Friday, July 20, 2012

Quick Fix!

Has your class ever been interrupted by a student who can't find a pencil or needs one sharpened? Here's a quick fix!

Create one jar for sharpened pencils and one jar for dull pencils. When students need a newly sharpened pencil, have them exchange the old for the new! In my classroom, students don't even need to ask to make this exchange. They get what they need, come back to their seats, and get back to work! At the end of the day, I have a student responsible for sharpening all of the dull pencils so that we are ready to go for the next day.


Reader's and Writer's Pledge

Our school uses the Balanced Literacy model for language arts, and I love, love, love my reader's and writer's workshop time every day. Last year, I noticed that many of my students came in not believing they were or even could one day be readers and writers. To help combat those attitudes and instill confidence in all of my students as readers and writers, I developed a pledge for both reader's and writer's workshop. These hang in my reading corner, and a different student leads us in the pledges each day before workshop time!

Reader's Pledge

I am a reader.

I am capable and smart.

I do not study how an author writes; I participate in his or her writing.

I will learn to be a better writer as I read more.

I will learn to be a better reader as I read more.

I will read like I am a writer.

I know that reading is important.

I value the opportunity to read.

I respect other readers.

I take advantage of the time I get to read.

I am a reader.

Writer's Pledge

I am a writer.

I am capable and smart.

I will write like a reader. 

I will learn to be a better writer as I write more.

I will learn to be a better reader as I write more.

I know that writing is important.

I will write with my heart first.

I respect those who will read my work and take the time to make my writing beautiful.

I value the opportunity to write.

I respect other writers.

I take advantage of the time I get to write.

I am a writer.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Morning Rush...

One of the most stressful times of the school day for me is first thing in the morning. Kids come in the classroom in a whirl of chatter, money, assignments, and notes. I've learned, like I'm sure most teachers have, that the key to a stress free (or less stressed, ha!) morning, is a solid and consistent routine! I'm going to use this post to share how I handle some of the most common morning procedures, and I hope you'll find something helpful!

1. Lunch Count

My lunch count idea actually came from a brilliant fourth grade teacher at my school. I did all of my student teaching at the same school I now teach, and Mrs. DeLoach was one of my coaching teachers. (Her website can be found here!) We are blessed to all have SmartBoards in our rooms, and we watch our morning news show through them. Because it's already up and running, it's such an efficient way to do the lunch count! Students are taught at the beginning of the year to come straight in and make a choice before unpacking and sitting down. What's great about the process is that it can also double as attendance. Any name that hasn't been moved is a name of an absent student!

At the beginning of the year, create a Smart File like the one below: 

Remember to lock the squares so that students don't accidentally move them when making a lunch choice. Also be sure to "allow move" on the students names so that they can move them where needed. Each morning, change the lunch choices based on what is on the menu. When the lunch count and attendance have been complete, close the file WITHOUT saving it, and it'll be set to go for the next morning! Not saving it each day keeps you from having to move the students' names back to the bottom of the page every morning!

2. Homework 

I believe in grading homework for completion rather than accuracy, so students generally don't have much homework to turn in every morning. Instead, one of my classroom jobs is "homework checker," and that student is responsible for making sure homework is completed by all of the students. I teach students at the beginning of the year to leave any homework out on their desks when they unpack in the morning. The homework checker goes around to each desk and stamps homework with a date stamp. If I decide to take up homework later or it is an assignment I want to check for completion myself, this stamp lets me know it was turned in on time. My class runs on an economy (I'll share all about that later!), so students who don't have their assignments are given a fine from our classroom police officer. 

If students do have a project or other assignment that will be graded, I use the same procedure in the morning as I do for tests, quizzes, and classwork during the rest of the day. I team teach, so I have a drawer for both of my classes on my desk. Students know to place their assignments in the appropriate drawer when they come into the classroom each morning! This helps keep my two classes separated and organized, too!

(Side Note: Another of my classroom jobs is "substitute." When a student is absent, the substitute is responsible for collecting an extra copy of any tests, quizzes, or other assignments. The substitute writes the absent student's name on the paper and sticks it in the "Were you absent?" drawer on my desk. When the absent student returns to school, all of his/her make up assignments are in one place!

3. Money and Notes

Nearly every morning students have money and notes to turn in, and inevitably an envelope gets set down somewhere and forgotten, a child hands you a handful of crumpled dollar bills with no instructions, or students put time sensitive notes in the homework basket and they don't get looked at until the end of the day. This year, I have decided to combat that with a separate place for money and notes. I purchased a $2 dish drying rack at Walmart to use for this purpose. It has two slender openings on the side that I am using to store envelopes and pens for those students who bring in loose money and checks. I am going to instruct students to always put their name, the amount of money, and the purpose of the money on the envelope before turning it in! Hopefully, this will keep all money and important notes in one location, and I won't feel overwhelmed by ten students handing me envelopes at once!

 That's it for now...happy organizing, and good luck on your "stress free" mornings!


What do you do with no name papers??

Every teacher every year will have to deal with assignments that have been turned in with no's an inevitable (and frustrating) fact of teaching! So, what do we do about it? In the past, I've tried figuring out names myself and keeping a "no name" basket among other ideas, but nothing has worked the way I hoped it would. Browsing Pinterest this summer, I stumbled over a super cute idea for those pesky papers. I am really looking forward to trying it out! 

I made my own "no name" frame with a Dollar Store frame and some clothespins I painted. I created some bulletin board space on one of my walls with butcher paper and border, and voilĂ ! I now have a colorful, prominent location for all those papers!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Keep Track of What You Are Reading and Writing!

