Saturday, August 20, 2016

Quick Tips for Back To School

Have you already hit the ground running this school year?  I've teamed up with some of my friends to give you some wonderful tips for back to school.  I hope you will hop along and check out some easy, QUICK tips that will help you save time, get inspired and ready for the Best School Year EVER!  Not only that, but we are each sharing a chance for you to receive a $25 gift certificate to Teachers Pay Teachers to get your year started right!  Make sure you visit each blog and enter. There will be multiple chances to win and several winners.  It could be YOU!
The tips I am sharing with you are simple ways to help you differentiate your math instruction. Often, so much attention is placed on how to differentiate in reading, but we lack ways to help meet the individual needs of our students in math. But, there are ways to make it work!

How do you differentiate math instruction?
Have you read Guided Math by Laney Sammons?  After reading this book, I knew that I needed to spend time finding ways help students individually.  Meeting the diverse needs of the varied ability levels in your classroom can be quite difficult- especially in math.

One way to differentiate math instruction is through a daily spiral review based on each student's individual needs.  Do you have students who haven't mastered the skills from the previous school year?  Perhaps you have students who lack basic computational skills that were covered 2 years prior. Allowing students an opportunity to complete math practice that is on their own instructional level not only helps them master skills they need, but it also builds self-confidence.

Why should you use a spiral review?
One of the most effective ways to foster mastery and retention of mathematical skills is through a daily cumulative review.  A daily math review should take between 5-10 minutes and should allow students an opportunity to be exposed to skills and concepts that touch all mathematical domains every single week.   Keep in mind, this is only one component of the entire math block, and not the sole method of math instruction. Students also need to be exposed to depth and complex problem solving while focusing on one skill/concept at a time, too.  However, why wait until May to teach any type of geometry?  In many cases, geometry isn't introduced until April or May...and we all know how busy and hectic those months can be.

How do I determine which grade level spiral review to use for each student?
If you are lucky enough to have access to a placement test, you could administer that assessment to determine which grade level your students need.  However, an easy way to determine the level for each student is to look at your content standards vertical alignment and determine if your student has mastered a certain (grade) level.  I wouldn't focus on every single standard.  That would take way too long.  Instead, get a general idea for a student and go with your instincts.  You can always bump a student up or down based on how he or she is doing.

How do I make this work in my busy classroom?
One of the easiest times to have students complete their spiral review work is during your "morning" routines.  Depending on which type of spiral review you use, student are only completing a few questions a day.  However, you can also have students complete the questions during stations, for homework, or as they complete other assignments during the day.

How do I use the information from their daily work?
Use the information that you gather from your students' spiral review work to build your lessons for guided math.  Are a few students not understanding how to find equivalent fractions?  That group gets pulled during Guided Math/ Math Workshop.

If you are interested in reading more about Guided Math/ Math Workshop visit the links below:

Math Workshop: Building Routines That Last a Year

Math Stations...Making It Work

More on Math Stations

Math Workshop Monday

Or, you can simply type in "math" to the search feature on the sidebar of my blog to find more posts about Guided Math or Math Workshop.

If you are interested in checking out my spiral review resources, click on the images within this blog post to find them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Each one has one free week as a FREEBIE for you to try out.  Just download the preview for the free week!

Ready for the giveaway?  Enter to win!!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway 
Now, hop on through to find even more tips and chances to win! 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

February Pinterest Pick 3

For the last two weeks, I have been working on learning more about Pinterest.  I found a great course offered by Melissa at Blog Clarity called Pinning Perfect.  Anna from My Life and Kids has been moderating the course.  I’ve learned so much already! If you are a blogger and want to learn more about Pinterest and how to use it more effectively, I suggest you give the course a try.  Even if you aren't a blogger, did you know that more and more teachers are using Pinterest as a search engine to find activities for their classrooms?  Just the other day, Kristen(Ladybug’s Teacher Files) and I were discussing how it is the first place we go when we want to learn more about a strategy or method to try in our classrooms. I know there are better ways to use Pinterest, and this course is helping me learn the beauty that is Pinterest ;)
While taking this course, I “met” Ashley from Just Reed I have enjoyed learning from her, too.   I decided to join Ashley and her friends in this month’s Pinterest Pick 3 Party to tie in what I’ve learned and share some of my favorite February pins with you!

