1 Sure Way To Get Your Students Engaged In Writing

1 Sure Way To Get Your Students Engaged In Writing: writing classroom news with A Word On Third

Even my most reluctant writers get excited when we write the class news report. Last April I came up with the idea to film a weekly class news segment.

It became so successful in my classroom, making such an impact on my writers, that I decided to run with the idea.

One of the best parts of the class news report is that it not only keeps my students excited about writing, but it also informs the students' families about what we do in class. Double win!

Here's how it works in my classroom from start to finish in under 40 minutes:

  1. Pick 5 students to write the news. Each student picks one subject area to cover in the news report. Students have about 25 minutes to write their pieces.
  2. Spend about 10 minutes reading over the news. Focus on making sure the news report has a smooth flow, full of transitions from news anchor to news anchor.
  3. Have students practice reading their news segment for fluency for another minute or two.
  4. Film the news, all in one take. I'm serious--one take! MAYBE TWO if you want to get fancy, but one is really all you need.
I edit the news segments in iMovie, but this year I'm hoping to have my students start editing too. You might edit yours, but you don't have to.

You can even add in some extra pizazz by having students interview others, write special interest reports, or create book commercials. How cute would it be to break from your news report for a message from "sponsors?" We've even started adding in special music breaks once in a while. I record my students during the last minute of music classes sometimes.

You can do this yourself too, with simple writing paper and any recording device. That's literally all you need. You really don't have to edit it if that intimidates you; after all, it's a class news report, not a real TV program! You can film during a writing period with a small group, or you might decide to film on Thursdays at lunch time like I do. Luckily for me, my schedule allows me to switch my lunch and prep around on the days I record the news. Just share your finished piece on Seesaw or email it as a google file to families.

If you want some resources to help you get started, I am selling my student-run classroom news resource on Teachers Pay Teachers for only $2.50. 

Click here or on the above picture to check it out! You'll get:
  • teacher tips for writing, filming, and editing the news,
  • a sample news introduction for your students to read at the beginning of each report,
  • prompts to develop on-screen communication between student news anchors,
  • a sample student script to assist students in writing their own,
  • a student script direction sheet and template,
  • a book commercial template,
  • a special interest news report template,
  • and an interview template.
If you try this out, please comment below and let me know what cool ideas you come up with for making your news report awesome!

This Is What Happens When Teachers Don't Fight Holidays...

A Word On Third will show you how to deal with holiday stress in the classroom with ease.

You've fallen into the swing of the year, and now Halloween is threatening to make you crazy. We've all been there.

I'm sure you've heard the expression, "If you can't beat them, join them."

I have found that this mentality can take you SO far during Halloween!

Click on the picture to the left or on this link to be taken to a post I wrote last year about how to use the holidays to your advantage. I will write the spark notes below, but if you'd like more details, I recommend visiting that link.

In the days leading up to Halloween this year, make sure to:

  1. Revisit routines through interactive modeling.
  2. Have kids move throughout the day as often as possible. Brain breaks are your friend.
  3. Use more reinforcing language than you thought humanly possible.
  4. Give distractions full attention. Leading up to holidays, there are some things that beg for students' attention (cool costumes, that spooky Halloween rumor going around, etc.). Spend 20 seconds devoting ALL of your attention, and then immediately move on. You'll spend that amount of time begging for your kids to listen anyway, and now kids won't be thinking about it quietly while you teach on! 

I also try to find as many holiday-themed lesson activities that fit with my objectives. If you can find them, you're going to have an engaged class.

For writing, I love to use The Mysteries of Harris Burdick! Chris Van Allsburg put together 14 really thought-provoking (and eerie) black and white drawings for this book. The myth he created is that an unknown author (Harris Burdick) brought them to a publisher to see if they had interest in publishing his work, but never came back to follow up despite strong interest from the publisher. Each drawing is accompanied by a title and caption. Together with the pictures, they entice readers to make up their own stories to go along with the pictures. The pictures are all unrelated, so there are lots of options for writers. 

