Sunday, July 30, 2017

12 Back to School Read Alouds {Organized by Category}

The beginning of the year is such an exciting time. There are new students to meet, expectations and procedures to teach, and everything in between.  Despite the craziness that comes with the first few weeks of school, I always find time to read aloud to my students.  Picture books are a great way to have conversations about rules, expectations, behavior, making good choices, kindness and friendship.

This post contains affiliate links for your shopping convenience.  I earn a small commission each time someone makes a purchase through one of my links, which allows me to buy more books for my classroom.  :)  For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

Below are 12 books that are perfect for the first few weeks of school.  I've organized the books by category, which I hope you find useful.  :)

Books to Reinforce Rules & Expectations

If you use voice levels in your classroom, then you might find this book helpful.  Isabella has a really, really loud voice.  With the help of her teacher she learns that there are different voice levels reserved for different kinds of communication tasks.  This book is perfect for talking about voice levels in your classroom. Better yet, if you use a voice level chart, this book is a great way to talk about those levels.  (*see below for a fun surprise).
What if Everybody Did That? 
I read this book every year as a follow up to our discussion about our class rules.  It is great for helping students see why we have rules and expectations.  It gives lots of examples of how things would be if everybody went about their day ignoring the rules.

My Mouth is a Volcano
I love this book.  It's perfect for primary students who often struggle with waiting their turn to speak.  It's a fun story, but it is useful in leading a discussion about the need for raising hands and/or waiting for one's turn to speak.

*I've used a voice level chart in my classroom for many years, but after rereading Decibella, I decided to update the version I currently use to one that includes the wording found in this book.  You can grab this (free) voice level chart HERE.  The download includes a few suggestions for displaying the chart in your classroom :)

Books to Reinforce Good Manners

Please, Mr. Panda
Manners are a big deal.  I expect my students to use words like "please" and "thank you" and this book reminds the reader just how powerful these words can be.  The text is very simple and it is a very quick read, but it is great for facilitating a conversation about manners.

I'll Wait, Mr. Panda
Ok, so this book really, truly addresses the act of being patient, but that goes along with having good manners.  In my book, anyhow.  ;)  Again, the text is simple and it is a quick read, but the students "get it" and it's another great lead in to a conversation about good manners (or being patient).

I am a Booger...Treat Me with Respect
Yep, the title is just as gross as the real thing.  But, seriously, this book is a must read. It gives lots of reasons why one should not pick their nose, and gives alternatives to doing so (remember, we're working on manners here).  Sometimes, I read this a few times throughout the year.  (ewww...)

Books to Teach About Mindset

Three Little Words
First of all, the illustrations in this book are precious.  Illustrations aside, it is a great (and simple) read for encouraging students to be persistent.  It's great for leading a conversation about never giving up and moving forward, no matter what obstacles we face.  I know that all sounds so grown up, but the text and illustrations are meant for primary aged students. The message will make even more sense when it is seen and discussed. 

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
The character in this story, Beatrice, is a perfectionist, but she eventually makes a mistake.  This book is an important one because often times we have a few students who fear making mistakes. They look at small mistakes as detrimental to their overall success. This book can help facilitate some important conversations about the importance (and power) of making mistakes.

Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain
This book actually shows students how the brain works, but it is perfect for (once again) leading conversations about making mistakes, and how learning and trying new things (even if they are hard) makes our brains grow.

Books that Promote Kindness  & Friendship

Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship
I love this sweet story of two unlikely friends who, despite the norms of their world, decide that their friendship is most important. At the beginning of the year, students are making new friends, and meeting up with old ones. I think it's good for them to be reminded that any friendship they form should be based on how they feel in their heart, and not based on what others tell them.

What Does it Mean to Be Kind?
Kindness is a recurring theme in my classroom all year long, but I definitely like to get started with it from the get go. This book is great for explaining and showing what kindness looks like (and just how easy it is to be kind).  After reading the book, we usually make a list of ways we can show kindness at school.  Each day, the students choose an act of kindness for the day.

