Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Reading List for Teachers {2017}

It's summer.  The sun is shining, the temps are rising, the days are longer, and there is more time to sit back and relax.  One of my favorite ways to relax during summer is to sit down and read a good book.  A good book and an ice cold drink makes for a day well spent. Plus, it's cheap entertainment!

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I'm joining my sweet friend, Molly, from Lucky to be in First to share my 2017 summer reading list.  Read on for some great recommendations as well as a list of books I look forward to reading!

My recommendations are first up.  These are books that I'm pretty sure you'll love as much as I did. Warning: I don't read heavy stuff.  I like to keep it light and fun. Anyhoo, I truly loved each of these books and I'm hoping you do too!

I love, love, love this series.  I read each of these books in no time flat.  I just couldn't put them down.  Each book focuses on a different character, but all the characters play a part in each book. There are three books and they do need to be read in order, starting with Party Girl.
  • Party Girl: Sweet Landon moves to L.A. to pursue her dream of working in event planning. She soon learns that her dream job is anything less than dreamy, but ultimately comes out on top because she was willing to take a chance on herself.
  • Sweet Girl: This is book two in the "Girl's" series.  This book is all about Max, a character from Party Girl.  Max pursues her dream of becoming a pastry chef but meets lots of obstacles along the way.  Don't worry, there's another happy ending in it for you. :)
  • Smart Girl: This is the third book in the series.  This story is about Miko, one more character from Party Girl.  She's quirky and smart and her story will make you laugh out loud more than once.
Little Beach Street Bakery: I love books about women finding/bettering themselves.  I also love books that have anything to do with baked goods. This book has both! You'll love reading the story of Polly finding her place in this world, and you might even drool a bit over the recipes at the back of the book.  :)
Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery: This book continues the story of Polly, from Little Beach Street Bakery. Another great read.
Pattern Play #2: Ok, so this is a coloring book, not a novel.  Buuuuuut, it too is a relaxing way to pass the time.  The designs in this book are fun and whimsical, and printed on high quality paper.  If you like to color, check it out!
In Defense of Read Aloud: If you are looking to read something teaching related, I really enjoyed this book.  It was a great reminder as to why read aloud is important and should be a part of our daily repertoire in the classroom.  There are also lots of great read aloud suggestions and strategies for making your read alouds meaningful.

Having read the books above, it's time to get my hands on some new reading material!  Most of these books are currently sitting on my nightstand just waiting for me to crack them open.  And, I can't wait to get started!

If I Could Turn Back Time: The premise of this book reminds me of the movie 13 Going on 30, only on a deeper level (maybe...I hope...or just sounds like a fun read).  We shall see!

Once Upon a Wine: I'll read anything by Beth Kendrick, so I had to add this one to my collection.

The Hating Game: The title of this book seems pretty harsh, but it sounds like a cute romantic comedy of sorts.  You know the formula, guy and girl think they hate each other so they do unkind things to each other, but then they realize that maybe they don't hate each other after all.

All Fall Down: This one came recommended by a friend.  She has great taste, so I'm ordered my own copy.  It has a more serious story line, but Jennifer Weiner is a good storyteller, and I always enjoy her books.

Who's Doing the Work?:  Just reading the cover of this book makes me want to read it.  I want a classroom of independent readers, am I doing all that I can to encourage this?  Hmmmm....definitely want to read this book.

Missed last year's recommendations?  Click HERE to visit that post. :)

You can check out more great summer reading recommendations by vising Lucky to be in First HERE.

Do you have a great summer reading recommendation of your own?  Leave the title in a comment below and I'll be sure to check it out!


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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Using a Classroom Handbook to Communicate Important Policies and Procedures

Do you want to know my number one tip for effectively sharing important classroom policies and  information with students' families?  A classroom handbook.  Just a few pages of key information could save you from floods of inquires on different matters throughout the year.  Now, doesn't that sound nice?

At the beginning of every school year, I use a variety of forms to get information from my students' parents. 

But let's be honest, they usually have lots of questions of their own about matters like homework, absences, birthdays, and so forth.  So, I've learned to simply compile that information into a small (easy to read) handbook that they can refer to throughout the year.  This little gem has truly reduced the number of inquiries I get regarding my classroom policies. 

What's Included
I recently shared my handbook on Instagram and received several questions about what I include in the booklet, as well as how I am able to prep it now, with school being 3 months away.  So, I thought I'd share a little bit about my handbook on the blog!

A classroom handbook can include anything you want/need it to include, that's the beauty of this tool!  My handbook includes the following information:
  • Letter to Parents
  • Progress Reports
  • Communication (best way to contact me)
  • Absences
  • Homework
  • Class Rules
  • Behavior Plan
  • Birthdays
  • a copy of our district Wellness and Nutrition Regulation

Here's a look at a few of the pages that I include in my handbook.  I always start it off with a note to the parents.  This letter welcomes families to second grade and gives them a brief overview of what to expect in second grade.

