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Sunday, December 15

How to Use Countdown Calendars in Your Classroom

What is a countdown calendar? How can I use one in my classroom? Countdown calendars are an awesome tool I like to use to increase student engagement in my classroom. Whether I need to build anticipation or share compliments, countdown calendars are the way to go. Read more to find out how you can implement countdown calendars in your classroom today.

Holiday Countdown Calendar


Holiday countdown calendars can be a great deal of fun! This year the special education teacher and I have teamed up to do a book advent countdown calendar before winter break. We have pre-wrapped and numbered all the books (one for each day until winter break). Each day we pick a student who has been kind, respectful, and responsible. That student will get to unwrap the next book in our countdown bin. Then we have a read aloud with our new library addition. My students are loving this countdown calendar!

Personalized Countdown Calendar


Personalized calendars are a great way to build classroom community! I love implementing this type of countdown calendar before February break, the first month of school, and before the end of the year. I use personalized countdown calendars to share compliments with my students. I will put their name on a place on the calendar and on the day their name is up, the entire class will write them a compliment. Each student gets a turn. This offers excellent opportunities to teach compliment giving as well as building relationships in your classroom.

Unit Countdown Calendar

Want to build up excitement for a new unit? Do a countdown calendar! Each day the student can open a new riddle to try and discover their next unit. Or you can do a book countdown calendar using materials from the upcoming unit. Whatever method you decide, a countdown calendar for your next unit is sure to drum up student engagement!

Sunday, December 8

Why Thematic Teaching is Awesome


What is a Thematic Unit?

What on Earth is a thematic unit? Um only something I like to call the bomb dot com! Thematic units are units focusing on a centralized theme and integrating standards across content areas. Here’s the awesome sauce part, thematic teaching allows you to easily increase student engagement! Ready to learn how thematic units ramp up student engagement, create easy celebrations, and have fun themes? Keep reading!


How to Plan a Thematic Unit

The first thing you need to do is check your standards. For my pizza themed unit I started by looking at the Next Generation Science Standards. I knew my next unit needed to focus on forms of energy. I focused on this standard and its elements. Solar power was a part I really wanted to focus on, thus I started building my unit. Now, I was ready to start looking for my theme. As all good party planners know, you gotta have a theme to have a kick butt party. Now, I’m not a party planner, but I do try to be a kick butt teacher. I hopped onto Pinterest and searched for solar power projects for kids. I stumbled across the perfect project, solar powered pizza ovens. How cool! I now had the Holy Grail theme for kids, PIZZA! Want to build these in your classroom this year (trust me you do). Check out the link I used, here.

Now, that I had my science standards and my theme, it was time to get interdisciplinary. I started looking at upcoming math and writing standards. In writing we were about to start poetry. So, why not write poetry about pizza! In math, many of the upcoming fourth grade standards were focused on fractions and decimals. Thinking thematically, I decided that I could easily incorporate those standards through the use of some Project Based Learning. 

You can check out the Design Your Own Pizza Restaurant PBL unit I use by clicking HERE.

So, let’s check, science standards, math standards, and writing standards all with a pizza theme. Ding ding ding, we have a thematic unit!

How Thematic Units Make Learning Celebrations Easy

I like to end my units with learning celebrations. I like to show students that their hard work is worth celebrating. Classroom celebrations also increase student engagement, which y'all know is my jam. So, how does thematic teaching make learning celebrations easier? Well, you already have the theme/ backbone for your celebration! 

For example, my thematic unit focused on pizza. I already planned on having my students build solar powered pizza ovens as a final project for their energy science standard. So, it was simple, decorate the classroom like a pizzeria! I was able to quickly make a sign and lay out the ingredients. For added decoration, I hung the students Pizza Poetry (their final writing for the unit) on the wall! My kiddos loved this experience and having an overlapping theme helped keep them engaged and wanting to learn more across all subject areas. 

Want to learn more of my student engagement strategies? CLICK BELOW to download my FREE e-book! Here I’m sharing the secret sauce that keeps my classroom a rigorous and fun learning machine all year long!


Tuesday, December 3

How to Keep Your Students Engaged Before Winter Break


Are you ready for the final stretch? Are you ready to pull out every student engagement strategy and XL coffee cup you have left? That’s right folks, we teachers are gearing up for the ever so tricky stretch between Thanksgiving and winter vacation. Student energy is on high and motivation is low, but I am here to tell you there is a way to turn all that around and still rock your lessons until the last bell before break. Increase student engagement and your next few weeks will be jam packed with rigor and fun! Ready for some student engagement activities, tips, and tricks to keep your train rolling until break? Let’s get this (almost) holiday party started!

Student Engagement Strategies to Use Before Winter Break


My favorite strategy to increase student engagement before a break is to be unexpected. This does not mean I forgo routines. Keep the routines and schedules, but by all means ramp up your delivery. Starting a new mini unit? Why not do your introduction lesson dressed in a way that brings your content to life! Dress like a festive character for a day. Instead of standing at the front of the room, deliver a lesson from the back, or on top of a table! Do something a little out of the norm or unexpected each day. 