Stick and Stone
This is a sweet story about kindness and friendship.  It shows how friendship can be born out of kindness and that good friends don't give up on one another. 

What are your favorite books for back to school? Feel free to leave your favorite title(s) in the comments below.  :)


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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Using Exit Tickets to Support Reflection in the Primary Classroom

Exit tickets are a great informal assessment tool.  Typically students respond to a question at the end of a lesson. The students' responses are helpful in determining the various levels of understanding among the students. They are a quick and easy way to identify and meet your students' needs. 

Using exit tickets to assess specific skills is great, but I really like using them to help students develop the skill of reflective thinking. 

As teachers, we are encouraged to reflect on our teaching.  We focus on the lessons that we've taught and identify what went well, what didn't go well, and how we can improve the things that didn't go well.  This kind of thinking is important for our students too.  Students of all ages should be encouraged to reflect on their learning experiences whether that entails identifying what they learned or how they felt about that learning.  

Chances are you already do this in one way or another. Exit tickets are by no means the only way to help students be more reflective of their learning, but they are a quick and easy way to do this.

Using Exit Tickets for Reflection
We definitely need to know how our students are specifically performing on various skills, but it's also important that we encourage them to think about their learning and to reflect upon it in different ways. 

Here are a few benefits of using exit tickets to encourage reflective thinking:
  • They give students practice with higher order thinking and self-monitoring.
  • They help students think more deeply about their learning experiences.
  • They are an easy way to squeeze in a bit of extra writing.
  • They give students practice with communicating thoughts and ideas.
  • They can provide insight to your students' strengths and weaknesses from their perspective which can help drive your instruction/interactions with your students.
When starting out, keep it really simple. Maybe you begin by having your students simply identify how a particular lesson went for them, without writing anything.

Once they become comfortable with reflecting on their learning in this capacity, use exit tickets that require them to write about their learning. 

When is the right time to use reflection exit tickets?
At the end of a lesson, of course!  But, who's to say you couldn't also use them at the end of the school day?  I say do it!

Once your students have mastered the skill of reflecting on a single lesson, transitioning to the task of reflecting on a longer chunk of time makes sense. More specifically, why not task students with reflecting on their whole day?  They can focus on one or two learning experiences (depending upon the exit ticket you use). 

When students are tasked with reflecting on a longer chunk of time, like the whole day, they practice prioritizing and weighing options as they choose what to share on their exit ticket. It might be challenging, at first.  And, that's OK.  Challenge + Practice (and persistence) = Growth. 

The more opportunities students have to reflect on an entire day's learning, the easier it will get for them. 

Honestly, how often you use exit tickets for reflection is entirely up to you.  I don't like to overdo it because then students are less likely to submit quality responses. They are also less likely to take the act of reflection seriously.  I think 2-3 a week for my second graders is sufficient for working on this skill. 

What should I do with the exit tickets?
What you do with the exit tickets is entirely a personal preference, but here are a few suggestions:
  • Glue or staple them to appropriate pages in interactive notebooks.
  • Write a note to students on the exit ticket and send them home.
  • Hang on to the exit tickets and staple them to completed assignments when/if appropriate.
  • Keep them long enough to help you decide whether you need to address certain issues or reteach any content.
(Free) Resources
If you're looking for a few exit tickets you can use to encourage the skill of reflection I've got you covered.  Click HERE to download all of the exit tickets shown below.  You can use them at the end of a lesson or at the end of your day.  Enjoy!


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Monday, July 24, 2017

All About Me {The Perfect Back to School Theme}

Raise your hand if you love using the All About Me theme at the beginning of the school year.  My hand is raised.  Actually, both hands are raised.  All About Me is the perfect theme for back to school!

