Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

4 Reasons to Include Math Journals in Your Classroom

Open ended constructed response math journal prompts ask students to think deeper and explain their thinking!

Math is my absolute favorite subject to teach and I have always had very high expectations of myself and my students.

I don't think it is enough to just memorize a trick or song to solve a math problem. It just doesn't show a deep understanding.

Students should be expected to explain their mathematical thinking! 

Word problems for your math journals

What better way to incorporate this into your classroom than using math journals. Math journal prompts are open ended questions that ask students to explain their strategy or defend their answer.

Math journals can be a great tool for teachers in the classroom and, after students are taught how to correctly use them, they have several benefits.

Math journals show a deeper understanding of math content. 

Students are expected to organize their thinking and write about how they solve mathematical problems. When students are required to write out their steps, they are reviewing and checking their work. They are building a deeper understanding because they aren't just memorizing steps. This is a great reflection and self-assessment opportunity for students.  

Math journals help teachers identify misconceptions. 

Reading through your students' math journals is a great way to discover what misconceptions your students have and reevaluate your instruction for them. If students don't have a clear understanding of the concept, it becomes evident as you read their steps for how they problem solved. 

This becomes a great tool to use for differentiation and reteaching in your small groups.

Math journals incorporate multiple subjects at once.

Giving students the opportunity to write across several subjects is so important. Students learn how to write a specific genre in writing workshop and how to write when responding to written text in reading. They also should write about their mathematical thinking and problem solving strategies. 

Math journals are an excellent way to get extra writing practice in. When you are requiring complete and correct sentence structure, you are working on writing skills. When they explain their thinking, they are working on using evidence to prove their answer. When you require your students to reread their answers, they are working on their fluency. When you require students to check their work for correct spelling and grammar, you are working on editing skills. 

Math journals can be used with any curriculum.

Math journals can be used as a supplement to any curriculum! You can pick and choose the concepts and skills that match your current unit of study. I used Eureka curriculum and I taught students some unique strategies. I could still use open-ended journal prompts because it allows students to use ANY strategy that they want.

Math journal prompts can be used so many different ways that I am certain it can be fit in with any curriculum:
  • Morning Work
  • Math Warm Up
  • Center
  • Small Group
  • Test Prep
  • Exit Ticket
  • Homework
  • Early Finisher

I like to use a little combination of all of the above, but warm up and exit ticket are my favorite uses!

Once math journals become routine, you will find that these are a great resource in your classroom. 

Good news for third grade teachers!

My third grade math journal was one of the very first resources that I ever created for teachers. It was a hit from the start. But over the years, I have learned a few things (and gained a few wrinkles). I have been listening to my teacher buddies and I decided that the math journal needed MORE!
As of today, my 3rd grade math journal resource now includes three formats for each of the 100 prompts!

  1. ​Full Page: Perfect to bind into a book or use as an assessment
  2. Strips: Great way to save paper since students are just gluing a small strip in their notebook.
  3. PowerPoint: It's no prep! You just display the prompt and students can respond in their notebook. You could even download the resource into Google Classroom. 

I even made the full page prompts and the PowerPoint prompts editable so that you can add additional problems if you choose!
PLUS, I added an answer key and some tips to implement math journaling into your classroom!
Click HERE to check out the third grade math journal.

Do I have other grade levels of this resource?
Yes and no. I have the old version for 2nd4th and 5th grades. They are so embarrassing that it's hard for me to even give you a link. The good news is that I will be updating these to include the multiple formats and answer keys very soon! I promise! 
Open ended constructed response math journal prompts ask students to think deeper and explain their thinking!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Valentine's Day Read Alouds for the Classroom

Books about love, friendship and kindness to read to your students on Valentine's Day

Celebrating holidays with picture books is something I have always enjoyed doing. I went out and gathered my five favorite picture books that I have enjoyed sharing for Valentine's Day with my students, to share with you!

Words and Your Heart

Picture book to share with your students on Valentine's Day about how words affect our hearts.

