Classroom Gift Guide

I am a teacher who likes to give gifts to her students. Please don't throw tomatoes. Or stones. We all work hard every single day to provide our students with a quality education full of engaging and meaningful experiences. Gifts are not necessary. But, sometimes, it's nice to give our students a little something extra.

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.

If you're a teacher who enjoys sharing holiday gifts with your students, then this post is for you. This post includes lots of ideas for student gifts.

Buuuuut, they aren't just any student gifts. They are classroom gifts! No need to buy 24 (or more) individual gifts. Invest in your classroom by purchasing something that you can give to your students now, but your students for years to come will benefit from. It's a win-win!

Here's a sneak peek at some of the ideas shared in this post. Keep reading for all the ideas, and all the specifics.

New Read Aloud Book(s)
Buy a new book (or two) to add to your read aloud collection.  My students always get so excited when I share a new book with them, and I love finding new books to keep my collection current and fresh. Shown below are the last two books that I bought for my class.  My current students get to enjoy them now, and my classes 5, 6, or even 10 years from now will also get to enjoy them.

The Little Reindeer is a sweet little story filled with Christmas magic. The illustrations are simply precious. It's the perfect book to share during the holidays.

Nerdy Birdy is a reminder that it's OK to be yourself. There's also a reminder to be kind to others while being accepting of their differences. A message that never goes out of style.

Any book of your choosing will do in this situation. :) Don't know where to begin?  Trust me, I get it. There are a ton of amazing picture books out there. I often feel overwhelmed when presented with too many (awesome) choices.  If you fall into that camp too, then you need to check out my favorites HERE.

New Classroom Library Books
Scholastic book orders are a great way to add books to your classroom library.  Scour those order forms and take advantage of your bonus points, or look for titles that fit your price range. That's one thing that is so great about Scholastic, they have lots of affordable options, so for $20 or so, you can get your hands of lots of great books like these.

I seriously have no idea why someone would make a book about vegetables in underwear, but the 8 year old in me thinks it's pretty much the best idea ever.   

Finger Flashlights
If you do not have a set of finger flashlights, you need to get some ASAP!  They are great for reading in the dark. We often turn off our classroom lights and dig out the flashlights. Reading in the dark is fun, and it keeps the students on task.  You can also use these flashlights during guided reading! Often times the sets include 100 flashlights, so I'm guessing if you let your students keep one flashlight from the set, they'd be pretty darn excited.
Building Toys (aka STEM Toys)
I keep a supply of building toys in my Fun Friday bucket.  Every Friday, my students get 30 minutes to explore and interact with these toys.  They need this after a week of working hard.  I've found some great (reasonably priced) sets on Amazon.

Brain Flakes
Brain Flakes are a huge hit with my students. I've seen them use these toys to construct people, parade floats, and everything in between. They are easy to use and don't take up much space. 

Interlocking Building Blocks
I know, they don't look like building blocks.  But they do interlock.  And, they are amazing.  My students like using these to make large flowers, UFO's, and other imaginative structures.

Bar Building Block Toy
I love this set of building toys. The name is a bit awkward, but that's what they're called on Amazon.  Now, maybe I suffer from a case of false memories, but I feel like I may have had something similar to this a kid in the 80's. Once again, these don't look like building blocks, but the bars and other shapes can be used to make all sorts of fun things.  I've seen my students make basketball hoops, robots, and houses.  They are great toy for encouraging students to be creative and take risks.

Puzzles are a must! What better way to teach problem solving, organization, patience, and perseverance. Your students will love using them, and if you teach your students to take care of them, you'll be able to use them for years to come.  I keep a variety of puzzles on hand for use during Fun Friday. My puzzles range from 24 to 100 pieces. I don't like to go above 100 pieces because I want them to be able to finish before they run out of time.

I usually buy the majority of my puzzles at Dollar Tree.  I mean, you can't beat the price!

I have also grabbed a few puzzles from the Target Dollar Spot.

Annnnd, I also have a few floor puzzles. I guess you could say I like puzzles. A lot.

The floor puzzles are super popular with my students! My favorite are the Melissa and Doug floor puzzles. They make quality puzzles and the price is great.  Check them out on Amazon, or check your local discount stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, and Home Goods. These stores frequently carry the Melissa and Doug floor puzzles.
If you're looking to share a gift with your students this year, consider giving one of these items as a classroom gift. While they may not walk away with their own personal gift, they will love using the new materials that you have shared with them.  And, since you'll be giving it to them as a gift, wrap it up!  Find a fun way to present the classroom gift. They will be excited just knowing that you've shared something new with them to enjoy for the rest of the school year.

