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Thursday, September 16

How to Build Strong Readers with Reading Strategies

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Have you ever played with blocks before? Have you used those colorful shapes to build a little house or a soaring tower? Well if you have constructed any building from blocks, you know that one thing is certain, a sturdy foundation is key in your tower successfully standing tall and not crumbling to the floor. Reading instruction is a lot like building a tower. If readers have a strong foundation of reading strategies and skills to build from, they can springboard their mastery and love of reading. However, when students don’t have a sturdy foundation of reading strategies, that's when we see our kiddos struggle and quickly turn into resistant and reluctant readers. Reading strategies are crucial but how do we teach reading strategies? Which reading strategies do our students need the most? Well, stay tuned teacher friend because I’m going to share all of my favorite tips and strategies for teaching a strong foundation of reading strategies and building a love of reading in your kiddos that is made to last.




What are Reading Strategies?

 

Reading strategies are just that, strategies and skills that students can use to understand and grow in their mastery and craft as readers. Let’s use this example, you are reading a story and the main character comes inside soaking wet with a frown on their face. Using the clues the author gave us, as the reader, we can piece together that our main character is most likely unhappy because they got caught in the rain. We just used a reading strategy called inferencing to understand the story and character better. This understanding may not seem like a big deal, but as readers dive further into understanding the characters in this story and more complex stories, this reading strategy skill of inferencing will be crucial for deep thinking and understanding of story characters. There are many other reading strategies like the example above, but they all share one thing in common, they are essential for our students to become strong, avid readers who understand the what and why of the text they are reading. 

 

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How I Teach Reading Strategies

 

So we have established that reading strategies are uber important for our students to grow as readers, but how do we teach them? There are many methods for teaching reading strategies to your students. Below are the tools and practices that I use when teaching reading strategies to my students.



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Using Video to Introduce Reading Strategies:

 

Ok I know you are probably making a face after reading that heading, but hear me out. Today's students are complex thinkers and learners. Not all are auditory learners and if I have an option to teach to one of their other intelligences (visual/ technological) then I jump on it. I have found that Pixar Shorts can be an incredibly powerful and HIGHLY engaging tool to use when you are introducing reading strategies to your students. These are brief animated videos that demonstrate one skill or lesson. These videos can be a great place to start when teaching reading strategies to your students. You can explore them HERE.

 

Using Anchor Charts to Teach Reading Strategies:


Visuals are everything. When I introduce new reading strategies to my students, I always have an anchor chart handy. I personally hate drawing anchor charts, mine just never seem to come out right, so I print mine instead and make my teacher life a little easier hallelujah! I have a reading strategies skill anchor chart next to me when I introduce and teach the skill to aid my students as a visual tool while they learn. I will refer to the anchor chart in our lesson that follows the Pixar Short film, during our reading of a mentor text, and after to really sink in those new skills. Finally, I make sure my students have exact copies of my teaching anchor chart, which they will glue into their reading strategies notebook. Here they house all of their reading strategies anchor charts and tools so they can access them whenever they need to be it during independent work time or at home for homework. Making sure my students have access to the same tools I use in my lessons is a huge game-changer in their ability to practice their reading strategies. 

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Using Picture Books to Teach Reading Strategies:

 

I am a huge lover of picture books (if you follow me on Instagram you already know this). I use picture books as my mentor texts when I first introduce a reading strategy. Yes, even with fourth graders and older students, picture books can pack a big punch! If you pick the right picture books, they can offer a strong dose of exactly what you need in such a short amount of time (something that chapter books, unfortunately, cannot do). After I have introduced the reading strategy that will be focusing on, I ask my students to be “reading detectives” and see if they can hunt down the reading strategies in the story as we read. My students love playing this sort of game as we read together and it helps to boost their engagement as we learn new reading strategies together. 


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Practicing Reading Strategies:

 

After I have taught my students a new reading strategy through short videos, lessons, anchor charts, and mentor text examples, it is time for them to practice the “you do” part of learning a new skill. I have my students practice the new skill by being “reading detectives” in their own books. They will look for the reading strategies inside of the book they are currently reading during our independent reading time. To keep my teacher brain less strained, I will assign them a reading strategies skill worksheet that can be used universally across all of their texts. This is such a time saver for me! I also love that the students will have consistency in the visuals of the skill I am asking them to demonstrate. If in the following days or reading units I want them to use their predicting skills, the worksheet will look the same for that skill even though their text may be different. I have found that direct reading strategies worksheets work far better for student accountability and organization than doing, "stop and jot" sticky notes in their books. I love having my students keep their worksheets inside of their reading strategies notebooks (I used 1" 3 ring binders). This is because it provides an amazing visual for my students when we conference and discuss their growth in a particular reading strategy. We can simply flip back to the first time they practiced the skill and see how much they have grown. My students truly love when we do things like this.

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Reading strategies are crucial for building a sturdy foundation for your students to grow from and build a love of reading. I hope you learned some helpful tips and strategies about how I teach reading strategies. If you want to explore any of the reading strategies tools you saw in this post, simply click HERE. 

 

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Tuesday, August 10

Fall Spelling Activities

Falling leaves and the back-to-school feeling is in the air! I am a huge fall fan! From apple cider to cozy sweaters and all things pumpkin spice, I think fall is where it’s at. My teacher heart gets excited any time that I can make spelling activities more engaging for my students. This year, I wanted to find a fun way to incorporate my love of fall into my students' spelling activities. I knew that creating fun fall spelling activities would help boost their engagement and desire to practice their spelling skills. These fall spelling activities allow my kiddos to practice their spelling words in fun fall ways that are also easy prep for me (talk about a win-win!) Read more to explore my favorite no-prep fall spelling activities.

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The “Pumpkin Spice Pyramids” are an easy no-prep fall spelling activity to use this fall! I love having my students take time to decompose their trickiest spelling words in these pyramids. If you use this for a small group spelling activity, try having your students decompose the word then highlight their week's focus skill when the word is reassembled on the final pyramid step. You can explore this fall spelling activity by clicking HERE.

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Another fall spelling activity that I love is “apple crisp spelling practice”. My students love when I integrate any artistic components into their spelling activities, so a simple practice and color station does the trick! I ask my students to use this fall spelling activity as a self-quiz the night before a spelling test. Students will sit with a buddy (after writing their trickiest words in the apples). Then, students will take turns quizzing each other on the words written inside their “apples”. Once their buddy quiz is complete, I have students switch papers and color the apples with correctly spelled words in yellow or green and apples with words that needed more practice in red. This gives kiddos a fun spelling activity to practice in class with as well as highlighted review for homework that night. You can explore this fall spelling activity by clicking HERE.

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Syllable practice is so important. I love the fall spelling activity “scarecrow syllables” for this very reason. Here my students will have the chance to practice spelling each spelling word in their list but also visually see and hear or the word is chunked out syllabically. This fall spelling activity is a great one to use in a small group setting or when you first introduce a new spelling pattern/ chunk. You can explore this fall spelling activity by clicking HERE.


If you want to explore all of my editable no-prep fall spelling activities, click the picture below.
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Thursday, July 15

3 Classroom Management Strategies for Your Guided Math Block

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Guided math sounds amazing, but there is just no way on heaven or Earth that my students can handle task time. The classroom will completely fall apart while I teach my guided groups! Hey teacher friend, take a deep breath in and out. Better? Good, because I’m here to tell you, heck yes guided math is amazing and oh ya your students can totally handle it! Classroom management during guided math can seem like a mission that’s set for failure, but follow my tips below and your guided math classroom management is sure to be so rockin’ that you’ll wish your administrator would come to observe you all the time (ok maybe not all the time!)


Classroom Management Strategies for Your Guided Math Block- Tip #1


Have you ever heard the saying, “have a plan or your students will have a plan for you”? Let me tell you teacher friend, that phrase perfectly captures the image of the first year I dabbled in guided math. Well, what I thought was guided math. That year I had grown so fed up and discouraged with my math block and instruction and decided to find a better way. I hunted high and low and combed every blog post available at the time and guess what, I still fell face first and hard. I learned all about the guided math setup, but no one prepared me for the management shift and classroom management strategies that I would need. So let me say loud and clear, have a plan or your students will have a plan for you! Plan how you are going to teach them the ins and outs of your math block. Show them the components and centers. Finally, active model how each component should be done. You will be so glad that you did!

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Classroom Management Strategies for Your Guided Math Block- Tip #2


The second tip I want to share in this Classroom Management Strategies for Your Guided Math Block blog post is to set your classroom up for success. When you are thinking about your guided math block this year, how do you want it to run? What components do you have time for in your block and thus stations/ centers you will need to set up? Once all that is laid out, stop and think about how you can physically organize your room for success. I remember my first year teaching guided math, I felt so stressed about letting my students freely use the math manipulatives because I didn’t have a clear system to keep them organized. How will your kiddos be able to navigate the classroom while you are leading guided groups if you don’t have any clear systems for them?