The story behind this book is so heartwarming, I wanted to make sure you all had a chance to read it and share it.

Kate Jane Neal wrote and illustrated this book particularly for schools and for anti-bullying. This is not your typical book about Valentine's Day, but rather a book about how your words affect others' hearts with the power they have.

In my classroom, I have always used Valentine's Day as a day to show our friends how much we care about each other and what makes each student special. This book is perfect for helping students learn to choose words that are uplifting and encouraging. Valentine's Day is the perfect day to work on choosing kindness and encouragement to others because words truly affect our hearts.

Click HERE to find this book Amazon.

Olive, My Love

Picture books to share with your students on Valentine's Day.

If you read Olive, The Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh during the holidays, then you will want to share Olive, My Love with your students! In this book, Olive is off to return a heart that fell in his home. This is definitely a fun read aloud with sound effects and changing voices.

Click HERE to find this book on Amazon. 

Mr. Goat's Valentine

Picture books to share with your students on Valentine's Day

This story by Eve Bunting is a funny twist to the typical Valentine's Day presents, such as chocolates and flowers. In this book, Mr. Goat wants to share a bouquet of weeds and a box of rotten eggs with his first love. Do you think your students will figure out that his first love is his mother before it is told in the story?

Click HERE to find this book on Amazon. 

A Crankenstein Valentine

Picture books to read to your students on Valentine's Day

This book is funny with it's illustrations and descriptions of how an ordinary kid turns into a Crankenstein because of how mushy and lovey-dovey Valentine's Day is. This book will have your class laughing for sure! 

You can find this book on Amazon by clicking HERE

The Invisible String

Picture books to read to your students on Valentine's Day

Finally, consider celebrating Valentine's Day with this sweet book about how we are all connected by an invisible string, which is love. It is a great reminder to read to your students about how they are never alone and that love is all around us.

Click HERE to check out this book.

Books about love, friendship and kindness to read to your students on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day can be a great day to share with your students what makes them special, and a day to teach kindness and love for everyone.

Are you looking for another fun Valentine's Day activity? I LOVE making these paper bag books with my class. All you need are brown lunch bags. Students get to write about the things that they love and then illustrate their books. They turn out so cute!

Click HERE to check out this fun Valentine paper bag book!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

G Rated Holiday Movies for the Classroom

Are you coming down to the end of your first semester? Do you wrap up your semester with parties or rewards for your class?

Many teachers are searching the Not So Wimpy Teacher Facebook groups for advice on movies that they can show their classes as a reward at the end of the semester. All of the movies suggested below are rated G. The majority of these movies are holiday related. However, I did include a movie that is winter themed in case you have children that do not celebrate the holidays.

(If you click on the title of the movie, it will take you to Amazon where you can read more about it.)

Santa Buddies

You can't go wrong with movies about adorable puppies! In this movie, the Christmas magic is beginning to disappear, and it's up to the puppies to save Christmas. Students will learn lessons of being kind, taking responsibility for their actions, and thinking about and caring for others. You could also show The Search for Santa Paws, which is another movie from the Buddies series. 

Annabelle's Wish

This animated holiday story is about a calf and a young boy who exchange their Christmas wishes. Students will learn about friendship in this movie.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

How about a version of the original Christmas Carol? This would be a great choice to teach children how Scrooge learns how to be generous and caring to others. 

The Polar Express

This instant classic teaches children about believing and the true meaning of friendship. Pair this movie with the picture book, pajamas, and some hot chocolate for the perfect day.

If You Give a Mouse a Christmas Cookie

This Amazon Original movie is inspired by the picture book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. If you are looking for a quick movie, this one is only 30 minutes. In this story, Mouse and his human friend Oliver, are preparing for Christmas. Mouse gets a little distracted and causes some problems along the way. With some help from his friends, he's able to fix the problems and learns about friendship and forgiveness.  

The Snowy Day

This is another Amazon Original animated movie based off the original picture book. Students are exposed to holiday traditions from different cultures including Hanukkah. They also learn about foods that other cultures share such as tamales and Asian noodles. 