Homework is required in my district, and parents always like to know the expectations associated with this requirement.  Sharing the information up front saves me lots of time in the long run because I usually get very few questions about my expectations and policies once I start sending it home the second week.

I also like to address absences and how they relate to making up missed work/homework. I also include a form they can use when their child is absent. You an sneak a peek at this note by scrolling up to the image of the forms I send home.  It's the blue one.

I like to give families a little bit of information regarding progress reports, as well as the best way to contact me.  I'm terrible with the phone and make every effort to encourage families to either email or send in a note to relay information.

When parents know the classroom rules and corresponding behavior plan, they know exactly how to support their kids in maintaining successful learner behaviors in the classroom.  That's why I always make sure to share this information with them.  It helps them understand how I manage my classroom and they are better able to encourage their kids to work toward meeting these expectations.

Here's one last peek inside.  Birthdays are a big deal, but school is not the place for parties and there are rules about passing out party invitations.  By including this information in my handbook, I usually do not need to address the matter throughout the year (27 times).

I've found that if I stick to the basics, the handbook is more effective.  If it was jam packed with too much information it's both overwhelming and less likely to be read.  And, if it is, the information isn't going to be retained.

Since the information I include is fairly standard and changes very little from year to year, I am able to reuse the content from year to year (with the occasional tweak here and there). A little work up front pays off in the long run.  ;)

When to Send it Home
I usually send my handbook home within the first few days of school. Before sending it home, I like to gauge how much paperwork is being sent from the school/district before adding my own content to the mix.  I don't want it getting lost among the multitude of notes the school and district ask me to pass along.  I'm sure you can relate.  ;)

Encouraging Parents to Read the Handbook
I know we all struggle with sending home notes that are often times not read.  Or, at least that's how it feels.  Parents are busy people. They may not intentionally ignore our notes, but it does happen.  To encourage my students' parents to read through and keep this booklet on hand, I do the following:
  • Make a big deal about it when I pass it out to the students.  And, by that I mean that I explain how it includes important information that moms and dads often wonder/ask about.  I remind them that it's important for their parents to know about our classroom. Then, we take a look at what is included so they can share it with their parents like an expert.
  • Put a bright cover on it. This way, it stands out from all the other paperwork in their child's folder/backpack.
  • Refer to it in the first few newsletters that I send home.  This reminds the parents that the packet includes important information that they should be aware of at all times (and if they haven't read it yet, they should do so now).
  • Go over the content at Back to School Night.  I tell the parents that my presentation will be based on the booklet.  This encourages them to read through it (for the first, second, or third time) so they can decide if they want/need to come to Back to School Night. Sometimes it's hard for parents to attend this night due to child care issues, so this is often helpful for parents that fall into that category.
  • One more suggestion: I don't do this, but if you really want to make sure parents read your handbook, you could include a note that they sign and return stating that they've read over the content.  
Create a Handbook of Your Own
Love the idea of a class handbook but overwhelmed at the thought of creating one from scratch?  Fear not!  You can find this document, as well as a plethora of other useful back to school forms in my Back to School Forms pack on TPT.

My forms pack includes a ready to print PDF version as well as an editable Power Point. So, if the ready to print handbook doesn't exactly meet your needs, you can use the editable version to tailor the text to accurately reflect your policies and procedures.

Click the image below to check it out.  :)


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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Learning with Peeps {Poetry and a STEM Challenge}

Peeps.  Love them or leave them?  I say love them!  They are cheap and you can have so much fun with them in the classroom. 

We recently used Peeps to have a little STEM fun and to write some poems. Keep reading for the specifics, and be sure to stock up on some Peeps so you can have a little Peep themed fun of your own. :)

This Fun Friday activity was a huge hit with my students! They were given a few materials and were challenged with building the tallest tower they could.   I paired them up, gave them their supplies, and a set forth a few ground rules. 

The supplies: 
  • 12 Peeps (we used the bunnies)
  • 2 plastic straws
  • 6 wooden toothpicks
The rules: 
  • They could cut or modify the straw, if desired.
  • They could NOT cut or modify the toothpicks or Peeps.
  • They would have 10 minutes to build their tower.
  • Their tower had to stand on its own.
The challenge was tackled without hesitation.  The towers were all different, and some weren't very tower-like at all, but the engagement, problem solving, and team work that went on during those 10 minutes were amazing. 

When the challenge was over, I walked from tower to tower and measured each one (that was standing) with a yardstick.  The tallest tower stood a whopping 17 inches high!

I pretty much do this writing activity with my students every year.  After eating a Peep, we brainstormed adjectives and used them to write an adjective poem, build a poem style.

