Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: July 2017

Fun Ways to Practice Classroom Procedures

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

Can you believe that the back to school season is already upon us?! While you are decorating your classroom and printing math centers, I think it is very important that you take some time and think about how you will go about teaching and practicing classroom procedures.

The number one thing you can do to guarantee a successful school year is to spend LOTS of time teaching classroom procedures. But, that can get super boring!

You wanna laugh? It was my first year of teaching and I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. NONE! I wrote all every single classroom procedure into a handbook for my third graders. It was five pages, 12-point font, front and back. We spent the first couple of days reading and discussing the handbook. Students were falling asleep. It was awful! I owe those sweet kiddos a huge apology.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

 Teaching and practicing procedures does NOT have to be boring! In fact, if you make it fun, students are more likely to remember the procedures! (Plus, they won’t fall asleep and get drool all over the desks.)

Let be share some fun activities and freebies that will making teaching procedures much more engaging!

Modeling What NOT to Do

This might sound crazy to you, but a fun way to practice those procedures is to have students model what NOT to do!

After you have explained a procedure, choose a student who you suspect may have challenges the procedure. Ask the student to show the class how NOT to do the procedure you have just taught.

“Johnny, show the class how NOT to get books from the classroom. Make sure you do everything you SHOULDN’T do.” Johnny will love this. He will be getting attention that he probably wants. The class will love this because it is downright funny. Let them laugh. It will encourage Johnny.

When Johnny is done, make a list of the things he did wrong. (Examples: talking, running, putting the books in the wrong place, not being careful with the books, taking a ton of books, etc.)

Now, tell Johnny to show the class how to do the activity perfectly. He will now model it correctly.

When he is finished, make a list (or discuss) the things he did correctly.

And you say, “Johnny, you did great. Now I know that you will always be able to correctly get books from our classroom library. You just proved that to me! Thank you! I hope the rest of the class can do it just as well as you!”

Johnny is proud. And now he has no excuse to not follow the rules.

You can choose to repeat this activity with multiple students, but no need for every student to do it. I suggest looking for those kiddos who you suspect may have the most difficulty following the rules.

The activity can be repeated with other procedures during the first couple of weeks of school!

Students do the Teaching

At the beginning of the year, I tend to lose my voice because I am doing so much of the talking. I decided to ditch the traditional “I talk. They listen.”

I do have to do a little explaining. But, once they have been told the procedures, it is time for them to do the teaching.

Split the class into small groups (2-4 students per group). Assign each group a different procedure (that you already covered). Students should work together to create a poster or PowerPoint to reteach the procedure to the class.

There are several advantages to this activity:
  • Students are working in groups and practicing teamwork. This helps to build a positive classroom culture.
  • Students are being creative and that will help them to remember the procedures. We remember things that we teach!
  • You are able to get a glimpse into their speaking, listening and group work skills. This is handy information to have as you start planning future lessons.
  • You get a little break to sip your cold coffee.

Procedure Board Games

I like to have my students play procedure board games because it’s the perfect way to have fun while reviewing the classroom rules.

PLUS, they are practicing how to play games in our classroom! We will play games throughout the year and it is important they practice getting materials out, using materials properly, playing fair, and having good sportsmanship.

All you need are some cards with classroom procedure questions and a simple board game. I suggest Candyland, Checkers, Connect Four or Chutes and Ladders. These are games that most students already know how to play and this allows them to focus on the procedure cards more.\

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

 Students will take turns answering a procedure question from the cards. If they are correct, they will take their normal turn in the game. If they are not correct, their turn is skipped.

For example, if we are using Candyland, and the student gets the question correct, they will pick a Candyland card and move their game piece to the correct color on the board.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

 Students love it and it’s  a great way for them to make new friends too!

Find Someone Who

This is such a simple activity and I love it because it gets students out of their desks and talking to each other.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

Each student needs a Find Someone Who board. They will walk around the room and find someone who can explain the classroom procedures listed on the board. When they find someone who can accurately explain the procedure, the person will write their name in the box.

The catch is that you have to find a different person for each box! They have to talk to lots of different people in the class.

Check out these free activities to make teaching those back to school procedures more fun!

Are you thinking: “Jamie, this is all fine and dandy, but I am busy. I don’t know exactly what procedures I need to teach. I don’t have time to make game cards or a Find Someone Who board. Can’t you just do it for me?”

Yes! Yes, I can! And I did!

I made you a checklist of procedures to teach, game cards and a Find Someone Who board! And it is all free!

