Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: March 2017

Using Book Raffles in the Classroom

As a teacher, my number one reading goal is to help students develop a love for reading. I want to help my students find the book that they can't put down. I want them to be so engaged in books, that they can't wait for independent reading time! 

One way that I get students excited about books and reading is through book raffles. A book raffle always leaves my kids excited and begging for more.

There are three different types of book raffles that I use in the classroom...

First to Read a New Book

I love to add new books to our classroom library throughout the year. As I learn more about this specific group of students, I look for books that meet their interests. When I get a new book, I show the whole class. I read the summary on the back cover for them. Anyone who is interested in being the first to read the new book is given a raffle ticket. I draw a name and that person is given a specific length of time (determined by the length of the book, but usually a week or two) to read the new book. If the book is especially popular, I will draw another name when the first student finishes the book. Otherwise, it gets put into the class library and anyone can pick it.

Kids love this! Wanting to be first is a natural human desire. Kids are also quite competitive. So I have kids sitting on the edge of their seat in anticipation of the right to be able to read a book. What could be better?!! 

First to Read the Next Book in a Series

I read to my students every single day while they enjoy their snack. I love using this time to introduce my students to different series and authors. After I read a book, my students are dying to read the next book in the series! I always set it aside. Any student who is interested in reading the next book is given a raffle ticket. I draw a name and that person is given a specific length of time (determined by the length of the book, but usually a week or two) to read the new book.

Again, kids are excited to be the first to read the book and I am so excited that I have encouraged them to try a new series! It's a win!

Student Gifts

I love to give my students books. I give them books for Christmas and books for an end of year gift. But I don't just buy 24 of the same book. I like to collect Scholastic $1 books or use my Scholastic coupons to get a collection of various titles. This type of raffle does cost some money, but I would rather spend money on books than silly trinkets.

With this type of raffle, you can give out tickets during the week prior. Whenever you see students on task, participating or helping one another- you can give them a ticket. I still give each student a few tickets on raffle day, but students with more tickets will have a better chance of winning their first choice book at the raffle. By doing it this way, you have a fun behavior incentive program for right before a holiday break or at the end of the year. That's a win!

You don't have to have students earn tickets. You can always decide on a ticket amount to give each student. With this method, every student will have the same chance to get their first choice book. 

On raffle day, I place the books around the classroom and give students time to check them out. They can read the back cover and/or flip through the book. After every student has had time to preview the books, they can put their tickets in the container in front of the books they want. They can put all of their tickets in for one book or spread them out. I leave that up to them, but I do reassure them that EVERY student will win exactly one book!

I go one book at a time and choose a winner. If a student has already won a book, they can decide to keep the first book or trade it for the second book. I do require my students to clap and cheer for each other! I encourage the winner to jump up and coming running up to get their book like a contestant on The Price is Right!

After I have chosen a winner from each container, I am left with the books that were traded back. Every student who has not won a book yet will put one ticket into a jar and I will draw for the books one at a time.

After everyone has a book, I do allow them a few minutes to trade if they want.

Then I give them an assignment or task while I go around the room and write an inscription in the front cover of each of their books. This makes the gift more personal!

Book raffles are so fun and simple! Get your students excited to read a book by making it a raffle!

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10 Ways to Make Math Fun

Math is my very favorite subject to teach! I love that it lends itself so nicely to hands-on activities and games. There are so many ways that you can take a dry math curriculum and make it fun! These ideas are perfect for the classroom teacher or a homeschooler! 

1. Integrate Technology
I know that every classroom does not have access to technology, but so many do! Technology is also getting less expensive. I was able to purchase a small group of Kindle Fires for my classroom for a very reasonable price. Students used these devices as a math center. Some of their favorite websites were Xtra Math, Moby Max, and Zearn.  You can also use a site like Kahoot to make interactive class games and quizzes. 

2. Interactive Notebooks
I love using math interactive notebooks! My students are able to practice important math skills in a way that is hands-on and engaging. The notebooks also serve as a reference throughout the year. Students take such pride in these notebooks. 

Interactive notebooks are fun!

Click HERE to read more about how I use interactive notebooks in the classroom.

Check out all of my math interactive notebooks by clicking HERE.

3. Centers
Math is always more fun when you get to move around and do different activities! Math centers are fun! I find that my third graders actually enjoy the independence that centers provide. I love that it gives me the opportunity to meet with small groups of students for reteach and extension. You can read more about how I organize my math centers by clicking HERE

Math centers are fun!

