Inspiring Young Writers

Teaching writing is hard. Let's just be honest. There is no formula, rule or key to being a good writer. Helping students find their voice can be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding parts of a teacher's job. The road to get here, however, can be full of tears and frustration (for both the students and teacher) if it isn't something you intentionally plan for and make time for each day. I am not an expert on teaching writing, but I have learned some tricks along the way. As we start a new year I would like to share some tips and tricks to successful writing instruction. 1 - IT TAKES TIME! Nothing improves without being given time. I know your schedule is cramped and you never seem to find the time to fit in other subjects beyond those frequently tested, but it is worth the effort. Start by looking at your schedule...where can you fit it in? Maybe just 20 minutes a day to start, but you have to start! Find the time and stick to it! 2 - Let them write for fun! Sometimes it is ok to not be writing a perfect paragraph or essay. At times it is best to give students time to write how they would like to write. Maybe it is a rap or a play or a crazy graphic novel. It may not fit your agenda, but if it gets your students to begin to love writing it is well worth it! 3 - Help students find success with writing!  At any writing conference or sharing time be sure to start by stressing the positive. They cannot fix every minute detail in a writing piece so begin by giving them 1 or 2 cheers and 1 wish (something you would like for them to work on). Keep track of this wish and check back with the student to see how they are doing on this area of improvement. Another way to help your students feel successful in writing is using writing sprints. My class loves to build writing stamina with this trick. Here is how it is done: Present an interesting journal/writing topic and explain to students that they will need to write on this topic for 1 minute without stopping. Tell them to go and time it for one minute. At the end of one minute stop the class and see how many of them want to keep going! Assure them that they can continue their work another time. The next day (or week) add some time to your sprint with a new topic. Continue until your sprints can go for about 3 minutes without any student's pencil leaving their paper. They will begin to see that writing does not have to be a daunting task. 4 - Find topics that fit their interest!  So many teachers use the same old boring journal prompts and topics. You need to mix it up and find a different way to peak their interest. Maybe it is with a music video - my students had a ton to say about Taylor Swift's "Mean" video and made a great character lesson!
Ever try inspiring writing with some google images - showing just a picture and asking students to respond can be very powerful.  On a recent writing prompt I gave students 3 pictures to choose from.  Check out the last images I tried out with my students.  It was amazing the responses I guidelines except to write at least a paragraph (could be a narrative, opinion, ANYTHING GOES).  One student wrote an amazing opinion on why fruit has no business in an ice cream sundae, another wrote about the places he would go in his brand new pair of Jordan's, while a third student wrote a narrative from the dog's perspective anxiously waiting for his owners to get home.

Another strategy I have used to inspire my writers is with videos and quotes.  One of my favorite sources for young writers is Kid President.  His videos are adorable and so approachable for kids.  The quotes that you can get from these videos are priceless!  One easy video to start with (and a great thing to go along with the messages of Dr. Martin Luther King) is "20 Things We Should Say More Often."  After watching the video, have your student's brainstorm some ideas of things they should say more often.  You can turn this into your own video like Kid President with each student getting a turn to share their favorite idea or have students write an opinion essay on how saying their one favorite idea from brainstorming will make the world a better place.  I created a fun pack of inspirational quote posters from Kid President.  Even better...most posters have a QR code link that takes you directly to the Kid President video where the quote originated!

Happy Writing!

Trick or Treat Blog Hop!

It is almost that time of year again and why should the kids have all the fun?!  I am so excited to be a part of this awesome blog hop filled with tricks of the trade and treats (who doesn't love freebies and giveaways!). 

I am all about the tricks in my classroom.  I am constantly "tricking" my students into learning.  When I see all of the changes that have happened over the course of my teaching career one of the saddest things I have realized is too often kids aren't given enough time to be kids.  Recess has been shortened, time for self-selected reading or projects has been cut down and many schools have lost or seriously reduced the "specials" that provided such a great outlet to our children.  For these reasons I feel it is important to provide students with time to loosen up in the classroom and have fun.  In doing this you will find that you often are "tricking" them into learning.  Take the lesson I did with a small group of struggling math students last week.  These 3rd/4th graders have been having been having a difficult time with subtraction with regrouping.  After reviewing the rules of subtraction with the group I simply gave each student white board and a 2 digit subtraction problem.  If they solved the problem correctly they were able to shoot a basket in the dollar store basketball hoop that I have in my room.  I then repeated the process with them using another problem.  Meanwhile I kept detailed notes of the mistakes they made or places where they needed extra support.  Students were having fun, the activity required no prep and I gained valuable formative assessment data.  

