Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

A Look at my Students' Writing Notebook

Check out these tips and ideas for putting together student writing notebooks and keeping them organized.

I am often asked about the notebook that my students used for writing workshop. After all, having the right materials helps our students to be organized and more successful. 

So here is a look at my notebook and answers to the questions that I am asked most often...

Type of Notebook

I tried everything: spiral notebooks, binders, folders and composition books! They all have their positives and their negatives. Always use what works best for YOU!

I personally like the composition books the best. They are more durable than folders and spiral notebooks, but they are cheaper and take up less space than binders. 

The first time that I used composition books, it was a bit of a mess. Students had multiple stories written right after one another and no room for revisions. After that year, I decided to add dividers to the notebooks to fix that issue.

Dividers & Cover

I don't think it really matters what type of paper you print the cover on. I typically have students use glue sticks to adhere the cover to their notebook. If you feel your students might need it, you could attach the cover with some rubber cement. 

The dividers are included in all of my writing units. I print them on cardstock so that they are more durable. On one of the first days of a writing unit (it's written into my unit lesson plans), students cut out the dividers, put them in their notebooks and color them. They love personalizing their notebooks! It gets them excited for our new unit.


I often gets asked how many pages I put in each section. I don't count! We glue the resource divider on the first page. We estimate about 1/3 of the way into the notebook and add the masterpiece divider. Then we estimate about 2/3 of the notebook and put the last divider. It's not perfect, but it works!

How many notebooks?

I personally love to have a new notebook for each quarter. We did a different writing genre unit each quarter and new notebooks kept students organized. It also helped students to differentiate between the different types of writing that we covered. Therefore, I loved to have a total of four composition notebooks for each student.

When we completed a unit, I would store the notebooks in book boxes on a shelf. Students were able to access these and write more stories as a fast finisher activity the rest of the year. Great review!

This is not always possible! If you only have one notebook for each student, go with it! 

Making Room for Revisions


If you have watched my writing videos or used my writing units, you know that students will be writing a masterpiece and then spending a lot of time revising that story as you teach different strategies. There are a few things that I do to help ensure my students have space for these revisions:
  • Write on just one side of the paper. If students have a large addition to make to their masterpiece story during revisions, they will be able to use the backside of the paper.
  • Skip lines. This is so helpful! It makes it easy to make a carrot symbol and add in a better word or even an extra sentence during revisions.
  • Draw a vertical line down the paper about 2/3 of the way across. Don't write in that last third of the paper during drafting. Now students can easily use that column for adding extra details when they revise.

Don't forget that revising and editing are going to be a bit messy no matter what. If you were to look at the manuscript from a professional author, you would see markings all over the paper. As long as students know what their markings mean, it's ok! 

I hope that this gives you a better idea of how I used the notebook during writing workshop!

Check out these tips and ideas for putting together student writing notebooks and keeping them organized.


Writing Resources & Freebies


Do you want to know more about how I taught writing? I made a series of free videos that include tips for mini lessons, independent writing, conferences, grading and so much more. Click HERE to check out the videos.

Would you like some free lesson plans and anchor charts for the first week of writing workshop? How about lots of tips for improving your writing instructions? Click HERE to read more about my free email course and get yourself signed up.

Would you like daily lesson plans, ready to use anchor charts, mentor texts and everything else you need to teach writing this year? Click HERE to check out my writing units.

Writing workshop curriculum with lesson plans, anchor charts, mentor text and more!


Have a Not So Wimpy day,



Simple and Free Ways to Review Grammar Skills

Simple and free activities for spiral review of grammar skills

Setting aside 10 to 15 minutes daily for grammar instruction is important in the elementary classroom. Using the resources from Not So Wimpy Teacher's grammar bundle, I have been able to easily implement this practice in my classroom. You can read more about this routine by clicking HERE.


As the year progresses, I like to use easy and no prep ways to spiral review these grammar skills. Here are four simple ways that you can add grammar and language into your day.

Price of Admission

This is a simple way to review any skill. This does need to be prepped once, but then you will be able to use it all year with little work on your end.