This is a good choice if you are looking for a winter-themed movie that is not based on the holidays. Balto is an animated movie based on the true story of rural Alaskan kids with a serious illness. Students will learn how dogs helped rural Alaskan communities.

I hope that you and your students enjoy your holiday movie day! Merry Christmas!

Student Christmas Gifts for Parents

Crafts that students can make to give to their parents as a holiday gift!

The holidays have arrived and many teachers are busy searching the internet and the Not So Wimpy Teacher Facebook groups for unique and easy presents that their students can make for their parents. 

I thought I'd gather and share a few of my favorite ideas I have seen in the groups. They are all simple and don't cost a lot of money. There is even a freebie at the end!!! 

Plus, none of these ideas require glitter. That's important. #sanitysaver

Canvas Art

I love this idea shown on Pinterest by Ragzz Custom Apparel and Gifts.

Many teachers purchase 5x7 canvas panels from Amazon for this project. Students use a sharpie to write out their message and make fingerprints for the lightbulbs.

You could also do the same project on white ceramic tiles that you purchase from Home Depot (use ceramic paint for the lightbulbs and felt-tip marker for the string).

You could even complete the same project on a plastic ornament as well.

Students could have a choice what to write. They could write love, peace, faith, or even Noel. There are many varieties of words or phrases that would make this gift unique.

Laminated Photo Snow Globe Ornaments

These ornaments by Crafty Morning, would be fun for your students to make! Parents will love seeing their kiddo's picture on the tree year after year. 

I suggest taking pictures of your students as they arrive in the morning, while they are bundled up already in warm clothes. It will make the picture look realistic. 

You will also need laminating pages, card stock, a snow globe template, white acrylic paint, glitter (TOTALLY OPTIONAL), double-sided tape, and twine or ribbon.  

Check out this post for a list of detailed directions. 

Reindeer Ornaments

These reindeer ornaments done by Crystal, at littlebitfunky.com, are super cute and very simple to make. All you need is a little acrylic paint, bulbs (matte-finish bulbs are suggested), and a black sharpie. Check out this blog for a list of easy directions.

Mason Jar Lid Ornaments

I have seen many ornaments made with the lids from Mason jars, such as painted snowmen and fingerprint reindeer. My favorite, however, is this project that was shared in the Not So Wimpy Fourth Grade Teachers' Facebook group by Wanda Roberts.

I love the fine-motor practice students get from making this ornament.

All you need to prep is red and green yarn cut into about 5 inch pieces and pictures of your students. The students get to complete the task of tying the yarn around the ring of the lid in alternating colors. After glueing their picture to the bottom of the seal, push the seal into the ring and your ornament is complete!

Time Capsule Ornaments

I love this idea so much from The Chaos and The Clutter blog, that I plan on doing it with my own children this year!

All you need to complete this project is holiday scrapbook paper, ribbon, clear ornaments, and a permanent paint pen.

Cut the scrapbook paper into strips and have your students write their favorite memories from the year across the strips in pen. They will be so fun to open up and read in future years!

You can find detailed directions here.

Snowman Wood Slice Ornaments

This snowman ornament made by the Easy Peasy and Fun blog, is so easy and very inexpensive.

For this project you will need wood slices, white acrylic paint, permanent markers, and a string to hang it with.

One year, I went to my local tree stand and asked them if they would donate wood slices to my classroom. If you can't get any from a tree stand, you can likely find these at craft stores with the hole already drilled.

You can find detailed directions here.


Student drawing are always a favorite of parents. This calendar can be the perfect keepsake with drawings done by your students.

All you need is the calendar template and some crayons or color pencils. You will need access to some sort of binding machine.

Best news? It's a FREE template from Not So Wimpy Teacher. Click HERE to grab it.

Crafts that students can make to give to their parents as a holiday gift!

I hope these ideas have been helpful for you and saved you time during this busy time of year!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Classroom Holiday Party Ideas

Four Christmas party themes for the classroom!

