Tips To Enjoy Holiday Teaching

It's that time of year again, here are five tips to make them memorable with your class.

Take time for magical memories that have fallen off of our curriculum radar.  Remember, our job is to educate the whole child.  The activities listed below are cross curricular, and will create memories which will last a lifetime.

Have a snow day at school.  Pick a day when you know there will be snow, and schools will be open.  Let parents know in advance so students will dress properly to be outdoors and playing in the snow.  Then take your class outside for a nature walk, let them make snow angels, or build a snow man.  Bring them inside and read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

While your outside with your class, warm up water for Swiss Miss hot cocoa in your crock pot.  When you come back inside, let your students warm up with cups of hot chocolate.  It is a tradition I do once a year with my students, and they love it.  Exploring nature is hands on science for young children.  These are the memories students hold on to.

  • Write about your snowy day.  After reading the story and spending time outside, have students write about their own snowy day.  The memories will be fresh in their minds, and they can scaffold their writing off of the shared reading of the book.

  • Make snowy day scenes - Have students recreate what they saw outside by creating their own snowy day scenes.  They can use white glue on black construction paper.  Before the glue is dry have them sprinkle a little glitter on top.  These make the prettiest snowy day scenes.

  • Enjoy Poetry - Poetry may not be a huge part of the common core curriculum, but it is still very important to teach.  This is a great time of year to study the classic poem -  'Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore.  Here is the full lesson which includes the poem.  If you can, play some soft Christmas music in the background.

    • Writing with a purpose is the best form of writing.  'Tis the season for gratitude. Have your class write thank you notes to your office staff, the lunchroom staff, your custodian, the school engineer (who keeps the building nice and warm), the school principal, the assistant principal, room parents and classroom volunteers, crossing guards, the list goes on and on.  Assign 2 or 3 students to create a lovely thank you note, and card for each person.  Students can work together and peer edit to make sure their note is truly special.  Then they can design their own decorations.  It's a meaningful activity.  One that students, as well as those being thanked, will remember.


    For more fun December ideas, check out the blogs below:

    November Favorite Things

    This month I am linking up with Teaching Trio for their Favorite Things Linky.

    In November, as Thanksgiving approaches I always begin thinking of everything I'm grateful for.  So, without further ado, here are my three favorites for the month of November!

    • Gratitude  I cannot have a November post without publicly stating how grateful I am for all of my wonderful customers, and followers.  I am grateful to all of you, and you are officially my first favorite of the month!

    • My second Favorite thing is being able to share amazing resources for free.  This month my favorite freebie is my First Thanksgiving Pop up book.  I do hope you all enjoy it!

    • My third favorite thing this month is family and spending time with mine.  I am grateful to have my family and friends, and so happy to be able to spend time with them all.

    Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    Happy Native American Heritage Month

    November is Native American Heritage Month, and there are so many wonderful ways to learn about Native American heritage.  There are many museums throughout the country with authentic Native American exhibits.  One of my favorite exhibits is at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.  My class visits the Pawnee earth lodge each year for an authentic hands on tour of a real Pawnee earth lodge.  Before and after our visit, we continue our studies of Native American heritage. Here are five great ways you can do the same in your classroom.  

    •      Use Drama - Have your students write out skits, or use reader's theater to recreate important moments in Native American history.  One fun thing to recreate would be members of the Navajo tribe creating a code which allowed the American army to successfully communicate across radio waves during World War II.

    •      Create Dioramas - After studying Native Americans, have students create visual representations of their favorite Native American group.  Students can then share their dioramas with the rest of the class.

    •       Totem Poles - Since Totem poles were originally similar to family crests, have students create their own telling their family's story.   I recently wrote a blog describing how to have your students make this totem pole, feel free to read it here.

    •       Writing - Have students write a story about what daily life was like for a tribe or group of Native Americans.  Have students write a story describing the family totem pole they designed in the above example.  There are so many creative writing ideas that go along with a Native American unit.

