Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

5 Things the Teacher Should Prep BEFORE Summer Break

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but I still think that this is some of the best end of year advice that I can give you! I decided it would be worth sharing again! Plus, the beginning made me laugh so hard!

So here goes...

If you prep these materials at the end of the school year, back to school will be so much easier!

I have three days left with students and then three teacher days before summer break. I am exhausted! I fall asleep as soon as I get home from school and I honestly don't have the energy to to be nice to most people. (Just ask my husband.) I wake up in the middle of the night after having nightmares about end of year videos, classroom checkout lists and data spreadsheets. The struggle is real.

And even though I can barely remember the last time I washed my hair, I am super proud to say that I will be leaving for summer break knowing that I am prepped for back to school. Dang, that feels GOOD! If I could do it, in my current state of exhaustion, you can do it too!

I started by making a list of tasks and things that needed to be prepped for August. Then I spent about 20 minutes per day tackling the list. Since I am prepping before summer break, I was able to use parent volunteers for cutting and putting papers in page protectors! I have saved my own kids hours of time this summer! That is time that I can fill with household chores! I am kidding. Kinda.

Here are five simple things that you can prep NOW that will make back to school easier and free up more time during the summer to sleep.

1. Meet the Teacher Materials

Most schools have some kind of open house where students and parents can meet the teacher and bring in classroom supplies. My meet the teacher day is always right after several days of professional development. I never have much time in the classroom to prep and therefore end up doing it during my last couple of days of summer break. But not this year!

I organized my meet the teacher day into stations. At each station, students and parents have a different task. I planned out each station, made posters and a check off sheet. I had the check off sheet photocopied and it is sitting in my filing cabinet ready for July! (Yes, I get to start in mid July. Lucky me!)

You can grab FREE editable meet the teacher signs by clicking HERE.

You can also make copies of any paperwork you will need parents and/or students to fill out at meet the teacher.

2. Name Tags and Binder Materials

Before you leave for summer break, print all of your desk name tags, binder, folder, and notebook labels and tags. After printing and laminating my desk name tags, I sent them home and a parent cut them out for me! I also printed a class set of binder covers and folder labels. (You can grab my sports printables HERE.)

I give my students a multiplication chart and a few other resources to keep in their binders. I got all of these things copied and asked if a parent would be willing to put them in page protectors. It was an at-home job that was super simple, but saved me from having to do it over the summer. Now I have more time to sit by the pool! (You can grab my binder resources HERE.)

3. First Week of School Activities

Copy simple activities for the first week of school NOW! You will kiss yourself for doing it now when you see the long line at the copier at back to school time!

I actually sent out an email and asked if there was a parent who would be willing to make these copies! Volunteers also cut the task cards for various activities. So simple!

I am ready for the Third Day of Third Grade!

Fun ba ck to school activity!

I kept a list of the back to school activities that I prepped. I will use this list when I write my first week or two of lesson plans at the end of my summer break. It will also help to keep me from prepping the same type of activity twice. I am the type of person who would do that!

4. Brag Tags, Coupons or Class Money

Now is the perfect time to get your classroom management materials ready to go- especially since many of these items involve cutting!

I use brag tags to reward students for positive character, classroom behavior and academic growth. You can read more about how I use brag tags by clicking HERE. I love them and so do my students. I printed out several tags that I want to have available for next year.  I laminated them and sent them home for a parent to cut and hole punch.

You can see all of the brag tags that I have available by clicking HERE.

5. Daily Activities

In every classroom there are activities that get completed every day. Why not prep them now?! Consider preparing your:

I admit that this will be the toughest stuff to motivate yourself to prepare. But I also think this will be the stuff that makes me giddy with excitement when I pull it out when I get back to school. Just be sure to put them in file folders in your filing cabinet so that you don't lose or forget about them!

If you prep these materials at the end of the school year, back to school will be so much easier!

Related Posts

10 Ways to Help Struggling Writers

Do you have struggling writers who just don't seem to be growing? Do you have reluctant writers who don't seem to get much writing completed? In every class that I have ever taught, there has always been a handful of kiddos that just don't like writing. These students can be toughest to reach. You have to get creative! Here are my top ten ways to help those struggling writers:

Do you have struggling writers who just don't seem to be growing? Do you have reluctant writers who don't seem to get much writing completed? In every class that I have ever taught, there has always been a handful of kiddos that just don't like writing. These students can be toughest to reach. You have to get creative! Here are my top ten ways to help those struggling writers:

1. Daily Writing Instruction

All students, and especially struggling writers, need daily writing instruction. They need a mini lesson that focuses on a writing skill. Simply having students write in a journal is not sufficient. They will just continue to write the way that they always have. The daily lesson does not have to be long. In fact, short lessons are best!