Almost anything can be turned into a game:
- Old Board Games (Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, etc) - simply add task cards or questions for students to answer and play along
-Ice Cube Trays - glue on words, numbers or anything else you would like and using craft pom poms students toss into the tray to play a game.  My students like to add or multiply 2 numbers that their pom poms land in, but I have also played this where students are practicing segmenting words or reading sight words
- Deck of Cards - play addition or multiplication war
-Solo or Dixie Cups - write words or math problems on each cup and have students solve or read before creating a large cup stacking structure
- Fly Swatter - write words or numbers on a large piece of chart paper or poster board.  Students will love to wait to hear a clue (like a division problem) and try to be the first person to hit the correct answer with the fly swatter

*In my room many of these games are taught and stored on a shelf where students can utilize them when they finish an assignment early or as a "game center" for math or language arts.

Am I the first person to come up with these ideas?  Absolutely not...I just cannot stress enough how much taking ordinary learning that could happen on worksheets and quizzes and turning it into a game has helped my students.  Students are more interested and engaged and thus loving learning once again!  I would love to hear about some of your quick and easy games!  Please comment below with one of your favorites!

As I stated before, I love turning "regular" learning into a game. Even if that game seems very basic, students feel less like they are learning and more like they are having fun!  To that end my freebie is a simple play on "Go Fish" or "Memory Match" where students match basic multiplication facts to their product.  You can make this product fit your students by picking out the individual facts that are giving them trouble or that you would like to focus on!  Enjoy...this freebie is only available through this blog hop!

While you are picking up your freebie feel free to browse around my store.  You will find that many of my products have an element of fun and games to them.  I am offering to giveaway any item from my store to one lucky winner!  Simply enter the giveaway below! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here are a few of my newest products that you may want to check out!


Now hop on to the next great blog for more tricks and treats!  Happy Halloween!

Back To School Blog Hop

I am excited to take part in another fun blog hop!  This is the "Back to School" blog hop and it is full of awesome ideas, freebies and giveaways to help your make the transition back to school a little easier.

Back to School WITHOUT Breaking the Bank

It is back to school time again and as much as this time of year excites does not do any favors to my bank account! I cannot go into a store without finding something that I feel I NEED for my classroom. Pinterest has been both a blessing and a curse for me...especially this time of year. Seeing all of the adorable ideas for classroom decor and organization tips is enough to make your head spin! Over the years I have become pretty good at using recycled materials to take the place of more expensive options. You know what they say, "One man's trash is another man's treasure!" Today I will share some of my favorite items you can easily use or dress up to become a staple in your classroom!

1. Egg Cartons and Ice Cube Trays - I am sure this is something that you probably already have in your house and the uses for these items are endless!  Some of my students' favorite games have been made with ice cube trays and egg cartons *Write a sight word on each space and have students toss a pom pom in and read out the word they land on.  For a math twist on this write a number in each space and toss 2 pom poms - students must add or multiply the numbers they land on.
My favorite use - PAINT PALLETS!  
When you use an egg carton as a paint pallet you can keep paint colors separated better than plates and have fewer spills than when you use cups.  A win, win for everyone!

2. Coffee Cans - Forget about spending money on cute pencil/scissor/crayon organizers...simply cover a coffee can with your favorite wrapping or scrap book paper and you have a whole new look.  I love the versatility this offers you!  Just think of all of the prints and color combination possibilities to fit any classroom theme you choose!  Check out these adorable coffee can pencil holders by Modern Mrs. Darcy

This same principal could be applied to any container you find useful.  I have used decorated Pringles containers to hold larger items like rulers, Ball Jars with a cute ribbon and so much more.

