Cinco de Mayo Activities

Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is right around the corner.  Are you looking for new ideas?
Start your day with these FREE Cinco de Mayo themed morning messages.  There are two messages so you can use one whole group and add the other one to a literacy center.  I wrote a blog post showing how you can set up morning message literacy center.

This is the perfect time to introduce your class to Mexican folktales and legends.  

The Opossum and the Great Firemaker:  Lexile 340L  
This is a story about how a smaller animal tricks a larger animal to return fire to the people.

The Goat in the Chile Patch: Guided Reading level H
Rigo and his animal friends try to save his chiles from a goat that was hungry.
Share fairy tales with a Spanish or Mexican theme.

The Three Little Javelinas - version of 3 Little Pigs:                             Guided Reading level P
Set in Sonoran Desert.  This desert covers southwestern parts of the United States and Northwestern Mexico.  It is the hottest desert in Mexico.
Read Aloud:  8:51 minutes
Flat Stanley is a favorite unit that is studied at this time of the year. Flat Stanley travels to Mexico in Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventure: The Mexican Secret.  Reading level:  4.1 Grade Equivalent.  Have you tried to use the different versions of Flat Stanley with your Literature Circles?  You can have whole group discussions, too since the books have the same characters.

Have your students locate their countries on a map when you use the different versions of Flat Stanley that are set in different countries.  You can let them in a circle on the floor while the different groups find find their country.  I found the map in the picture above at a fabric store.  I love it because you can fold it up.  Easy to store and very colorful. 
Students can read about Cinco de Mayo while building sentences.  Sentences can real or nonsense sentences.  Then students will see read get additional practice reading the sentences with the mini book with small group lesson.  

What is your favorite way to study Cinco de Mayo?

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Missing Work FREEBIE

Sometimes, it seems like there is this feeling of I went to school so I know what a teacher does.   I went to school and even college to be a teacher, but it wasn't until I had my own class that I realized the impact of missing assignments.
Here's a typical scenario that many of you can relate to:
Your week is full of meetings, more meetings, planning for lessons, teaching the lessons, and family stuff. Meanwhile your stack of paperwork is growing higher. On Friday, you throw the pile in your favorite teacher bag. Or if the stack of papers to grade is really high, you put it in your rolling cart.

I did not buy one of these carts until I had taught for a few years.  I wished I would have purchased it much earlier.  It would have saved me many trips to my car.  

You dread grading all weekend because you know the amount of time it will take. On Sunday, you finally sit down prepared to get the task down. Then you discover that some of your students did not turn in their work. There are different reasons for this:
  • Students was absent when the assignment was given.
  • Assignment was lost in the student's Bermuda Triangle desk.
  • Assignment is left in student's homework folder.
  • Student left assignment at home.
  • Student lost his/her assignment.
Now more time will be spent:
  • Asking student for assignment.
  • Student looking for assignment in desk, folder, locker, or backpack.
  • Finding or making copies of missing assignment(s) for students who no longer have a copy of it.
  • Asking for assignments again and again.
It is not realistic to expect 100% of the class to turn assignments 100% of the time.  I realize that there will be days when students are absent and adults occasionally forget something, too.  But, I did want to help my students improve their work habits.  

Students who forget to turn in their work fill out a reflection page called "Oops!  I forgot to bring my work."  Students write their name and date at the top.  Then they answer:

I do not have my work because . . .

To fix this problem, I will . . . . 


The Oops!  page is stapled to the missing assignment.  Students complete the work, parents sign the Oops note, and then students turn in note/assignment.  Communication with parents is key to this system. 

You can color code the Oops notes by subject or by grading period.  Use the Oops notes for R.T.I., report cards, or parent teacher conferences.  You can get a free copy .

