasn't taking care of myself well.

I ended up pulling away from some things for a little bit, and I'm SO glad I did. The past 2 months, I have decided to work really hard on a goal that is NOT directly related to teaching, but I see it as so, so incredibly important to my teaching career. I am excited to say that I am officially a POP Pilates Instructor! POP Pilates is a fun, upbeat version of Pilates that uses classic Pilates moves and turns them into a dance on the mat.
Now, how does that help me as a third grade teacher? Well, for one, when I consistently exercise, I have a LOT more energy. And, since this exercise format is the right one for me, I really enjoy taking time out of my day to do it. It's fun, and it is honestly a hobby and passion of mine. I'm lucky that it gives me so many health benefits. When I start my day with POP, I'm much happier. If I have to do it in the afternoon after work, it's something awesome to look forward to.

It helps to give me BALANCE.

So, here's why I wanted to write this post today, Teachers. I want to know... do you really have BALANCE? Are you taking time out of your day to take care of yourself? Yes, meal prep is important. Yes, the kids are important. Yes, the lesson plans are important. Yes, the bill paying, house cleaning, and other stuff is important. BUT WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR YOU? Do you like to go for walks in nature? Do you like to craft? WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR YOURSELF?

The less you do for yourself, the less productive you will be. I promise you that. One thing I've started doing is taking my weekends off. I will work really late during the week if need be, but I make sure that my weekends are my weekends unless it's a SUPER crazy time, like conference time or report card time. But honestly... I don't like to spend much weekend time on even those things!

If you are working on finding some ME time for yourself, I suggest starting with exercise. Find a POP Pilates class (they are popping up ALL over!) if that sounds fun to you. If you want something more intense... try some PIIT. PIIT 28 is a Pilates and high intensity interval training blend that will get you all excercised-up in only 28 minutes a day.

I tried PIIT a few months back and lost 8 inches off of my body. I was filled with energy and was much happier at work. If this is interesting to you, click the picture above for some more info. Now that I'm certified to teach POP, I will have time to put PIIT back into my workout routine again. I plan to do both PIIT and POP.

I know it's easy for you to forget about yourselves because I fall into the same trap if I'm not careful. I challenge you to do ONE thing EACH DAY for yourself! What do you want that one thing to be? Comment below to commit to yourself!