Check out all of my 3rd and 4th grade math centers by clicking HERE.

4. Games
Almost every student would prefer playing a game over doing another boring worksheet! Games are not just for fun though. They can be a wonderful way to practice important math skills! Sometimes I even send math games home for students to play with their families for homework! 

This area and perimeter game is a fun way to practice a tricky skill!

5. Books with Math Themes
Integrating some reading into math is super fun! My students love read alouds and they can be a wonderful way to introduce a new math unit.

Books with a math theme are fun!

6. Opportunities to Create
Allowing students to get creative during math class can add lots of fun to your instruction! The creations helps students to use both sides of their brain and increases memory. My students always have a blast making these area and perimeter robots. They are having so much fun, that they rarely notice how challenging the project is!

Area and perimeter robots are a fun way to create in math class!

7. Pair Shares
Math obviously can't just be non-stop games and art projects. I do have to deliver a mini lesson! To make these lessons more fun and engaging, I use pair shares. Students are given lots of opportunities to share strategies with their shoulder partner. Sometimes I ask them to share the strategy that I used to solve an example. Other times they are asked to share the strategy they would use to solve the problem. All this talking time helps to keep students focused! It's a lot more fun than just sitting and listening.

8. Task Card Scoots
Scoots are so much more fun than any worksheet! Task cards are placed around the room and students move from card to card answering the questions. The very act of moving around makes the activity more fun. Sometimes I have them move with a partner and they love that! This is a great way to make an assessment engaging!

Task card scoots are fun!

You can check out my task cards by clicking HERE

9. Using Manipulatives
I love to give students manipulatives and let them play with numbers and patterns. Being able to move fraction bars around helps when comparing fractions. Base ten blocks can really help students to understand subtraction with regrouping. And if you really want to up the fun- give them food for manipulatives! We use crackers when studying area and perimeter, candy when graphing and almost any food can be used to make equal groups when multiplying and dividing! 

10. Unexpected Writing Utensils
I am very picky about my writing utensils. I am the happiest when I get to grade or write in a journal using my favorite pen. But for some reason, we ask kids to always write with yellow pencils. Why not mix it up from time to time to keep tings fun? Get some scented crayons and let them solve word problems on drawing paper! Or give them dry erase markers and let them write on their desk or a class window! Why not use sidewalk chalk and do your math outside?! This is guaranteed to make routine math problems 100% more fun! 

Tips for Dealing with a Talkative Class

I recently asked teachers on my Facebook page what their biggest classroom challenge was. At least half of the teachers responded that their biggest challenge was dealing with talkative students. I want to share my tips and strategies for dealing with a talkative class.

Let me start by saying, there is NOT a simple and immediate cure to the chatty class! There is not that one thing that you can do tomorrow that will instantly transform your classroom. If I am wrong, by all means, let me know! 

That being said, I do think there are some things that you can do that will gradually change the chatty atmosphere in your classroom.

Don't Teach Over Student Talking

You deserve respect. You really do. When you just continue teaching while. students are talking, you are telling them that this behavior and disrespect are acceptable. On top of that, the students who are not talking and really want to hear your lesson are distracted and have trouble focusing. You aren't doing anyone any good by just ignoring the behavior.

Less Teacher Talk

I want you to really think about this question. Are you talking too much? Are you standing in front of the class and performing a monologue? If your teaching involves a lot of time standing in front of the class telling them what you need them to learn, then students are bound to get antsy and chatty! I know that this happens to me during some staff meetings! I just can't sit and be quiet for long periods of time. I want to interact. So do your students. Get them involved. Have students teach each other. Have students explain their strategies. Have students come up to the board. Have students work with partners. 

Give Students Opportunities to Talk Regularly

This tip really goes along with the last one. If you give students regular opportunities to talk, they are much more likely to respect you when you take your turn to talk. I use Whole Brain Teaching Teach Okay. It is a form of a pair share. Students have been trained to teach their partner. When I call for a teach okay, students immediately turn to their partner and teach them. So I might say, "Teach your partner the strategy I used to solve this problem." I clap twice and call "Teach!" They clap back and call "Okay!" And then they turn and talk. I give my students opportunities to talk about their thinking about every 10 minutes. Giving them permission to talk has decreased their need to talk over me. 

