How to Engage Students Before Break

Teaching before a break or vacation is always difficult. We have came up with some strategies and activities on how to engage students before a vacation. We hope that you will be able to use some or all of the ideas!

For most students a break from school is exciting. There are probably lots of things that they are looking forward to. Take this opportunity to have them journal about what they are looking forward to. Here would be some journal starters:

  • Over break, one thing I am looking forward to is... because...
  • During vacation, I plan on playing... because...
  • I am excited to be able to.... over break because....
  • If there is one thing that I wish I could do over break, it would be... because...
This activity could be as short as five to ten minutes, or you could turn it into thirty minutes or longer by adding some cool stationery for them to write on, or giving them to draw and color a picture about their break. You could also play some music in the background. We like to use some stations on Pandora such as: Classical Goes Pop, Yoga Sanctuary, or the Piano Guys.

Class Reflection Meeting
Before leaving for break, it is a good idea to have students reflect on how the school year has gone up to this point. We have created a FREE sheet that you could pass out to your students before the class meeting. It includes self-reflection questions, working in group questions, and whole class questions as well. 

We have created some questions for students to answers on a 1-10 scale. Some questions included are: 
-How would you rate your overall behavior this year?
-How well have you worked in groups so far this year?
-How well have you participated in class discussions this year?
-How well have you treated other classmates this year?
-Overall, how hard have you tried to reach a goal this year?

We also included some open-ended questions on the second page:
-What is one thing you know you are doing well in school and how do you know?
-What is one area that you want to improve in school and why?
-What can your teacher do to help you be the best you can be for the rest of the year?

After students answer these questions you have many options as to what you can do:
-review them yourself
-have a class meeting where students bring their sheets and share responses
-have them partner up or get in small groups and discuss
-use them as a self-reflection tool and share at the next parent/teacher conference
-or any other option that you see fit for your classroom.

This activity is a great way to see where your students think they are in terms of behavior and goal achievement.

Allow Choice
If you are doing an activity in reading, writing, math, science or social studies, instead of a customary worksheet or routine activity that you usually use why not try adding choice to liven things up? In reading class, if students have just finished a guided reading book, allow them to choose their understanding of the book through choice. They could write how the story would be different from another character's point of view. They could make a book review news show where they get up in front of the class and try to "sell" the book. Students could make a game board that relates to the story and create questions that need to be answered. The possibilities are endless. If you are on a specific math concept and students have finished learning about it, allow them to show you what they know. They could: create a poster/diagram of the concept learned, teach it to the class/small group in their own way, make up problems and solve them on their own, create a PowerPoint/Google Slides/Prezi on the concept. Whatever you decide, allowing choice may be a great motivator for students heading into a break.

Engagement Activities
We have created 25 student engagement task cards. Each card includes an activity overview and examples of how to use the activity in your classroom. Some examples are: jigsaw, paper basketball, knowledge parade, penny for your thoughts and so much more. You can find them by clicking here.

Student Engagement Task Cards
Another resource is our winter engagement activities. This resource includes 10 engaging activities that come with specific directions and materials needed: Cotton Ball Snowmen, Candy Cane Toss, Cut the Tree, Snowball Fight, Ornament Hang, Christmas Tree Building, Snowball Scoop, Snowball Toss, Snow Fort, and Candy Cane Relay. Your students will love it. Click here to find out more!
Christmas Winter Challenge Engagement Activities
Just remember, kids are going to be naturally excited before a break. Make the most of it by including some or all of the ideas and activities mentioned above to make it a smoother transition into break!

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Writing SMART Resolutions for the New Year

As soon as school resumes after the new year, teachers everywhere will be asking their students to write New Year's Resolutions!! I know this is something that I ask my students to do each and every year. For us, the new year is the start of our second semester. It is the perfect time to encourage students to set goals for the remainder of the school year!!

