Famous African Americans: Book List, Word Work and Word Wall

What's on your bookshelf? Do you have a front facing bookshelf like the one in the picture? I found this one at a thrift store. Most of my schools have had one like this. Use this shelf to feature weekly or monthly themes. Your students will be more engaged with reading when you change books frequently.

February is Black History or African American History month. You can easily incorporate lessons about the contributions by famous African American into your plans.
Girls and boys enjoy reading about Bessie Coleman.  She was the first African American to earn a pilot's license. Many classrooms have a word wall.  Have you set up a separate word wall for the themes or units that you are teaching?  For this word wall, I like to add a picture of the book cover next to the word.  Before I read a book to my class, I will choose a few words from the book to discuss.

Whole Group:
Discuss vocabulary words (word cards) - meaning of words, how these words might apply to the book, and use word in a sentence.
Read: Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger to your class.

Word Work - Compound Words:
Hold up "tailspin" word card
Students will write it on dry erase board
Students will draw a line dividing 2 words
Students will think and write other compound words with "tail"
A fabric map like the one in the picture above is an easy way to connect social studies to your read alouds.  Students can find the setting of the book on the map.
Is your schedule hectic this month?  Begin your day with morning messages about African Americans.  There is a sample in the preview file that you can try.
I compiled a list of books that have African and African American characters.  You can get a FREE copy of the booklist.

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Staff Morale Boosters & Random Acts of Kindness + Freebie

The end of January is the best time to plan a few morale boosters. Cold and flu season, dreary weather, and upcoming tests can impact the school's climate.
Add a staff morale booster to your faculty meeting. A Sunshine Committee or principal can organize this activity.

You will need prizes. Parents and local businesses are good sources to ask for prizes. There is a parent note that you can send home asking for donations in this FREE download.

Next, put the prizes in bags so staff members cannot see the prizes.

Ask staff members to write their name on a piece of paper and put it in a basket when they arrive for the faculty meeting.
Take a white elephant approach to the prizes.  Example, if you have six prizes, the first winner can choose a prize.  The second winner can steal the first winner's prize or select a new prize.  If he or she steals a prize, the first winner will select a new prize.  To save time, you may want to set a limit for how many times a prize can be stolen.  This is one of the few times when people do not want to be chosen first because it is fun to steal another person's prize.
Did one of your teammates get "that class"?  A little treat or note in the mailbox can make a big difference.  I found this sound effects box at the clearance section at Marshall's this week.  Wouldn't that be a fun attention getter? 
A warm drink is a perfect random act of kindness for this time of the year.  Drop of the supplies in the faculty lounge with a note and soon you will see smiles on your colleagues faces.

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February Compound Words, Inquiry Lesson and a FREEBIE

February is the perfect month to incorporate compound words with your lessons.  "Groundhog" and "mailbox" are two seasonal words that students will see in February lessons.  
Do you incorporate inquiry activities with your lesson plans? If you have some stuffed animals like the ones in the picture, you could use them for an inquiry lesson. This is an activity for students with prior knowledge of compound words.

Set the stuffed animals on a small table where you will teach the lesson later in the day. Stuffed animals are a kid magnet. Great tool for building interest and getting your students' interest. Your students will notice the stuffed animals as soon as they walk in the classroom. Tell your class that they can look but not touch your "little friends".

If you save this lesson until the afternoon, your students will begin the inquiry process on their own. At recess and lunch, you may overhear your students trying to figure out how something that they play with could be used by a teacher for a lesson. What are they studying (skills) that is like the animals? How are the animals alike?

Ask you students to jot down their ideas about how the animals are alike in their journals or a white board when you begin the lesson. Next, put your class in small groups and let them discuss their thoughts with each other.
Let one person from each group share the findings of the group. Then write the names of the stuffed animals on your white board or a chart tablet. Tell them to LOOK at the words to see if the WORDS have something in common. Discuss with their group. Let one person from each group share the findings of the group again.

"Hummingbird" was not one of the first few words that I wrote on the list. Some of my classes in the past have confused a 2 syllable word with a compound word. With a lesson like this, some students will begin to count syllables when they see the list and assume syllables is how the words are alike. That works until they get to the word "hummingbird". Going through this process solves the syllable-compound word problem.