I printed THIS free sign, laminated it, and stapled it by my classroom door in the hallway. Then, I used a dry-erase marker to write a question I wanted my students to answer as they entered my classroom.


One way you can use it for grammar is by writing a descriptive sentence on it. Then as the students enter, you can ask each student to name the different words that represent the part of speech you give them. You can ask what the noun in the sentence is, what the verb is, what the adjective is, etc.

You can also keep it simple by writing a question on the poster. For example, "What is an adjective?" Or, "Name 3 verbs."

I love that this gets students answering questions in a non-threatening way. If they get it wrong, it's ok! Quickly correct them, and try it again tomorrow!

Attention-Getter

This is such a simple way to review skills, and requires absolutely no prep at all!

We all use attention-getters in our classroom.  When we need our class to stop what they are doing and focus their attention on the teacher, we usually have a call out that we use.

Well, sometimes we need to freshen up our routine.  How about after a week of studying a skill, you tell your class at the start of the day what the special call-out is. You could tell your class that when you say, "Person, place, or thing," they repeat with, "that's a noun!" You can flip it so that you say the part of speech, and students call out the definition.

Be as creative with this as you want! Add the rhythm to well-known chant. Think of the popular sport's chants such as, "Let's go Wildcats!" And the class calls back, "We are number one!" Keep the rhythm but change it now to, "What's a noun," and the class calls back with, "person, place, or thing!"

Be sure they know that all rules still apply. So after they call-back with the phrase of the day, they should freeze, put their attention on you, and be ready to listen.

This is a great way to review a skill before an assessment!   

Lining Up

This is similar to an exit ticket, but is a quick verbal response and is used anytime. It's perfect for the day that you have five extra minutes before lunch or specials.

Start by calling out your question, then say a student's name that you want to answer. After they answer, they can line up.

Be sure to mix in lots of different questions, this way you are requiring your students to listen to each other and you. Examples might be, "Tell me an example of an adjective, it must be a different example than your classmates used." After 3 or 4 students have answered and lined up, change it up! "What is not an adjective?"

It's ok if you run out of time and don't get through your whole class. It's simply a review! 

As You Read

This is my favorite way to review because it allows me to showcase great language an author uses in their text. I love reading aloud to my class, and most of the time, it purely is a simple read aloud just to read and enjoy a book.

However, I always run across something that really needs to be highlighted. For example, students always use the same verbs, so I purposely bring attention to unusual verbs that they can use in their writing. Simply stop after a good word is used and ask your class what the verb was in that sentence.

You can also have your read aloud be more interactive. Have your students take out a piece of paper and draw a web on it. In the middle they can label the category with the grammar skill you would like them to listen for. Then, as you read, they can branch off the web and write in the words they heard as you read that match the grammar skill. When you are done reading, consider having students turn to a shoulder partner and read their answers to each other. I have my students lightly color over the similar words that they both wrote down.

This is quick and so easy to implement. It gets students talking and interacting. This would then be a great resource in their writing folders.

Simple and free activities for spiral review of grammar skills

It can be so easy to implement a review of any skill throughout your day. These are just a few simple ways to add language into your daily instruction without boring worksheets!

Related Resources and Freebies


Grab THESE free grammar posters to use in your classroom!

FREE Grammar Posters


Would you like to learn more about my daily grammar routine? Check out THIS free video.



Are you looking for a grammar curriculum that is easy to implement and engaging for students? Click HERE to check out my grammar units.

Full Year of Grammar Activities


Have a Not So Wimpy day!




Supplies Every Teacher Needs

What supplies does a new teacher need for her classroom? What would be a good gift for a student teacher or a new teacher graduate?

Whether you are a first year teacher or a veteran teacher, there are certain supplies that will make your teaching year so much easier. These would also be great gifts for student teachers and new teacher graduates!

I give my own personal opinions and preferences throughout the post. My feeling won't be hurt if we don't agree on each item. 😁

If you want to do a little shopping, I have linked each picture to Amazon or the website where I purchase each of these items.

1. Planner


I know that lots of people are in love with a digital lesson planner. If that is you, I highly recommend Plan Book. It's very inexpensive, super use friendly and allows you to create templates that will save you time.

