Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

Red Ribbon Week Activities with FREEBIES

Red Ribbon week is just around the corner! With Halloween on my mind, sometimes I feel like Red Ribbon Week sneaks up on me! Red ribbon week is so important and I want to be certain that it is discussed.  In my classroom, we will be celebrating our drug free committment in three different ways.

Each classroom is asked to decorate the front of their door in celebration of Red Ribbon Week. Judges will go around and choose overall winners and winners for each grade level. It is fun to see the creative ideas that teachers have! This was my door last year.

I love this door from a first grade class at my school. The kids all had a part in the door decor!

You can find tons of door ideas on Pinterest.

Every day students are a asked to show their Red Ribbon Week pride with a different theme. Students always love to dress up! You can grab my flier for free by clicking on the image.

After making their drug free pledge, my students will be given a Drug Free brag tag. We usually only wear our brag tags on Friday, but I want them to see just how important Red Ribbon Week is, so I will allow them to wear the tags all week. The tags will be a sign of their commitment to stay drug free. 

You can read more about how I use brag tags in the classroom, but clicking HERE.

You can grab the Red Ribbon Week brag tag for FREE by clicking on the image below.

I hope that these ideas help to plan some red ribbon week activities in your classroom!

Simple and Meaningful Reading Centers

Quite some time ago, I wrote a blog post about how I organize my math centers and what students do at each center. It has been wildly popular. If you would like to read that post, you can do so by clicking on the picture below.

Since that time, I have received many requests to write a similar post about my reading centers. I am thrilled to finally have that post written and ready to share. I hope that it gives you ideas that make your centers meaningful and simple to prepare and manage!

I use the exact same schedule for my reading centers as I do for my math centers. This makes it extra easy for students to learn the routine.

I am privileged to have 90 minutes for reading.

I have four different reading groups that are grouped by ability level. I meet with only two of these groups per day. This may sound crazy to some of you, but it really makes the most of our time. Since I meet with only two of the groups, I am able to meet with them for 30 minutes each. I used to meet with every group each day. Since I have reading groups four days per week, this meant (on paper) an hour of small group time for each student. Now, I meet with each group twice per week for 30 minutes. Many would say that I am still meeting with each group for the same amount of time, but in reality, I am meeting with each group longer now. I have less transitions and time lost while students are putting away materials and moving to the next center. It also means that I am able to delve in deeper with my group and the read to self students are able to actually get through enough reading to get engaged. Prior to doing just two groups per day, I felt like we read two paragraphs and then had to switch. Now we are reading deeper and having more conversation about the text. I love it.

This is how our schedule looks for the week:

I do not have reading groups on Fridays. We have an entirely different schedule for Fridays due to early release. We do assessments for any subject that needs one, science, social studies and sometimes we have time for STEAM projects or art.

Students know where to go each day thanks to these signs on my cabinet. I typed the centers each group would do on each day and then laminated the paper. I use dry erase markers to write student names on the paper. This makes it super simple to change out my groups whenever I feel that it is needed.

I do not offer these signs in my store because they are very specific to my class. But it is simple for you to make a set that is specific to your class!

Most of my whole group time is spent doing a read aloud. In fact, I start reading during our snack break so that we have even more time to enjoy a book together. 

Per my school curriculum map I typically have two weeks to teach a reading standard. I do my best to teach them through our read aloud. We talk about the character traits of each character in the book. We talk about the main idea of each chapter of the Who Was book. When we read Fish in a Tree, my students enjoyed talking about the theme. I firmly believe that the best way to teach reading is through books! And it requires very little planning and prep! 

If you want to read more about how I use read aloud in the classroom, click on the picture below.

This is my favorite center. This is the center where I allow students to choose ANY book that they want to read and spend 30 minutes silently reading. 

There are only two rules for this center:
  1. Students are not permitted in the library during center time. They must choose books and put them in their book box during snack or pack up time. This insures that students are spending all of their center time reading.
  2. Students must read the entire time. I should never see their eyeballs because they should be glued to their book.

