Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: July 2016

Should the first day of school be fun?

I recently read a Facebook post from another teacher. Her question was, "Should the first day of school include fun activities or would that set the wrong tone for the year?" I read though many of the comments. One teacher said, "No because you need to show your students that you mean business." My jaw dropped and my heart broke. I don't know about you, but I am in the business of loving kids so much that they want to learn from me. 

Now let me start by saying that I am not writing this blog post to upset anyone. Being a teacher is a tough job and I don't have all the answers. No one does. Do what feels right in your heart. I wrote this blog post because the question kept repeating itself over and over in my head this week. I knew I wouldn't feel better unless I shared my thoughts. 

I am a firm teacher and I spend a considerable amount of time teaching routines and expectations. But being firm and being fun are not mutually exclusive! You can be both!

Yes, we have to teach expecatations from the beginning. No, we do not want our students to get the impression from the first day of school that anything will go in our classroom. But we do want them to go home on the first day stoked for the opportunity to come back tomorrow!

So how do we balance this? How do we show kids that we are firm and still laugh and have fun with them. How do we get those super important procedures taught without boring the kids to death?

The answer is simple for me. I get my kids moving and laughing.

I play fun music as they walk in the room. I teach my class rules using super funny hand gestures. As I teach a procedure, I have select kids model what NOT to do. We all laugh and then they model the perfect way to complete the task. We do STEM projects that give kids an opporunity to practice group work expectations. We learn pair-share routines that will be used all year and practice by sharing about class policies and what we did over the summer. We practice using our class attention getter, but we use super funny voices.

At the end of the day, my kids know the rules and the consequences for breaking the rules. They know know my expectations and have practiced many of our procedures. But more importantly- we had fun together and they are looking forward to tomorrow. They know this is a classroom where we will have lots of fun.

I don't let the kids walk all over me. I don't throw the rules and consequences out the window just because it is the first week of school. I am setting the tone for the entire school year. This is going to be a fun place to learn. Starting on the first day. 

I challenge you to have a blast with your students during the first week. You dont have to do the same things that I do, but find ways to balance business and fun. Show your students that they can expect a classroom that is fun.

If you already had a fun first week with your students, then I challenge you to keep that same mindset as you begin to integrate curriculum into your routine. You can have fun during reading, writing and math!

If you are looking for ideas for fun back to school activities, check out these blog posts:

Vocabulary Instruction

Are you struggling to find time to teach meaningful vocabulary lessons? 

I was! So I did lots of reading and research about vocabulary. I made it a professional goal to improve the quality of my vocabulary instruction. I tried a lot of different things. I gave my students a dictionary and had them look up the words. They were totally confused by the fact that most words had half a dozen definitions and often used a form of the word in the definition. I made PowerPoint presentations to introduce the meanings of the words. My students were not actively engaged or listening. I was doing all of the work! After lots of trial and error, I finally have a routine that my students enjoy and I am happy with the growth they are making in their word study.

I did a video on Facebook about my weekly vocabulary routines. You can watch the replay.

You can also read about these routines by clicking on the photo below.

If you are interested in the materials that I use with my students, you can click on the picture below. 

Fun Back to School Activities {With Freebies!}

I hate to be the messenger of bad news- but for some of us- back to school is right around the corner! In fact, my kids already started!

The first week of the school year is so important. It is the time when you set the tone for the rest of the year. It is the time when the class starts to become a community. It is a time for learning rules and expectations and for having fun with new friends. Planning for the first week can be tough because routines have not been taught and often curriculum is not being implemented. We need quite a few activities and we need them to be fun and innovative but easy to prep! Here are some of my very favorite ideas for that first week back to school.

Trust me! Play Doh is not just for little kids! When my students enter the room on the first day of school, they will find a container of Play Doh on their desk. 
The directions are simple- Make anything that makes you happy. This activity is awesome for several reasons. First, the students are busy with a task right away. This gives me a chance to deal with supplies that were dropped off and papers that students have for me. There is always a lot of housekeeping issues that first week! Another reason I love this activity is because once students create for a bit, they start talking to one another. "Look! It looks like emoji poop!" 

I think the Play Doh helps to break the ice and get students more comfortable. Finally, I like this activity because I can walk around and start to get a look at student personalities. Play Doh creations can tell you quite a bit about a person! Even upper elementary kids will play with Play Doh!

Saving Fred is a super fun challenge that gets students talking and working as a team. Since we will be working in groups all year, it is an important skill to begin working on from day one!