Keep Students Engaged and Moving

Often times, students are talking because they are bored. I don't consider a teacher's job to be a circus clown that entertains. However, I do know that engaged students are learning more than the bored student. Therefore, I go out of my way to create a classroom where students are moving, creating and laughing. If you need some ideas for increasing student engagement, check out the post below.

Have an Attention Getter and Practice the Procedure

You need an attention getter. Any attention getter will work as long as you have taken sufficient time to teach students the procedures and expectations. When they hear you call out, they should have a vocal response, but their bodies should also freeze. Their eyes should meet your eyes. If you don't practice this, then an attention getter just becomes something cutesy and ineffective. You may need to plan time to review the expectation every quarter. Also, don't be afraid to change the attention getter when it gets boring. 

Change Up Your Positive Behavior Program

As the year goes on, don't be afraid to change your positive behavior program to keep it fresh and interesting for students. If you notice that students are no longer interested in clipping up your behavior chart, maybe it is time to try Class Dojo. If the marble jar is no longer motivating students, maybe it is time to implement brag tags. Have you tried the scoreboard from Whole Brain Teaching? Maybe a classroom economy is the answer.

Don't assume that you have tried everything! There is always something new and you have to be willing to experiment until you find that program that works for your class! It is essential that you are rewarding good behavior. Students are generally more motivated by positive reenforcement than they are by discipline. Be sure that you are thanking students who are quiet!

Be Firm and Fair With Discipline

It goes without saying that you need some form of a discipline program. Students need to know exactly what behaviors are punishable and what those punishments will be. Do some role playing with them! This makes it fun, but helps them to remember. Decide if students will receive a warning and what that warning will look like. Decide what happens after the warning and let students know ahead of time. Once you have explained the expectations, follow through every single time!!! At first, you will have more students who are being disciplined for talking. Just calmly and fairly do what you told them you would do. Yelling is not necessary. Within time, students will see that you were honest and that you are fair. Most students will chose to improve their behavior. 

It may also be a good idea to warn parents. Let them know that classroom talking has become a problem. Tell them what your discipline procedure will be and warn them that there might be more clip downs or write ups during the next few weeks as students are learning the proper classroom behaviors. This might cut down on the worried parent emails and phone calls.

Noise Isn't the Enemy

I am very sensitive to noise. I just can't focus when it isn't quiet. It took me a long time to realize that all classroom noise is not bad noise. Take a step back and really reflect on whether your class is talkative in a disrespectful way or if the noise is just the sound of productivity. Are your students actively engaged and learning? In that case, maybe a little more noise than you are used to, is not a bad thing! 

Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

Are you feeling tired and stressed? Check out these tips for avoiding teacher burnout!

The struggle is real. Teacher burnout is a reality. All over the country, teachers are tired, frustrated, stressed and leaving the profession. After only a few years, talented teachers are walking out. Don't let this be you! Yes, teaching is tough, but so are YOU! Whether you are a new teacher or a long-time teacher, I hope these tips will help you to love your job and decrease the stress.

Tips for Avoiding Teacher Burnout

1. Don't compare yourself to every other teacher.

Thanks to Pinterest and social media, it is difficult not to compare yourself to other teachers. But comparing yourself to others will quickly kill your joy for teaching. Just looking at beautiful classroom pictures does not tell the whole story. Just because they have an organized space, does not mean they have meaningful relationships with their students. Just because they took pictures of a fun and engaging activity, does not mean they don't have behavior management challenges. As teachers, we all have our strengths, but we all have weaknesses too. The thing is, we rarely take pictures that show our weaknesses! So when you see a picture of what looks like a perfect classroom- don't forget that they have skeletons somewhere! There is no such thing as a perfect teacher. 

2. Plan ahead.

Last minute lesson planning and prep leads to so much teacher stress! It can be  hard to get ahead when you feel like you are drowning, but it is possible. It is easier to work in batches rather than working on one week at a time. For example, sit down one afternoon and plan your social studies units for the next month or two. The next afternoon, devote your time to planning your math centers. It will be a tough week, but when you finish- you will be so happy! You don't have to plan each week on Sunday night. Instead, you set aside an hour or two each week to continue planning and prepping out. When the copy machine breaks on a Monday morning, you won't be in tears. It will also give you time to look for resources when you have gaps. 

3. Don't grade everything.

Grading hundreds of papers every week is enough to make anyone want to quit their job! You don't have the time or the need to grade everything! I am going to let you in on a little secret, but don't tell ANYONE! Here goes...I sometimes throw away entire stacks of student work. Yup. When no one was looking, I chucked them. And no one ever asked me about it. No one cared. 

