Monday, August 15, 2016

10 Tools Every Teacher Needs

Let's talk teacher tools today!  We all have our favorites.  Or, at least ones we can't live without, or need in our lives. With the help of several dear teacher friends, I've compiled a list of 10 different tools that every teacher needs.

1. Markers
There are so many great markers out there, and some markers are better than others, depending upon what you're using them for.

Mr. Sketch markers are great for making anchor charts (and they smell good-bonus!).

Flair pens are perfect for grading and writing comments.  I even use them to record grades in my grade book.  This way, I can alternate the colors in each column which makes it easier for me to keep track of where I am as I transfer my grades to the computer.

Sharpies are great for labeling!

And, let's not forget about dry erase markers. The Expo brand markers are my favorite, but there are other options out there. Let's be honest, if you have a whiteboard, these are a must.  Fun colors are optional, of course, but it never hurts to have a pink marker at your disposal.

2. Stapler
This is seriously my favorite stapler, obviously it cannot be used to staple packets or booklets together, but it serves its purpose.  It is probably one of the cheapest Swingline staplers available, and I didn't buy it in this condition.  A few years ago the bottom broke off as I was stapling stuff to my wall. Turns out that was the greatest thing ever!  I now have the best stapler for hanging stuff on the walls/bulletin boards.

But, what about stapling those packets and booklets?  I'll be honest, a stapler is a stapler to me, but one of my sweet teacher friends who helped compile this list, loves her Paper Pro stapler. She kind of won't staple anything without it.  Bottom line, teachers need staplers, no matter what they look like or what they are used for.

3. Xacto Knife
This nifty little tool is great for so many things.  You can use it to scrape hot glue from surfaces (I've used it to scrape it off of my plastic cubby drawers and the metal frame of my whiteboard).  Along these same lines, the knife is handy when trying to remove sticky objects from surfaces (stickers and labels).  And, of course, you can use it to cut things. ;)

4. Laminator/Lamination Pouches
Now, I realize that your school probably has a laminator.  So does mine, but it is not very reliable, and we aren't allowed to use it.  We turn in our lamination and it gets done twice a week.  But, our machine is old and often times, the lamination peels right off.  And other times, I might need something laminated for tomorrow's lesson but the designated lamination day is still two days away.  Plus, I can easily laminate over the summer from my kitchen counter while binge watching Netflix.  It's a win-win all the way around.

There are lots of brands out there, but my teacher friends and I all use this Scotch Laminator.

As for pouches, Scotch brand is my favorite, but I usually purchase the generic ones.  The quality is good and I've never had a problem with them (and I save a lot this way).

5. Magnetic Tape
This stuff is great for attaching posters or schedule cards to your whiteboard.  I love using it to magnetize my students' log in cards.  I just stick a piece of the magnetic tape to the back and stick them to the side of my filing cabinet where the kids can find their card as needed.

The magnetic tape from the craft store is great quality. This package is from Hobby Lobby.  The teacher stores sell the magnetic tape on little dispensers (like Scotch tape), but I've always found that tape to be weak in comparison to the stuff you can find in the craft store.

6. Flash Drive
Flash drives are a great way to access your files at school and then at home, and vice versa.  Don't worry, I am well aware of services like Dropbox and Google Docs for accessing files, but online network connections aren't always reliable.  If you find that Internet access is not super reliable where you are, the flash drive is a great option because all your files are stored on that little stick, not the cloud.

7. Document Camera/Projector
A few years ago, we all got document cameras and projectors installed in our classrooms.  I don't have much technology in my classroom.  In fact, this is the only tech I have (unless my 9 year old desktop computer counts).  But, I will say, hands down, we all love and use this set up daily.  They are great tools to use during whole group instruction.

I often project an activity page, our math journal page, or even task cards via my document camera/projector set up. I love the ease of projecting things onto the board and then writing on the board as needed with my whiteboard marker (it's a bit of time saver in many cases). Using this set up makes it easier for students to follow along.  And, the students love coming to the board/document camera to share answers/explain things to the class.

If this is something your district doesn't readily provide, Donors Choose might be an option. :)

8. Glue Gun
Glue guns are pretty useful.  You can use them when decorating your classroom. More specifically, they are handy when attaching border to your bulletin board frame, gluing decorative accents to baskets and buckets (like bows), hanging posters and other pieces to cinder block walls or laminate surfaces, and attaching labels to your book bins/centers bins.