Happy holidays!


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Self-Care for Teachers {Easy Ideas You Can Start Using Now}

Teaching is hard. It is mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even physically challenging. Which is why I'm a huge proponent of self-care. This post is for all my fellow teachers who are overworked and worn out. This post is your reminder that it's OK to take time out of your day/week to take care of yourself. Your productivity and well being depend on it.

What is self-care?  It's the deliberate act of taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health. In other words, it's all about doing things (on purpose) for yourself that make you feel as awesome as you really are.   

Real talk. You cannot be effective in your job if you aren't taking care of yourself.  It's also harder to enjoy your job when you're worn out, stressed, anxious, tired, and/or all of the above.  And, let's be honest, when you're feeling this way because of work, it also affects your personal/family life. 

More real talk.  This year has been my most challenging year to date.  The stress levels during the first few months of school were scary high.  So, I started upping my self-care game. I mean, I've always worked out and found time to relax, but this year, I have had to do more for myself.

But guess what?  It's been worth it.  Making the time to take care of myself regularly has helped improve my stress/anxiety, and my overall mood.  Which means I am better at what I do, and I can more effectively overcome the challenges that I'm faced with each day (which are improving one bit at a time because I have the stamina and mindset to better address them).

Self-care comes in many forms, and usually looks different from person to person. In other words, I don't think there is one single way to focus on yourself.  We're all different, after all.  ;)

If you're looking for some easy ideas, look no further. Many of these ideas are so simple that you can start using them now. I separated the ideas into two price range categories.  I mean, on a daily basis, I like to keep it simple (and cheap). But, every once and while, a splurge is in order.  Finally, be sure to do something for yourself each day.  In the long run, you won't regret it.

Cost Effective Ideas ($)

Take a bubble bath 
Fancy bubble bath is not required.  I'm not above using my daughter's bubble bath solution, but Bath and Body Works products are my favorite. More specifically, their aromatherapy line is to die for. I like to stock up when they have their Buy 3, Get 3 deal going on.

Read a book or magazine
Do this while you're in the tub.  They go together like milk and cookies!  

Watch your favorite show or yourself 
This can also be done while in the tub...what can I say, I'm always multi-tasking, even when taking care of myself.

Give yourself a DIY mani/pedi
A set of freshly painted toes always makes me feel happy and pulled together. Plus, the process takes my mind off other things, and I can easily complete this task while listening to my favorite music.

Enjoy a glass of wine while relaxing on the couch
Don't multi-task and drink your wine as you hustle to put dinner on the table. That isn't very relaxing.  Enjoy your drink without trying to do your chores at the same time.

Light a candle and unwind
If you don't drink, you can still sit on that couch and unwind.  Add a scented candle to the mix and you'll be feeling better in no time.

I work out 6 days a week.  In the morning.  Before school starts.  It gives me the energy I need to make it through a day of teaching, and helps manage my stress levels. Earlier this year, I signed up for Beachbody on Demand.  It's a lot cheaper than a gym (less than $10 a month!), gives me lots of options, and I don't have to go anywhere.

Give yourself a facial
You can find so many cost friendly facial mask options at stores like Target or Walgreens.  They offer options from sheet masks to clay masks.  Pick your favorite and start cleansing and purifying that pretty little face of yours.

Spend some time with friends
Grab your bestie and head to your local coffee shop or mall. Hang out and talk. Laugh until your bellies hurt. Sometimes we just need some friend time to take our minds off other things and to remind us that we are more than just a teacher (or mom, or dad...).

Indulge in something you love
For the most part, I try to eat as healthy as I can, but sometimes, it just feels good to indulge in a bowl of decadent ice cream. I also like to visit the local Ben and Jerry's for the fresh stuff. You don't always have to indulge in food, of course. Choose your "guilty pleasure" and enjoy!

Go to bed
You need sleep.  It's a basic human necessity. As an adult, you need at least 7 to 8 hours a night. Are you getting that much sleep each night?  Make it a priority to give your body the rest it needs each night.

Time to Splurge! ($$)

Get a mani/pedi at a salon
Sometimes I want to have my nails done at the nail salon.  It's more relaxing than when I do my own nails. Paraffin wax treatments and foot massages are the best!

