Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

Everything You Need to Know About Math Centers

Are you thinking about using math centers in your classroom, but not sure where to start? Have you tried using math centers, but got discouraged by lack of time, student behavior or prepping materials? I have been there! And so I am excited to share tons of tips, ideas, freebies and resources that are going to make your math center time super successful!

So let's start from the beginning. It's a very good place to start. 🎼 (Fess up. Who is singing Do Re Me now?)

Why should I use math centers?

Are math centers totally new to you? Are you still wondering if they are a good use of time and effort? 

Math centers and guided math groups were the heart and soul of my math instruction. I can't imagine teaching without them! I often hear teachers say that they don't have time for math centers. I honestly feel that, if you are doing centers correctly, you don't have the time NOT to do centers. 

Math centers are NOT just fun and games. They are not just a way to busy your kids.

Click HERE to read more about the five reasons that math centers are a must.

What math center activities do you use?

I get asked this question ALL THE TIME! And it's a great question! Choosing the right activities is key to running successful math centers. 

Center rotations should NOT just be fun and games to keep students busy while you meet with small groups. They should be a meaningful use of their time!

I see so many teachers who make math center activities complicated and time consuming to prepare. 

You don't need to have six different activities! That is just six different things that you have to make/buy, print, prep and keep track of. You don't need that craziness! I have four different centers and only two require any prep at all. 

You don't need to change the center activities every week. Again, that is a ton of work for you. It also takes up valuable class time because you are having to explain the new activities every Monday. Use activities that can stay the same all year!

Click HERE to read more about the four centers that my students did every week.

How did you make time to meet with all of your groups?

This is another fantastic question!

First of all, math centers are so important that I MADE TIME for them. That means that I didn''t have lots of time for brain breaks, transitions, morning work, class meetings, etc. It's not that those things aren't good, it's just that math center time is so much more important. I had to prioritize my limited class time.

By stealing minutes from all of the "extras" during the day, I was able to come up with a 90 minute math block. I know that everyone can't do this- but I encourage you to try!

If there is absolutely no way that you can get more than 60 minutes, just make the most of it!

You probably noticed that I only have two center rotations each day. I found this to be the best use of my limited time. It kept us from wasting time with extra transitions, clean up, etc. 

Click HERE if you want to read more about how I managed my four groups while only meeting with two per day. You can even grab some free math center signs that will help you to get your groups organized!

How do you start math centers at the beginning of the year? 

The most important tip that I have for you is DON'T RUSH! Take your time teaching and practicing these routines. I broke it down into eight days of teaching the routines, but your class might need 10 or 12 days. Spend the time now, so that math centers run like a well oiled machine for the rest of the year. I promise that it will be worth the time!

Click HERE if you want to check out the eight days of lessons that I do when introducing math centers to my students.

What do you do when your students struggle with math centers?

Do you have students who don't complete any of the center work? Or students who talk and waste their time? Do you have students who don't take care of the materials?

We have all been there! Don't quit! A little more training and you can get the center time back on track.

Click HERE to read some suggestions for the most common math center struggles.

How do you organize your math materials?

Keeping your centers organized is important! Students can't be successful if they can't easily access the materials that they need.

I have tried lots of different systems for organizing my math centers.

Click HERE to check out my ideas for math center storage. You can also grab my free labels!

Do you want to check out my math centers?

Click your grade level to learn more about what skills and activities are included in the center bundle.

I hope that these tips and freebies help you to get started with math centers! 

Tips for Teachers who are Switching Grade Levels

1. Contact your new team lead.

Do your very best to get the contact information for your team lead or new team teachers. Most principals will provide email addresses.

You don't want to be a big pain in the neck, but it is a VERY good idea to briefly introduce yourself. Don't make it sound like you are a know-it-all who doesn't want to work with others. #epicfail Instead, let them know what your previous experience is and that you are excited to learn from the team in this new grade level.

You also want to ask a few questions. I would probably ask:
What curriculum is required and provided?
Is there a curriculum map or pacing guide?
What manipulatives, technology and/or classroom resources will be provided?
What do you recommend that I purchase over the summer? (books, furniture, supplies, curriculum, etc.)
What does your daily schedule look like?
Do you have any other advice for me?