I typically spend a day teaching a planning strategy, and the next day I teach a mini-lesson on a revising strategy. Then we will read our pieces to our partners. It only takes two days, so it's not disruptive, but it's still fun and valuable for the kids.

Another favorite activity of mine is this differentiated Halloween math lab I created. Your class will receive a strange, mysterious letter with a request for help in planning a Halloween party from some spooky neighbors (named Teri Bull and Gob Lin). The lesson plans are all included, and there's no prep involved other than copying. There are 3 different price lists, which could make this very challenging for 1st graders (if you're using the easiest price list) or quite challenging for 4th graders (if you're using the most difficult price list).

This year I changed it up--I taught into checking for reasonable estimates and using calculators to check work. We also talked about what organizing and showing our work should look like, which you can see a bit of above. This took me about 4 days. If you want to use this for first graders, I definitely recommend letting them use calculators the whole time. For fourth graders, maybe they will only check their work with calculators. The choice is yours!

Here's the spooky envelope this lab comes in every year...

Of course, I'll make sure the kids get some spooky Thank You notes for helping Teri and Gob. And because I love you guys and know how tired you probably are at this time of the year, I decided to throw a sale so you can buy this and everything else in my store at 15% off! Just make sure to visit my store here. You can also click the sale graphic below to check out my Halloween resource!

My Favorite Quick Greeting For Hectic Mornings

My Favorite Quick Greeting For Hectic Mornings by A Word On Third

Here's a Morning Meeting greeting I love to use when I'm having trouble fitting it all in! I love this greeting not only because it's quick and easy, but also because it gets the kids up and moving. It's called a mingle greeting, and it's exactly what it sounds like! Your students will mingle and greet others in a designated period of time.

How to introduce a Mingle Greeting

1. Tell your students they will be walking around the room and greeting their classmates for a designated period of time. I suggest starting with 1 and a half minutes and lowering the time as needed as your class gets used to this greeting.
2. Use reminding language to help your students remember what a thoughtful greeting looks like. "Who remembers what we do with our eyes during a greeting?"

3. Ask students what they might do if the person they want to greet is greeting someone else.  Wait or find someone else to greet.

That's literally all you have to do. I ask my kids for a reasonable estimate of people they think they can greet within the amount of time we have. In one minute, I'm hoping that they can greet somewhere between 5-7ish people.

Try some variations:

  • Use different languages.
  • Use different handshakes.
  • Try a mingle greeting as a brain break instead of a greeting. (For example, students might mingle and share a science fact they learned during a unit of study as a warm-up.)
  • Try a mingle greeting for a closing circle. Students can say "See you tomorrow," or say "Goodbye" in another language.
That's all you have to do!! Now go try a mingle greeting tomorrow morning if you're pressed for time or you want your kids to move! 

3 Easy Ways To Strengthen Your Classroom Community

3 Easy Ways To Strengthen Your Classroom Community by A Word On Third

It's another Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday! Link up (even if it's not Tuesday) by writing your blog post and adding it below. Make sure to visit this page for the rules of the linkup. 

This week's tips are wellness tips that have to do with our emotional health and our students' emotional health! That means you get a double-dose of Teacher Happy today!

Building your community in your classroom does so many things for us. It reduces behavior problems and student stress. It makes the students happier and more willing to take academic (or social) risks. And, my personal favorite... is that it's just darn FUN! I love this part of teaching, and you probably do too. So check out these posts with quick and easy ways to build your community!

1. Play Rare Bird.

The rare bird activity is super fun. It helps your students to find out how they are different and unique. You might also find that your students discover some similarities too! 

You can read more about this community-building activity by clicking on the picture to the left or clicking here.

2. Get rid of fake apologies.

This one really speaks to me. Have you ever heard someone say, "Sorry," with an eye-roll and sarcastic tone? Doesn't that drive you crazy??

Have you ever been forced to make an apology, which in turn makes you want to gouge your eyeballs out, scream, stamp, and give a sarcastic sorry!? Realistically, we've probably been in both positions!