The holiday season is upon us and teachers in my Facebook groups are stating to plan their classroom holiday parties. I thought I would share some of my favorite Christmas classroom party ideas.

I want to start with a warning. I love throwing parties. I love themes. Planning these fun activities was therapeutic to me. So don't look at these ideas and get overwhelemed. Choose the bits and pieces that sound the easiest for you to manage. 

Give yourself some grace. Your students will have fun even if it is not the party of the century! You will be making memories and that will mean the world to them.

Click on the photos below to get tons of food, crafts, activities and book ideas for each theme.

1. Holidays Around the World

I love this theme because it's super educational. Students are able to learn about geography, history and culture. But the food and crafts make it super fun!

Food, books and activities for a Holidays Around the World classroom celebration

2. Reindeer

I love a reindeer themed party because there are tons of adorable crafts and snacks for this theme! Plus, I generally found that very few of my third graders had ever had a reindeer themed party before. It was unique.  

Ideas for a reindeer themed holiday classroom party

3. Gingerbread Men

Gingerbread men is another unique party theme! This theme is super fun because you can include tons of cute books. 

Ideas for a gingerbread themed Christmas party in the classroom

4. Snowmen

I live in Phoenix, so many of my students have never even seen snow. That makes this theme extra exciting for them. The best part for me is that this theme works well for those classrooms or students who cannot celebrate the holidays. It feels like a Christmas party to most of my students, but Christmas is never mentioned! 

Ideas for a snow themed holiday party in the classroom

I hope these ideas get you super pumped to plan your class party and save you some time researching craft and food ideas!

Four Christmas party themes for the classroom!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

5 Things Great Writing Teachers Do

Writing was always my toughest and least favorite subject to teach. Anyone relate?

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE writing! As a young child I actually wanted to be an author. I wrote mini chapter books and submitted my writing to young authors competitions. I read the thesaurus for fun. Yup, I was a big ol' nerd.

Did you see the movie My Girl? I totally wanted to be in that summer writing class with Vada. (It doesn't hurt that Mr. Bixler was pretty good looking.😉)

As a teacher, I quickly learned that liking to write and being a great writing teacher are two entirely different things. I was NO Mr. Bixler. 

Writing is so subjective. I might love the way a student wrote a story and another teacher might think that it needs significant revisions. There is no one right way to write and that makes it crazy hard to teach.

Plus, somewhere along the line many students have decided that they don't like writing. This can be caused by poor writing instruction. Boo. 

The neat thing about struggling as a writing teacher is that there was only one direction to go. I read about teaching writing. I tried new things. I grew as a teacher. And now I can share my ah ha moments with you. 

I think there are five things that every great writing teacher should do. This is just my opinion based on my own experience, but I hope that it is helpful to you.

1. Use Mentor Text

If you really want students to grow as writers, you need to show them great examples that they can emulate. When students spend time studying good writing, they have a better understanding of your expectations.

Mentor texts can come in the form of class read alouds or even passages. I prefer passages because I can let my students underline and circle aspects of the writing that I want them to model. 

"Underline the topic sentences in red and the concluding sentences in blue." 

"Circle tradition words."

You get the idea.

Mentor texts can be read whole group, used in reading small group instruction or even read independently by the students. 

I included mentor text passages in all of my writing units!

You can hear more about how I use mentor text to teach writing in THIS video.

2. Model

Are you writing stories in front of your kiddos? If not, why not?!!!

During virtually every mini lessons, students should be able to watch you write. Use the white board or chart paper. Teach a lesson and then model how to use that skill on your own writing piece.

For example, you might teach a lesson about using an interesting hook in their introduction. Then go to your writing and brainstorm a few introductions. Think out loud as you choose the introduction that is most likely to hook your audience. Let them hear your thought process. 

This helps them to have similar conversations in their mind when they go back to their seats to write.