7 Reasons the All About Me Theme is Awesome
The All About Me theme is nothing new.  It's a traditional theme typically reserved for the beginning of the school year, but it is also relevant all year long.  Just because this theme is traditional doesn't mean that it lacks value.  It has so much to offer:
  • It helps students learn about each other (when information is shared with the class or a partner).
  • It encourages self-awareness and self-reflection.
  • It celebrates individuality.
  • Students can learn about their similarities and differences.
  • It promotes self-esteem and self-identity.
  • It reinforces a sense of self.
  • It builds confidence because students are able to report on something they are an expert in (themselves!).
What this Theme Looks Like in My Classroom
Every year, I have my students make an All About Me book. They work on this keepsake project during the first or second week of school and since we work on it bit by bit each day, it takes approximately 2-3 weeks to complete.

As mentioned, it's a keepsake project, but I also use it as a means to learn about my students and for the students to learn about each other.  More on that in just a moment.

The project starts off with several simple prompts that require little to no writing.  These kinds of pages are great for helping students focus on small bits of information at once. It's too overwhelming to task primary kiddos with jumping in and sharing everything at once.  Here are a few examples.

These kinds of pages also give students ample opportunities to work on their quality of work habits (coloring in the lines, using colors that make sense, and so forth) without worrying about lengthy writing assignments.  I like to display this poster via my classroom projector as students work so they can be reminded of my expectations.

You can grab this free poster HERE. Print it out and display it in your room, or simply project the PDF onto your board so students can see it while they work (my favorite).  :)

As the project progresses along, the students begin to include more writing about themselves.  They make lists, use writing prompts, and eventually write an informative piece about themselves.  These pages were designed to not only provide students opportunities to tell about themselves in more detail, but to scaffold them as they ease back into the writing process at the beginning of the school year.  Once again, here are a few examples.

Using the Keepsake to Build Community
As we work on this project, one day at a time, I build in share time.  This is how the students are able to learn about each other, and come to recognize their similarities and differences.

This built in share time can look different from day to day. You gotta keep them on their toes, right?

Here are a few ways the students share the information on the pages they've completed:
  • one on one with a classmate
  • one on one with a classmate and then each student shares something about the other with the class
  • with the entire class (while sitting in my read aloud chair and/or using the class microphone)
  • with the entire class (while projecting their completed page via the document camera)
  • in groups of 3-4 students
These built in share times are great for working on oral communication skills as well as cooperative learning skills.

Will you be using the All About Me theme this year?

All About Me Keepsake Book
You can find the complete All About Me keepsake project featured in this post in my TPT store.  Click the image to be taken to the listing on TPT.


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Thursday, July 6, 2017

6 Reasons to Use Brag Tags in the Classroom

Brag tags are my favorite classroom management tool when it comes to helping mold, shape, and reward behavior in the classroom.  Over the years, I have found them to be highly effective and worthwhile.  If you've found yourself wondering about brag tags and whether or not they're for you, or you're looking to change up your current classroom management system, then this is the post for you!

Today, I'm sharing 6 reasons I love using brag tags in the classroom.

Brag tags are a great tool for quickly and easily rewarding students for making good choices, working hard, and accomplishing personal and academic goals.  I have a few blog posts with lots of brag tag specifics.  If you're looking for more detailed information on how I use brag tags, store brag tags, etc, be sure to check them out:
Bragging About Brag Tags
Brag Tags {Tips & Tricks}
Brag Tag{All Your Questions Answered}
But today's post is all about why brag tags are worth using.  Keep reading to find out why.

They are easy to implement and use.
I like to keep things simple.  There are enough things going on in the classroom (at one time), so the last thing I need is some complicated, convoluted classroom management system that I can't keep up with. Brag tags have been the perfect tool in this respect.

On the first day of school, I introduce the brag tags to my students.  I explain what brag tags are, how they can be earned, and the rules for wearing them.  Just a simple conversation-you don't need a PowerPoint presentation, an elaborate anchor chart, or anything else.  Remember, I like to keep it simple, so a simple whole group discussion does the trick for me. To make our conversation more effective and meaningful, I include the students and ask them to offer examples of desired behaviors and that could result in earning a brag tag. I typically revisit this conversation each day during the first week, asking students to explain the rules, expectations, etc.  Click HERE for more details.  Once the system is explained, I start awarding brag tags.  However, they must be earned.  I don't hand them out like there's no tomorrow. 

