Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

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! 



Tips for Teaching Students to Round

Ditch the rhymes and use these strategies to help your students round and have a solid number sense!

Do you start the year by teaching about place value and rounding? It's pretty common. 

Lots of teachers in our teacher Facebook groups have been struggling with teaching rounding strategies. I thought it would be a great opportunity to share some of the strategies that I used in my classroom.

Ditch the Rhymes

Confession time! When I first began teaching, I thought it was necessary to have a rhyme for rounding. I taught my students all the different rhymes you hear. My go-to rhyme was, "Five or more, raise the score. Four or less, let it rest." 

I came to a realization several years ago that I was doing a disservice to my students when I taught them rhymes about rounding. I was teaching steps and my students did not truly understand why they rounded the way they did. Then, when we were ready for more challenging numbers, my students were stumped and did not have a solid number sense foundation.

Rhymes don't teach number sense. 

Students should be able to explain the reasoning and mathematical thinking behind their conclusions. Let's ditch the rhymes! Instead, let's give students a deeper understanding of number sense.

Strategies to Teach

Start with Place Value


My first recommendation is to make sure that your students can recognize the tens' place. Even in 3rd grade, it's still important to count by tens.

The next step is to teach students to identify the tens that a number is between. They should be able to tell you that 43 is between 40 and 50. The same strategy should be used when rounding to other place values as well. 

Number Lines


After your students have a solid recognition of place value, start using number lines. I suggest using both horizontal and vertical number lines. Number lines help students visualize where the number will be rounded to. I have my students record the tens on each end, and the number halfway between these tens. Next, they will need to plot the number on the number line in the correct location.
Ditch the rhymes and use these strategies to help your students round and have a solid number sense!

Circle and Underline


Once students are comfortable creating number lines, have them use the circling and underlining method. Teach your students to underline the digit for the place value that you are rounding to, and circle the number to its right. Now they can use the circled digit to determine which number to round to.

Hundreds Chart


For struggling students, or students who need accommodations,  keep a hundreds chart nearby. I suggest keeping a few charts laminated, or in sheet protectors for reuse. Students can color in with a dry-erase marker the number they are rounding, and then color in the tens that the number is between.

Real Life Stories


Other students may just need you to relate rounding to a real life story. I've told my students that the hallway represents our number line. There is a bathroom on each end of the hallway. As they are walking down that hallway, they suddenly realize they need to use the restroom! Well, if you are not half way down the hall, would you keep going? Or, would it be wiser to turn around and go to the closer bathroom?! If you are half-way or more down the hallway, it wouldn't be smart to turn around. Keep going until you reach the end because it is closer. Sometimes, they just need to relate math to their every day lives.

Resources for Rounding


Are you looking for resources to help your students practice rounding? Consider using videos from the Khan Academy or LearnZillion.

Or, use Not So Wimpy Teacher's Rounding Interactive Notebook FREEBIE! It includes activities to practice using those number lines and a fun dice rolling activity! Click HERE to grab it.

FREE rounding interactive notebook activities!

Jamie also has other resources in her store to help you with rounding. Check out her rounding task cards, place value interactive notebooks, and place value math centers.

Place value math centers

Would you like more ideas on how to teach math? Check out Jamie's math videos on her Not So Wimpy Teacher YouTube page.

Ditch the rhymes and use these strategies to help your students round and have a solid number sense!

Have a Not So Wimpy Day!














Free ELA Pacing Guide for Third Grade


Do you use a yearly pacing guide? 

It is so handy to have a map of how you plan to fit the various standards into your academic year. Things WILL change, but it nice to have some idea of where you'd like to be with your instruction. I think that it makes lesson planning easier.

I get lots of teachers who email me to ask how I fit everything in and what order I teach and use my resources. 

For math, I always followed my curriculum. I taught a lesson each day and I didn't change the order.

But, I didn't really use my ELA curriculum (Shhhhh!!!) and so I had to create an order that made the most sense for me and for my students. 

Click HERE to grab my FREE ELA pacing guide for third grade.

I realize that this won't work for everyone. Some states have very different standards and some schools don't organize their year into quarters. Many of you don't teach third grade. The freebie is not editable. However, you are welcome to use my ideas to create a pacing guide that works best for you. You can create it using an excel spreadsheet or by inserting a table into Word or PowerPoint. It's easy!

There is really no way that I could make a pacing guide that would make everyone happy. That being said, I sure hope that it helps some teachers who are trying to see how the skills will fit into their year.

Click HERE if you want to read more about my ELA block.



Have a Not So Wimpy day!


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!