3. Let Students Choose Writing Topics

Stop telling students what they HAVE to write about! Giving them assigned prompts (on a regular basis) is a quick way to take away their love for writing. 

No one gives their all when they are not interested in what they are writing about. But when the topic fascinates them, students will excitedly put their words down on paper.

Also, choosing the topic for them means that you might be missing out on that A-MAY-CRAY story that is just waiting to be written by your little author. Maybe Little Grant can't wait to write about the time he got lost at the zoo. It could be the coolest story, but instead he is required to write about his favorite holiday tradition (a prompt he was asigned). That topic just isn't inspiring him and so he stares at the clock and doodles in his notebook.

"But Jamie, my students don't know what to write about!"

Yeah. I totally get it. That is why we have to teach them how to come up with topics that interest them. In all of my writing units, I include lessons that show students how to generate a list of potential topics. I model these lessons and give my students the tools they need to come up with a topic that gets them excited.

It is totally worth the time!

4. Conference with Writers

A great writing teacher gives her writers flexibility and choice, but she still needs to give them feedback. The best way to give individualized feedback is to meet with students for writing conferences.

"WHAT? How am I supposed to have time for that?!"

Good question.

I won't lie. Writing conferences are hard to fit into our crazy daily schedule. But we are superheroes and we find a way to make it work.

Here are some tips:
  • meet with writers in small groups rather than independently
  • have students read their writing outloud to the group so you don't have to decipher handwriting 
  • only have students share one part of their story at a conference (ie. the lead or a place that they used dialogue, etc.)
  • spend lots of time training your writers on expectations and problem solving so that they do not need to interrupt your conferences to ask questions
You can hear more about conducting writing conferences in THIS video.

5. Give Students Time to Write Daily

Writing is not something that you just do on Fridays or just do when you have extra time. It takes continued practice to become an author.

Create a class schedule that includes at least 30 minutes of writing each day. Spend only 10 minutes of that time teaching and allow your students to write for the remaining time.

Sound impossible? 

It might have been impossible if you weren't an incredible teacher. But you are. So you can do this.

Check out THIS video to learn more about what writing workshop is and how you can fit it into your schedule.

Can I help you to become the bomb diggity writing teacher that you were meant to be? 

I have a FREE email course that is full of tips and strategies for improving your writing instruction. Plus, you will receive a FREE resource every day. #notjoking

Are you ready to get started?
Day 1: What is writing workshop? {Free week of "getting started" lesson plans!}

Day 2: What should I include in the mini lesson? {Free anchor charts!}

Day 3: How can I make student work time meaningful? {Free notebook dividers!}

Day 4: How in the world am I going to conference with all of my students?! {Free conference data forms!}

Day 5: How will I ever have time to grade all of this writing? {Free rubrics!}

Did I mention that this entire course in FREE- as in no moolah necessary?! I am serious. I don't kid about stuff like this!

These freebies are ideal for grades 2-4!

The daily lessons will be delivered to your email box. You can read the lesson whenever you have the time and work through the course at your own pace. I promise to keep the lessons short and sweet- while still jam packing them with useful and practical ideas!

You will receive all of the following FREE resources:
  • Getting Started lesson plans (Your first week of writing is planned for you!)
  • Anchor charts for the first week. (Can you believe that I am giving you digital teacher versions and mini student versions for their notebooks?!)
  • Student writing notebook dividers. (Hello, organized notebooks!)
  • Conference data forms
  • Rubrics
... for FREE!!!

I hope these tips, videos and the free course will give you the tools you need to be Mr. Bixler for your students!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Tips for Simple Writing Conferences

If you are anything like me, you've come to the conclusion that writing conferences are hard! How do you find time for them all? 

When I first started teaching, I would send everyone to their desks to write after my mini-lessons. Then, I would meet with one student at a time to conference on their writing. This took a LONG time! I hoped to meet with four students per day, but sometimes one student took up my whole time! I may not see this kiddo again for four weeks! 

I was not giving my students what they needed. I realized this was a problem. So, I tried several new ideas, and came up with a solution that worked for me. 