    • Create Pop Up Books - I love having my students create pop up books of our studies.  They are another engaging way for students to read and write more about their studies.

    • For More Fun Ideas, check out my full Native American Bundle that provides rich informational text to help students learn more about four different Native American groups.  The bundle also allows them to create these beautiful pop up books.  

    For more interesting ideas, check out the blogs below.

    Celebrating Fall

    Fall can be so much fun!  There are so many ways to celebrate this season with your class.  I LOVE taking my class apple picking this time of year (and picking up fresh apple butter, and cider while I'm there).

    Before we go apple picking, we do so many things related to apples in the classroom.  We study how apples grow, we incorporate apples into our math lessons, and we read and learn about Johnny Appleseed.  Students really enjoy learning about the real John Chapman, and how he helped create the many apple orchards our country has today.  These are some of the cute pop up books my students created as part of our Johnny Appleseed lesson!

    Taking my class apple picking after studying all things apple is the best.  Students get to enjoy nature, and bring apples home which they can eat throughout the season.  It is a great first field trip of the school year.

    Students are often able to pick out a pumpkin as well.

    Whatever activities you decide to do with your class this fall, have fun and enjoy the season!

    For more fun October ideas, please check out the blogs below.

    Immerse Your Class Into The American Revolution

    One of my favorite units to study with my class has always been the American Revolution.  I love the history of this time, and courage it took to break away from England.  My passion is always caught by my students, but I still have to make sure that they all remain engaged.  Here are some tips:

    1.     Stress the boldness of the Declaration of Independence - It's difficult for students today to understand the true risk our founding fathers took by signing the Declaration of Independence.  Make sure they understand that had America not won, each man who signed the declaration knew they would be hung.  The declaration of independence was a declaration of war.

    2.     Incorporate Literature - To help students understand the mixed emotions of the time have them read a novel about the American Revolution while studying it in social studies.  American literature is rich with wonderful novels that take place during the American Revolution.  I use three novels at once (at three different reading levels) to make sure that all of my students truly benefit and feel as if they too are living in that period.

    3.     Incorporate Art and Drama - Nothing engages students like drama.  Over the years I have had students use Reader's Theater, or even write their own skits reenacting things like the Boston Tea Party.   Students also love art projects, here is an eight scene summary my students created after reading "My Brother Sam is Dead".

    4.     Incorporate Writing - Let your students know how important advertising was for building patriotism.  Find some of the ads from the revolutionary period, and discuss them.  Then have your students work in groups to create their own ads.  I've even had students create brochures to recruit members for groups like the Sons of Liberty.

    5.     Incorporate Movies - At the end of my American Revolution unit my students and I watch a movie about it.  There are so many to choose from - a fun modern dash through revolutionary history is Disney's National Treasure (the original). I do have to explain to my students there is not really a National Treasure.  They have fun writing down all the facts about American History they see in the movie, which we have learned about during our studies.

    If you'd like to view my full American Revolution unit click here.  Enjoy!

    Setting Procedures For A Successful Year

    It's coming, your first week of school with your new class.  What should you do?  Set your rules, and set your procedures.  Don't begin teaching a unit, don't delve into the common core just yet.  Instead, take the time to set the tone and build the community you want to continue throughout the school year.

    1.  All activities and lessons for the first week of school should be centered around learning the rules, learning the routines, and building community.  Everyone is nervous the first few days of school, even the teacher.  Taking the time to get to know one another is very important.  Students need activities to help them learn your name, and the names of all of their classmates. Students need to know when they can and cannot be out of their seats.  How to turn in their completed assignments, and the proper door to exit through in order to catch their school bus.  All of these procedures must be taught - by you. 