2. Read the standards.

Seriously. READ THEM! All of them!

Before you go crazy decorating or buying resources, you have to be familiar with what you will be teaching in your new grade level. I suggest that you make yourself a cheat sheet. 

If a standard is confusing to you, do some research. Look the standard up on Google, Teachers Pay Teachers and on state education websites. 

I know that standards are not really a fun summer read. Maybe a margarita will help to make it more bearable. But you have to do it.

3. Become familiar with the provided curriculum. 

Now that you know what you will have to teach, spend some time looking over any provided curriculum. 

Reviewing the curriculum will help you to see where the holes are and where you will need to provide additional resources. It will also give you an idea of what your instruction is going to look like.

4. Join a grade level specific Facebook group.

I love learning from other teachers. You can't bug your new team lead all summer. But you can ask thousands of teachers (who teach the same grade) all of your burning questions on Facebook!

I have Facebook groups for second, third, fourth and fifth grade. Click HERE if you would like to join one of those groups.

If you teach a different grade, do some searches on Facebook. I am sure there are groups for every grade if you look.

Once you find a community of teachers, ask them how they teach certain standards. Ask them about their favorite read aloud and teacher blogs to follow. You can learn so much!

5. Keep organized.

Now that you know what you will be teaching, you are probably starting to download free resources and purchase games, centers, etc. Your printer might be working on overdrive! 

Do yourself a favor and keep everything organized from the start. Whether you prefer binders, file folders or a Goggle Drive- just be certain that you are filing each resource as soon as you purchase, download or print. 

Label all of your boxes, binders and files with subject names or standard numbers.

It might also be helpful to keep a list of what you have printed and what you are still looking for. I accidentally printed the same thing more than once and forgot about other great things that I had purchased. 

Spend the time now, to save your sanity later.

6. Relax

You are a great teacher. That is why you were asked to move to another grade level. They knew you could handle it. Believe in yourself.

If you love your students and are excited to learn new things, you will be an amazing teacher in any grade level. 

Take a deep breath and don't forget to enjoy your summer break.

I hope that these tips help you to get prepared for your new grade level! Good luck!

Have a Not So Wimpy day,

P.S. If you are new to third grade, you might want to check out all of my tips in THIS blog post. 

End of Year Student Gift Ideas

Student gifts do not need to be expensive! They should be meaningful. Check out these simple ideas for end of the school year gift ideas for your students!

As we get closer to the end of the school year, teachers in my Facebook groups are asking for end of year gift suggestions. I put together some of my best ideas!

First, gifts are not required! Don't feel like you have to give one. I honestly don't think that students expect them. The end of the year is a blur for students and teachers. If the gift is stressful- don't bother. It does not mean you don't love your students. Give hugs!

I liked to give a gift, but I am not the kind of teacher who is willing to waste money on dollar store junk. I am a mom and I know that those trinkets get broken and/or thrown away within a day or two. It might seem cheap, but really it ends up being a waste.

I also like for my student gifts to be meaningful and help my students to remember our year together. A sand pail or a beach ball just don't generally hold much meaning.

Instead, I like to give one of the following gifts...

1. Book

I always took great pride in helping all of my students to discover their love for reading. We shared many books during the year and so it makes lots of sense to give a book as a gift. Plus, I am encouraging a little summer reading.

Books can be purchased very inexpensively through Scholastic. I collect the $1 books or buy the sets that are discounted. If you plan ahead, you could try doing a Donors Choose project for books from Amazon.

Make the gift more meaningful by writing a personal message on the inside cover. My own children cherish books with notes from their former teachers.

Book Raffle

I really LOVE to make the book gift a fun end of year activity with a book raffle! Students can earn the raffle tickets based on behavior. This helps with the end of year itch! Students love the actual raffle and go home with a book that they can't wait to read. 

Click HERE for more information about book raffles.

2. Class Video

In my past life I must have been part of the paparazzi. I constantly took pictures of my students on field trips and doing fun activities in the classroom. 

At the end of the year, I would use iMovie to make all of these pictures into a movie. Pair it with some fun music and you have a special gift.

You can burn the song onto a DVD. I like this option because it becomes a keepsake. If you want a less expensive option, you can upload the video to a class website or Google drive and provide a link or a QR code for students to access the video.