3. Cereal Boxes - I have used cereal boxes for so many things so I always have friends and family saving them for me.  Student "book boxes" or magazine holders are so nice to organize for your reading center.  Students can easily keep their belongings in one place to "grab and go" when they are ready to read.  These magazine holders can be anywhere from $2.50-$10.00 each.  To buy a class set is a HUGE cost, so why not make them?  All you need is a cereal box, scissors and a favorite paper to cover with and you have something to perfectly fit your taste and classroom.  The Sits Girls have a tutorial on their blog for this project!

Another expensive classroom item is a classroom mailbox system.  Tracy from Creekside Teacher Tales explains how she turned boxes like cereal boxes into a mailbox system to easily organize classroom notes and messages.  


4. CD Cases or Plastic Plates - Need a class set of dry erase boards, but don't want to spend the money on it?  Try old CD cases or plastic plates.  The plastic plates work just like a dry erase board.  Buy them in different colors for added fun.  They can be used and reused until they break!  CD cases are really neat to use because you can print off a template or guide for students to use with it.  Just put the guide behind the case cover and students can follow along with ease.  For example, when teaching about telling time print out a blank analog clock.  Students can draw on the hands to follow along with your lesson.  The guide can be easily changed out for different subjects and lessons.  Perfect for differentiation!

5. Cheap Plastic Table Cloths - These beauties come in any color imaginable and can be found at dollar stores around the country!  Best use I have found for them?  Bulletin board covering!  So fast and easy to put up (you can easily fold over excess or cut it off) and it doesn't fade nearly as much paper.  I have found that table cloths can hold up for several school years!  While I love the way fabric looks on a bulletin board it can get extremely expensive!  This a great alternative that won't break the bank!

These bulletin boards are covered in table cloths that have been up in the same classroom for 2 years!  I have since moved out of this classroom, but the teacher in the room is keeping the background colors the same for a 3rd year!

Keeping your budget in mind I am offering a limited time freebie from my store!  This will only be free for this week only!  Stop by my store and check it out!  My Back To School Survival Pack has many great resources to get your year started off right!  As always your feedback is greatly appreciated!

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Decision Time - Decorating Your Classroom

For me, nothing beats the beginning of the school year.  A new year brings anticipation and promise for great things to come.  I always feel so energized to come up with new, better ways of reaching my students.  One thing that I have always found that gives me a lot of pleasure and helps me set the tone for a great year is a new classroom theme.  Finding the perfect desk layout, bulletin board decorations and organization tools is almost as awesome as a new box of crayons.  When the room is all done there is nothing like the look on the students' faces as they get to see your big reveal!

I have tried many different themes throughout the years.  When I choose a theme I commit to it completely.  From bulletin board displays to "star of the week" ideas and cute, themed student pictures I try to think of every detail to make the room just right.  Some of my favorite themes I have used include:

  1. Team/Sports Theme 
            Why You Will Love It - It not only is a high interest theme for both boys and girls, but it also lends itself so well to character lessons (sportsmanship, teamwork and many more).

            Try This - Make "trading cards" with students.  Take each student's picture with their favorite sport's equipment.  Allow students to edit their picture in the computer lab to add their own "stats" or print out the pictures and attach it to construction paper where they can add any writing you would like.  These are fun to use to spark a great writing activity, class "MVP" display and a one-of-a-kind keepsake for students to have at the end of the year.  

             Get Started - Here you will find a freebie from my Sports/Team Themed Resources.  Click on the picture below to get a sports/team themed stationary to help you start this theme.  To take a look at the whole pack click here.

        2.  Hollywood/Movie Theme
              Why You Will Love It - This theme captures the attention and fascination of all students!  They love movies and movie stars so it is a perfect fit for any classroom.  Plus it is easy to find accessories and additional items to fit the theme at a local party store or even Target!  

               Try This - Start the year by rolling out the red carpet...literally!  Make a red walkway with inexpensive red fabric, a red tablecloth folded in half or red bulletin board paper!  Boas, cool hats, and sunglasses make fun props to add a little extra flair for if the paparazzi are on hand!  Another favorite...the "Wall Of Fame." As each student becomes the "Star" of the Week give them his/her own "star" like in Hollywood.  Paint or stamp their handprints on to make it extra special and add it to a fun class display.  

               Get Started - A simple black, white and red color scheme can really add a pop to your display!  I love using fabric for my boards, however, I have also used plastic tablecloths for an easy, clean look...PLUS IT IS CHEAP!  If you are looking for a Hollywood/Movie Themed Resource Pack that has everything you need to easily set this classroom up (for word wall letters/words, bulletin board ideas and printables, star of the week, behavior, nametags, classroom labels and more) click here.  

         3. Super Hero Theme 

                 Why You Will Love It - Showcase each student's individual "Super Power" with this theme.  I love all of the writing and crafts that you can find to go along with this theme.  One google search for this can take you days to sort though!

                 Try This - Draw a city scape with chalk on blacktop (or enlist the help of your class to do this).  Have students take turns wearing a cape and mask (optional), lay on the ground in a "flying" position above the city and take a picture!  So much fun!  Now just print the pictures and have students write a story to go along with it or write about their own talents in a "My Superpower" essay.  
                 Get Started - Every student is bound to enjoy having their turn being the "Superhero of the Week."  Check out some of the fun activities I like to plan for my class in this parent letter! To see more just click here.

         4. Outer Space/ Out of this World Theme

                   Why You Will Love It - This theme really allows students to let their imagination run wild!  And any color scheme can work with this theme so you most likely will not need to change much from your current classroom decor!  

                    Try This - Want a quick easy way to cover a bulletin board or other surface to give it a space feel - TRY TRASH BAGS!  You will be surprised how great they look!

                     Get Started - My Out of This World Pack is sure to give you a great start!

I would love to hear about your plans for decorating your classroom this year!  What is your greatest classroom theme?

Would you like to win one of the 4 classroom resource packs featured in this post?  If so enter below for a chance to win the theme of your choice!


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Guest Post - Minds In Bloom with Rachel Lynette

I am so excited to tell you that I have been asked to guest post on Rachel Lynnette's Minds In Bloom blog.  She is amazing and has been a huge inspiration to me, so I was thrilled to have this opportunity.  Hop on over to find some practical ways to differentiate in your classroom.  Also, to celebrate this fun post I have offered a fun freebie of one of my most popular differentiated products.  Be sure to check it out!  It will only be free for the week of my guest post!

Splish-Splash Its A Summertime Blog Bash

I am so excited to be taking part in my first blog hop!  This blog hop is going to be phenomenal!  Nearly 50 teacher-authors, 50 freebies, 50 giveaways and tons of ideas to get your summer started right!  Thanks so much for stopping by, I hope you enjoy!

Let's start this summer celebration right!  Who doesn't love free stuff?  To commemorate my first blog hop and the start of a much-anticipated summer I have created a new item that will be free ONLY FOR THE DURATION OF THE BLOG  HOP!  WOW!  My new "End of the Year Pack" has 40 pages of resources to help you start your summer off right!  From student awards, writing craftivities, balloon behavior incentives, student gift ideas/tags and a math scavenger hunt...this is a HUGE opportunity!  Hop on over to my TpT store and grab this freebie that is perfect for the end of the school year!  Feedback is always much appreciated on TpT!

It seems like at the end of the school year I always start to plan ahead to next year.  I love to get a head start on planning my classroom theme and start hunting for deals on decorations.  One of my favorite themes for any age is a "Hollywood/Movie" theme.  For this theme I have created a ready-to-go pack of resources including bulletin board ideas and printables, word wall necessities, nametags, classroom labels, "Celebrity of the Week" printables, behavior charts, and much more!  Best of is editable so you can customize portions of this product to fit your classroom!  Enter this giveaway for your chance to win this complete pack! Not in need of the Hollywood theme?  No problem...if you are the winner I would be happy to swap it out for any other product in my store!
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I love my job...I love my students.  I cannot imagine spending my life doing anything but teaching, but what do I look forward to most about summer? Waking up to the sound of my girls laughter instead of an abrupt alarm clock; Walking with the feeling of sand and flipflops between my toes instead of hot and sweaty healed dress shoes; The inviting aroma of backyard barbecues instead of the pungent odor of sixth grade boys after gym class; Witnessing kids splashing at the pool while I catch up on a good book instead of reading student essays until my head spins; Enjoying a leisurely cup of morning coffee sweetened to perfection instead of a rushed cup of coffee poured recklessly at the last second of freedom before the bell rings.