This is something you can teach your students ahead of time that will help out when conflicts arise. It prevents a lot of hurt feelings when used appropriately. Read the details by clicking on the picture to the left or by clicking here.

3. Share each day.

When students regularly have a forum for sharing, their sense of belonging and significance is greatly strengthened. Those two basic needs are a MUST in order for learning to take place. Not only will your students feel heard, but you'll get a chance to get to know your students better too! Whether you are sharing at Morning Meeting, snack time, or at the end of the day during closing circle, make sure to fit it in every day. Partner sharing works well for those days when you feel like you don't have time to have too many kids share with the whole class.

This strategy can help your kids to say more about the topic they are sharing while simultaneously building that child's understanding of main ideas and supporting details. I use this all of the time and love it! If you don't feel like using math tools, substitute them for fingers/palms the way you might teach oral rehearsing during Writer's Workshop. Click on the picture or click here to read more.

What are the little ways you like to build community in your classroom? Make sure to link up (or comment below if you don't have a blog) and spread the happy!

Make Sure You Don't Miss My 2017 Classroom Reveal

I'm so beyond thrilled to share my new classroom with you guys! I put so much work into re-working this space over the summer. After I started the school year, we lived in our space for a few days, and then we made tweaks to the layout as a class. I am pretty sure this is how our room will be for the rest of the year, at least for the most part!

Make Sure You Don't Miss My 2017 Classroom Reveal

I was super, extra lucky this year because Oriental Trading Company reached out to share some of their amazing classroom products with me for review in exchange for my honest opinion. LET ME TELL YOU... I already knew I loved Oriental Trading, but I REALLY love a few of the things they shared with our class this year. I feel like there are a few things that really made the room pull together. I'll show you everything!

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

Above is the view from one of the corners of my room. You can see a good shot of most tables here. A few people asked me where I got the rug on Instagram. It came from Walmart! I ordered it online and looked at rugs that were on clearance. So far, I'm really pleased with it.

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

Above you'll see some of my yoga balls, some math manipulatives, our word wall, our class hermit crabs, and our mailboxes. The math manipulative containers used to come in some kind of ugly pastel colors, so I spray painted them to fit with the room. I have some green, teal, and gray containers now. I much prefer those to the awkward pink, purple, yellow and green containers they used to be! I just used Rustoleum. If you have plastic containers you hate... don't buy new ones! Just get some spray paint!!! It's cheap and easy.

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

Oriental Trading Company totally saved my mailboxes with some plain, black duct tape and some awesome washi tape. I used some contact paper on the sides of my mailboxes, covered up the sides with the black duct tape, and covered the edges of the mailboxes with washi tape. Instead of attaching labels with names to the plastic things that I put the washi tape on, I attached them to binder clips. That will make next year so much easier! I cannot tell you how darn ugly this mailbox system was, but it was so sturdy! I couldn't throw it out. This turned out better than I could have imagined. Never underestimate what a little tape or contact paper can do! The contact paper I got was from Amazon. There's tons of it on there!

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

Move a little to the left, and you'll see the rest of the word wall. I have another yoga ball table (those two gray ones were $20 on Amazon!) You can find cheaper yoga balls sometimes, but I find these to be a sturdy brand. I don't need to spend $10 on a yoga ball just to replace them in a month. My Gaiam yoga balls lasted all year last year and they are still going strong. The cheaper ones I got from Walmart popped within 1 to 2 months. 

I also have an awesome drawer system, and the top of it serves as a work surface. That drawer system came from the Jane app, which is also a website. It's super sturdy and I could not love it more. It was $40 if I remember correctly... not too shabby for such high quality drawers! Every other comparable item I saw was at least twice the price.

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

And here's a shot of my classroom library! One of the library boxes is missing, but I am really proud of how many books are available to my students. I (Well, it's not missing. It's just sitting in my teaching area because I'll be using it for a lesson tomorrow morning.) I have about 60 boxes of books for the students to pick from. Half are leveled, and half are sorted by genre or topic. I just don't think one shelf of books cuts it. However, it takes a LONG time to gather that many books. I cannot recommend Scholastic Reading Club more; it will get you TONS of free books... for very little effort. Make sure to check out this post I wrote describing how I use them! 

