Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

10 Ways to Make Math Fun

Math is my very favorite subject to teach! I love that it lends itself so nicely to hands-on activities and games. There are so many ways that you can take a dry math curriculum and make it fun! These ideas are perfect for the classroom teacher or a homeschooler! 

1. Integrate Technology
I know that every classroom does not have access to technology, but so many do! Technology is also getting less expensive. I was able to purchase a small group of Kindle Fires for my classroom for a very reasonable price. Students used these devices as a math center. Some of their favorite websites were Xtra Math, Moby Max, and Zearn.  You can also use a site like Kahoot to make interactive class games and quizzes. 

2. Interactive Notebooks
I love using math interactive notebooks! My students are able to practice important math skills in a way that is hands-on and engaging. The notebooks also serve as a reference throughout the year. Students take such pride in these notebooks. 

Interactive notebooks are fun!

Click HERE to read more about how I use interactive notebooks in the classroom.

Check out all of my math interactive notebooks by clicking HERE.

3. Centers
Math is always more fun when you get to move around and do different activities! Math centers are fun! I find that my third graders actually enjoy the independence that centers provide. I love that it gives me the opportunity to meet with small groups of students for reteach and extension. You can read more about how I organize my math centers by clicking HERE

Math centers are fun!

Check out all of my 3rd and 4th grade math centers by clicking HERE.

4. Games
Almost every student would prefer playing a game over doing another boring worksheet! Games are not just for fun though. They can be a wonderful way to practice important math skills! Sometimes I even send math games home for students to play with their families for homework! 

This area and perimeter game is a fun way to practice a tricky skill!

5. Books with Math Themes
Integrating some reading into math is super fun! My students love read alouds and they can be a wonderful way to introduce a new math unit.

Books with a math theme are fun!

6. Opportunities to Create
Allowing students to get creative during math class can add lots of fun to your instruction! The creations helps students to use both sides of their brain and increases memory. My students always have a blast making these area and perimeter robots. They are having so much fun, that they rarely notice how challenging the project is!

Area and perimeter robots are a fun way to create in math class!

7. Pair Shares
Math obviously can't just be non-stop games and art projects. I do have to deliver a mini lesson! To make these lessons more fun and engaging, I use pair shares. Students are given lots of opportunities to share strategies with their shoulder partner. Sometimes I ask them to share the strategy that I used to solve an example. Other times they are asked to share the strategy they would use to solve the problem. All this talking time helps to keep students focused! It's a lot more fun than just sitting and listening.

8. Task Card Scoots
Scoots are so much more fun than any worksheet! Task cards are placed around the room and students move from card to card answering the questions. The very act of moving around makes the activity more fun. Sometimes I have them move with a partner and they love that! This is a great way to make an assessment engaging!

Task card scoots are fun!

You can check out my task cards by clicking HERE

9. Using Manipulatives
I love to give students manipulatives and let them play with numbers and patterns. Being able to move fraction bars around helps when comparing fractions. Base ten blocks can really help students to understand subtraction with regrouping. And if you really want to up the fun- give them food for manipulatives! We use crackers when studying area and perimeter, candy when graphing and almost any food can be used to make equal groups when multiplying and dividing! 

10. Unexpected Writing Utensils
I am very picky about my writing utensils. I am the happiest when I get to grade or write in a journal using my favorite pen. But for some reason, we ask kids to always write with yellow pencils. Why not mix it up from time to time to keep tings fun? Get some scented crayons and let them solve word problems on drawing paper! Or give them dry erase markers and let them write on their desk or a class window! Why not use sidewalk chalk and do your math outside?! This is guaranteed to make routine math problems 100% more fun! 

Tips for Dealing with a Talkative Class

I recently asked teachers on my Facebook page what their biggest classroom challenge was. At least half of the teachers responded that their biggest challenge was dealing with talkative students. I want to share my tips and strategies for dealing with a talkative class.

Let me start by saying, there is NOT a simple and immediate cure to the chatty class! There is not that one thing that you can do tomorrow that will instantly transform your classroom. If I am wrong, by all means, let me know! 

That being said, I do think there are some things that you can do that will gradually change the chatty atmosphere in your classroom.