Want some help getting started? Grab my Math Manipulative labels for FREE! Just click HERE to grab them now!

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Classroom Management Strategies for Your Guided Math Block- Tip #3


Teaching expectations and organizing the classroom sound pretty easy right? They absolutely are! Here’s the thing though teacher friend, you can have the best active modeling in the world, the clearest systems, and still find your math block is a hot mess express by Halloween. Why? This is because all classroom management needs a booster or two throughout the year. As my dance instructor used to say, “practice makes permanent.” So in order to have classroom management success during your math block, make sure you plan to reteach and practice those expectations after all major school breaks.


Are your engines fired up about this guided math thing? Then join me! I’m offering a totally FREE live training to teach all about guided math and the amazing goodness that it can bring into your classroom. Click THIS LINK now to learn about how you can grab a digital seat at my FREE live training, Transform Your Math Block!

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Thursday, July 8

Math Warm Up Activities

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You wouldn’t go for a three-mile run without warming up your muscles first. The same idea applies to math class too. We push our students to expand their thinking in our math blocks, so it’s important that we let them warm up first. Read more to explore my four favorite math warm up activities.


#1

Games are a fun and engaging way to begin your math block. Since your time for math warm up is usually brief, so you will want to select a game that can be played in a short amount of time. A few favorites in my room have been math facts around the world (last student standing) or geometry Simon Says. The warm up time in your math block is a fantastic time to get your students out of their seats, so get creative and see what games you can accomplish this with.


#2

Our students love having opportunities to shine. That is why I often let my students take turns teaching a review skill they have mastered to the class. For time reasons, only one student can present a day during warm up time. My students love having the chance to sign up for a “teaching time” and share their knowledge with friends. By the way, you’ll be amazed at how attentive the rest of your class is when one of their peers takes charge and teaches. It is one warm up activity you definitely have to try in your classroom.

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#3

Math videos are a fantastic way to warm up your student's minds before math instruction. I love using math videos for warm ups in my room. I will either show a review skill or introduce the skill of the day using a math video. Using technology allows my students to access the information in an alternative way to our standard instruction. My favorite math video channels are NumberRock, Math Antics, and Jack Hartman (for math fact songs). Math videos are fabulous for warm up times that are on a snug time crunch. 

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#4

I love using warm up time to review already taught skills with my students. It is always a good idea to keep these skills fresh in their minds as the year continues. One way I do this is through the use of miniature white boards. I put a review problem on the board and have my students work independently to solve the problem. I will walk around and check a few boards quickly. Students can not show their boards until they hear me say, “1, 2, 3, show me”. Then students will raise their boards up high. Finally, students will lower their boards and listen as I think aloud and model how to solve the problem. 


Warm up activities are crucial to make sure your students are firing on all cylinders. Which warm up activities will you implement in your math block this year?


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Want these math manipulative labels for your classroom? THEY’RE FREE! Just click HERE or the picture below to download your FREE math manipulative labels now!
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Saturday, July 3

4th of July Activities for Kids

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Fireworks, freedom, and 4th of July activities! I love celebrating and teaching about the 4th of July! From writing activities to read alouds, there are so many exciting 4th of July to do with your kids. Read more to explore my three favorite 4th of July Activities for kids.


4th of July Activities For Kids #1- Read Alouds

The 4th of July is a fabulous time to break out the patriotic picture books! There are countless books you could read to help celebrate and teach about the 4th of July. I have compiled a list of my favorites. Click the images below to explore my favorite 4th of July Picture books.

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4th of July Activities For Kids #2- Writing Activities


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I love writing prompts, regardless of what time of year it is! Writing prompts can wear so many different hats, and their versatility is what makes them so amazing. I love writing prompts to practice specific writing skills in my classroom. But you can easily pair any writing prompt with a fun art project too! My kiddos love when I pair a writing prompt with a “directed drawing” activity. Check out THIS link to explore some 4th of July directed drawings you can pair with 4th of July PRINT & Digital writing prompts for a fantastic 4th of July activity.




If you want to explore even more writing prompts, for each month, and every holiday? Click this LINK to explore my year-long writing prompt bundle.


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4th of July Activities For Kids #3-Online Skills Practice

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Holiday themes make my teacher heart happy. I love making festive learning opportunities for my students to learn and grow. While practicing verb tense last year, I knew my students would love something visually engaging and fun, and I needed something that still brought the rigor. So I created a 4th of July digital interactive notebook for verb tense and it was an overwhelming hit! If you would like to have this FREEBIE for your kiddos too, just click the download link now!

