Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

What is Writing Workshop?


Teaching writing can be challenging. Writing is very subjective. There really isn't one right way to write. That's why we don't all like to read the same books. And it makes writing instruction a tad difficult.

On top of that, teachers struggle to squeeze writing into their already full classroom schedule. 

The struggle is real. I totally get it. But teachers are super creative and always looking to improve and learn. We CAN make our writing instruction more meaningful and manageable! Let me share with you what writing workshop is (and is not) and how I made it work in my classroom.

Let me start by being very honest with you. Writing was a HOT MESS in my classroom for several years. I had no clue how to teach it. My kids' writing was not improving. And I was literally hoping for a fire drill during writing time every day. #notkidding

Fast forward a few years and I found some confidence! I created routines and started to see growth in my students' writing.  I even had students who loved writing. It was a huge transformation that involved lots of trial and error.  Maybe I can save you a few tears....                            

What writing workshop is NOT:

Writing workshop is NOT a series of prompts and projects and that you give to your students. 


There is a time and a place for prompts (assessments, reading, science, etc), but students don't learn HOW TO WRITE by responding to a prompt. We can't expect them to grow as writers without giving them instruction. A prompt tends to teach more about the topic of the prompt than it does the writing process.

The good news is that if you spend time teaching students how to write, they will naturally do better on prompt writing too! 

Writing workshop is not the time you spend practicing spelling and grammar.


Obviously spelling and grammar skills can help a writer, but it is just a small part of the skills needed to be a successful writer. In reality computers can catch lots of spelling and grammar errors, but they won't add an interesting lead or transitions! If mechanics all we are teaching, then we are missing the boat. 

Writing workshop is not a center.


I know that lots of teachers have a Work on Writing center. I have nothing against that. I kind of did too. My students used that time to do reading response questions. It was valuable. But it was more valuable to them as a reader. They were not being taught how to be a better writers by writing during a center. They were being given time to write, but not instruction. They need both!

What writing workshop is:

Writing workshop is a structure used to teach the writing process. It is how we teach students the skills to pre write, draft, revise, edit and publish their writing. They need skills like writing a lead, using dialogue, word choice and so many others. 

Writing workshop is broken up into three main sections: a mini lesson, student writing and share time. The independent student writing time is the most important part of the structure and should be the most amount of time.



Writing workshop also includes time for conferencing. While students are independently writing (after TONS of training and work on improving endurance), the teacher is meeting with writers to help them to improve and grow. This is a time where the instruction is more differentiated and personalized to the writer's needs. 

Writing workshop also includes student choice. Students choose their writing topic. They are NOT responding to an assigned prompt. Writers get more excited and put forth more effort when they get to write about something that interests them. This is KEY! You will have to teach students how to generate their own topics, but I promise that it is time well spent. 

What I did differently to make it work:

I had to make two changes in the writing workshop model to make it work in my classroom. These changes took me from "hot mess" to "happy writers."

Students have SOME choice.

In the writing workshop students have choice when it come to their writing topic. I am all about that. The problem was that I had students writing fiction stories while I was delivering Oscar worthy lessons about research and paraphrasing facts. Those students weren't using my lesson and so they were forgetting the skill. 

Plus, I had students who had a favorite type of writing and never tried the others. They weren't meeting all of the writing standards.

My solution? 
Students can choose the topic of their writing, but it must be within the genre that I am teaching. I taught in units of study and we would study a genre for eight weeks. So if our unit was on personal narratives, they could choose any topic as long as it was a personal narrative. Simple solution. World of difference.


Students write a masterpiece at my pace.

In a true writing workshop model, students are going through the writing process at their own pace. This means that some students will be drafting, while others are editing and others are publishing. 

This drove me MAD! I couldn't handle the chaos. More importantly, my lessons were never relevant for the entire group since they were never at the same place in the writing process. I might give a killer lesson about writing leads. If a student was publishing, he wouldn't use that skill right when it was taught and therefore usually forgot the skill. 

My solution?
Students work through one piece of writing, which we call their masterpiece, at my pace. They still choose the topic, but they have to stay with me in the writing process. 

Here is how that works... I teach students lessons about generating topics. They head to their writing spot and work on generating the topic for their masterpiece. They can't just jump ahead and start drafting though. The next day we rehearse and discuss drafting. They independently draft. Maybe the next lesson is about revising their lead. That day, they work on their masterpiece lead.


If they finish the task from the mini lesson early, they work on other stories. These stories are still the same genre we are studying, but they are stories that students can work on at their own pace. 

So they have choice. They work at my pace. They work at their pace. They are always writing. It is the best of every world!!!