2. Give More Time to Write

Students become better writers with practice. Unfortunately, teachers like to talk. The ten minute mini lesson can easily become a 20 minute lesson. We have to cut down on the teacher talk and give students as much time as possible to write and implement the lessons taught during the mini lessons. If your lessons routinely run too long, try practicing ahead of time and eliminating any extra talk.

3. Teach Writing in Units

Instead of teaching the different types of writing (narrative, informational or opinion) simultaneously, try teaching them in units. By really focusing in on the skills needed for one type of writing, you are allowing students to master skills before moving to another type of writing. When you switch back and forth between types of writing, students have a hard time remembering the skills. They tend to mix the skills and never really master them. Once you have taught a couple units, you can start spiraling with the occasional use of prompts and/or journals.

4. Use Mentor Texts

Readers make the best writers. Show students what good writing looks and sounds like. I like to print passages that exemplify the skill I am teaching and have students put them in their writing notebook. They can reference this text when they are struggling with the skill and need a reminder of what is expected.

5. Provide Reference Materials

Give students examples, anchor charts or other reference materials that they can go back to when they are independently writing, Struggling writers often forget the lessons we have taught and need a visual reminder.

6. Look Past Mechanics

There are lots of fantastic writers who cannot spell. When you think about it, mechanics is typically just one small portion of the writing rubric. But, when the mechanics are terrible, we tend to assume the content is also terrible. Don't! If it's hard for you to look past the mechanics, have the student read their piece to you. Pay close attention to things like word choice, transitions, lead and ending. 

7. Conference with all Writers

Conferencing with small groups of students, with similar goals and needs, will help all students to grow. Set up a system that allows you to meet with all students at least once per week. I split my students into five groups based on their writing goals. I meet with one group each day during independent writing time. When you are meeting with a group, focus on one goal or portion of their writing. For example, if you have just taught about dialogue, or if it is a common goal in the group, have students read one or two paragraphs that have examples of dialogue. Having students read aloud makes it easier to focus on content rather than just mechanics and it also keeps conferences moving at a good pace. Focusing on just one goal each time allows students to zoom in on a skill rather than getting overwhelmed.

8. Provide Lots of Student Choice

Students who enjoy writing are much more likely to improve as writers. Click HERE to read more about ways to make writing fun. My favorite way to really engage writers is to give them lots of choice. Allow students to choose where they want to write. Give them options when it comes to writing utensils and papers. Most importantly, allow them to choose what they want to write about. I teach writing in units of study. When we are working on our personal narrative writing unit, I do require that they are writing personal narratives. However, they can choose any topic they want. When the writer is invested and excited about the topic, they naturally grow as writers!

9. Use Writing Partners

Sharing your writing each day with a partner is motivating and gives students a chance to learn from one another. Giving students daily opportunities to share their writing will give them a reason to improve on their writing skills. Be certain that you have procedures for how students will share and how they will respond. Practice those procedures! Keep share time very short and give specific tasks to help students to stay focused. For example, "Share with your partner a place where you used the 'Show, don't tell' strategy." 

10. Set Goals

I have students pick three goals while they examine the rubric I have fill out after their pre-assessment. Students glue these goals in their writing notebook so that they will be reminded of them regularly. 

Students will be learning many new skills during a writing unit, but it is helpful to have them focus on truly growing in specific areas. It creates student buy-in and supports a growth mindset. I also use the rubric to set goals for each student. These goals guide me during writing conferences.

Do you have struggling writers who just don't seem to be growing? Do you have reluctant writers who don't seem to get much writing completed? In every class that I have ever taught, there has always been a handful of kiddos that just don't like writing. These students can be toughest to reach. You have to get creative! Here are my top ten ways to help those struggling writers:

I hope that these tips help you to reach those struggling writers!

If you are interested in my writing resources, check out the first unit in my writing product line. It includes EVERYTHING that a teacher needs to teach personal narrative writing. It has mentor text passages, anchor charts, lesson plans, printables, task cards and so much more!

Related Blog Posts

6 Ways to Make Writing Fun in the Classroom

Do you have reluctant writers? You know- those students that stare into space the entire time that they are supposed to be writing? Do you have bored writers- students who watch the clock during wring? How about adding some fun to your writer's workshop! I have some simple ideas for you!

