Improving the quality of Student Work in Centers

 


I love centers. And so do my students. We do math and reading centers every day. Centers can be an incredibly valuable time in your classroom- or it can just be a time filler. If students are not producing quality independent work, then it is not a good use of time. I recently wrote a blog post for Upper Elementary Snapshots in which I give some great ideas for improving the quality of student work in centers. You can check it out by clicking HERE

What are you waiting for?! Go read it!




4 Ways to Save Money on a Classroom Theme


Classroom decor makes my teacher heart so happy. The colors. The fonts. The adorable graphics. It just gets me! Last week I shared 3 reasons that I love having a classroom theme. So maybe you are thinking about that new decor, but you don't know where to start and you are working with a measly teacher's salary. Decorating can get pricey if you are not careful. Over the years, I have discovered a few tips to decorating a classroom on a budget. 


All of the teaching stores are filled with beautiful classroom decor. And if money is not an issue, by all means buy it all! But if you want to save a ton, buy your decor on TpT. There are so many themes and styles available. The best part about buying a theme kit on TpT is that many kits are editable. You are able to create the exact labels, rules, schedule, etc to meet your classroom needs. You can't do this with the expensive decor at your local teaching store. 

Click HERE to see the classroom theme kits that I currently have in my store.

Sports Theme Classroom Supply Organization from Not So Wimpy Teacher

Camping Theme Classroom Decor from Not So Wimpy Teacher

Once you buy a kit, you will need to do a significant amount of printing. I am very jealous of those teachers who can print at school for free. I never had this privilege. I have a printer at home, but the ink is expensive and the print quality is nothing to brag about. I am OCD and I NEED my decor to look great so I put my theme kit on a jump drive and take it to an office supply store like Staples. I tell them exactly what pages I want printed and how many of each page. Save a ton of money on this print order by bringing your own cardstock. If you can order it at school- even better. I buy mine at Wal-Mart and it is reasonable. Staples gives me a discount on the print job because I bring my own cardstock. 


With the help of TpT, I am able to get an entire classroom of decor for the price of only a few items from a teaching store.



Once you have decided on a classroom theme, do some Pinterest reserach for DIY projects to add to your classroom decor. I like to think of this as professional development. Many of these projects are cheeper than buying something from a teaching store because they use materials you already have at home. For example, I made this cute field goal and soccer goal for my sports theme classroom using cheep pool noodles.

Sports Classroom Theme Reading and Writing Posters from Not So Wimpy Teacher

I have lots of Pinterest boards dedicated to various classroom themes so you can start your research here. Just click on the picture below and find the theme you have in mind.


Pinterest word of warning- Don't get overwhelmed and think that your classroom has to look like any picture on Pinterest!  Keep your students in mind rather than turning this into an episode from HGTV!


I love this meme from Wild About Firsties!


In my first classrooms, I made every bulletin board look different. They were each their own work of art. So I needed different colors of paper, different boarder and lots of letters. It was so expensive! Now I have gotten a bit smarter and I use the same paper and borders for all of my boards. I originally thought that would be boring, but I was so wrong! It looks so neat and coordinated! And it saved me a ton! I even used the cheap border. But it still looks amazing! 

Buying packs of bulletin board letters can get expensive! You end up having to buy a bunch of different sets so that you have enough of the common letters that you need. I finally got smart and started just printing letters from my computer. I use a bold font and then I can cut the letters out or even just hang the whole paper. My school has free black and white printing- so I made my letters black! It's inexpensive and easy to read. I only need to print the letters that I am going to use!


Just because you are redecorating your classroom, doesn't mean that you need to start from scratch! Look around your classroom. What can you keep? What can you just spray paint to match your new decor? When I redid my classroom a few years ago, I spray painted a bunch of red tubs to black to match my new decor. It saved tons of money.

