Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: 2017

My ELA Block: Reading Centers

I love having reading centers that simple to prep, consistent and focused on growing my students' love for reading!

Welcome back for the second part of my ELA blog post series! If you missed the first post about my reading whole group lessons, you can click HERE to get caught up.

Today I am sharing all about my reading center routines and activities.

Let me start by reminding you of my entire ELA block schedule.

ELA schedule

Center Schedule

I used to meet with four leveled groups every single day. On paper that gave me 15 minutes with each group. But it really didn't. When you figure in all of the transitions, putting away materials and getting out new materials- I was really only meeting with students for about 12 minutes. That just wasn't nearly enough time to read, dig deep in the text and have meaningful discussions. I constantly felt rushed and stressed.

So, I went to meeting with only two of my groups per day. It was a serious AHA moment and it made my reading groups so much more meaningful. By meeting with only two groups, I was able to have 30 minutes with them. It is still the same amount of minutes as meeting with them every day for 15 minutes- except it isn't. With less transitions, I am actually getting a few extra minutes with each group. We can actually read, dig and discuss all in one meeting!

Here is a look at what my center schedule looked like:

I didn't do groups on Fridays because I used the time for long social studies and science lessons.

I had a larger class and so I needed to have four groups. If you have a smaller class, you might be able to have just three groups. Since you would only have one group scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday, you have an extra chunk of time where you are not meeting with anyone. This would actually give you time to do individual reading conferences, provide intervention, do testing and/or pull your lowest learners back for an additional group time.

Center Activities

I don't do the Daily Five. I know that many people do, but I found it to be way to much prep, wasted time doing the status of the class and a lack of students just focused on good books. If Daily Five works for you, go for it!

Here is a look at the activities my students did during reading centers.

Meet with the Teacher

During my meet the teacher time, I would continue practicing the skill that was introduced during my whole group lesson.

Instead of using the leveled readers that came with my curriculum (which my students found boring), I used book clubs during our guided group time. I was able too use high interest chapter books to help practice reading standards while encouraging my students' love for reading.

Each of my reading groups had a different chapter book based on their needs and reading level. We would spend the majority of our group time chorally reading from the book. During the last 5-10 minutes, we would have a discussion or fill out a graphic organizer that targeted our reading standard that week.

You can grab my book club graphic organizers HERE.

It was really so easy to practice the standards using "real" books. I would teach literature standards during first and fourth quarter and teach informational standards during second and third quarter. My book clubs would read fiction books when we were working on literature standards and nonfiction when we were focused on informational standards.

You can read more about my book clubs by clicking HERE.

Read to Self

My students loved the read to self center! They get excited to have a big chunk of time to relax and read anything that they want.

My only rules are that they cannot go to the classroom library during center time (or they will spend their whole time there and not reading) and I should never see their eyes because they are always on their book. They can read anything they want and they can read anywhere that they want.

This center is all about letting your students love books!

Respond to Reading

It is important that my students learn to write about what they are reading. They need to be able to use text evidence to support their claims.

I also need a grade to enter in the grade book for reading!

My students are given a reading menu each week. The menu has questions that are suitable for fiction and non fiction books. The variety of questions means that my students can always find one question that they feel they understand, have the skills to answer and can respond with the book they have been reading during read to self time.

My students are required to choose one question each week. They have plenty of time to write a quality response with evidence. They have a checklist and even a rubric to reference when they are editing.

You can read more about how I teach my students to respond to text HERE.


I was lucky enough to have a small group of Chromebooks in my classroom.

My school required students to do iReady during this time. I have to be honest... my kids didn't like the program much, especially the reading. The lessons were VERY long.

I sometimes let them use Moby Max and they loved that. Epic is another option.

I love that the technology center gave me the ability to check the reports to hold students accountable without having more papers to grade. #win

Posting the Schedule

You will need a simple way to post your reading center schedule so students have a reference. I think that it is important that the schedule is easy to change so that groups can be fluid and students can easily be switched to different groups when necessary. 