Students love sitting in the teepee, but I have a rule that it can only fit 1-2 students at a time. Inside of the teepee, I keep a lap desk students can sit on (one side is a cushion) or write on. I've also got tons of clipboards the students can use whenever they want. The wooden shelf on top of the book case is our writing station. It's filled with editing checklists, writing paper, etc. Finally, the black chair is our "chill chair," which students use for taking a break.

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

On the other side of the library, I have this little bench. I covered up a teacher area with that curtain. There are a few book boxes in there that I use for mentor texts, so I found it was important to cover them up. I didn't want students getting confused when book shopping! I store a bunch of my files in the corner because I don't have a desk. It's a bit over-flowing right now... but in a few weeks hopefully I will get some of that put away!! (YEAH RIGHT! HA!)

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

Here's another view of that little corner. I put my old teacher's desk on bed risers for a cheap standing table. The kids love using it! I also put two stools underneath incase they decide to sit. The two small rocking chairs came from Home Goods a few years back, and the big rocking chair was my grandpa's. One day I'll get around to painting it.

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

I used more of Oriental Trading Company's washi tape on my board to separate things. I love their lime green tape! You can also see my butterfly set up on the table by the smartboard. I put them in a tomato planter covered with tulle. Read more about how to raise Monarchs here. Next to that is my cart from Michael's. I love it! The caddies in my room also come from Michael's. They might still be there if you go soon! I also saw some nice lap desks made of plastic when I went, but I didn't grab any.

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

Here's another shot of a table I grabbed for $10 at a yard sale this summer. I painted it with more Rustoleum. Spray paint makes lazy people very happy!! 

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

This spot in my classroom totally surprised me. This is our closet, where we hang backpacks. I thought I'd put our pillows in buckets under here and that the top would just keep backpacks from falling in. Even though I have a huge class and not nearly as many hooks as I'd like, the kids keep the closet really neat this year. This is actually a space the kids like to use! They turn the tubs over and put one pillow on top. Again, the pillows in the pink bin came from Oriental Trading Company. I love that the pillow cases come off. They are machine washable. Let's be real... these look great now, but they won't in a few months. SO GLAD I can wash them so they will continue to look nice!

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

This is probably my favorite decorative touch in the classroom. The string lights on the ceiling make the room feel SO cozy and homey. In the morning, I often leave the fluorescent lights off and only keep my string lights, salt lamp, and floor lamp on while playing calming music or nature sounds. It makes for a peaceful morning of unpacking before Morning Meeting starts! I got these from Oriental Trading Company also. I love that the bulbs are PLASTIC. I got some bulbs for my back deck once from Target, and WOW did those things break left and right. NEVER AGAIN. I'm not bitter....

Anyway, these lights are LED, and they made me VERY happy while I was setting them up. You can buy them here. If you've broken a bunch of bulbs like me, you can relate to this!

A Word On Third's 2017-2018 Classroom Reveal

FINALLY... big news! I got two new class pets! Our class now has "skinny pigs," which are hairless guinea pigs. They are sisters, and they are about 7 months old. This is their epic cage set-up by the sink. I am turning my classroom into a zoo. Guinea pigs, hermit crabs, and caterpillars... and in the spring we'll have chicks! Here's a better picture of Nibble and Nugget, who come home with me on weekends and days off...

Anyway, that's my room! If you have questions about anything you see, comment below and I'll make sure to get back to you!

Warning: NEVER Buy These Easy, Amazing Items!

It's another Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday! Link up (even if it's not Tuesday) by writing your blog post and adding it below. Make sure to visit this page for the rules of the linkup.


Ok, I admit it: my post title is dripping with sarcasm, but it's because the idea behind today's post is really simple, but we complicate it often. If you need something convenient, but you can make it yourself, JUST. BUY. IT.

