Wednesday, June 21, 2017

23 Effective Vocabulary Activities

        Teachers know that having a rich vocabulary is an asset to students as readers and as writers. We know that students who are avid readers, tend to have more advanced vocabularies than those who don't and that vocabulary acquisition is a wonderful side effect of reading quality books. 

        One of our jobs as teachers is to not only encourage our students to love reading, but to provide instruction and activities which promote vocabulary development. 

        Since students need repeated exposure (experts say 8 - 12 times!) for words to be able to be understood and used successfully, students need lots and lots of practice interacting with words. Variety is key, as the more fresh and the more fun we can make it, the greater the engagement.

        Here are 23 vocabulary activities you can use with your students to help reinforce vocabulary. Most activities may be played as a whole class, in small groups, or for center times.

1. Roll the Dice
Students choose a word (from a list, from the board, from a card) and the first student rolls a dice. The student who rolls does one of the following based on the roll:
1 = Define the word.
2 = Use it in a sentence.
3 = Say a synonym for the word.
4 = Say an antonym for the word.
5 = Draw a picture example (on scratch paper or whiteboards).
6 = Act it out.

2. Concentration
Use two different colored paper/cards. Write definitions on one color and words on the other. Place all cards face down. The first student selects a definition card and a word card. if they match, he/she takes an additional turn. If not, the cards are returned to their places and the next person takes a turn until all cards have been matched. The person with the most cards wins.

3. Posters
These work especially well with content area vocabulary. Students write the word in large bold or bubble letters, define the word using their own words, and add several pictures which illustrate the word. 

4. Word Pairs
Make cards with two words on each. The cards should have words which are either related, are synonyms, are antonyms, or are unrelated. Place the cards in a pile. One student reads the card and everyone writes what kind of relationship the words have (if any) on the whiteboard. To add an element of fun to it, have students who answer correctly take a move on a game board or even a hand drawn Tic-Tac-Toe. 

5. Jigsaw
Put students in small groups of 3 - 4 and assign each a vocabulary word. The student should be given time to research the word and to prepare some type of short presentation for his/her group. It might be an art piece, a rhyme, a song, a short drama, or simply an easy way to remember what the word means. Teaching vocabulary words is an excellent way to master that word too!

6. Quiz Quiz Move
Each student is given a card with a word and its definition. Students take their card and move around the room to find someone to quiz. The first student says the word and asks what it means. The second student either gives the definition and is congratulated, or says "I don't know," and is then told the definition. The process is repeated with the second student, and then the students both move to find new partners to quiz. 

7. Tell Me About ________
This is a teacher led activity. Start by asking the students a question using the vocabulary word. Make sure to begin each question with the tag line, "Tell me about..." Allow several students to respond and then change the question.
For example:
Tell me about someone who is loquacious...
Tell me about a time when you were frugal...
Tell me about a situation where a person could feel triumphant... 

8. Charades
Put vocabulary words on cards and students act them out, without using any words. You can play this as a whole class or divide the class into two teams. Make sure to give a time limit (2 minutes???), so students stay involved and don't get restless.

9. Pictionary
This game is played exactly like charades except students draw an example of the word on an easel or on the board while the whole class or that person's team tries to guess the vocabulary word.

10. Fly Swatter
Purchase new fly swatters (at the Dollar Store) for this activity. Place words on the board or on cards stapled to the wall. Divide students into two teams. The first person from each team goes first. Give a clue, definition, or example for one of the words. The first person to swat at the correct word wins a point for his/her team, and then the next two students take a turn.

11. Matching Words
Write a word on a card and its definition on the other card. Hand out a card to each student. Students walk around the room until they find their matching card. Once all have found their match, the cards may be re-shuffled and the game played again.

12. Semantic Map
This is another great activity for so many concepts. For vocabulary practice, choose a word. Students activate their prior knowledge to brainstorm related words or concepts on scratch paper. The word may then be put into categories (done easily by underlining each category in a different color) and then placed on a poster. The main word goes in the center. The subcategories are drawn in circles around the main word and related words may be drawn off of the subcategories.