Otherwise, I allow students to sit anywhere and read anything. Students learn to love reading by reading amazing books. I want to help facilitate this by providing an amazing library of books and time to read them!

In this center, students are responding to the book that they are reading during their read to self time. This helps me to keep them accountable, while still offering choice. Students are given a reading menu on Monday. I ask them to write one thorough response each week. They can pick the question. All of the questions relate to our reading and writing standards. No matter what question they pick, I know that they are practicing valuable skills. Students are producing better responses because they had choice in the book and the type of response. 

There are six questions that are ideal for fiction text and three that are meant for nonfiction. They can truly be used with any text that your student may have picked!

The responses are pretty easy to grade because I put a simple rubric right on the recording sheet. Now, I am not carting around a bunch of heavy journals, graded responses can go home for parents to see, and students know the expectations. This response is often the only grade I give for centers. Occasionally, I give participation grades.

If you want to read more about how I teach students to use these menus and respond to text, click on the picture below.

We are blessed to have a small set of chromebooks in our classroom. My school purchased licenses for i-Ready and students are required to do these lessons during center time. The program provides mini lessons on reading skills. Students are reading passages and answering questions that pertain to the text and the skill.

This program is pricey. If the school was not paying for it for me, I would use Moby Max instead. It is FREE and has many of the same types of lessons.

This is obviously the most important center. This is the time that I am able to work with a small group of students to differentiate instruction to meet their needs. This is where the magic happens!

I use book clubs during our meet the teacher time. Students seem to be more engaged with chapter books than they are with text books or passages. It also allows me to do the same thing with each of my groups- I just have different text that meet their needs and interests. 

If you want to read more about how I use book clubs, click on the picture below.

We use my book club graphic organizers to practice the current reading skills that we are working on. We can work on almost every skill while still using interesting books!

If you want to read more about how I choose books for my book club groups, click on the picture below.

10 Mistakes Teachers Make

Teachers are humans. They are not infallible. They make mistakes. Even the best teachers.  And they learn from their mistakes and become better educators. So before I share the mistakes that I think many teachers make, I want to preface by saying that teaching is one of the toughest jobs on the planet. I have made most of these mistakes, and that I why I am so passionate about writing about them. Also, it is just my opinion that these are mistakes. Since every class and classroom are so different, they may not be a mistake in your classroom.

In my early years teaching, I preferred to keep my students in their seats. It was actually a class rule! That seemed like good classroom management to me. But let's be real. Kids aren't made to sit still. They need to move!

Some ideas for getting kids out of their seats include:
  • Task Card Scoots
  • Brain Breaks
  • Centers
  • Games
  • Reading or Working on the Floor
  • Alternative Seating
Click on the photo below if you are looking for more ideas to get kids moving and increasing engagement.

This is typically a mistake made by new teachers. They are scared that if they discipline, they will be seen as mean and the kids won't like them. This often leads to a class that isn't managed and causes undue stress for the teacher and the students.

Here is a truth- Kids want to know that you love them enough to fairly discipline them. This does not mean that you have to be a drill sergeant! Instead, teach your students the class rules and expectations.

Talk about what it will look and sound like when students are following the class rules. Make sure they know how many warnings will be given and what the consequences will be for students who break rules. I also let my students know right from the start that no one is perfect, and there is a good chance they will break a rule at one point or another. I will still love them, but they will receive the consequences. During the first few months of the year, I find myself needing to use my discipline program. I am fair and do exactly what I told the students that I would. Usually, by Christmas, my class is free of any discipline problems. I am very firm, but my students still like me! Don't be scared!

When we went to school, it was probably perfectly normal to give a worksheet for every skill and subject. Educational research has come so far, and studies consistently show that students need to move, talk, perform, teach, create and experiment to truly solidify their understanding of a topic. I know that worksheets are easy to prep, and I am not saying you shouldn't ever use them! They are perfect for subs, quick assessments and certain skills. But be brave! Use some interactive notebooks. Do some task card scoots. Provide centers that are hands-on and get students interacting with the assignment. Your students will thank you!