Don't Teach Over Student Talking

You deserve respect. You really do. When you just continue teaching while. students are talking, you are telling them that this behavior and disrespect are acceptable. On top of that, the students who are not talking and really want to hear your lesson are distracted and have trouble focusing. You aren't doing anyone any good by just ignoring the behavior.

Less Teacher Talk

I want you to really think about this question. Are you talking too much? Are you standing in front of the class and performing a monologue? If your teaching involves a lot of time standing in front of the class telling them what you need them to learn, then students are bound to get antsy and chatty! I know that this happens to me during some staff meetings! I just can't sit and be quiet for long periods of time. I want to interact. So do your students. Get them involved. Have students teach each other. Have students explain their strategies. Have students come up to the board. Have students work with partners. 

Give Students Opportunities to Talk Regularly

This tip really goes along with the last one. If you give students regular opportunities to talk, they are much more likely to respect you when you take your turn to talk. I use Whole Brain Teaching Teach Okay. It is a form of a pair share. Students have been trained to teach their partner. When I call for a teach okay, students immediately turn to their partner and teach them. So I might say, "Teach your partner the strategy I used to solve this problem." I clap twice and call "Teach!" They clap back and call "Okay!" And then they turn and talk. I give my students opportunities to talk about their thinking about every 10 minutes. Giving them permission to talk has decreased their need to talk over me. 

Keep Students Engaged and Moving

Often times, students are talking because they are bored. I don't consider a teacher's job to be a circus clown that entertains. However, I do know that engaged students are learning more than the bored student. Therefore, I go out of my way to create a classroom where students are moving, creating and laughing. If you need some ideas for increasing student engagement, check out the post below.

Have an Attention Getter and Practice the Procedure

You need an attention getter. Any attention getter will work as long as you have taken sufficient time to teach students the procedures and expectations. When they hear you call out, they should have a vocal response, but their bodies should also freeze. Their eyes should meet your eyes. If you don't practice this, then an attention getter just becomes something cutesy and ineffective. You may need to plan time to review the expectation every quarter. Also, don't be afraid to change the attention getter when it gets boring. 

Change Up Your Positive Behavior Program

As the year goes on, don't be afraid to change your positive behavior program to keep it fresh and interesting for students. If you notice that students are no longer interested in clipping up your behavior chart, maybe it is time to try Class Dojo. If the marble jar is no longer motivating students, maybe it is time to implement brag tags. Have you tried the scoreboard from Whole Brain Teaching? Maybe a classroom economy is the answer.

Don't assume that you have tried everything! There is always something new and you have to be willing to experiment until you find that program that works for your class! It is essential that you are rewarding good behavior. Students are generally more motivated by positive reenforcement than they are by discipline. Be sure that you are thanking students who are quiet!

Be Firm and Fair With Discipline

It goes without saying that you need some form of a discipline program. Students need to know exactly what behaviors are punishable and what those punishments will be. Do some role playing with them! This makes it fun, but helps them to remember. Decide if students will receive a warning and what that warning will look like. Decide what happens after the warning and let students know ahead of time. Once you have explained the expectations, follow through every single time!!! At first, you will have more students who are being disciplined for talking. Just calmly and fairly do what you told them you would do. Yelling is not necessary. Within time, students will see that you were honest and that you are fair. Most students will chose to improve their behavior. 

It may also be a good idea to warn parents. Let them know that classroom talking has become a problem. Tell them what your discipline procedure will be and warn them that there might be more clip downs or write ups during the next few weeks as students are learning the proper classroom behaviors. This might cut down on the worried parent emails and phone calls.

Noise Isn't the Enemy

I am very sensitive to noise. I just can't focus when it isn't quiet. It took me a long time to realize that all classroom noise is not bad noise. Take a step back and really reflect on whether your class is talkative in a disrespectful way or if the noise is just the sound of productivity. Are your students actively engaged and learning? In that case, maybe a little more noise than you are used to, is not a bad thing! 

Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Are you feeling tired and stressed? Check out these tips for avoiding teacher burnout!

The struggle is real. Teacher burnout is a reality. All over the country, teachers are tired, frustrated, stressed and leaving the profession. After only a few years, talented teachers are walking out. Don't let this be you! Yes, teaching is tough, but so are YOU! Whether you are a new teacher or a long-time teacher, I hope these tips will help you to love your job and decrease the stress.

Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

1. Don't compare yourself to every other teacher.

Thanks to Pinterest and social media, it is difficult not to compare yourself to other teachers. But comparing yourself to others will quickly kill your joy for teaching. Just looking at beautiful classroom pictures does not tell the whole story. Just because they have an organized space, does not mean they have meaningful relationships with their students. Just because they took pictures of a fun and engaging activity, does not mean they don't have behavior management challenges. As teachers, we all have our strengths, but we all have weaknesses too. The thing is, we rarely take pictures that show our weaknesses! So when you see a picture of what looks like a perfect classroom- don't forget that they have skeletons somewhere! There is no such thing as a perfect teacher. 

2. Plan ahead.

Last minute lesson planning and prep leads to so much teacher stress! It can be  hard to get ahead when you feel like you are drowning, but it is possible. It is easier to work in batches rather than working on one week at a time. For example, sit down one afternoon and plan your social studies units for the next month or two. The next afternoon, devote your time to planning your math centers. It will be a tough week, but when you finish- you will be so happy! You don't have to plan each week on Sunday night. Instead, you set aside an hour or two each week to continue planning and prepping out. When the copy machine breaks on a Monday morning, you won't be in tears. It will also give you time to look for resources when you have gaps. 

3. Don't grade everything.

Grading hundreds of papers every week is enough to make anyone want to quit their job! You don't have the time or the need to grade everything! I am going to let you in on a little secret, but don't tell ANYONE! Here goes...I sometimes throw away entire stacks of student work. Yup. When no one was looking, I chucked them. And no one ever asked me about it. No one cared. 

Now I know that we can't just throw away all of the papers. We do need grades for those report cards. We do want to check our students' understanding and communicate their progress with parents. You will have to grade assessments from time to time. For this reason, I set a side a time one afternoon per week for grading. 

There are other ways to check understanding and/or get scores besides grading mounds of papers.
  • Trade and Grade: After students complete a simple assessment (such as multiple choice exit tickets or math facts), have them trade with a shoulder partner and grade it for you. 
  • Parent Volunteers: Email your families and see if anyone would be willing to grade spelling tests, math facts, worksheets, etc. 
  • Informal Assessments: Everything doesn't have to be done on paper. Put a problem on the board and  have students solve it on their white boards. You can walk around with a clip board and check off students who have met the standard. You can also watch students complete activities on white boards, with math manipulatives or in math interactive notebooks during guided small group time. 
  • Participation: Sometimes, you just need to give students a participation grade! Were they on task? Did they complete the work? 
If you are looking for some more ways to quickly check for student understanding without creating more grading for yourself, check out this post:

4. Don't take school work home with you. And don't sneak back to school, when you should be at home!

To some of you, this may sound unrealistic. Trust me! You work so hard at school. When you are at home you need to be able, to focus on you and your family. If you give up hobbies and time with those you love, you will burn out so quickly! I am speaking from experience! During my first two years of teaching, I spent every weekend at the school and carried home multiple bags of stuff that needed to be done before coming back to school. I was exhausted and miserable. I came very close to quitting my job. During my third year, I decided that things had to change. I refused to go to school during my time off and I only brought home a few things- such as laminating and writing samples. By making this decision to take back my life, I forced myself to be more intentional and focused at school. I learned to organize my time better and prioritize. The outcome was a much happier teacher! Here are some tips that helped me to take back my personal life:
  • Make a schedule for your week. I reserved Mondays for cleaning up and organizing. On Tuesdays, I would grade necessary papers. I decided to lesson plan on Wednesday. Then I could make my copies on Thursday. On Friday, I would update my grades from the week. I would set aside any plan period time and an hour of after school time to complete these tasks. The schedule kept me so organized!
  • Keep social time at work to a minimum. I love my coworkers, but I had to be careful that I didn't spend so much time talking to them that I was giving up time with my family. I didn't want to give up these important friendships (because they make work more fun!), but I had to protect my time. So I decided to eat lunch with my coworkers, but to lock my door during plan time and after school. I know that it sounds harsh, but time is so valuable!
  • Choose classroom decor and bulletin boards that can stay up most of the year! I have just one board that I change each quarter. Otherwise, everything in my room stays put for the year. I might switch out an anchor chart or the vocabulary words, but otherwise, I am not wasting time doing any redecorating. 
  • Ask for help! I sent out an email and asked if there were any parents who would be willing to make copies for me. I had a sweet mom agree to come in every Wednesday morning for 30 minutes. I knew that she was coming and would have things prepared for her. It was an easy way for her to feel like she was helping without giving up a ton of her time. It was win win! You could ask a volunteer to grade papers or even plan the next holiday party! I know that this isn't possible for everyone, but you never know unless you ask.
  • Collaborate with another teacher on your team. You have to be careful with this. It is important that you are collaborating with someone you trust and know has similar teaching philosophies as you. Otherwise, the collaboration will be a source of stress. I found a teammate and we split the planning and prep. I did the math and science planning and prep. She focused on the reading and writing prep. Then we shared our lesson plans. We even made the copies for each other! It made my life so much easier!