13. Bingo
Give students a blank Bingo template with 9, 16, or 25 squares and have them write a vocabulary word (from the board or a printed list) on each square. Instead of saying each word, give students a clue (definition, example, synonym or antonym) for each word. The first person to have an entire row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally wins.

14. Acrostic Poem
Acrostic poems are written with the focus word in capital letters going down the page on the left side of the paper. Students write the vocabulary word as the subject of the acrostic poem and then write short phrases which start with each letter and are related to that word, beside each letter.

15. The "W" Game
This is another teacher directed activity. Ask students questions which start with the letter "W", like who, what, when, where, why, or which.
For example:
Which animal might be considered homely?
When have you felt conflicted?
Who can give me an example of a person who is compassionate?...

16. On the Spot
Put your class into two teams. The first student from the first team goes to the front of the room and sits in a chair facing the class with his/her back to the board. This person is "on the spot" or "It". Place a word on the board so everyone can see it except the person in the chair. One at a time, team members give the person clues about the mystery word. If the word is guessed before two minutes are up, the team gets a point and it is the other team's turn.

17. Word Association
This teacher-led activity helps students connect new words to familiar ones to build connections in their brains. Place vocabulary words on the board. Ask students questions using more familiar vocabulary. Get all students involved by having them write their initial answers on whiteboards. You could call on volunteers for the follow-up question.
For example:
Which word sounds a lot like a circle? (circulate) Why do you think that is?...
Which word would go with a movie critic? (recommend) Does that mean the critic liked the movie or didn't like it?...

18. Comic Strip
Students use one or more vocabulary words to create a comic strip, adding the words as a part of the dialogue in speech bubbles. You could use a template, or simply have kids fold a long strip of white construction paper (maybe 6 in. by 18 in.) twice, to make four different panels.

19. Word Wall
Rather than having a static word wall, add new vocabulary words and take them down once you feel most students have mastered the words. Not only is this a good reference point for students, it is great for transition times when you have a few spare minutes. You can play a quick game of "I'm thinking of a word that...means lucky, rhymes with towel, is the opposite of chaotic, is how you feel when you spill your drink..."

20. Word of the Week
Students may suggest new words, you may find them yourself, or you can get them from sites like WordCentral (Daily Buzz Words). Make it a fun game and challenge kids to use the new vocabulary word each day in conversation.

21. Create a Crossword
Students use vocabulary words to create a crossword puzzle on Discovery Education's Puzzlemaker website. When finished, students may solve their own or trade and solve another student's puzzle.

22. Vocabulary Sorts
Provide students with a list of words on small pieces of paper, sentence strips, or cards, and have them move the words into related groups. Student pairs can each sort words and then play "Name My Category."

23. The Frayer Model (Four Square)
Give students a simple template with four squares and a box for the vocabulary word in the middle. Have them add the definition in the top left square, facts or characteristics in the top right square, non-examples in the bottom right square, and examples in the bottom left square.

If you'd like additional materials for vocabulary practice, I have the following resources in my TpT store:

Context Clues Task Cards Bundles (3 Sets for each) for 2nd Grade3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, and 6th Grade.

Latin and Greek Entire Year Unit for 3rd - 6th Grades 

Hope this list has given you some ideas that you can use in your classroom! If you enjoyed this post, please share it with a teacher friend and if you have other fun vocabulary ideas, I would love for you to share them here.

Thanks so much and happy teaching!

I'd love to connect with you!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Summer Schedule for the Not So Productive Teacher

Summertime is a sacred time for teachers. This is a time for us to escape our classrooms and all school related responsibilities. We relish in the simple comforts of summer, such as sleeping in, using the bathroom whenever we like, and taking our time to eat our lunch. We spend time with friends and family, take trips, binge watch our favorite shows, get things done around the house, and spend some days doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!

