Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

5 Back to School Read Alouds

The first weeks of school are always my favorite time of year. We are encouraged to stay away from curriculum and build a positive and caring classroom community. It's time to lay down the foundation for the year, set procedures in place, and most importantly, get to know your students.

I love using picture books the first weeks of school to create lessons for my students' social skills. There are many classic picture books that I use every year to meet this goal. Some of those include Peanut Butter and Cupcake!Enemy Pie,  My Mouth is a Volcano, and Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun.  However, I went on a search this summer for new books that I haven't used. Let's face it, who doesn't love new books!

We're All Wonders

This instant classic inspires kindness and acceptance in all readers. This book is my favorite new addition. This is the picture book version for young readers of the chapter book Wonders by R.J. Palacio. Be sure to visit the accompanying website for classroom resources and to see how to become a certified kind classroom, https://wonderthebook.com/for-teachers. Click HERE to check it out on Amazon.

Be Kind

The theme of kindness continues in this picture book. Students will be inspired by this read aloud and will be shown how little acts of kindness matter a lot. I particularly like how the author of this book gives specific examples of how to be kind to others; from using someone's name, to giving away your too-tight shoes, and sticking up for someone when other's aren't being nice. Click HERE to check it out on Amazon.

Pig the Winner

How adorable is this pug?! Those eyes! I know, don't judge a book by it's cover, but I can't help it when it includes a picture of an irresistibly cute dog. Even better, there are other titles in this series that you can add to your library collection! In this story, Pig (the pug), is known for cheating and being a sore loser. This is a perfect book to use when discussing sportsmanship in the classroom and on the playground, teaching students to play fairly and to win or lose with grace. Pig the Winner, by Aaron Blabey, is sure to be a student favorite. Click HERE to check it out on Amazon.

Wordy Birdy

Most students love animals, and what is not to love about Wordy Birdy?! This story is about a bird who loves to talk, A LOT. However, she finds it difficult to listen to others.  This book will be fun to read aloud and is very engaging for students, I can already hear the voice changes for the different characters! Use Wordy Birdy, written by Tammi Sauer, if you need to teach a lesson on the importance of listening to others. Click HERE to check it out on Amazon.

Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break If You Want to Survive the Cafeteria

The illustrations and imagined metaphors caught my attention in this book. For example, the class is a line of hungry ants. This story lends into conversations about anxiety and fears with unfamiliar situations. In this case, the unknown is the school cafeteria. Kyle, the main character, does break all of the cafeteria rules, but in the end he discovers that the cafeteria lunch was delicious and he has nothing to fear. Click HERE to check it out on Amazon.

More Back to School Ideas

Are you looking for more fun activities for those first couple weeks of school? Check out these posts!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Tips for Successful Writing Mini Lessons

Ideas to keep your writers engaged and learning during your writing mini lessons!

How do you teach writing? I used the writing workshop model. I did modify the model slightly to make it work in my classroom. You can read more about that by clicking HERE. I loved that this model helped my students to grow as writers, but it also got them excited about writing. That's not always easy to do!

One of the components of a successful writing workshop is a mini lesson. The mini lesson is a whole group lesson that focuses on a writing skill that you want students to practice and implement in their writing. 

I have had many mini lessons flop, but that just gave me the opportunity to learn to do them better! Here are a few tips that made my mini lessons engaging and meaningful for my writers.

Don't skip the lesson.

Due to time constraints (and possibly our comfort level with teaching writing), some teachers have a tendency to want to skip the writing mini lesson. DON'T! 

The mini lesson is your opportunity to give students valuable tools and strategies that will help them to grow as a writer. It is your time to model good writing. Giving them some paper and telling them to write, does not teach kids to write. You teach kids to write! And you do that through mini lessons! 

Keep the lesson mini!

I think that the biggest mistake I made as a writing teacher was delivering long writing lessons. It was so boring to my students. But, even more importantly, it ate into their independent writing time. That's the most important component of a successful writing program!