Sports Theme Classroom Supply Organization from Not So Wimpy Teacher

Party decor often makes for great classroom decor. Think about parties you have thrown and those your friends have thrown. Your Super Bowl party decor from last year will look great in your sports themed classroom. Your friend's luau party decorations will be perfect in that beach theme classroom you've been dreaming about. 

Beach Theme Classroom Supply Organization from Not So Wimpy Teacher

Did you catch my post from last week about reasons that I love having a classroom theme? Click on the image below to read that one too! Lots of good ideas!


My next classroom theme post will showcase my very favorite classroom themes so be sure to stay tuned!

And if you are looking for some fun classroom theme kits for your classroom, click on the image below to see the sets I currently have in my store.





5 Reasons I {HEART} Read Alouds in Upper Elementary


During my first couple of years as a teacher, I always had a class read aloud sitting on my desk. It would take months to actually finish it because I so rarely had time to just sit and read to my third graders. Too many standards and assessments. Too many interruptions and mandates. I am embarrassed to admit that I started to feel like taking a break and reading to my kids was a luxury that I didn't have time for. Thank goodness that I have evolved as an educator! My thinking has done a 360 degree change! A day does not go by in my classroom when I don't take the time to read to my students. It is one of the best parts of our day and something that I am passionate about!

Why use read alouds?
There are numerous reasons that reading to your students is a daily must- even in upper elementary classrooms.


Reading aloud gives teachers the opportunity to introduce reluctant readers to new authors, series and genres. I cannot tell you how many times a parent has told me, "My son hates to read." I disagree. He probably doesn't hate to read. He just hasn't found the type of book that he loves YET. So I read a variety of types of books. I read fiction and nonfiction. I read series that I don't notice my students trying yet. I read authors that are new. I introduce them to a type of book and then allow them to read more on their own. It's a powerful way to get kids reading! And since it is so specifically targeted to my kids, it is far more engaging than a textbook.

I have several favorite read aloud that I choose to read because they are either part of a large series, the author has written many more books, they are award winners or they have a great central message. Here is a stack of my very favorite read aloud for my third graders. Since my goal is to encourage my students to read more books in the series or by the author, I make sure to have these books available in our classroom library. When I finish the read aloud, I will auction off the opportunity to be the first person to independently read the next book! Students eat this right up! Any students who wants to read the next book is given a raffle ticket. (You could even give them an opportunity to earn extra tickets!) I do a quick drawing and the person who wins gets two weeks to read the next book. My kids are so excited to read a book that they are competing over the privilege. It melts a teacher's heart!





Reading out loud gives students an example of what fluent reading sounds like. Even in the upper grades, students need a model so that they understand when to pause for a breath and how not to sound like a robot. I hate robot reading! When students don't read fluently, they are boring to listen to. They start to lull me to sleep. Therefore, I stand in front of my kids and read like I am auditioning for for a Hollywood drama! I have fun voices for the characters. The kids especially like high pitched voices. And if you really want to grab their attention- jump on top of the desk or table when you read.  Kids will be enthralled! (Wouldn't it be cool if the principal jumped on the table during the next staff meeting?!) I started doing this after reading Ron Clark's The End of Molasses Classes. Students see that reading fluency makes the story and their reading interesting. They want to go home and read like this to their parents. The parents will thank you for encouraging their child to read but you might get some questions about jumping on the table!


Read aloud allow my struggling readers to hear age appropriate stories. Too often the lower readers are bored by the books that are written for kids much younger than they are. My third graders are tired of reading Junie B. and Magic Treehouse. They want to read The One and Only Ivan, but they aren't ready to do the decoding. My lower readers love being able to enjoy a book without having to struggle over each word. 

Sometimes I even choose a book that is above level. It is a book that most of my kids can't read independently YET. But it introduces them to new vocabulary and gets them excited to be ready for challenging text. After all, students who want to read something, typically find a way to understand it!

Don't get me wrong- students need instruction that meets them on their level. In my class we have literature circles during guided reading groups. This is the time where I work real hard with them on text that is appropriate for their independent reading level. You can read more about my literature circles HERE.