Use this sign up form and I will send all of those things to you right away.

Using your personal email address and adding my address (Jamie@notsowimpyteacher.com) to your contacts, will help to ensure that you receive the file. If you don’t get the file today, check your junk mail.

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Flexible Seating: Your Questions Answered

Hello! I'm Kelli from the Tenacious Teacher and I'm thrilled to be sharing on Not So Wimpy Teacher's blog about my experience rolling out flexible seating!

I took the plunge (it was more like a graceful belly flop) last year and blogged about some things I realized both here and here. However, today I'm sharing some answers to the "But what about" questions that hold people back from trying it. If you are someone still on the fence, take a read to see if this can ease your mind!

But what about the desks? Do I get rid of all of them?

I originally wanted all my desks out of my room but due to furniture options in my school, I didn't have access to the tables I wanted. However, I think I loved it even more having a mixture of table top options. Remember, flexible seating shouldn't mean that everyone is now sitting at a table with a yoga ball... because that is not what all students prefer. It's about having options. So I kept about 16 desks. I had one student who was on the spectrum and she was allowed to stay in that spot the whole year and even use the inside of her desk because that is what worked best for her. The other desks though stayed closed to students. Here are some perks for keeping desks:

You can use them for storage. 

We have science groups, so each science group kept all their materials inside one of the desks. When it was science time, the getter would go and get the materials out of the desk and return them at the end. It didn't take up other valuable countertops. Also, I keep copies of book club books organized in the desks, art projects, etc. There's a lot you can do with them!

You can create different sized groups. 

I had two groups of 5, one group of 4 and 1 group of 2. Some students preferred not to sit next to a lot of other people, so they preferred the spot with 2 desks. I could easily pull desks out of groups too (or my students for that matter if they wanted an "island").

So if it were me... I'd say no, don't get rid of all the desks. They can be a great asset and work best for some students.

But what about money? How do people afford all those "options?"

I'm with you on this one. It can be very easy to see the beautiful classroom spaces on Instagram and think you need to have fancy seats and table spots. And yes, it would be wonderful to have! But try to ease into buying different options. Again, you don't know what will work best for you and your students until you jump in. So spending a bunch of money on things that might not get much use will leave a negative impact on the experience (and your wallet). You are looking for different options to offer your students and they don't all have to cost a lot of money. I got a 2 wobble stools which were a little pricey but I only got 2 to start. I got 2 low floor seats, 4 yoga balls, 2 reclining chairs, and some of the IKEA stools. I also kept lots of normal chairs in stacks around the room because honestly, a lot of students prefer those depending on the task they are doing (reading vs writing vs math). I also had some floor pillows already and a bean bag which was a popular spot. I'd love to add some taller Hokki stools, but they are expensive, so we'll see in time. Also, I look at garage sales all summer long to see if I can find anything to snag for the classroom. Last year, I found a toy box on the side of the road for free in great condition (see right). It became one of my students' favorite spots with some cheap cushions from Walmart and IKEA (that can also be taken on the floor if kids want). Not to mention, I had storage for extra homebases in case I got more students during the school year. The take away- pick a few options to start and slowly add more as you go. 

But what about all their stuff? Where do you keep it all?

I think it's important to say that I still struggle with this one. And you may too. I wrote a blog post that shared this. There was a time early on (like week 2) of doing flexible seating last year that I thought I made a huge mistake and maybe I should abandon it all. But I had already invested money, time and effort into it, not to mention working with my students on establishing rules, routines,  expectations, etc. So I said I would give it at least until winter break. But what was making me have doubts was storing all their stuff.  The key is to spread it out so that you avoid traffic jams. But they have a lot of stuff: folders, notebooks, planners, writing tools, library books... So here's some of my solution.

Create a "homebase" system.

I really loved these drawers from Target and I hate to report they discontinued them for 2017. Which I'm mourning because my class size is increasing and I need at least 2 more. So I'll be problem solving myself. But that reminds me of a good point: be flexible yourself. You're first solution to a problem may not work and it's ok to try something else. Anyways, back to my point.

I used the drawers for reading. They kept their reading notebook in there along with 2-3 library books and their personal whiteboards. That's it. On top, they had a cup for extra pencils, their editing pens, highlighters, expo markets, etc. If they ever needed a new pencil, they checked their homebase first. We also kept their scissors here, a small stapler, a pencil sharpener and erasers. Students also left their water bottles here at times too. They worked great because I spread them around the room and only 3 kids would be at one homebase. 