This year when you are asking your students to write goals and resolutions, make sure that they are writing SMART resolutions. You can have students use this FREE organizer to make sure that their resolutions are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
When given the task to write resolutions for the New Year, students tend to stick with the same generic goals: Get better grades, work harder in school, improve my behavior, and so on! Using the SMART format encourages students to come up with resolutions that they can use to hold themselves accountable.

Students should be sure to come up with goals or resolutions that are specific. Ask them to be specific about what they hope to accomplish, and what their goal will look like once it's achieved. Have students really reflect on what's challenging for them and where they hope to see themselves at the end of the school year.

When writing their goals or resolutions, students should keep in mind how they will measure their progress. For instance, if students want to improve their grades, they will want to be specific about what grade they are shooting for. If a student is working below grade level in math, he or she may set a goal to have at least a B- in math by the end of the school year. Then this student could use progress on math assignments, quizzes, tests, and assessments to track his or her progress.

As they are building their resolutions and making sure they are specific and measurable, students should remember that their goals need to be realistic and attainable. On one hand, we want to challenge students and help them to make progress. But on the other hand, we need to make sure they aren't setting themselves up for failure. Students should choose goals that are not too easy to achieve, but also not too difficult to achieve.

Encourage your students to choose goals that are relevant to their own strengths and weaknesses. They should also avoid choosing a goal just because it's what a friend is choosing. They need to be sure to connect their goals to their own educational needs.

Students should decide how long it will take them to achieve their goals. They should also have an end time in mind: By the end of the year, by the end of the quarter, by the start of the next school year, etc. They might also want to build in some benchmarks. At my school, students use Accelerated Reader and earn points by taking tests on the books they read. All students have their own point goals, and I often encourage them to break it up into smaller chunks to make it more manageable and to help hold themselves accountable for meeting their final goal in a timely manner.

All of these steps work together to help students craft resolutions that will encourage their growth in the areas of their choice. SMART goals give students a chance to set themselves up for success, and the New Year is the perfect time to get students back on track for the second half of the school year!!

If you are having students write resolutions this year, please feel free to download this FREE organizer to help them organize their goals!! Click on the picture below to visit my shop and download this FREEBIE!!

Once students use the organizer to write their SMART resolutions, they should publish them to make them official!! This New Year's Tab Book is the perfect place for students to reflect on the previous year, look forward to the next, and record their RESOLUTIONS!!

Click on the pic to learn more!!


SAVE TIME - Review Basic Computer Skills

Review Basic Computer Skills, Technology in the Classroom, Keyboard shortcuts printable and cursor icon printable

Technology can be awesome. It can help bring excitement to any subject, but it can also bring frustration if you don't take the time to review basic computer skills. In this blog post I will go over some basic skills that you should review before sending off students to complete digital assignments. I hope you find the free printables helpful.

The problems:
  • Students accidentally delete text boxes
  • Students take too long copying and pasting images

The solutions: 
  • Students may not be aware of the 'magical' undo shortcut. If they accidentally delete an item, students can quickly use the undo shortcut or click the undo icon.
  • Students can use the copy/paste shortcuts to quickly make copies of images.
Click the image below to download a free printable with keyboard shortcuts. It includes both a Mac and Windows version. 

basic computer skills, keyboard shortcuts

Help students understand what their computer is doing by reviewing the many faces of a cursor icon. The cursor icon tells a student...
  • when a page is loading
  • when a text or image is a hyperlink
  • when they can resize an image
  • when an image is moveable 
  • when they can enter text
Click the image to download a free printable. 
basic computer skills, cursor icons free printable

I hope you find the printables helpful as you integrate technology in your classroom. 

5 Easy to Implement Multiplication Games

The drill and kill of multiplication facts can get old very quickly for students.  Especially those that struggle memorizing them.  Adding games into your math block will not only excite them, but provide great learning opportunities.  

Here is a list of 5 multiplication games that are super easy to implement and require very little prep.  A win for both the teacher and the students!