I simply have a poster for each group. Their schedule is typed at the bottom. I laminate the poster and then use dry erase marker or vis a vis marker to write student names. It is super simple, but works perfectly!

You can grab my free poster template by clicking HERE.

I love having reading centers that simple to prep, consistent and focused on growing my students' love for reading!

I love that my reading centers are super easy to prep. At the beginning of the quarter, I copy reading menus and book club graphic organizers for the entire quarter. That's it. I also love that the centers stay the same all year. I don't have to waste time teaching new activities every week. And most importantly, I love that students spend so much time reading books. That is what it is all about!

Be sure to check back next week for my post about teaching vocabulary!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

My ELA Block: Reading Whole Group Lessons

Can I be really honest with you? Don't judge me, but I really hated teaching reading, writing and grammar during my first few years of teaching. I dreaded my ELA block every day. I found it boring to teach! I LOVE to read and write, but I felt like my lessons were causing my kids to hate all things ELA related. It was depressing!

Fast forward a few years and I can honestly say that I am totally motivated to teach amazing ELA lessons. I am no expert! I don't have all of the answers. But I am super excited to share what I did to make ELA more fun to teach and more engaging and effective for my third graders.

Let's take a look at my ELA block! 
Today, I am sharing about my reading whole group lessons. I will be adding additional parts throughout the month!
Part Two: Reading Centers
Part Three: Vocabulary
Part Four: Language
Part Five: Writing

My ELA Schedule

Here is a look at my entire ELA schedule. 

I know that I might have more time than some of you. I worked hard to create that time in my schedule! One thing that really helped was not having full math and ELA blocks on Fridays. I use Friday to do assessments and tons of social studies and science. I don't teach these subjects Monday-Thursday and so the long blocks on Friday easily make up for that. Plus, there is tons of ELA mixed into science and social studies.

Whole Group Reading

My whole group reading is not very traditional. I am just NOT the kind of teacher who can stand in front of the class and read a PowerPoint presentation to them. I am also not the kind of teacher who loves the basal textbook. My school required us to use it. And I used it. I used it to collect dust bunnies on my book shelf. 😂 But that is our little secret!

I used my whole group time to read aloud to my third graders. They would eat their snack and take restroom breaks while I read. The fact that they loved the books so much meant that they were nice and quick with their restroom break!

My school had a pacing guide that broke apart the reading standards and I had a skill that I was required to focus on each week. I used my read aloud to start discussions related to the focus skill. Let me give you an example: If my focus was character traits, I would read for a while (because that is the best part) and then stop and ask, "What word would you use to describe the type of person ______ is? I don't want words to describe what he looks like. I want words that describe his personality." I let a few students share answers and I close by saying, "Words that describe someone's personality are called character traits." BOOM!

The next day, before I start reading, I might say, "Whisper to your partner to tell them what a character trait is." Then I will repeat my definition from the day before. I will read and then we can  take a minute to discuss the character traits of another one of the characters in the book.

This type of intro mini lesson can be done for just about every standard that I had to teach. All of the literature standards can be taught with any fiction book and the majority of the informational standards could be taught with a non fiction book (such as Magic Treehouse research guides).

Using a read aloud chapter book for my whole group time really allowed me to introduce new authors, genres and series to my students. It encouraged their love for reading and, for me, that is what it is all about!

If you want to see some of my favorite books, check out THIS blog post.

I know that my students will need more practice with the skills, but I also know that I will be meeting with them in guided groups. During that time we will have more discussions and time to write.

I hope that this gives you a little glimpse into my whole group reading time!

Are you ready to check out the next post in the ELA series? Click HERE to read about my reading centers. 

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

5 Mistakes that Teachers Make When Teaching Vocabulary

Raise your hand if teaching vocabulary is a tad scary for you. Now put it down before strangers think you are losing it! 