Now I know that we can't just throw away all of the papers. We do need grades for those report cards. We do want to check our students' understanding and communicate their progress with parents. You will have to grade assessments from time to time. For this reason, I set a side a time one afternoon per week for grading. 

There are other ways to check understanding and/or get scores besides grading mounds of papers.
  • Trade and Grade: After students complete a simple assessment (such as multiple choice exit tickets or math facts), have them trade with a shoulder partner and grade it for you. 
  • Parent Volunteers: Email your families and see if anyone would be willing to grade spelling tests, math facts, worksheets, etc. 
  • Informal Assessments: Everything doesn't have to be done on paper. Put a problem on the board and  have students solve it on their white boards. You can walk around with a clip board and check off students who have met the standard. You can also watch students complete activities on white boards, with math manipulatives or in math interactive notebooks during guided small group time. 
  • Participation: Sometimes, you just need to give students a participation grade! Were they on task? Did they complete the work? 
If you are looking for some more ways to quickly check for student understanding without creating more grading for yourself, check out this post:

4. Don't take school work home with you. And don't sneak back to school, when you should be at home!

To some of you, this may sound unrealistic. Trust me! You work so hard at school. When you are at home you need to be able, to focus on you and your family. If you give up hobbies and time with those you love, you will burn out so quickly! I am speaking from experience! During my first two years of teaching, I spent every weekend at the school and carried home multiple bags of stuff that needed to be done before coming back to school. I was exhausted and miserable. I came very close to quitting my job. During my third year, I decided that things had to change. I refused to go to school during my time off and I only brought home a few things- such as laminating and writing samples. By making this decision to take back my life, I forced myself to be more intentional and focused at school. I learned to organize my time better and prioritize. The outcome was a much happier teacher! Here are some tips that helped me to take back my personal life:
  • Make a schedule for your week. I reserved Mondays for cleaning up and organizing. On Tuesdays, I would grade necessary papers. I decided to lesson plan on Wednesday. Then I could make my copies on Thursday. On Friday, I would update my grades from the week. I would set aside any plan period time and an hour of after school time to complete these tasks. The schedule kept me so organized!
  • Keep social time at work to a minimum. I love my coworkers, but I had to be careful that I didn't spend so much time talking to them that I was giving up time with my family. I didn't want to give up these important friendships (because they make work more fun!), but I had to protect my time. So I decided to eat lunch with my coworkers, but to lock my door during plan time and after school. I know that it sounds harsh, but time is so valuable!
  • Choose classroom decor and bulletin boards that can stay up most of the year! I have just one board that I change each quarter. Otherwise, everything in my room stays put for the year. I might switch out an anchor chart or the vocabulary words, but otherwise, I am not wasting time doing any redecorating. 
  • Ask for help! I sent out an email and asked if there were any parents who would be willing to make copies for me. I had a sweet mom agree to come in every Wednesday morning for 30 minutes. I knew that she was coming and would have things prepared for her. It was an easy way for her to feel like she was helping without giving up a ton of her time. It was win win! You could ask a volunteer to grade papers or even plan the next holiday party! I know that this isn't possible for everyone, but you never know unless you ask.
  • Collaborate with another teacher on your team. You have to be careful with this. It is important that you are collaborating with someone you trust and know has similar teaching philosophies as you. Otherwise, the collaboration will be a source of stress. I found a teammate and we split the planning and prep. I did the math and science planning and prep. She focused on the reading and writing prep. Then we shared our lesson plans. We even made the copies for each other! It made my life so much easier!

5. Try something new in your classroom.

I have found that one of the best ways to bring back the joy of teaching, is to try a new activity, schedule or strategy. Don't change everything! That would be stressful! But if there is something you have been interested in, give it a go. Maybe you want to add some interactive notebooks into your math block or you could start book clubs with your readers. Have you thought about experimenting with math centers or using brag tags? I say- go for it! Bring back that excitement that you had when you first started teaching! The best part is that your students will get excited too!

Are you feeling tired and stressed? Check out these tips for avoiding teacher burnout!

Teaching is tough, but so are you. Our students need amazing teachers. We have to find ways to manage the stress and the responsibilities so that we are not burning out and leaving the profession! I challenge you to make a list right now of three things you can do right away to fend off the negative feelings and exhaustion that teaching has created. What three things will help you take back your personal life and bring back your joy for teaching? Just start with three for now. It's all about balance! We can do this!

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