I love this gift idea because it reminds students of all the fun we had together!

3. Class Picture

Not a big picture taker? If you didn't take a lot of photos during the school year, it might be difficult to put together a video.

That's ok! Gather your kiddos for a class photo shoot. Print the photo for each student and stick them in dollar store picture frames. 
So simple! And still meaningful!

4. Awards

Student gifts don't have to be elaborate to be meaningful! How about hosting a class awards ceremony? 

Print an award that is special for each of your students. As you present them make sure to tell the class exactly why you chose that particular award for each student. 

This is a feel good activity and gift! Students leave knowing just how proud you are.

These end of the year awards are the perfect gift!

Click HERE to check out these editable awards.

5. Handwritten Note

I feel that a handwritten note is one of the most meaningful gifts that you can give.

In this digital age, it is super rare to receive a handwritten note. That makes them a million times more special.

Grab some pretty stationary of notecards. Spend a few afternoons writing personal and heartfelt letters. What made you proud? How did they grow? What made you laugh? What is a fond memory that you have? What will you miss about them? What is your hope or dream for them?

If you feel comfortable, you might consider including a personal email address and giving students permission to write to you and keep you up-to-date on their family and schooling. They love this!

Whatever you decide, I hope that you are taking time to really enjoy your sweet students during the end of year chaos. These moments are fleeting.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Teacher Tips for Preparing for Maternity Leave

You’re almost ready! The baby is coming soon, and you’re tired but excited to get everything ready for your new addition at home. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of preparation that needs to be done at school as well. Getting ready for your maternity leave can be very stressful!

If you follow me on Facebook, then you probably saw my BIG announcement! My husband and I are super excited to be expecting baby number FIVE! Wowzers!

I know how hard it is to focus on work when you are pregnant. It's like my sweet little baby has completely sucked my brain right out of my head! All I can think about is car seat safety rankings and baby nursery decor.

I also know how hard it is to be a long-term substitute. Prior to becoming a full-time teacher I was a substitute for many years. I had the opportunity to substitute for many new mommies. I had some awesome long-term jobs and some that I couldn't wait to be over.

I thought I would combine a my mommy and substitute experience to put together some tips for preparing for your maternity leave. I hope these help you to get focused and prepared so that you can truly enjoy your new little addition!

Utilize other classroom teachers.

Let other grade level teachers know when your leave is and ask to use their lesson plans. Make extra copies to share with your substitute. Most colleagues are very understanding, especially if they’ve been through the leave process and having children. Offer to take over some of the load when you return. 

If you don’t have another teacher in your grade level, check out my grade level teacher groups. These communities allow you to interact with other teachers and find a tribe to support you! So many amazing ideas, tips and resources are shared every day.

Talk to your admin.

Every school/district has different expectations for how much a teacher must prep for a leave.

At my school, we were expected to loosely lesson plan for the entire leave and do the photo copying. I have heard of other schools that only require a week of lesson planning.

It is a good idea to find out early what will be required. You don't want to be surprised late into your pregnancy!

Arrange a sub weeks (or months) in advance.

Do not wait until the last minute to find a substitute teacher. Slots fill up fast, and great long term subs can be hard to secure. 

Ask your colleagues or other teachers in the district for recommendations for long term subs or request someone you may have had in the past. Even districts that do not allow you to request specific subs for short term absences typically encourage prearrangement and requests for maternity leave substitutes.

If possible, invite your substitute into the classroom so that she can observe your class. It gives you a chance to model your procedures and show her around your classroom.

Batch your maternity leave planning.

Don't plan on doing all of the lesson planning in just one weekend! That will really stress you out.

Instead, schedule a little time into your weekly schedule starting in your second trimester. Use this time to do planning and photo copying in batches. For example, spend a couple of weeks prepping math centers. Then spend a couple of weeks getting a writing unit prepped.

Rather than working week-to-week, save time by prepping a subject at a time for the entire leave.

Don't forget to think about holidays that will happen during your leave!

Keep your lesson plans and materials organized.

This is a good tip for any teacher but especially for those going on leave. Organizing your files and lesson plans to make them easier for your guest teacher to find and use will make your life a whole lot easier when you return. 

