Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: January 2017

5 Ways to Quickly Check for Understanding

A lesson is just not complete without checking for student understanding. If I do not check for understanding, I am unable to self evaluate. Was the lesson effective? What should I change in the future? Also, without checking for understanding, I do not know which students need additional support and which students need enrichment. 

I know that I need to check for understanding, but I do NOT have time to give and grade daily assessments! I want to share five different ways that I informally assess my kiddos. These activities are super quick, but give me the information that I need to plan for future lessons. 

1. Price of Admission

I love this activity! I laminated a piece of paper with the Price of Admission heading. The paper hangs just outside of my classroom. 

Each morning, before my kids enter the room, I use an Expo marker to write a task. This works best with a task that does not have just one right answer. 

Name a fraction greater than one-half.
Give a x9 fact with a product greater than 45.
Give me an example of an adverb.
Name one ingredient needed for photosynthesis.
Give an example of an animal adaptation.

I tell my students that they cannot give the same answer as the person before them in line. You will also get more accurate data if you have the students whisper their answer. You can have students go to the back of the line if they get it incorrect. If you do this, make sure that it doesn't seem like a punishment and let students know that everyone will get them wrong from time to time. Sometimes we all need a second chance! 

Sometimes the price of admission can just be something fun that helps me to build relationships with my students!

What did you have for dinner last night?
What is your favorite board game?
Would you rather ride a bike or roller blade?

Kids love these!

You can grab a free price of admission printable for your classroom! I included ten different variations, so I am sure you can fine one that works for your classroom. Click HERE to download. 

2. Exit Tickets

Exit tickets are just super short assessments. They usually only have a couple of questions and can be completed in five minutes or less. They should also be simple to grade and not involve reading extended response answers.

I do not sit down with a red pen to grade the exit tickets! As the students are turning them in, I am able to quickly check the answers. If they are all correct, they go in one pile. If they missed one, they go in another pile. If they are completely off, they go in a third pile. Now I know if I need to teach the lesson again to the whole group or to a small group.

For math, I usually just display a couple problems from a homework or practice sheet. And for reading, I use THESE exit tickets. They are super simple to grade because they are multiple choice!

3. White Boards

I do white board informal assessments almost every single day! I love using white boards because I don't need to photocopy anything. They require almost no planning or prep. And they take virtually no time!

In math, I can display one problem on the board. Students solve on their white boards. I can walk around and take note of students who need additional support. Then, I can complete the problem in front of the class and ask them to share the steps that I used to solve with their partner. This helps students to quickly correct their mistakes.

In grammar, I can write a sentence on my board and have students identify the adverb on their board. I can write a list of three verbs and ask students to write the past tense of the verbs on their board. They can hold their boards up and I am able to quickly see who needs extra help. 

In the picture above, my students were asked to write the plural form of the noun "die."

I highly recommend investing in a set of white boards. THESE are the ones that I have. If you truly cannot afford white boards, put white card stock in page protectors. They are not as durable and you should plan on needing to replace the page protector every couple of months. But it works!

4. Line Up with Task Cards

This is the perfect informal assessment for when you unexpectedly have an extra five minutes before lunch or dismissal. Instead of just letting the kids run to get in line, they have to answer a question to earn their spot in line. I keep a few sets of task cards handy. I stand in front of one student and show them a task card. If they answer correctly, they line up. If they are incorrect, I give them the card and they work on it at their desk until I have gone around the room once. Then I come back to any students that are still working on their card. If they get it right on their second chance, I give praise and they line up. If they are still struggling, I thank them for trying so hard and promise to help them later. Make sure your students know that it is ok to not know everything! It is ok to ask for help!

5. Self-Assessment

Sometimes you just need to ask students how they feel about a lesson or skill. 

Tell students how important it is for them to be honest. If they aren't honest, you won't know that they need assistance. Also, promise them that the info will stay between you and them. Their classmates won't see the self-assessment. I also think that it is important to go over what each level means and give examples before you ask students to do a self-assessment. 

Once students know how to self-assess, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you can learn by just asking!

You can grab this FREE self-assessment resource HERE.

Books for Black History Month

Books that are perfect for February which is Black History Month.

February is Black History Month. It is a fantastic time to integrate lots of history into your reading and writing blocks! I think that it is very important that we include black history into our lessons. I like to use my Black History Interactive Notebook along with meaningful and engaging read alouds. 

Here are some of my favorite books for Black History Month (or any time of the year really!). If you want to know more about the book, click on the picture and it will take you to Amazon.

Salt in His Shoes

This is a great story about Michael Jordan and how persistence and hard work led to his success.

Freedom on the Menu

This is a story about the Greensboro Sit-ins and how an eight year old made a difference.