I keep my brag tags in containers that allow me to easily access them as needed throughout the day.  I've organized the tags so I know where to quickly find what I need, as I need it. When I see a behavior deserving recognition, I walk over, grab the tag I need, and give it to the student.  Simple. :)

For more details on how I organize my brag tags, click HERE.

They are low maintenance.
Once you do the initial prep work (print, laminate, cut, and hole punch), you're pretty much good to go! You will have a collection of tags to pull from throughout the year and you simply replenish/add to your collection as needed. There's no need to shop for anything week to week.  No need to send home letters asking families to donate to your prize box or classroom store. None of that.

When I first started with brag tags, I prepped about one tray's worth of tags. I wanted to see if they were the right fit for me.  They were! So, once I realized this, I started to make more tags so I had a bigger collection to pull from.  Now, I simply replenish my supply during the summer when I spend lots of time binge watching my favorite shows.  Prepping brag tags is the perfect "TV job."  A little prep work up front goes a long way with brag tags.

They provide immediate feedback.
When a student demonstrates a desired behavior, makes a good choice, sets an example for others, or accomplishes a goal, I recognize it on the spot by awarding a brag tag. This way, my students are given positive reinforcement after the desired behavior/effort/choice is demonstrated.  As a result, students feel acknowledged.  Using brag tags to positively recognize students' efforts and/or choices tells them that their efforts and accomplishments are valued. 

They encourage positive behavior and social skills.
Using brag tags to immediately recognize positive behavior encourages students to continue to exhibit those same behaviors again and again.  When other students see their classmate earn a brag tag for staying on task while those around them are busy talking and losing track of time, they are encouraged to modify their own behavior and make more of an effort.  When Sally earns a tag for being helpful when Billy dropped his pencil box (and everything fell out onto the floor), other students remember this and are more likely to offer help when someone next to them experiences something similar.

They make students feel proud.
Brag tags are like little trophies.  They allow students to feel proud of their efforts and accomplishments.  When my students earn a new tag, they get to wear their necklace.  And, on Fridays, everyone wears their necklace. I frequently catch my students thumbing through their collection of tags.  They read them, count them, and look at them. They like to show their favorite tag to their teaching buddy.  Being able to hold, touch, and look at their tags gives them the opportunity to reflect on everything they've accomplished up to that point.  And you know what that means....they're more motivated to work hard and do their best so they can earn more brag tags.

They are fun.
Yep, I said it.  There's nothing wrong with having a classroom management system that also happens to be fun, it just allows for more student buy-in.  So what makes it a fun system?  Well, for one thing, the tags are bright, colorful, and have pictures on them.  And, they are placed on necklaces...that get to be worn!  As I mentioned above, on Fridays my students wear their necklaces.  It's something to look forward to each week.  Every Friday, at least one student tells me, "Don't forget, we get to wear our brag tags today."  My students are excited each week to get that necklace around their neck.

If you are a brag tag fan and have a reason or two for using them in the classroom, please feel free to  share them in the comments below. :)

A Freebie for You!
To help you get started with brag tags, enjoy this freebie!  If you're already an avid brag tag user, you can still enjoy this can never have too many brag tags, right?  ;)  The freebie includes full color and black/white options, simply use the version you like best. Click HERE to download.

More Brag Tag Related Posts
Be sure to visit my other posts that are filled with brag tag specifics, tips & tricks, and more!
Bragging About Brag Tags
Brag Tags {Tips & Tricks}
Brag Tag{All Your Questions Answered}

Brag Tag Resources
Looking for a more complete brag tag collection?  Be sure to check out my resources on TPT.  I have lots of options available.  Click on an image to learn more. :)

I also offer black and white brag tags for those who prefer a more ink friendly option.  :)

Don't forget it, pin it!

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

So Many Task Cards, So Many MORE Uses {7 MORE Ways to Use Task Cards in the Classroom}

Task cards are a staple that every teacher can use.  They are effective and engaging, low prep, easy to use, versatile, and they can be used with any subject.  Task cards are one of my favorite resources because of all these things.