Start by splitting your class into small groups. I like to have 3-4 students in each group. You will need plastic cups, 4 paper clips per group, gummy worms and gummy lifesavers.

Fred, the worm, was riding in his boat, the cup, when it tipped over. Fred is on top of the boat and he doesn't know how to swim. Lucky for him, he brought a life preserver, the lifesaver. The problem? The life preserver is stuck under the boat. Students will work in groups to plan a way to get Fred inside the life preserver. They cannot touch the worm, the boat or the life preserver with their fingers. The only tools they can use to help are the four paperclips. 

First, they talked together about how they wanted to approach the task. When the group had a plan, they could begin their work. Throughout the task they were laughing, strategizing and working together. It warms my teacher heart to see all of this happening on the first day of school!
You can grab the FREE printable I use for this activity by clicking HERE.

On the first day of school I announce, "It's time for our first quiz!" I get a giggle every time over their groans. I think that it is very important to learn about my students but it is equally important for my students to learn more about me. I think it helps to ease some nerves and is the beginning of creating a meaningful relationship. 

Students receive this fun quiz about me. It asks about all my favorites. They really don't have any true way to know the answers and I don't give clues. I just let them take a guess. After they  have a some time to fill out the quiz, I tell them my answers one by one. We have a friendly competition to see who got the most answers correct. They love that. Lots of giggling and fist pumping!

This activity can be used to help parents get to know you as well! Give students a second copy of the quiz and encourage them to give it to their parents. Then the kids can tell their parents the correct answers. Parents will have a mini biography of you! (A bonus- Since their is a question about your favorite drink, you may even receive random sodas or coffee during the year.)

You can grab this FREE quiz by clicking HERE.

Another way that I get to know my students is through the creation of this adorable paper bag bookI love that the books are simple to prep. You just need the paper lunch bags. Fold them in half and add a few staples. Done! 

Students are writing about themselves and their summer and illustrating pictures to go along with it. I walk around and chat with students about what they are writing about. It is helpful to have a clipboard and take notes. Write down things like, "Jimmy loves to read books about animals." "Sammy went to Disney for summer vacation." These will give you little topics to talk about with them later in the week. They will be amazed that you remembered. The books are also a great way to start getting a feel for their writing level and share stories of the first days with parents! 

If you are looking for even more fun back to school activities, check out this post:

Time Saving Tips for Interactive Notebooks

I have said this a million times, but I feel the need to say it again- Interactive notebooks rock!!!! My students love them because they feel like a craft to them and I love them because my students are working hard on important standards and skills. 

But if not done properly, interactive notebooks can take up way too much of our instructional time. I went live last week with 4 of my best tips for saving time with all that cutting and glueing in  interactive notebooks.

If you didn't catch the live recording, you can watch this replay.

If you have more questions about interactive notebooks, you might want to check out this blog post.

If you are ready to start using interactive notebooks in your classroom, you might want to check out these products.

Calling All Third Grade Teachers! A Back to School Resource You Need!

Calling all third grade teachers! This is a back to school activity to you need to try!

So this post is only for third grade teachers. Sorry, if you don't teach third grade, you have to scroll down. Top secret stuff coming.....

Ok, so now that it is just us crazy third grade teachers, I have to share this amazing back to school activity with you. I love it! 

So this activity is actually done on the 3rd day of 3rd grade. It is a way to celebrate being 3 days smarter! The theme of the task card set is the number 3. 

There are a few reasons that I LOVE this activity. First, half of the cards ask students questions about themselves.

I am able to walk around the room and see the students' responses. It helps me to learn little details about my new friends and start conversations with them. It is a fun time for the teacher to make connections.

Another reason that I love this activity is because every other task card asks students an academic question that they probably learned in 2nd grade.

I am able to observe as they answer these questions and learn a lot about their academic needs. It's like a pretest. It doesn't go on the report card, but it does give me some good feedback about individual needs before we jump into curriculum. 

Another reason that I love this activity is that it is a great opportunity to  teach my new class how we will conduct scoots or around the room activities during the year. When I put out some math or ELA task cards in the coming weeks, my students will know exactly what I expect of them.

So this one little task card set provides a fun activity where the teacher gets to know students both personally and academically while teaching them how to use task cards. It's a winner! 

Click on the picture to get your set of Third Day of Third Grade task cards.

If you are looking for more back to school ideas, you might be interested in this post:

You might also be interested in these back to school centers for third graders:

How I Use Brag Tags in the Classroom

So I put my big girl panties on and faced my fear of doing a live video! Did I just use the word "panties" on my blog?! I'm getting all kinds of brave now!!!