Get a massage
Whether it's a once in a while splurge, or a monthly occurrence, you won't be sorry.  At my husband's urging, I get at least one massage a month. My neck and shoulders are a real problem area. All my stress goes there. Regular visits have really helped me both physically and mentally. Check your area for businesses that might offer a membership program, like Massage Envy.  Some massage schools offer discounted massages as well.

Get a facial
I have yet to do this, but I do look forward to indulging in this splurge one day.

Get away
Whether you take a staycation or visit the next town over, a short getaway every once in a while is a great way to relax and have some fun.

Fellow teachers, if you aren't already doing so, please start making yourself a priority.  It's easy to neglect our own needs, or to misinterpret them as wants. But, if you purposefully make time for yourself each day, you won't be sorry. Pinky swear.

If you're just getting started with regular self-care, aim to set aside 15-20 minutes a day for yourself and choose your favorite ideas from the list above.  If you're a pro when it comes to self-care, I'd love for you to comment below and share your favorite way of taking care of yourself.  :)


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Ideas for Teaching Halloween Safety

When I think of Halloween in the classroom, I think of candy corn, costumes, and pumpkins.  But, I also think about Halloween Safety.  This topic is one of my favorite mini units to teach before Halloween rolls around.

I don't think I need to convince you that covering the topic of staying safe during Halloween is a good idea.  We all want our students to have safe and memorable experiences outside of school.

What follows is a break down of how I like to teach the topic of Halloween safety.  I usually spend 2-3 days on the topic.  I find that spending more than one day on the topic helps the information to sink in.

Introducing the Topic
I love introducing this topic by using a mystery bag.  Place some Halloween related objects in a bag (a large gift bag or a paper grocery bag).  Pull them out one at a time and see if your students can guess what they will be learning about.  For this topic, I place the following in the bag:
  • a trick or treat bucket
  • candy
  • a flashlight, glow stick, or reflective key chain/strip
  • cell phone or two-way radio
You don't have to jam your mystery bag full of stuff, so don't worry about filling it with too much stuff.

Access Background Knowledge
Once my students have been introduced to our topic of study, I like to see what they already know. Ask them what they know about being safe and why it's important to be safe.

I like to create a class anchor chart of ideas.  You can do this in a few ways.
  • You can simply facilitate a whole group brainstorm and record students' ideas on the chart
  • You could also ask students to write what they know about Halloween safety on a sticky note.  Let each student read his/her sticky note before adding it to the chart.  As you delve into the topic, you can remove any sticky notes that included misconceptions and place them next to the chart.  
You can also completely forgo the anchor chart route and have your students fill in a KWL organizer.

Grab a copy of this KWL chart HERE.  :)

Teach the Content (Teach Them How to be Safe)
My preferred method for sharing ways to be safe during Halloween is centered around sharing safety tips.  Tips make for a quick read and they are easy to remember.  Every year I facilitate a safety mingle.

I give each student a card with a safety tip printed on it.  They mingle around the room and read their safety tips to one another.  I usually have them mingle for about 3-4 minutes.  I bring the students back together and they share the tips they either read or learned during the mingle.  I record these safety tips on an anchor chart (because it will be used for other activities...see below).

To help reinforce these ideas even more, I have the students use the tips they learned to create a safety tip book.  They can choose the tips they think are most important, or applicable to their situation, and use them in their book.

The following day, I like to pair students up so they can read their safety tip books to each other.  It's a great way to review the content.

If we don't have time for a mini book project, I might have them make a safety pennant instead.  :)

Watch a Video

You can find lots of Halloween safety videos on You Tube, but always, always, always, be sure to preview the video before showing it to your students.

My favorite safety videos tend to be the ones that are posted by various public safety agencies (police and fire departments).

I really like the Halloween Safety PSA video from the DeKalb County Fire Department.  Click HERE to watch. This video isn't scary (some get a little creepy and I don't want to spook my second graders), and it's very informative. :)

After we watch the video, we add more information to the anchor chart we created after the safety mingle.  We review the new collection of tips on our anchor chart, and then students complete a safety sort. Sorts are a great way to engage students in critical thinking.  This particular sort tasks students with sorting sentences into the categories "safe" and "not safe."

End of Unit
At the end of our mini unit, I give each student a safety certificate, and a glow stick or bracelet.  They love this!

This year, I hope you take the time to teach and encourage your students to have a safe Halloween.  The safety materials featured in this post can be found in my Halloween Safety pack on TPT.  Click HERE for more information.

Happy Halloween!


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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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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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