Stop thinking of it as wasted time! I use my read aloud to model every one of our reading skills and standards during the year. I do my read aloud while my students eat their snack. When I am finished reading, they come to the carpet and we have a quick mini lesson for our weekly skill. Therefore, my guided reading time actually started during the snack break! I am saving time rather than wasting it! 

I do admit that this is a little tougher when you are working on informational text standards. My kiddos generally prefer to hear fiction read alouds. But I have discovered that they love to learn about animals. So I read a book about the rainforest and one about Jane Goodall. The key is to make sure the book is somewhat short and is age appropriate. Don't bore them or they will always assume that informational text is boring! Ask them what topics interest them. Put a few books out and let students preview them. Then vote on which one will be the read aloud.  

Listening to me read, shows students how much I love books. They can see how excited reading makes me and how much I enjoy the characters and the suspense. When children see adults who love books, they are much more likely to love books themselves.  I still have countless standards to teach, assessments to give and data to analyze. But for 15 minutes every day, I set aside the pile and just focus on loving my kids through a book. We laugh together. We are making connections and memories as we travel through books. We deserve every moment of that break.


Do you take time to read aloud to your class? Is it an integral part of your classroom day or just a filler if you have time at the end? Are your kids begging for more? Please leave a comment and share your experience so that we can motivate each other to find time to read to our students!





3 Reasons I Love Having a Classroom Theme


I am one of those strange teachers that had my classroom theme planned and designed in my head before I was ever hired for my first teaching job! Over the years, I have had many different themes in my classroom and I have loved it. Classroom themes can be elaborate with fancy bulletin boards or simple with just a set of colors or patterns. A classroom theme is by no means a requirement of a great teacher or a fun classroom. However, a classroom has many advantages. Let em t ell you why I love having a theme so much...


A room with a theme will generally look more organized. When everything coordinates, it just looks more put together! Using the same colors, graphics and fonts throughout the room is easier on the eyes. And an added bonus- when I am labeling and decorating my classroom, I end up getting everything more organized. I don't set out to do that, but it just happens. 

Sports classroom theme labels for supply organization- Not So Wimpy Teacher

Parents love to see a coordinated and organized classroom when they first meet you. They assume that if your classroom is organized and cute- you are probably a pretty put together teacher. (The assumption is NOT always an accurate one, but a first impression it still important.) My students always comment about how much they love knowing where everything goes in our classroom. It's a win!




When your students walk into your room and see the bugs or superheroes or cowboys- they get super excited! Students want to be a part of your classroom family because it already looks like you are fun. Your classroom becomes a special place that stands out for them. Don't get me wrong- cute decorations cannot take the place of quality instruction, but cute decorations do get kids excited. An excited student is easier to teach! When your students first walk into your beach theme room and see the beach chairs in the class library- they will be super excited for reading time! When your students receive a letter during the summer that welcomes them to your "team" and assures that that it will be a "slam dunk" year, they will be super excited to meet you on the first day. They already think that you will be fun! 


A theme can be integrated into lessons and celebrations all year! Students love this! For example, if you have a travel theme classroom- you can integrate it into your social studies and geography lessons and do a fun holidays around the world unit.  This year is the summer olympics. It would be fun to "travel" to the different countries and learn about their climate, industry, etc. It is the perfect way to teach research skills, practice reading and writing informational text and it's FUN!

Travel theme classroom- Not So Wimpy Teacher

I have a sports themed classroom and I love teaching character traits (teamwork, perseverance, playing by the rules, etc) and having a Super Bowl celebration (full of fractions!) We also have a World Series of Reading challenge! My students love our spring training test prep too.  All of these activities seemed so fun to my students because of the theme, but I secretly made them very academic!

Sports theme classroom fraction super bowl party- Not So Wimpy Teacher

A beach themed classroom would be a fun way to start your unit on ocean animals and the year can start and/or end with a luau!

