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!

Tips and Tools For Setting The Rules

When it comes to creating my classroom rules I follow three pieces of advice I received when I first began teaching:

Tip 1.  Write the rules with your class, so that you have student buy in.  This does not mean that the students write the rules.  It simply means that as a class you discuss what the rules should be. Ultimately you are able to guide and re-word students' ideas so that they match the rules you need and want in your classroom.  

Tip 2.  Make sure that your rules are written in a positive way.  I make sure that I write my rules so that they state the action students will do, versus actions we don't want to see in the classroom. For example I would write "we will respect one another" versus "we will not be mean".  The second example uses the behavior we want to eliminate from our class, so the first step in eliminating it is not writing it down.  I know it sounds a little silly, but it works.

Tip 3.  Have five rules or less.  We follow 4 rules in my classroom, they are simple and to the point.  This way students don't have too many rules to remember.

On the first day of school I tell the class that we will spend a lot of time together this school year.  I explain that we want to have a wonderful year, and that we need some rules to make sure that everyone is comfortable and happy.  I then ask them what the rules should be.  Students raise their hands, and I write all of their ideas on the board.  After everyone has been heard, I point out that a lot of the rules are very similar. Then I tell them that we can combine similar rules into one rule.  We then begin to construct the actual 4 rules that I need in my room.

Here are the four classroom rules my class usually ends up with: 

1.  We will act appropriately.
2.  We will respect ourselves and others.  
3.  We will keep our hands, feet, and objects to ourselves.  
4.  We will remain in our seats unless we have permission to leave them.

I teach second grade, so we do discuss the meaning of the word appropriately and the word respect.  This is usually easy, because my students have just had a discussion where they gave examples of behaviors they wanted (or didn't want) to see in the room.  You would be surprised how well students know appropriate school behavior from inappropriate.

When I first began using the rule "we will act appropriately", I was nervous that it was too general.  Now, I love it because it covers everything.  I do not need a separate rule saying "we will walk in the hallway" because that is appropriate school behavior.

Rule #4 "we will remain in our seats, unless we have permission to leave them"  may sound a bit harsh.  The reality is that in a classroom there are times when students need to stay in their seats.  We follow the CHAMPS procedures in my classroom so I am careful to adjust the movement sign when students do have permission to move around freely.  
We write these rules the first day of school, and go over them each day during the first week of school.  When we come back from holiday break we once again spend a lot of time reviewing our rules.


So, what are the consequences when the rules are not followed?  In my room we have something called Friday choices the last 20 minutes of the day on Fridays.  It is a wonderful reward that my students look forward to.  It's 20 minutes of free choice time.  I have board games, thinking games like a Marble Run and PicassoTiles, and art activities for my students to choose from.  I also have a chart on one of my bulletin boards with each child's name on it.  I laminate it, and attach a vis-a-vis marker to it.  If a child breaks one of our rules, they give themselves a check.  For each check a child receives, they lose one minute of Friday choices.  My students LOVE choices, and because it's a reward that they want, most students work hard not to lose any of it. 

In the past I have taken time away from recess.  The problem with that is your most active students need recess to run around and get rid of their extra energy.  Taking away part of their recess time, can end up making them more hyperactive.  It's a fine line, and you will discover what works best for you and your class.

I also let students know if the misbehavior is bad I will call home, (and I do).  If the consequence is severe enough they will also have to meet with our principal.  The principal may then want to meet with their parent.  Finally, I remind students that if the action is truly severe it may result in a school suspension or expulsion.  I go over all of the consequences with my students the first day of school as well.  Most students will never have a behavior severe enough to warrant the final consequence, but they need to know that it exists.

I hope that you've found my tips helpful!  Do you have any rules or consequences that really work for you?  Please share them in the comments section below.

Organization In The Classroom!

Organization, organization, organization.  You truly cannot be too organized as a teacher.  We share our work space with many little hands, receive forms that must be passed on, notes from parents that must be answered, not to mention the many papers we collect from students which must be graded and returned.  Here are some tips I use in my room to stay organized.

1.   Invest in hanging files.  When I began teaching, I had a plan to organize my files.  I purchased hanging file folders, and regular file folders.  I was shocked, however, to find filing cabinets without rails to actually hang files from. Hopefully your school's filing cabinets will have rails. If they don't, however, hanging file rails like these Adjustable Smead Hanging File Folder Frames are a must.  They are easy to assemble, and sturdy enough to take with you if you switch schools or classrooms.  I use hanging files themselves separated by subject (math, reading, writing, science, and social studies), and then file folders to separate my actual lessons.  This system helps me from year to year.  If a lesson is good, or if student work samples are excellent I save them from year to year to show future students.  When you're teaching an amazing lesson, it's hard to imagine that you would ever forget the way you put it together.  Trust me, you will.  By saving your work you always have a go to place.  In addition, I recommend having a substitute drawer filled with ready made worksheets.  This way, when you get sick and realize you have to make sub plans for the next day, you can simply pull what you need and get home to rest.

