Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: April 2017

5 Mistakes Teachers Make at the End of the Year

The end of the year is stressful, but don't make these mistakes! Keep the last weeks and days of school fun with these simple ideas!

The end of the school year is full of emotions, stress and exhaustion. The to do lists are long. The student energy is high, while the teacher energy seems to be nonexistent. We want to end the year on a high note, but sometimes we are just causing ourselves undue stress. 

There are several mistakes that a teacher can make at the end of the year even though they mean well. These mistakes will make the end of the year even more difficult.

1. Completely Changing the Routine

Try your best to keep the routine in tact, even at the end of the year. I know that some days this will be next to impossible. There are assemblies, field trips, open house and so many other school events that flip our daily routine upside down. You can't change those things, but every other day- keep the routine! If you have been doing reading groups all year, keep having reading groups. You don't have to do the exact same thing in those reading groups. Maybe you want to do a book club instead of reading the curriculum stories. That is great! 

You can change small things while still keeping the routine. If you change the schedule too much or too often, it tends to lead to behavior challenges. Kids really like routine! Everyone likes to know what is expected.

2. Doing Too Much of the Work

When I first started teaching, I had a mentor that always said, "If you are going home tired, you are doing too much of the work." Although I often go home exhausted, I do see her point. We have a tendency to do too much of the talking, too much of the teaching and too much of the work. Make sure your students are doing their fair share to lead the classroom. They can do pair shares to teach and review topics. They can do team projects and work together to make a plan for the completion. They can help with grading by doing trade and grade with math facts and other simple assignments. Students can be cleaning and organizing the classroom. Are there tasks that can be done at home such pencil sharpening, lamination cutting, stapling, etc? Send an email to parents with your exact needs and see if they would be willing to volunteer. You are a classroom family and everyone has to do their share of the work!

3. Not Having Fun

I think that every day should include some fun. I am not a three-ring circus leader (even though it feels like it sometimes), but I still feel that simple activities can be lots of fun. The end of the year should be even more fun! You want to send your students home, on that last day, super excited to come back after break. You want to create long-lasting and positive memories. I know that you are tired and stressed, but do yourself a favor and a plan a few fun activities for the last weeks of school. Some ideas include:

4. Not Prepping for Next Year

I know that you are really busy trying to survive the end of this year. You probably think that I am crazy to even mention next year. Here's the thing- if you don't start prepping for next year, you will end up thinking about it and working during your summer break. You need a break! Prep now so that your break can be more enjoyable. 

In THIS post, I wrote about the things that you really should have prepped before you leave for summer break. It is doable! 

5. Focusing on the HUGE To Do List

I know that you have a ton to do. Do you ever just stare at the list, get frustrated and then not even start on the tasks? I hope I am not the only one! When we have a lot to do, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking and stressing over all that we have to do. The reality is that if we just used that time to make a plan and get started, we would finish much faster!

So let's make a plan! Start by doing a brain dump. Take a few minutes to write down everything that you need to do. 

Tips for tackling the huge teacher to do list!

Then try grouping items that are similar. By batching your tasks, you will save lots of time. For example, if you have to send a few emails- it makes more sense to sit down and write them all at once than it does to sit down multiple times to write the emails. After you have batched your tasks, look at your calendar. You can't do it all at one time, so schedule blocks of work time and write exactly what you want to accomplish during that time. Be reasonable and don't forget to block off time for family, sleep, exercise, etc.

Now you don't need to focus on the whole list. Just focus on what you have scheduled for today! You and your kids deserve this!

The end of the year is stressful, but don't make these mistakes! Keep the last weeks and days of school fun with these simple ideas!

I hope that you really enjoy your class during those last few weeks! You know you will miss them!

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End of Year Class Theme Days

During the last weeks or days of school, I am looking for fun ways to celebrate with my students. During the year we have become such great friends and I want to end the year with a bang! Having theme days during that last week can be so much fun. You can sneak in academics if you need to, or you can just make it a celebration. It's up to you! 

Here are 12 classroom theme day ideas:

1. Camping Day

The kids always love it when I transform the classroom into a camp site! We move the desks out of the way and students bring in sleeping bags and flashlights or lanterns. I play a YouTube channel that has a camp fire with crackle sounds. Students can read by flashlight. 