You have so much to get done, and so little time to get it done. You have to teach, you have to eat, you have to sleep, you should exercise, you'd probably like time to spend with your family, hobbies might be nice... SO MANY THINGS exist to make this easier for you. I find that because it's an extra few bucks, we take the harder route. But what are you going to miss more--your time or your money? I'm guessing it's your time, but can actually do a lot of this in a really affordable way.

I'm not suggesting that you constantly treat yo self and buy every expensive thing in sight all the time (shout out to Parks & Rec). However, if you want to take care of yourself and your sanity, these are some great examples of things you can, should, and deserve to buy that you can definitely afford on your teacher-salary:

  • Pre-cut or pre-washed veggies/fruit
    especially if it means you won't make that healthy teacher fuel if you have to cut/wash it, which will make you spend double on buying lunch anyway.
  • That awesome product on TeachersPayTeachers you've been eyeing
    but you haven't purchased it yet because you know you can make it if you spend a lot of time on it... YOUR TIME IS WORTH IT.
  • Some cute decor piece on Etsy that you saw
    because making one will take longer (and it might actually be more expensive after you buy all the supplies anyway).
  • Flair pens
    because even though they aren't that cheap for what they are, they don't cost a ton and they make you SO. DARN. HAPPY. (Ok, maybe I am suggesting a Parks & Rec Treat Yo Self here, but it's still warranted.)
  • Someone to clean your house for you
    for an hour or two every few weeks so that you don't go crazy and get to spend more time with your family.
  • Spotify Premium or Pandora so you can be happy in your classroom when you're working alone after the kids have left for the day.
I was raised with a mentality that I should not buy these kinds of things because they were not the best use of money, and I have so many teacher friends that feel the same way. Just look at the way we hoard things in our classrooms, hoping they will come in handy someday so we won't have to buy it. The truth is, while I'm still a smart spender, the more things like this I buy, the happier I end up being. I don't need to design the most adorable schedule cards ever, because they are available on TeachersPayTeachers. OH WAIT, THE MOST ADORABLE ONES ARE FREE. (YASSS Cara Carroll).

Since we have a tendency to make things harder for ourselves, especially when we're going back to school, and I am here to provide you with your reminder that you are awesome, and you deserve to cut yourself some slack. So I want to know, what little things did you tell yourself you shouldn't buy? What have you started doing to make your life a little easier?

How To Call Out Sick Without Feeling Guilty Or Overwhelmed

You know what DOESN'T make teachers happy? When they want to call out sick, but they have to go into school to set up sub plans at 6 AM. At that rate, isn't it easier to just get through the normal day since you'll be there anyway? NO. NO IT'S NOT. Today I'm going to help you get super happy by helping you to set up no-prep sub plans before the school year even starts. So many teachers feel negatively for one reason or another when calling out sick, but it's just not appropriate for several reasons. You can't do your best teaching when you feel like crap, and you'll probably be sicker for longer than you would if you just took that one day off in the first place.

Pre-made, no-prep, high quality sub plans for free.

I set up sub plans that don't require me to be present, let my students practice valuable skills and don't cost anything. You don't have to pay for some on Teachers Pay Teachers. These sub plans are free. I set them up before the school year even starts, and you can too.

First, get a folder.

Label it "Sub Plans" super clearly, put it in a super obvious place, and tell a few colleagues where it is so they can pull it out and put it on your desk when you text them because you feel like you have the plague. Inside of this folder, make sure to put:
  • Your class list (updated if you get new students)
  • Emergency drill information
  • A copy of your schedule
  • A page about your rules, routines, and classroom management tips that you know will help your substitute teacher.
  • Sub plans for each day of the week
  • Housekeeping slips (like attendance or lunch slips)
  • Morning work materials (I'll discuss that in the next part).
  • A few books they can read in case an activity is finished early.
  • Any other relevant information for your class

Next, set up for your morning.