Mini lessons should generally be about 10-15 minutes. If your's are longer than that, you will need to have a longer independent writing time. Independent writing time should be the biggest piece of the pie!

Or, you can work on making those lessons shorter...

This may sound a little goofy, but if you want to get the mini lesson nice and short, it is a good idea to rehearse them for a while. Set a timer and give the lesson to your spouse, dog, teddy bear or reflection in the mirror. 

Are you even close? If not, you might need to break the lesson into two days of mini lessons. If you are close, then keep rehearsing. Eliminate anything repetitive. You will get faster as you practice and get more comfortable with what you want to say. You won't have to do this forever! You will get to the point where the timing is second nature.

Use mentor text in your writing lessons.

Prolific readers tend to be better writers. They have more experience with quality writing and can mimic it in their own stories. For this reason, I love using mentor texts as part of my writing lessons whenever possible.

There are tons of wonderful picture books that can be used for mentor text. Just take a look at your favorite picture books in your classroom. Do you have one with an interesting lead? Do you have one with dialogue? Maybe you have one with unique word choice. Read them to your class and point out these attributes when you teach these skills in mini lessons. (If you need book recommendations for a particular genre or skill- I highly recommend searching on Pinterest.)

I love using books, but I also discovered that short reading passages can make remarkable mentor texts! Some of the reasons that I love using passages are:
  • If I choose, the passage can be copied for every student in my classroom. This allows them to follow along as I read, read it to themselves or read with a partner.
  • The passages can do double duty by using them in reading groups. Have deep discussions about the characters, text features, main idea, etc. (Reading them in reading groups helps to keep the writing mini lesson shorter too!)
  • The passages can be written on! Students can mark them up. For example, you can have them highlight every transition word when you are giving that mini lesson. 
  • The passages can be kept in the resource section of their writing notebook to be referenced later.
I loved the passages so much that I added them to all of my writing units!

Use anchor charts.

Anchor charts can be a powerful way to help students to visualize and remember content. 

Lots of teachers are super artsy and create masterpieces for anchor charts. I am not. But my students didn't care. In fact, I would just project a slide on my white board with the skeleton of the anchor chart. Everyone in the class could see it from their seat.

I used the anchor chart to model the writing skills. Modeling is so powerful! I would fill out the chart using the skills that we were learning and that provided examples for my students. Sometimes I had them help me with the charts and other times, I just had them listen to me as I thought out loud. Change it up to keep them on their toes!

All of my anchor charts are included in my writing units.

Keep students actively involved in the lesson.

This can be tough to do when we are trying to keep the lesson short. You have to be creative and you have to practice procedures with your students.

One great way to keep them involved is with quick pair shares. "Turn and tell your partner what a subtopic is." "Turn and give your partner an example of a transition word." These types of shares should take about 20 seconds. 

I would also keep my students engaged in the mini lesson by having them fill out their own anchor chart while I was filling one out in front of the classroom. They had a smaller version that fit perfectly in their writing notebook. (Save time by having them glue all of the charts in the notebook one day during the first week of school or during morning work!)

Sometimes I would ask students to copy exactly what I was writing on my anchor chart. This was faster and ensured that they had an accurate example later when they were writing. Other times, I might fill out half of the chart and then ask them to complete the rest. Sometimes I had them fill out the chart as a planner to prepare for their own writing. Any way you slice it, my students were actively participating and engaged in the lesson.

Plus, they were creating a wonderful reference resource for later!

Ideas to keep your writers engaged and learning during your writing mini lessons!

Need more writing tips?

I did a series of videos all about teaching writing! You can watch them on my YouTube channel by clicking HERE.

I have also created a FREE email course for teachers with tips and free resources for getting writing workshop started in their classroom. You can read more about that email course and get signed up by clicking HERE.

Are you looking for lesson plans, anchor charts and mentor text passages that are ready to print and use? Click HERE to check out my writing units!

Everything you need to teach, practice and assess writing for the entire year!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

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'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!


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 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. 


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!