It is also fun to celebrate your student authors by having them read their most recent story. Don't forget to serve s'mores for a snack! You can make solar ovens and make them outside or just put Golden Graham cereal, marshmallows and chocolate chips in a baggie for a less messy version.

2. STEM Day

STEM projects are lots of fun, but I don't get to nearly enough of them during the school year. So why not devote a day during the last week to STEM? You can put different activities around the room and have students rotate like centers, or do several all together. THESE free summer STEM projects look perfect!

3. Water Day

Nothing says, "Summer is coming!" like a water day! Have students bring a towel and wear old clothes or a swimsuit. Go outside and have a water balloon fight! 

You can throw in some academics by doing a STEM project to see who can build the boat that holds the most weight. I give students foil and we test the boats by putting pennies in them while they float in a bucket or sink of water. You could also do a science experiment to see which items dissolve in water: sugar, salt, coffee, rice or cocoa. Don't forget to do some watercoloring! Have students paint the first thing that comes too mind when they think of water!

4. Game Day

I like game day because it is very simple to plan and gives me a little time to take down a bulletin board or fill out one of the many spreadsheets that the end of year requires. Students like this day because it gives them a chance to play and chat with their friends before the long break. Have students bring in their favorite card or board games. You can put students in random groups or have them choose their own groups and enjoy the games. 

You could also play a whole group game like Bingo or Jeopardy. 

5. Hollywood Day

Roll out the red carpet (aka a piece of red fabric from a craft store!) and celebrate your student celebrities. This is the perfect day for a class awards ceremony. Every student receives an award! 

A photo booth would be awesome! You can be the paparazzi! If you have the proper technology, you have students use iMovie or another app to make movies about their favorite memories from the school year. You can watch the movies together while enjoying some popcorn. 

6. Sports Day

We were a team all year and so it makes sense to end the year playing as a team with a special sports day. You can ask students to wear a shirt or jersey with the logo of their favorite sports team. Enjoy a class game of soccer, kickball or basketball. 

End the day with hot dogs and Cracker Jacks while watching the movie Everyone's Hero. It's a cute movie about friendship from the point of view of a baseball bat and ball!

7. Decades Day

Encourage students to come dressed from a different decade! You can have a few centers to commemorate different decades. Students can learn the Hand Jive at the 50s center and do a tie dye art project at the 70s center. 

Put some Rubix cubes in the 80s center. You can play lots of fun music from the various decades! Throw in some academics by assigning groups to research the president, wars and famous people from various decades. They can present their research by creating a poster. 

8. Art Day

Art is another one of those activities that my students love, but I know I didn't do enough of during the year due to time. Students will love having an entire day dedicated to art! Students can paint, create something out of clay, do bubble art or shaving cream art

You can also have students research and write about some famous artists. 

9. Travel Day

How about taking your class on a trip without leaving the classroom?! This is a great way to extend your geography unit. You can have centers set up around the classroom for different countries or states. In Mexico students can make salsa. In France they can learn to count to ten in French. You can also give them Legos or Play-doh and have students build replicas of famous landmarks in different states or countries. Students can do some research and make travel brochures! How about some opinion writing about a place they want to visit?

On travel day, you might even t take your class on a "field trip" to the next grade! Arrange with the teacher. Pair your students with her students and have them ask questions about homework, centers, science units, etc.

10. Talent Day

Everyone has a talent! It's fun to have a day to celebrate those unique talents. Students can sing, dance, play an instrument, show a trophy, display an art project, etc.

11. Carnival Day

A carnival day is lots of fun and perfect for the last couple days of school. You might want to take this one outside. You can set up some simple carnival games such as a bean bag toss and throwing ping pong balls into mason jars. 

Enjoy some corn dogs and cotton candy, because everyone knows that the best part of a carnival is the food! If you want to add some academics to this day, do a STEM project where students build a rollercoaster with straws, paper, tape and a ping pong ball or marble. 

12. Make it Shine Day

Throw on some fun upbeat music and have students help to clean the classroom until it shines! They can test all of the markers and pens and throw away ones that don't work or are missing lids. Students can organize the classroom library and fix books that have been torn. You can have kiddos dust tables and shelves. My students especially love cleaning their desks and chairs with THIS activity.

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5 Things the Teacher Should Prep BEFORE Summer Break

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but I still think that this is some of the best end of year advice that I can give you! I decided it would be worth sharing again! Plus, the beginning made me laugh so hard!

So here goes...

If you prep these materials at the end of the school year, back to school will be so much easier!

I have three days left with students and then three teacher days before summer break. I am exhausted! I fall asleep as soon as I get home from school and I honestly don't have the energy to to be nice to most people. (Just ask my husband.) I wake up in the middle of the night after having nightmares about end of year videos, classroom checkout lists and data spreadsheets. The struggle is real.

And even though I can barely remember the last time I washed my hair, I am super proud to say that I will be leaving for summer break knowing that I am prepped for back to school. Dang, that feels GOOD! If I could do it, in my current state of exhaustion, you can do it too!

I started by making a list of tasks and things that needed to be prepped for August. Then I spent about 20 minutes per day tackling the list. Since I am prepping before summer break, I was able to use parent volunteers for cutting and putting papers in page protectors! I have saved my own kids hours of time this summer! That is time that I can fill with household chores! I am kidding. Kinda.

Here are five simple things that you can prep NOW that will make back to school easier and free up more time during the summer to sleep.

1. Meet the Teacher Materials

Most schools have some kind of open house where students and parents can meet the teacher and bring in classroom supplies. My meet the teacher day is always right after several days of professional development. I never have much time in the classroom to prep and therefore end up doing it during my last couple of days of summer break. But not this year!

I organized my meet the teacher day into stations. At each station, students and parents have a different task. I planned out each station, made posters and a check off sheet. I had the check off sheet photocopied and it is sitting in my filing cabinet ready for July! (Yes, I get to start in mid July. Lucky me!)

You can grab FREE editable meet the teacher signs by clicking HERE.

You can also make copies of any paperwork you will need parents and/or students to fill out at meet the teacher.

2. Name Tags and Binder Materials

Before you leave for summer break, print all of your desk name tags, binder, folder, and notebook labels and tags. After printing and laminating my desk name tags, I sent them home and a parent cut them out for me! I also printed a class set of binder covers and folder labels. (You can grab my sports printables HERE.)

I give my students a multiplication chart and a few other resources to keep in their binders. I got all of these things copied and asked if a parent would be willing to put them in page protectors. It was an at-home job that was super simple, but saved me from having to do it over the summer. Now I have more time to sit by the pool! (You can grab my binder resources HERE.)

3. First Week of School Activities

Copy simple activities for the first week of school NOW! You will kiss yourself for doing it now when you see the long line at the copier at back to school time!

I actually sent out an email and asked if there was a parent who would be willing to make these copies! Volunteers also cut the task cards for various activities. So simple!

I am ready for the Third Day of Third Grade!

Fun ba ck to school activity!

I kept a list of the back to school activities that I prepped. I will use this list when I write my first week or two of lesson plans at the end of my summer break. It will also help to keep me from prepping the same type of activity twice. I am the type of person who would do that!

4. Brag Tags, Coupons or Class Money

Now is the perfect time to get your classroom management materials ready to go- especially since many of these items involve cutting!

I use brag tags to reward students for positive character, classroom behavior and academic growth. You can read more about how I use brag tags by clicking HERE. I love them and so do my students. I printed out several tags that I want to have available for next year.  I laminated them and sent them home for a parent to cut and hole punch.

You can see all of the brag tags that I have available by clicking HERE.

5. Daily Activities

In every classroom there are activities that get completed every day. Why not prep them now?! Consider preparing your:

I admit that this will be the toughest stuff to motivate yourself to prepare. But I also think this will be the stuff that makes me giddy with excitement when I pull it out when I get back to school. Just be sure to put them in file folders in your filing cabinet so that you don't lose or forget about them!

If you prep these materials at the end of the school year, back to school will be so much easier!

