Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

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.

Calendars




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! 



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,