Through My Eyes

This is a book about segregation that is written by Ruby Bridges. 

Martin's Big Words

This biography of Martin, Luther King Jr. includes many of King's own words and is written in a way that children can understand and appreciate.

The Oprah Winfrey Story

This is a great story of a girl that is born into a very poor family and how she becomes one of the most influential people in the world.

Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman

This is a story about how dedication and hard work led to Bessie Coleman becoming the the first African-American to get a pilot's license. 

Amazing Grace

This is a great story about becoming who you want to be despite the what other's say!

Of Thee I Sing

This is a beautiful letter written by our first African-American president to his daughters.

If a Bus Could Talk

This his a simple book about Rosa Parks and the bus boycotts.

White Socks Only

This is the precious story of a black girl who believes she can drink from the white only water fountains because she is wearing white socks.

Freedom Summer

This is a beautiful story of a white boy and a black boy who become the best of friends.

Henry's Freedom Box

This book is a true story from the Underground Railroad about a boy is trying to figure out who he is.

Books that are perfect for February which is Black History Month.

I hope that these book suggestions are helpful!

Another fantastic way to celebrate and study Black History Month is with my Black History Passages and Interactive Notebook. These activities are perfect for practicing close reading strategies while learning about influential African Americans.

Passages and interactive notebooks activities that are perfect for Black History Month!

Passages and interactive notebooks activities that are perfect for Black History Month!

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10 Ways to Grow Your Classroom Library

I firmly believe that every elementary classroom should have a fantastic classroom library. The library should be filled with books that their students are wanting to read. This means that teachers are having to regularly update their libraries to reflect the current interests of their students. Buying books gets pricey and most teachers are not rolling in the dough. Sadly, very few schools have the funds to help fill classroom libraries. I am super proud of my extensive library. I did not buy the books full price. Let me share some great ways to grow your classroom library on a budget.

1.     Scholastic

Every teacher needs to sign up with Scholastic Book Clubs! It’s a fantastic way to get free and discounted books and it is a good way to help parents put new books in kids’ hands. When you sign up, I recommend that you request book orders for your grade level, one below and one above. So if you teach third grade- request 2nd, 3rd and 4th.  I send home the order forms every month. Parents are able to go online and order books for their children. I earn points for every book that they purchase. I use these points to get FREE books for the classroom!

Also, the front of each book order form usually has a $1 book. I have been able to get tons of popular books for just a $1. This comes in really handy when you need books for book clubs! Even if you are not buying $1 books, Scholastic tends to have very decent prices. You will also periodically receive coupons for yourself and your students.

You may also want to check and see if you have a Scholastic book warehouse in your area. This is a great place to find very inexpensive books! Just plan lots of time to sift through the books!

2.     Birthday Books

I love to celebrate student birthday. Lots of families at my school will send in a treat to share with the class. Another great way to celebrate and grow the classroom library is to encourage students to bring in a copy of their favorite book on their special day. They can sign their name and write their birthdate on the inside cover. It's also fun to have students include their photograph on the cover. Students love to share their favorite book and know that they will be a part of your classroom library for years to come. It makes them feel special!

You can grab a FREE copy of my birthday book parent letter by clicking HERE.

3.     Garage Sales

Pay close attention to garage sales in your area! You can often score a ton of very gently used books for change! I scored some Baby-Sitter’s Club books at a garage sale and I was stoked. I paid 25 cents per book and these books are out of publication now. I couldn’t have bought them at the bookstore if I wanted to! (They are making graphic novel versions that my kids love, but they only have a few out so far.)

4.     Second-Hand Stores

When I first started teaching, I went to a Half Price Books store in my area and bought dozens of books. I completely filled my bookshelves with amazing titles! You certainly don’t have to go crazy like me- but check your local second-hand book stores and Goodwill stores. You can usually score popular books for half of the price that book stores charge.

5.     Library Sales

My local library has a used book sale every few months. It’s an excellent way to grab some very inexpensive books. Sometimes the titles are more obscure and other times I score some popular titles. It is worth calling your library to see if they ever have used book sales!

6.     Donor’s Choose

Donor’s Choose is an organization that allows public school teachers to write grants for classroom supplies. They can collect donations from their friends and family and/or complete strangers will donate to the projects. I have had several Donor’s Choose book projects funded! It is so exciting to get a box full of the books you want and not have to pay a dime! And since you have nothing to lose, every teacher should have an active Donor’s Choose project posted!

7.     Wish List

I highly recommend going on Amazon and starting a class wish list. You can choose the books that you need or want for the classroom. Then share the wish list in your next classroom newsletter or email. Sometimes families want to help, but don’t know how. I don’t know about you, but I would rather receive books for my classroom than another coffee mug! It can’t hurt to ask!