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10 Ways to Help Struggling Writers

Do you have struggling writers who just don't seem to be growing? Do you have reluctant writers who don't seem to get much writing completed? In every class that I have ever taught, there has always been a handful of kiddos that just don't like writing. These students can be toughest to reach. You have to get creative! Here are my top ten ways to help those struggling writers:

Do you have struggling writers who just don't seem to be growing? Do you have reluctant writers who don't seem to get much writing completed? In every class that I have ever taught, there has always been a handful of kiddos that just don't like writing. These students can be toughest to reach. You have to get creative! Here are my top ten ways to help those struggling writers:

1. Daily Writing Instruction

All students, and especially struggling writers, need daily writing instruction. They need a mini lesson that focuses on a writing skill. Simply having students write in a journal is not sufficient. They will just continue to write the way that they always have. The daily lesson does not have to be long. In fact, short lessons are best!

2. Give More Time to Write

Students become better writers with practice. Unfortunately, teachers like to talk. The ten minute mini lesson can easily become a 20 minute lesson. We have to cut down on the teacher talk and give students as much time as possible to write and implement the lessons taught during the mini lessons. If your lessons routinely run too long, try practicing ahead of time and eliminating any extra talk.

3. Teach Writing in Units

Instead of teaching the different types of writing (narrative, informational or opinion) simultaneously, try teaching them in units. By really focusing in on the skills needed for one type of writing, you are allowing students to master skills before moving to another type of writing. When you switch back and forth between types of writing, students have a hard time remembering the skills. They tend to mix the skills and never really master them. Once you have taught a couple units, you can start spiraling with the occasional use of prompts and/or journals.

4. Use Mentor Texts

Readers make the best writers. Show students what good writing looks and sounds like. I like to print passages that exemplify the skill I am teaching and have students put them in their writing notebook. They can reference this text when they are struggling with the skill and need a reminder of what is expected.

5. Provide Reference Materials

Give students examples, anchor charts or other reference materials that they can go back to when they are independently writing, Struggling writers often forget the lessons we have taught and need a visual reminder.

6. Look Past Mechanics

There are lots of fantastic writers who cannot spell. When you think about it, mechanics is typically just one small portion of the writing rubric. But, when the mechanics are terrible, we tend to assume the content is also terrible. Don't! If it's hard for you to look past the mechanics, have the student read their piece to you. Pay close attention to things like word choice, transitions, lead and ending. 

7. Conference with all Writers

Conferencing with small groups of students, with similar goals and needs, will help all students to grow. Set up a system that allows you to meet with all students at least once per week. I split my students into five groups based on their writing goals. I meet with one group each day during independent writing time. When you are meeting with a group, focus on one goal or portion of their writing. For example, if you have just taught about dialogue, or if it is a common goal in the group, have students read one or two paragraphs that have examples of dialogue. Having students read aloud makes it easier to focus on content rather than just mechanics and it also keeps conferences moving at a good pace. Focusing on just one goal each time allows students to zoom in on a skill rather than getting overwhelmed.

8. Provide Lots of Student Choice

Students who enjoy writing are much more likely to improve as writers. Click HERE to read more about ways to make writing fun. My favorite way to really engage writers is to give them lots of choice. Allow students to choose where they want to write. Give them options when it comes to writing utensils and papers. Most importantly, allow them to choose what they want to write about. I teach writing in units of study. When we are working on our personal narrative writing unit, I do require that they are writing personal narratives. However, they can choose any topic they want. When the writer is invested and excited about the topic, they naturally grow as writers!

9. Use Writing Partners

Sharing your writing each day with a partner is motivating and gives students a chance to learn from one another. Giving students daily opportunities to share their writing will give them a reason to improve on their writing skills. Be certain that you have procedures for how students will share and how they will respond. Practice those procedures! Keep share time very short and give specific tasks to help students to stay focused. For example, "Share with your partner a place where you used the 'Show, don't tell' strategy." 

10. Set Goals

I have students pick three goals while they examine the rubric I fill out after their pre-assessment. Students glue these goals in their writing notebook so that they will be reminded of them regularly. 

Students will be learning many new skills during a writing unit, but it is helpful to have them focus on truly growing in specific areas. It creates student buy-in and supports a growth mindset. I also use the rubric to set goals for each student. These goals guide me during writing conferences.

Do you have struggling writers who just don't seem to be growing? Do you have reluctant writers who don't seem to get much writing completed? In every class that I have ever taught, there has always been a handful of kiddos that just don't like writing. These students can be toughest to reach. You have to get creative! Here are my top ten ways to help those struggling writers:

I hope that these tips help you to reach those struggling writers!