5. Try something new in your classroom.

I have found that one of the best ways to bring back the joy of teaching, is to try a new activity, schedule or strategy. Don't change everything! That would be stressful! But if there is something you have been interested in, give it a go. Maybe you want to add some interactive notebooks into your math block or you could start book clubs with your readers. Have you thought about experimenting with math centers or using brag tags? I say- go for it! Bring back that excitement that you had when you first started teaching! The best part is that your students will get excited too!

Are you feeling tired and stressed? Check out these tips for avoiding teacher burnout!

Teaching is tough, but so are you. Our students need amazing teachers. We have to find ways to manage the stress and the responsibilities so that we are not burning out and leaving the profession! I challenge you to make a list right now of three things you can do right away to fend off the negative feelings and exhaustion that teaching has created. What three things will help you take back your personal life and bring back your joy for teaching? Just start with three for now. It's all about balance! We can do this!

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5 Reasons I Don't Use Dictionaries for Vocabulary

I am truly passionate about teaching vocabulary in my classroom. I know that my students need a good grasp of tier two words to improve their reading comprehension, word choice in their writing and increase their performance on standardized tests. All of that is important. But the reason that I really enjoy teaching vocabulary is that I love to see my kids get excited about words. Playing with words is actually fun!

I have a vocabulary routine in my classroom that takes ten minutes per day. We never take out the dictionary during our vocabulary time. I do not give students a list of words and ask them to look them up during centers. NEVER. I am required to teach students how to use the dictionary. It is our language lesson one week. And then we put those books away. 

I don't believe that dictionaries should be used for vocabulary and here is why...

1. Words have multiple definitions. 

Students can look up one word and be bombarded with a dozen definitions. Some are close in meaning and some may be completely different- even a different part of speech. Students have no idea what definition you want them to learn. They typically just pick the first one to record or they pick the shortest definition to record. 

2. Definitions are full of tricky words.

Even student dictionaries have definitions that are full of tricky words. So a student wants to know the meaning of one word and ends up needing to look up two or three other words. In the end, you have students who are just writing down a definition that they don't understand or you have students who are frustrated and confused.

3. Definitions often include the word you are looking up!

This drives me crazy! I looked up envious and the definition is: "showing envy." Well that clears it up! Even better- I looked up beam. It has quite a few definitions including nouns and verbs. One definition was: "to send out in beams or as a beam." WHAT?! How is that supposed to help anyone?!

4. Dictionaries take too much time.

If you have never watched a third grader look a word up in the dictionary, you are really missing out. Grab a Snickers bar because you aren't going anywhere for a while. No matter how many times I teach them how to use guide words, they just can't. They tend to just scan every page looking for the word. By the time they get to the correct page, I am jumping out of my seat and pointing at the word. "It's right there!!!!" 

I hope I am not the only one... At any rate dictionaries do take a lot of valuable classroom time.

5. Technology is making dictionaries obsolete.

Let's be honest- dictionaries are going to be a lot like the dewy decimal system. They will be something that only us old folk will remember. I can type a word into my phone or iPad and get definitions, synonyms and example sentences in just a few seconds. The definitions are not necessarily any better than using a traditional dictionary- but at least it didn't take much time. As classrooms implement more and more technology, I believe they will be able to retire the dictionary.

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Would you like to read more about my classroom vocabulary routine? Click on the picture below.

If you want to try some free and fun vocabulary games, click on the picture below.

Related Resources

Are you looking for engaging vocabulary lessons? I have year long units for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. Click on the resources below.

The Dos and Don'ts of Test Prep

How can we make test prep engaging and valuable? Here are a list of dos and don't to help guide you as you plan your class test prep!