  My favorite summer activity has to be my family's summer "bucket list."  My husband, daughters and myself sit down near the start of the summer and create a "bucket list."  We have made it a tradition to add one thing for each family member that we have never done before but would love to do, a book we would love to read, and something positive we can do for others.  While we have not created our list for this summer, some of my favorites from the past included such items as:
1. Milk a goat  2. Read The Hobbit and watch the movie with daddy 3. Collect items for care packages to send to the troops.

This summer I am especially excited about a surprise trip my husband and I have planned for our girls.  We will be going to Disney World!  The girls have no idea this is happening.  Dining reservations have been made (and we are doing lots of fun character dining experiences) and fast passes are booked.  Now all I have to do is figure out the best way to reveal the surprise!

When I am not on vacation, my favorite summer place is on my deck.  Here is where I can hear the birds sing as I slowly wake up with my coffee, watch my kids run through the sprinkler, feel the warmth of the summer sun as I kick my feet up on my favorite chair, and peacefully watch the sun set at the end of a stress-free day!  

My must-have summer item is definitely a pair of flip-flops.  I don't need the most fashionable, expensive pair...I love the inexpensive ones you find at Old Navy.  I have them in just about every color possible!  Nothing says summer more than breaking out the flip flops!

Five For Friday!

I am so excited to be linking up again with Doodle Bugs Teaching for their weekly Five For Friday linky!
My week started off with some fun news from another awesome teacher-blogger!  

I was featured by Bri at Knowledge Mobile for her Tuesday Teacher Feature.  I am a big fan of her blog and ideas, so it was a huge honor to find myself featured!  Feels nice to get a little love from someone you admire!  

This really set the tone for a great week!  I was even more excited when I remembered that Wednesday I was set to take the first personal day of my teaching career to go on a field trip with my kindergarten daughter!  

Taking a day off for a teacher is unlike any other profession.  Planning for a sub is a huge job, plus many teachers (including myself) feel incredibly guilty for being away from their after 11 years of teaching I finally took a personal day. 

It was a great time at the local Children's Theater!  The only downside...just a few short minutes after arriving back at my daughter's school she became sick.  Now my 1 personal day that I felt horrible for taking turned into 1 personal day followed by 1 sick day to take care of her.  Crazy times, but I won't complain about a little extra snuggle time with my baby!

The third part of my week that I am sharing now is a new product that I am super excited about.  While spending some extra time with my girls over Spring Break we spent a lot of time on rainy days playing board games.  One of their favorites is the "Headbands" games.  This gave me the idea of creating a "Headbands" style game for my students.  

I am excited for the results!  My students have always had trouble with inferential questions.  They do a great job with literal questions where the answer is directly stated in the story, but when they are asked to draw from the story and their own ideas to come up with an inference there seems to be a break down.  With this game students will work in partners (or it can be played in a small group or center) to practice.  Students will take turns putting a picture card on his/her head.  Their partner will then read the story/clue card that they will be able to use to infer what is on their head.  For extra practice and fun students can write their own story or clues to help their partners infer what is on their head.  Student response sheets and answer key are included to allow for student independence.  Great practice at a great price...just $2.00! Get your copy by clicking here.

Amidst all of this fun I had to give a good amount of time to something that was a little more tedious.  Next week my students will begin the end of year PARCC tests.  This meant that final plans for testing accommodations, test times, etc had to be made.  It is a huge job trying to figure out how all of our students on IEPs and 504 plans will be tested in the small testing window given, but I guess we are as ready as we are going to be!

My final fun project for Five for Friday is something I look forward to every year!  April is Autism Awareness Month and I enjoyed helping plan and take part in many special projects to celebrate at my school.  To start each student in our K-6 building (800 in total) contributed a small, decorated puzzle piece to create a huge puzzle mural to celebrate all of our unique qualities that join together to create one, awesome school family.  

The best celebration of the month, however, is our ending celebration "Bubbles For Autism."  All students and staff meet together on our playground and everyone is given bubbles.  After a heartfelt speech from a 6th grader we counted down and the air filled with bubbles.  Students and teachers alike could not help but smile at this beautiful, simple gesture.  All of our differences melted away as we enjoyed the freedom and beauty of this event.  It is a picture and a feeling that I will carry with me for the rest of my days!

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