We are teachers. We love our kiddos. And we have a soft spot for those low fliers that need extra time and attention. It is tempting to move at their speed. But we can't!!! The rest of our kiddos need us to keep the pace moving. Otherwise, they become bored, behavior problems pop up and we never get to all of the standards. I am not suggesting that teaching your lower kiddos is unimportant. But the best thing we can d o for our whole class is to go at a healthy speed and then reteach and enrich in our small groups.  Keeping a steady pace helps all students to remain engaged.

When we went to school our teachers stood in front of the class and lectured. It was boring! You don't have to be that teacher! Keep your students engaged by keeping the whole group lesson super short. Then break out into centers and meet with small groups of students to practice the skill. This will allow for great differentiation and so much more fun!

If you need some ideas for using small groups and centers, click on the picture below.

Too many amazing educators are spending their nights and weekends grading stacks of papers. STOP! There is not enough time in the day!

Have students trade and grade some assignments themselves. Send math facts or spelling tests home to be graded by a reliable parent volunteer. Do more performance based assessments that check for understanding rather than giving a grade. Sometimes I just put a problem on the board and watch as students complete it on their white boards. I have a spreadsheet with their names and the skill. If they get it- they get a check mark. Those that don't- get a reteach. No papers to grade as I am just doing a quick look at their personal white boards. I do the same sort of thing when assessing my interactive notebooks. They do the activities during small group and I just give them a quick look over while they are sitting there.

Grading center work can be very time consuming! I deal with this by giving one center book that lasts for 3-4 weeks rather than new assignments every week. Also, include centers like read to self, games and technology. You can always give participation scores if you really need a grade for every center.

Another novel idea, that some teachers will hate me for suggesting, is to throw away some of the stacks of papers. Not all of them! But throwing away an assignment from time to time won't hurt anyone.

I  know this will sound crazy to some of you- but you should not be the last car at school every day! Or any day! I know that you love your students and you are planning amazing lessons for them. However, your students need you to be balanced and rested. Go home! Be with your family. Enjoy your hobbies! Go to bed early! You will be a better teacher because of it. I promise.

Decide on a reasonable time to leave and stick to it. It means you can't just hang out gossiping and complaining with your teacher buddies. It means that you are going to need to prioritize your to do list. And it means you won't get everything done all of the time. But that is okay!

I know that lesson planning can be overwhelming. But the truth is- if you are planning just one week at a time, you are always going to feel behind and overwhelmed. At the start of every quarter (or the end of the previous quarter), I pull out my calendar and start penciling in my math lessons, science units and reading standards. I write in any holiday and I begin to search for the activities I want to plug into those days. Then I send them to be copied or have a parent volunteer copy them for me. Why wait?! This makes me feel ahead of the game! And it doesn't take long if you do it in batches. Do all of your math centers and then do all of your holiday activities, etc.

If you are needing tips for getting all of the papers and supplies organized, click on the picture below for some tips.

Teachers love to talk. We get up on that stage and perform a monologue. It's a good monologue. But it's missing something. The kids should be doing the talking! Students will be more engaged and remember more of the lessons if they are encouraged to do more of the talking. I highly recommend using pair share routines. I personally use the Whole Brain Teaching Teach-Okay procedure. You can learn more about it by watching the video below.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I do 10-15 of these during each of my mini lessons!

When students have some control over their learning, they become much more engaged in the classroom activities. They become more invested in their learning and more independent. That should be the goal! Find ways to allow for student choice each day!

Some ideas include:
  • Picking their own seat
  • Choosing their own partner or group to work with
  • Picking a game from a basket of games that all pertain to the skill they need to practice
  • Choosing their own book for read to self time
  • Deciding on the order they will complete their centers
  • Menus that allow students to choose the prompt or task

Don't let this list overwhelm you. The greatest teachers are still making mistakes. They are just great because they are consistently looking for ways to improve upon their craft. So choose one area to focus on for the time being. And always know that your students are lucky to have an educator who is still committed to learning and growing!


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