BUT,  if you are anything like me, then you know that even in summer, it is impossible to completely escape the ever looming approach of the next school year. Usually after a couple of weeks, I start to get this nagging feeling that I should be doing something, ANYTHING to prepare for the next school year. I constantly battle between wanting to enjoy my summer and knowing that I should be doing something productive!!

If you struggle with this same battle, then I have some good news for you! I have come up with the perfect schedule for enjoying summer, while also staying productive...

One of my favorite things about summer is that I finally have the time to catch up on all of my favorite shows. Some of the best summer days are those when I stay in pajamas all day, order takeout and binge watch an entire season of a show. So this summer, I plan to use some of that binge watching time to prep for the next school year. Cutting out task cards is the perfect, mindless task to complete while watching television. Other things you can do while watching TV include cutting laminated items, folding flip books, and sorting back to school papers. So, if you find yourself spending countless hours sitting in front of the television, grab some scissors and get to work!!

During the school year I never have the time to read, especially when it comes to reading all of those amazing professional development books that I see teachers sharing all over Instagram. What better time to catch up on reading for professional development than during the summer. To make it even better, take your PD poolside!! This summer, I am catching up on books on guided math and non-fiction reading. I am also waiting for my copy of Disrupting Thinking to arrive. So grab a towel, some sunscreen, and maybe even a fruity drink, and head to the pool for the most relaxing PD you will find anywhere.

It's so important to go into the school year with a good, solid plan for the year. Longterm planning is essential for a smooth school year. I always dread this task of mapping out my next school year, but know that it's something that must get done. This summer I have decided to pair this task with lunch! If my colleagues and I need to spend the time planning, we might as well enjoy a yummy sandwich, an iced tea, and some off-task conversation to go along with it. So schedule those lunch dates, and don't forget your calendar. Planning is always so much better with lunch!

Every summer I prep my sample interactive notebooks for the upcoming year.  I love coloring and find it to be very calming, and somewhat therapeutic. But at the same time, it does take forever to get them all done. I have decided that this summer I will pair this task with one of my favorite times of day. Before my kids wake up in the morning, I love to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee before the craziness of our day begins. What better way to enjoy my quiet coffee time, than with some calm coloring. Think about the different teacher samples you want to provide for your students next year, and grab a cup of coffee and lose yourself in some therapeutic coloring.

Summertime is the perfect time for teachers to relax, unwind, and rejuvenate for the next school year. But, that doesn't mean that it can't be a time for productivity too!! Teacher friends, I hope you are able to find some balance this summer between peace and productivity. Happy Summer!!


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

7 Back to School Read Alouds

7 Back to School Read Alouds for the classroom

It is very important that teachers take the time during the first weeks of school to begin to establish a  community of respect. It's very tempting to simply tell students to open up their math book and start working. Please don't do that. Instead, take the time to get to know each other. Take the time to discuss what are your expectations and allow students to share what are their hopes/goals for the year. I always tell my students that we will be a family, because we will be learning and growing together for an entire year.

The first few weeks of school are full of you teaching and students practicing rules and routines. I find that students remember lessons that books teach better than when I just talk about the rules. Below is a list of 7 books that I believe will help you and your students start the year off on the right foot.

> Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
My daughter checked out this book from her school library, and she kept talking about how she loved the book. As she read the book to me, I thought about what a great back to school read aloud this book would be! Teachers always talk about why following the rules is SO very important. This book talks about when it it okay to NOT follow the rules. It's a great discussion starter for you and your students :)

> WOLF! by Becky Bloom
This is a very cute book that also has a wonderful lesson. Learning to read is not an easy task and is made up of more than just saying the words really fast. I would use this book when starting to launch reading workshop.

> What if Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick
This book provides a great visual of what would happen if everyone didn't follow the rules. This is a great read aloud as you discuss rules and create a list for your own classroom.