If you are a bit old school like me, you might prefer to write your plans. It's just the way that my mind works best! I LOVE Plum Paper planners. They are super cute, durable and less expensive than many other custom planners. The best part is that you get to customize the planner with your schedule so that you are not writing in the subjects and times every week.

2. Pencil Sharpener


Every teacher must have a quality pencil sharpener. Seriously, it is a MUST!

I love this pencil sharpener. It is the only one that held up for me. Others would only last a few months. 

Even with a quality sharpener, make sure that you are only using it for traditional yellow pencils. The cute painted pencils, colored pencils and crayons will ruin the pencil sharpener pretty quick.

3. Stapler


I am a stapler snob. I believe that everyone should have a One-Touch Stapler. They work so much better than every other stapler out there!

The stapler doesn't get clogged often, can be used with just one hand and does not require a muscle builder to put staples into surfaces as hard as a wall.

4. Paper Cutter


Having a good paper cutter will just save you time. You can cut through a stack of paper at one time. I could even cut through lamination with mine!   

5. Personal Laminator


It was my third year teaching and I had a parent volunteering to cut lamination for me. Woot! 

She asked me, "Why don't you have your own laminator?" Ummmmm....why don't I?! I guess I just assumed that they would be expensive. I was wrong. They are super affordable. 

I have had my Scotch laminator for many years and it gets a crazy amount of use. It's still going strong. 

Having your own laminator gives you more flexibility. You can procrastinate more because you don't have to rely on the school laminator. It's life changing.

Don't forget to get some decent laminating sleeves! I always order Scotch brand ones from Amazon.

6. Bag


You are going to need a durable bag for carrying things home and back to school. Plus, you'll want it to be cute! Obviously!

Lots of teachers like Thirty-One bags. I really don't. They are big and bulky to carry. Plus, totes make my shoulders hurt.

I much prefer to use a backpack for comfort. That doesn't mean it can't be cute. My very favorite backpacks are Vera Bradley. They have tons of pockets for my always growing pen collection and they come in lots of beautiful patterns. You can even have them customized with your name or monogram!

7. Astrobrights Paper


If pretty colored paper makes you smile, then you were meant to be a teacher!

But seriously, I use Astrobrights paper all the time! It's great for color coding group work or differentiated work. It's fantastic for centers, crafts and notes home.

Some schools may provide this, but most don't.

8. Color Printer


Some teachers are lucky and their school allows them to print materials on their color printer. Most teachers are very limited. It is SOOO nice to have your own printer to use.

Everything does not NEED to be printed in color, but sometimes it's just nice! 

Something to check into is HP Instant Ink program. It's a great way to get more affordable ink delivered to your door before you have a chance to run out. Use THIS link to get a free month of ink for free!

I hope that these ideas help you with your teacher supply back to school shopping! 

Have a Not So Wimpy day,


Tips for Prepping Center Materials


If you have been following me for long, you know how much I loved using centers in my classroom! Math and reading centers are engaging and make differentiation a piece of cake. (If you are looking for more information about math centers, you can check out THIS blog post or THIS video series.)

My math centers for grades 2-5 are very popular and I have just started to release a line of 3rd grade reading centers. Teachers love having the activities prepped and ready to go for their students. 


That being said, I get questions every day about prepping centers. I thought that it might help everyone if I publicly shared my favorite tips. Enjoy!

Printing


Some teachers have trouble getting their printers to print centers. Either they get weird lines through the centers or their printer just has trouble flattening the file. The reason is that the centers have lots of layers and images on them. This can especially be tough on older printers. No worries! There are simple fixes for this!

First, before you even go to print your centers, update your Adobe Reader. Adobe has updates like a jillion times a day. (I'm only being slightly sarcastic here.) I set my computer to automatically update. I know this is tougher at school. My school Adobe was ALWAYS out of date.

Next, set your printer to print as an image. This will make the file flatten faster and your printer will like you more. This option is found under the advanced printer setting.


