Integrating the Iditarod in Your Classroom

If you have not introduced the Iditarod to your students, you are missing out! The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is a chance to integrate multiple subject areas into a unit that is sure to be a hit with your students. Below, we have outlined our top 10 activities that we do with our students in our classrooms. 

kwl1. KWL Chart

Before you begin to tell your students about the race, have them fill out a KWL chart. This is a great starting place to see the background knowledge that your students have. It also is a great lead into step #2 below. Click here or on the picture to download!

2. Serum Run to Nome Informational Text

The Nome Serum Run of 1925 is a gripping and compelling story of how the people of Alaska used sled dogs to get the serum to the people suffering from diphtheria in Nome. Click here to read more about this part of Iditarod history. This would be a great informational text activity where you could have the students read the passage and then cite evidence from the passage about the history.


This is a MUST visit website for your classroom. It has a wealth of information that your students will love to explore. Take some time to browse through the website and we are sure you will find many great resources to use! You can also have the students use the website for research on sled dog care, biographies of mushers, and so much more!

4. Video on Race

To get the students fired up about the start of the race, show a video of what the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is like. Try to find a clip of the prep before the race, the start of the race, what it's like on the trail, and the finish. Watch as your students are captivated by this amazing sporting event. Click here for a video that does a great job of describing what the trail is like and features many of the great mushers. It is over 40 minutes long, so pick the parts you want to show to your students.

5. Picking a musher

To make this experience more interactive, have the students pick a musher to follow before the race starts. Allow them to research the mushers, and pick the one that they think will win. We have even used snow boots and have typed the names out and put them in the boots for students to pick. See the next step for the fun you can have!

musherlog6. FREE Musher Tracker Sheet and Map!

Once your students have picked a musher, introduce the musher tracker sheet. This will be a great place for them to track the progression of their team along the trail! We have our students do this right away each morning. They simply go to and search for their musher and what place s/he is in. Then, on the back of the tracking sheet, we have a map of Alaska that they can draw in the checkpoints! Click here to download for FREE!

7. FREE Math Activity!

This activity contains 18 math problems about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in Alaska. There is also a teacher answer key included. Each problem is directly related to the Iditarod race. For example there are problems about: the best finishes, how many days it took to race for some mushers, the cost of the Iditarod, the Serum Run of 1925, the northern and southern routes, miles between checkpoints, costs of food and supplies, the weather, the speed of the teams, and more. You can find it for FREE by clicking here

8. Project Choices

Allowing your students a choice to do a project about the Iditarod can be a great way for them to express their learning in different ways. Here are some choices that we offer our students:

  • Create an acrostic poem
  • Write a song
  • Be a news reporter about the race
  • Create an old-fashioned newspaper about the Serum Run
  • Make up your own math problems involving the race
  • Write a report on the importance of dog care 
  • Draw and color a poster that could be used to advertise next year's race
  • Alaska: do a research report on this amazing state
  • or have your students come up with their own projects!

9. Daily Journals

Another fun activity would be to have your students keep track of a daily journal. There are a few ways your students could do this. The first way would be to journal about the musher they are following on the race. They could include: checkpoints visited, number of dogs remaining, any troubles they may have encountered, any time to stop and rest, and so on. Or they could write a fiction journal about a musher, or even a sled dog on the trail! Let their imaginations run wild with the second one!

10. Iditarod Party

Just like when the racers finish and celebrate, your class should also have a celebration as well! Some ideas we have used before are paw print cookies, "straw" berries, "ice" cream, and checkpoint cherries! Give out awards if you want, such as top finishing team, red lantern team, and so on.

Let the race for fun begin in your classroom!

If you liked all the above activities look for our comprehensive Idiatrod bundle that will give your students even more activities to do for this year's Iditarod! You can find it by clicking here

Reading Strategies that Work!

