Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

September 11th in the Classroom

September 11th is a tough topic in an elementary classroom, but I have always felt that it was imperative that I discuss it with my students. I know that some teachers feel that it is too negative or will scare the kids. I agree that this is a possibility. But students will hear about September 11th one way or another. They might hear about it from a friend on the playground, from a sibling or from an older student at lunch. What they hear may or may not even be accurate. What they hear may very well scare them or confuse them. 

So I think that teachers have the very important (and tough) responsibility of making sure their students hear accurate facts. I also think, that if done correctly, we can send our students home with a sense of hope and pride. My lessons on September 11th are all about the heroes of the tragedy. Even with September 11th falling on a Sunday this year- I still feel that I have a responsibility to cover this sensitive topic!

Here is a look at the activities that I like to include in my classroom during the week leading up to September 11th.

There are several online videos that have been made specifically for kids. I like to show this Brain Pop video. It is short but very accurate. It has a timeline of the events from that day. It has great vocabulary too.

THIS video was made by a elementary school principal and it is amazing. He briefly talks about the devastation, but then quickly moves on to talk about heroes- both from that day and everyday local heroes. My favorite part is that he talks about the September 11th Memorial and shows lots of pictures. It ends with hope!

There have been several wonderful books written about September 11th and I love sharing them with my students! Here are a few of my favorites along with my Amazon affiliate link to make it easy for you to locate the books.


The book America Is Under Attack is a very factual and straightforward account of the events on September 11th. I like that it is more of a historical account rather than an emotional account. I want my students to spend time learning the facts of the day. However, the story still has some personal stories that always keep my students interested. It also has beautiful watercolor illustrations. 


The book Fireboat is such a cute story! It is about a 1930s fireboat that was called back into action on September 11th. Even though the boat is not nearly as fancy as the newer boats, it proves to be a huge help in the days after the disaster. I think this is a very positive and upbeat book about hope and being brave. 


Reading the book September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right is a MUST every year. It is a great book to read right before you send them home! The book was written and illustrated by a first grade class. The message of the book is that even though our world will never be the same after September 11th, we will push forward and move on. We will be alright. Kids need to hear that! 

Every year my students make THIS paper bag book. It is full of stories that I researched and wrote about specific people and animals who helped to rescue others on September 11th. The stories are true and my students LOVE reading them. They are heartwarming and remind my class just how many heroes surround them. 

Students glue these stories into this simple paper bag book (just paper lunch bags folded and stapled down the spine). Then they get to illustrate each of the stories. 

I just love listening to the students as they discuss their illustrations and their amazement when they read the stories. It is my favorite part of the day for sure!

I ask my students to take the book home and share the beautiful stories and illustrations with their families. Every year I have gotten sweet thank you email from my classroom parents!

I will be donating all of the profits from the sale of this book to the 100 Club to help support the families of fallen officers. Together, we are making a difference!

Nearly every year I have been blessed to have a firefighter or police officer come and talk with my class! The kids love it- even in third grade. Last year the firefighter who came into our class talked about why he chose to be a firefighter and what a hero was to him. My students enjoyed asking him questions about his job. I think it is a good way to remind students that there are heroes all around us all the time- not just on September 11th.

Getting a firefighter or police officer to come talk to your class is usually pretty easy. If you have a student whose parent works for fire or police, they are a good place to start. Otherwise, call your local departments. Many have special officers and firefighters who regularly talk to students.

I know that this is a very sensitive subject to cover in the classroom, but I hope these ideas make it a bit easier. I applaud you for your hard work! You are heroes everyday!

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. Here are a few tips for improving the quality of student work in centers.

Too often I see teachers rush into centers. They don't take nearly enough time showing students what they expect. Show students how you want the center to look. Show students where materials are stored. Show them how they should read the directions. And, most importantly, show them what a quality answer will look like. Show them where work should be turned in and what they should do if they finish early. Model how transitions will happen. Show students how to clean up their materials. It takes me a couple of weeks to properly train students to do centers independently. But the rest of the year, I don't have to worry about using class time to reprimand students about behavior during centers. They are doing quality work while I am meeting with guided groups for much needed differentiation. It is worth every bit of effort from the start!

If the centers and the expectations for the centers are changing every week, students are far less likely to be successful. I keep my reading centers the same all year! Once I teach the expectations, I rarely have to revisit them. (My reading centers are: Read to Self, Reading Response Menus, Technology and Meet the Teacher.) My math center topics will change, but the overall center does not. They might do fraction centers one month and measurement the next- but the overall expectations and directions are the same every month. (My math centers are Technology, Math Facts, Independent Work and Meet the Teacher.)