After the lesson, you can continue using the stuffed animals:
  • Team mascots
  • Classroom management tool: pass out a stuffed animal who is working quietly, turned in high quality work, listening attentively during lessons, or any other behavior you want to reward.
  • Tell your students that they will pretend to become one of the stuffed animal. Then your students will:
    • Name the animal character - i.e. Bessie Bluebird, Gideon Groundhog, Buddy Bumblebee,Huxley Hummingbird, Sachi Seahorse, and Liona Ladybug
    • Write pen pal letters to the animal characters
If you don't have stuffed animals or have the time to gather them, you can do the same type of lesson with books. The following books have a compound word in the title:
You can click on the (affiliate) link for more information
Give your students extra practice with compound words.  Students can either look for compound words in books (like the books above) or you can give students a topic and see how many compound words they can make about the topic.  The picture above are compound words about Valentine's Day.

If you want to make the making words more hands on and engaging for your students, cut the cover of a folder in 3 parts.  To do this flip folder activity:

  1. Students lift the first flap and write the first word of the compound word.  
  2. Close the first flap.
  3. Lift the second flap and write the second word of the compound word.
  4. Close the second flap.
  5. Lift the third flap and write the compound word.
  6. Close the third flap.
  7. Go to the next line and continue making compound words.
  8. Write a sentence using at least one of the compound above.
Let's Make Compound Words can be found here.
Do your students need more practice?  Let's Edit: Compound Words is an activity that students practice identifying compound words, grammar and writing skills.  This is perfect for morning work or homework.  You can get a free copy of a Valentine themed page in the preview file here.

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Handwriting, Numbers, and Valentine's Day

Once upon in the world of teaching, students were sent to the chalkboard to practice what they were studying. Writing on the chalkboard was a useful tool. Teachers could watch students work math problems before they began their assignments. Mini reteach lessons would happen before students began their assignment. Students learned from other students when they watched other students work on the chalkboard. One fringe benefit of sending students to the chalkboard that teachers may not have realized was the handwriting benefit. Students use different muscles when they write on a vertical surface.


You can set up a handwriting center with your easel. Students can pull up a chair and practice writing word wall words, spelling words, numbers, or math facts. Students are writing on a vertical surface and practicing academic skills at the same time. Win! Win!
Do you incorporate music with your lessons? You can use songs like the one in the picture above as a brain break or part of a math lesson. Want to involve your students a little more? Either cut out hearts or use ones like the felt ones in the picture above. I found them at the Target Dollar Spot.
Glue small hearts or put stickers on each big heart.
You can put the hearts on a ring to store them or flip through the ring of hearts when your class sings the song.

You can also pass out the hearts to ten volunteers and let them stand in front of the class holding a heart.  Each time the class sings the number on their heart, students will lift their heart.
Students can trace the songs for handwriting practice. You can get a FREE copy the song plus the heart number flipbook.

Happy Valentine's Day!

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GOT STRESS? Not enough time in your day?

Are you feeling stressed?  Do you feel like there is never enough time in your day?

The expression, "don't work harder, work smarter", can help with alleviate some of your stress. One of the tasks that took up a lot of my prep time each was writing morning messages.  I saw the impact of a quality message and its impact on my students' academic achievement.  Unfortunately, I was guilty of not always writing the best quality message when time was limited.

One of my favorite ways to begin my day is with morning messages.  But, morning messages are TIME CONSUMING to write each day.  I have done it a variety of ways through the years.  I began my morning message system when I was preparing for my maternity leave. You can read about the system HERE.  At that time, I was writing my morning messages on chart tablet paper each day.  I didn't want my long term sub to have to do that each day.  I wanted to simplify things for her.  When I returned I continued this system because I really liked it.  The system is a HUGE TEACHER TIME SAVER!
Each class is a little different - with different needs.  With this system, there are task cards like the ones in the picture above that you can use to differentiate or extend the morning message.
There are a variety of morning message files available for grades Kindergarten - 3rd grade.  Some are seasonal and others have a topic or skill theme.  There are several files that are free so you can check out the system with your class.  

