Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: November 2015

5 Simple Holiday Gifts for your Students


Gifting is my love language and so I just LOVE giving holiday gifts to my sweet third graders. The only problem? It can get pricey pretty quick. I want to share a few simple gift ideas that won't break the bank or require any Martha Stewart type crafting.

1. Books
I absolutely adore giving my students a special book before saying goodbye for winter break. I enjoy writing sweet notes in the front of each book and I imagine them treasuring the book for life. Or at least until they get those fancy electronics from Santa! Don't run off to Barnes and Noble to buy these books. I love that place, but it would cost way to much to buy 24 chapter books for my students. Buy from Scholastic! Find the $1 books or a set of books that work for your grade level. This year I am buying each of my students a copy of Winter According to Humphrey. I LOVE this book!


This year, each of my kids will be getting the same book. (We just love Humphrey!) Most of the time though, I buy a variety of books and hold a book auction! 


Students are able to get the book that they are most interested in. They love it and it is a fun activity for the day before break! After the auction, I have them play math games while I walk around the room putting notes on the inside covers. You can read more about how I organize and run my book auctions HERE.

2. I Spy Holiday Ornaments
I Spy is pretty addicting- no matter your age. I made these fun ornaments for my students and they could NOT stop looking for items that their friends did not have! 


I bought all of the supplies at Hobby Lobby (but I am sure you could find them at Michael's or other craft stores) and they ended up costing about $1 per ornament.


All you do is pour the fake snow into the clear bulbs. Add the tiny little holiday shapes. I found them with the scrapbooking supplies. You can get creative with this! You could use holiday shapes sequins, mini bells, small pom poms or a tiny button. 


Then hot glue the top onto the ornament. Add the tag and some ribbon. Viola! Would you like the tag I used? You can download it for FREE by clicking HERE.



3. Math Card Game
I have no problem being that sneaky teacher who sends home educational holiday gifts! <Insert evil cackle laugh> My students love to play math games in the classroom. So why not send home a simple math game that they can play with their family?


I bought the cards at the  dollar store. I got two decks for a dollar which made this an extremely inexpensive gift. I used some glue dots to attach the deck of cards to the direction card. I made a card for Addition War and a card for Multiplication War. You can grab the direction cards for FREE by clicking HERE.

5. Craft Kits
My students love to get crafty so I was very excited to find some cute craft kits at Michael's! The kits only cost $1 and if you had a coupon, you could get them even cheaper!

They had these cute cross stitch kits that I just know my third graders would enjoy.


And these bead kits that would also be a huge hit.


6. Play-doh Cards
Kids love Play-doh. My own kids (ages 9-11) all love to make fun new creations with Play-doh. You can buy bags of the tiny size Play-doh containers in the party aisle at Wal-Mart. They will run you about $4 for 12. Now you just need to make them a bit cuter...

I found this adorable Play-doh card on the blog Repeat Crafter Me.


Click HERE to download her FREE template and see her step-by-step directions for assembly.

I hope that this gave you some inspiration for your own class gifts! Happy gifting!


Gobble Up Some Freebies!


We all know that the holidays can be a stressful time... That's why the girls from iTeach Third decided to help ease up some of that stress by offering up 8 days of FREEBIES for you to Gobble Up! 

All you have to do is visit our Facebook page starting today. Check it out by clicking here!



Books Teachers Love for December


I am so excited and honored to join some very talented teacher bloggers for the Books Teachers Love linky! If you are not familiar with this blog series- it is a monthly event where bloggers share seasonal book recommendations for the classroom and activities that use with the books. It is a great way to get a head start on reading plans for next month! 



Every December, I read The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy to my third graders. They always love that the book is written from the point of view of a puppy. Petey asks his mom for a little boy for Christmas. His mom tries to get him a boy but sadly reports to Petey that there are no boys to be found. Petey goes on a search for a boy of his own. The book has a heartwarming ending where Petey ends up finding himself 50 boys! 


The holiday season is a tricky time to keep kids engaged in the important skills that we must teach. I think that using some special holiday mentor texts can help disguise the practice! I like to read the book whole group at the beginning of the week. Then I place the book and some interactive notebook activities in a center for the rest of the week. Students can practice important skills such as retelling, problem/solution, cause/effect, etc. The students barely notice that they are working thanks to the fun holiday book, the cutting and the gluing. I know the truth though! They are getting in some valuable review of the reading skills we have practiced during the first semester. 


You can grab my Christmas Reading Interactive Notebook Activities, by clicking on the picture below. They are perfect to use with ANY holiday book and include a variety of reading skills.


I also like to extend this book into writing. The puppy really wanted a boy for Christmas. I ask my kids what they REALLY want for Christmas. We use a graphic organizer and write letters to our parents trying to convince them to give us the gift we really want. It is a fun topic to use as a practice for our persuasive writing. 


You can grab my FREE graphic organizer and writing paper, by clicking on the picture below.


You might be interested to read about some of my other favorite holiday book.







Choosing Books for Book Clubs


I use book clubs (also known as literature circles) in all of my guided reading groups. Students love reading chapter books with their peers and they are very low prep for the teacher. The success of your book clubs is tied very closely to the books you choose to read. When the right sets of books are chosen, a teacher can have students engaged and practicing all the skills needed to master the grade level standards! Here are some tips that I have learned for picking good book club books.