> How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague
Students always want to share their summer activities. After reading this book, students are given a brainstorming paper to list their favorite summer activities. Students are then told to pick one or two events to write about in detail. Students will then revise, edit, and illustrate their stories. This makes for a great display :)

> Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
I fell in love with this book back when I taught 1st grade. It is such a sweet book that talks about how everyone is special. It's also a great book to discuss how words can hurt and how important it is to respect each other. You can also take the time to create a cute name craft and decorate a bulletin board.

> A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook
This is another great read of when it is okay to bring something to the attention of a teacher or any adult. It's not as cute as the Library Lion, but it provides several examples of what is/is not tattling .

> You Are Special, Little One by Nancy Tafuri
I have two little girls at home, so I have plenty of 'mommy loves you' books. I love taking these family books to school and reading one each week. They are bedtime story books, but my third graders love this time! They get so excited and say they love our 'story time'. This particular book talks about how each animal is special in their own way. It's a sweet book that also uses rich vocabulary words to describe each animal ;)

Download the list by clicking the image below. The download also includes a free template to help you organize your back to school read alouds. Enjoy!

Click to Download the List and a Planning Sheet

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Summer Math Websites for Your Kids

Who loves summer time? I know I do and I'm sure your kids do too. The end of the school is a signal that summer is about to begin. And the end of the year is typically as busy as the beginning.  There's Field Day, Awards Day, end of year testing,  field trips, and more!

However, summer time also means that the possibility of summer loss. If you are a teacher you know that summer loss is real and it's important that our kids continue to practice math in a fun yet meaningful way.

BUT with everything that is going on, who has time to gather a list of math websites for your kids to work on during the summer?

(Raises Hand).....I've compiled 6 websites for you to send your kids to or send home to parents.

As I searched through many different websites, there were 3 main things that I looked for: 

            1.  The website was free

            2. The website provided a variety of fun math practice for students in grades 
                 Kindergarten through 5th

            3. The website didn't require teacher or student logins

In the search for my "3 Look Fors", I noticed that these websites also covered a range of  topics from number sense to fact fluency.   Yes! Just what many of our students need.

6 Summer Time Websites for Kids:

I created a resource called the 900 Minute Summer Math Challenge with all the above websites listed AND a parent signature log.  Let's challenge our students to find a math game of their choice and practice for just 30 minutes a day. After they finish the online practice, parents can initial the log. Do this same routine for 30 days and that's a total of 900 minutes of math practice.  Now that is a great way to review and have fun during the summer.

So let's help combat summer loss together.  Simply print and hand out the 900 Minute Summer Math Challenge to your kids on the last day of school.

To download this free resource, click on the link below and join my email list and become one of the Math Fam for more helpful math resources. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

School's Out, Now What? Conquering Boredom in the Summer

When summer hits will you be ready?

Eventually every child will say those wonderfully melodic words “I’m bored” as a tiny violin plays in the background.

It's the age old dilemma of finding that fine line between enough work and letting a kid have a summer. You want them to do some, but not too much. We can’t have kids working out of textbooks all summer long because a) that is a fight we will lose and b) it’s boring for kids. The key is to give kids options. They need lots of options. Sadly, we don’t always have the time, so think about setting up long form projects for them.

Below are some of my favorite activities that my own kids have spent the last few summers working on. They don’t do these all day every day, but they're always something they can fall back on. These also work best for upper elementary kids because of the level of independence it takes.

Write a Wish List
Encourage your kids or students to write a long list of things they want to accomplish during the summer. The length doesn't matter, it's just getting them to think about all the possibilities there are besides Netflix. Maybe they want to learn new board games, pick up an instrument, or make a new friend-- those are perfect and require more independence and perseverance from them, which is what you want. As summer progresses, make kids go back and check the list. Chances are there's a lot that they'll still need to accomplish.

Design a Garden
Get their hands dirty. I’m not just talking about playing in the mud. Give kids an area and space to design a garden, and not just vegetables. Working with plants requires learning about each individual plant, understanding spacing and size, and attention to detail. It’s also a skill that most will use for their entire life.