2.   Bins, bins, and more bins.  Truly we use bins for everything!  I use bins in my library to organize books.  I use bins to collect student work.  I even use a set of  5 stackable bins to organize papers for the week. Invest in sturdy inexpensive bins for collecting student work, and storing papers.  Garage sales, and clearance aisles are great places for finding used office trays.  They clean up well, stack together, and usually look the same.

3.   Use Friday to prepare for the week ahead.  I am always more energetic on a Friday, probably because I am looking forward to the weekend.  Like most people, I like to leave work right on time on Friday afternoon.  So, I use my extra energy on
Friday to prepare for the week ahead.  It's a terrible feeling to come into work on Monday with lesson plans that are half way completed.  The only thing worse, is having to cut your weekend short on Sunday night to plan for the next week.  I come into work on Friday morning with a to do list, and I make sure I complete it - even if I have to cut my lunch short.  My Friday to do list usually looks like this:

1.  Write next week's parent newsletter.
2.  Update next week's school blog (I actually just cut and paste directly from my parent newsletter).
3.  Write next week's lesson plans, and submit them to my principal.
4.  Xerox copies of next week's newsletter, homework assignments, tests, and any worksheets I know I'll need after I finish writing next week's lesson plans.
5.  Organize any copies I've made into five stackable bins on my window sill (one for each day of the week).

This list contains a lot, but most of the items are related.  I find that a lot of the same information
goes into my parent newsletter, my blog and my lesson plans.  Plus, on Fridays, I always have the motivation to get it done.  I enjoy my weekends, and come into work on Monday mornings refreshed, and knowing exactly what I'm going to teach.  The best part is, I never have to wait in line at the copy machine on Monday morning!  If this is too much for you to accomplish on a Friday, try starting on your to do list on Thursday.  If there happens to be no school on a Friday, I move my to do list to the last work day of that week.  Trust me, it's so nice not to have these things looming over your head during the weekend.

4,   Keep up to date with your grading.  Yes, there is always something to grade.  You will come up with systems that work well for you, when it comes to grading.  For specific time saving tips on grading, check out this blog post.  The most important thing to remember is always stay up to date.
That means that each week you need to enter at least one grade per student, for each major subject that you teach.  I know that my principal likes to see two grades entered per week in core subjects like math and reading.  That does sound daunting at first, but there are tips to make that easier.  In general, when I plan for the following week I usually pick one major reading assignment (like a test), and one minor reading assignment (like a guided reading, or homework grade).

Try to get as much grading done at work as possible.  One time saving tip I use for grading I take home, is scheduling it.  Doctors visits, hair appointments, anywhere I have to sit in a waiting room become planned grading time.  If you know that you will be sitting in your car on Tuesday afternoon waiting to pick your son up from soccer practice, make sure you grab a stack of papers to bring with you.  If you have to get your oil changed on Thursday, don't leave work without this week's writing essays.

5.    Honor yourself at work, have a set spot in a closet for your personal items.  Find a spot, preferably one that you can lock (or buy a lock for), just for your things.  We move quickly, and the day truly flies by.  You want a spot where you know you can find your purse, phone, coat, etc.  Don't leave your cell phone out - you will lose it. I never misplace my purse, coat, or phone because there is only one place I ever keep them.

What Happens When TPT Hits Vegas!

 So, What Happened in Vegas?

I had a blast, learned a ton, and met so many amazing teacher bloggers and authors!

As a teacher blogger I write my blogs from home.  Writing from home is fun, however, it can feel isolating at times.  It is great to link up with other teacher bloggers for projects.  Most of the time, however, I do not get to meet the people I'm partnering with.  Needless to say, I look forward to the times when I do get to meet other teacher bloggers!  This past week, many teacher bloggers were able to come together in Las Vegas for  the second annual Teachers Pay Teachers Sellers Conference.  It was fabulous!

I met so many amazing teacher bloggers at several different meetup events.  The first meetup I attended was the 2015 Splashbash.  We met poolside at the cabanas, and needless to say it was a blast! 

The actual conference lasted two days and during that time I learned so much.  I discovered tips and tools that I hope will allow me to provide even more value to my readers, as well as purchasers of my TPT products.  Here are pictures of just some of the amazing people I was able to meet over my time in Las Vegas.

Finally, I was on vacation in Las Vegas!  I took time to relax, unwind and have some fun!  There  is a lot of good food in Las Vegas, so I also ate at some great restaurants.  I had a great trip and I cannot wait to put all of my new knowledge to use.  I also cannot wait to see everyone again next year!  Thank you TPT for this amazing event!

Do you want to hear about other great experiences teacher bloggers had in Vegas?  Then click here to view more blogs about it!

How to Plan Your Daily Teaching Schedule

There truly is an art to planning a great daily schedule for your class.  Here are a few tips that you want to keep in mind.

1.  Build in breaks for students to stand up, and move.  Students become restless, just as adults do.  While we're teaching, we constantly get to move.  Our students, however, do not.   Remember to schedule bathroom breaks, center time, or any activity which involves movement after activities
which require sitting.  Sometimes, I simply tell my students to stand up and stretch if we've been doing an activity for too long.  It helps, however, if you incorporate the breaks into your daily schedule.

2.  Plan how you will break up your literacy and math blocks.  I love the fact that school's now have long literacy and math blocks.  The difficulty, however, comes when these breaks are not appropriately planned out.  Teaching primary students, I find that 30 minutes is a good length of time for individual activities.  Sometimes, you can let high engagement activities go a little longer, or end a low engagement activity a little sooner.  I typically break my daily 2 hour literacy block up like this:

30 minutes for morning meeting and my literacy lesson.
30 minutes for students to work independently on an activity that goes with that day's literacy lesson.
Bathroom break
30 minutes for centers/guided reading time.
30 minutes for independent reading.  (We build up to the full 30 minutes, but I schedule it in from the beginning).

By breaking my literacy block up I have plenty of time to diversify my activities - Writer's workshop, reader's workshop, etc.  Typically I'm able to get my RTI work in during part of independent work, if I work very quietly I can also use part of independent reading time for it.  I also have the ability to rotate through various center activities throughout the school year.  In other words, I can keep the learning fresh while maintaining a lot of structure.

Here is a copy of last year's schedule that my class followed.

3.  Science and Social Studies.  If you teach a self-contained class this time should be structured in, but will look different during various times of the school year.  Typically I use the same block of time for both and spend two days on Science and three days on Social Studies each week.  Some weeks, I flip this and spend two days on Social Studies and three days on Science.  It just depends on what we have going on as a class.  In general, I find that the best way to teach Social Studies is through incorporating it into the curriculum.  During our Native American unit for example, we are reading, writing, and creating art projects about what we are studying.  This way, I'm able to cover more material without stressing out over lack of time.  It also makes the projects more fun for my students. My Native American bundle is a good example of a lesson that incorporates Social Studies directly into the curriculum.

4.  Be Flexible.  I cannot stress this enough.  It's great to have an awesome schedule that we want to follow each day.  The reality, however, is that we teach children.  There will be things that will have to alter your schedule.  A child will get sick, there will be an assembly, you will be called to an IEP meeting.  Have a great schedule, but be flexible when it has to change.

5.  Have a time when Students can be pulled from class.  The first week of school, special education providers will begin asking you for the best time they can pull students from your class. This is tricky, because you don't want any students to miss important learning time.  This can be stressful your first few years of teaching.  I generally allow students to be pulled during center time or independent work time.  This way, the student who needs to be pulled is not missing an actual lesson.  I can then meet with the special education teacher and make sure the necessary work is still completed.  Also, make sure that if the child is pulled during guided reading time you are still meeting with that child at another time.

By having a plan for each minute of the day you will find that your students are more comfortable, learn more, and behave better.  You will also feel more confident in your teaching with a solid routine.

Classroom Decor - How To Look Fabulous Without Spending a Fortune

My first piece of advice is to pay attention to the amount of money you spend on your classroom. Seriously, money adds up - fast!

There will be so many activities and real needs that will come up during the school year that will be important. You do not want to put yourself in a situation where you can't afford to pay for something you truly need for your class down the line, because you splurged in August.

With that in mind, here are some tips for having a truly FABULOUS classroom on a budget.

1.    Go into your classroom and see what's there.  I know this seems like a no brainer, however, once you see that first back to school commercial, it is so easy to get caught up in the excitement. I've been teaching for years now, and I still have to stop myself from spending too much money when I go into a teacher's store.

Once you have your job, ask to see your classroom.  Inspect the cabinets, drawers, and closets.  You will truly be surprised by all of the little goodies teachers leave behind when they retire, or move to a new school.  The alphabet wall chart I currently use was a gift from a retired teacher, and less money that I had to spend.  I received metal mailboxes from a teacher who moved to a new district.  Sometimes soap, a bucket, and a little elbow grease can restore materials you think are unusable to almost new condition.