Games with Dominoes

Ordering Products

  1. Students choose five dominoes, turn them over, and multiply each side together.  
  2. Order the products from least to greatest or greatest to least.
  3. Want to make it a game?  Partners order their dominos then find the difference between their greatest number and least number.  The partner with the greatest (or least) difference wins.

Multiplication War

  1. Students begin with dominoes face down.  
  2. Each student chooses a domino.
  3. On the count of three, students turn over their domino and multiply the dots on one side by the dots on the other side.  The student with the highest product wins the dominoes.

You can download the free printable with these two games and more HERE.

Multiplication War With a Deck of Cards

Do you have a deck of cards?  With a simple deck of cards you will have an instant multiplication game that is a hit!  The directions for playing with a deck of cards is the same as with dominoes, students just use two cards to multiply together.

You can download the above digit cards for free HERE.

Around the World

Using a set of flashcards, play a whole class game of around the world.  How does this work?  All students stand in a circle.  The teacher chooses one student to begin.  That student stands next to another.  The teacher shows the flashcard, and the first student to say the product stays standing and moves to the next student.  This continues until there is one student left.  The one left standing is ultimately the winner.  Students love this!

Multiplication Beach Ball

Take a cheap dollar store beach ball, write some multiplication facts on it, and you have multiplication beach ball.  I have my students stand around the room, and they toss the ball to each other.  To keep order in the room, they have to say the person's name that they are throwing it to before they throw the ball.  When the student catches the beach ball, they have to solve the multiplication fact that their right thumb lands on.  After finding the product, they toss it to another classmate.  

Printable Partner Games

Roll-a-Product, Tic-Tac-Toe, and Roll and Solve to name a few.  You can download a sample of each of these games and more HERE.

If you are looking for more multiplication ideas, be sure to check out the following!

10 Ways to Practice Multiplication Facts

Operation Math Facts

Exploring Complex Sentences

When it comes to complex sentences, things quickly become... well... complex. At the mere mention of independent clauses, dependent clauses, and subordinating conjunctions, many young eyes immediately glaze over.

One year, when I was about to introduce the topic of complex sentences to my fifth graders, I decided on a whim to use an image of a nurse helping a patient walk. I was amazed by how much this simple image helped my students. I told them that the nurse in the picture was like the independent clause. Just as the nurse can stand alone, so also can an independent clause "stand alone" as a complete sentence. Then I told my students that the patient with the crutch leaning against the nurse was like the dependent clause. The patient could clearly not stand on his own, just as a dependent clause cannot stand alone, either. A dependent clause depends on the independent clause to help it be part of a complete sentence.

This idea resonated so well with my students that I've used this explanation ever since. As you can see, I discarded the nurse/patient image I had previously used. (Although it did the trick, it wasn't very visually appealing.) When I ran across the image below when I purchased a clip art set by Educlips, I upgraded my image to this one.

Complex Sentences Anchor Chart! This blog post also features a FREE activity where students write their own complex sentences.


As you can see, there is a lot of information on this anchor chart. Students will only retain these concepts if they get an opportunity to interact with the various elements of complex sentences. Therefore, I created an interactive exercise where students can manipulate each clause and then write complex sentences using the clauses. Personally, I would have students complete this activity with a partner, but students can also do it independently, if you wish. (CLICK HERE if you would like to download this free activity to use with your students.)

First, give each student the two worksheets and the writing mat. (This photo shows only the first worksheet, and the writing mat printed on yellow paper.) They follow the instructions written at the top of the worksheet:
1.  Read the clauses in each pair.
2. Underline the dependent clause with a green marker.
3. Underline the independent clause with a red marker.
4. Circle the subordinating conjunction with a blue marker.

Exploring Complex Sentences: This blog post features a FREE writing activity, plus an anchor chart that focuses on complex sentences.

5. Use the two clauses to write a complex sentence that starts with a dependent clause in the first box of the writing mat.
6. Use the two clauses to write a complex sentence that starts with an independent clause in the adjacent box.
**Don't forget to use capital letters and punctuation!

Exploring Complex Sentences: This blog post features a FREE writing activity, plus an anchor chart that focuses on complex sentences.

Although it's not written in the directions, if you want, you can add a step between Step 4 and Step 5 where students cut out the strips. This might be helpful for students who would benefit from physically moving the dependent clause directly in front of the independent clause before they write the first sentence on their mat. Then, students can move the independent clause to the front before they write the second sentence.

Once students are done, they will have eight complex sentences written in both formats. I recommend checking all of the sentences to make sure students used commas in the first column, and that they refrained from using commas in the second column.

If you are looking for additional resources for teaching about compound and complex sentences to your upper elementary students, feel free to check out the following resource. I have placed my bundle image here, but all of these items are also available for individual purchase in my TpT store.

Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentences Activities- a PowerPoint, task cards, a game, a craftivity, and more!

Thanks for stopping by today! 

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Exploring Complex Sentences: This blog post features a FREE writing activity, plus an anchor chart that focuses on complex sentences.

Activities to Teach Theme

         Teaching theme is not an easy task! Not only do students need to have a strong comprehension of the story's elements (like plot, setting, and characters), but they also have to be able to make inferences to find the author's message, since most themes are not overtly stated by the author.

        So, what are some of my favorite activities for helping kids understand theme? I'll list a number of them here.

1. Make an Anchor Chart
        Anchor charts are a great way to make learning visual and to have a record which kids can refer to when they need a bit of extra support. 

        Theme may be defined in a number of ways. To me, the theme is the author's message or what he/she wants the reader to take away/learn from the story. It is a BIG idea, with a real world or universal concern and can be applied to anyone. 

        Besides talking about what a theme is, you'll also want to go over what it isn't. For example, some kids confuse the main idea of the story with its theme. To help students understand the difference, it's helpful to use stories that everyone in the class knows, like previous read alouds or classic stories like The Three Little Pigs. You can take each story and discuss the main idea (what the story was mostly about - specific to the story) vs. the theme (the lesson the author wants the reader to know - not specific to the story), to contrast the two ideas.

        The second area of confusion for some kids is that the theme is not specific to the characters in the story. In the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, for example. The theme would not be that...A little mouse named Chrysanthemum learned to accept the uniqueness of her name. The theme would be larger than the book and would be something like...It's important to accept oneself. 

        Also, you'll want to explain to your students that often times, a book has multiple themes and there are several answers which work equally well to describe a book's theme. Since theme is very subjective, I tell students that I will accept any answer, as long as they have the text evidence to prove it. 

        For example, in the book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, one might argue that the theme is about friendship, another might say family, or even courage, or kindness. Any one of these themes would be right, and counted as such, since they each fit the story and could be supported by text evidence.

2. Use Pixar Shorts to Practice Theme
        Besides the sheer enjoyment which comes from watching these mini-films, your students can learn a lot about reading concepts from these. They're great for ELL students or for struggling readers, and for all readers really, since the text complexity piece is removed.

        You can find these clips on YouTube, but you'll want to make sure to preview them first, so you're more familiar with the plot and are able to focus on theme questions. 

Here are some of my favorite Pixar Shorts for teaching theme:
Partly Cloudy

 3. Use Mentor Texts
        Mentor texts are one of my go-to teaching tools as picture books are able to portray examples of just about any reading concept you need to teach. One thing I like to do when using mentor texts for theme, is to vary the types of questions I ask. Rather than always saying What is the theme?, I might ask... What is the deeper meaning of this story? After reading this book, what do you think matters to this author? Which idea from the story do you think might stay with you? What did the author want people to learn from this story?... Once kids answer, you might say, that's the theme!

Some of my current mentor text favorites for theme include the following:
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds
I Wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe
Journey by Aaron Becker (a wordless book)
Beautiful Oops by Barry Saltzberg
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed 

If you're looking for more titles, I have a FREE Mentor Text List for Literature which includes a page on theme which you can download from my TpT store.