Another student engagement strategy I like to use this time of year is the power of art. My students always love when I include an art element into a lesson. This time of year allows for a little more flexibility in my daily schedule. Thus, I am able to incorporate winter or holiday themed crafts in more regularly. These are simple strategies you can implement tomorrow and hold student engagement until winter break begins.

Student Engagement Activities


Let’s get our hands dirty! As we all know, kids love to get their hands on things, so why not let them? Before each break I like to do a Project Based Learning unit. What is project based learning? PBL is a hands on, interdisciplinary approach to learning. It allows students to explore and build something too. For example, before Thanksgiving break, I introduced a create your balloon parade unit. They studied, budgeted, and build their own balloons to “fly” in a parade (which we proudly marched through the hallways). Do you want to know the best part? My students enjoyed every minute of this mini unit! Even through the budgeting and planning process, my students were all in and all hands on deck. 
The last few days before winter break my students will be starting a new Project Based Learning assignment, building gingerbread houses! I can not wait to share the excitement and fun with them as they research, design, plan, budget, build, and create amazing gingerbread houses!

Sound like fun? If you want to do this with your students as well, just click the picture below to check out the ready to use Project Based Learning pack that I will be using!

How to keep Student Engagement Alive Before Break

 Are you ready for the best way to keep your students engaged the very last few days before winter break? Lean in close, I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on you… let them share. The last couple days before the holiday break your students will be full of excitement. Let them share all about it! Children love to share their holiday traditions! Do Venn diagrams, picture graphs, discussions and more. Find ways to let them share across all of your subject areas. Let students who celebrate different holidays stand up and teach a lesson. We are teachers, educational rock stars at that, I bet if you but you’re thinking cap on that you will be able to come up with many creative ways to let your students share before the break begins. For example, last year I decorated my shelf like a fireplace and we sat around the “fire” and shared holiday memories and traditions.

How Can I keep the Engagement high in my classroom year round? Are you ready to ramp up the rigor and fun in your classroom all of the time? CLICK BELOW to download my FREE e-book! Here I’m sharing the secret sauce that keeps my classroom a rigorous fun machine all year long!

Monday, November 11

How to Promote Kindness in School

How to Promote Kindness in School

Kind kids are the best kids! But what is kindness in schools and how to we promote it? How do we go about teaching kindness? With National Kindness Day fast approaching I thought I would share my top ways of promoting kindness in my elementary classroom and school.
Promote a culture of kindness in your classroom and school. Photo credit Photo Clipz

Teaching Kindness

Build relationships with students and encourage kindness.

Students may not be displaying kindness in school for the simple reason of they do not know how to. I know this sounds silly, but we know children come from all different sorts of home lives. It is our job as educators to give every child a common background in how to treat one another as human beings on this Earth. O.K. so how do I start teaching kindness in my classroom? Start with some games and activities! Morning meeting is a wonderful time to foster peer to peer relationships and model kindness. Looking for an easy activity to get started? Try this FREE kindness activity! This activity allows students to practice giving compliments to one another, Click HERE to check it out.


How to Promote Kindness In Your Classroom

Model, model, model! Children are constantly learning new information from the world around them. So, we must continuously be modeling the kind behaviors we wish to promote. This means using kind language and posting visual reminders. Is it difficult to always choose your words wisely? Um, heck yes! It is crucial we take a deep breath and model the language we want our students to use. For example, if a student’s becomes angry and is speaking unkindly, I will take a deep breath (or two) and respond with, “I know you are angry, but listen to the way I am speaking to you. I don’t raise my voice at you because I know it would make you upset. So, I am going to give you some space to breath. When you’re ready to talk calmly so I can hear your words, I would love to listen.” I am constantly reminding my students of this when they become upset. However, if you’re going to talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. This means when you tell a child you will not raise your voice at them, you have to actually stick to that. Active modeling kindness through your words and actions is the most powerful way we can demonstrate and teach kindness.

Another powerful strategy we can use to encourage kindness in schools is to make it visual. Hang pictures, post kindness bulletin boards. The more students see it, the more they will realize how valued it truly is! Make the word and the images of kindness present in your hallways and classrooms.
Would you like some FREE KINDNESS POSTERS to get you started?
Click the DOWNLOAD button below!

Kindness Challenges

Students love challenges! So, why not do kindness challenges in your school or classroom? I love doing these fun challenges, and my kiddos love seeing how many kind acts they can accomplish. It brings about a wonderful feeling in our classroom each time we tackle a new kindness challenge. My favorite kindness challenge is the one we do in the space between Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. It’s called the White Christmas Kindness Challenge and you can check it out HERE. Every year I cut up the list of kind acts and place them in a jar. Students will reach in and take out a task to complete. Once they complete a task they write it on the snowflake and we hang these snowflakes from the ceiling. The students love seeing the acts of kindness and “snowflakes” grow in our classroom.

Click HERE to check it out.

Well, there you have it, from active modeling to morning meeting activities; I hope I have provided you with some ways to promote kindness in your school this year!