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Improve Comprehension & Fluency with Repeated Readings

Repeated readings: Fluency, Comprehension, and Motivation

Sometimes a student will ask why he or she has to read the same story, book, or passage if he or she has already read it. When this happens I ask my class if anyone takes lessons. I tell my class about my piano lessons when I was young. During my lesson, my teacher would assign me a new song to play. Since I had not played the song before, I made mistakes. My teacher pointed out my errors and gave suggestions for how I could improve. If I had time, I would play the song a second time during the lesson using the teacher's suggestions. During the week, I practiced that song plus other songs that I had previously played. I played these songs over and over. The more I practiced the better I became.

Of course, there is usually one student that will ask, "Didn't you get tired of practicing the same songs over and over?"

My answer was "yes and no". Yes, sometimes I did get tired of playing the same songs. But, I knew this is what I needed to do in order to improve. I found ways to make practicing the same songs more fun.
  • Play the song as quickly as I could. 
  • Pretend like I am walking through molasses and play the song slowly. 
  • Pretend like I am playing the song at some famous music awards ceremony. 
  • Play the song using a metronome. 
I told my class that you can use many of these same ideas that I used when I practiced the piano when you are learning to read.
A metronome can be used for reading, too.  Students love the sound which sets the rate for how they read.  With a metronome, they are excited about reading a story slow, medium, and fast.
Give students different actions to use when they read.  It helps with the wiggles and improves fluency.  Have you discovered push pins with hooks?  Dollar tree has colorful ones like the ones in the picture.  Hang your action cards on the hooks.
Using different voices will motivate students to reread their stories.  Keep a ring of cards with different voices handy to use with your small groups.
Make rereading a permanent literacy center.  All you need is a tub of books that students can fluently read and a few signs.  Have an "action of the day" and a "voice of the day" signs showing students how they will reread their stories.
How do you motivate your students?

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Easter Egg Hunt at School

Are you planning an Easter egg hunt at school?  Organizing a hunt for a group is much different than hiding eggs and decorating a basket at home.

Easter egg hunts are a tradition at some schools.  Easter is a holiday that is not celebrated at other schools.  Please check about the Easter policy if you are new to your school this year.

  • Send home a note two weeks ahead of time.
  • Send home a copy of the note again to make sure everyone knows about the event.
Give parents suggestions of what they can use to stuff the eggs if your school has a no candy policy.  Suggestions:  coins, stickers, or small toys from the Target Dollar Spot.
It is very helpful if the eggs are taped shut.  When all of the eggs are put into a big bags and given to the "rabbits" to hide, they often get bumped and rattled which causes scrambled eggs.  You can prevent scrambled eggs by asking parents to tape the eggs shut.

Each class that is hunting eggs needs to have a designated place. It is helpful if you can give your class specific guideline of where your student will hunt for eggs.  Example:  
  • Mrs. Gudala's class will hunt eggs in the soccer field at 1:30.
  • Mrs. Kirk's class will hunt eggs in the football field at 2:15.
  • Mr. Tucker's class will hunt for eggs in front yard with the 3 big trees 2:00.
  • Miss Luboriz's will hunt for eggs in the side yard next to the kinder playground 1:30.
You can ask different people to be your "rabbit".

  • Buddy class
  • Gifted & Talented class 
  • Room mom
Most of my students have brought a basket and stuffed eggs when I asked for a dozen eggs.  I think that seems like an amount that most parents are happy to send in and gives the students enough eggs to find.

 As a teacher, I have found it helpful to plan for those "oh no" moments.  You hope all of your students bring a dozen stuffed eggs and a basket, but "oh no" someone forgot.

You can either purchase some prestuffed eggs and tape them shut or ask your room mom if she can send in extras.  Students without a basket can use cute bags like the ones in the picture above.  I found them at Target Dollar Spot.

On the day of the hunt, you will gather all of the eggs in the morning after doing some math counting activities. Example: 

  • Count your eggs (make sure all students brought at least 12 eggs)
  • Do you have an even number of eggs or odd?  How can you tell?  Show me.
  • Show me 3 groups.  How many are in each group.
  • Show me 6 groups.  How many are in each group.
  • Write and draw a math problem using eggs in your journal.
Set the eggs in a large bag outside your door for the "rabbit".  Arrange ahead of time what time the rabbit will hide the eggs.  You don't want the rabbit to hide the eggs in the morning if you are hunting at the end of the day.  