Ah, Valentine’s Day!  There are so many ways to incorporate Valentine’s activities into your classroom.  What I love about all three of the pins I’m sharing is that they take the holiday and use it to make learning fun.  Who doesn’t love learning when it's fun?
I absolutely love this building polygons activity.  The lesson teaches about polygons in a hands-on way.  The "Valentine's Day" connection is by using Valentine's Day colored straws.  You could really complete the activity any time of the year.  This is yet another reason why I love this pin!
Pinned from Lemon Lime Adventures
Are you looking for some fun ways to incorporate Science activities into your Valentine's Day activities?  You must check out this pin!  
Pinned from Little Bins for Little Hands
Or, check out this one, too!
Pinned from Raising Lifelong Learners
PIN with us!  We love PINSPIRATION!
Here’s how to join in on the fun!!!
1.  Save the Pick 3 images to your desktop.
2.  Create a blog post using these images to share your 3 Pinterest Picks for the month.
3.  Share a link to your full Pinterest page if you would like.
4.  Link up by clicking the add your link button below.
5.  Be sure to check out the other Pinterest finds that have been shared and leave a comments on the ones you love!

Be sure to check out my board "Fun in the Classroom" for even more FUN :)

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

7 Strategies to Create an Interactive Classroom

How do you differentiate for your English Language Learners?  Read on to learn 7 Strategies that will encourage even your more reluctant English Language Learners to participate!
Need to find some ways to create a more interactive classroom for your English Language Learners?  Use these 7 easy strategies to help you discover how you can build your students language while promoting a warm, inviting classroom.  (Check out strategy #6, it’s a favorite!) Education matters!
There are many ways to include active interaction within your classrooms.  Not only does this help your ELL students, it provides opportunities for all of your learners to explore oral language.  The Common Core Standards for Speaking and Listening ask for students at multiple grade levels to be able to express their thoughts and ideas.  Students must be able to explain and defend their own learning.  When you provide an opportunity for your students to interact with one another in collaborative settings, everyone wins!

So, what is “Interaction” anyway?

It is simply the opportunity that you give your students to interact in social and academic situations. Learning is more effective when students have an opportunity to discuss ideas and information.  Most people learn best by doing.  Even more learn best when teaching others.  Interaction is essentially “teaching” others your thoughts and ideas about a given topic.  When students defend their thinking, they teach others about their thinking.  Therefore they internalize the concepts at a deeper level.  There are many ways that you can encourage interaction among your students.  When you do, it encourages even your more reluctant English Language Learners to participate and it also creates a positive classroom environment.  Interaction stages include Teacher-Student Interaction, Paired Interaction and Group Interaction.  All three levels of interaction are beneficial and are easy to implement in your classroom. 

Try these 7 Simple Strategies to Create an Interactive and Active Classroom

1. Set up a classroom that is conducive to interaction.  Do you have your classroom set up in cooperative groups?  And when I mean cooperative groups, is it truly cooperative and not simply seats pushed together to form a group?  Cooperative grouping encourages discussion and interaction.  When asking questions and presenting material, give your students the opportunity to “think, pair and share”.

2.  Allow your students to use hand signals to indicate their level of understanding.  Check for understanding by allowing students to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down. This non-verbal way of communication encourages reluctant ELL (or any student) to speak up.  I always told my class to hold their signals close to their hearts.  This was our private way of “talking”.  Another variation is to use red and green cards on the corner of desks.

3.  Move more!  Use hand and body gestures to enhance speech.  Teach your students different hand gestures for certain phrases that are used often in the classroom.  Hand gestures enhance speech by providing a visual connection to the vocabulary or content material.  Use music with hand gestures for even more language support. 

4.  Increase engagement by using a simple “Find Your Match” interactive game.  When reviewing vocabulary, pass out cards using terms, definitions, and pictures and ask students to “find his/her match”.  Strategically pass out the cards by your students’ comfort/ability.  Non-English Speakers can join in this activity easily when you provide them with visual card. 

5. Monitor group work activities by having students share responsibilities on the assignment.  In groups of four, students read an article and answer questions related to that text.  However, they complete the work on each other’s paper.  Starting with their own paper, students answer question number one.  Then they pass their paper to the right, and begin working on the next question on the paper passed to them.  Students pass the papers until all questions are answered and the article is returned to the original owner.  Once completed, give the groups an opportunity to discuss and defend their answers.  This discussion time provides the oral language support that is essential for ELL students.

6. Utilize Reader’s Theater to improve fluency and comprehension.  Group high and low proficiency level students together so that students needing oral fluency modeling have the support they need.  Allow students opportunities to rehearse, read and perform in class. 

7.  When reviewing a topic, use Circle Chat.  Number students off by 2.  The number 1 students form a circle facing out.  The number 2 students encircle this center group facing in.  This way, you have two groups of students in a circle facing each other.  Give the students questions to discuss.  Partners have the opportunity to discuss the answers to the questions.  Then, the outer circle rotates one person to the right and the questions continue.