    One activity we do during the first week of school is practicing.  We practice lining up quietly, we practice pushing our chairs in when we stand up from our seats.  As adults it's so easy to forget that we had to be taught these simple things.  Even if you teach older students, they will still need to practice procedures which they did not need over the summer - like walking quietly in the hallway.  The first week of school sets the tone for the rest of the school year.  It's easy to overlook the fact that you need to teach your students how you expect them to line up, however, overlooking even the littlest things can lead to confusion later.  

    2.  Start the year with as much structure as possible.  You can always let go of some structure later in the school year.  Trying to add more structure later, however, is not easy.  Have as many procedures in place as possible.  Students want to know how things will work in your room, and introducing procedures to them will ease their nerves.  Let your students know when and how technology will be used in your room.  Show students where they should store their lunch boxes.  Teach your students how you want them to enter the classroom each morning, and what they should do once they come in.  One tip for figuring out what you'll need a procedure for is to mentally go through all of the activities your students will have during the day.  Then make sure you have a routine in mind for any activity that involves students being out of their seat.

    3.  Over plan for the first week of school.  I do not want a single minute that first week of school where I do not have an activity for my students to do.  To make sure I don't forget important things, I read over my plans each night before I go to bed.  I also keep a handy copy of my plans on my desk, just in case I need a last minute activity.  I know it sounds like a bit much, but believe me it is better to be over prepared than under.  

    What do the plans consist of?  Well, I make sure that I have a getting to know you activity each day for my students.  We also go over all of the rules and consequences at least once, but sometimes twice each day during the first week back at school.  We learn and practice our routine for morning meeting.  Each day I select a read aloud that focuses on back to school jitters, or back to school lessons my students need to learn.  I adore Kevin Henkes, and usually begin the year with Chrysanthemum, Wemberly Worried, and Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. Any books that focus on proper school behavior, and making friends, will work. Towards the end of the first week, or beginning of the second, we usually begin our first novel of the year.  My class continues our theme of making friends by reading Charlotte's Web.  I created this free Charlotte's Web lesson to go with the novel.

    4.  Introduce your students to your Language Arts routine.  Whether you're using a reading curriculum or teaching through balanced literacy, your language arts time will have a set routine.  Use the first days of school to teach students how your classroom library will work, and help students find their own just right books.  Teach students the behaviors you want to see during independent reading and writing time before your begin these periods in your classroom.  Then practice (I usually only allow students to practice independent reading time for about 10 minutes the first couple of days) and talk about how the reading or writing time went.  If things did not go the way you'd like discuss ways to improve upon it.  Once I'm ready to begin my language arts curriculum my students and I complete my Family Tree Lesson because students know a lot about their families, and it's a great way to begin our writing for the year.

    5.  Take your time.  The first days of a new school year are magical.  You have everyone's full attention - your students, and their families.  Take your time, and make sure you cover all of the important details.  Write a letter to your families that includes your homework schedule, ways they can contact you, fees, and volunteer opportunities (the first week of school you will have more families reading your communication than you may have for the rest of the school year, so make it count).  I do not begin teaching curriculum in any subject until the routines for that subject have been taught.  Do not try to teach a science lesson until your students understand how science tools are to be passed out, used, and collected at the end of the lesson.  Community building activities are great the first week of school  (like graphing the number of letters in our first names on the board).  Whatever your activities are, make sure you have a few high success ones that all students can do.  You want everyone to start the year feeling good about all subjects.

    I hope you find these tips useful.  If you have any first week of school tips, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

    How to Effectively Communicate with Your Students' Parents

    Good parent communication is a must for a successful school year.  There are so many ways to communicate today, which ones are the best to use for parent communication?  I recommend using different mediums for different types of conversations.

    •  Have a routine for mass communication - I like having a weekly overview that goes home with all students.  I write it on Friday, post it on my classroom blog and then send it home in student's folders each Monday.  It's important to have a consistent way of communicating with all of your families.  Parents, just like students, need to know what to expect.  I send home a paper copy in addition to posting it on my classroom blog.  I know it's not very green, but all families are not going to remember to go to my blog each week. 