Use bins either on countertops, shelves, or in cupboards

So what about their other stuff? I used the IKEA boxes at the homebases too that kept their writing and math notebooks. However, IKEA changed the size so folders didn't fit. This drove me bonkers and it's what forced me to invest in larger boxes this year (which I'll share about over on my blog closer to the school year starting). Folders we kept in our "book bags" which I had from IKEA from my first year of teaching- and not one has busted on me yet. Students kept their nightly folder, their planner, journal, and other folders in there. It wasn't perfect, but it got us through the year. Students hung their bags on their chair if they had a normal chair or hung them on hooks on the curtain. Since I plan on doing flexible seating again next year, I'm allowing myself to spend some more money on adjusting some things with material storage. But DON'T feel the need to do it your first go around. Ask your students for solutions since it impacts them directly!

But what about Meet the Teacher Night? How do I set up and inform parents?

This one I hadn't thought about until a few weeks before. At our school, we invite students to come meet their teacher the week before school starts. I started to panic as I didn't know how to properly "roll" it out. Especially to parents. Here's a few tips that may help:

Put student names on post-its for the night.

You could do this a few ways. You could put them out randomly at a spot so when they came in, they felt like they had a "space" for them. When I've done it this way, I let them know that these will not be their permanent spots- just a spot to claim for the first day. This year, I'm going to do it a bit differently. I'll have their names on a post-it on the board. When they come in at open house, they can pick the spot they'd like for the first day. This will help avoid a slightly uncomfortable issue that happened last year at open house where a parent was NOT happy that their child was not at a traditional desk. I can respect their opinion, but I believe that students, with guidance, can make the best choices for themselves. Which is why I also leave a spot on the post-it for students to tell me what name they'd like to go by. Sometimes they have a nickname (Sam for Samantha) and their parents want to call them one way, but they'd prefer another. I personally will use the name my student wants me to use and allow them to voice that at open house, so this post-it can help with that. 

Have a letter explaining it to students and families. 

You don't have to get super specific, but let them know why the room looks the way it does and how it may look over the year. Once the year got rolling, I explained more in our newsletter and had students sign a contract and have their parents sign it too that went over the expectations in class we discussed.

Have a supply drop off plan.

I had little signs that told them what to leave at their table spot (and how) and what to put in our communal bins. I did have 2 that opened the desk and put stuff in, but we fixed that on the first day of school. I just had them stack their notebooks and folders and then on the first day of school, we put them in their new homes around the room. Having materials scattered around the room (but in an organized way) meant no one ever "lost" thing materials, materials didn't get damaged, and we used our transition time as a "social" transition time to let them interact socially a bit while they put their things away and get ready for our next lesson. I found giving them that 3-5 minutes to be social at a transition between lessons (I'm talking between math and writing and reading) had them prepared and focused for the next one. 

Don't feel the need to set out all the "goods" yet. 

Because we haven't gone over expectations yet on how to use all these options, I don't have them all available at open house night. I put the yoga balls in my class bathroom out of sight so they don't even see them until after we model how to use them... same with the wobble stools. Most of the chair options at open house are just stools or normal chairs. In my explanation letter, it discusses that other options will be introduced during the first week.

Honestly, I've really loved making the switch as it has challenged me in many ways. You have to have strong management skills, high and clear expectations for your students, and some flexibility yourself in order for it to be successful. My best advice is to listen to your gut and involve your students, as it impact their learning and experience at school and that should be your top priority.

You can connect with Kelli on her blog or her Facebook page!

Part 4: Starting Math Centers at the Beginning of the Year

Sharing my love for math centers has been so much fun! If you missed any of the posts in the series, you can click on the links below to get caught up.

Today I want to share a simple schedule that you can use to teach your kids the math center routines and procedures at the beginning of the year! 

The most important tip that I have for you is DON'T RUSH! Take your time teaching and practicing these routines. I broke it down into eight days of teaching the routines, but your class might need 10 or 12 days. Spend the time now, so that math centers run like a well oiled machine for the rest of the year. I promise that it will be worth the time!

This schedule of lessons is based on the schedule and activities that I shared earlier in this series. Hopefully you can adapt the lessons to meet your needs.

I like to bring students to the carpet when we do these lessons. I think it helps them to focus and makes the lessons more intimate. I always start by teaching the independent center because it requires more focus and includes more directions.

I made a little cheat sheet for you! You can download a schedule of these lessons by clicking HERE.