If you prefer, I made a video with this same content. You can watch it HERE.

I hope these ideas will be make writing time less stressful for you and more meaningful for your students.

Why Conference?

Conferencing time is your time to differentiate and meet the needs of each of your students in your classroom. Our classrooms are not made up of students all at the same writing level.

Writing conferences offer your students guidance. You can answer questions about their writing for them, give them goals, assess their goals, and give some students a push to complete a skill.

It's important we use small groups in reading and math, so why not in writing as well?

When Do I Conference?

Writing conferences happen when the rest of your class is working on independent writing. Remember, you will need to do a lot of training with your class to be sure that they can independently write. Model! Model! Model!

You can't have students hovering over you during your conferences, and you can't be stopping every two minutes to redirect other students. Conference time is incredibly valuable, so you can't be interrupted.

Hopefully, a couple of weeks into your first unit, you'll be able to start writing conferences. You may have to keep conferences a little short at first. But, I know you can work with your students to keep building their stamina for writing, and conferences can begin to last longer.

How Do I Make Conference Groups?

I realized that I can not meet with every student individually. So, writing conferences should be done in small groups. The key is that all students in each group should have similar needs. They won't always be identical needs, and that's okay.

At the beginning of each unit, you will need to give an on-demand writing sample. Afterward, use your rubrics to assess your students' writing samples. Consider this a pretest, not a grade.

Now, use the rubrics to set the writing samples into piles based on similar needs. You are leveling each sample. Don't overthink this step too much. Students can always be moved to another group. You will want to make as many piles for as many days that you will have writing workshop. For example, I had my writing workshop Monday-Thursdays, so I made four piles.

I kept a poster for each day and laminated these. Then, I'd write all names for each group with a dry-erase marker on each day. Make sure that your groups are similar in size. 

Have a Schedule

Now you have groups with similar needs and you will only need to meet with one group per day. Each group will meet with you once per week now. This is manageable! Spend 15-20 minutes with your conference group, and you will still have time to check in with the rest of your class.

A question that comes up is; if you are meeting with a group, how do they get to their independent work? One possible solution is to know that your conferences won't always last 15-20 minutes. So, your small group may get 5 extra minutes to go back to their desk and begin the independent task. I also fit in 5-10 minutes after conferences to walk around my classroom and help my students as needed. This is another 5 minutes that your small group can take advantage of. 

If you go over with your group, it's ok! The next day, they can complete two tasks during independent writing time. The tasks that I ask my students to complete do not take up the entire writing time, so they can finish two tasks the next time.

Another solution is to have your small group work on the given independent task with you during conference time. 

Keep Them Short!

You are not going to have a ton of time. You can't read every student's piece in its entirety.  So focus on just one skill.

Maybe it's the skill you taught yesterday in your mini-lesson, or something you noticed they needed working on at the beginning of the unit. You can also choose skills based on their rubrics. Remember, you have the choice to do what works best for your groups. 

I have each student in that group read me an example of where they think they completed that skill well in their writing. They should not read their whole writing piece, just the small part that demonstrates they understand the skill you are working on in that group. So if we are working on leads, I will ask each group member to read their lead.

Reading their handwriting can slow me down. Instead, I have the writer read to me.

Discuss these examples as a group, correct and compliment where necessary, and ask for other examples of the skill. Some skills will only need one meeting to review while others may need an extra meeting. 

Writing Resources

All of the printables that have been pictured in this blog post are part of my writing units. The units also include daily lesson plans, anchor charts, mentor text passages, task cards and more. Click HERE to read more about them.

Are you looking for more tips and ideas for improving your writing instruction? I have created a series of videos all about teaching writing. Click HERE to check them out.

Do you like free resources? I have created a free email course that includes five days of freebies (including some conference materials) and tips. Click HERE to check it out.

Writing conferences are a great use of class time and very beneficial to all students. I hope these tips give you some new ideas for making conferences work in your classroom.

Have a Not So Wimpy Day!