Classroom Bulletin Boards Made EASY!

I have 5 GIGANTIC bulletin boards in my classroom. FIVE. Two of my walls have end-to-end bulletin boards. While I know that bulletin board space for some of you is a hot commodity, for me, it is almost a burden trying to fill them up.

There are SO many amazing bulletin board ideas on Pinterest, but honestly... not only do I not have the creative juices to plan for that, but I just don't have the time or the desire. We know the importance of anchor charts and how bulletin boards should serve a purpose and not just focus on the "cute factor," so how can we use this prime real estate in our classroom to showcase meaningful content?
Struggling to fill your bulletin boards with meaningful content? Check out this blog post for an easy way to create anchor charts to hang on your bulletin boards that students will actually use!  Options
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5 Things All Teachers Should Do Before Going Home

One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. And that feeling is even worse when you're hectically running around before school starts, trying to get everything ready for the day. So a few years ago, I made myself a list on a sticky note of things to do before I leave for the day and stuck it on my computer screen. It really helped to focus my efforts after school was over (so that I don't waste 15 minutes catching up on Facebook...), as well as helped me be better prepared for the next day.
One of the worst feelings as a teacher is that feeling of being unprepared. Check out this list of 5 things you can do before you go home each night, so that you can be more prepared when you start the next day.
Here are five things I do every night before I leave school:
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Building School-Wide Community

Last year at the end of the year, the administration asked all of our students to fill out a survey about our school culture and climate. When the results came back, we were pretty discouraged. Over half of our students reported that they don't feel respected at school. HALF. We are a PBIS school and all teachers use components of Responsive Classroom and Love & Logic techniques school-wide, but something more had to be done.

This summer, our PBIS team caught wind of another school in our district that organized their students into "families." Similar to how high schools have homerooms, every student is assigned a family and stay in that family for their entire time at our school. This idea could be the ticket to getting our school community back on track!
Strengthen your school community by establishing school-wide family groups! Similar to homerooms in high school, a family group consists of students from each grade at your school that travel together as a cohort for their entire time at the school.

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Spelling in the Writer's Workshop

"Teacher, how do you spell ______?"

Is it just me, or is that question like nails on a chalkboard to you? How do we deal with this age-old question our students ask us a million times every day? As teachers, we know that spelling isn't our main focus during writing time. We know the importance of invented spelling, students applying what they know about letter sounds and spelling patterns, and stretching words out.

However, instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to give our students more concrete resources and tools so that they don't feel like we've just rejected them. I want to empower my students by giving them the tools and the resources they need so that they can be independent writers.
Instead of simply telling students to "stretch it out and write what you hear" and sending them back to their seats, we need to empower our students to be independent writers and spellers. Check out a few tools and resources you can use to ensure writing success!

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Teach the Reader. Not the Book.

I was sitting in a professional development class this spring where we were watching a webinar previously recorded from the Heinemann Group, and one of the instructors made this statement:
Using knowledge of text bands of complexity, learn how you can "teach the reader and not the book."
Have you ever heard something and you thought, "Wow. Just WOW." That's what happened to me when I heard Dan Feigelson say, "Teach the reader, not the book." I felt like I was smacked in the face by a 20-ton truck. In a good way. If that's possible.
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2016 Wisconsin Teacher Blogger Meet Up!

We had such a blast last year, that we've decided to do it again this year! Please join Jessica from Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten, Paige from Our Elementary Lives, and me for the second annual Wisconsin Teacher Blogger Meet Up! It will be an awesome opportunity to meet, connect, collaborate, and grow your business with other Wisconsin blogging friends.
This year we are moving the meet up to a location a little more centrally located: Madison! The plan is to meet up at Erin's Snug Irish Pub on Saturday, July 30th from 11:00am-3:00pm.
Erin's Snug is conveniently located just off of Hwy 151, one mile off from I-90/94 on the far East side of Madison. We'll meet in the County Dane room to have lunch, give away awesome prizes, and chat and get to know each other in REAL LIFE! We will also sneak in some Teachers Pay Teachers/blogging tips and tricks you can apply to your own small business. You'll also take home a sweet bag of SWAG to kick the 2016-2017 school year off with a BANG! If you want to see the fun we had last year, click here!

To join us, please CLICK HERE!

Please note that you DO NOT have to be from Wisconsin to attend :) Madison, WI is about 2 hours from Chicago and 4 hours from Minneapolis. Please RSVP by July 21st so we can make sure we have enough goodies for everyone! Our space can only accommodate up to 40 guests, so make sure you sign up right away.

We can't WAIT to see you next month!

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What's the Deal with Collective Nouns?