Vocabulary instruction is tricky. We know that our kids need better vocabularies, but actually making it happen is not easy.

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of years learning about vocabulary and teaching others how to improve vocabulary instruction in the classroom. I have noticed five common mistakes that teachers are making.

Let me preface by saying that I am guilty of every one of these mistakes at one time or another! We are in this together!

Mistake #1: Not Teaching Vocabulary

There are still tons of classrooms where vocabulary is not explicitly taught. Students might be given a list of words or have some sort of center where they work with words. That's all fine and dandy, but that is NOT teaching vocabulary. 

To truly develop a good vocabulary, students need guided lessons. They need instant feedback and corrections when they are using the words incorrectly. Vocabulary cannot just be something that they do on their own. They need you!

Mistake #2: Only Teaching Domain Specific Words

There are three different tiers of vocabulary words.

Tier One: These are words that students don't need to be taught because they already know them when they come to school. Examples: cup, baby, happy

Tier Two: These are high frequency words that students do not already know, but will likely see in grade level text. Examples: frigid, grasp, obsolete

Tier Three: These are content specific words that pertain to a specific subject. Examples: dividend, photosynthesis, compass

Many teachers spend time with tier 3 words during their math, science and social studies instruction. Perfect! That is exactly where those words should be taught. 

But if those are the only vocabulary words that you are teaching, then your kids are really missing out! The words that they need to improve their reading comprehension and test scores are actually the tier two words.

Mistake #3: Teaching Obscure Words

I am going to say this and I hope that no one is offended.... 

Just because a word appears in your reading curriculum does not mean that it is a word that belongs in your vocabulary lessons.

Some of those words are obscure and very specific to that particular story. One story from my reading curriculum was about cowboys. One of the vocabulary words was "chaps." It is a great word to learn when learning about cowboys. But unless they read westerns, students aren't likely to run across that word in other grade level texts.

Don't waste your time with obscure words. Focus on words that students will see and be able to use over and over again.

Mistake #4: Relying on Dictionaries

This is a pet peeve for me. I am so sad when a teacher's vocabulary instruction is simply telling students to look up their words in the dictionary.

Words in a dictionary often have many different definitions and even parts of speech. Many of the definitions are very complicated and use the vocabulary word in the definition. Students usually just choose the shortest definition to write down. 

This is a waste of time, confuses students and teaches them to dislike vocabulary! Please don't do it! I beg you!

Mistake #5: Not Making Vocabulary Fun

I remember  disliking vocabulary when I was young. It was boring. I didn't feel like I was getting much out of it.

If your kids are bored, they won't remember the words that you are teaching. 

I am not saying that you have to be a circus clown and entertain them with a show during vocabulary. I just think that instruction should mix in some drawing, sharing, games, etc. Make students excited to be word detectives. Make them look forward to this time. 

If you are in need of some game ideas, check out THIS post for some fun and free games to play with any kind of vocabulary words.

So what now?

Are you thinking, "Jamie, this is all. fine and dandy. I make these mistakes, but I have no idea HOW to fix my vocabulary instruction!" I am not going to leave you high and dry. 

I created this FREE video that explains exactly how I transformed my vocabulary instruction into something more meaning fun and engaging. It's so simple!


Related Posts

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Fun Ways to Practice Classroom Procedures

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

Can you believe that the back to school season is already upon us?! While you are decorating your classroom and printing math centers, I think it is very important that you take some time and think about how you will go about teaching and practicing classroom procedures.

The number one thing you can do to guarantee a successful school year is to spend LOTS of time teaching classroom procedures. But, that can get super boring!

You wanna laugh? It was my first year of teaching and I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. NONE! I wrote all every single classroom procedure into a handbook for my third graders. It was five pages, 12-point font, front and back. We spent the first couple of days reading and discussing the handbook. Students were falling asleep. It was awful! I owe those sweet kiddos a huge apology.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

 Teaching and practicing procedures does NOT have to be boring! In fact, if you make it fun, students are more likely to remember the procedures! (Plus, they won’t fall asleep and get drool all over the desks.)