Phonics / Early Readers:

Early Readers #1 (20 messages)

Digraph - CH (10 messages)

Digraph - SH (10 messages)

Digraph Bundle - CH, SH (20 messages)

Diphthong - OY - FREE

Themed packets:

Back to School - K/1 (10 messages)
Back to School - 2/3 (10 messages)
Fall Fun - K (can be used in September, October, and November) (10 messages)
Fall Fun - K/1 (can be used in September, October, and November) (10 messages)
Fall Fun - 1st (can be used in September, October, and November) (10 messages)
Martin Luther King Jr.
Winter Olympics - FREE
Black History Month (10 messages)
Chinese New Year - FREE
Father's Day FREE
Cinco de Mayo - FREE
Memorial Day - FREE
Time (Combo with task cards)
Money (plus game, passages)
Spiders (plus QR Code, Reading Response) - FREE
Sharks (plus Reading Passage, Digraph Activity) - FREE
February (plus Leap Day, Time, Skip Counting) - FREE 
Henry & Mudge - FREE

Each of the grade level packets include ten morning messages.
1st Grade
2nd Grade
3rd Grade

By request, I bundled my September - May grade level packets (links above) into bundles with 90 messages.
1st Grade
2nd Grade
3rd Grade

By request, I bundled two grade levels together. There are 10 messages of each grade level in these packets (20 messages per packet).

Kindergarten - 1st grade

1st and 2nd grade

2nd and 3rd grade

By request, I am adding more grade level packets for teachers who do morning message daily. You can follow my store or Facebook page if you want to be notified when I add more of these packets. I am selling Volume 2 (10 messages) separately and as a combo with Volume 1 (10 messages) so teachers have the option of having 20 messages. Below are the ones I've finished so far.

April - Volume 2 (10 messages)
April - Combo (20 messages)

1st Grade
April - Volume 2 (10 messages)
April - Combo (20 messages)

2nd Grade
April - Volume 2 (10 messages)
April - Combo (20 messages)

Morning Messages are also included with my Sub Plans:

Sub Resource Binder


Teacher from the Black Lagoon

Early Reader - K/1

March - K/1 - this file includes more than just sub plans.

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FREE Early Finisher Reteach Digraph Sight Words High Frequency Words

Is "ck" a digraph?  I was recently working on a new file that includes digraph printables. When I was shopping for digraph clipart, I noticed that some of the files included "ck" clipart.  
I was taught that a digraph was two letters that make a new sound. You do not hear the individual sound of "c" or "h" with a "ch" digraph.  The two letters make a new sound.

Teacher Facebook groups are good sources for new and veteran teachers. One of my FB groups includes teachers from different location and wide variety of experiences. The "ck" question seemed like the perfect topic for this group. Sure enough, there was more than one definition for a digraph.
Melissa Lee Bates, a member of the group, shared the second definition. She said this definition is from Saxon Phonics curriculum. Using this definition, "ck" would be digraph.
When you are grading students' work, do you find that some of your students need more practice?  In a perfect world, you would pull this student and that student for specific skill work to fill in the gaps. Time to pull materials, time to meet with students, and other issues get in the way when you are in the trenches.

You can set up a early finisher, reteach center or personalize your morning work.  If you are like me, you need to clean out your files.  Does a teacher really need 12 copies of a specific worksheet?  Purge your files for your New Years professional resolution.  After purging your files, sort the pages by skills that students typically need to extra practice. Make files by skills (short vowels, long vowels, digraphs, addition, addition with regrouping, etc.) and add pages to the files.  You will have more than one type of worksheet in each file.
Students will select an assignment from the skill file that he or she needs to work on.  This is an easy way to differentiate your morning work or early finishers. To provide extra motivation for your students:
  • Let students choose the worksheet from the file.
  • Set up the center with special supplies like gel pens, 64 count crayons, smelly markers, etc. 

Would you like some freebies to set up your reteach center?  These printables also work great with your early finishers.

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Sight Words and FREEBIE

Whether your school uses Dolch, Fry, or another list of words, your students will spend part of their day studying sight words. Sight word knowledge impacts students' reading achievement.