Usually, I have my students look at their morning work and check in on the smart board when I'm in school. All I do is write the same stuff they would usually do on a few big pieces of construction paper. I put a sticky note on those papers telling the sub to tape the papers to the smart board and to save them for next time. I do the same thing with the morning message. Every day I'm absent, the morning message is the same. It usually sounds something like this:
Dear Team,
Today you will have a guest teacher. I am counting on you to be helpful and responsible. How can you take care of your learning and the guest teacher while I am away? Be ready to share your idea at Morning Meeting today. I can't wait to be back!
 Love, Your Teacher
That's it. If you are a big fan of morning work, keep it super simple. I'm not, so I just give my kids a little extra reader's or writer's workshop time. You could also have kids work on unfinished work.

Now write your sub plans.

Here's what I do for each subject.
  • Morning Meeting- For the greeting, have the kids go around the circle and say their name and favorite subject. Then have the group say good morning to that kid. This gives the sub a little heads up about who each kid in your class is. For the share, have the kids share how they will take care of their learning and the guest teacher while you are gone (just like the Morning Message said), for the activity, have a student lead an activity you've taught early in the year. Make it a quick one with no prep needed. You can snag some ideas for activities here. Then have the class read the message together. Done! Easy peasy.
  • Reading & Writing- I give the kids independent reading or writing time. Because I am a workshop teacher, we just have more time to work on what we've already been working on. I call this a "marathon day" (a chance to practice strategies they love and haven't gotten to work on much, or a chance to work on something they haven't finished yet). Here's exactly what I write in my sub plans:
    Tell the kids they will be having a marathon period in reading, which means they will get extra time to practice what they’ve been doing in class. Have them discuss what reader’s workshop should look and sound like. 
    Next have them think about what strategy they will practice today to push their reading further and why. They can look at the charts in the room to help them make decisions. Have the kids turn and talk to their partner to tell them their choice and why. Share out some answers. 
    Have the kids read independently. Circulate and check in with kids if they need help. Ask them what their goal is, how they’re reaching it, and to prove that they are reaching it. This will help them be more productive. 
    During the last 2 or 3 minutes, have kids share what their goal was and how they reached it. 
  • Math- This one is simple! I have the kids start by finishing any unfinished math work, and then they play independent or partner math games. These are games they already know how to play. Many of them are enrichment games they play when they finish their math work. It's a great time for the kids to review skills you may or may not be learning about at the time. I recommend giving 2-4 options to keep things simple. I also leave a note for my substitute that if students aren't focusing with their partner, they lose the privilege of working with a partner and need to work on an independent math game.
  • Science or Social Studies- In my class, we have a Time For Kids subscription. I often send it home to read for homework (since reading is most of the homework I give anyway), but I keep a few in my sub folder. The kids can read with a partner or independently. The teacher's manual has some worksheets that I ask the sub to copy for early finishers. You can also have the sub read a book on a topic of study you are learning about. If that's the case, I recommend adding books to your sub folder regularly.
  • Word Study- Have students play some games independently or sort their words. What do you usually do? That's what you should do now.
Did you notice how I did not invent the wheel here? I did end up changing my lesson plans as the year went by to add or remove certain math games, but that's pretty much it. If you have any free periods, just have the sub read a book or have students work on unfinished work. Those will probably be more useful than any fancy schmancy game you could print out and leave for the kids anyway.

Now create your sub plans by day.

So you've already done the hard part--you've figured out what should be taught during each subject. Most teachers have a different schedule each day, so now write each sub plan according to day, making sure to add in your specials. Clearly mark each day so your sub knows which papers to pull out of the folder.

If you really want your sub to thank you, include a few brain breaks the kids can play between periods. I include 2 or 3 games the students can play to get the wiggles out, and I always leave the names of a few students who can lead the games. I also leave 1 or 2 calming brain breaks. I write these right into my plans. If your sub will have access to a computer, you can even give them the log-in information for your GoNoodle account. Your sub will experience less negative behaviors when you do this.

When you do this, you'll be able to take your sick day knowing that you have quality plans for your students. YOU CAN SLEEP IN WHEN YOUR BODY NEEDS IT. I cannot believe I used to go to school at 6 or 7 to set up my room for the sub. I would never in a million years ever do that again, and I hope you don't either.