When it is time for your class to hunt the eggs:
  • Walk them to the designated area.  
  • Show them the boundaries of where they can look for eggs.
  • Tell your students that they may only pick up and put in their basket 12 eggs.  They may see more than 12 eggs.  But, they may only put 12 eggs in their basket.  They will not pick up every egg that they see.  
  • When they have 12 eggs in their basket, they will come back and stand by you.
  • When everyone has 12 eggs, you will walk back to your class so students can open their eggs.
Do you hunt eggs at your school?

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Ideas to teach Word Families

Teaching word families is like getting a 2 for 1 bargain at the store. Students begin to notice word patterns when you teach word families.  The lessons improve students' spelling and reading skills. 

My students found patterns in everything, including their clothing, when I taught word families.  I used their new found interest in their clothing to make a writing center. I took scraps of material like the ones in the picture above.  Students clipped a square of material to half of a piece of white paper.  They continued the pattern of the material on the white paper.  They folded the paper and used it as a cover for a word family story.
Organize book bags with word family themes.  Students can read the books at school or use them as homework.  I wrote about books bags here.  
Set up a word family book center.  Scholastic has sets of books that are perfect for early readers.
Recent research conducted by Mueller and Oppenheimer found that college students who took notes by hand instead of a laptop retained more.  This was not a surprise to me.  I saw a big improvement in my students' writing AND reading when I incorporated home writing journals with my homework program.

This is why I wanted to include writing with the readers that I recently made.  Students read the first sentence of each page. After reading the emergent reader, students:
  • Trace the words 
  • Copy the words in the shaped boxes
  • There are 2 options for the blank line:
    • Option 1:  Copy the sentence
    • Option 2:  Write about the picture 
So far, I have made the following emergent readers with a word family theme.
Emergent Reader: -AD word family
Emergent Reader: -AD word family

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Classroom Management: Restroom Breaks

Are restroom breaks an issue with your class this year? Sometimes the issue is your schedule, other times it can be an avoidance behavior with your "frequent flyers", and in some cases there is a medical reason.

 Look for patterns when this is an issue for your class.  You can do this easily by having a chart like the one in the picture above.  Use the same chart with your class or give each student their own chart if it is an issue with a small group. Students circle the day of the week and write the time they left and returned.  Looking for patterns will help you get to the cause of the frequency of the breaks.
  • Did one of your students always ask to go to the restroom when it was math time?  Is it avoidance behavior or the time of the day when math is taught?
  • Do two students ask to go at the same time or close to the same time?  This may be a social issue.
I just added the chart to my Busy Teachers Forms and bundle of Teacher Forms.  If you previously purchased one of those, you may go to "my purchases" to download the form for free.

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Teaching Consonant Blends & FREEBIE

Do you like the song "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes"?  It is a good way to get your students up and moving.  Introduce your students to consonant blends using the motion from the song. Say a word with a blend.  
  • If your students hear the word in the first syllable, they will touch their head.  
  • If they hear the word in the middle syllable, they will touch their hips.
  • If they hear the word in the last syllable, they will touch their toes.
  • Students will touch either their head or toes if there are only 2 syllables.
Heads, hips, and tips of toes can be used as a warm up activity, brain break or for inside recess.
You can do a similar type of activity with your small group.  Dry erase tape on plastic folders works great for this.
  • Students write the word on the top strip if the blend is in beginning syllable.  
  • Students write the word on the bottom strip if the blend is in last syllable.
Incorporate as many of the 5 senses as possible.  You can add flavoring to make playdough smell.  It will also make your room smell good.  Kool-aid playdough is colorful and smells great.  You can ask your parents to make it using this free recipe.
Looking for new ideas to use with your small group?  Metallic markers on black construction paper can be used a variety of ways.  
  • Level 1: Ask volunteers to say words with the blend you are focusing on. Students write the word and underline the blend.  Words can be real or nonsense.
  • Level 2: Ask volunteers for words with blends in the first, middle, or last syllable.  Write the words on the paper and underline the blend.
  • Level 3:  Give your group a set amount of time to write as many words with blends as possible.
  • Level 4:  Give your group a set amount of time to write as many words with blends as possible.  Give 1 point if the blend is at the beginning of the word, 2 points if the blend is in the middle or last syllable.  

