Christmas Dig Deeper with these Early Finisher Lessons

Do you have a student that is hard to reach?  When I get to the bottom of my teacher toolbox, I usually have one of my Dr. Phil moments. "How's it workin' for ya?".  When traditional methods haven't worked, it is time to think outside of the box.

Time in the schedule is like money, there is less of it each year.  You have to spend time and money wisely.  When I began teaching - long ago when there was more time and money - teachers had more time to include activities that were creative and thought outside the box.  As more expectations were added to my plate, I found myself doing fewer of these lessons. 

One inside recess day,  I gave my kindergarten students die cut letters.  I told them that they could flip, arrange, move the letter on the piece of paper that I gave them to create something new.  They would finish the sentence "This used to be the letter __, but now it is ___".  This activity turned on the switch for one of my students.  He had trouble learning his letters with the traditional methods.  Once he began to see letters as pictures in his mind, he was able to quickly identify the letters.  This thinking outside the box lesson was exactly what he was needing.  
Time is an issue.  Punching out letters with a die cut is not doable for teachers.  I made some lessons using some seasonal things, which is much more time friendly than punching out letters.  Collect the seasonal items and use them year after year. I found the mini stockings at Dollar Tree.

You can set this up as a early finisher center or activity.  Students love the lessons. You will love how the lessons make your students dig deeper in their thinking.
Want to differentiate the lessons?  There are task cards included that you use to differentiate your expectations.

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Christmas and Winter themed Break Break + FREE party kit

Are you students restless, having trouble focusing, and paying attention? Try to include more brain breaks throughout your day. A few minutes here and there can make a huge difference.
By this time of the year, you may want to try some new brain breaks.  This also works well as an inside recess activity.

Dollar Tree has small Christmas and winter theme pillows like the ones in the tub in the picture.  You can put your students in small groups (the number of holiday pillows) or use one holiday pillow with your entire class.
Use the pillow to play "hot potato".  To play the game:
  • Students sit in a circle or circles
  • One person begins the game holding a pillow
  • Music is played - holiday music will make it more fun
  • Students pass the pillow to the person on the right, each person continues passing the pillow until the music stops.
  • The person holding the pillow when the music stops is out of the game.
  • That person out of the game hands the pillow to the person on his/her right and the music begins again.
  • Continue until there is only one person who is the winner.
You can train a student to be the person in charge of the music.
Do you have students that do not celebrate holidays this year?  No problem, Dollar Tree has a snowman pillow.  
This Brain Break activity can be used for inside recess or at holiday parties.  I have a FREE winter party kit.  Click on the picture below if you would like to check out all of the ideas and get a FREE copy.

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Mornings: The First 30 minutes at School + FREE Morning Work

One of the hardest things for me to figure out as a new teacher was planning for the un-plannable.  A parent that has a quick question, a call from the office, or a student throws up.  It seemed like so many of these un-plannables happened during the first 30 minutes of school.
The un-plannables have a way of throwing off the rhythm of a teacher and all of the students. I had always been a morning person until I began experiencing the unplannables.  I would get all of my ducks in a row and then "BAM!" something would happen that would knock them all down.

I knew I needed to find morning work that students could begin independently and hopefully last 10-15 minutes. The key word is independent. Sixteen of my twenty years of experience has been in either a kindergarten or first grade classroom.  Independent isn't exactly a kindergartener or first graders middle name, you know what I mean?
Morning messages are my favorite way to begin the day. Messages include skills that are a review and a stretch for students. The variety of skills is important because classes will always include students that have a range in skill that is larger than we would prefer.

Students begin their morning message after they put away their backpacks and other morning tasks. They will complete as much of the message as they can independently.  My favorite "I" word.

After taking attendance, lunch count, and dealing with unplannables, I go over the message with my class.  Although students know they do not have to finish the message during the work time, I do expect them to try their best to answer as much of it as they can.
Students may not be able to answer everything. We will go over the message together at the end of the work time.  Something that seems hard today will seem "easy peasy" another day.  All it takes is a little practice.

Messages review important skills.  You will find skills that may be introduced earlier than you teach them or above grade level.  This is why I think my students bloomed when I began using this method of morning messages.

Skills are reviewed day in and day out.  We went over the message together at the end of our morning work time.  Students could correct their message if they made a mistake.  That immediate feedback is important.

A mini lesson is like a t.v. commercial. Students retain information from commercials because they are short and repeated.  It is so effective that companies spend millions of dollars and Congress passed the Children's Television Act which regulates the minutes of commercials during children's programming.