    • The great thing about maintaining a classroom blog is you can also add pages for instructions for classroom projects, rubrics, even book order deadlines.  A lot of questions can be avoided with a central place for parents to go.  Even on Sunday night, Jimmy's parents can access the rubric for the project due tomorrow morning.

    • Use email for casual messages only - If I need to schedule volunteer hours, remind a parent about a missing form, or something minor - email is definitely the way to go.  It's quick and efficient, and convenient for both parents and myself.  If parents try to discuss something serious over email, I reply that I will be calling them to discuss the matter.  Email messages can easily be misinterpreted, or worse forwarded to others out of context.  Do yourself a favor - never discuss anything important over email.

    • Reach out to parents at the first sign of a difficulty - My philosophy is to nip things in the
      bud.  If you see that a child seems to be having trouble in reading or math, give the parent a call and set up a meeting. If a child is struggling with behavior issues, stop the parent at dismissal and set up a meeting.  It is better to reach out before there is a real problem.  By having a quick conference you can give the parent some tips or suggestions for things they can do at home.  They in turn, may have some tips for managing certain behaviors in the classroom.  One year for example, a mother explained that when her son had too much technology during the day he acted up. I was able to make a quick change to our schedule and never saw the inappropriate behavior again.  If you wait, the difficulty may only get worse.  In my experience, parents also appreciate hearing about academic problems before the first progress report goes home.  My general rule of thumb, if the child will be receiving a grade lower than a C - you need to schedule a conference.

    • Schedule face to face conferences for important conversations - When I have to discuss a serious matter with a parent I prefer to do it face to face.  When a child is having difficulty with a subject, or I'm concerned about something going on with a student - I pick up the phone and call home.  I let the parent know that I am concerned, and that I would like to have a conference.  I do NOT use email to communicate at this point.  I think it shows extra concern to take the time to go to the phone, and parents appreciate that.  A face to face meeting illustrates the importance of the matter, because both you and the parent are taking time out of your respective schedules.  This usually has a positive outcome as well.

    • There may be times when situations have already occurred, and you would prefer not to meet alone with a certain family.  That is when you ask your administrator to sit in on the conference with you.  Your administrator probably already knows about the situation, and if they don't they probably need to.  

    • I do not use my personal cell phone to call home.  I use the phone in the office.  Most parents recognize the school's number and pick up.  If I have to leave a message, and the parent calls back while I am teaching, the office will take a message.  In the past I have tried giving out my personal number.  Everyone does not go to bed at the same time, and it has resulted in my being awakened for very minor questions or to let me know that a child would not be at school the following day.  At this point in my career, I no longer give it out.

    • Field Trip Reminders - For simple field trip reminders I generally send a slip home with students in their folders the day before.  I can usually fit several reminders on one sheet of paper, so I don't have to make a lot of copies.  The Reminder app is also great for this as well, although it's rare that 100% of your parents will sign up for it.  If you do use the reminder app, remember to schedule the reminders around 5:30 or 6:00 pm. You want to be respectful of family time, and you don't want to disturb people too late in the evening.

    Five For Friday - July 31st

    To be on summer vacation this week has been busy!  

    My friend Lindsay Petlak is hosting a giveaway for four $50 target gift cards, and a few other fabulous TPT prizes.  You can enter it here:

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

    Teachers Pay Teachers announced that it's sale will be August 3rd and 4th.  Needless to say I'm planning on picking up several things for my classroom while everything is on sale.  Here is the code, in case you haven't gotten it yet.

    I finished and uploaded my newest lesson.  Hillary Clinton for For Kids:  Lesson and Pop Up Book.  I'm happy with the way it turned out!

    I spruced up a lot of older products on my store, it's always fun to make lessons better.

    I took time out over the weekend to celebrate my birthday!!  I had a fun time with family and friends.  Whew!  What a week!


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