Day One

On the first day, you will want to explain to your students what math centers are. You don't need to worry about teaching them how to complete each center. Instead, help them to understand that they will be divided into small group and that they will doing two center rotations each day. 

Help students to understand that the reason they are doing these centers is so that you can meet with small groups of students and help them to practice new math skills. I like to finish by making an anchor chart with students that shows how center time will look and sound. 

Day Two

Today is the day that you will be teaching students how to complete the independent center activities. I always start with the back to school set of centers because they are a review of the skills from the previous grade level. This takes the pressure off of learning a new math skill and allows students to focus on learning the routines and procedures. It is also a great way to get a feel of your students' math level.

Gather your students in a circle on the floor where everyone will be able to see you. Start by modeling the first center. Read the directions and talk through how you would complete the work. You don't have to tell them every answer, but give them enough of a model to know what you expect of them. Do this for each of the ten centers. 

I would do lots of "turn and tell your neighbor..." during this time to keep students engaged and to demonstrate that they understood your directions.

Day Three

Today students are going to start practicing the independent math center activities that you modeled yesterday. I suggest putting students into groups of 2-3. Have students work on the independent centers together, but don't give them the recording book. Give the groups about five minutes per center and have them rotate through five of the centers. This is not about testing their math ability. It is not a big deal if they don't finish the center, because they will have the opportunity to work independently soon! It is about making sure they understand the directions.

Day Four

Today's center practice will be just like day three. Students will work in the same groups and rotate through the last five centers. Be sure to walk around and help groups that don't understand the directions or are not using the materials correctly.

Day Five

The focus of today's lesson is to teach students the math fact center. Start by showing them where to get their devices or materials. Give them their password and show them what it looks like when they log in. If you are not 1:1, you can make yourself a student account and project it on the board so that students can see what the site looks like and what they will be expected to do. You can also put students into groups to practice. You can give each group one device and have students take turns getting the device out and logging in.

Next, explain the math fact games. Make sure you discuss rules for taking care of the games, how many people can play a game at one time and how to put them away. Have students play a game in small groups. They should practice getting the games out, playing and putting them away. 

Close your lesson with praise for students and groups that did an exceptional job and suggestions for correcting any challenges that popped up. If the math game practice did not go well, consider practicing it again the next day before moving on to the next lesson. Games can lead to noice and arguing so it is best to get the kinks out now!

Day Six

It is now time to teach students the expectations for the technology center. You can do this similar to the way that you taught students to use technology in the math fact centers. Make sure you talk about what to do if technology is not working! 

Day Seven

By this point, you will want to split your students into their 3-4 leveled math groups. You can make initial grouping based on last year's scores, observations during the first few days of math lessons or any assessment your school might give. It's ok if the groups aren't perfectly leveled. You can move kids around after you get to know them better and work with them more in small group.

Show students your math center schedule display and explain what centers each group with be doing on each day. 

Do a rehearsal of the Monday/Wednesday center routine. Students should be working independently and completing the activities the way that you have modeled. In essence- this is their first day of centers! 

You need to be available to walk around the room and make corrections in behaviors. We don't want them to become habits! I suggest putting a simple game or even a worksheet at the meet the teacher table. You can explain to students that meet the teacher will be much different in the future.

Day Eight

Start by reviewing the center schedule and routine. Make sure to talk about any challenges that popped up the day before. 

Do a rehearsal of the Tuesday/Thursday routine. This will be just like yesterday, but students will be doing their other two center rotations while you move around the room to observe.

Moving Forward

Some classes will be ready to start a week of the center routine. They may be very independent and you can start working with your meet the teacher group.

However, some classes may still be struggling with center behavior or center directions. Don't move on without addressing it! Bring the class together and model the proper behavior. Have several students model the correct behavior. Practice until students are ready to be independent and successful. Don't get discouraged if this takes longer than you want. The end result is worth it!

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Part 3: Schedules for Math Centers

Ways to organize your math groups!

Math centers make me leap with joy, and so this blog series is a blast to write! If you missed any of the other posts in the series, you can click below to get caught up.

Making Time

I have so many teachers tell me that they just don't have time for math centers. I personally view math center time as the most important part of my math instructional block. I MAKE time for them! 

I am lucky enough to have 90 minutes for math. I have this much time because I don't give much of any time for morning work. We don't have class meetings or spend too much time on classroom management programs. We reserve large blocks of time for social studies and science on Fridays rather than short blocks the rest of the week. 