There is the temptation to make centers coordinate with the skills a teacher is currently teaching. I discourage this. If students are just learning a skill, they are less likely to be successful with it in an independent center. Instead, I like to use independent centers for spiral review. My students might be doing the measurement centers while we are working on fractions. This is ok! They need the review and they are more likely to be successful on their own. 

We all do better on a task when we have some choice! If you really want students to be invested in their center work, make certain that centers have a certain amount of choice. For example, my students can read ANY book that they want during their Read to Self center. They can choose between 9 prompts for their Reading Menu center and they can do their independent math centers in any order that they choose. A little choice can go a long way!

I have found that when I allow students to work together, the quality of their work increases dramatically. I don't allow students to work together on every assignment, but I do encourage collaboration often. Before allowing students to work together on a center, you must model the expectations. This is done similarly to the way I model expectations for each center. What will the group work sound like? How will students participate? What will happen if students disagree? Take plenty of time going over these expectations. Ask students to model correct and incorrect group behaviors for the class. This takes time! But working together is a life skill that needs to be taught and practiced! And once the class is able to properly collaborate, you will see improvements in their overall center work and you will know that the time was well worth it.

You might want to grab these FREE posters to help remind students of ways they can independently solve differences when working with a partner.

Giving students a visual reminder of your expectations will help them to check their work. The rubric can be a simple checklist or a bulletin board with examples. This will depend on your student needs and the grade you teach. 

Time in the classroom is so precious that it can be difficult to allow time for students to correct their mistakes. However, mistakes are only worth making if we can learn from them. When you hand back work, can you allow students one day to make corrections? Can they take it home to correct? Can you go over the answers as a whole group? You don't have to change their grade in the grade book if you don't want to. But, students will be more motivated if they think they can get extra points or another incentive. The most important thing is that students are spending time analyzing their mistakes. 

I have found that students will work ten times harder if they know they will be rewarded for their hard work. This reward can be as simple as stickers on their papers or a quick note home to Mom and Dad. My students are also obsessed with brag tags and they work so hard for the opportunity to earn one. You can read more about how I use brag tags in my classroom by clicking HERE.

You might also be interested in this post about math centers:

Clothes for the Teacher

I absolutely LOVE clothes, but I am a terrible shopper! I want new clothes, but I am not too great at picking out clothes that look good on me and are comfortable. Back to school shopping is always a challenge for me. For this reason, I am super excited to have a stylist who sends pieces right to my house for me to try on!

I use a service called Stitch Fix. I filled out a survey about the clothes I like, put in my measurements and now my stylist- Brooke- sends about five pieces to me each month. I try the pieces on and keep the ones that I like the most. Any that I don't like, I put in the prepaid envelope that Brooke sends and throw it in the mail. It is super simple! I love getting new and trendy clothes every month without ever having to go to the mall. And it is so simple to just keep what I want and return the rest. 

Since I am not much of a fashionista, Brooke sends me style cards that show different ways to wear the pieces that she send me.

I did a Facebook Live video today where I showed my latest Stitch Fix delivery. 

Click HERE if you want to try Stitch Fix for yourself! 

Open House & Back to School Night: Tips and Tricks to Get Organized

Yesterday I went live on Facebook to talk about how I keep my open house organized. You can watch the video replay here.

Are you ready to make your open house paperless? Check out this tutorial.

Click below to download my FREE open house signs. They are editable!

Back to School will be a Piece of Cake...Next Year

Who is back to school? Who is a tad overwhelmed? I have an organizational tip for you today that will make next year a piece of cake! Plus, I have a freebie for you!

It's confession time. I was that annoying teacher in the copy room in May who was copying back to school materials. (Please try not to hate me!) I went back to my classroom and started putting my masters back in their respective binders: August Activities, Language, Math Notebooks, Book Clubs, etc.

While filing masters into many different binders- it occurred to me. "I use all of these materials at the beginning of the year. It would be so great if they were all stored in one place." In that genius moment, my Back to School Survival binder was born.

This notebook holds EVERYTHING that I need for the first several weeks of the school year! I have my back to school activities, homework, centers, interactive notebooks, binder and folder covers, open house materials and so much more!
The best part about this binder...it was so easy to put together. As I copied something for my class, I just put the masters in page protectors and placed them in the binder. After several weeks had passed, I went back and added labels, checklists and first week lesson plans. Done!

I will kiss myself next year! 

Would you like to grab a FREE copy of my binder cover, spine, and some checklists? Just click on the picture below to start getting yourself organized!

Here's to an amazing school year!

Here are some other back to school blog posts that you might also be interested in:


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