My new favorite is the cordless glue gun.  This features is especially helpful when setting up your classroom.  You have the freedom to move around and glue as needed without being limited by the cord. Whichever you prefer, a glue gun is a great tool to have on hand.

9. EZ Grader
This nifty slider makes grading easy. Hence the name, obviously.  But seriously, just slide the insert over to the number of questions you're grading and then look down the window to find the overall score of whatever you're grading. Easy peasy. (Please excuse the old pic.)

Did you know there is an app for that?  I mean, there's an app for everything, right?  There are actually a few grading apps, but I like Groovy Grader. It's free and it is super easy to use.

10. Actual Tools
More specifically, a hammer, a screwdriver, nails, etc. can come in quite handy. These are not everyday tools, of course, but they are useful to have on hand. So, when would you need this?  Most likely, when you're setting up your room.  That's when I use mine.  They are so helpful when hanging things on the wall or building small pieces of furniture.  My friend (who helped compile this list) keeps an actual toolbox in her wardrobe.  It has a hammer, screwdriver, measuring tape, the works.  I like to keep this tool on hand.

It's an all in one hammer/screwdriver.  See how it comes apart and lots of different screwdriver sizes are hidden inside the hammer?  So cool!  It comes in handy when hanging things on the wall, or as mentioned above, building small pieces of furniture. I most recently used this tool to assemble a rolling cart from Ikea. In case you're wondering, I found this hammer gizmo at Michaels several years ago. Definitely worth checking out.

Do you have a tool that you think every teacher needs?  Tell us in the comments!  :)


This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a small commission on your purchase. For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.


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Monday, August 8, 2016

So Many Great Teaching Resources from Oriental Trading

Hey everyone! Today, I'm sharing some super fun teaching resources from Oriental Trading. That's right, teaching resources!  They offer more than party supplies these days. ;)  And, you can add your favorite teaching resources to a wishlist that can be shared with others.  Keep reading!

This year, we have lots of changes taking place at school.  Our literacy framework is changing, and we're also restructuring our intervention and enrichment time.  I knew that there were going to be some resources that would help me with these changes.  Like these dry erase sleeves.  Sidenote: I love the black edges!  These sleeves will be perfect for use with small groups and in my word work centers.

These read to self phones will also be great for small groups. They will be perfect for encouraging whisper reading during guided reading.

These sight word cards will be a another great guided reading tool.  I love warming up with sight words. I love that you can place these cards on a ring so that you can give each student an individualized set of words to study, if desired.

Last year we piloted a new math program.  It was lacking in hands on activities. So, I was super excited to grab a few resources that will help spice up our math block a bit since we're still using this same program.  Our program references number lines often, but the students only get to use them in the form of a workbook page.  Boring! These dry erase number lines will make our practice a little more fun, a little more engaging, and even more mobile. Now, the kids can work in pairs on the carpet while they practice.

I don't know what it is about dry erase, but students love writing and wiping! So, when I saw these 100 chart puzzles, I couldn't resist.  This is another concept that is revisited often in our program, but again, in the form of a workbook page.  I think these cards will be a nice supplement to the material as they will be able to practice this skill, but will be able to have a little more fun doing so.

I have never had a class set of rulers.  After 12 years, I decided it was time I fix this.  These rulers were too good to pass up. The value is great and I now have enough rulers for a whole class!  Excuse me while I dance the happy dance.

Finally, how cute are these stickers?   I'm a firm believer that teachers can never have too many stickers.  Hehe.

Did you know that you can create a wish list on Oriental Trading?  I love this because now I can keep track of all the things I want to/hope to purchase in the future.  No more hunting for them when I go back to purchase, they are all housed in one convenient area where I can just add them to my cart. Plus, it has a "public view" feature, so you could share the link to your wishlist with friends, family, and your students' parents.

Have you visited Oriental Trading lately?  Head on over and check out all their great teaching resource options, today!

Disclaimer: Oriental Trading sent me the resources featured in this post. Regardless of this, these are 100% my own opinions and ideas for use in my classroom.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Brag Tags {All Your Questions Answered}

I know I have said it before, but brag tags are a great classroom management tool.  Wait, they are better than great.  They are effective.  Brag tags motivate students to work hard and make good choices.  They encourage students to maintain (and adopt) positive attitudes.  And, they help reinforce citizenship skills and personal responsibility.  Sounds too good to be true, right?  Almost.  Only it is true!  Having used brag tags for several years now, I can honestly say that they have been a total game changer for me and my students.