4. Use Posters with Themes to Chart Book Themes
        I like to choose 8 - 10 common themes and place posters of them in the classroom. These are included in my Theme unit but you could easily make them yourself if you'd like. After we finish a class novel, a read aloud, or a mentor text as part of a mini-lesson, I like to have the kids discuss the theme of the book. Once we decide on the theme, I place a miniaturized copy of the book's cover (about 3 x 3 inches or so) under the correct theme poster. 

        You can also make the posters more interactive by allowing kids to write titles of books they have recently read on sticky notes, under the posters as well.

5. Use Songs to Practice Finding the Theme
        I love to add music to the classroom whenever possible. Not only does it add instant motivation for some kids, it is also just good for them in so many ways. There are lots of songs you can use to teach theme, from current pop songs, to oldies, rap songs, and country songs. 

        While all of these work well, I especially enjoy using Disney songs. Disney songs are easily recognized for some kids, have catchy, fun tunes, and have lyrics which need no censoring (yay!). You can easily find the lyrics online to project on a smart board or document projector, and the song clips may be found on YouTube,

        Here are some of my favorite Disney songs which work well for theme:
Hakuna Matata from Lion King
Just Keep Swimming from Finding Dory
Reflection from Mulan
Let it Go from Frozen
Something There from Beauty and the Beast
A Whole New World from Aladdin

6. Introduce Short Texts Using Task Cards
        Using task cards for theme gives your students a great deal of practice in a short period of time, which makes them a perfect way to begin to practice finding the theme using text. I love the fact that students can read multiple task card stories and practice finding the theme 20 - 30 times, in the time it might take to read a story and find the theme once.

        You can do task cards as a center activity, to play Scoot, or as a whole class scavenger hunt. One thing I like to do for the scavenger hunt, is to make sure everyone has a partner, and to pair stronger readers with struggling readers.

7. Add Some Writing
        After students have worked on theme for a week or two, I like to have students create their own short stories which show a strong theme, without directly stating it. This changes the each student's role from a theme finder, to a theme creator and gives students insight into how authors create a situation which allows a theme to unfold.

        When I introduce this project, we refer back to the task cards we just completed, as an example of story length and rich content. In a matter of 2 - 3 paragraphs, students learn that they can include enough information to let our readers know our message.

        After students are finished creating these short stories, it's fun to share them in some way, to give more theme practice. Sometimes I have students meet in small groups to share out, with group members guessing the theme. Other years, I leave a stack on my desk and grab several if we have a few minutes. Either the students or I read the short story out loud, and the class discusses the theme.

8. Move to Passages, Short Stories, and Novels.
        Once we have scaffolded a great foundation for the understanding of theme, there comes a point where kids have to move on to text which is more challenging. I like to use page-long passages which I have created, before using short stories, and ultimately novels.

If you're looking for some ready made materials to help you teach theme, here's a packet I love to use which works well for 4th and 5th Graders. Click here to read more about the Theme unit.

If you like this post, make sure to share it with a teacher friend! Thanks so much for stopping by!

I'd love to connect with you!

Christmas and Holiday Freebies for Your Classroom

It is hard to believe, but December is just around the corner, and it is time to start planning those December lessons.  I don't know if your December school schedule looks like mine, but we have a plethora of activities during this busy month: assembly programs, choir practice and program, Santa Shop, Christmas Village, etc. With all of these activities and busyness, it is nice to have some easy prep Christmas and December holiday themed lessons up my sleeve, and I am going to share my list with you. Best of all, these holiday activities from Upper Elementary Snapshots are free! Be sure to download all of these amazing resources for your classroom!

Christmas Around the World: Italy Freebie

Christmas Around the World: Italy Freebie for 3rd - 6th Grade

Your students will love learning about Christmas customs around the world with this first amazing freebie from The Teacher Next Door. This activity is a great way to integrate reading strategies and social studies concepts, while learning about something fun and thematic in December. Your students will be engaged as they learn more about holiday traditions in Italy. Best of all, this requires little prep for you. Simply print and go! 