8.     Friends & Family

How about going on to your personal Facebook page and asking friends and family if they have any used books that they want to donate? Lots of families have old book crammed on to kid bookshelves and they just haven’t taken the time to organize and get rid of the ones that they no longer read. If you ask- you might help them to get more organized! You’re performing a good deed! LOL! But seriously, you will probably get some books donated!

9.     Facebook Marketplace

Have you looked at the Facebook Marketplace? When you are using the Facebook app, click on the building with an awning at the bottom of the screen. It will show you what people are selling in your area. If no one is selling books, consider posting an ad that says you are in search of (ISO) gently used books. I am also part of a local buy and sell Facebook page. Check and see if your neighborhood or town has one. Lots of people have old books sitting around and they might be willing to sell them for a very reasonable price!

10.  Retiring Teachers

If you happen to know a teacher that is retiring, become their best friend. Bring them coffee and chocolate! When teachers retire, they often give away their books or sell them at a very reasonable price. During my first year of teaching, my mother-in-law and my next-door neighbor retired. I scored big time! Be on the lookout!

I hope that these ideas help you to get more books in the hands of your students!

Related Posts

Class Super Bowl Party

If you are looking for a way to get students engaged in their lessons and include student families in the classroom- a Super Bowl classroom party is the answer! 

Last year, I threw a Super Bowl party in my classroom. The parents and my students could not stop raving about it, so I wanted to share with you. I am not a sports fan. Most people find that hard to believe when they see my sports themed classroom. 

I don't love sports, but my students do. After the holidays, the whole country seems to get football crazy. I knew that I wanted to take advantage of my students' excitement for the big game. I also knew that state testing was right around the corner and I could not afford to waste any class time. So I found a way to throw a fun (and simple) party and keep it academic.


I am blessed to have several moms who volunteer in the classroom from time to time. I also noticed that the majority of my field trip chaperones are moms. I wanted to get more dads in the classroom. So I made the decision to invite dads, grandpas or uncles. In order to make it possible for more of these special men to join us, I scheduled the party for the very first thing on a Friday morning. Lots of dads were able to come on their way to work.


I decided to keep the entire party a secret from my students! I was able to pull off this surprise by sending the invite home via email. I used Sign Up Genius to invite family members. It was so easy for them to reply without students knowing. To really shock the kids, I had the dads drop the kids off as usual for school. Then the dads parked and came to the classroom while the kids were on the playground. When I brought the kids into the classroom, they were blown away to see the decor, food and many dads and grandpas! 

Isn't the ref shirt a fun a touch?! You can grab one just like it HERE!


You can't have a Super Bowl party without the traditional finger foods. I decided to be a bit crazy and have a nacho bar and chips and dip- even though the party was first thing in the morning! I am glad that I did, because everyone loved the food! The football donuts and other sweets just topped it all off! I put the items that we would need on the Sign Up Genius invite and the dads actually brought in all of the dishes! 


Not every Super Bowl party includes academics, but our class party did! The great part is that the kids are having so much fun, that they barely notice that the are doing work. Plus, dads can see what their child is working on in class. 

I kept this very simple! I went through my papers and grabbed any math worksheets that we never used. I added in some fun football reading passages. I stuck each activity in a basket with any materials that students would need (such as pencils, crayons, dice, etc). I also put a container of football party trinkets in each basket. 

Many of the activities did not even have a football theme! I just used stuff that I had on hand! But these FREE football math prompts were a fun activity.

Students rotated around the room completing activities in the baskets. Students who did not have a guest, just went around with a friend from class. They were happy about that! After they completed an activity, dads would check them and students would be allowed to pick a party favor as a reward. Students loved getting rewards for finishing the activities! It was a simple way to make an academic focused party lots of fun.

More Fun

After our time was up for completing the academic centers, I played some sports music while everyone enjoyed the yummy food. We also enjoyed a fun game of football charades. As the dads left, they thanked me profusely! It was one of the best mornings in our classroom and I knew that the time had been well spent!

How to Get the Most Out of Your Stitch Fix

I love using Stitch Fix for my teacher clothes! It is a personalized styling service and it is amazing. You simply fill out a style profile with sizing and preferences. Then, your very own stylist selects five pieces to send to you to try on at home. I love being able to try the clothes on with my accessories and shoes! You can keep what you love and return what you do not want in a prepaid envelope. You are charged a $20 styling fee, but the fee goes towards any of the clothes that you keep. I am always keeping something, so I never really pay that fee! Plus, if you keep all five pieces, you get 25% off of the entire order. And you never pay for shipping!

I constantly have people asking me about how I am able to get such great pieces in my fix and how I am able to get so many of my pieces for free. A teacher can't usually afford designer clothing! I thought I would share some tips that I have learned along the way so that you can get the best clothes. at the best bargain.

I will be the first to admit that my first several experiences with Stitch Fix were not positive. I did not feel like the clothes matched my style at all. I would send them all back and get disappointed. So I stopped getting fixes altogether. But I kept seeing super cute Stitch Fix pieces on Pinterest. I read about people, who were loving the service and so I decided to give it another go. I am so glad that I did! My last six fixes have been awesome! Everything is so ME, but pieces that I wouldn't have thought to try if I went to the store on my own. And I have received many of the pieces for free by just sharing my experience with friends and family. 

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your Stitch Fix...

1. Get Out the Measuring Tape

The first time that I tried Stitch Fix, I guessed on the measurements on the style profile. I was just too lazy to actually do, the measurements. So some pieces fit and some didn't. 
When I went back to Stitch Fix, I actually measured. Now every single piece that I get fits as if it was made for me. I am shocked every time. I just got a pair of skinny black jeans and they are amazing! I never buy jeans online! I cannot believe that a perfect stranger was able to send me the perfect jeans! So measure! It saves so much frustration later!

2. Pin Like a Pro

You need to start a fashion Pinterest board. You can share the link to this board on your style profile. Your stylist will go to the board to get a better idea of the styles and patterns that you like. I did this when I first started using Stitch Fix, but I wasn't doing it right! First of all, I was just pinning any piece of clothing that I thought was cute. It is totally fine to pin something that you really love. But the board will be more valuable to your stylist if you are primarily pinning actual Stitch Fix clothes! So start by going to Stitch Fix's board and go through their pins. Save things that you might want to try. You can also search for other people's Stitch Fix pins and boards. You can check out my fashion board by clicking the photo below.

Another things that will make your Pinterest board more helpful is if you write notes on the pins that you save. If you see a top that you like, rather than just saving with the wording that the last person wrote, change it to tell the stylist why you like it. Something like, "I love the color of this blouse and the detail on the sleeves." You can also tell her what you don't like. "I love the neckline, but I don't wear this color." These notes will really help to guide your stylist, which will lead to better fixes for you! Sometimes I pin something that I am crazy in love with and I beg my stylist to send it!

3. Tell Them What You Want

It is true that one of the things I like best about Stitch Fix is that they push my comfort zone and send things that I might not have tried. But, I still feel that it's important to give your stylist as much information as possible. When you schedule your fix, you get to write your stylist a note about what you are wanting. I use the Stitch Fix app and this is what the screen looks like...

Tell her everything! If you want something to wear on a date night, tell her! If you are wanting a new pair of jeans, tell her. But be very specific! I was way too general at first and that left me disappointed. Instead of just saying, "I want something to wear on a date," try saying, "I would like a black blouse that would look good with jeans on a casual date night." I also let my stylist know what the average temperature is when I leave a note. Since I live in Phoenix, it is much warmer than the majority of the country and I don't want her to send me thick sweaters!

4. Give Feedback that Counts

Once you get your fix, you will go online to checkout. You get to decide which pieces you want to keep and which ones you would like to send back. There is an area to leave feedback for each piece. Be super specific! "I loved the color of the blouse, but the pattern was too busy for me." "I love the style of the blouse, but it fit slightly too tight in the chest." Don't forget to leave feedback on the items that you decided to keep. Telling your stylist why you love a piece, will help her to pick fantastic pieces in the future! It may take a couple of fixes before you feel like the stylist totally gets you. But once you get a fix that you love, ask to keep the same stylist!

5. Tell the World

If you receive something that you love from Stitch Fix, post it on social media. Anytime someone signs up for Stitch Fix using your referral code and schedules their first fix- you receive $25 in credit towards your next fix! This is how I am able to get so much of my clothing for free or drastically discounted. When I get a blouse that I like, I post a picture of myself wearing it on Facebook and Instagram. I tell my friends and family that I got it from Stitch Fix. I leave my referral code. A few people sign up every time! I have even started posting these pics on Pinterest! I put my referral code as the website link. Now perfect strangers are helping a teacher look like a fashionista!!! And I am helping them too!

The first few times that I got a fix, I was surprised by the cost of each item. But I splurged and bought a blue blouse that I really liked. I posted a picture on Facebook and received several referrals. Since that fix, I have never paid full price for an item in a fix. So keep in mind that the first purchase or two may be a bit pricier, but after you share, it will get much more reasonable!

If you are interested and trying Stitch Fix, you are more than welcome to use my referral code. I know that you are going to love having a personal stylist!