Let be share some fun activities and freebies that will making teaching procedures much more engaging!

Modeling What NOT to Do

This might sound crazy to you, but a fun way to practice those procedures is to have students model what NOT to do!

After you have explained a procedure, choose a student who you suspect may have challenges the procedure. Ask the student to show the class how NOT to do the procedure you have just taught.

“Johnny, show the class how NOT to get books from the classroom. Make sure you do everything you SHOULDN’T do.” Johnny will love this. He will be getting attention that he probably wants. The class will love this because it is downright funny. Let them laugh. It will encourage Johnny.

When Johnny is done, make a list of the things he did wrong. (Examples: talking, running, putting the books in the wrong place, not being careful with the books, taking a ton of books, etc.)

Now, tell Johnny to show the class how to do the activity perfectly. He will now model it correctly.

When he is finished, make a list (or discuss) the things he did correctly.

And you say, “Johnny, you did great. Now I know that you will always be able to correctly get books from our classroom library. You just proved that to me! Thank you! I hope the rest of the class can do it just as well as you!”

Johnny is proud. And now he has no excuse to not follow the rules.

You can choose to repeat this activity with multiple students, but no need for every student to do it. I suggest looking for those kiddos who you suspect may have the most difficulty following the rules.

The activity can be repeated with other procedures during the first couple of weeks of school!

Students do the Teaching

At the beginning of the year, I tend to lose my voice because I am doing so much of the talking. I decided to ditch the traditional “I talk. They listen.”

I do have to do a little explaining. But, once they have been told the procedures, it is time for them to do the teaching.

Split the class into small groups (2-4 students per group). Assign each group a different procedure (that you already covered). Students should work together to create a poster or PowerPoint to reteach the procedure to the class.

There are several advantages to this activity:
  • Students are working in groups and practicing teamwork. This helps to build a positive classroom culture.
  • Students are being creative and that will help them to remember the procedures. We remember things that we teach!
  • You are able to get a glimpse into their speaking, listening and group work skills. This is handy information to have as you start planning future lessons.
  • You get a little break to sip your cold coffee.

Procedure Board Games

I like to have my students play procedure board games because it’s the perfect way to have fun while reviewing the classroom rules.

PLUS, they are practicing how to play games in our classroom! We will play games throughout the year and it is important they practice getting materials out, using materials properly, playing fair, and having good sportsmanship.

All you need are some cards with classroom procedure questions and a simple board game. I suggest Candyland, Checkers, Connect Four or Chutes and Ladders. These are games that most students already know how to play and this allows them to focus on the procedure cards more.\

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

 Students will take turns answering a procedure question from the cards. If they are correct, they will take their normal turn in the game. If they are not correct, their turn is skipped.

For example, if we are using Candyland, and the student gets the question correct, they will pick a Candyland card and move their game piece to the correct color on the board.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

 Students love it and it’s  a great way for them to make new friends too!

Find Someone Who

This is such a simple activity and I love it because it gets students out of their desks and talking to each other.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

Each student needs a Find Someone Who board. They will walk around the room and find someone who can explain the classroom procedures listed on the board. When they find someone who can accurately explain the procedure, the person will write their name in the box.

The catch is that you have to find a different person for each box! They have to talk to lots of different people in the class.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

Are you thinking: “Jamie, this is all fine and dandy, but I am busy. I don’t know exactly what procedures I need to teach. I don’t have time to make game cards or a Find Someone Who board. Can’t you just do it for me?”

Yes! Yes, I can! And I did!

I made you a checklist of procedures to teach, game cards and a Find Someone Who board! And it is all free!

Use this sign up form and I will send all of those things to you right away.

Using your personal email address and adding my address (Jamie@notsowimpyteacher.com) to your contacts, will help to ensure that you receive the file. If you don’t get the file today, check your junk mail.