Classroom Interaction is essential for English Language Learners, but it is also a tool that will benefit the oral language and development of all students.  Can you see yourself implementing any of the strategies?  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Prayers for South Carolina

Having lived most of my life in South Carolina, I am having a hard time lately with the devastation and tragedies that have taken place in my beloved state over the last year.  From the ice storms of the winter of 2014, to the tragedy in Charleston in June, to the devastating flooding that is occurring in and around our capital city this week, we are all heartbroken.  However, what I am most proud of is the fact that the great people of this state all seem to rally together during these difficult times to help out our fellow man.

My daughter came home on Friday for a family weekend.  I'm so thankful that we had this weekend planned and that she made it home safely from Columbia.  She's a student at the University of South Carolina and I just received notice that they have canceled classes through Friday of this week due to the unsafe conditions in the area.  I'm so grateful that she attends a university that puts the safety of its students first.  

Although the city where I teach is safe and the conditions are fine, my county is not completely unaffected.  Because of this, I have been home from school for two days because the buses are unable to travel down roads safely in the outlying areas of the county.  I am grateful for my district leaders. They made the decision to cancel school because many road closures and hazardous conditions make it unsafe for our students to travel to school.  Although it will be difficult to make these days up when the time comes, the safety of our students is more important than later inconveniences.

My Facebook newsfeed is full of unbelievable images of the flooding.  It's heartbreaking.

But, you know what else is flooding my newsfeed?  Images and messages of support.  Bottled water and other supplies are being gathered and distributed to relief efforts.  People across my great state are reaching out to help those less fortunate.

Please keep South Carolina in your thoughts and prayers as we rally to return to a new normal.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Is Handwriting a Lost Art?

How do you feel about teaching handwriting? For years, it was removed from our curriculum and it's almost become a lost art. That saddens me. Recently, I started following some beautiful Instagram accounts that have sparked my interest in the art of penmanship. I've never been in love with my own handwriting, but I think it's because I'm always in a hurry to get down my thoughts. I think it's about time to slow down and enjoy the art of hand lettering.

Did you know that BIC is on a mission to save handwriting through its Fight For Your Write initiative? The mission is aimed to educate everyone about the importance of writing by hand, and providing parents and educators with information and activities that encourage and inspire writing. By taking the pledge at, you can help join the crusade as well - for every signature collected, BIC will donate a pen or pencil to students in need across the country through their partnership with

I'm happy to partner with BIC to share this information with you! Writing is a critical learning tool for children, and BIC is committed to making sure that schools (and students) are given the tools that they need!

I received this fabulous box full of BIC supplies to check out and I have to say that I LOVE everything.

· BIC® Xtra-Fun pencil, the only #2 pencil with two-toned color barrels.
· BIC® Xtra-Craze™ Mechanical Pencil
· BIC® Brite Liner® Erasable Highlighter
· BIC® Cristal® Stylus
· BIC Atlantis® Ultra Comfort pen.

I love everything included, but I think I'm most in love with the erasable highlighter!  Check it out:

How cool is that?  I know this will come in handy when I'm trying to teach my English Language Learners how to highlight key concepts.  Often students get "highlighter happy" and now we have a way to fix that!  Yay!

Do you have a favorite BIC® product?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Make Back to School Special

Just the phrase itself, "Back to School", sends shivers. Doesn’t it? Do you still get so nervous and excited on the night before the first day back that you have a hard time sleeping? I think the reason most of us are a bundle of nerves is because we want to make sure that we cover every detail that first day. Will you remember to go over fire drill procedures before they ring the fire drill? Will you remember to turn in attendance on time? And the most dreaded question…will you send every child home the correct way on that first day of school? Will they get home safely?

Sometimes we, as teachers, are so excited, nervous and filled with anticipation that everything goes “just right” that sometimes we lose what I feel is the most important goal for day one: Does every single student feel loved and appreciated enough to want to come back the next day?

Years ago, I made this my number one priority for day one. What about lesson plans? I didn't keep any for that first day. I simply created a list of the essential items that need to be discussed or completed.
  • Fire drill procedures
  • Transportation details
  • Bathroom procedures
Really, those are the only three things that have to happen. I used to fill the day going over every single procedure: properly writing in agendas, how to have homework on desks in the morning, how to line up for lunch, how to ask to sharpen a pencil, etc. You get the idea, right? BORING. I know that we want to set these procedures in place, but it can wait for another day. Not every little detail needs to be covered on day one. It took years for me to realize this.

I found a way to make my life a little easier by doing a few simple things. First, I found that each student came in with a million school supplies. Some students have their supplies labeled, but most do not. My solution was to grab gigantic, sealable plastic bags (already labeled with each student’s name) and dump all supplies into them. Then I gather them all and put to the side for another day. I allowed my students to use my supplies on day one.