So how do you want to spread the teacher happiness this week? Link up below! All you need to do is write a short blog post with your teacher tip(s), include the above graphic linking back to this post, and comment on at least one other blogger's post. If you don't have a blog, please participate by adding your tip in a comment below!

How To Make Your Conferring Instruction More Effective

Good teachers collect and use data effectively, and that's the role conferring plays in the reader's or writer's workshop. Use these tips to keep your conferences and strategy groups running smoothly and effectively.

How To Confer Efficiently and Create a Conferring Toolkit by A Word On Third

Keep it simple.

The best conferences and strategy groups follow a predictable formula, and they are quick and short!! We have a tendency to over-talk even though students should be doing the majority of the talking and work. Here's the typical formula for a conference or small strategy group:
Research: 1-2 minutes, Discuss goals, strengths, and challenges with the student and listen to him/her read. Ask some meaning-based questions. Use what you learn to teach. End with a compliment. *This step is only needed in a conference--in a strategy group, you already know what you'll be teaching based on data you've collected! 
Connection: ~20 seconds, Grab the students' attention.
Teaching Point: ~20 seconds, Name exactly what you will teach.
Teach: ~2 minutes, Model the strategy (or use another method, like a mini-inquiry).
Active Engagement: ~1 minutes, Let the students try the skill.
Link: 20 seconds, Send the students off with an ending thought about the skill they learned.
Strategy groups need to be short and pointed so that you can fit as many as you need into your week. Aim for 5 (maybe 7 minutes for a small group) and no more. Shoot to meet with each student at least once per week. Getting the timing down will be an adjustment. Use a stopwatch if you need to. Click the picture below to be taken to a great one online.

Provide students with tangible tools.

I like to teach with a quickly drawn anchor chart on a piece of printer paper. It helps to have a visual aid, and creating the charts can even clarify how I'll teach each skill in my mind. Students need to hear and see the teaching point over and over again. Notice how the example I made below is super clear.
How To Confer Efficiently and Create a Conferring Toolkit by A Word On Third

It's also critical that students have a piece of tangible evidence of learning. Send them off with a smaller version of your anchor chart to glue into a notebook or keep with them while they work. Even jotting the teaching point on a post-it note can be a big help for keeping students mindful of the skills they are practicing.

Create a toolkit to save time.

Keeping a pencil pocket full of post-it notes, writing utensils, and other materials you use during conferences is a time-saver! Put that in your toolkit so you always have it.

How To Make Your Conferring Instruction More Effective by A Word On Third

When you know the students and your curriculum, you can predict the majority of the skills you will need to teach. When you create the tangible tools you will use during conferences--whether it's in the moment or ahead of time--SAVE THEM! It takes so much time and work to do this--if you don't save it, you're wasting instructional or planning time. You can use them several times throughout the year and then over again in future years. I will admit that this does take some time, but it's totally worth it when you see your student's skills improving daily. So what if it takes you a few years to develop your personal toolkit?

If you're not up for the hard work it takes to create your own toolkit, or you want to experiment with one before committing, I recommend checking mine out. I created a toolkit to help you launch reader's workshop effectively. You can use it to create the reader's workshop culture you wish to see in your room and teach into effective reading behaviors, partnership work, and comprehension strategies. It's also $10.00 in my store for today only! Click here or on the picture below to check it out, and make sure to download the free preview with some goodies in there for you.

If you happen to read this a day late and miss the discount, you can also enter a giveaway on my Instagram account to win it for free along with a $10.00 TeachersPayTeachers gift card. Make sure to go enter!

How To Drastically Reduce Your Planning Time

Teachers: use your prep periods more effectively with this super simple and effective tip by A Word On Third!

It's our second Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday! To link up, check out this link for details, write your genius, happiness-inducing, tip-filled post, and link up below!

This classroom tip has drastically reduced the amount of work I do during my free-time. I still put in some work each day after school, but for the most part, I have my weekends 100% to myself, I get home at a reasonable hour (think 4:30-5:30 instead of 7), and I am five times more productive. This makes me a MUCH better teacher since I'm not burnt out anymore. An old colleague of mine taught me this strategy, and I have never looked back.