Sunday, November 3

3 Steps to Setting Up a Successful Writing Station

Do you have a writing station in your classroom? A one stop shop for students to find writing resources and tools? Your writing bulletin board can be such a valuable tool! Read more to find out how you can take three easy steps to set your students up for writing success!

Show it off

Expectations shouldn’t be a mystery. Think about it, are your classroom expectations posted, oh course they are! So, why shouldn’t your writing expectations be posted too? How can students reach the bar you are setting if they are not really sure what the bar even is or looks like? Each unit, I post an example story of where I want my students to be by the end of the unit. I tell my students that this is an example of a great writer (I tell them that this is a story from a student in a nearby state that I blew up for use in our room). We start the Historical Fiction unit in November, so the first chunk of the unit focuses on creating a character who journeyed upon the Mayflower! Students journal each day as this character and we make feathered pencils to write with. It is a lot of fun! The second section of the unit focuses on writing full length Historical Fiction stories.

I also label different sections of the story. I highlight components such as dialogue, indents, the climax, conclusion, and more. We dissect writing a lot through my units and it truly makes a difference in my students abilities to use these components when they can recognize them in other works of writing. When students are exposed to good writing, they can see it and work toward creating great writing too.

Another way I make my expectations clear is by posting our writing rubric and matching scored examples (the students and I create the examples together). When my students see where I have set the bar, they now have a fair chance to strive for it. Clarity is the key to helping your students grow as writers.

Give them Options

You get a writing option, and you get a writing option, everybody gets a writing option! Think about it folks, when you go to write your lessons, does anyone hand you a specific planner and a number two pencil and say, “write”? No! We spend oodles of time picking just the right planner for us, and buy all the Flair pens to fill it with. Here’s my question, why should we not offer the same opportunities to our writers? I say give them all the options! If your students prefer to draft on plain paper or a graphic organizer, let them! Allow them to have these options at their fingertips. Getting set up to share your ideas is not a one size fits all model. Give your students the freedom to use whatever paper helps them get their amazing ideas down.

Looking for the graphic organizers pictured above? 
Click HERE to check out the graphic organizers I use when teaching Historical Fiction writing.

Easy Access to Tools

Don’t hoard the pencils! Teachers, trust me I get it! I use to hide pencils away because I always knew we would hit that halfway mark in the year and our classroom would look like a barren waste land for writing utensils. Not a pencil to be found. However, I have found that reluctant writers are more likely to jump in and write if they feel they are getting to use a special tool. So, grab some washi tape and label all the special writing pencils, pens, and what nots. Allow them to use these tools any time writing class is in session. See what happens, honestly just try it!

Tuesday, October 29

Halloween Activities

6 SPOOK-TACULAR Halloween Activities

Happy Halloween! If you are a teacher prepping for Halloween week, a home school teacher, or crafty mama looking for Halloween activities, then you my friend, have come to the right place! Below you will find Halloween activities, Halloween writing prompts, Halloween crafts, a Halloween STEM challenge, and more! 

Ever since my first year teaching I have been compiling my favorite activities in my "month bins." In these bins I store any craft, book, lesson, etc... that I simply loved and wanted to save for future years. Today I am reaching inside my October bin and pulling out all my Halloween themed favorites to share with you!

Candy Corn STEM Challenge

I do this tasty tower challenge every year with my kiddos, and every class loves it! In this FREE activity, your students will work together to build the tallest tower possible using toothpicks and candy corn! Students, will plan, build, and work together to create these fa-boo-lous towers! You can grab this FREE resource HERE!

Descriptive Halloween Writing Craftivity

How fun is this Halloween Writing Activity! I love teaching descriptive writing, and what better sensation to describe then when you reach your hand into a witches cauldron! My students loved learning about new words to incorporate into their writing, as well as creating this awesome doodle filled cauldron! This craftivity can be done with the pumpkin sheet and candy corn sheet as well!

October NO PREP Writing Prompts

I love that these writing prompts are not only great for Halloween week, but a fantastic tool all October long! This resource includes 20 NO PREP (can I get a woot woot) fall themed writing prompts. I love using these prompts when I want my student to practice a specific skill (ex. dialogue) or as a writing warm up. 
You can grab these writing prompts by clicking HERE!

Halloween Math

Practice math facts and have some Halloween fun! This FREEBIE is a must in my October bin! My students love finding the hidden picture, and I love giving them a fun way to practice their math facts! You can get this free resource by clicking HERE.

Spooky All About Me Activity

Looking for a Halloween themed All About Me activity? Well, my friend, check out this awesome FREE one! My students love worksheets like this. It allows them to write about their interests, as well as do a little coloring. If you are looking for a fun time filler or quick Halloween activity to do with you class, then click THIS LINK and grab it now!

How To Carve a Pumpkin Flip Book

I love flip books! I think they are fun and so do my students. In past years I have used this pumpkin themed writing craft with my class. I love that it helps teach sequential order and is easy to assemble. If this is an activity you want to do with you students as well, just click the link HERE and check it out!

I hope you have a SPOOK-TACULAR Halloween!