I frequently get asked lots of questions about brag tags. Today, I'm sharing many of those questions, along with my answers. My hope is that the information will help you as you begin, or continue, to use brag tags in your classroom.

First, please know that there is no right or wrong way to use brag tags.  How you choose to use brag tags in your classroom will ultimately boil down to personal preference and what you know will work best for you.  Brag tags are versatile and can be used to fit your management/teaching style. Hopefully the information in this post will help you to find a system that works for you.

All of the answers that follow are based on my personal experience and management style.  I'm in no way suggesting that my way is THE way.  Instead, I'm hoping that you can use this information and take what works for you and modify/change the things that don't.  Knowing how you're going to use brag tags is important, but it's also important that you decide how that needs to look and how that will work for you.

So, let's get started!

What are brag tags?
Brag tags are a classroom/behavior management tool that allows you to quickly and easily recognize, encourage, and reward positive behavior and student effort.  You can also recognize and reward students for their participation, positive attitudes, setting and meeting goals, making academic progress, and more. Best of all, they motivate students to make good choices and do their best.

Literally speaking, they are little tags that students earn by making good choices, working hard, meeting goals, setting a good example, demonstrating a positive attitude, and so on.  Students collect tags throughout the school year and add them to a chain necklace.

Where do you get the necklaces?
I usually purchase my necklaces on eBay.  But, if eBay isn't something you're into, you can also find them on Amazon.
Do you have to use a necklace?  What are some alternatives?
You absolutely do not have to use necklaces.  This is one of those preference things.  I like the necklaces. They are easy to store and the the kids love them.  But, one alternative is to let your students collect their tags on a loose binder ring that they attach to their backpack.

You could also let your students collect them in a library pocket or a hanging shoe organizer that you might have space to display somewhere in your room.  

When do your students wear their brag tags?
My students wear their brag tag necklaces whenever they earn a new tag.  On Fridays, everyone wears their necklace.  I do have a strict hands off policy though. If a student plays with their necklace or is allowing it to distract them, off it goes.  I take the time at the beginning of the year to explain this expectation and remind students that our learning is most important.  If they are busy playing with their necklaces, they aren't focused on their learning.

Do you let your students keep their brag tags?
I do!  During the year, the students earn their tags and add to their collection.  At the end of the year (the last day to be more specific), they get to take their necklace home to keep for forever!

Do you let your students take their brag tags home throughout the year?
No.  If they take them home, they may never come back.  The brag tags stay at school until we are ready to send them home at the end of the year.

Where do you store your brag tags?
I store my prepped and ready to use brag tags in DMC floss organizers (the thread used for cross stitching) on a shelf behind my desk.  This gives me easy access to the tags and I can easily see what I have available.  You can read more about my ready to use storage HERE.

You can find these organizers on Amazon (but they are usually cheaper at the craft store).

The students also have a space to store their brag tag necklaces. Their necklaces hang on a small space of wall behind our classroom door.  I label each necklace with student numbers rather than names so that I can reuse the labels from year to year.

You can grab these free numbers HERE.

Are they difficult to prep?
Not at all!  First, you print your brag tags.  Next, you laminate them.  Then, you cut them out.  Finally, you punch a hole in the top of the tag.  That's it.

Tip: I like to use a paper trimmer to cut mine.  This speeds up the process and allows for accurate and precise cutting. You can purchase this paper trimmer on Amazon, or in craft stores.

I don't have a color printer at school.  How do you print your tags in color without breaking the bank?
I don't have access to a color printer at school, so I definitely understand this concern. I do all of my color printing at home (brag tags, task cards, and everything in between).  I am a member of the HP Instant Ink program.  By paying a nominal monthly fee, I am able to print upwards of 300 pages per month. When I start to run low on ink, my printer lets HP know and they automatically send me more ink.  It's a very magical experience.  For real!  HP offers different plans, and you can change your plan at any time. You do need to have an eligible printer, however.

Another option for printing brag tags without breaking the bank is to use black and white designs that have been printed on brightly colored card stock.  I use these in my classroom alongside the full color tags and the students love them just as much, and they are just as motivating as the full color version.