Full disclosure: I love to garden. It takes patience, hard work, and it is extremely satisfying. It’s also made me much more knowledable about what surrounds me (the environment) and I’ve been able to pass that on to my own kids. We work together and we’re constantly trying to improve what we’ve created.

Start and (try to) Run a Business
The all-time classic kid business is the lemonade stand. Make it, sell it, have a little cash in your pocket. It’s a good idea, but really it’s just the tipping point. There are so many intricacies to running a business that kids never realize, but they should know about. Whether it budgeting, marketing, or hustling— running a kid business is work and it take skills.

I’ve seen kids selling water and drinks at parades while walking down the road and others are creating bracelets/trinkets. Slime is also a big seller right now too. Give kids guidelines but don’t give them answers, let them use skills to problem solve. Sometimes they’ll make money but most of the time they’ll learn some valuable lessons that can be applied to more than just academics. Life skills are an important commodity.

Support a Cause
There is never a bad time to support a cause or an organization. Whether it’s raising money, volunteering time, or making others aware the time for kids/students/children to work towards a cause is immeasurable.

Animal shelters are an excellent place to start because it can be as simple as donating towels and blankets. A simple trip around a neighborhood or holding a drive at school can make a positive impact.

Food drives and donations are amazing. They don’t require a ton of prep work for kids and it allows them to use interpersonal/social skills if they choose to canvas a neighborhood too.

Get In the Kitchen
Preparing and creating food is a skill that can last their entire life. Whether it's baking, cooking, prepping-- get kids into the kitchen using the tools and following recipes. A dash of math, a little reading, a little real-world application of skills can have a lasting impact. 

Pull out that Betty Crocker cook book or head to the store and find one with recipes for cookies (because we always need more of those) but push your kids to make something than more than a bowl of cereal. Allow them to create a dinner or lunch...and lets be honest, there is zero downside to a kid that becomes an amazing cook.

Project Based Learning
Project based learning was built for the summer. It's the perfect opportunity to blend high-interest activities with lots of extra time. Project based learning can be as open ended or structured as you'd like (or you think your child needs).

This is where their wish list can be used to support their interests too and kids can create a plan to learn/research/find an answer to something they're really interested in. This list of ideas of build upon kids/adults teaching and learning on their own time and at their own level.

If you'd like a little guidance to help students or children with project based learning activities for home or school, check out my favorite tips for getting started here. Or see if some of my resources I've developed would fit your needs.

                         Project Based Learning Activities

You can find more from me at Digital: Divide & Conquer where I tackle project based learning, technology, and the space in between.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

9 Strategies You Should be Using to Teach Main Idea


        Finding the main idea is one of the most challenging reading strategies to teach. On the surface, it doesn't seem that hard... I mean, we're just asking students to find what the passage is mostly about. But when faced with the task, kids not only have to comprehend the passage, but they have to figure out which information is the most important, without getting sidetracked in the details.

        Main idea is one of those concepts which needs to be revisited over and over. Even though upper grade students have been introduced to the main idea, they still need so much practice, especially as the text complexity is increased. 

         I've found that for main idea (as with any difficult concept really) it's always good to use a variety of tools and activities in order to reach as many kids in our classrooms as possible. Here are some strategies which I've found to be effective.

1. Start with an Anchor Chart
        I love using anchor charts in the classroom. Not only are they a great tool to refer to while teaching, but students are able to read them over and over while completing work independently.

2. Use Pictures
        Pictures are a great first step to teach main idea. Without all of that sometimes cumbersome text to get through, students can still practice identifying the main idea concept by identifying what the picture is mostly about. 

        You can gather pictures for your students to display on the Smart Board or to make quick task cards from National Geographic, Scholastic News, Weekly Reader, or from online sites which have free-to-use pictures, like Pixabay.

        The bonus in using pictures, is that kids can get repeated main idea practice, in the same time it might take to do one main idea identification with a passage. Of course, this is a baby step, and in the upper grades we wouldn't want to stop there, but it makes for a great introductory or remedial activity.