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Thursday, July 1

3 Tips to Keep Your Math Manipulatives Organized All Year Long

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“Do you see how those fraction pieces line up perfectly? That shows that they are equivalent.” This and countless similar conversations take place at my guided math table every year with the help of our math manipulatives. I adore math manipulatives! If we’re being honest, I am kind of obsessed with math manipulatives. If there's a teacher who is getting rid of old supplies, a yard sale on my block, or a rockin’ Amazon deal on math manipulatives then I am all over it! I love the way math manipulatives gift my students the opportunity to see, touch, and explore math concepts. As amazing as math manipulatives are, how do you keep them all organized? How do you teach your students to return your math manipulatives to a special space and keep your math block running smoothly? As I say to my students, don’t fret! Over the years I’ve come up with three messy-class-proof ways to organize and maintain your math manipulative station. Read more to learn my top three tips for keeping your math manipulatives organized all year long.


Tip #1 to Keep Your Math Manipulatives Organized All Year Long- Use Pictures


I used to store my math manipulatives in labeled bins. Clear enough for organizational ease right? Not exactly. Remember teacher friend, you are not the only one using your math manipulatives, your kiddos are too. Keep organization simple for them by adding pictures to your math manipulative labels! You would be amazed at how seamlessly math manipulatives are returned to their correct containers once a visual cue is involved! It’s not that students are unable to read math manipulative labels, but I have found the visual picture cues are all the nudge they need to keep our math manipulative station looking spick and span. No more picking unifix cubes out of the one's tub (can I get a woot woot!)


Want these math manipulative labels for your classroom? THEY’RE FREE! Just click HERE or the picture below to download your FREE math manipulative labels now!


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Tip #2 to Keep Your Math Manipulatives Organized All Year Long- Keep it Easily Accessible 


Want your kiddos to explore, use, and return math manipulatives? Keep them easily available to access and put away. I have found that the more difficult/ inconveniently placed the math tools are, the more likely they will be shoved in someone's desk (insert teacher groan) and less likely to be returned to where they belong. In my classroom, I keep my math manipulatives on a low shelf that is easy for my students to access and reach. Easy to access and easy to return is the key here. Additionally, I store all my math manipulatives under my math bulletin board. This makes it easy for my students to find and remember where all the math tools are should they need to use them.

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Tip #3 to Keep Your Math Manipulatives Organized All Year Long- Teach and Reteach Expectations


As teachers, we know that the key to any good classroom practice is clear expectations. I spend ample time at the beginning of the year teaching my math block expectations. I take time to model how each part of the math block should look and sound. Seems easy enough right? You can even take real photos of your kids doing an amazing job at each math station and post it on your math bulletin board as another visual cue (they love this!) It is easy, but no amount of active modeling will keep your math block running smoothly all year. If you want your math manipulatives to stay organized and not turn into a chaos corner, you will have to do expectation booster lessons at various points throughout the year. 

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There you have it teacher friend, my top three tips for keeping your math manipulatives organized all year long. How will you implement these tips in your classroom? I would love to see your setup! Tag me in your math manipulative organization photos on Instagram at Instagram.com/TailsofTeaching


Wait you almost forgot! Remember to grab your FREE math manipulative labels! Click the download button below to get you FREE math manipulative labels now.


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Thursday, June 24

The 3 Best Math Websites for Kids

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Do you incorporate “tech time” into your guided math routine? Technology time is one of the key stations inside my block routine and it is one that I love. Why? I love how technology offers countless engaging learning opportunities and creates seamless differentiation with ease. There are so many amazing math websites out there, so how do you know which ones are the best math websites to use with your elementary students? How do you know which site is the best math website for kids in your classroom to use? Well, teacher friend, I have used “tech time” in my math station set up for many years, and today I am sharing the top three FREE websites that I feel are the best math websites to use in your elementary math block. Read more to find out what each of these rockin’ sites is all about!


Best Math Website for Kids #1- Prodigygame.com

If you follow me on Instagram (@tailsofteaching), you have heard me talk about Prodigy before. Prodigy is one of my top three choices for best math websites hands down! So what is Prodigy and why do I think it’s one of the best math websites for elementary students? Prodigy is a standards aligned, game based, math practice site. I love it and so do my kiddos! As a teacher, I love that the site is engaging, Common Core aligned and provides me with easy data readouts about my kiddos. My students think Prodigy is a fantastic math website for kids for the simple reason that it makes math fun! Any time my students can have fun while practicing their math skills makes my teacher heart so happy. You can explore Prodigy by clicking HERE.