One of my favorite professional development books is Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Ann Goudvis (FYI Amazon has many used copies of this book for CHEAP and the Kindle version too!).  I read and reread this book my second year of teaching and it really resonated with me.  It presents 6 simple strategies that we can teach our students to drastically improve reading comprehension.  If you haven't read this book, I HIGHLY recommend that you do! It is filled with amazing shared reading lessons that you can use to explicitly model the 6 strategies. It's one of the books that will instantly improve your teaching!

When teaching reading strategies, I always started off with a shared reading lesson using a picture book (there is a great list of titles and lessons in Strategies That Work).  During these lessons I model the strategy and elicit responses from my students.  After two to three shared reading lessons, students would then practice using the strategy with instructional level text during guided reading.  Each student would use a laminated Strategy Card and sticky notes.  

We spend about 2-3 weeks on a strategy before focusing on a new one.  Once all six strategies are taught and practiced, the strategies are used in combination throughout the rest of the year.  After the initial direct-teaching phase of all the strategies, it's amazing how the students just "take off." They have such ownership over these strategies and are using them everyday; they become second nature to the students!

Another helpful tip is using visual cue for each strategy.  These posters are perfect for reminding students of the 6 strategies when they are reading independently or during guided reading.  You can download them for free {HERE}.

I made these posters to "match" the free ones I made for the Common Core Mathematical Practices, which you can grab {HERE}.

Fun Activities to Teach Idioms

I always look forward to teaching figurative language in my classroom, and idioms in particular. Students get such a kick (note the idiom here) talking about and learning new idioms and we really enjoy doing some fun activities to help kids build a stronger language base.

Here are seven different activities that reinforce idioms and have worked well in my classroom:
1. Draw Idioms (their literal and figurative meanings)
I like to put a list on the smart board or you could also give kids a list of idioms. After having students discuss these in pairs or small groups, we meet as a class to go over any idioms that they don't yet know. I pass out paper and kids choose an idiom, draw the literal meaning on one side (what it sounds like it means) and the figurative meaning on the other side (what it really means).
2. Do Charades with Small Groups
I give each small group of kids an idiom to act out in front of the class, while the class tries to guess the idiom shown. This is lots of fun and most kids enjoy the chance to ham it up in front of their friends.

3. Use Idioms as Part of a Class Discussion
This is great for those spare five minutes for transition times, right before recess or in between two big activities. I like to have a set of idioms on cards or you could do slips of paper. Then I pull out one of these randomly and we discuss it as a class. For example, we might discuss the idiom, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Is this true all of the time? Are there times when we should judge someone or something by the way it looks? If so, when? I really enjoy getting the kids so involved in discussions like this and it is amazing how passionate and how insightful kids can be at such a young age. Plus, while we're discussing, they're adding to their idiom repertoire!

4. Match Idioms with Their Meanings
After you have quickly made a set of idioms on one set of cards and their meanings on another set of cards, shuffle these and hand them out. Students can find their idioms match and then share out. You can also use this as an introductory activity if you'd like an easy way to randomly match pairs.

Another idea is to use these cards in a center or as a fast finisher activity, as a game of concentration.

5. Read Mentor Texts with Idioms
One of the teaching tools I use repeatedly in my classroom is mentor texts. No matter what the subject, these wonderful picture books can bring lessons to life and idioms are no different. Using a mentor text to introduce or to reinforce idioms is an activity your students will enjoy and is one they will remember. Here are a few books that I like to use:

6. Play Idiom Games Online
A quick Google search will help you find lots of interactive idiom games that your students will enjoy playing. Here are two that I think are particularly good:

7. Use Task Cards
Task cards work so well for so many concepts. They are great for teaching idioms too! You can use them at a center, for one on one practice (perfect for ELL kids), as a partner or small group activity, as a whole class lesson or a game of Scoot.

If you'd like a free set of 32 School Idiom Task Cards, click here to grab them at my TpT store.

Here are two more items you may be interested in:

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5 Ways to Hook Your Students Before the Lesson

Today we are going to learn about... blah... blah... blah.  Once students hear the words today we are going to learning about, a majority of them hear nothing but the blah...blah...blah.  That is why it's important to try to hook them before the lesson begins.  Peak their interest, allow them to think, get them talking, and engage them in what they will be learning about.

Guess the Topic

This is one of my favorite!  Before introducing the new topic, give students a collection of words related to the lesson.  Allow them to guess the topic they are about to learn about.  

Play a Game

That's right, play a game BEFORE you begin the lesson.  When choosing a game choose a game that activates students' prior knowledge.  For example, before beginning multiplying by multi-digit numbers we played a cooperative learning game called Ask-n-Switch to review the basic multiplication facts.  

Giving Scenarios

Highlight lesson objectives by giving students scenarios that require them to draw conclusions.  I like to use this activity when introducing problem/solution, cause/effect, inferences, and drawing conclusions.  I give students a scenario either verbal or a picture prompt similar to below.  Without telling them what they will be learning they respond.   After responses have been discussed they are amazed at how much they know.  

After responding to the picture/prompt below, students realized that they make inferences every single day!

Present a Challenge

I do this one A LOT in math.  Present students with a challenge.  For example, when introducing division I bring in gum.  I tell students how many pieces of gum I have, and it is their job to figure out how many pieces of gum each of them will get.  It's real life.  It's hands one, and it lays a foundation for what they will be learning. 

Scavenger Hunt

Provide students with clues about what they will be learning.  The clues can be actual objects or pictures of what they will be learning about.  

You may have an out of this world lesson planned, but unless students are excited or engaged in what they will be learning, success isn't imminent.  Try hooking them BEFORE the lesson!

Student Self Assessment with Writing and Strategy Groups

I don't know about you, but teaching and assessing writing is one of the hardest things we upper elementary teachers need to do.  We have students who still don't capitalize "I" and others and others who are ready to write literary essays with clear evidence, introductory clauses, and figurative language.  What's a writing teacher to do?

For me, using regular and QUICK demand prompts are a great way for me to accomplish a couple of goals (I love doing 8 minute prompts...we really stress writing "fluency"--and I expect them to be able to get enough writing done in 8 minutes to work with)...

1.  To keep a constant stream of formative assessment so I have an overall "feel" of my class as a whole.

2.  To take deficit areas to build minilessons.

3.  To help track specific data so I can pull strategy groups.

4.  To help students better understand what good writing is and to help them become more reflective about their own writing.

So  . . . last week, we did a writing prompt where I asked the students to reflect on the following five things.

I start off by having my students read through their piece with a colored pencil handy.  I ask them first to circle the first word of each sentence--and then we talk about what we notice.  In addition to recognizing whether or not we are using a variety of good sentence starters and transitions, we then use this time to check for end punctuation (circled in a new color) and capital letters.
 This is a good start...but then I had the students actually count the words in each sentence.  Why?  We have talked all year about creating a "rhythm" with our writing.  I like to use examples like this to explain what I mean:

I like ice cream,
It is cold.
There are lots of flavors.
You can use a cone or a bowl.
Ice cream is delicious.

Students always laugh a little when I read this aloud.  "We wrote like that in first grade!"  When I ask them WHY it "sounds" like first grade writing, they immediately tune in to the short, choppy sentences.  I give them some time to take those 5 sentences and improve them by adding details, sensory words, and so on.  They always create a piece of writing better than mine!  We then look to see if our sentences vary in length and structure or if it sounds "first grade" in their own mind.  Although we didn't do it this time, sometimes we then use this as the opportunity to revise our writing and make improvements.

We then worked ourselves through several more readings of our pieces, using different color pencils for each reading.  We circled descriptive words.  We underlined our topic sentences.  We checked for capitals on names and sentence beginnings.  We had some great discussions about what we noticed.
When I use these demand prompts for quick assessments, I use this simple rubric on the top to track student work.  A "3" means that I have complete confidence that they have control of a skill, a "2" means that they have partial control, a "1" means that they are experimenting with the skill, and a "0" means no evidence is present.  This is SO easy to track and to use to form strategy groups.

After assessing (and I really do "gut feeling" on these so I can get through my class relatively quickly), and I pick an area or two to pull strategy groups.  After doing the video game prompt, I had two strategy groups I wanted to work with--students who were not writing a topic sentence with quality descriptive details and a punctuation group for students who are still not "hearing" when end punctuation goes.  I keep a simple spreadsheet with this data and can look for growth and can easily look for my "0's" and "1's" in a given area.
Another way to use these demand prompts is to help students become more reflective about their own writing.  As you know, any time we ask students to assess their own work, the results are mixed.  But with that being said, the constant work with reading and discussing their writing, students get better and better at knowing what "grade level" work is and better at measuring their own work accordingly. you can see, we can get a lot of bang for our buck with short demand prompts.  8 minutes of writing--immeasurable teaching opportunities!  Want to try it?  I have a freebie example for you to try if you want...and then I have a bundle full of a BUNCH of other prompts, all with the same, easy-to-use rubric.  (Each of the sets in the bundle also is available separately.)  Just click the images to check them out!

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Organize Your Interactive Notebook With Math Menus

I am very selective of what interactive notebook activities my students complete, because they can easily take up too much time.  In the past, I have focused on having an interactive vocabulary notebook.  The students enjoyed the activities, and I loved how simple it was to manage.  The activities are short and focused.  I wanted to expand the choices of activities but also keep the organization. I thought - wouldn't it be cool if students could actually choose what activity they wanted to complete?  A kind of choice board for interactive notebooks.  So, I decided to use math menus!

What's so great about a math menu?  

  • They will help students stay organized!  They glue the math menu at the beginning of the notebook and know what to choose from. 
  • The page has a section for 6 activities your students can choose from.  Students LOVE choices and you can differentiate by adding activities that review and challenge students.
  • There is a rubric at the bottom that can be used to quickly grade the activities.  This will keep students accountable during math workshop.

How do I plan to organize the activities?

I have lots of these plastic containers and thought it would be perfect to put the activity choices in here.  If you purchase dry-erase labels you can change the name of the activity when you switch out the pages.  Sounds simple, right?

Add this station to your math rotations!

If you currently use a math workshop model, this is perfect to add to your rotations.  You can use the current interactive notebook activities that you have and edit the free math menu (download at the bottom).  You can also view the first set I just completed by clicking the image below.  

If you decide to give math menus a try, I'd love to hear about it!

5 Tips to Help Prepare for a Substitute Teacher

  • Unless you will be out for an extended absence, it is best to leave familiar activities that offer review or extensions of prior learning. This will be beneficial to both the substitute teacher and the students. 
  • Make plans for other staff members to check in throughout the day. Ask a neighboring teacher or grade level team member to stop by before school to see if the sub needs anything. Also, request the guidance counselor visit the class if you have any students you anticipate will feel anxious in your absence or misbehave.
  •  Consider ditching your normal behavior plan for the day. You know your class best, so this is a decision you should base on the cohort you work with. In my experience, though the kids always act a bit differently when a sub took my place. As a result, the subs would "overuse" the behavior system and children would become upset. Instead, provide the sub with a class list and ask her to put a tally next to a child's name if she needs to address the child. Make the children aware of this ahead of time. The accountability should be more effective than the usual plan. Just be sure to review this ahead of time with the class.
  • Include a personal, hand-written letter to the students in your sub plans. Instruct the sub to read it at the start of the day and then hang it where the children can see it. Write it in a positive way so that it is a personal reminder from you that you have high expectations and have communicated those expectations to the sub. This personal touch will reassure your nervous friends and remind your friends who need reminding that you are in touch.
  • Don't forget to make modifications to the work you leave for children who have accommodations written into 504 Plans or IEPs. I find it helpful to assemble packets of work for the students and label them with students' names. This streamlines things for the sub and allowed me to differentiate what each child would do while I was out.
Do you want more tips and free printables to help you prepare thorough plans for a substitute teacher? Be sure to download this FREE eBook chock full of information to take the stress out of being out sick.

{Click to Access and Download this FREE Resource}

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