3. Emphasize Titles
        Titles are often overlooked but are one of the first steps students should take when looking for the main idea. One activity you can do to practice using titles is to place a paragraph or very short passage on the Smart Board (or overhead), but cover up everything except the title. Have students make predictions about what the paragraph will be about based on this title. You could give them several options for a main idea based on the title and ask them which one is more likely, and why. For example, if the title was African Elephants, would the main idea most likely be how African and Asian elephants are different and alike, how African elephants cool themselves, or information about African elephants?

You can use the titles to help students think about supporting details and how these are smaller ideas but must match the main idea. For the African Elephant example, you might ask if they think that one of the supporting details might be where the elephants live in South America? Could it be about how an elephant uses its trunk? Would it possibly be about what an antelope eats? These types of questions help kids see that if the title is telling you the topic of the passage, only certain types of information will be supporting details for that passage.

Once you've done some practice with titles, then it's time to read the passage and to find the main idea and supporting details.

4. Look at the First and Last Sentences
        Besides titles, first and last sentences typically contain the main idea, but not always. Students should get in the practice of checking the first and last sentences with the title to see if they match. Many times, the main idea is openly stated in one or both of those sentences. In the upper grades, since we work on topic and conclusion sentences so much during paragraph writing, it makes sense to my students that most writers introduce a passage by telling the reader what it will be about or will conclude it by reminding them what the passage was mostly about.

5. Use Key Words 
        Key words are a great tool to help find the main idea but of course, it's a skill that must be taught. Key words may be bolded and they provide clues to the main idea. Students can practice finding bolded key words by doing a scavenger hunt with baskets of nonfiction books. Put students in pairs or in groups of threes and have them use sticky notes and to record any bolded key words that they find. When they finish, they can meet with another group to share their findings or you could choose several to share out for the class. Make sure the kids give the book's title, as well as the bolded words, so that they can combine this information to create a main idea statement.

        Key words may also be repeated in the same passage. The key words may sometimes be exactly the same words over and over. For example, how many different words mean photosynthesis? Or the words more commonly will be repeated as synonyms. Here again, our work as writers can be incorporated into reading. We've discussed the fact that good writers try not to repeat the same word over and over, or it becomes boring, tedious, dull, monotonous, and uninteresting (wink, wink...get the idea?). To find repeated key words, kids need to be on the lookout for the same concepts over and over within the passage, even when the author uses synonyms to express these.

        Headings and subheadings, which are types of titles, also help readers find the main idea. By combining the information from all three types of key words, kids are more likely to be able to correctly identify the main idea.

6. Compare the Supporting Details to the Main Idea 
        Kids can often get sidetracked by a supporting detail and think that they've found the main idea, when the fact was only one of the examples. I like to talk about the supporting details and the main idea as big and little ideas. A main idea is like the label on a moving box. Maybe the label on the box says Kitchen Items (main idea/topic) but inside you can find measuring cups, silverware, pots and pans, and so on. These would be the details. They all can fall under the label of kitchen items but could they all be called silverware (a supporting detail)?

        One thing you can do to work on this idea is to look at paragraphs together. You can find great passages from classroom magazines like Scholastic or Weekly Reader or these could be ones that you select from other nonfiction texts. Project the passage on to the Smart Board or make copies for your students. Ask students questions about the details, if they think one of these could be the main idea. If so, have them notice other supporting details. Would these other details also fall under that as a main idea? They've got to come to the understanding that the main idea is fairly broad (not too broad though) and is big enough to connect to and to include ALL of the supporting details. 

7. Use Examples and Non-Examples 
        By providing kids with a constant stream of main idea examples, they begin to understand what a main idea might look like. One activity I like to do is to look at a paragraph together and then show them the main idea and three supporting details listed in mixed up order. This allows them to see the "size" of the sentences or what their scope is. Again, I always am asking, is this just a small detail or something that the whole paragraph/story is about? This is also a great way to scaffold their learning. It is much easier to determine the main idea when it is included in a set of four choices, rather than when students are asked to pull it out of their heads.