Make the copies you know your sub will need for your leave. Make copies early (for before your due date) in case your bundle makes an early appearance. Filing your copies into weekly folders and having daily drawers set up for your sub will make the experience more pleasant for them. 

They may even want to come back and sub when you have well-child checks or need to stay home with your infant after returning to work!

Don't forget the basics.

Your substitute will need lots of information in order to effectively run your classroom!

Things you may want to leave:
Class Roster
Allergies and medical concerns
Daily schedule
Specials schedule
Duty schedule
Passwords (for teacher computer and sites and for students)
Calendar of important dates (meetings, field trips, holidays, etc.)

Make a little packet and leave it in a binder or folder for your substitute. She will thank you later!

Would you like to use my FREE editable templates? #woohoo Click on the picture below to download!

Be flexible but firm when you return.

Know that even if your sub is wonderful, it’s not the same as having you in the classroom. Whether you take your leave at the start of the year or after 100 days of school, your kids will have an adjustment period when you return. Your guest teacher may have stricter or more lenient behavior expectations. 

When you return from your leave, share pictures of your baby, tell your kids about your family, but act like it’s the first day of school again. Praise positive behaviors and correct poor choices before they become habits. Review expectations and model them with your students. Check out THESE fun free activities for reviewing procedures. You could prep them before you go out on leave!

Following these teacher tips for preparing for maternity leave will help you focus on the most important thing during your time off: taking care of your child and yourself. Your students will be fine, but know that having that special bonding time with your child is the number one priority. Don’t worry about emails or phone calls. Let them pile in your inbox and go to voicemail. This is the time for you and your family! Congrats!

7 Ways to Save Money on Teachers Pay Teachers

Tips for saving some money when buying resources for your classroom from TpT

Teachers Pay Teachers made me a better teacher. That might sound cheesy to you, but it is the absolute truth. TpT gave me the ability to meet my students' needs in ways that went above and beyond the outdated curriculum. TpT made me look like a rockstar with super fun activities while saving me time that I could spend with my family.

I love TpT, but I couldn't always afford as many resources as I wanted. Teachers are on seriously limited budgets. (Not that I need to tell you that!)

Over the years, I have come up with seven different ways to save a little on my TpT purchases. I want to share in hopes that this will help you!

1. Leave Feedback to Earn Credit

Teachers Pay Teachers values quality feedback on resources. The feedback helps other teachers to find the resource that will best meet their own classroom needs.

Since feedback is so important, TpT rewards you for leaving feedback! When you leave feedback on the resources that you have purchased and used in your classroom, TpT will give you credits. 

The amount of credits that you earn is based on the price of the resource that you purchased. For example, if you purchase a $3 resource, you will receive 3 credits when you leave feedback.

For every 20 credits that you earn, you can take $1 off of your whole cart.

Teachers Pay Teachers keeps track of the credits and you can choose to use them when you are checking out.

Before you check out, head to your purchases page and make sure you have left quality feedback on previous purchases!

2. Follow your Favorite Stores

Some sellers offer a discount on brand new resources. 

This discount is usually only available for a day or two. If you follow their store, Teachers Pay Teachers will send you an email when they add a new resource. Make sure you open this email right away to see if the new resource is something that you need and nit it is discounted.

Not sure how to follow a store? Head to the store and click on the star that says "Follow Me" directly under their store name.

Want to follow my store? I offer a 50% discount on new resources for the first 24 hours! You can follow by clicking HERE.

3. Follow your Favorite Sellers on Social Media

Most sellers have Facebook pages and/or Instagram accounts. 

Sometimes sellers will use their social media to announce a sale in their store or on a particular resource. Also, they might have special giveaways or contests on their social media. 

I often give away gift cards and large resource bundles on my Facebook page and my Instagram account

4. Join your Favorite Sellers' Newsletter Lists

Some sellers have email newsletter lists. You usually get a freebie just for signing up for their list!

Sellers will send likely send emails when they are having sales, giveaways or have new resources. This is a great chance to grab a deal!

What I love most about these emails is that the seller is sending lots of tips and ideas that help you to know if the resource will meet my needs and how to implement it in the classroom. This can help you to save money buying resources that just aren't what you need!