Anyway, I went live on Facebook earlier this week to share how I use brag tags in the classroom. Here is the replay if you missed seeing it live.

The most common question that I get asked is "Where do you get the necklaces?" You can get them from most craft stores. Amazon also has them and if you went in with another teacher friend, it's a GREAT deal! Click on the picture below to be taken to my Amazon affiliate link.

If you still have questions about brag tags, you might want to check out these blog posts.

Are you ready to try brag tags in your classroom? Check out the tags that I have available in my store.

4 Engaging Back to School Activities

4 Engaging Back to School Activities from Not So Wimpy Teacher

Can you believe that teachers in my district start back to school next week?! Crazy! If you are also headed back to school soon, you are going to want to start thinking about fun back to school activities! If you just started your summer break, pin this post and get back in the pool!

Save Fred:
My third graders had such a fun time with this simple activity. It got them talking with one another and working as a team from day one.

You will need plastic cups, 4 paper clips per group, gummy worms and gummy lifesavers.

Fred, the worm, was riding in his boat, the cup, when it tipped over. Fred is on top of the boat and he doesn't know how to swim. Lucky for him, he brought a life preserver, the lifesaver. The problem? The life preserver is stuck under the boat.

Students will work in groups to plan a way to get Fred inside the life preserver. They cannot touch the worm, the boat or the life preserver with their fingers. The only tools they can use to help are the four paperclips. I divided my students into groups of 4. First, they talked together about how they wanted to approach the task. When the group had a plan, they could begin their work. Throughout the task they were laughing, strategizing and working together. It warms my teacher heart to see all of this happening on the first day of school!

After they have completed the task, I had them write and illustrate about their strategy. The different groups shared with one another.

Spaghetti and Marshmallow Challenge:
My school used this activity as an icebreaker when we came back to school last year. It was a fun team competition that had students creatively working together.

You will need to give each group uncooked spaghetti noodles and large marshmallows. Each group should have about the same amount of supplies.

Students work in groups to see who can build the HIGHEST structure in the  specified amount of time. They can only use the spaghetti and the marshmallows. The winner is the team who has the highest structure when time is called. Many will build tall structures that fall before time is up.

One of my groups built a medium sized structure. Groups around them were building taller ones, but this group stopped. I came by and asked why they weren't building. They said that they figured the other towers would fall and they were taking their chances with the shorter by sturdier structure. Smart, right? They won!

Groups drew pictures of their creations and reflected on what they learned about building.

Everyone giggled a lot and it was a great time to talk about good sportsmanship and how games are played fairly in our classroom.

Toothpaste Tube Task:
Right from the beginning of the year, I want my students to be mindful of the words they choose to use with one another. They will be offering suggestions on writing and problem solving all year. We will spend countless hours working with partners or small groups. They need need to understand that words CAN indeed hurt.

Every group will need a tube of toothpaste, a spoon and a plate or tray. 

Have the group squirt all of the toothpaste out of the tube and on to the plate. They will think this is silly and you will get some giggles. I love giggles! 

Now tell the students that their task is to get every little bit of the toothpaste back into the tube before your timer goes off. They can only use their fingers and the spoon. EVERY BIT! 

Guess what? It's NOT possible! 

After kids have had an opportunity to try and time to wash (it's kind messy but your room will smell minty fresh!), have a class meeting. Read the book My Mouth is a Volcano and talk about how words are like the toothpaste. Once they come out, it is impossible to put them back in. You could get some of the paste back in the tube, but their was still a mess. You can apologize for your words, but you can't erase the memory or the pain they caused another person.

Students go back to their seats and reflect on this lesson.

Play Doh Creations:
I used this as the very first thing students did when they walked into the classroom on the first day of school. I wanted to set the tone from the start that our classroom would be different and fun. So when students got to there desks, they found a small container of Play Doh. They were told that they could work alone or work with each other to create ANYTHING they wanted to. The only rule was that the Play Doh had to stay on a desk or table and not be on the carpet. Some kids chose to work together so they had more doh and multiple colors to build one creation. Other students preferred to work alone. 
While they were working, I was able to deal with paperwork, attendance and bags of supplies that were handed to me on the way in. This was a much better way to start our day than starting with a discussion of the class rules or where to put their supplies. There was time for all the logistics later! Fun first!

Would you like to grab  all of my planning/reflection sheets for FREE? Just click on the picture below to download.

Here is another blog post that you might be interested in:

Here are some back to school products that you might be interested in: