Monday, December 1, 2014

Tell me Tuesday

We are always looking for a new way to start our mornings, (our first graders get tired of worksheets!) so we came up with “Tell me Tuesday.”

Every Tuesday morning, we project (on the SMARTBoard) a picture of an unusual creature that we think will be unfamiliar to our students. Some examples they’ve enjoyed include: a hydra, coati, sea cucumber, narwhal, naked mole rat, slipper lobster and an agouti.
We pose the same questions each week with a different picture. The students respond in their journals and share their guesses later. We always reveal the accurate information on our chosen creature after everyone has responded. They really enjoy being introduced to new animals. Have fun and let us know if you think of any good ones to add to our list!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winter Surprises

The joy that students have during this time of year is undeniable. I gladly nurture it using some exciting projects in the classroom. A few years ago Ann Marie and I decided to compile many of our fun activities into a “Winter Surprises” basket. It gives students something to look forward to and you can use it as motivation for good behavior and work habits.

Below are 15 activities that I’ve had in my basket before. I print out these cards and put them in boxes, bags, envelopes, etc. and each day we open a new one. I like to label each container with a number and keep a list of what activity is inside, because I need to make sure we have time for the chosen activity. One idea involves going outside, so I always look at the weather forecast before deciding when to do that one.

1.  Light up somebody's day.
I found this idea on Pinterest. I like to open this one first so my class can pick a new idea each day. It really helps encourage kindness in the classroom. (Which can be hard to come by right before winter break!)

2.  Write a letter to someone who lights up your life.
Use this paper to have students write a letter to someone who makes them happy. I’ve had students write to bus drivers, Girl Scout leaders, parents, friends and even me! One year I took the letters and put them on a bulletin board with a banner that said, “Who Lights Up Your Life?” We added a tree decorated with light bulbs colored by students and covered with translucent glitter.

3.  Eat a snowy treat.
I found white cheese balls called “Snow Balls” and knew I wanted to share them with my class! You could also use powdered doughnuts or marshmallows.

4.  Make a paper plate popup snowman.
Another Pinterest find! I had a parent volunteer trace a template, like the one from the tutorial, onto plates and made sure to tell my class many, many times NOT to cut on the dotted line. I’m glad we had some extra plates because my “Distracted Donnie” cut the dotted line anyway and needed a new plate. 

5.  Make a silly snowman.
Visit this website and have your students create a silly snowman. There are tons of choices and the students have a blast making them. (To avoid choruses of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" use the word *make* or *create.* OR: Go all in and ask them the question.)

6.  Make a candy cane reindeer.
These are adorable! To encourage students to use their reindeer as an ornament rather than a snack, I recommend giving students another candy cane to eat.

7.  Write a letter to Santa.
There are tons of templates online that students can use to write their letter. If you want to go the extra mile, grab an envelope to decorate and/or address to Santa.

8.  Make peppermint fudge.
Use this really simple recipe to make tasty, no-bake peppermint fudge in the classroom. You can even print out recipe cards on cardstock and give them to students to take home. (Bonus: no one's hands touch the fudge!)

9.  Open me.
Wrap a book to read to the class. It can be a new book, or any book that your class hasn’t read this year. This is one of the most anticipated surprises because students can see the wrapping paper and are always itching to rip it open.

10.  Go outside and use chalk to build a sidewalk snowman.
Since we typically don’t have enough snow outside to make a real snowman, I like to have my class use chalk to draw them instead. They have a blast choosing accessories for their snow people. 

11.  Build a mini fire and roast mini marshmallows.
We use small pieces of cardstock and different colors of construction paper to make tiny fires. When students finish they come get a toothpick and a mini marshmallow to “roast” over their fire. 

12.  Draw a portrait of Santa.
One more Pinterest project. Check out these easy steps to draw a picture of Santa. Even kids who always say, “I can’t draw that!” are able to follow the steps. Every Santa turns out different and adorable!

13.  Make a marshmallow man or woman.
Give a rounded square shape to your students and have them create a marshmallow man or woman. Encourage them to add some wintery accessories like scarves, hats and mittens.

14.  Design a wintery bookmark
Cut pieces of blue cardstock or construction paper into bookmarks. Let students decorate them using white and silver pens or crayons. When they’re done, sprinkle the bookmarks with glitter to really winterize them.

15.  Have a silent snowball fight
I’ve done this two different ways. I’ve had students make and throw imaginary snowballs and I’ve had them throw cotton balls. They’re both entertaining and get students out of breath quickly.

Just typing up this idea has me anticipating the last 3 weeks before Winter Break!!


Sunday, October 19, 2014

It’s a Scarecrow Fashion Show!