You will be surprised when you see some of your lowest performing students begin to bloom when you incorporate morning messages.  When I wrote messages on chart tablet or on the white board, I found that:
  • There were days that I forgot to write a message.  Oops!  There goes the schedule.
  • My messages were not always the best quality. 
  • My students were looking at MY message but did not have THEIR own copy of the message which meant more off task behavior.
  • Students did not have a copy of the message for fluency homework.
  • It was crazy time in my class when the unplannables happened at the beginning of the day.
Send home the message for fluency homework.  Perfect when you have an assembly, field trip, or other activities that prevent you from meeting with your reading groups.
Would you like to try a week's worth of FREE leveled morning messages? Click here and let me know on TPT what you think.

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Behavior and Work Habit Tips - Winter theme

A change in weather can change your students' behavior and work habits. When that happens, it is time to try something new.
Do your students ask you questions about something you just finished explaining in step-by-step detail? When you notice this happening, change how you ask for your students' attention. 
Most of the attention getters that teachers typically use are verbal.  Try using a noise maker like a train whistle when your class has seasonal wiggles.  You can find whistles like the ones in the picture at stores like Dollar Tree, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby.
Your class may become talkative during the change in climate.  Try planning more partner or group activities.  Yes, they are still talking, but you are choosing the topic of their discussions.  You can pick partners or groups using seasonal shapes like the snowflakes in the picture above.  Each shape represents one group or partner set. Cut the shape into the same number of students you plan to have in each group.  Pass out the pieces and give your students time to find their partners or group members.  Extra bonus with this activity is it works as a wiggle break.
Have you lost some of the pieces to a set of calendar numbers or small shapes?  You can repurpose them into a classroom management tool.  Put the pieces in a bag or box.  Let your students draw one out of the bag or box before you begin a lesson.  You can use the shapes and calendar numbers when you want to form cooperative groups: (example)
  • Green trees will meet in the library corner.
  • Snowflake #1-6 will meet near the computer center.
  • Mittens will meet by the math center.
Change in season means a change in work habits.  You may find more incomplete assignments and work turned in that is less-than-the-best quality work.  You can motivate your students with this quick and easy way to showcase top quality work.  A string of twine with clothes pins is the quickest way to do this.  You can add this in your classroom or hallway.  
There is something magical about Scratch 'n sniff stickers.  Add one to the papers you display and all of your students will want to have their assignment featured there.
What do you do when the seasons change your students' behavior?

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Glue Tips & Freebie

Procedures, procedures, procedures . . . it seems like there are so many rules, procedures, and expectations to teach at the beginning of the year.  You will thank me later if you add glue to your "to do" list.  One year I skipped teaching glue procedures and expectations at the beginning of the year.  I had moved from first grade to third grade that year so I didn't think it was necessary. Wrong - - - very wrong!  The first assignment that involved glue was a big mess.  Take the time to show your students your expectations.
  • How do you open the glue?
  • How do you close the glue?
  • How much glue do you use?
  • Where do you store the glue?
Have you seen this video by Tricia Fuglestad? It is a great video to show at the beginning of the year. It covers all of the common glue issues that happen in the classroom. It is only 3:30 minutes and well worth the time.
      You can prevent clogged glue tips by rubbing a little bit of petroleum jelly inside the tips.  The quickest way to do this:
      • Sit at your teacher table.
      • You will need a pair of pliers, jar of petroleum jelly, and Q-tips.
      • Call one group of students at a time.  Each student will bring a bottle of glue.
      • You will take off the glue tip with pliers.  
      • Students will take a Q-tip and dip it in the petroleum jelly.
      • Students will rub the petroleum jelly inside the glue tip.
      • Students will put the glue tip back on the glue bottle and close it.
      It is helpful to let primary students practice glue skills before they need to use glue with an assignment. Colorful glue is helpful when practicing this skill.  You can make cheap colorful glue with food coloring.  I use glue from the year before for this project.  It is easier to mix if there is only half a bottle of glue.  I used 10 drops of blue food coloring in the bottle below.
      You can easily see the glue when it is colorful.  When white glue dries it is clear.
      In the FREE assignment above, your students can practice putting dots in the boxes.  You can also have your students put a dot of glue where he or she began writing the numbers.  Great way to reinforce writing skills.

      Have you heard the news?  My friends and I are hosting a Stock Your Classroom giveaway.  We realize that teachers spend too much personal money on their classrooms. Each of us are giving away different school supplies so make sure you visit each blog.

      I am giving away a gallon of glue and small glue bottles.  Small glue bottles are great for small hands.  I also like to use them in centers.