8. Prioritize Information 
        Here's where things get serious! Determining importance is huge when it comes to understanding the main idea. When students are able to practice this with you and with their classmates in small groups, this provides the reinforcement they need to master this skill.

        One great way to work on this is to read a paragraph and then to examine a set of four possible main ideas that you have created and posted on the Smart Board. To do this, I like to have my students write their answers on whiteboards (12 x 12 inch shower board cut down at Home Depot or Lowe's). After we have read the paragraph together, they look at the four main idea choices and write either A, B, C, or D. The items selected as possible main ideas should be A. Too Broad (too big of an idea) or B. Too Narrow (this would be an interesting fact or detail) or C. Too Many Ideas (combining lots of supporting details), or D. Main Idea. This type of practice is training your kids to critically think about possible main ideas.

9. Add the Missing Title 
        For this activity, project a short paragraph without a title, on the Smart Board. Remind students of the strategies we've been using, like first and last sentences, key words, big ideas vs. small details, and so on. Using those clues, students create a title for the passage and when we do this as a whole class, I have them write these on their whiteboards. When everyone is done, we do a pair share or I ask several to share with the whole class. Then I reveal the actual title. If their title was close and had the same idea, it was a success!

And... keep reviewing!
     Just like all concepts we teach, the more we spiral student learning to reinforce it, the more likely it will be that students are able to truly master the concept. By revisiting it often, even asking a quick "What's the main idea?" as kids read a nonfiction passage, the concept becomes much easier for most students.

If you're looking for some easy to use, low or no prep resources for main idea, these may be helpful to you.

I would love to hear some strategies that you've found to be helpful for main idea. Also, if you like the ideas here, please share them with a teacher friend!

Happy teaching,

I'd love to connect with you!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Tips for Teachers Changing Grade Levels

Are you changing grade levels? Do you need ideas for classroom decor or setting up your classroom? This blog post has 5 Tips for Teachers Changing Grade Levels and 3 FREE resources for all teachers!

I'm Jodi from The Clutter-Free Classroom.

Fun fact about me: I changed grade levels annually for the first nine years of my teaching career.  The actual series went like this 2nd, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 1st, 2nd, Kindergarten (I still wake in a cold sweat with flashbacks to that experience), 2nd, and back to 3rd. All but one of those involved packing up and moving classrooms, two involved moving districts and one had me moving up the East Coast. Needless to say, I was quite happy to finally settle in third grade and grow some roots.

My experience has made me very away of the challenges that come with a grade level change. This is particularly the case when moving between a primary and an intermediate grade. You come to appreciate the challenges and the benefits of each.

Perhaps you requested the move, or maybe it was an involuntary transfer. Either way, you get to experience something new and change can be exciting! 

Below are some tips to help make a move easier for you.

#1 Focus on your Mindset:
Teaching is a hard job. Teaching a new grade makes that hard job even more difficult. Do not let this get you down and instead set your mind up for success. Make a list of the things that excite you about your new grade level. Reach out to friends and colleagues who have experience teaching it and ask them to name the three best things about the grade level. Focus on those positives.

#2 Be Organized When Packing

Often a change in grade levels also means a change in classrooms. Last year I wrote a blog post detailing the three boxes every teacher should pack at the end of the school year. You’ll be glad you have those boxes when the new year rolls around. 

#3 Research Teaching Methods and Developmental Best Practices
This is especially important if you are moving down the grade level spectrum. If you’ve been teaching long division to 5th graders, then basic addition with sums less than ten sound like a walk in the park. The computation may be simplified, but there are developmentally appropriate ways to teach the conceptual math.

#4 Plan out How You Will Manage Your New Classroom

Many classroom management systems and strategies can be adapted to other grade levels, but some may need a wee bit of modification. Plan out the procedures and routines you intend to implement in the fall and prepare the materials during the summer, so you are ready to jump in strong.

Please feel free to read the blog post I wrote here last year with classroom management tips.