This is one of my favorite bulletin board ideas. A few years ago I’d been looking for a new way to involve parents in our class’ hallway display for November. I’d searched for hours and couldn’t find inspiration. I told Ann Marie about my predicament and she helped me come up with a killer idea. A scarecrow fashion show! I made a basic scarecrow template (both big and small) to send home with all of my students along with this note. I sent it during the second week of October and set the due date a few days before I would set up the bulletin board. I hung up some stage lights to showcase the scarecrows. As a really fun addition, I found some crows to fly by and gave them cameras to hold for our very own paparazzi. My class loved seeing their creations in the hallway and as parents came to school for our parent-teacher conferences they stopped to check out their kid’s handiwork in the hallway.

I liked the board so much that I did it again this year and I still love it! (So do the kiddos!) Check out the creative scarecrows the class made this year.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Book We Adore!

Have you ever adored a children’s book so much you couldn’t wait to share it with someone? This happens to me often and I usually end up sending an email about it, walking the book over to another teacher’s class or sharing on planning time. But sometimes I wish I could share it with all of the kids, teachers and parents that pass by my room each day too! I created a unique way to share these fabulous books called “A Book We Adore.” Each month I display a book cover (or a picture of the cover) on my door. (Did you see our Book Bite last week for this book? We can't get enough of Bob Shea!)
I also write a few words about the book (like a mini review), which will allow passersby to quickly read about it. I include small cards with the title and author, so those interested can remember the book for library check-out or purchase from a store or school book order. Some publishers or authors have fun printables on their websites to accompany the book you’ve chosen. You can print those as well and hang some copies on your door.
If you love books like I do, you may find yourself changing out your display more than once a month! Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship

We love this book!
We used it at the start of the school year last year and had so much fun we are using it again this fall! It’s an adorable story about an apple named Mac and his unlikely friendship with a worm named Will. There’s game-playing, bullies and an irresistible happy ending. After reading the book, we do different writing activities like “I am a good apple because…” or “A good apple never…”. We also do a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast a friend and a bully and a web containing the qualities of a good friend. This book is an easy way to introduce the rules of your classroom, as well as ways to be a good friend. As a final treat, serve apples and gummy worms!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Bite #2- Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great

Last week we shared Book Bite #1 based around Alex Latimer’s, Lion vs. Rabbit. Now it's time to share Book Bite #2! This time we focused on Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea. (Have you ever visited his Twitter account? He's hilarious!)

I snagged this book last year and have been sharing it with people as often as I can. This must-read book has a goat, a unicorn, jealousy, friendship, talents and adventure all rolled into one hysterical tale. You've got to check it out! How can you resist the adorable illustrations?? (Does Goat's expression remind anyone else of McKayla Maroney's "not impressed" face after she won the silver medal?)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Quick and Easy Fall Art

In the last couple of years, fire safety codes made it mandatory to take down anything hanging from the ceiling of our classrooms. What? No more swirly ghosts or colorful clotheslines? Tragic. Bound and determined to simulate the clothesline look, Erin and I have hung one flat against our obsolete chalkboards. To help prevent sagging, we added magnets to the back of our clothespins. It’s not perfect but it’s a clothesline, darn it! We created patterns for leaf people and scarecrows. Easy to print, copy and assemble. Provide a sample for your students. The scarecrow shirts are just the triangle pattern, traced on a variety of scrapbook paper. Enjoy!

Book Bites

Every time a new book is released I try to rationalize why I need it for my classroom. Does it fit into the curriculum or any of my existing units of study? If the book doesn’t fit but it’s really amazing, I buy it anyway! Then I create activities around the book, so it isn’t just read quickly and shelved. I call them Book Bites and I’m really excited to share them.

Here’s Book Bite #1 based around Alex Latimer’s hilarious, Lion vs. Rabbit.

If you enjoyed this Book Bite, check out Book Bite #2 based around Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great, by Bob Shea!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guess My Vacation

Save trinkets and treasures from your summer vacation for this back-to-school guessing game. Collect small items that represent the place or places you visited this summer, like shells, postcards, salt-water taffy, key chains, magnets, etc... Decorate a gift bag or lunch bag like ours. 

For kindergarten through second grade we call the game “Guess My Vacation.” For third through fifth, we call it “Guess My Vacation Location.” You can print the label appropriate for your grade level.

Fill the bag with some items from your vacation, plus a sealed envelope containing the name of the place you vacationed. Pull out one item at a time. Ask the class to use their inference skills and guess where you might have gone by looking at each item. Make a list of their guesses. After all items have been removed from the bag, open your envelope to show the answer.