      There are two ways to enter my giveaway:

      • Sign up for my newsletter. Already get my newsletters? No problem. Whether you sign up now or you signed up earlier, you can tell me the email address that you used on the rafflecopter below. 
      • Follow me on Pinterest. Already follow me on Pinterest? No problem. Whether you follow me now or you followed me earlier, you can tell your Pinterest URL.
      Enter the giveaway October 1-5.
      I will email the winner and announce the winner on my FB page on October 6th.  The winner has 48 hours to answer my email.  If no response,  I will choose a new winner.

      Visit my friends who are also giving away much needed school supplies and sharing teacher tips.

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      Fall Teacher Tips

      Fall has arrived. Have you noticed that some of your students get energized when the chilly weather sets in? You might need to break up your schedule into smaller blocks when this happens. You can use brain breaks to help get your students back on track.

      One seasonal break I like to use is "hot pumpkin". It is played like "hot potato" only I use a pumpkin. I found the foam pumpkin at Dollar Tree. Students sit in a circle. Give one student the pumpkin. Play seasonal music. When the music stops, the student holding the "hot pumpkin" is out of the game. Continue playing as long as you have time or until you get down to the last student holding the "hot pumpkin". Students need to be quiet to hear the music which is an added bonus.

      You can control the music or you can let each student as they are caught holding the "hot pumpkin" have a turn controlling the music. When you organize it this way, you have a little time to pass out papers or do other teacher-stuff.
      Eyes on me? Sometimes it pays to be a little silly.  I found the buggy eyes headband at Dollar Tree.  Wear this during your lesson when you need your students' attention and I'm sure their eyes and ears will be focused on you.

      How do you keep your students' attention?
      Looking for Fall ideas? Check out my Pinterest boards.

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      Play-Doh Ideas: Morning Tubs - Number Sense, Math Facts, & More

      Looking for new ideas for morning tubs?  Play-Doh has so many uses in the classroom.
      At the beginning of the school year, I like to start the day with Play-doh and cookie cutters.  It is an open-ended activity that students love which means easier good-byes from mom and dad.  Students are engaged, laughing, and chatting with other students at their table which makes it easier for mom and dad to leave.  Best of all, Play-doh warms up their muscles that they will be using for schoolwork.  
      Did you know that September 16th is National Play-Doh Day? Mr. McVicker invented play-doh as a wallpaper cleaner. His sister-in-law was a nursery school teacher. She was looking for a project for her class when she found the wallpaper cleaner. Watch this video to see how this teacher influenced Mr. McVicker's company in a big way!
      Looking for morning tub ideas? Play-doh, ice tray, and scissors is a fun way to students work on number sense and strengthen fine-motor skills.
      Practice math facts with play-doh, scissors, and a deck of cards. Students can write the math fact on a dry erase board.
      Add a few odds and ends to your Play-doh tub and let your students' imagination go wild.  Let your students either take a picture of their creation or draw it.  Write words that describe it.

      How do you use Play-Doh?

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      How many hours a week do you spend writing, typing, printing, passing out your newsletter only to get questions from parents later? Questions that could have been answered by the newsletter.

      Do you have a class website? Do your parents check your class website weekly? Is the amount of time you devote to your website the best use of your time?

      This communication breakdown is not always from lack of parental interest. Unfortunately, newsletters do not always make it home. Students look at the newsletter in after-school care and forget to put it back in their backpack. The newsletter gets shoved in the back of a messy desk instead of put in the take-home folder. The list of reasons goes on and on.

      Class websites are a wonderful way to showcase what is going on in your classroom. But, parents do not always remember to check websites on a regular basis.

      What is the best way to communicate class-wide information?

      Today's parents are busier than ever. It doesn't matter if the mother is a work-at-home mom or a work-away-from-home mom, mothers are on the go. What do busy moms have? Smartphones! A busy mom may not always have the extra time to go through a backpack daily. However, a busy mom does look at her smartphone several times a day. Look at any dentist's waiting room or kid's soccer practice and you will see moms and dads on their smartphones.
      Communicate with busy parents using Facebook. You can organize it with a class Facebook page or a private Facebook group. The benefit of Facebook is parents can set your page to show up first in their newsfeed or set the group as a favorite so they won't miss your posts.

      Be sure to discuss this with your administrator BEFORE you set up a class Facebook page or group. It is important to follow your district's technology policy.