My first year teaching I wanted to have a way to keep track of all the books we had read together as a class without writing them on a chart. I think it's important to remember what you have read together so that you can refer back to those common reading experiences later in the year. I had tons of available cabinet space in the back of my room, so I decided to not only record the books we have read, but also add a way for students to classify books by genre and display their writing. I am always looking for ways to make a connection between reading and writing! 

What I decided to do was use each cabinet as a different genre of reading/writing (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, historical fiction, biography/autobiography, and other texts). The top part of the cabinet is for displaying books we have read, and the bottom part is for displaying writing. I added clothes pins to the writing portion to easily change writing samples throughout the year. 

The displaying of what we have read takes a little prep work and time, but once you get it ready you can use it year after year! I print small pictures of the cover of the books we are reading and "laminate" them with clear packaging tape. On the back of each picture I put a velcro circle, and I put the other side of the velcro circle on the cabinets. Then, after we have read a book, we discuss both the author's purpose for writing the book and the genre. As a class we classify the book's genre, and a student sticks the picture of the book cover to the appropriate cabinet. They love our discussions, and they love having the opportunity to put the book cover on the right cabinet!

I've posted some pictures below of what this looks like in my room. Have fun!! 


Organizing Your Classroom Library

Organizing your classroom library can be a daunting task - especially if you have a lot of books! I know many teachers who are continuously frustrated because books are never returned to their homes and can't be found when they are needed. I also know teachers who start the year organized and excited about their library, but find their system difficult to maintain. Luckily, the organization of my classroom library is one of the things I seemed to get right when I began teaching, so I thought it'd be an excellent place to start my sharing of ideas! 

First let me say that setting up this system did take time. I spent many hours the summer before my first year teaching cataloging books, labeling books, and organizing books. I am SO thankful that I spent that time, however, because my books stay organized, and I always know where to find them when a student has a request!

Hopefully, this blog will inspire you to get organized, too! 

1. Catalog Your Books

The first thing I did was make an Excel Spreadsheet listing all of my books in alphabetical order by author's last name. (Side Note: If I had been more Google Apps friendly when I began, I would have used Google Spreadsheet to do this. I love everything about Google Docs, and I highly recommend the tool!) In my spreadsheet I have listed the author, book title, and subject matter of each book. I also have listed the grade level appropriateness, how many copies of each book I have, and the name of the book bin the book will be organized in. I add to this list as I buy new books, and I don't put a book in my library unless I have first cataloged it! 

If you have a lot of books, this is going to be the most time consuming part of your organization, but it is crucial. When a student asks you for a specific book all you have to do is pull up your log, press "Control + F" on your keyboard, and search for the book! You then can check what bin it is located in and help your student find the book. I also love having the subject matter listed because it helps me find books I don't even remember I have. For example, I pull up my log and search for "World War II" when it's time to teach WWII, and every book I have on the subject comes up! What takes a while to do in the beginning becomes a huge time saver in the end!

Here is a screen shot of a portion of my book log...just click it to enlarge!

2. Label and Organize Your Books

You have to decide what categories of books you want to have in your classroom library. I use the following system: 

Each genre of book has a specific label. I used Dollar Store baskets to create bins for the genres. On each bin, I used laminated index cards and book rings to make a label. I put the sticker signifying the genre on each label, and then every book that goes in that bin will also have that sticker. At the beginning of the year I teach kids to match the sticker on the book to the sticker on the label of the bin! It works like a charm! Here are some pictures of my library to help you really see what it looks like!

Biography = red star     

These are any books that fall into the category of biography.

Non-Fiction = yellow star

These are any books that fall into the category of non-fiction. I also include autobiography here.

Fiction = green star

These are any books that fall into the category of fiction. I have more of these baskets that any other! (Side Note: If I have multiple books by one author, I organize those into an author study bin. If the fiction book is part of a series, I organize those into a series bin. Class sets and books considered to be classics are also in separate bins.)

Mystery = silver star

These are any books that fall into the category of mystery.

Poetry = yellow circle

These are any books that fall into the category of poetry. 

Historical Fiction = pink circle

These are books that fall into the category of historical fiction. 

Reference = green circle

These are books that are considered reference. I have separate bins for dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, etc. They all have the same green sticker, but their labels have different names. 

Books in a Series = orange rectangle

These are any books that are part of a series. All books in a series have an orange rectangle, but I differentiate the series by creating a special label for each series. For example, Harry Potter books are abbreviated with an HP. Each book in the series has an orange rectangle with an HP, and the bin for the series also has an orange label with an HP. 

Author Study = green rectangle

When I have multiple books by one author, I create author study bins. All author study books have a green rectangle, but I differentiate by creating a special label for each author. This special label is usually the author's initials. 

Classics = yellow rectangle

These are books that are considered classic literature. 

Classroom Sets = pink rectangle

When I have a classroom set of books, I keep them in a larger bin separate from my other books. I use pink rectangles on these books, but I number each book in the set. Because each student in my class has a number, numbering the books helps me keep track of them when we use them. Student number one receives book number one, etc. I always know which students have the missing books when we are done using them!

Here are some pictures of the complete library! (Please excuse the mess in the background! The library is just about the only thing ready in my room right now!)


 I keep my read aloud and picture books separate from the chapter books. They are organized by subject (Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, and "Read Aloud" books (feel good books or books that don't otherwise have a specific subject correlation). I am lucky to have two tier shelving for each of these categories, so I keep my related professional texts on the top shelf, and the read alouds on the bottom shelf! The past couple of years I have left these shelves open, but this year I am going to make curtains to cover them up. I'll post pictures of those when they are done, but here is what they look like for now!

 Read Aloud = blue star


Well, that's it for my classroom library! I hope you found this helpful and are ready to get organized!