Related Blog Posts

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Flexible Seating: Your Questions Answered

Hello! I'm Kelli from the Tenacious Teacher and I'm thrilled to be sharing on Not So Wimpy Teacher's blog about my experience rolling out flexible seating!

I took the plunge (it was more like a graceful belly flop) last year and blogged about some things I realized both here and here. However, today I'm sharing some answers to the "But what about" questions that hold people back from trying it. If you are someone still on the fence, take a read to see if this can ease your mind!

But what about the desks? Do I get rid of all of them?

I originally wanted all my desks out of my room but due to furniture options in my school, I didn't have access to the tables I wanted. However, I think I loved it even more having a mixture of table top options. Remember, flexible seating shouldn't mean that everyone is now sitting at a table with a yoga ball... because that is not what all students prefer. It's about having options. So I kept about 16 desks. I had one student who was on the spectrum and she was allowed to stay in that spot the whole year and even use the inside of her desk because that is what worked best for her. The other desks though stayed closed to students. Here are some perks for keeping desks:

You can use them for storage. 

We have science groups, so each science group kept all their materials inside one of the desks. When it was science time, the getter would go and get the materials out of the desk and return them at the end. It didn't take up other valuable countertops. Also, I keep copies of book club books organized in the desks, art projects, etc. There's a lot you can do with them!

You can create different sized groups. 

I had two groups of 5, one group of 4 and 1 group of 2. Some students preferred not to sit next to a lot of other people, so they preferred the spot with 2 desks. I could easily pull desks out of groups too (or my students for that matter if they wanted an "island").

So if it were me... I'd say no, don't get rid of all the desks. They can be a great asset and work best for some students.

But what about money? How do people afford all those "options?"

I'm with you on this one. It can be very easy to see the beautiful classroom spaces on Instagram and think you need to have fancy seats and table spots. And yes, it would be wonderful to have! But try to ease into buying different options. Again, you don't know what will work best for you and your students until you jump in. So spending a bunch of money on things that might not get much use will leave a negative impact on the experience (and your wallet). You are looking for different options to offer your students and they don't all have to cost a lot of money. I got a 2 wobble stools which were a little pricey but I only got 2 to start. I got 2 low floor seats, 4 yoga balls, 2 reclining chairs, and some of the IKEA stools. I also kept lots of normal chairs in stacks around the room because honestly, a lot of students prefer those depending on the task they are doing (reading vs writing vs math). I also had some floor pillows already and a bean bag which was a popular spot. I'd love to add some taller Hokki stools, but they are expensive, so we'll see in time. Also, I look at garage sales all summer long to see if I can find anything to snag for the classroom. Last year, I found a toy box on the side of the road for free in great condition (see right). It became one of my students' favorite spots with some cheap cushions from Walmart and IKEA (that can also be taken on the floor if kids want). Not to mention, I had storage for extra homebases in case I got more students during the school year. The take away- pick a few options to start and slowly add more as you go. 

But what about all their stuff? Where do you keep it all?

I think it's important to say that I still struggle with this one. And you may too. I wrote a blog post that shared this. There was a time early on (like week 2) of doing flexible seating last year that I thought I made a huge mistake and maybe I should abandon it all. But I had already invested money, time and effort into it, not to mention working with my students on establishing rules, routines,  expectations, etc. So I said I would give it at least until winter break. But what was making me have doubts was storing all their stuff.  The key is to spread it out so that you avoid traffic jams. But they have a lot of stuff: folders, notebooks, planners, writing tools, library books... So here's some of my solution.

Create a "homebase" system.

I really loved these drawers from Target and I hate to report they discontinued them for 2017. Which I'm mourning because my class size is increasing and I need at least 2 more. So I'll be problem solving myself. But that reminds me of a good point: be flexible yourself. You're first solution to a problem may not work and it's ok to try something else. Anyways, back to my point.