In my last post, which you can read HERE, I talked a lot about why I believe that test prep is necessary. It can help to increase student confidence and relieve some of their test taking anxiety. However, only quality test prep will help! If you are not using test prep time to review important skills and strategies while building your students up- you are wasting valuable time. 

I have compiled some test prep dos and don't to help guide you as you plan for your class test prep. 

Test Prep Dos

1. DO plan fun review activities.

Test prep should NOT be boring! Test days are boring enough. Let's keep the days leading up to testing engaging. Get kids out of their seats. Play games and rotate through centers. Creating a fun test prep environment will help to alleviate some student test taking pressure and decrease the negative connotations associated with testing.

You can read more about this FREE vocabulary game by clicking HERE.

You can read about how I used games and crafts to encourage my students to work extra hard on test prep activities by clicking HERE.

You can read about some ways to use task cards for test prep by clicking HERE.

2. DO teach test taking tips and strategies.

It is a good idea to teach (or review) test taking strategies. Talk about marking up the text, reading all of the directions and eliminating obvious wrong answers. It is a good idea to remind students that skipping a question will automatically make the question wrong. As a last resort, it is best to give an educated guess than to leave a question blank. I also talk to my students about the importance of rest and healthy food choices. We read books about perseverance. (My favorite is Thank You, Mr. Falker.)

These test strategy posters, along with other fun test prep activities, can be found in THIS test prep resource.

3. DO teach students to properly bubble answers. 

If students have not had much experience with bubble tests, make sure you practice. It might sound silly, but it's important! Show them how to darkly color in the bubble without ripping the paper. Also, practice erasing if they change their mind about the answer.

Bubble sheet practice can be boring! Bring in some bubble gum as a fun reward for afterwards! 

4. DO tell students you believe in them.

During test prep, tell your students how proud you are of them! Remind them that it is okay if they don't know the answer to every question (no one gets a 100%!), as long as they did their very best. You might be the only person that believes in them, so make sure they know! 

5. DO plan a post testing celebration.

Testing is tough so I like to plan a celebration. It's a chance to have some fun with my kiddos! Since I have a game day theme for test prep, we have a baseball themed party. You can read more about it HERE.

Test Prep Don'ts

1. DON'T expect test prep to replace great instruction all year.

You can plan the most engaging test prep activities, but if you haven't been differentiating instruction and creating hands-on learning experiences all year- test prep won't fix the gaps. Test prep should be a review. If they never learned it, they probably won't learn it the day before the test either.

2. DON'T cram two months of curriculum into two weeks of test prep.

Testing rarely occurs at the very end of the school year. With this being said, we are very rarely done teaching all of the curriculum. That is okay! Hopefully your curriculum map has the skills that make up the least percentage of the test questions scheduled for the end of the year. Perhaps you have been able to teach a few extra skills to your enrich math group. Still, there may be questions that students are not prepared to answer. Warn them, but don't cram the skills down their throats. If you try to teach everything that is left during the week or two before the test, they won't learn it well and will be totally stressed. That's not helpful!

3. DON"T give more classwork and homework.

Increasing the work load due to the upcoming test will only make students and parents grumpy. You may want to change your homework and make it more spiral or more differentiated. But if they are struggling with multi-step word problems, giving them 20 of them for homework will not make them better problem solvers! 

4. DON'T make test prep a series of worksheets.

Worksheets are not engaging. In fact, typically, they are just plain boring. The test will be boring enough. There is no reason test prep can't be more fun. Incorporate games, centers, task card scoots and project-based learning into your test prep. Students remember more when they are engaged and moving anyway!

5. DON'T disrupt classroom procedures and routines.

If you change everything about your classroom procedures during test prep, you are going to have confused students and an increase in discipline issues. Do your best to keep the procedures and routines relatively in tact. For example, I continue using math centers and guided math groups. The only thing that is different is that we are reviewing skills rather than learning a new skill. I only completely disrupt our schedule for one day to do our Work Hard, Play Hard centers. Keeping rules and routines gives my students some semblance of normalcy. 

6. DON'T tell them how much you hate testing.

You can hate testing, but you can't tell anyone but your spouse and your closest coworker. Don't tell the students and don't tell the parents. Whining about the test will just decrease motivation and effort. It creates a negative atmosphere and there is no benefit in that. 

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