Most students have stories they want to tell you. Let them. This is how you are going to be able to achieve the goal of having them want to come back the next day. So, how are you going to have time for this? Have students create an “All about Me” poster. I had my students partner up for this activity. Once they created the poster, they would share with their partner, and then, if they wanted to, they could share it with the class. Not all students want to share aloud. So, keeping my number one goal in mind, I didn't make them. I did, however, take the time to ask each student questions about his/her poster.

Finally, the first day should be fun. Fun? Yes, fun. One of the fun activities that I loved was our snowball fight. Students filled out a simple questionnaire and then crumpled up the paper to make a snowball. They were always puzzled and confused about why they had to crumple up their paper. I would them tell them that I had a big secret. We are going to have a little fun, but that they had to keep that a secret or other people might get jealous! Then, I would throw the first snowball high into the air and yell “Snowball fight!” It was pandemonium, but so fun. Then, I would blow a whistle and the students had to race to pick up the nearest snowball and read the questionnaire aloud to the class. We would have a blast learning a little bit about each other.

Enjoy the first day of school and remember to make sure your students are happy enough to want to return for day two. Then, you can hit them with all of the rules and procedures. :)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Math Workshop: Building Routines That Last a Year

Hello friends!  I'm so excited to be joining some of my favorite upper elementary blog buddies for a huge link up to share some great Back to School Survival Tips. Hop on through each of our blogs and check out the collection of tips that should get your new year started right!

Have you considered starting a Math Workshop model in your classroom, but just don't know where to start?  I'm going to share some tips to help you start the year off using the workshop model and give you ideas and suggestions about how you can build those routines that will last all year long.
Years ago when I first implemented the workshop model, I was anxious about how to make it work. Often, teachers feel comfortable implementing Reading Workshop and even Writing Workshop, but just don't know how to make this method work for math.  I took the opposite approach.  I tackled Math Workshop head-on FIRST before attempting Reading or Writing Workshop and I never looked back!

Tip #1:  How is it organized?
For me, this meant having my student rotate through a series of 4 stations.  Those 4 stations used the acronym M.A.T.H. to make it simple for students to rotate through each of the letters every day.

Math Facts- This is where I had my students work our daily math spiral review.  They were usually able to complete this part quickly, so when they were finished, they had the opportunity to start their At Your Seat Work.
At Your Seat- This is where my students completed the Independent Practice from the math book.  However, this time could be spent completing any number of activities that need to be completed independently.  I've even used this time to have my students complete Math Menus.  
Teacher Time- This was my small group instruction time. 
Hands On- This is what most think of as real "Stations" or "Centers".  During Hands-On time, students can work on a number of skills (all differentiated) using flashcards, task cards, different technology, math manipulatives, etc.

Tip #2: How do you start?
You have to establish expectations about how to use math materials properly.  I've used a lesson that I called  "Math Tools vs. Math Toys".  For this lesson, I began by placing tubs of math tools (electronic flashcards (like Math Sharks), flashcards, dice, center packets, task cards, etc.) on the group tables.  Before opening the boxes of math tools, we discussed the difference between a math tool and a toy.  I would ask a series of questions including:
  • What do you do with math tools?  
  • How is that different than a toy? 
  • Can I "play" with math tools if I wanted to? (Yes) 
  • Should I "play" with my math tools? (No) 
I had students write what they see as the difference between the two on a sticky note and bring it to a chart labeled "Math Tools vs. Math Toys".   We discussed the students answers.  Then, we began working with math tools "correctly" and then I modeled in an over-the-top silly way using the tools inappropriately.  I usually picked a student who can really "ham it up" with me.  We tossed the dice at each other pretending to have a war.  We took the flash cards and dealt them out like we are playing a game of cards and threw them in the air a bit.  You get the idea.  By taking the time to complete this activity, your students will have a reference whenever you have to revisit the expectations.

Tip #3: How do you organize groups?
This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of any classroom workshop model.  I tried many different methods for grouping my students.  However, what I found to be the most effective way to group my students was based on their mathematical needs.  If I had established routines and procedures, then I didn't have to worry about grouping students primarily based on student behavior.   I found that the best way to determine what skills needed to be addressed during small group instruction was by using my Daily Spiral Math Review.  

Since the skills included in this pack are spiraled, and each domain is covered every single week, I was able to narrow down which skills my students needed to review. By using the weekly assessment included, I could track areas of concern for each of my students and then I would group "like" students together based on the skills that they needed to review.

You can try out the first week for free by downloading the product preview for each resource.  You can check them both out by heading {here} or by clicking on the images above.

I hope that you found some tips that can help you get started with Math Workshop in your classroom! The tips can also easily be adapted to any workshop model.

For more tips to add to your survival guide for Back to School, head on over to my friends' blogs to read more!