Teachers of third to fifth grade can use trickier items like a picture of the continent where the vacation was located or a postcard of its native animals. Students can guess using the 20 questions method. “Was your vacation in the Northern Hemisphere?” “Was your vacation below the equator?” “Was the climate tropical?”  “Were their mountains?”

As a follow-up, send home paper lunch bags with each student. Have them adhere a label like ours to the front of their bags or let them decorate it themselves. Also give them envelopes and an index card or scrap of paper to write and seal up the answer. Ask them to gather a few small items that represent where they went or what they did on their summer vacation. If any students didn’t go on a vacation, encourage them to cut magazine pictures or draw pictures to show a place they would like to visit.

In a few days, the students will return to school with their bags in hand, ready to play “Guess My Vacation!”

Monday, August 25, 2014

Graphing All Year

Student surveys are one of my favorite things to do. It’s really fun to see the similarities and differences among my students. Often you’ll even see new bridges built and friendships formed after students make their choices. 

The format of conducting surveys in my room has changed from year to year. I’ve had students place clothespins with their names onto a sign to display their choice. I’ve done TONS of graphs on my SMARTBoard. I’ve even had students fill in over-sized graphs that you can wipe off and reuse.

However, my favorite kinds of graphs are the ones that you can keep all year. Sometimes I even have my students write their names to make the bars on the graph to create a permanent record of their choices. They are great conversation starters and it’s entertaining for the students to look back at surveys from the beginning of the year to see how their opinions have changed.

This year we combined all of our favorite surveys into one unit on Teachers pay Teachers. Graphing All Year is a student-centered collection of 40 printable graphs that pose thought-provoking questions, 4 per month, to last the school year. (No more trying to think of surveys last minute! Hallelujah!)

The graph topics have students discussing their opinions and debating their feelings on food, animals and more! After completing each survey, you can use the blank graph at the end of the product with the matching number of categories to allow students to transfer the data into another form (e.g. tally marks or picture graphs).

I love to combine my completed graphs into a class graph book or display each graph on my math board. These graphs are a perfect teaching tool for tallies, totals and comparisons. To crank up a higher level of thinking, students can also use the surveys in a supported forum to discuss their choices and construct arguments to persuade others.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tweet, Tweet

Ann Marie Stephens
Guess who joined Twitter! Ann Marie now has a twitter page that you can follow to hear some first grade funnies, get frequent updates on great books, and introduce you to new authors you're sure to love.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Jump on the Reading Train

We are always looking for creative ways to involve our parents in the classroom. Many cannot volunteer consistently and are looking for those one-time events, while some parents cannot get in at all. We have put together a list of many opportunities for parents with our Jump on the Reading Train letter.

We provide a variety of ten options for getting involved without having to make a big commitment. You will love the posters, pictures, books, videos and visits that appear after sending home this letter, and your students will feel proud to share their experiences. If you get enough items, you can even make a bulletin board or hallway display. We have a lot of Spanish speaking students in our classrooms, so we send home a Spanish version as well. Have fun, and let us know if you have other ideas we can add to our list!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Back to School Sales

It's that time of year again. Time to kick it into high gear for back to school! Since it’s “Tax Free Weekend” in Virginia, which I count as one of my favorite holidays, I’ve been running around to stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Office Depot, Staples, Michaels, AC Moore, etc. scooping up some awesome deals. This week also marks the beginning of my obsessive price checking on back to school supplies. How much are glue sticks at Target? Are they really four for $0.25 at Office Depot this week? (YES!) Will Crayola crayons get down to 25 cents a pack again this year? What are the Staples penny deals?

But there’s one more sale I always look forward to! Last year Ann Marie and I opened our store on Teachers pay Teachers and have had a good time adding products to our listings.

We’ve made lists of our favorite Can’t Miss Books for each month (that you can snag for free), 
shared our fun Reward Coupons for Positive Behavior,
revealed our new way to utilize the Content Word Wall,
and much more. The time has come for it all to go on sale! That’s right, it’s the Teachers pay Teacher Back to School Sale!

You know those items you’ve been drooling over for months and maybe even put them on your Wish List? They could be up to 20% off during this sale! The site wide (seller permitting) sale runs on Monday and Tuesday. However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed a sale and kicked myself over it, so we’re going to extend ours until Thursday! If you’ve never visited our store before, you should at least check out “Make Each Day Special.” It's one of our Top 10 End of the Year Traditions and it’s FREE! We use it every year in our classrooms and it’s got some great ideas you can use at home with your own kids as a way to celebrate the end of summer vacation.

