Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: July 2015

Easy to Manage Math Centers


I recently posted a picture on Instagram (@notsowimpyteacher) of my math centers organized and ready to use. I received dozens of questions and requests for a blog post about my math center rotations. I have blogged MANY times about math centers, but it is a topic that I am passionate about, so I am happy to share! Specifically, this post is going to focus on what my third graders do during centers and how I manage and organize these tasks.

I have four math groups in my classroom. They are grouped by ability level. The groups are fluid and always changing based on the skill we are working on. I give an exit ticket every week or two and use the results from the exit ticket to plan my groups for the following week. Since the groups are always changing, I needed a simple way to show students which group they were in. I just laminated paper and hung them on a cabinet door. I use dry erase marker to write student names on the posters each week. (I don't have names written yet because we are just working on small group procedures right now.)


At the bottom of each group sign, I typed which centers they go to on Monday/Wednesday and which centers they go to on Tuesday/Thursday.

I only meet with two of my math groups per day. This allows me to have 30 minutes with each group, two times per week. This graphic shows you what my weekly schedule for math rotations looks like.



The meet with teacher center is the time where kiddos come to the back table and I am able to provide differentiated instruction based on the exit tickets. Some groups need a compete reteach with concrete manipulatives. Other groups are working in the pictorial or abstract stage and are solving problems on white boards. I often have a group that has mastered the skill and is ready to work with more challenging numbers. This is also the time where we work on our interactive notebooks. 


I have created notebooks for all of the big skills I teach. Many of the activities have differentiated options that are perfect for my small groups.


Interactive notebooks are done in small group because it gives me another chance to assess skills that we have been working on. I do not take an actual grade for notebooks. I sit and watch kids as they work on their activity. Kids who breeze right though the activity are excused to work on independent work or to play a game together. Then I can really hone in on students who are still struggling with the skill. I use a mastery check list to keep track.


If you want to read more about how I use interactive notebooks, read THIS post.


The independent center is a time where students are practicing skills that have already been taught during whole group and practiced in small group. This is also the center where I collect an assignment and grade it for the report card. I have always used a mix of task cards and constructed response math journal prompts. Last year, I found that some of my students were struggling with having multiple different assignments. So I worked over the summer to design math centers that combine hands-on sorts, word problems, math writing, task cards and high order thinking tasks into one recording book. Now my students are able to complete multiple types of activities but only have one book to keep track of and organize. 

Here ia a peak at the back to school centers that I am starting with for August. They review second grade skills.


The product includes ten different centers and I allow my students to do the centers in any order that they wish. I put each center in a zipper pencil pouch that I purchased at Walmart for a dollar.


All 10 of the pouches fit perfectly in this mini crate that I also got at Walmart for a dollar. Ten centers take up virtually no space at all in our classroom and are very portable!


Recording books are passed out on the first day of the month and due no later than the last day of the month. My intervention kiddos will take all month. I like to peak at their books throughout the month to be sure they are on track. For some students, I will excuse them from a center or two. Other students will take less than a month (depending on the skill) and they will work on math menu tasks. These are creative tasks that require higher order thinking and extend their learning to real world application. My kids love doing them!


I have been pretty brave in the past year and have been sending the recording books and the answer key home with a trustworthy parent to grade. Saves me lots of time! 

I currently have these centers made for third grade and I have the first set ready for fourth grade. I am continuing to add to them!




I am blessed to have eight chrome books in my classroom. My students use them to complete i-Ready lessons during centers. I-ready is a program that our school has purchased. Students are given a  diagnostic test and then assigned lessons based on their needs. They complete these lessons independently, but I can log in and see their progress and/or assign them lessons. If you don't have access to i-Ready, you might want to check out Moby Max. They have a similar program and it is free.



Previously, I used math fact games in this particular centers. I would print no prep games and put them into binders. Students would play the games with a partner. 

Last year my husband saw an amazing deal on Fire Tablets from Amazon and he wanted to know if I could use them in the classroom. YES!!! So we purchased six of them. My kids were in awe! I changed my math fact center around a little so that they could use the tablets.


Students would first go to Xtra Math for online fact practice. This program assesses the students and then shows them a chart of which facts they got correct and which they were slower on. The next activities will just focus on the facts that they really need. My kids liked it because it was on the tablet and because it is pretty quick. It really only takes 5-10 minutes.  I liked it because it was so differentiated and I received weekly reports on their progress. 


For the rest of the time during this center they would go to Zearn. This website was made to go along with the curriculum that we use (Eureka/ Engage NY). 

I hope that this helps you to see how I manage my math centers! 


5 Back to school Books for Third Grade


I love reading to my class and I get started on day one! I love the books First Day Jitters and The Juice Box Bully, but by the third grade, all of my students have heard these books several times. So I try to mix in some different books to keep it interesting. The following books are my very favorite read alouds for the first week of school. I have included an Amazon affiliate link for each book so that you can easily find the book if you want to add it to your classroom library.


I absolutely love Peanut Butter & Cupcake! It is an adorable story about friendship. Peanut Butter is trying to find someone to play ball with him, but everyone already has a best friend. I know that lots of our kiddos feel that way! The illustrations in this book are really cute and none of my students had ever read the book before.


Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun is a fabulous story about being different. It is a cute story that makes the kids laugh. More importantly, it hits on the theme that different is good! You can eat your spaghetti in a hot dog bun if that is what makes you happy! Another good book with a similar theme is The Name Jar!


Enemy Pie is another funny book. The story is about two boys who don't like one another and how they end up resolving their differences. The boys find they have lots in common. I get a real kick out of just how clever Dad is in this book!


The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School is a book that is so unique and that is why I like to use it the first week of school. It is a story about a new kid who came from a very unusual school. He is hoping that his new school is a little more ordinary! The pictures in the book are amazing watercolors! 


How to Be Cool in the Third Grade is always my first chapter book read aloud. It is about a boy who wants to be cool, but he doesn't think he has the right name, school supplies or clothes. It also doesn't help that his mom kisses him at the bus stop! This is a short but cute book that makes us laugh and is a conversation starter about what "cool" really is. I think that a great follow up to this book is the book Third Grade Angels!

I hope you have a happy back to school that is filled with fun books and students who cannot wait to hear you read!

Here are more back to school posts that you might be interested in:



{Week 1} BTS in a FLASH! Teacher Faves


I am so honored to be hosting this back to school blog link up with Layla from Fancy Free in 4th and Courtney from Ramona Recommends! They are a blast to work with and we have some awesome back to school photos and tips to share with you during the next four weeks!

The first week is all about Teacher Faves!


I just started back to school last week (GULP!), so I thought it would be fun to share four of my favorite back to school activities.


Save Fred:
My third graders had such a fun time with this simple activity. It got them talking with one another and working as a team from day one.

You will need plastic cups, 4 paper clips per group, gummy worms and gummy lifesavers.


Fred, the worm, was riding in his boat, the cup, when it tipped over. Fred is on top of the boat and he doesn't know how to swim. Lucky for him, he brought a life preserver, the lifesaver. The problem? The life preserver is stuck under the boat.

Students will work in groups to plan a way to get Fred inside the life preserver. They cannot touch the worm, the boat or the life preserver with their fingers. The only tools they can use to help are the four paperclips. I divided my students into groups of 4. First, they talked together about how they wanted to approach the task. When the group had a plan, they could begin their work. Throughout the task they were laughing, strategizing and working together. It warms my teacher heart to see all of this happening on the first day of school!


After they have completed the task, I had them write and illustrate about their strategy. The different groups shared with one another.

Spaghetti and Marshmallow Challenge:
My school used this activity as an icebreaker when we came back to school last year. It was a fun team competition that had students creatively working together.

You will need to give each group uncooked spaghetti noodles and large marshmallows. Each group should have about the same amount of supplies.


Students work in groups to see who can build the HIGHEST structure in the  specified amount of time. They can only use the spaghetti and the marshmallows. The winner is the team who has the highest structure when time is called. Many will build tall structures that fall before time is up.

One of my groups built a medium sized structure. Groups around them were building taller ones, but this group stopped. I came by and asked why they weren't building. They said that they figured the other towers would fall and they were taking their chances with the shorter by sturdier structure. Smart, right? They won!


Groups drew pictures of their creations and reflected on what they learned about building.

Everyone giggled a lot and it was a great time to talk about good sportsmanship and how games are played fairly in our classroom.
Toothpaste Tube Task:
Right from the beginning of the year, I want my students to be mindful of the words they choose to use with one another. They will be offering suggestions on writing and problem solving all year. We will spend countless hours working with partners or small groups. They need need to understand that words CAN indeed hurt.

Every group will need a tube of toothpaste, a spoon and a plate or tray. 

Have the group squirt all of the toothpaste out of the tube and on to the plate. They will think this is silly and you will get some giggles. I love giggles! 

Now tell the students that their task is to get every little bit of the toothpaste back into the tube before your timer goes off. They can only use their fingers and the spoon. EVERY BIT! 

Guess what? It's NOT possible! 

After kids have had an opportunity to try and time to wash (it's kind messy but your room will smell minty fresh!), have a class meeting. Read the book My Mouth is a Volcano and talk about how words are like the toothpaste. Once they come out, it is impossible to put them back in. You could get some of the paste back in the tube, but their was still a mess. You can apologize for your words, but you can't erase the memory or the pain they caused another person.

Students go back to their seats and reflect on this lesson.

Play Doh Creations:
I used this as the very first thing students did when they walked into the classroom on the first day of school. I wanted to set the tone from the start that our classroom would be different and fun. So when students got to there desks, they found a small container of Play Doh. They were told that they could work alone or work with each other to create ANYTHING they wanted to. The only rule was that the Play Doh had to stay on a desk or table and not be on the carpet. Some kids chose to work together so they had more doh and multiple colors to build one creation. Other students preferred to work alone. 
While they were working, I was able to deal with paperwork, attendance and bags of supplies that were handed to me on the way in. This was a much better way to start our day than starting with a discussion of the class rules or where to put their supplies. There was time for all the logistics later! Fun first!

Would you like to grab  all of my planning/reflection sheets for FREE? Just click on the picture below to download.

Your turn! Blog about your teacher favorites. It can be ANYTHING! Favorite books, thing to bring in your lunch, shoes, office supplies, planner, games, etc. You can use this image (and the camera number images) in your post.

Be sure to link up with us and check out all of the other fabulous teacher faves that our blog buddies have written about!