My school uses Lexile levelers. Regardless of what type of book level system you use, it is essential that you are choosing books that meet the group's needs. No one enjoys reading a book that they don't understand, but we still want to challenge our readers. Spend some time determining the reading level of the students in the group and look for books that are on the higher end of their level. I consider this to be their instructional level. They may need my support, but they will be able to comprehend and decode most of the text.


What standards are you teaching during the next month or two? Be certain to choose books that will allow students to practice these standards. For example, during quarters 2 and 3- I teach informational text standards. During those quarters, it would not make much sense to have my book clubs reading fiction books. Instead I choose informational text books such as Who Was books and Fact Tracker books. If the book you choose helps to farther the standards that you are teaching- it will be easier to find time to squeeze it all in!




It is important to choose books that are most likely to grab the interest of your readers. If I have several kiddos interested in animals- I might choose a book about endangered species. I do not choose books from a series that I know students are interested in already. They will read those on their own! I don't need to make it a book club book. However, I can look at the series they are reading and use it as a guide for choosing another book that is similar in style or genre. For example, if students like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, maybe I can introduce them to another graphic novel series such Big Nate or Robots.




I use book clubs as an opportunity to introduce students to series, authors and genres that they have not yet read. I love to choose the first book in a series. After we finish the book club, every student in the group is anxious to read the next book in the series! Now they are highly motivated to read independently. I very rarely choose a book that isn't part of a series or by an author with several other similar books. I also do not choose books in series that my students are already very familiar with such as Magic Treehouse. Reading one book in a book club is great, but inspiring a child to read a series of books is a teacher dream come true.




How long do you have to complete the book? How many pages or chapters can you reasonably read each week? I highly suggest taking a calendar and penciling in a schedule. There is nothing more irritating that starting a book and not having time to complete it. I try to have books finished before long breaks. I also want to have my nonfiction book club finished before we go back to literature standards. Sometimes this means that I have to find a shorter book. Other times, I need a longer book so that my high group isn't finishing the book in a couple weeks. 


Where will you get the books for your book clubs to use? How many copies are available? You may think of the most perfect book, but if you can't get your hands on the right number of copies- it will never work! Take some time to look at the library or a local used book store. I also like to check to see which books scholastic is selling in sets and what books they are selling for $1. If you have technology in the classroom, you might check to see what books are available on Kindle.




You cannot rely on book levelers alone! I have chosen books based on their Lexile only to discover that they have lots of difficult vocabulary or use figurative language that make the book far too difficult for my readers. Reading the book will help you to have meaningful conversations with your book club groups and to make certain the book will be adequate for the standards you are teaching. If you don't have time to read a new book, consider choosing a book that you have previously read.

Need materials to use with your book club groups that support your reading standards? Check out my Book Club Bundle by clicking on the picture below.


You can read more about how I organize my book clubs by reading my blog post Literature Circles Made Easy. Click on the photo below.






10 Upper Elementary Pinners 2 Follow

I wanted to share this post that I wrote for iTeach 3rd.


I don't know what teachers did before Pinterest! If I am being real honest, Pinterest was my primary source of professional development  during my first year of teaching! Pinterest is very visual, full of ideas, and incredibly addicting! Save yourself some time on Pinterest by following pinners that are pinning valuable ideas (not just products), pin often and pin about the grade level that you teach. Here are 10 pinners that you need to follow if you teach grades 3-6.

(Click on their logo to be directed  directly to their Pinterest page.)


Sorry about the shameless plug for my own Pinterest boards, but I really am proud of the thousands of hours that I have spent collecting the greatest ideas and blog posts! My boards just got a big facelift.

My favorite boards: iTeach Third and Classroom Tips & Ideas.


If you are not following Rachel Lynette yet, you need to follow her NOW! I'll wait.... WOW, right?!

My favorite boards: A+ Teaching Tips and Minds in Boom Guest Posts.


Kristin is a prolific pinner. If there is a great idea out there- you can find it on Kristin's boards! She clearly spends lots of time looking for great ideas to share and I appreciate that.

My favorite boards: Classroom Management & Organization and 3rd Grade Math.



Jenn must spend all day on Pinterest! Her boards are jam packed with ideas!



I just love how neat and organized all of Melissa's boards are! She has some unique boards too.

My favorite boards: Teaching Critical Thinking and Problem Solving and Technology & Digital Citizenship.


Ashleigh teaches 3rd grade and so her pins are always so relevant to my classroom

My favorite boards: Classroom Management & Organization and Teacher Fashion on a Teacher Salary.



Mary has a HUGE collection of pins for every topic! I like that the focus is on upper elementary and I don't have to dig through Kindergarten posts.

My favorite boards: Classroom Tips & Tricks and Classroom Organization Ideas.


Kelly has a few amazing collaborative boards. That means that she has lots of awesome teachers pinning on her boards. It leads to some fantastic ideas!

My favorite boards: Teaching Upper Elementary and Creative Classroom Pics.



Jodi from Clutter-Free Classroom has over 150 Pinterest boards! I love how she organizes her boards so that the current holiday or season is right at the top. It makes it easy to find the ideas that I need for right now.

My favorite boards: Classroom Organization and Classroom Management.


Blair Turner has sensational boards for the upper elementary teacher. I love all of the blog posts that she pins!

My favorite boards: One Community at a Time and One Anchor Chart at a Time.


Looking for even more AMAZING pinners to follow? Don't forget to follow the boards of the 10 collaborators of this blog. They are all such talented third grade teachers who share amazing ideas with others! Click HERE for links to their Pinterest boards, blogs and other social media.

Do you teach upper elementary and have a Pinterest board? Leave a link in the comments so that we can all follow you!