Teaching our students HOW to write is so important! Not only are they standards, but they are important skills that students will use all through high school and college. It's not easy to fit it in, but we can't just skip it either! Look for ways to tighten up your transitions. Maybe shorten your morning work. Eliminate some of those extras that might be fun, but aren't all that necessary. Let's make writing instruction a routine in our classrooms!

Looking for more information about teaching writing?


I have lots of great resources for you!

You can sign up for my FREE writing email course by clicking HERE. (The course includes lots of free resources and tips!)

You can check out my writing videos on my YouTube channel by clicking HERE.

You can check out my writing units in my store by clicking HERE.


Have a Not So Wimpy day!


Apps to Organize Your Classroom Library


I am a book worm! Nothing is better than having an abundance of fiction and nonfiction books to share with your students. However, when my shelves are stocked, it's hard to keep track of what books I have, have read, which books are popular, and which ones the students have checked out. Luckily, technology has made organizing books easier. These apps to organize your classroom library are so easy and helpful!

Booksource

Booksource's classroom organizer is a favorite amongst teachers at all levels. Students can check out books and leave reviews. Books can be organized by reading level and easily scanned to inventory. Check books out to your students with your smartphone or tablet!

BookBuddy

iOS users will love BookBuddy for its price (FREE) and ease of use. Books do need to be entered manually but if your students help as they check out a book for the first time, you'll have it done in no time. Keep BookBuddy handy not only for your classroom library but to organize your professional books as well. I always found myself loaning out curriculum-related and professional development books to colleagues. This app is an excellent way to organize your PD library as well.

Classroom Checkout

For the price of a fancy cup of coffee ($5.99 at post time), you can install Classroom Checkout on a shared iOS device and save tons of time and keep track of all of your books. Teacher managed student accounts and logins allow each student to check out their own books. To check out or in books, all the student has to do is scan the barcode. It's so easy!

GoodReads

GoodReads is less about checking out books and more about sharing recommendations and lists from your classroom library. Make sure that your student can use GoodReads according to website usage guidelines in your district since it is web-based and has a social media component. Upload your inventory, review books, and share them with students, parents, and colleagues! Making a summer reading list on GoodReads to share out is one of my favorite end of the year activities.


It's never been easier to find apps to organize your classroom library. Finding books at library book sales, through book orders, warehouse sales, and even thrift stores is a great past time, but I often find myself replacing the same popular titles year after year. Keeping inventory and a digital checkout system has saved time and money. Try it yourself!


FREE Grammar Posters


Who loves FREE classroom resources?! I made these grammar posters and I am giving them to you for free! There are 20 different posters included that cover many of the parts of speech and other grammar terms that students need to know in grades 2-4.

Just plug in your name and email address below and I will send you the free grammar posters and another surprise grammar freebie! (I highly recommend using a personal email address as school email filters sometimes don't let my messages get through.)

How would you use these grammar posters?


Grammar Bulletin Board

You could create a bulletin board to display the posters. This will give your students a place to reference the different terms throughout the year. I like to add new posters as we learn about the new skills.



Anchor Charts

I am not an artist and anchor charts are pretty basic in my classroom. But these posters make a great starting point. Put the poster in the middle of the chart paper. Then have students help to add examples and/or rules around the sides of the paper. BAM! Anchor chart done!



Personal Resource Rings

These posters are sized to be 8 1/2x 11, but you don't have to print them that way! You can change your printer setting to print 6 or 8 posters per page. This will make them so cute and small. Laminate and punch a hole in the corner. Then put the mini posters on a jump ring. These can be used as individual references for students or placed in a writing or working with words center. 





Enjoy!

Have a Not So Wimpy day,


P.S. If you are looking for more information about how I taught grammar, check out THIS post. 

Teaching Writing: A FREE Email Course for Teachers


Hello teacher friends!

Do you struggle to find time to teach meaningful writing lessons? Do you find it difficult to meet individual student writing needs? Do you wish you could be a #kickbutt writing teacher?

I have you covered! You can think of me as your "writing fairy godmother." #iwantglassslippers

I am offering you a FREE five day email course that will transform the way that you teach writing. It's kind of like magic, but without the top hat and bunny!

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!!!



Get signed up now!




P.S. Sharing is caring! Be sure to let your teaching besties know about this amazing offer!

Everything You Need to Know About Math Centers


Are you thinking about using math centers in your classroom, but not sure where to start? Have you tried using math centers, but got discouraged by lack of time, student behavior or prepping materials? I have been there! And so I am excited to share tons of tips, ideas, freebies and resources that are going to make your math center time super successful!

So let's start from the beginning. It's a very good place to start. 🎼 (Fess up. Who is singing Do Re Me now?)

Why should I use math centers?