Ways to organize your math groups!

I know that many of you have no choice in the matter and have only an hour for math. That sure makes me sad, but you do what you have to do! I would look at other places in your day and see where you can squeeze in some extra math minutes. Can the math fact sheet be done as bell work? Can you skip count while you walk to specials? Can you flip your instruction and make videos of your lessons for students to watch as homework? Get creative!

Ways to organize your math groups!

Whole Group

The only way that is will work is if you keep the whole group lesson short and sweet! You cannot teach at the speed of your lowest learner! There isn't time to do 20 examples on the board. You aren't going to pass out a bunch of manipulatives. Everyone doesn't have to master the skill during whole group. You will be meeting with them in small group later that day or the next and you will be able to supplement and help them to grasp the skills then. 

Your instruction is not over when whole group time is over. That is just the beginning. Think of your whole group lesson as the introduction to the skill. 

I have lots of teachers who ask, "But what about those kids who can't finish the practice sheet in ten minutes?" I find that my higher learners will complete the sheet while my lower learners do not. That's differentiation at its finest. The problems tend to get tricker as they move down the page. My lower learners just aren't ready for the challenge. We can work on it during small groups! If I give my low learners enough time to complete the page, they are likely to get several wrong and my high learners are bored. 

Tips for keeping the whole group lesson short and sweet:
  • Read the lesson ahead of time (gasp!) and highlight the most important parts.
  • Until you get used to delivering short whole group lessons, practice giving your lesson to a stuffed animal the night before.
  • Prep any example problems prior to the lesson so that time is not wasted with you writing on the board while students just watch.
  • Don't repeat yourself over and over. It is a teacher habit and we all do it, but students get used to it and stop listening.
  • Hold off on the manipulatives if possible. Perhaps you can draw pictures instead.
  • Don't have kids come up to the board to complete a problem. Have everyone do it on their whiteboards and then quickly teach their partner how they solved.

The Key

I am about to share the single most important thing I did to make my math centers run like a well oiled machine. 

I only have two center rotations per day. Therefore, I don't meet with every group every day.

That might sound like a bad idea to some of you, but it truly made my math center routine a hundred percent easier to manage and more meaningful for students. Let me explain...

Here is what math center time used to be like:
I had four groups and was meeting with each of them for 15 minutes per day. Or was I? Students had to put away materials from one center and get materials for the next. Time was wasted. By the time I really had my group in front of me and ready to work, we might have 12 minutes. That is time to go through one problem with manipulatives. Then we must hurriedly change centers again.

I wasn't getting time to dig in deep with my group and we all felt stressed by the constant changing of activities before we had truly enough time to get anything done. 

Here is what math center time is like now:
I meet with two group per day for 30 minutes each. When students are meeting with me, we can do a couple of problems with manipulatives and do an interactive notebook activity. 

Less time is being wasted with transitions and we are able to get more accomplished. The vibe in the room is a whole lot less stressed. 

Schedule for Four Groups (Larger Class):

I would use this routine for any class with over 18 students. You will have four leveled groups. It is important that we keep the groups small enough to be meaningful. 

Ways to organize your math groups!

With this schedule, you will meet with groups 1 & 2 on Mondays and Wednesdays and you will meet with groups 3 & 4 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Schedule for Three Groups (Smaller Class):

If you have 18 or fewer students, you can try this schedule with three groups.

Ways to organize your math groups!

With this schedule you will meet with groups 1 & 2 on Mondays and Wednesdays. You will meet with group 3 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

This leaves you a rotation block without a scheduled group. You can use this time to pull a few students who need extra support. You can help a kiddo who has been absent. It is the perfect opportunity for some reteach and intervention. This schedule works well for teachers who are required to meet with lower leaners every day.

Posting the Schedule

You will need a simple way to post your math center schedule so students have a reference. I think that it is important that the schedule is easy to change so that groups can be fluid and students can easily be switched to different groups when necessary. 

I simply have a poster for each group. Their schedule is typed at the bottom. I laminate the poster and then use dry erase marker of vis a vis marker to write student names. It is super simple, but works perfectly!

Ways to organize your math groups!

Ways to organize your math groups!

You can grab a free template for my poster HERE.

Ways to organize your math groups!

I know that you may need to adapt things to make the schedule work for your classroom, but I hope that you have some ideas for making time for a simple math center routine!

Check out the next post in the series to grab an eight day lesson plan for introducing centers and procedures!

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