*  If you are filling in for a maternity leave, please contact the actual teacher before you begin using any of her materials.  Most of the time she will want you to use her materials, because it means less work for her when she returns later in the school year.

2.    Find out what the school provides.  Be specific in your questions - ask if a school supply list was sent home with families already, and if so get a copy of it (you do not need to buy classroom scissors, if they are on the list as a school supply for families to provide), ask the school if they have fadeless or background bulletin board paper, borders to decorate your board, or a supply room which you have access to.  Find out if the school has die cuts, or even better, a computerized machine which will cut images and letters for you.  Finally, find out if your school has a laminator (with paper, that works) that you have the ability to use.  It never hurts to ask, because you do not want to spend money on items, or services that the school will be purchasing or providing for you.

3.   Make a list of actual decoration and classroom supplies you will need.  Do NOT head to the store yet, simply make your list of everything you want.  A good back to school list for a first year teacher should look something like this:

Organizers or bins to hold shared classroom resources
Fadeless paper, felt or fabric for bulletin boards
Desk tags
Name tags for the first day of school,
A welcome back to school poster or sign
1 or 2 pocket charts
Alphabet letters in print or cursive
A large wall calendar
Die cut designs to indicate classroom jobs, centers, etc.
Classroom carpet
An easel
Fluffy pillows for your classroom library
Bins and bookshelves for your classroom library
Decorative anchor charts
Other knick knacks that are important to you.

4.  Write a DonorsChoose grant for large items your school does not provide.  If you find yourself in need of a classroom carpet, or a kidney table - do not stress.  Go to and write a grant.  It's a lot simpler than it sounds, and by writing a grant today you could very well have the product in your room this fall.  I LOVE Donorschoose and have written and received many grants over the years.  This is a must for all high ticket items, and great for bundling many medium priced items as well.

5.  Talk to teachers and retired teachers you know.  Things like felt and fabric can be used in place of bulletin board paper and can often be found in grandmother's closets, basements, etc. The best pillows I've used in my classroom libraries have been old throw pillows people in my family no longer used or wanted - garage sales are also great for items like these.  You never know what you might find.

6.  Check out eBay first for standard materials you'll need. Every year retired teachers post great classroom materials for sale on eBay. Often times, the materials have NEVER been used.  Take advantage of this!  Take your list and head over to eBay and see what you can find.  My favorite eBay classroom purchase was my handy dandy electronic timer.  I use it everyday, and paid so little for it.  *hint:  Avoid shipping directly to the school - boxes have a way of being misplaced or disappearing especially over the summer when the building has less traffic.

7.  Identify what is left, and comparison shop online.  Getting a room ready your first school year is exhausting.  Save money as well as energy.  You know what you want - use the internet to find out which stores offer it, and who has the best price.  Determine where you are going to shop. Finally, look into free shipping options.  Usually if you're purchasing enough materials it may be worth ordering online as well.  My worst first year shopping story:  I researched the specific item I wanted online.  Drove for over an hour to get to the specific teacher store which offered it and . . .you guessed it, the item was out of stock.  I drove over an hour to get back home and ended up ordering what I wanted online anyway.  I don't remember what the shipping fee was, but I know it was less than what I spent on gas that day.

8.   Once you begin purchasing items - Save all of your receipts!  Keep items unopened, or retain the original packaging until you absolutely know you are keeping them. Usually the weekend before the children return, I have 3 or 4 items I purchased and never used.  I push myself to return them, and am always surprised to see how much money I saved.  Here's another tip - if you open a product you're not sure will work in your space, do it carefully.  I find that by carefully placing an unused item  back into the original packaging and securing it as it was originally (usually stapled if it's from a teacher's store) it will be accepted as a return.

9.  Start a file for your receipts.  Your district will reimburse you up to a certain amount for items you purchase, and your PTA may even pitch in for some of it.  Both, however, usually require you to make the purchases first and submit your receipts later.  Finally, next year you must remember to deduct any non-reimbursed materials from your taxes.  If you can't find the receipts that is literally money thrown away.

10.   Do NOT spend money on posters for your room.  The
best anchor charts are hand made, and laminated.  I've spent money on the fancy ones, and most of the time they go unused.  Using the resources from TPT you can create some beautiful anchor charts that will be tailor made for your class!  Here are two links to amazing FREE resources on TPT.
Free Insert Your Own Picture On Monthly Calendar Cards
Free CHAMPS Poster


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