Not sure where to begin when teaching collective nouns? This blog post contains ideas, visuals, and activities for teaching your students all about collective nouns!!
I first learned about collective nouns when we made the switch to the Common Core State Standards several years ago. The standard reads: L.2.1a Use collective nouns. And my first thought was, "What the heck are collective nouns??"
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Student Writing Keepsake Books

I try not to send my students home with a lot of paper. As a mom myself, I have plenty of clutter around my house; I don't need school clutter as well! But one of my most favorite things to do in my classroom is to make my students a keepsake book of all of their published writing pieces throughout the year.
Keep your students' published writing pieces from throughout the year and bind them into a finished book. It will be a great keepsake for your kiddos to remember the year they spent with you. Blog post includes a freebie table of contents, dedication page, and about the author page.
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Beyond Acrostics & Haiku: Teaching Poetry

We are quickly approaching the month of April, which means that a lot of us are gearing up for our poetry unit. Me? I've actually already taught it! My poetry writing unit is my scope & sequence to be taught in January, and I'd love to share what worked for me... and what didn't.

Poetry is SO much more than rhyming verse, acrostics & haiku! I love teaching students the beauty and power of words and language, and I feel like forcing students to write certain types of poems can actually hinder the creative process. So instead of starting my unit teaching the different types of poetry, I focus on teaching students to write thoughtful, meaningful poems. Here are some of the things I do!
Poetry is SO much more than rhyming verse, acrostics & haiku! Check out this post to learn ways to teach your students to focus on the beauty and power of words.

1. Read Poems First!

One of the first things I do before my students write poems is that we is read poems. Lots of poems. I immerse my class with poems. By reading poems, students become aware of the flow and form of poems. Although we all love Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky, I try my best to not focus too much on rhyming, funny/silly poems. Poetry is a genre that allows writers to share their big, strong feelings, and I don't want my students to associate poetry with only humor. Some of my favorite poetry books/poets are: Silver Seeds, anything by Douglas Florian (Mammalabilia, Handsprings, and he has a bunch of seasonal poetry books), Red Sings from Treetops, Mirror Mirror (this is also fun when studying fairy tales), A Poem in Your Pocket for Young Poets, Poems to Learn by Heart... and so many more!

I like to project the poems with my document camera (or you could make photocopies) so that my kids can see the poem while I read it aloud. I read it a few times aloud, and then there are a few things you could do with the poem: I like to hold a whole-class conversation about the poems. Or you could do word study, vocabulary, or fluency work with it, depending on the needs of your class.

I started doing this about three weeks before my poetry writing unit, but next year, I want to dedicate my one of my Read Aloud days per week to do this, starting at the beginning of the year.

2. What Exactly IS Poetry?

It's really important for kiddos to understand that poetry is a completely different genre than fiction or nonfiction. This is the finished anchor chart I used with my class this year, but it was definitely a work in progress throughout the whole unit.
Poetry anchor chart that lists the elements of poems. ALL Poems Have... Some Poems Have...
On Day 2 of my unit, we began to build this anchor chart. We started with the definition and making the list of what ALL poems have. They came up with the first three, but I had to supply the last two: white space and line breaks. They came up with rhythm, repetition, and rhyme themselves, and we added them to the SOME Poems Have side. As we learn the characteristics and elements of poetry, we add them to the list.

3. Options, Options, Options!

This year, I went to the Dollar Spot and scooped up as many different kinds of papers as I could find. Giving students the option to choose papers of all shapes, sizes, and colors can assist with the creative process, and sometimes even spark an idea for what to write about! Here is what my poetry writing station looked like this year:
Poetry Writing Station: Give your students the option of using paper of many different shapes, sizes, and styles. It helps with the creative process!
My kiddos also had the option to write in their Writer's Notebooks.

4. Idea Generation

Coming up with topics to write poetry about is tricky. So we make lots of lists of people, places, things, and ideas that are important and special to us. We also make lists of things that make us happy, sad, scared, or angry. Topics that give us big, strong feelings often spark the best poems. I also love to write poems about every day objects and see them in a new way. One of my coworkers brought me a hot chocolate from Starbucks one morning, and it sparked the BEST poem!
TEACHERS! Model writing poems in front of your class. Show them that anyone can write poetry!
Click HERE for a freebie poetry ideas graphic organizer!

5. Look at Your Subject in a New Way

The beauty of poetry is being able to look at ordinary things in extraordinary ways. I like to take my kids on "field trips" throughout the school so we can study our subjects. We've been to the playground, cafeteria, and our favorite place, the courtyard, so we can get up close with our subjects.
Take your students on a field trip around your school to give them ideas for writing poetry.

6. Boil Down Extra Words

Even though we teach kids to write phrases or even single word lines, they still gravitate to writing complete sentences... or at least in third grade they do! I'd bet if you're a primary teacher, your kiddos would have an easier time with this, haha! So I teach my kiddos to read through their poems and cross off the extra words, helping them to choose precise words with intention.