Are math centers totally new to you? Are you still wondering if they are a good use of time and effort? 

Math centers and guided math groups were the heart and soul of my math instruction. I can't imagine teaching without them! I often hear teachers say that they don't have time for math centers. I honestly feel that, if you are doing centers correctly, you don't have the time NOT to do centers. 

Math centers are NOT just fun and games. They are not just a way to busy your kids.

Click HERE to read more about the five reasons that math centers are a must.

What math center activities do you use?


I get asked this question ALL THE TIME! And it's a great question! Choosing the right activities is key to running successful math centers. 

Center rotations should NOT just be fun and games to keep students busy while you meet with small groups. They should be a meaningful use of their time!

I see so many teachers who make math center activities complicated and time consuming to prepare. 

You don't need to have six different activities! That is just six different things that you have to make/buy, print, prep and keep track of. You don't need that craziness! I have four different centers and only two require any prep at all. 


You don't need to change the center activities every week. Again, that is a ton of work for you. It also takes up valuable class time because you are having to explain the new activities every Monday. Use activities that can stay the same all year!


Click HERE to read more about the four centers that my students did every week.

How did you make time to meet with all of your groups?


This is another fantastic question!

First of all, math centers are so important that I MADE TIME for them. That means that I didn''t have lots of time for brain breaks, transitions, morning work, class meetings, etc. It's not that those things aren't good, it's just that math center time is so much more important. I had to prioritize my limited class time.

By stealing minutes from all of the "extras" during the day, I was able to come up with a 90 minute math block. I know that everyone can't do this- but I encourage you to try!


If there is absolutely no way that you can get more than 60 minutes, just make the most of it!


You probably noticed that I only have two center rotations each day. I found this to be the best use of my limited time. It kept us from wasting time with extra transitions, clean up, etc. 

Click HERE if you want to read more about how I managed my four groups while only meeting with two per day. You can even grab some free math center signs that will help you to get your groups organized!


How do you start math centers at the beginning of the year? 


The most important tip that I have for you is DON'T RUSH! Take your time teaching and practicing these routines. I broke it down into eight days of teaching the routines, but your class might need 10 or 12 days. Spend the time now, so that math centers run like a well oiled machine for the rest of the year. I promise that it will be worth the time!

Click HERE if you want to check out the eight days of lessons that I do when introducing math centers to my students.

What do you do when your students struggle with math centers?


Do you have students who don't complete any of the center work? Or students who talk and waste their time? Do you have students who don't take care of the materials?

We have all been there! Don't quit! A little more training and you can get the center time back on track.

Click HERE to read some suggestions for the most common math center struggles.


How do you organize your math materials?


Keeping your centers organized is important! Students can't be successful if they can't easily access the materials that they need.

I have tried lots of different systems for organizing my math centers.


Click HERE to check out my ideas for math center storage. You can also grab my free labels!

Do you want to check out my math centers?


Click your grade level to learn more about what skills and activities are included in the center bundle.




I hope that these tips and freebies help you to get started with math centers! 



Tips for Teachers who are Switching Grade Levels

1. Contact your new team lead.

Do your very best to get the contact information for your team lead or new team teachers. Most principals will provide email addresses.

You don't want to be a big pain in the neck, but it is a VERY good idea to briefly introduce yourself. Don't make it sound like you are a know-it-all who doesn't want to work with others. #epicfail Instead, let them know what your previous experience is and that you are excited to learn from the team in this new grade level.

You also want to ask a few questions. I would probably ask:
What curriculum is required and provided?
Is there a curriculum map or pacing guide?
What manipulatives, technology and/or classroom resources will be provided?
What do you recommend that I purchase over the summer? (books, furniture, supplies, curriculum, etc.)
What does your daily schedule look like?
Do you have any other advice for me?

2. Read the standards.

Seriously. READ THEM! All of them!

Before you go crazy decorating or buying resources, you have to be familiar with what you will be teaching in your new grade level. I suggest that you make yourself a cheat sheet. 

If a standard is confusing to you, do some research. Look the standard up on Google, Teachers Pay Teachers and on state education websites. 

I know that standards are not really a fun summer read. Maybe a margarita will help to make it more bearable. But you have to do it.

3. Become familiar with the provided curriculum. 

Now that you know what you will have to teach, spend some time looking over any provided curriculum. 

Reviewing the curriculum will help you to see where the holes are and where you will need to provide additional resources. It will also give you an idea of what your instruction is going to look like.

4. Join a grade level specific Facebook group.

I love learning from other teachers. You can't bug your new team lead all summer. But you can ask thousands of teachers (who teach the same grade) all of your burning questions on Facebook!