These suggestions fix 99.9% of the printing challenges. If you are part of the unlucky .1% that are still having trouble, I HIGHLY recommend putting in a help ticket with TpT. They have a team of people that are awesome with printer troubleshooting! (Just click on HELP in the top right-hand corner of the TpT home page.)

Paper


I personally print my centers on cardstock. I like them to be thick and durable because I don't want to have to print them again next summer.


That being said, if you have a good laminator, you can get away with printing the centers on regular copy paper.

If you are using the backline option, you might want to consider printing each of the 10 centers on different colors of paper to help keep the center pieces together.

Laminating


I laminate all of my centers. Again, I want them to last more than one year. It's cheaper to laminate now than it is to print and prep new centers every year.

I DO NOT cut out my centers before laminating. I save time and only cut after laminating.

I do have a personal laminator and I think that it works much better than the laminator my school had. The laminating pouches are thicker and so I have never had trouble with the lamination pealing.

Cutting


If you have a good paper cutter, you can save yourself lots of time by cutting the centers with it instead of scissors! 

As you are cutting, you might want to write center numbers on the back of the cards. I think this is especially helpful if you are using the black line version of the centers. I don't do this because I used the color version and my students can tell which centers the pieces belong to based on the background color.

Organizing

I wrote THIS post all about organizing your center materials. I included tons of different options and FREE labels.


I also have THIS video that basically goes through the same ideas if you prefer to watch rather than read.



I hope that these tips are helpful!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!


Start the Year Off Right With Back to School Curriculum Night

Use these tips to plan a back to school curriculum night! The post includes a free PowerPoint!

Teacher communication is a vital part of a classroom's success. A perfect way to start this line of communication at the beginning of the year is at Open House or Curriculum Night.

Every school has a different name for this event.  I am NOT referring to Meet the Teacher, when you open your classroom doors, and meet your students for the first time.

Let's face it, that event can be a little chaotic for families and teachers!  At my school, I felt overwhelmed when a rush of over 40 parents and students, that I did not know, came streaming into my classroom. I am sure that I had families go home exhausted from that event as well. There are lots of ways to prepare for this event in order to feel more organized. To read more about Meet the Teacher ideas, click HERE.

Today, I want to discuss how you can start the year off right with Curriculum Night.

Why Should I Offer Curriculum Night?


Curriculum Night is an opportunity for teachers to explain their expectations, procedures, and curriculum for the year.

I love how Curriculum Night forced me to be organized as well. I had to think through my expectations and procedures in order to have this information ready to present.

This is an opportunity for you to build a relationship with your classroom families. Parents appreciate that you as a teacher are willing to meet them in the evening to discuss the upcoming year. It gives parents an opportunity to ask the questions they may have about your classroom.

True, you might only have four parents show up. Don't get frustrated if this happens. Instead, think of it this way- that will be four families that you will get to know a little better and build a relationship with right away. These might be the four families who are willing to volunteer for you, or send in items for you. Offering this time for them, shows these families that you are dedicated and committed to their children's learning.

What Should I Discuss?


Parents always want to know what the big topics are for the year. This is a great opportunity to tell them what the important standards are for your grade level and what curriculum you will be using to teach it.  Keep it simple, you do not need to mention every standard. That would be long and likely boring. I just mention the big ideas for each quarter.

Parents will also want to know what your homework policy is. This is where parents usually help the most, so lay out your expectations for nightly homework at this time. I also mention websites, apps, or games that families can play at home to help their child be more successful. They may never go to these websites, but at least I offered families a resource!

Another topic I always prefer to discuss at Curriculum Night are my classroom rules.  I want parents to know what my behavior policy is, and what steps I went through before their child was sent home with a behavior note. I also discuss my classroom and school-wide rewards at this time.

Other topics you might include could be your daily schedule, planned field trips, classroom and at-home volunteer opportunities, contact information, communication platforms (Remind, Bloomz, ClassDojo, ClassTag, weekly emails, etc.) and some important notes from your specialist teachers.

How Should I Present This Information?


First, it is important to remember to respect their time. Start when you informed parents you would, and end when you said you would. Let parents know that you value their time and that you prefer to hold all questions until the end, but that you will be available to answer any questions when you are done.