7. Share Your Poems!

Poems are meant to be shared. To be read aloud. I bought these 8-pack of blank books from Target in the Dollar Spot ($3 per pack) for my students to publish their poems. Our poetry anthologies had a Table of Contents, at least 5 published poems, and an "About the Author" at the end.
These $3 packs of blank books from the Target Dollar Spot are the perfect place for students to make a poetry anthology!
Here are a few poems that my students wrote. They BLEW my mind!
Examples of poems written by children. These are from third grade students! AMAZING!!
Third graders wrote these! Can you believe it?! And the amazing part is that all four of these poems were written by some of the lowest readers in my class! DISCLAIMER: I did write the bottom two for one of my loves, but I just copied her drafts :)

We also took a day to share our poems with our writing partners and then those who wanted to were able to sit in my teacher chair with the microphone and share their favorite poem they published.
Poems are meant to be read aloud! Give your students the opportunity to share their poems with their friends and loved ones.
Poems are meant to be read aloud! Give your students the opportunity to share their poems with their friends and loved ones.

So Do You Teach The Various Styles of Poetry?

Yes I do, but not until the end of the unit. We focus on the words & the elements of poetry as well as the revision process first, and then I show students several types of poems. We spend a few days discussing typical rhyming patterns for poetry, acrostics, haikus, and shape poems, but our main focus is on free verse. I encourage my students to think of their subject first, rather than choosing a type of poem and then trying to make it work. Nothing drives me more crazy than an acrostic poem with the student's first name and then a random adjective for each letter...



I hope some of these ideas have given you some inspiration for your own poetry writing unit! What is your favorite thing about teaching poetry to your students? Let me know in the comments below!



For more poetry ideas, check out my Pinterest Board:
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Cooperative Learning Peep Project

A few days ago, I was perusing Pinterest, and I found this pin which led to this blog post. She used classroom supplies to build a Peep catapult! It was meant to be a STEM activity, except I'm not a STEM expert by any means. However, I love cooperative learning activities, so I decided to take that approach and and bring this gem of an idea into my classroom. And the day before Spring Break was the perfect time to do it!
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes supplies needed AND a freebie.
Since my focus was on cooperative learning, I told them they were to use the supplies to create a "launcher." Here's what I had available.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
I also told my students that if there was anything else they wanted, I could see if I had it in my storage cabinet. They all wanted craft sticks, but unfortunately I was out. Note to Self: Get craft sticks for next year!

I randomly put my students into groups of 2-3. They had to first plan the supplies they would use and to draw a design on this planning sheet. This process took groups anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Then they came to me to get their supplies. I gave my class about 30 minutes to work on their designs.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
We did need a few a ton of reminders to fill out their planning sheet along the way; they were VERY engrossed in the building of the launchers!!

After the time was up, we all sat in a line and each group took a turn to launch their Peep. Most launchers were successful, although two Peeps did end up flying backwards! HAHA!! I wish I would have had the chance to snap a photo of all the Peeps scattered on my floor, but my kiddos were super speedy in cleaning up when we were finished. I suppose I can't really complain about that! Here is a photo, though, of all our launchers:
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
I hope you are able to find some time to give this a try in your classroom! And if you do, leave me a comment and let me know how it went!
Looking for a fun, seasonal cooperative learning project? Challenge your students to make Peep Launchers! Blog post includes suggested materials and a freebie student planning sheet.
These girls were SO proud of their creation!


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Student Accountability During Independent Reading

I run a reader's workshop in my classroom, and at the midpoint in the school year, my students are reading independently for about 40 minutes a day.  Because I am conducting small groups and individual conferences, I don't have the time to be constantly monitoring whether or not my students are actually reading. And you know we always have a few that appear to be reading but really aren't.... How can I get ALL of my students to take their independent reading time seriously?
Are you having trouble keeping your students focused during independent reading time? An independent reading reflection activity is the perfect solution to helping your students take ownership and responsibility over their own work!
Enter the Independent Reading Report. It's a quick checklist that my students use to self evaluate their work during independent reading time. Every Friday, my students complete this half-sheet to reflect on their reading work for the week.
Students score themselves on three areas: Reading the Whole Time, Writing 2-3 Sticky Notes per Day, and Completing their Reading Logs (don't get me started on my opinion of reading logs... but I'm required to use them, so it is what it is...). They rate themselves on a three-point scale. One week I tried to use a 4-point scale, but how can you Exceed Expectations for completing your reading log?