You can read about the process in detail HERE.

And, you can grab the freebie HERE.  :)

So, what are you waiting for?  Go stock up on those Peeps before they are gone!


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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Jelly Donut Difference {Teaching Kindness}

The topic of kindness is a recurring topic of conversation in my classroom.  Our school promotes kindness every day, and several times a year, I look for opportunities to specifically address this social skill.  One of my favorite ways to talk about important skills that relate to character is with the help of a picture book.

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I recently shared The Jelly Donut Difference by Maria Dismondy with my students and it was a great way to review this concept.  Keep reading for a few ideas and links to free resources!

If your aren't familiar with Maria Dismondy then keep reading and then head on over to Amazon and grab as many of her books as you can. They are a must when it comes to your stash of picture books!

About the Author
Maria has a background in early education, so she knows kids.  She write books with strong moral messages and diverse characters.  Her characters are likeable and students can relate to them.  That's why her books are so great for teaching things like kindness, empathy, and understanding.  Her hope is that kids will remember how the characters in her stories handled difficult situations should they ever find themselves in a similar position.  And chances are, at some point they may.

The Book
The Jelly Donut Difference is a great book to share with your students.  It has amazing illustrations.  And, the story is one that students can relate to.

Dex and Leah are twins who live next door to an older woman who lives alone.  When they learn more about this woman who lives alone, they decide that they want to do nice things for her so that she feels happy and not so lonely.  I'm not going to share all the specifics because you really need to read this book for yourself.  ;) 

In the Classroom
Like any picture book, you can use this story to review story elements, analyze the characters, and the like, but my favorite way to use these sorts of books is to have my students make connections to the text. I like to use it as a means to promote reflection and understanding of the citizenship skills covered in the story.  This story, in particular, drives home the important message of generosity and kindness and I made that the focal point of our follow up activities.

After reading the book, we talked about the author's purpose.  More specifically, we talked about what exactly it was that the author wanted the reader to learn from the story.  Lately, we've been working to more specific when identifying the author's purpose.   

Then, we talked about some important words.  These words aren't used in the text, but they are all represented in the text. I thought that these words would be appropriate to discuss and then connect to the text:
  • thoughtful
  • kindness
  • empathy
  • compassion
  • generosity
It isn't necessary to use all of these words, of course. I didn't.  I chose the ones that I felt my students would be most likely to understand and relate to the text.  You can grab the anchor chart pieces HERE (the download includes all the words listed above).

As you can see, I put the definition of each word on the anchor chart.  Then, as a group we thought of examples in the text where these qualities were seen in action with the characters.

I left the chart up because I wanted my students to be reminded of these important qualities and because I wanted them to choose one to focus on.  I often task my students with setting kindness goals at school, but this allowed them to try and engage in other forms of selfless action.

I also had my students write a letter to the author.  We are currently in the midst of a letter writing unit, so it seemed perfect!  In the body of their letters, they wrote about what they liked about the story, as well as what they learned from it.  From there, they were free to write whatever else they wanted including asking the author a question or two.  I enjoyed reading their responses and seeing where it led their thoughts. You can grab this letter writing template HERE.  :)

If you're looking to add a meaningful picture book to your collection of resources, be sure to check out The Jelly Donut Difference.  It's sure to be a book you go to year after year.

Happy reading!


I received this product for free to provide an honest review.  All opinions expressed within this post are genuine and impartial.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Teaching Students to Write Word Problems

I love word problems.  There I said it, I really do.  Anytime I can squeeze in some extra practice for my kiddos, I do!  I especially love tasking my students with writing their own word problems.  This encourages them to think about word problems more critically than when they simply read and solve a problem.

We recently started practicing this skill in my classroom. Typically, I start this much earlier in the school year, but we just weren't ready to tackle this skill until recently.  Some years are like that, right?  Now that the skill has been introduced, we can practice it each week (and I'm pretty excited about that).
A Few Things You Need to Know
When I task my students with writing their own word problems there are two things you need to know.  
1. I give them a starting point.  Meaning, the activity isn't totally open ended.  I give them an answer, and it is their job to write a word problem to match.
2. I start out by keeping it simple because I want them to grasp the concept and feel successful with something new. I encourage the use of key words, and I encourage them to write straightforward problems without "extra" information.  When the time is right, they will be encouraged to write tougher problems. 
So, to introduce the skill of writing word problems, I use this chart.

And, this mini book (or some variation of it....more on that in a moment).