I have Facebook groups for second, third, fourth and fifth grade. Click HERE if you would like to join one of those groups.

If you teach a different grade, do some searches on Facebook. I am sure there are groups for every grade if you look.

Once you find a community of teachers, ask them how they teach certain standards. Ask them about their favorite read aloud and teacher blogs to follow. You can learn so much!

5. Keep organized.

Now that you know what you will be teaching, you are probably starting to download free resources and purchase games, centers, etc. Your printer might be working on overdrive! 

Do yourself a favor and keep everything organized from the start. Whether you prefer binders, file folders or a Goggle Drive- just be certain that you are filing each resource as soon as you purchase, download or print. 

Label all of your boxes, binders and files with subject names or standard numbers.


It might also be helpful to keep a list of what you have printed and what you are still looking for. I accidentally printed the same thing more than once and forgot about other great things that I had purchased. 

Spend the time now, to save your sanity later.

6. Relax

You are a great teacher. That is why you were asked to move to another grade level. They knew you could handle it. Believe in yourself.

If you love your students and are excited to learn new things, you will be an amazing teacher in any grade level. 

Take a deep breath and don't forget to enjoy your summer break.



I hope that these tips help you to get prepared for your new grade level! Good luck!

Have a Not So Wimpy day,


P.S. If you are new to third grade, you might want to check out all of my tips in THIS blog post. 

End of Year Student Gift Ideas

Student gifts do not need to be expensive! They should be meaningful. Check out these simple ideas for end of the school year gift ideas for your students!

As we get closer to the end of the school year, teachers in my Facebook groups are asking for end of year gift suggestions. I put together some of my best ideas!

First, gifts are not required! Don't feel like you have to give one. I honestly don't think that students expect them. The end of the year is a blur for students and teachers. If the gift is stressful- don't bother. It does not mean you don't love your students. Give hugs!

I liked to give a gift, but I am not the kind of teacher who is willing to waste money on dollar store junk. I am a mom and I know that those trinkets get broken and/or thrown away within a day or two. It might seem cheap, but really it ends up being a waste.

I also like for my student gifts to be meaningful and help my students to remember our year together. A sand pail or a beach ball just don't generally hold much meaning.

Instead, I like to give one of the following gifts...

1. Book

I always took great pride in helping all of my students to discover their love for reading. We shared many books during the year and so it makes lots of sense to give a book as a gift. Plus, I am encouraging a little summer reading.

Books can be purchased very inexpensively through Scholastic. I collect the $1 books or buy the sets that are discounted. If you plan ahead, you could try doing a Donors Choose project for books from Amazon.


Make the gift more meaningful by writing a personal message on the inside cover. My own children cherish books with notes from their former teachers.

Book Raffle

I really LOVE to make the book gift a fun end of year activity with a book raffle! Students can earn the raffle tickets based on behavior. This helps with the end of year itch! Students love the actual raffle and go home with a book that they can't wait to read. 

Click HERE for more information about book raffles.

2. Class Video

In my past life I must have been part of the paparazzi. I constantly took pictures of my students on field trips and doing fun activities in the classroom. 

At the end of the year, I would use iMovie to make all of these pictures into a movie. Pair it with some fun music and you have a special gift.

You can burn the song onto a DVD. I like this option because it becomes a keepsake. If you want a less expensive option, you can upload the video to a class website or Google drive and provide a link or a QR code for students to access the video.

I love this gift idea because it reminds students of all the fun we had together!

3. Class Picture

Not a big picture taker? If you didn't take a lot of photos during the school year, it might be difficult to put together a video.

That's ok! Gather your kiddos for a class photo shoot. Print the photo for each student and stick them in dollar store picture frames. 
So simple! And still meaningful!

4. Awards

Student gifts don't have to be elaborate to be meaningful! How about hosting a class awards ceremony? 

Print an award that is special for each of your students. As you present them make sure to tell the class exactly why you chose that particular award for each student. 

This is a feel good activity and gift! Students leave knowing just how proud you are.

These end of the year awards are the perfect gift!

Click HERE to check out these editable awards.

5. Handwritten Note

I feel that a handwritten note is one of the most meaningful gifts that you can give.

In this digital age, it is super rare to receive a handwritten note. That makes them a million times more special.

Grab some pretty stationary of notecards. Spend a few afternoons writing personal and heartfelt letters. What made you proud? How did they grow? What made you laugh? What is a fond memory that you have? What will you miss about them? What is your hope or dream for them?

If you feel comfortable, you might consider including a personal email address and giving students permission to write to you and keep you up-to-date on their family and schooling. They love this!



Whatever you decide, I hope that you are taking time to really enjoy your sweet students during the end of year chaos. These moments are fleeting.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!