Next, I use a slide show to present my information. This keeps me on topic and reminds me what I wanted to explain. There is nothing like forgetting what you wanted to say in front of a crowd!

Free back to school PowerPoint template!

I don't print anything out for Curriculum Night. Instead, I inform parents that I will email the slide show to everyone later that evening. This way, families that could not make it, still have the information you presented.

I think it is helpful to ask if young children be kept at home if at all possible. If it is not possible, I like to keep out some coloring pages or word searches for children that need to come along. (Search Pinterest for some free ones!)

It is also a good idea to keep out some pens and sticky notes in case parents want to write down a question to come back to at the end. 

Don't forget to thank your families for coming and sharing their children with you for the year. Let them know that you are excited about the new year, that you have loved getting to know their children in the last couple of days, and that you can't wait to see how much growth they will make by the end of the year. Parents love to see the excitement you have for their children. 

Would you like a FREE slide show to help you prepare for Curriculum Night? Click HERE!

Use these tips to plan a back to school curriculum night! The post includes a free PowerPoint!


Have a Not So Wimpy Day!




Apps to Increase Parent Communication

Apps to Increase Parent Communication: Bloomz, Remind, Class DoJo and Class Tag

I am a creature of habit, I have always felt most comfortable using email for parent communication. However, I've come to realize that with smartphones being the norm, a texting feature may be convenient for many families. This summer, I decided to reach out and learn about popular and free parent communication apps for my classroom. I looked into Bloomz, Remind, ClassDojo, and ClassTag. 

There are several similarities with these applications.


  • Each communication tool will send out messages to a whole group, or can be sent to individuals. 
  • Messages, photos, and videos can be shared with each of these. 
  • All of these allow you to share information through your phone, without sharing your phone number and keeping parent information secure. 
  • Families will have instant access across multiple devices, including desktop, iPad, iPhone, and Android. 
  • All users seem to agree that these are all very user-friendly.

Bloomz

Bloomz is a popular parent communication app to use with elementary school teachers.

Bloomz is set up for open dialogue, similar to a Facebook feed. This means that parents can "like" or comment on a message you send out. Teachers have the capability of deleting a comment if needed. Teachers also have the capability of turning off commenting for a post as well.

With Bloomz, you can also create sign-ups for conferences, ask for volunteers, create classroom calendars, and share student portfolios. A behavior management tool has recently been added and can be turned on or off by the teacher.

Teachers also have the ability of enabling parent-parent communication. Parents can chat with each other or as a group.

I like that teachers can enable quiet hours to keep notifications off at certain times of the day.

Many teachers agree that the app is easy to use and prefer this over ClassDojo because there is not a limit to the number pictures you can send though the app. However, many have reported that their messages wouldn't always get to parents and they encountered glitches within the app often. 

Remind

Remind seems to be the easiest and most efficient with users.

Teachers agree that they enjoy being able to send out quick and simple messages. There is an option to enable replies to the teacher's messages, but only the teacher can see the comment.

Many people enjoy the fact that Remind now has a Google Drive option.

Remind does not have options to create sign-ups, calendars, or behavior tracking. A negative feature that teachers seem to not like is that it has a limit of 140 characters per message. 

ClassDojo

ClassDojo is focused more on classroom management and behavior tracking compared to the other apps. Teachers can monitor student behavior by adding or taking away points for behavior. This information can then be shared with parent(s) or guardians.

Teachers also have the ability to send instant messages that can include photos, videos, or documents. However, many teachers have reported that they wish it would send more than one photo at a time. Reportedly, this will be a feature that will be corrected in July of 2018.

Similar to Bloomz, teachers can share student digital portfolios with families. Other unique features of this app include management tools like the group maker and a timer. Teachers can display the app on their board and randomly create groups for different activities, and can display a timer for different activities.

Many teachers have reported that ClassDojo is easier to navigate for families, compared to Bloomz. Others have noted that the behavior management piece can be hard to keep up with throughout the day. Many have moved away from using the behavior management portion, and use the app for the other features.