I used the drawers for reading. They kept their reading notebook in there along with 2-3 library books and their personal whiteboards. That's it. On top, they had a cup for extra pencils, their editing pens, highlighters, expo markets, etc. If they ever needed a new pencil, they checked their homebase first. We also kept their scissors here, a small stapler, a pencil sharpener and erasers. Students also left their water bottles here at times too. They worked great because I spread them around the room and only 3 kids would be at one homebase. 

Use bins either on countertops, shelves, or in cupboards

So what about their other stuff? I used the IKEA boxes at the homebases too that kept their writing and math notebooks. However, IKEA changed the size so folders didn't fit. This drove me bonkers and it's what forced me to invest in larger boxes this year (which I'll share about over on my blog closer to the school year starting). Folders we kept in our "book bags" which I had from IKEA from my first year of teaching- and not one has busted on me yet. Students kept their nightly folder, their planner, journal, and other folders in there. It wasn't perfect, but it got us through the year. Students hung their bags on their chair if they had a normal chair or hung them on hooks on the curtain. Since I plan on doing flexible seating again next year, I'm allowing myself to spend some more money on adjusting some things with material storage. But DON'T feel the need to do it your first go around. Ask your students for solutions since it impacts them directly!

But what about Meet the Teacher Night? How do I set up and inform parents?

This one I hadn't thought about until a few weeks before. At our school, we invite students to come meet their teacher the week before school starts. I started to panic as I didn't know how to properly "roll" it out. Especially to parents. Here's a few tips that may help:

Put student names on post-its for the night.

You could do this a few ways. You could put them out randomly at a spot so when they came in, they felt like they had a "space" for them. When I've done it this way, I let them know that these will not be their permanent spots- just a spot to claim for the first day. This year, I'm going to do it a bit differently. I'll have their names on a post-it on the board. When they come in at open house, they can pick the spot they'd like for the first day. This will help avoid a slightly uncomfortable issue that happened last year at open house where a parent was NOT happy that their child was not at a traditional desk. I can respect their opinion, but I believe that students, with guidance, can make the best choices for themselves. Which is why I also leave a spot on the post-it for students to tell me what name they'd like to go by. Sometimes they have a nickname (Sam for Samantha) and their parents want to call them one way, but they'd prefer another. I personally will use the name my student wants me to use and allow them to voice that at open house, so this post-it can help with that. 

Have a letter explaining it to students and families. 

You don't have to get super specific, but let them know why the room looks the way it does and how it may look over the year. Once the year got rolling, I explained more in our newsletter and had students sign a contract and have their parents sign it too that went over the expectations in class we discussed.

Have a supply drop off plan.

I had little signs that told them what to leave at their table spot (and how) and what to put in our communal bins. I did have 2 that opened the desk and put stuff in, but we fixed that on the first day of school. I just had them stack their notebooks and folders and then on the first day of school, we put them in their new homes around the room. Having materials scattered around the room (but in an organized way) meant no one ever "lost" thing materials, materials didn't get damaged, and we used our transition time as a "social" transition time to let them interact socially a bit while they put their things away and get ready for our next lesson. I found giving them that 3-5 minutes to be social at a transition between lessons (I'm talking between math and writing and reading) had them prepared and focused for the next one. 

Don't feel the need to set out all the "goods" yet. 

Because we haven't gone over expectations yet on how to use all these options, I don't have them all available at open house night. I put the yoga balls in my class bathroom out of sight so they don't even see them until after we model how to use them... same with the wobble stools. Most of the chair options at open house are just stools or normal chairs. In my explanation letter, it discusses that other options will be introduced during the first week.

Honestly, I've really loved making the switch as it has challenged me in many ways. You have to have strong management skills, high and clear expectations for your students, and some flexibility yourself in order for it to be successful. My best advice is to listen to your gut and involve your students, as it impact their learning and experience at school and that should be your top priority.

You can connect with Kelli on her blog or her Facebook page!