What are your favorite ways to gear up for the beginning of the school year?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Whole Class Scrapbook Calendar

As part of our morning routine, my first graders and I always reflect on the previous day and what made it special. Sometimes we remember a fun craft or a visitor. Other days it might be a cool science experiment. Then 1 or 2 students volunteer to make a picture (draw or cut out of scraps) or we find a sticker to represent our special memory. Then we put the picture or sticker onto the proper square of a large desk calendar. Finally we add a quick comment or short phrase. When the month is over the page is full of exciting memories. We tear off and laminate each month so we can guarantee they will last for the year! My students love reminiscing on each month as it passes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Question for Self-Reflection

I was doing my nightly rounds through Pinterest (I love summer vacation!) when I stumbled across a blog I’d never visited before. As I read a few of her posts, Pernille Ripp asked this question “Would you like being a student in your own classroom?” What a profound question! I had never really thought about this before. Yes, I’ve tried to put myself in my students’ shoes before, but never had I considered how I would feel if I were a fulltime student in my classroom. As I make my grand plans for the school year I will keep this question in mind. To help myself to remember, I made this sign.
I hope, upon deep reflections, my answer will be a booming “YES!”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Traveling Library

Each week, my students create class books. They are usually about a subject we are studying or a response to a book we have read. Here are some of the books that we make. Every student contributes a page, we add a front cover and then we staple or bind the book together. Each book is put into the bucket we call our “Traveling Library.” 
Each day as we leave for lunch, we grab the library to take to the cafeteria with us.  When the students finish eating, they entertain themselves with a good book. The rules of the Traveling Library are taped to the outside of the bucket. We use these:
    1.  Choose only one book at a time.
    2. Read quietly.
    3. Take good care of the books.
    4. Have fun!

We add books to the library all year. The students are always proud to publish and enjoy having the chance to read their books every day.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Classroom Job Chart Makeover

Last year, when the school year started, I pulled out my same old job chart. It was faded, dusty and didn’t have every job I needed. I looked through catalogs and couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I made my own. It’s clear, easy to print and even easier to change as new jobs develop and others become irrelevant. If you need to renovate your job chart, you can find ours on Teachers PayTeachers. Let us know if you need a job we don’t have and we’ll create it for you! 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Research Sheets

It's never too early to learn basic research skills. Our first graders use these easy, one page sheets to explore new locations and favorite animals. To help understand the process in the beginning, our class completes one or two together. We begin by reading several books about our chosen subject. We record interesting facts or random details either in our journals or on sticky notes. When we feel well informed, we begin filling in our research page. Upon completion, I model how to present the final research, so when your students complete these as individuals, they feel confident in their sharing.

Not a teacher? Print them for your own child and research your beloved family vacation spots and the animals found there. 

Note: The sheets are intended to be printed on legal size paper. Here are the Word documents so that you can edit them if you’d like.

Enjoy learning unique and exciting things!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Refresh and Renew

Another school year has come and gone. This one most certainly came in like a lion and left like one too! Experience has taught us that we must reclaim our lives as soon as summer begins. Forget about the grading, the grueling hours of planning and the griping (our own and others)! To counteract our elevated stress levels, we’ve devised the perfect plan. It begins with a drink
Now, settle into a comfortable chair, in a location you love and just let go. William Wordsworth once said, “Rest and be thankful”. We plan to do both, because soon enough we’ll be back at it again. Stay tuned for new ideas, and let us know what you are doing this summer!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Student Autograph Books

Send your students off for summer with memories of their classmates by making autograph books. Create your own cover or print ours (personalized for each grade, K-5) and staple it to a couple of pages. During the last week of school, designate a special “Sign Time” where your students take turns writing good-bye messages and signatures for each other. Make sure to sign every book yourself!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Motivation Station

Keep students motivated for the final month of school with our Motivation Station. Cover a table or extra desk with an inexpensive tablecloth, and then place a variety of items on the table such as markers, colored pencils, notepads, stickers and envelopes. At the end of each day, announce the names of students who have been thoughtful and responsible throughout the day. The next day, make time for those students to spend 15-20 minutes at the station creating artwork or making a card for someone special. Keep a record of the students who earn visits to the station so that you can encourage those who have not yet earned the privilege. The Motivation Station gives students the push they need toward good behavior at the end of the year. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Writing Journals

Sometimes we worry that our students will forget everything we have taught them over the summer. To try to prevent this from happening, we prepare summer writing journals and distribute them as parting gifts. To make your own, copy and bind pages topped with a variety of writing prompts, such as, “I finally learned how to…”, “The best thing I did with my family this week was…” and “A great movie I just saw was…”. Alternately, you can glue journal prompts to the tops of pages in a composition book and add a cute cover to the front. These give our students support and encouragement to journal over the summer and confidence in their writing.