Do you teach about the planets and constellations in your science class? It might be fun to have a space them classroom! You can also teach reattach and report writing by having students each research a famous astronaut. 

Get creative with ways you can bring the theme into your classroom. It makes the year and your lessons even more memorable. 

Embrace a classroom theme!  I hope that you love having one as much as I do!


Stay tuned for more classroom theme posts- including a look at my favorite themes and some ideas for saving money while decorating your classroom. 


My Favorite Teaching Professional Development Books


Summer is about family, friends, sleeping in, barbecues, beaches and BOOKS! I read during the school year, but I am much more limited on time so I don't read as much as I'd like to. So I make up for it during the summer. I read steamy romance novels, children's literature and professional development books. Yes, I read school books during the summer! It's the perfect time to reflect on your year and your craft and learn some new strategies for the coming year. It energizes me and keeps me excited about going back to school.

During the last few summers, I have read some awesome teacher books and I wanted to share some of my favorites in case you are looking for some new books for your summer reading list. If you click on the book pictures, you will be directed to Amazon where you read more about the book. This post does contain affiliate links.


I think every teacher should read this book! It transformed the way I managed my classroom and helped me to release more control and allow students to step up and lead in the classroom. The author includes lots of ideas that made my  classroom more fun and engaging. For example, he suggested having a silent day when the teacher could not talk all day. I tried it in my classroom a few weeks ago and the students LOVED it. I was incredibly impressed with their ability to run the classroom without me and handle any conflict that naturally came up. I liked that this book is an easy read that you could bring to the pool with you. I was part of a book study using this book. If you want to read those posts, click HERE.



This book is a bit more technical, but a must-read for all teachers. I decided that I really wanted too improve my vocabulary instruction and this book gave me so many ideas. I implemented so much of it into my  classroom this year, along with my Vocabulary Builders units, and my kiddos grew leaps and bounds. The  best part was that my kids loved vocabulary. They groaned when vocal time was finished for the day. Can't beat that! The book is packed with strategies that you can implement right away in any grade level classroom. You can read about how implemented ideas from the book into my daily instruction by clicking HERE.




I LOVE this book and like to reread it often! If you want to have a classroom where kids LOVE to read, you must read this book. The author talks about ways that school kill a child's love for reading and strategies to encourage students to read. The book is an easy read that is full of stories about her students and her classroom. After reading this book, I am dying to start school and get books in my kids' hands!




After reading this book, math became my all-time favorite subject to teach. I used to teach math using a whole group model and this book helped me to organize a mini lesson and centers into my math routine. My students started loving math and grew so much more. The author talks about the need for guided math, organization, teaching procedures, assessment and  so much more. If you teach math, then you need to read this book. I did a book study with this book a couple of years ago. If you want to read those posts click HERE.





If you have not read a book by Ron Clark, then you are truly missing out. His books are a super simple read that will having you laughing and completely inspired. I recommend starting with The Essential 55. It is a book of 55 rules that Clark recommends for helping students to be successful. I was most inspired by the rules about manners and etiquette. Reading about how he teaches his students proper manners was an eye opener. I worked hard with my class this year and was so proud when we repeatedly received comments from staff, subs and parents about manners. It just made our year so much more fun and I think it helped us to grow even closer as a classroom family. After you read this book, you must read all of the rest of Ron Clark's books. They won't let you down and you will have a pep in your step when you head back to school.





So what will I be reading this summer? I am excited to read this brand new book called Authentically Engaged Families. The topic really grabbed me. I am always looking for new and exciting ways to communicate with parents and get them involved in the classroom. I have already read the first chapter and I can see this is going to be a great fit for me!




The following books are books that I have not read yet but they have been highly recommended from teacher friends. They are on my wish list and I hope to read them this summer! Let me know if you have read any of these books!

                                                     

                                                      

                                                        


So grab a drink and a chair by the pool. Kick back and read something that is mindless and then read something that gets you excited to be the most amazing teacher you can be! 


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