Recent research has shown the importance of handwriting. The process of writing engages parts of the brain which enhances memorization.  This is true for all ages which is why college students are encouraged to take notes by hand rather than typing them on their laptop.

Tracing vs. Writing
Should students trace letters?  Tracing letters provides some benefit such as providing a correct model for letter formation. Tracing is good activity when handwriting is the goal. It does not maximize students' learning potential when reading. Students need to write the letters in order to stimulate the different parts of the brain.

Is Handwriting Important?
When I began teaching, handwriting was taught as a teacher directed lesson each day.  This was back in the days of the ball and stick method.  We did not have a longer school day. To utilize our time effectively, we incorporated other skills with our handwriting lesson.  We integrated sight words and facts from our current science or social studies unit into the sentences students were copying.

Why was so much time devoted to handwriting if students already know how to write letters?  Conservatively speaking, a 15 minute per day was 75 minutes per week spent on handwriting instruction is a statement of the importance our school placed on this topic. We noticed that students as a whole scored lower in the written part of the standardized test.  The test scores of bright, capable students did not reflected their knowledge.  Over the course of the school year, teachers became familiar with their students' handwriting.  This familiarity with students' handwriting became like a shorthand.  Teachers and parents could read the students' handwriting, but it was difficult for an outsider to read some of the letters.

The person grading the written portion of the standardized test had a limited time to grade each test.  The grader default was NOT to "assume the best" when he or she could not read the students' handwriting.

Once parents understood that handwriting could impact test scores, they were supportive, which meant neater homework.

Keep in mind this was in the early 1990's when children spent more time writing. Ironically, many schools quit teaching handwriting at the time when children began spending more time on technology and less on writing.

You can read more about how writing enhances learning at the following links:

Integration is key to this! You can easily set up a handwriting center which also includes writing with a simple activity like the picture above or the picture at the top of the post. Students practice tracing letters which is important for learning correct letter formation. Plus, students will write the sight words and sentences.

Make your center more engaging by letting your students use a variety of school supplies such as colored pencil, thin markers, or gel pens.
Would you like to try a free sample?

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Tom Cruise and Gift Cards

You know it's going to be a good story when it includes Tom Cruise and gift cards.
This week my in-laws mailed my family a Christmas card with gift cards. It needed extra postage so it was mailed from the local post office. Our house has a locked mailbox. So what could be the problem with that, right?
Unfortunately, the envelope was partially opened when it arrived. Only one of the gift cards was still in the envelope. The other gift cards (worth $175) were missing.
Now it is time to cue some jazzy music. This case of missing gift cards reminded me of the scene from The Firm. Tom Cruise, aka Mitch McDeere met with an unhappy client about overbilling. The client reminded him that when The Firm put a stamp on his bill and mailed it to him, it became a federal crime.

If you watch the news, you know that cases like this, especially around the holidays, is common. If it happens to you, you should file a report with the USPS Office of Inspector General. I had to make another report when our daughter's graduation card arrived with the envelope slit open.
My in-laws had purchased the gift cards at 3 different restaurants, not at a drug store like I usually do. My mother-in-law visited one restaurant and called the other two restaurants' corporate offices. Employees from Chili's and Buffalo Wild Wings were very helpful.  They were able to cancel the original cards and issue new gift cards.
If you need to purchase gift cards for a boss, coworker, your child's teacher, or others on your shopping list, I would highly recommend dropping by your local Buffalo Wild Wings and Chili's. Both of these restaurants had wonderful customer service when my Mother-in-law explained what happened.

Treat yourself to a night off of cooking and do your holiday shopping at Chili's and Buffalo Wild Wings at the same time.  

Won't the thief who has our missing gift cards be surprised when he/she tries to pay the bill and finds out the card has been cancelled?  If the thief used our cards for his/her gift giving, he/she will need to purchase new ones when he/she gets an uncomfortable phone call from the recipients.  Funny how karma works!

Please note:
  • I'm not sure if this would have been possible if the gift cards would have been purchased from a second party.
  • This is NOT a sponsored post.  I wanted to share my experience with my readers.

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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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