Every year before school starts, I plan out my prep periods when I get my class schedule. I also post it somewhere in my room where I will see it when I'm working without kids in the room. Here's an example of my prep schedule from last year:

Basically, I make sure every 40 minute period goes to something that will help me for the following week. I also leave my classroom so that it is 100% ready for the next day. If something happens and I come in late, I don't have to rush or feel flustered because my room is all set for the kids. I have prep periods devoted to planning and prepping each subject I teach, reviewing student work, etc. At the end of the day, I stay for at least one hour to finish anything I didn't get done that day. Usually I stay for two hours, but after that point, if I have more to do, I leave it for the next day. Some weeks I stay until 6 on a Friday, but some weeks I finish early and get to leave at 4 on a Friday!! WHOO HOO!

Think about it... have you ever attempted to clean your home, get distracted by something that belongs in another room, walk to the other room put it back, only to start cleaning something else in that second room? Next thing you know, you have 4 cleaning projects going at once, I find that that kind of unfocused effort in getting things done can easily happen during our prep periods and derail them if we aren't careful. If there's something I really want to get done that isn't on my planning schedule, I just write it down on a post-it for myself.

Do you guys do something similar? If not, I really recommend trying this. It's so simple, but so effective! I've gotten loads more free time with this. Any time you can make a system for yourself, you will save time. Of course, things will pop up, and you won't follow it perfectly all of the time. But even if you follow it half of the time, you'll have made a small investment for a huge pay-out.

Share your tips with everyone to add a little more happy into our days! Link up your blog post below by clicking "Add your link." I can't wait to read your posts!

How To Be A Happier Teacher Immediately

It's our first Happy Teacher Tip Tuesday! To link up, check out this link for details, write your genius, happiness-inducing, tip-filled post, and link up below! I had to post about a wellness tip first, especially since it's summer.

This is our chance to make healthy habits stick by the time the start of school rolls around!

In one of my last posts, I wrote about the book Sleep Smarter, which was a game changer for me!! Now I wake up in the mornings ready to go, full of energy. That was monumental for me, because I've NEVER been a morning person. It's NOT about sleep quantity here--it's about sleep quality! And contrary to popular belief, you can't repay a sleep debt. When I got my sleep in check, I quickly started feeling like Super Teacher! Better sleep = better productivity. I get much more done each day, and I get it done well. Here are my 4 Happy Teacher Tips to make you sleep happy and teach happy!

1. Go screen-less! 
The blue light from our tvs, phones, iPads, etc. can trick our bodies into thinking it is daytime. We produce more of the cortisol hormone which isn't good for bedtime. Get off the screens 90 minutes before bed, and use blue-light blocking glasses when you can't. You can also download software to take the blue light out of your screens after a certain time like f.lux. I think this change made the biggest difference for me. My phone lives downstairs at bedtime now.

2. Get sunlight in the morning.
You can mix this with exercise by walking first thing, but even eating your breakfast in the sun is great. Even on a cloudy day, this will stimulate an increase in cortisol. You actually want that first thing in the morning! Cortisol isn't bad, but it IS bad at the WRONG TIME. So go walk your dogs before work. They'll thank you for it.

3. Make it dark.
Black-out curtains are fabulous, and really improve sleep quality. However, you want to limit the light from electronics in your bedroom too. Alarm clocks can make your environment very bright! Many alarm clocks also have screen dimmers--use them.

4. Be consistent with your schedule.
Having the same sleeping and waking times each day (even on weekends), will allow you to wake up ready to go every morning. No more groggy Mondays! Having a bedtime routine will help you with this. Even leaving work at the same time will too. If you HAVE TO leave by 5, are you really going to scroll through your Instagram feed for 20 minutes after your students leave, or are you going to make your copies?

If you're interested in learning more about sleep, I recommend starting with this article and snagging a copy of the book I mentioned above! I can't tell you how much happier I am each day.

Share your tips with everyone to add a little more happy in our days! Link up your blog post below by clicking "Add your link."