You can usually find information about signing up for a newsletter list on the seller's blog or social media. You can always send them an email or TpT question to ask if they have an email list.

It's super easy to get on my newsletter list! Just type your first name and PERSONAL email address in the boxes below.

5. Team Up to Take Advantage of Extra License Discounts

Do you plan with your team? Do you all end up purchasing the same resources on TpT?

Did you know that most sellers offer a discount on the purchase of multiple licenses? It's typically a 10% discount! 

If you know that one of your teaching buddies wants the same resource, team up and buy both licenses from one of TpT account. Then you can split the cost and you both save a little!

*Note: It is necessary to buy multiple licenses if you are going to be sharing a resource with a colleague. The terms of use on nearly every TpT resource state that the resource can be used by one classroom. Sharing would be a violation of copyright law. So it's a darn good thing we can get a discount on those extra licenses! 

6. Take Advantage of Bundle Discounts

Many sellers offer money saving bundles in their store. The bundles are a collection of resources from their store that they sell as a package at a discounted price.

I offer many bundle for 20% off of the price of buying each individual item in the bundle.

Buying a bundle costs more up front, but they can be a huge money saver in the long run!

7. Talk to your Admin about Signing Up for TpT for Schools

Teachers Pay Teachers has created a brand new program that is the bees knees! They worked with all types of schools (public, private, charts, parochial, etc) all over the country to create a TpT for Schools portal.

Basically, school can join and get and get an account for free. Teachers are then able to put TpT resources on a wish list. Their administrators can see the wish lists and purchase licenses for the teachers. 

You probably won't get everything that you ask for, but wouldn't it be amazing to get a few new and FREE to you resources?!

If your school is not already signed up for TpT for Schools, you can talk to your admin about getting signed up. 

You can get more information or have your admin get your school signed up by clicking HERE.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Reading Test Prep Tips

Taking standardized tests can be scary for elementary students. With so much emphasis on testing in schools, it’s not surprising that even young students worry about test performance. Fortunately, teachers can help students (and themselves) lessen test taking anxiety with these simple reading test taking tips.

Don't call it a test.

Terms like “learning snapshots” or “show what you know” are far less terrifying than tests or assessments.

In my classroom, I called the test days- Game Days.

I liked to tell my students that all the assignments (formative assessments) we do in class are practice. They’re working on their skills to prepare for the final performance or game.

Getting their heads in the game can be easy by putting up positive signs and having countdowns to “game day”. Write your students some fan mail and encourage their parents and other teachers to do the same. They will love being superstars on the field for their big day!

You can read more about my game day testing theme by clicking HERE.

Practice reading the directions.

Remind your students that there are different types of questions on the test. This is especially true of the ELA tests.

Carefully reading the directions for each section is imperative to make sure answers are marked correctly. With more and more tests being taken digitally, there are test items that require multiple answers, highlights, and manipulation of text. 

Give your students a chance to see these types of items and clarify directions on practice tests. Check your state's testing website for examples to show your students.

Teach how to eliminate obvious incorrect answers.

Talk to your students about answer choices that are most likely incorrect. Answers that give choices like always and never usually indicate incorrect answers. Any responses that are counter to what the student knows can be crossed out to help narrow down options.

Show students how you want them to eliminate these answers without getting pencil marks in the answer bubbles!

You can do a Google search for bubble test paper. Print and actually let students practice bubbling.

Review context clues and vocabulary skills.

Reading passages often feature vocabulary words in context. Practice learning how to find the meaning of words by looking at synonym, antonym, definition, example, and inference context clues in narrative and informational texts. Prefixes, suffixes and roots are also great tools.

I found that my students greatly improved on this skill after I implemented my tier 2 vocabulary program! They were so used to being word detectives.

This is not only a great test taking skill but something your students can use across the curriculum as they read and unpack different pieces of writing.

Incorporate review centers and games.

Passages are a necessary evil when preparing for an ELA exam. Students need to practice with longer text. I do my best to make these passages fun with my Work Hard, Play Hard review day. Students are rewarded for completing the passage and questions with a fun activity such as art or a game. My students were sad when our time was up. They literally begged for more!