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Best Math Website for Kids #2- Zearn.org

Zearn is my math website jam! I discovered Zearn.org this year and can I just say it is a game-changer! Zearn is on my list of three best math websites for elementary students because it offers engaging instruction, practice, and games all in one place! It is definitely one of the best free math websites I have ever used and a favorite in my classroom. If you are looking for an all inclusive math website for kids, this is definitely the one to pick! You can explore Zearn by clicking HERE.


Best Math Website for Kids #3- XtraMath.org

As elementary teachers, we can all agree that math fact skills are a MUST! I build math fact practice into my math learning centers every single day. If you have access to technology in your classroom, XtraMath is an easy way for students to practice their math fact skills. You simply create your class roster, assign which level of fact practice you want your students to work on, and go! Your students will practice digital math fact flashcards and easily build math fact fluency! XtraMath also provides you with data to easily see which facts your kiddos are crushing or struggling with. For these reasons, XtraMath is definitely on my top three list of free best math websites. You can explore Xtramath by clicking THIS link.

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Would you like to snag a math FREBIE for your class? Click the download button now to get one week worth of 4th grade spiral math review worksheets!




Sunday, May 30

Activities for the End of the School Year

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How is it possible that we are here already? Is it just me teacher friend, or does the end of the school year creep up on you too? It feels like yesterday was September and we were welcoming a new group of kiddos, and now Summer vacation is right around the corner! But what do you do with your kiddos in those final days before Summer vacation? What lessons or activities for the end of the school year will leave a lasting impression on your student? As the end of the school year bounds towards us, I thought I would share some of my favorite activities for the end of the school year. 




Activities for the End of the School Year: End of the Year Read Alouds


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Read-aloud time is something that's near and dear to my heart. As the school year winds to a close, there are so many emotions for our students to process; stress, anxiety, excitement, loss, joy, worry, and happiness just to name a few. One way to help students make sense of the crazy emotion stew that’s brewing inside of them is to share and discuss these emotions in a story. Below I have linked some of my favorite end of the year read aloud stories. These read alouds and a hearty discussion after, are great activities for the end of the school year. 





Activities for the End of the School Year: End of the Year Awards

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I love doing student awards at the end of the year. We host a little class party and each child gets a chance to be recognized for something wonderful. Core values and character education are a big part of my teachings each year, so I use end of the year awards that reflect that importance. Instead of giving my kiddos silly end of the year awards, I recognize each student for a character trait we learned during the year. For example, students in my room may receive an Integrity award or an award for showing great Compassion. I love this end of the year activity because my students are so proud when they receive their awards. Click HERE to check out the class awards I use.



Activities for the End of the School Year: End of the Year Countdown Calendar 

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I love countdown calendars and so do my students! I take the number of students I have and count backward from our school closing date. On all of those days in between, we celebrate specific students! On their special day in the countdown, the chosen student will sit at our VIP desk and everyone else will write them compliments on our whiteboard to start the day. I teach students all about giving compliments and celebrating one another. You can do many creative visuals for countdown calendars. From balloon pops to spinners, there are so many fun ways to countdown and celebrate your students in this fun end of the year activity. Check out the VIP student resource I use, click HERE. If you are distance learning, do a video countdown calendar! Record little videos each day that help students count down to the last day of school. This is what I will be going this year, along with mailing my kiddos their VIP badge and end of the year awards.



Activities for the End of the School Year: End of the Year Student Gifts

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In the year that we spend together, my students and I become a little family. At the end of each year, I like to get them a little parting gift to say thank you for the time we spent together and the memories that were made. How is a student gift an activity for the end of the school year you may be wondering? Well, I like to give my kiddos gifts that they can play with. For example, I might give them a colorful chalk pack then take them outside to make a giant mural together, or coloring books that we can go outside and color together on the last day of school. If you’re looking for student gift ideas that you can also use for activities to end the school year, CLICK HERE to check out my student gift tags for some inspiration and ready to go gift tags!




Activities for the End of the School Year: End of the Year Student Memory Books

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One of my all-time favorite activities for the end of the school year is a student memory book! At the end of each year, I make memory books for my students. This is similar to a yearbook. Memory books are a fun way for students to reflect, write/ draw about their year, and gather friends’ autographs. Memory books are always a fan favorite in my classroom and one of my favorite end of the year activities as well! Click HERE to check out the memory books I use.


There are so many activities for the end of the school year, but the most important are the activities that build memories for you and your students. So soak it all in teacher friend, because you have conquered another year and now it is time to celebrate and have fun with your kiddos!