If you are interested in my writing resources, check out the first unit in my writing product line. It includes EVERYTHING that a teacher needs to teach personal narrative writing. It has mentor text passages, anchor charts, lesson plans, printables, task cards and so much more!

Free Writing Course & Resources

Would you like even more information about making the most of your writing time? I have put together a FREE writing workshop email course. The course includes a week of free lesson plans, anchor charts and rubrics. 

Click HERE to read more and get signed up for free!

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6 Ways to Make Writing Fun in the Classroom

Do you have reluctant writers? You know- those students that stare into space the entire time that they are supposed to be writing? Do you have bored writers- students who watch the clock during wring? How about adding some fun to your writer's workshop! I have some simple ideas for you!

1. Let Students Choose Their Own Writing Topic

How many times has a student come bounding up to you to tell you about something that happened to them? They can't wait to tell us their stories! They are excited. Use this excitement to increase the fun in writing, by allowing them to choose the topic of their stories. I teach writing in units. Therefore, I do tell my students that they need to write a personal narrative during that particular unit and an informational report during that unit. However, I let them write about any topic that excites them within that genre. 

2. Provide Fun Writing Materials

Do you have a favorite pen? That's a silly question! We are teachers! Obviously we have favorite pens! I personally love Papermate Flair pens. I hate writing with any other utensil. They just make me happy. I want my students to get excited about their writing materials as well. Why do they have to write with a boring yellow pencil? Who made that rule? During writing, I let my kids write with a variety of scented pencils and fun pens. I also provide colorful paper

3. Allow Students to Choose Where They Write

When I first started teaching, I always had my students write at their desks. I thought that doing so would result in better handwriting. Maybe it did. But I think it also resulted in bored students who produced less writing and writing that was uninspired. I started thinking, "Why should handwriting be a big deal when drafting?" So students were allowed to choose a place to write. Some students took a clipboard and found a spot on the floor. Some students stayed in their own desk, while others
 preferred to write at a table. We had to practice the procedures, but overall it was a simple change that led to much happier writers! My only rule is that they write final drafts at a desk or table.

4. Take Writing Outside

Being cooped up does nothing for my students' creativity or their mood! Sometimes they just need a change of scenery. When the weather is nice, we grab clipboards and take our writing outside. We are lucky enough to have a school garden and it is a wonderful place to relax and write. Before you do this, I do recommend checking the school recess schedule. It's hard to write when an entire grade level is running around and yelling! Being outside makes me smile! 

5. Play Music While Students Write

Music makes you feel a certain way. Upbeat music makes you want to move and dance. Soothing music relaxes you. Music can be a sign to students. I play classical music while my students write. When the music is on, they know that they must be writing. As soon as I turn it off, they know that it is time to share. The music also creates a relaxed atmosphere that is perfect for thinking, planning and writing! My students think music is fun!

6. Change Up the Way Students Share Writing

Writing is no fun if no one ever sees or hears your stories. Writers write to be heard! For this reason, I make sure to have writers share something everyday. This can be as simple as reading a sentence or paragraph to their partner or more involved like sharing with the entire class. (The bonus is that I am able to get some of those speaking and listening grades taken care of too!) At the end of a unit, students get to publish their work. I like to vary the way that we publish to keep it fun and fresh for students. Some publishing ideas include:
  • writing stories on fun papers and illustrating them
  • typing stories on computers or other devices
  • making a class binder of stories and putting it in the class library
  • reading stories to buddies from another grade level
  • making videos of our stories
  • Throw an author celebration where students share their story while enjoying food and the company of their classmates. (I have a blog post coming soon with ideas for author celebrations!)

Free Writing Course & Resources

Would you like even more information about making the most of your writing time? I have put together a FREE writing workshop email course. The course includes a week of free lesson plans, anchor charts and rubrics. 

Click HERE to read more and get signed up for free!

Writing Unit

I absolutely love this writing unit! It has absolutely everything that a teacher will need to teach, practice and assess writing for eight weeks. It even includes mentor text so that you do not need to go out and buy a bunch of books! There are a dozen anchor charts and lots of student printables in the unit. They go perfectly with the 40 days of lesson plans that I wrote for you! The lessons are super engaging for students and simple to prep for teachers!

Click HERE to see more!