Here's a look at that chart again. 
Keep in mind that these guidelines work for us because we write word problems based on a given answer.  
Once we go over the chart, we write at least one word problem together, using the mini book from above and the chart to guide us.  Then, I have the students work in pairs to write a second word problem. I check their stories as they finish.  Finally, the students write one word problem independently.  Again, I check it when they are finished writing because I like to help them make any necessary corrections/changes on the spot. 
As we revisit the skill each week, the students will write one story at a time.  Independently.  
I keep it simple at first, encouraging them to use key words, and to stick to simple stories (two statements and a question) like the one shown below.  Once they have these steps down, I will begin to encourage them to add extra information to their problems. 

I love using my What's the Problem? mini books for practicing this skill (shown above, and below).  I made an entire series of these mini books several years ago, and they are still a useful resource.  Did I mention that they are a freebie?  ;)  This one is The Lucky Edition, but I've made one for just about every month of the year.

As mentioned above, the first day that we practice this skill the students write three word problems. After that, they write just a few a week.  We bring the book out as part of our math warm up, or at the end of our math lesson.  They end up writing about two word problems a week.  This gives them continued practice, but they also don't get burned out as easily as they would if we did it   

A Few Final Thoughts
It is always harder for students to write a word problem than it is to solve one.  And, they learn this pretty quickly.  However, they seem to enjoy the challenge of getting it right.  As we say in my classroom, if you don't challenge your brain, it won't grow.  So, bring on the challenge! 
When you're first starting out, you'll notice that some students "get it" very quickly, whereas others need repeated practice with the skill before it begins to click. Some students will need more scaffolding than others, and some will need to be encouraged to write "tougher" problems. I've even changed some of the answers for students who needed to work with either bigger or smaller numbes.  As always, do what's best for your students and differentiate as needed. 

Below are links to the What's the Problem mini books that I've shared in the past.  I hope you can use them.  :)
Have fun challenging your learners!



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Friday, February 10, 2017

So Many Task Cards, So Many Uses

Do you use task cards?  I love these handy little teaching tools because they are so versatile.

Here are seven different ways that I use task cards in my classroom.

Use them as a fast finisher activity.
I always have several activities available for my students to use when they finish an assignment early.  I typically rotate these activities, and several times a year, task cards make an appearance.  I simply place the cards into a gallon size zip top bag with a stack of recording sheets.  You can also put your task cards on a ring before placing them in the bag.

Use them in your small groups.
When working with my small group of math students, I use the task cards during our time together.  I can place a ring of cards in the center of the group and everyone can respond on their own recording page.  It's a quick and easy way to see how they are doing with the skill.

Use them as a cooperative learning tool.
Pair students up and let them share the stack of task cards. They can help one another solve the problem/answer the question on the cards, or they can solve the problems independently and discuss how they arrived at their answers.


Use them to play Quiz-Quiz-Trade.  Quiz-Quiz-Trade is a Kagan engagement strategy.  Each student gets a task card. Student pair up and read/answer each others cards.  Here's a breakdown:
  • Student A asks Student B to answer the question on his/her card.  
  • Student B answers the question.  
  • Student A lets Student B know how they did.  
  • Student B asks Student A to answer the question on his/her card.  
  • Student A answers, and Student B lets him/her know if they were correct or not.  
  • The students trade cards and find someone else to read their new card to.  
  • The process repeats until the teacher calls time. 
At the end of this activity, I like to go over the cards as a whole group.  YOu can read more about Quiz-Quiz-Trade HERE.

Use them as a center.
Once again, you can place the task cards on a ring and inside a zip top bag with a stack of recording sheets and students can use those materials during your centers time.

Use them as a whole group teaching tool.
I frequently use task cards as part of our math warm up.  I project one card at a time via my classroom projector.  The students use their personal whiteboard, or a piece of paper that they fold into fourths, to solve the problems on the cards.  It's a great way to check for understanding on the spot, when you use the whiteboards.

Use them to play Scoot.
Scoot is a well loved game in my classroom.  It has been for years!  Simply place a task card at each desk and have your students scoot from desk to desk, on your cue, to respond to each task card.  Don't forget to establish a path of rotation prior to scooting!

 You can read more about Scoot HERE.

Use them to play a game of I Spy.
I Spy is another huge deal in my classroom.  The kids looooove it!  I Spy is also commonly called Around the Room.  I place the task cards around the room, and the students go from card to card and respond to each one.  It isn't necessary that they visit the cards in order, they just have to make sure that they visit all of the cards.  As you can see, I place the cards on the floor.  Sometimes, I just don't have it in me to tape the cards to the walls, cabinets, etc.

I like to use this activity as a follow up to our whole group instruction or to review a skill as needed. Sometimes I set out all of the cards and sometimes I set out half of them.  It depends upon the time we have and the needs of my students at the time.  I love that task cards are so versatile! (I may or may not have already mentioned that in this post).  You can read more about I Spy HERE.

Well, there you have it, seven different ways that I use task cards in my classroom.  Who knew that one little stack of cards could be so very, very useful?

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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