#5 Consider How Your Classroom Set Up Will Differ from Past Years
What was ample space for reading aloud to younger learners may be too cramped for older students. Bookshelves that worked perfectly for your 4th graders might be hard for a 1st grader to reach safely. Tables are great for all grade levels, but chair height and elbow room should be taken into consideration. 

If the thought of starting from scratch decorating your classroom feels like one more thing to think about, then I welcome you to check out the all-inclusive classroom decor bundles I have created. I currently have over 40 themes to pick from, and there are options perfect for all grade levels.

You can view all of the Clutter-Free Classroom Themes here.

You can also access and download these two FREE eBooks to help you design and set-up your classroom:


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Sunday, May 28, 2017

5 Lessons Learned: My First Year of Teaching

My first year of teaching feels like it was eons ago! Looking back now it is all a blur.  All I can remember is this overwhelming feeling of terror, confusion, and eagerness all rolled into one. Despite my feelings, my first year of teaching was a roller coaster ride of ups and downs that I will never forget.  There are so many lessons I learned during my first year of teaching that helped shape the teacher I eventually became. With this in mind, I thought I would share my top 5 lessons learned during that first year with all of the "soon to be" teachers out there.  Here it goes...

Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!

1. Don't Compare Yourself to Others! 

This is something that we all do. However, as a first-year teacher, this can be tragic!  You are brand new and have a lot to learn.  Comparing yourself to a teacher that has been around and has his or her classroom running like a well-oiled machine is only going to have a negative impact on you as a professional. This is especially true with Social Media.  You can't go on Instagram without seeing a classroom that looks like it belongs in a catalog.  Don't compare yourself to that, just don't! My advice? Go into your first year of teaching with the intention of learning from everyone around you. Learn what to do and what not to do. Don't worry about if you are "Keeping up with Ms. Jones".  Just do the best YOU can do! That is enough.
Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!

2. It's Okay to Make Mistakes (because you will...)

Yep! You are not perfect. You are going to make lots of mistakes.  You might accidentally leave a student in the lunch room, forget to take attendance, send students to the library at the wrong time, or lose a stack of papers you were meaning to grade (Oops!).  Just know that you are going to make lots of mistakes, but you will recover and learn from all of them.

3. Just Say NO!

I am a people pleaser. I love to say "yes" and help whenever I can. During my first year of teaching, I learned the hard way that it is critical to say NO sometimes.  By the third month of school, I was head of the math committee, helping with after school programs, teaching a morning class for struggling writers, and helping in the cafeteria. Ummm...No! Well, that's what I should have said when asked to do all of these things. After my first year, I quickly learned the importance of limiting what I do for others and not spreading myself too thin. Being a first-year teacher is hard.  Be the hero later. 
Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!


I clearly remember one evening when I was preparing my classroom for the next day. I was arranging materials for a science experiment when I suddenly looked out the window and noticed it was dark. WHAT!?  That was the moment I realized I had to set limits for myself.  Yes, I could have spent my entire day (and night) in my classroom. However, I quickly knew this wasn't healthy and wasn't making me a better teacher.  Don't burn yourself out your first year of teaching. Pace yourself. You'll thank me later.

5. Simplify What You Can

Yes! This! Simplify!  It is so easy to overcomplicate things during your first year. Don't! As you come up with new systems for your classroom, whether it be taking attendance, bathroom policies, homework systems, etc., be sure to keep things simple.  

One system I quickly learned to simplify was my homework system. At first, I was assigning random workbook pages, textbook problems, and worksheets I had printed from the internet. My students would forget what I had assigned and it was a headache to keep up with. Finally, I started using a homework system that was more consistent and was easy for EVERYONE to keep track of.  If you want to learn more about my simple homework system, click here.

Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!

These were definitely some important lessons I learned during my first year of teaching. However, over the years, I learned a ton of valuable lessons. If you want to read more, check out my post "Handy Tips for Teachers: Lessons I Learned While Teaching".

Here are the lessons I learned during my first year of teaching! New teachers are going to want to read this!