      Do you follow my Facebook page? Through the years, I have found a few things that made having an active Facebook page less time consuming.
      Scheduling posts - There is some information that you can schedule in advance. Example:
      Library Day - reminder to bring book(s)
      Spelling List
      Curriculum - units of study in math, science, etc.
      It saves time if you have a graphic template for the posts that you will use regularly. Plus, it is easier for parents to find posts about spelling words if you use the same template each time.
      Sharing children's pictures on social media can be a safety concern for some parents. A class Facebook group is an option to offer when you have parents with concerns. The only people who can see the posts - and pictures of their child - is members of the private group. The private group would consist of parents of the class, teacher, and administrator.

      They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I had fewer parent complaints when I began taking pictures of my students on a regular basis and sharing them. I wasn't quite sure why the pictures had such a positive impact until I had a conference with one of my parents.

      This mom explained that her child initially did not like school. He complained that no one wanted to play with him, no one liked him, and school was not fun. When I began sharing pictures each week, she saw pictures of her son playing, interacting with other students at centers, and smiling at school. She showed the pictures to her son and asked him to tell her what was happening in the pictures. She said the pictures helped "remind" her son of the positive things that had happened at school. The pictures also gave her a starting point for discussing his week. Even if he wasn't in the pictures, he could tell her what was happening. She felt like she had a better idea about her son's day at school.
      It is helpful to share how you will communicate with parents at Back to School night. This is a good time to share your vision for how you will implement a class Facebook page or group. Ask parents to sign a social media permission slip. The sooner you get the slips, the sooner you can begin sharing pictures of your students.

      Interested in seeing what this might look like?  I made examples.
      Need graphics, permission slips, etc?

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      Faculty Meetings Ice Breaker and Group Activity

      Back to school time means time for meetings.  If you are in charge of planning these meetings, you realize the challenge you face. Teachers want to work in their classrooms so their attention is less-than-the-best. 

      Through the years, I have had some interesting meetings at the beginning of the year. Here are a couple of fun things my principals did that made the meetings more enjoyable.

      Get Out of Your Comfort Zone:

      We all love to sit by our buddies when we go to a meetings, but I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone. Why? Throughout the school year, you will work with more staff members than the ones on your team or your small group of buddies. Mixing it up with regards to where you sit, gives you the opportunity to "chit chat". Many times informal communication helps build connections (a.k.a. relationships) so you will feel more comfortable to approach a staff member when you have a question or need help. Just like the old saying about it takes a village to raise a child, I think it takes a school, all of the employees in a school, to educate a child. I can't tell you how many times I've gotten helpful insight about some of my puzzle kids from staff members who weren't a member of my comfort zone. There was the time my custodian observed my student's lack of interactions with classmates at lunch, the librarian who noticed my student has a love for dinosaur books which I used to motivate him with dinosaur stickers, the computer teacher who noticed my student is my class "tech expert", and many other helpful insights. Getting out of your comfort zone and getting to know more staff members will help you and your students.
      If you are in charge of planning the meeting, you can mix up your seating chart with this fun activity. The only glitch with this activity is men. If you have men on your staff, they won't be able to do this activity, so tell them to split up and sit at different tables. Have ladies with the same lipstick style sit together.

      What is Your Personal Style When Working in a Group:

      When you are a teacher, you are not an island, although you may feel alone when you close your classroom door. Think about how many times a day you interact with other members of the staff - the cafeteria manager when you forgot your lunch count, the nurse when your student who is a member of your "frequent flyer" program ask to go the nurse for the fifth time in an hour, the speech pathologist who needs to reschedule due to a staffing . . . my point is teachers are not an island, we are a cog in a system. All it takes is one member of the cog to get "out of whack" and the system breaks down. This is why the compass points personal style activity is so beneficial. When you understand how members of your school work within a group, you will work better together.

      Have you done an activity that you would recommend?

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      Community Building: Staff Lending Library

      Does your school have a lending library for the staff?  Sometimes it is located in the corner of the faculty lounge.  Other times there is a designated spot in the school's library for it.  A lending library can include books or magazines.
      Reading during your lunch break is a great brain break.  Sometimes you need to take a brain break when you are feeling overwhelmed. You will be more productive after a short break.
      Grab a book from the lending library and take your class outside the next time the weather is beautiful.  Students get so excited when they see their teacher reading, too!  
      Do your students read for pleasure?  One important way you can encourage your students to read for pleasure is by reading a book during your students' sustained silent reading time.  Teachers of all subjects should model this. Imagine the impact a school wide D.E.A.R. (Drop-Everything-and-Read) time could have on students' reading skills.
      Books are a great way to build community with staff members. It works best if you have the lending library in the teachers' lounge. Soon, staff members will be comparing notes about favorite authors and genres.

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