ClassTag

ClassTag is a newer app on the market for parent communication.

This app has a unique feature that the others do not have. A "Classroom Bank" is included within a section called the Marketplace of your app. Here, teachers can engage with sponsors and earn Class Coins. The Class Coins become payouts to classroom teachers twice a year through PayPal or checks. Teachers can get Class Coins by asking their class members' (parents) to make online purchases through participating retailers/affiliate links within the app. Classrooms can receive 1-3% cash back from online purchases with this feature.  Classrooms will also receive a sponsorship from a company who will advertise a small logo on your home screen. Parent interactions with this link will lead to Classroom Coins as well.

Another interesting feature with ClassTag is the "Stat" section. Here, teachers can see how often parents are interacting with your classroom through ClassTag.

I also like the setting features, which allow teachers to enable or disable parent conversations with other parents, choose whether they will allow parents to create activities and announcements, or choose whether they'd like the classroom directory be shown to parents. Parents can also decide whether they'd like their contact information shared with the class.

Similar to Bloomz, teachers can also easily create sign-ups for conferences or ask for parent volunteers.

The hardest part of using a parent-communication app is getting 100% of your families signed up. A great feature with ClassTag is that it will still send email messages with timely updates and notifications even if they haven't joined the system.

Some negative features with ClassTag is that you can not set up "do not disturb" hours. Users have also reported an increase in ads that pop up when using this app.

Apps to Increase Parent Communication: Bloomz, Remind, Class DoJo and Class Tag


Each of these apps allow the basic instant messaging. Determining what other features you need the most for your classroom will help you decide what app to use for your class.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!




Simple Ways to Celebrate Student Birthdays


Building relationships with your students is often more important than any reading or math skill that we'll teach in our classrooms. When kids know you care, they'll work harder and enjoy school more. One way to strengthen relationships with your students is by recognizing their birthdays. Let them know you care by focusing on their special day! The good news? It doesn't have to cost a dime!

Try these simple ways to celebrate student birthdays.

Read all about it.

Grow your classroom library and celebrate student birthdays by inviting them to bring in an extra copy of their favorite book. Students can write their name and birthday in the front of the book and add their special story to your shelves.

Have the student read their book (or a portion depending on the length) aloud to the class. For struggling readers, you may choose to read to them. Your students' birthdays will be part of your classroom forever while letting them provide their own gift of literacy!


Grab this free birthday letter by clicking HERE.

Sing it loud.

No matter how old kids get, they love hearing happy birthday sung to them. The whole class will love joining in the chorus, and it builds a sense of community. Make sure to join in with the tune and show your kids it's OK to sing and be silly! Consider teaching your students "Happy Birthday" in a different language to promote cultural diversity.

I actually made mine into a cheer!
Teacher: I don't know what I've been told!
(Class echos.)
But _____ just turned ____ years old!
(Class echos.)
Sound off!
(Class echos.)
HAPPY!
(Class echos.)
BIRTHDAY!
(Class echos.)
Everyone: Happy birthday, ________!

Share words of kindness.

This is one of my favorite activities to do on a child's birthday. Write the child's name on a chalk or whiteboard in colored dry erase markers or chalk. While the child sits in front of the board, have each student come up and say something nice about the birthday kid. They will then write their compliment on the board.

When finished, you can take a picture of the child surrounded by positive comments to send home with the student and share with their parent(s) or guardians.

Brag tags.

I love using brag tags all year to motivate and reward my students for meeting academic and behavior goals. You can read more about how I use brag tags HERE.

On a student's birthday, it's fun to give them a special tag! This tag is in my brag tag bundle.


Celebrate the star student.

Star students are not just for PreK and kindergarten. Elementary students love being recognized for simply being a unique individual. What better day to do that than on their birthday?

Invite the birthday girl or boy to bring in something special to them for show and tell or to share a special talent or skill with the class.


Leave your students feeling special and recognized on their birthdays. Remember that some students will not have birthdays on school days. Celebrating half birthdays or other designated days can be just as meaningful with these simple ways to celebrate student birthdays. 

Have a Not So Wimpy day!