Christmas Around the World Webquest

Perhaps you are looking to integrate technology into your December activities. If so, this Christmas Around the World Webquest from Rockin Resources is perfect for your class! For detailed instruction on this amazing activity, simply click the image above. Your students will be completely engaged while using the internet to learn about Christmas in other countries!

Hanukkah Partner Play

Hannukah Partner Play FREEBIE (fluency activity)

If you are familiar with Deb Hanson's partner plays, you know that students adore them! Her newest partner play is perfect for December. This partner play explains the significance and history of the Menorah. This is a perfect addition to your December activities.

December Tips and Activities


Perhaps you are just feeling a little overwhelmed with the busyness and demands of this season. Clutter-Free Classroom has a gift just for you! This amazing packet is packed full of tips and ideas that will make your job easier this December. You'll appreciate all of the helpful tips and ideas that are packed into this download!

Multi-Step Constructed Response Decimal Task Cards

Multi-step Constructed Response Decimal Task Cards for Holidays / Christmas

Why not incorporate the holidays into your math lessons as well? This holiday themed task card set from Performing in Education will be a fun way for your students to practice decimal operations. These holiday themed task cards are perfect for whole group or small group instruction. 

Factor Freeze

Factor Freeze:  A Differentiated Multiplication Game

Another fun math activity to use with your students this holiday season is this game from The Teacher Studio.  Your students will be excited as they play this multiplication game and will be begging you to play it again and again! 

Qreate a Story: Christmas Edition

QReate A Story: Christmas Edition!  QR Codes and Creative Writing.  FREE SAMPLE

Why not encourage your students to write this Christmas season with this amazing free resource from Digital Divide and Conquer? Students will randomly pick QR codes to scan to choose a character, setting, and problem. Then students will use graphic organizers to plan their writing and plan stories based on what they scanned. Your students will enjoy writing with this engaging activity. 

I Have...Who Has...Just for Christmas Theme

I Have...Who Has...Just for Fun Christmas Theme

Sometimes in December, you just need something to do for fun! This set of I Have...Who Has...? cards are perfect for a classroom party, a time-filler between activities, or to get your students engaged during the distractions of the holidays. Your students will enjoy this fun activity from Mandy Neal Teaching with Simplicity. 

Compliment Presents: A Holiday Gift FOR Students, FROM Students

 Compliment Presents: A Holiday Gift FOR Students, FROM Students!

This is an amazing resource from The Thinker Builder. With this unique activity, students create these adorable little foldable presents with meaningful compliments written inside. These will be the perfect gifts for students to give to one another to brighten each others' day while strengthening your classroom community. 

Gum Drop Christmas Trees- A Holiday Stem Challenge

Gum Drop Christmas Trees - A Holiday STEM Challenge

Your students will be completely engaged with this fun STEM activity from Create Teach Share.  This challenge asks students to use toothpicks and gumdrops to build the tallest Christmas tree they can! Your students will be begging for more after this engaging challenge.

Holiday Bookmark Craft

FREE! Holiday Bookmark Craft

A holiday craft is a must in December, and this craft from Got to Teach is beautiful! Not only do these fun bookmarks turn out gorgeous, but a huge added benefit is how engaged and quite your students will be while they are completing these fun bookmarks! 

Teacher Christmas Present for Students

FREE Teacher Christmas Present Gift Idea for Students

If you are looking for a cost-effective gift for your students, then this idea from Wise Guys is perfect! These teacher created cards include a special note from the teacher, including a choice of a free book for the students to pick out from the next book order or a homework ticket.

Christmas Ornaments Clipart Freebie

Last of all, you can head over to my store (Kelly Benefield) and pick up this packet of free Christmas ornaments clipart. Use these bright and colorful ornaments in your creations for your classroom or for your TpT holiday creations. 

Thanks so much for stopping by, and enjoy your freebies!

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