1. Let Students Choose Their Own Writing Topic

How many times has a student come bounding up to you to tell you about something that happened to them? They can't wait to tell us their stories! They are excited. Use this excitement to increase the fun in writing, by allowing them to choose the topic of their stories. I teach writing in units. Therefore, I do tell my students that they need to write a personal narrative during that particular unit and an informational report during that unit. However, I let them write about any topic that excites them within that genre. 

2. Provide Fun Writing Materials

Do you have a favorite pen? That's a silly question! We are teachers! Obviously we have favorite pens! I personally love Papermate Flair pens. I hate writing with any other utensil. They just make me happy. I want my students to get excited about their writing materials as well. Why do they have to write with a boring yellow pencil? Who made that rule? During writing, I let my kids write with a variety of scented pencils and fun pens. I also provide colorful paper

3. Allow Students to Choose Where They Write

When I first started teaching, I always had my students write at their desks. I thought that doing so would result in better handwriting. Maybe it did. But I think it also resulted in bored students who produced less writing and writing that was uninspired. I started thinking, "Why should handwriting be a big deal when drafting?" So students were allowed to choose a place to write. Some students took a clipboard and found a spot on the floor. Some students stayed in their own desk, while others
 preferred to write at a table. We had to practice the procedures, but overall it was a simple change that led to much happier writers! My only rule is that they write final drafts at a desk or table.

4. Take Writing Outside

Being cooped up does nothing for my students' creativity or their mood! Sometimes they just need a change of scenery. When the weather is nice, we grab clipboards and take our writing outside. We are lucky enough to have a school garden and it is a wonderful place to relax and write. Before you do this, I do recommend checking the school recess schedule. It's hard to write when an entire grade level is running around and yelling! Being outside makes me smile! 

5. Play Music While Students Write

Music makes you feel a certain way. Upbeat music makes you want to move and dance. Soothing music relaxes you. Music can be a sign to students. I play classical music while my students write. When the music is on, they know that they must be writing. As soon as I turn it off, they know that it is time to share. The music also creates a relaxed atmosphere that is perfect for thinking, planning and writing! My students think music is fun!

6. Change Up the Way Students Share Writing

Writing is no fun if no one ever sees or hears your stories. Writers write to be heard! For this reason, I make sure to have writers share something everyday. This can be as simple as reading a sentence or paragraph to their partner or more involved like sharing with the entire class. (The bonus is that I am able to get some of those speaking and listening grades taken care of too!) At the end of a unit, students get to publish their work. I like to vary the way that we publish to keep it fun and fresh for students. Some publishing ideas include:
  • writing stories on fun papers and illustrating them
  • typing stories on computers or other devices
  • making a class binder of stories and putting it in the class library
  • reading stories to buddies from another grade level
  • making videos of our stories
  • Throw an author celebration where students share their story while enjoying food and the company of their classmates. (I have a blog post coming soon with ideas for author celebrations!)

Writing Unit

I absolutely love this writing unit! It has absolutely everything that a teacher will need to teach, practice and assess writing for eight weeks. It even includes mentor text so that you do not need to go out and buy a bunch of books! There are a dozen anchor charts and lots of student printables in the unit. They go perfectly with the 40 days of lesson plans that I wrote for you! The lessons are super engaging for students and simple to prep for teachers!

Click HERE to see more!

Teacher's Guide to Learning About Dyslexia

My daughter has dyslexia. It took years for us to figure out why she struggled so much in reading and writing. It was so painful to watch her self-esteem deteriorate. This was especially disheartening to me since I was her teacher. In the last couple of years I have learned so much about students with dyslexia and it has become a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Did you know that 20% of people have dyslexia? That means that you probably have more than one dyslexic student sitting in your classroom today. How can you help them?

I am so excited to have a guest blogger today who has lots of tips and resources for learning more about dyslexia and how we can help our dyslexic children.

Hi Everyone! I’m so thankful that Jamie invited me to be a guest on her blog today. Thanks for having me! As a certified dyslexia practitioner who uses the Orton-Gillingham approach to teach children with dyslexia to read, I love that I also get to spend time spreading a wealth of information about dyslexia with wonderful families and teachers. Through the power of social media, The Literacy Nest does just that. After being in education for over sixteen years, I am honored to give back in a meaningful way that also informs readers. Knowledge is power!

In this three part post, I will share some helpful tips and takeaways. Are we ready to begin? Let’s dig in.