Then, I take about 10 minutes on Friday to go through all my students' reports and I score them as well. Sometimes I'll check in with a few to look at their sticky notes and reading logs again, just to be sure.
You should see my kids run to their mailboxes at the end of the day to see how I scored them and see if our scores matched. I've even had a student approach me, show me her sticky notes for the week, and make me change my score :) And for those kiddos who maybe earned a 1 or a 2 for a certain area, they are motivated to work harder next week to get to the 3. Do I have students who overrate themselves? Yes, a few. But for the most part, they are very in tune with their efforts for the week.

My district's copy center can copy these on two-ply carbon paper, so I send the top copy home and keep the second copy. Then at report card time or for parent teacher conferences, I have lots of data that supports each student's classroom performance.
Want to use this in your classroom? Click HERE to grab this for free!

What else do you do to support your independent readers?


Want to save this post for later? Pin this image below:
Are you having trouble keeping your students focused during independent reading time? An independent reading reflection activity is the perfect solution to helping your students take ownership and responsibility over their own work!

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Quick and Easy Cooperative Games that Build Classroom Community


My third class I ever had was pretty rough. Besides a few high needs behavior issues and a wide range of academic abilities, they struggled with social skills. Specifically working together cooperatively. As a beginning teacher, I was under the assumption that community building only happens at the beginning of the year. Boy was I WRONG! Building classroom community is something you have to do all year long. And coming back from Winter Break is the PERFECT time to start including community building into your daily routine. It will be so beneficial as we head into these next few long winter months.


With all of the standards and curriculum on our plates, it is HARD to find the time to do another thing in the classroom. If you're already holding a morning meeting, you can easily sneak this in during your activity time. If you don't have this time, all you really need is 5 minutes a day, two to three times a week for students to practice valuable social skills.

Since our time is at a premium, here are some of my favorite cooperative learning games that are quick and easy to implement:

1. Human Pretzel

Students work in groups of 5-6 and form a circle. Each student reaches one hand into the circle and grabs the hand of another student. Then they reach the other hand into the circle and grab a different person's hand. Then they have to work together to untwist themselves into a circle. I do allow students to let go of hands to readjust their grips, if needed, but other than that, they have to stay holding hands.

2. Balloon Bump

Start with groups of 3-4. Students have to hold hands in a circle and work together to keep a balloon from touching the floor. They can use any part of their body except for their feet. As they get better at it, make the groups larger. Maybe you can even get your whole class to work together with one balloon!

3. Hula Hoop Balance

Borrow a few hula hoops from your PE teacher and put students into groups of 5-6. Together, they will start with one hula hoop at about nose level and using only their fingertips, they need to work together to lower the hula hoops to the ground.

4. Pass the Hula Hoop

Keep those same hula hoops and put students into larger groups of 7-10. They will hold hands and put one hula hoop in between two students. Then the students will work together to pass the hula hoop around the circle by moving it over their heads, stepping through it, etc.

5. In the Loop

You can do this in groups or as a whole class. With a long rope or piece of yarn, make a large circle in your carpet area. Students work together to get everyone sitting inside the circle. Then you repeat the activity, making the circle smaller each time.

6. Minefield

I like to borrow the plastic spots from my PE teacher for this, or you could use pieces of paper. You need 25 dots/pieces of paper to make a 5x5 grid on the floor. The teacher maps out a secret path to get from one side to another (I write it on a sticky note so I don't forget it LOL). Students line up, and one at a time, they take a step onto the spots. If it is a safe place to stand, I say nothing. If it isn't I say "boom!" and the student goes to the end of the line and the next person goes. The student keeps going until they either step on a "mine," or they get to the other side. The class works together to get everyone from one side of the mine field to the other.

7. STEM/STEAM Projects

There are SO many ideas out there for STEM/STEAM, but many of them take up a ton of time. To keep it within 5-10 minutes, I pick the ones that don't need a lot of supplies and I set a timer for no more than five minutes. Give groups of 4-5 students 20 plastic cups and tell them to build a structure. Or give them a handful of mini marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti noodles and ask them to build a bridge or a structure to hold up an object. The key is to make sure the activity is cooperative and not competitive, so as to create a collaborative classroom environment.


After the Game is Over...

Take the time to debrief with your class when the game is over. Ask questions like, "What went well?" or "What can we do better next time?" Don't forget or skip over this part! This allows them to process their own actions and behavior, which reinforces good behavior and helps them to see what they can work on for next time.


If you like these ideas, check out my Pinterest board for Cooperative Learning. Not only does it have ideas for games, but also for cooperative learning strategies:


This post is part of a blog hop with some of my See Mama Teach friends to bring you a bunch of ideas and freebies to kick 2016 off with a BANG!

Click on the image below to hop to the next blog, my sweet friend Marine over at Tales from a Very Busy Teacher.

Or you can click HERE to start at the beginning of the hop!




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