Engaging Reading Test Prep CentersI love to use THESE reading centers. The cards make them a little more fun than straight up passages. Plus, they cover so many skills that my kiddos needed to review.

My students love to be the teachers. I will split them into groups and give each group a topic (main idea, character traits, context clues, etc). The group will make posters/anchor charts and then give the class a short lesson. You remember more of what you teach!

I add some serious test prep fun with THESE free vocabulary games! Make sure to include words that students are likely to see on their test such as: examine, compare, contrast, support, etc.

FREE vocabulary games

I hope that these tips give you some ideas for making ELA test prep meaningful and fun. Most importantly, don’t stress yourself or your kids out before game day. 

In fact, if you have been practicing since the fall, they’ll be ready to go and so will you! Believe in them!

Math Test Prep Tips

Test taking season is here. <Insert groan and eye roll.> 

I know that testing is not fun. Test prep does not have to be stressful for you and your students. Check out these simple tips for preparing for math testing.

Use math centers to teach skills all year

Coming up with engaging math lessons for both new concepts and to review can be exhausting and time consuming. But, I've got you covered!

 Try THESE math centers. They have the same set-up with all your math concepts for the year. 

Students love the fun activities and I love that they are consistent so that I don't have to waste time teaching students HOW to complete the activities.

I even have sets specifically for test prep!

Click HERE for 3rd grade test prep centers. 

Click HERE for 4th grade test prep centers. 
Click HERE for 5th grade test prep centers. 

 Since the centers are fun and engaging, they take the groans out of test prep.

Use reference materials that mirror the test.

Most state or national standardized tests have reference cards or materials (formula sheets or rulers) that may be printed offline for practice.

Even if the actual testing materials are digital, it’s important to let your students know what the reference guides will look like and what they can use on the day of the test. Head to your state's testing site to see what they have available!

Review using technology.

Do you have any devices in your classroom?

Getting ready for testing can be fun by using online, interactive competition games like Kahoot or personalized learning websites like Moby Max or Zearn.

Check out THIS post to see other fun ways I’ve used technology to review math in the classroom.

Review with hands-on activities.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: I hate worksheets. I really do. They are so boring!

Students will engage and remember more of your review if they are moving, playing and creating.

My students love to practice their math facts (crucial for the math test!) using THESE free games. The fidget spinner is a fan favorite for sure!

Another fun way to get your kiddos practicing tough skills is with interactive notebooks. I use them in small and whole group all year. During test prep, I choose skills that students are still struggling with and give them additional activities for their notebook. I also like to take any of the activities that I prepped, but we didn't have time for, and put them in their centers.

Keep it meaningful- but hands-on and your kids will learn so much more!

Don't rush the curriculum.

Your math curriculum was written to take the entire school year. Testing is not on the last day of school. The reality is that you will not get to everything before the test, but your students will be tested on everything.

Don't get scared and start teaching three lessons per day! You will lose your students. You might cover everything before the test, but your students won't learn everything before the test.

Instead, look at your pacing guide and make sure that you cover the biggest testable units prior to testing. In third grade that would be multiplication, division and fractions. Put the units that don't have as many questions on the test at the end of the year. For third grade, that would be geometry. Check your state's testing website. They might even have a guide as to the percentage of questions from each domain.

If you use math groups, you can teach some mini lessons for those skills that you won't get to teach before the test. You could do this with groups that are higher and don't need as much small group time to review the current skill you are teaching.

This means that the lower groups might not even get introduced to a skill before the test. That's ok. I would rather spend tons of time helping them to master multiplication and do well on that portion of the test than to quickly teach everything and have them do poorly in all areas.

Foster a growth mindset.

When it comes to math, the phrase “I can’t” gets tossed around a lot. Adults and children alike can have a mentality that they are not good a math or not a math person. Use positive language and tell your kids that struggle with math concepts, to ask questions and approach problems differently. Instead of saying, “I can’t”, try saying, “I’m getting better with practice.” Positive language makes all the difference when promoting growth in any subject, especially math.

When it’s time to take the big math tests this year, your students will be prepared with these math test taking tips.

Focusing on big concepts and having fun all year will help your students have the confidence they need to continue to show progress and pass their tests.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!