Part One

We have certain abilities that are considered instinctual. Learning to walk, talk, eat, run from danger, etc., are all examples. Reading, however, is not an innate ability for humans like walking or any of the others. There are aspects of it that have to be explicitly taught. So knowing that, how do we go about helping unique readers like people with dyslexia?

Over the years, there has been a lot of misinformation about dyslexia. The beautiful thing is that the current field in dyslexia research is exploding! Dyslexia and reading remediation are dynamic topics in the field of education. But if you are someone like I was who isn’t entirely sure what dyslexia is or needs resources for learning more, here are four quick facts.

What Is Dyslexia? The formal definition is as follows:

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension, and reduced reading experience can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” (Annals of Dyslexia, Vol. 53, 2003)

Facts about Dyslexia

  1. Dyslexia is hereditary. If you, your spouse or close relative have dyslexia, your child has a higher chance of having it too.
  2. About 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, but only about 1 in 10 people will qualify to receive proper intervention for it.
  3. Early detection and intervention is key. There are new screenings that can detect dyslexia in as early as preschool and kindergarten.
  4. Thanks to MRIs, we now know that the dyslexic brain processes language and information in a different part of the brain than a non-dyslexic.
  5. Dyslexia does NOT equal less intelligent.

Red Flags for Dyslexia

We as educators, don’t have to use the “wait and see” or “wait to fail” approach if we can become more cognizant of specific trouble areas in our students’ learning. You might see any one of the following:

  • Extremely slow reading, poor reading fluency, which affects overall comprehension
  • Weak spelling and decoding
  • Poor phonological awareness 
  • Difficulty with word retrieval, letter name and sound recognition
  • Difficulty with recognizing rhymes

*For a comprehensive list of symptoms

Strengths of Dyslexia

  • Most dyslexic readers have average to above average intelligence.
  • A high percentage of successful entrepreneurs are also dyslexic.
  • They are creative, think outside the box thinkers.
  • Strong visual-spatial abilities, an ability to see in 3D
  • They have the ability to link abstract ideas together.
  • Read more on strengths.
  • Successful dyslexics 

Part Two

Teaching Children with Dyslexia

  • Use a structured, systematic, multi-sensory approach to teaching phonological awareness, phonics, reading, spelling, writing, and handwriting. This is good teaching for all readers, not just for dyslexic learners. There is a large volume of research to support this as best practice. Orton Gillingham is one of the well-respected approaches that has been used effectively for years. Here is a link to one O-G informational site.
  • Provide consistent fluency intervention, and use it with fidelity. If you need specific names of fluency programs, try this list.  
  • Keep audio text readily available in a variety of formats. (listening centers, a computer station, or on a mobile tablet)  Many dyslexic readers are ear readers. When they hear the text and follow along in order they'll gain the most benefits.  Be sure to use audio text where the narrated voice isn’t robotic. Most prefer following along with a human voice.
  • Introduce children to a variety of texts such as magazines, graphic novels, and comics. They might enjoy a different format other than the traditional chapter book, which can seem daunting.
  • As parents, continue reading aloud to your child at night so they hear a proficient reader. These children may have strong listening comprehension, so choose books that are above their reading level to read to them, and foster a love of lifelong reading and learning.
  • Use assistive technologies. Check this Pinterest link to apps that may help a dyslexic reader.

Please keep in mind…

  • Every dyslexia reader is different.
  • Dyslexia has degrees of severity.
  • Certain instructional approaches will help to remediate better than others. Find out which reading programs are based on scientific research, and use them consistently and with fidelity.

Part Three

Dyslexia Resources

  • Overcoming Dyslexia by: Sally Shaywitz
  • The Dyslexia Advantage: Unlocking The Hidden Potential of The Dyslexic Brain by: Brock L. Eide
  • The Gift of Dyslexia by: Ronald Davis
  • The Dyslexia Checklist by: Sandra F. Rief
  • Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by: Maryanne Wolf
  • The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning by: Ben Foss
  • Dyslexia Wonders: Understanding The Daily Life Of A Dyslexic From A Child's Perspective by: Jennifer Smith
  • Fish In A Tree by: Lynda Hunt

If you’ve read any of the books above or visited some of the websites I’ve mentioned, I’d love to hear about it! 

Thank you so much for reading my post today. I hope it has provided you with valuable insight into the children in your classroom. Feel free to leave me comments or questions below, and please keep in touch with me either on my Facebook page or my blog. Have a wonderful day!