How many brag tags do I need when starting out?
You don't have to start with a ton of brag tags (unless you want to).  When I first started using them, I prepped what I knew I would be most likely to use right away.  I wanted to have variety too, so I printed about one tray's worth of tags.  Once I realized how much I loved using them, I began adding tags to my collection.  Now, I have five organizer trays full of brag tags because they have become the main management tool in my classroom.

Do you send a letter home to parents explaining brag tags?
I don't send a letter home specifically about brag tags, but I do mention them, briefly, in my beginning of the year handbook (a multiple page document we are required to send home at the beginning of the year). I explain what they are, how the students can earn them, and when they are worn/go home. I also go over them during my Back to School Night presentation.

Do you use any other management tools in your classroom, like a clip chart?
Although brag tags are the main behavior management tool that I rely on, I do have another management tool in place.  I also have a clip chart.  Our school encourages us to use more than one management tool and clip charts tend to be the norm where I am.  The clip chart mostly gets used when my students clip UP for earning a new brag tag (they can clip up for other things too, but I've found a way to tie the brag tags to the chart).  And, my students know that if they clip to the top of our clip chart, they can earn a new brag tag.  It works great and it helps the students to look at the clip chart in a more positive light.

How often do you give your students a brag tag? Every day? Weekly? Every other week?
I give my students brag tags when I see that they have earned one.  I end up passing them out every day, but not every student gets one every day.  One of my goals with using brag tags is to develop personal responsibility and conscientious decision making.  One way of doing this is to reward these efforts.  My personal belief is that if I gave myself a quota to fill, the rewards would not be authentic.

With this being said, there are certainly those students who have an easier time than others earning tags.  If I notice that a student is having difficulty earning tags, I work with them. We identify a behavior and set a goal.  Some kids need a bit more coaching and support than others.

Do you keep track of which tags you give your students?
Nope.  I like to use my brag tags for on the spot recognition and the idea of keeping a log where I track who gets which tag competes with my "in the moment" philosophy.  For me, keeping track of what I've passed out is just an extra step that would need to be managed.  A step that I know I would never be able to keep up with, because, well, that's me.  However, I do have friends who keep track of what they have passed out to their students.  Tracking works for them, it's part of their style and approach.  There's nothing right or wrong about it; it's all about preference and what works for you.  :)

Can a student earn the same tag more than one?
Sure!  If a students demonstrates the ability to follow directions more than once, it's OK to recognize that effort more than once. If you're worried about giving students duplicates of the same exact tag, don't.  The kids truly do not care. They love adding to their collection no matter what.  I like to keep lots of "general" brag tags on hand that can be used to recognize a variety of behaviors, like the ones below.  These types of tags could be used to recognize students who follow directions, get started right away, work quietly without disrupting others, etc.

Do your students earn any other rewards when earning a brag tag?
For me, the brag tag is the reward.  This has always been enough for my students and makes it really easy for me to manage. However, if you wanted to tie brag tags to another reward system, that is entirely up to you.  Maybe that is something that your group of kids needs, maybe you like the idea of giving out extra rewards, or maybe it's something that your school encourages.  This is definitely an option that boils down to personal preference and management style.

Do you award the brag tags to individual students or to the whole group?
Most of the time, I award brag tags to individual students.  My belief is that this helps to encourage personal responsibility and sound decision making.  I also think it has more impact on the students.  But, there have been a few times where I have given an entire table group a brag tag for working exceptionally well compared to the rest of the class.  And, last year on our Field Day, I gave each student a brag tag to recognize their positive attitudes. No one fought, no one argued, they were encouraging, they were just plain awesome that day and they all deserved recognition for it.

If you have a question that wasn't addressed in this post, leave it in the comments below.  :)

I truly hope that you have found this post to be helpful.  I have a few other blog posts that might interest you as well:
Bragging About Brag Tags
Brag Tags {Tips and Tricks}

Ready to give brag tags a try?  Here's a little freebie to get you started. And, if you're a brag tag veteran, a new design to add to your collection.  :)  This free download includes a color and black/white version. Click HERE to grab your freebie.

Looking for more brag tags?  Head on over to my TPT store and grab yours today!
Full Color Brag Tags
Black & White Brag Tags
Brag Tags Freebie


This post contains affiliate links for Amazon and the HP Instant Ink Program. By purchasing an item either site using these links, I will receive a small commission on your purchase. For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

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