A while back, I shared ways in which task cards can be used in the classroom.  Click HERE to read my original post featuring seven terrific uses for task cards.

But here's the thing, there are even more ways to use task cards!  So, I'm back with a new post featuring seven more ways to use this versatile resource.

Use them to assess your students at the end of your lesson.
In my previous post, I shared that I often project task cards (one at a time) via my document camera as part of our math warm up.  Why not project them at the end of your lesson (any subject) to assess your students' understanding of the content you just taught?   

To do so, have your students respond on their personal whiteboards. Don't have personal whiteboards?  Place a piece of paper in a dry erase pouch (see below), it can serve the same purpose.  :) They can hold up their answers on your signal and you can quickly assess.  From there, you can note who you need to meet with in small groups for further instruction or address any misconceptions on the spot.

Use them to give students practice with explaining their mathematical thinking.
Yes, there are task cards for every subject, but I love using my math task cards to help students practice and gain confidence in the area of explaining their mathematical thinking.

Give each student a task card.  Then, pair students up and task them with explaining to their partner how they solved the problem/arrived at their answer.  This is a difficult skill for primary students (at first) and by practicing with a classmate one on one, it can ease their nerves and help them build confidence. 

Use them to play a game of Around the School.
Around the Room (or I Spy as I often call it) is huge deal in my classroom.  We play it often, and the kids love it. You can use any set of task cards for this activity.  Simply set your task cards around the room, give your students a clipboard, and have them go from card to card until they are finished. You can read more about his activity here.

Buuuut, if you want to mix things up, or reward your students (while sticking to your objectives) why not take that game of Around the Room (or I Spy) out into the hallways and learning areas around your school?  Or, even the playground?  Of course some ground rules would be in order, but it would be a fun change of pace.

Use them as an exit ticket.
Yes, this is another form of informal assessment, but it's good to have variety!  Task cards are usually printed 4 to a page.  Print out a page of cards and have your students solve/answer the four cards on their page as their exit out the door.

Use them at the end of your lesson for independent practice.
I like to do this often.  At the end of my lesson, I will divide a set of task cards up among my table groups.  And, I give each student a piece of paper (sometimes colored paper...because that's more fun) and have them fold it into sections (usually four).  They use the spaces on their paper to solve any four of the task cards at their table group.

So, how is this different than an exit ticket?  Because, once the students have solved/answered their task cards, you can invite volunteers to come to the whiteboard to teach the class!  They can show their task card to the class and then show/explain how they answered it.  This can be done using a dry erase marker, or they can place their paper under the document camera.   Or, pair students up and let them teach each other (kind of an extension of idea number two).  Simply choose a method of sharing that best matches the type of task cards your students are working with.

For me, this works best with math task cards because the students show their work. They can bring their task card and their paper to the board and show the class how they solved the problem.  Then, when I go back to their papers later on, I can easily understand and evaluate their work.

Use them to play Race to 10.
Students can work in pairs to play this game. Give each pair of students some task cards (at least 24) and some counters.  Students place the set of task cards face down between them.  To play, students take turns solving/answering each task card.  Each time they get the answer right, they collect a counter.  The first person to collect 10 counters is the winner!

Use them to play a game.
Pair students up and have them use their task cards to facilitate a game of tic-tac-toe!  Give each pair of students a stack of task cards.  They can draw a game board on a piece of paper and place their stack of task cards (face down) next to their game board.   Students will take turns answering the question on their task card. If they answer correctly, they get to mark a space on their tic-tac-toe board.  If they do not answer correctly, they skip a turn.  Using double sided counters is a great way to preserve the game board.  When the game is over, they can be easily cleared away so that a new game can be played without having to redraw the game board.  :) 

You could use this same idea with any game, like Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and so forth.

Be sure to visit THIS POST for more ideas for using task cards in the classroom.

Looking to add some task cards to your classroom?  I have several sets of math related task cards in my TPT store.

I hope you were able to take a new idea or two away from this post!


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