Students love codes and real world connections. The stoplight code printables includes both of these. Student will:
  • Color in the red light if they hear in the blend in the first syllable of the word.
  • Color in the yellow light if they hear in the blend in the middle syllable of the word. 
  • Color in the green light if they hear in the blend in the end syllable of the word.
Would you like to try some of these activities?  
I have a free sample for you.

Sub Plans Tips and Freebie

Have you ever compared subbing to cooking a meal? You can cook a meal for your family in your kitchen with little fanfare. Now imagine what it would be like if your job was to go to a stranger's house to cook a meal.

For this example, we will say that your job is to go to Mrs. Parker's house to make an evening meal for her family. When you arrive at Mrs. Parker's house, you walk in her kitchen and see some of the utensils and supplies you will use.  But, you don't see the roasting pan and few other key ingredients that you need.  Hunting through drawers and cabinets takes time - more time that it would take Mrs. Parker to make the meal.

Now add to this "cooking job",  20+ children in your kitchen, and a dishwasher malfunction.

Then a neighbor drops by with a question, which is followed by a phone call from another neighbor with a message for Mrs. Parker. Mrs. Parker left a note telling you the names of her neighbors who can answer any questions you might have.  But, you can see that her neighbors are busy making their own meals.

Surprise! By the end of the cooking job you are looking for something with caffeine to recharge your batteries.

  • SUPPLIES: Even with the best of intentions and quality plans, you may not have all of the necessary supplies.  It is best to arrive early so will have time to find everything that you need.
  • TECHNOLOGY: Check all of the technology that you will be using.  Have a plan B in case a glitch occurs.
  • NEIGHBOR - Parent: Bring a clipboard with paper.  Write notes from parents who drop by with questions/information, phone calls, etc.  Clip notes to the clipboard.  It is helpful to have everything in one place instead of wasting valuable time searching for them.
  • NEIGHBOR - Teachers:  Yes, the teachers next door and across the hall are busy, too.  But, there is usually at least one teacher who is friendly and willing to help if you ask.  Don't wait for the teacher to come to you.  If you have a question - go to experts.

Tips for teachers making sub plans

It is cold and flu season. You know what that means, right? Time to update your emergency sub plans. Remember emergency sub plans are like an insurance plan. You hope you never need them, but if that day ever comes when you do need your plans, you'll be glad you made them.

Planning for a sub has become more important with all of the pressures on students and teachers to improve test scores. You want to ensure that instruction continues when you can't be there. Planning now - before you need a sub - is key to making sure your students and the sub has a smooth day.

Details! Details! Details! I cannot stress enough the importance of details. Have an overview (lesson plans & schedule) of what will happen during the day. It is very helpful if you have some type of handout or binder with all of the details that are rote memory for you.
PROCEDURES: When you began teaching at this school, either as a first year teacher or a veteran teacher, you needed to know procedures that are school-specific. Include all of those procedures in your sub binder.
  • Where do you pick up your class in morning?  Where does your class lineup? 
  • What door does your class enter (or exit) the cafeteria, recess, etc.?  Subs can cause traffic jams by going in the wrong door.  Do not assume your class will tell the sub.
  • What information is needed for lunch count?  Number of students buying lunch?  Or does your school take a count of choice 1, choice 2, or choice 3?
Details about your duties - Before school, lunch, recess, and after school duty include details that need to be included with your plans.
  • RECESS: Does your school use signals such as:  2 tweets of the whistle - students stop and listen, 3 tweets - students line up?  Is there an assigned area to playground that you are responsible for supervising?
  • LUNCH:  Do you responsibilities include telling the classes to cleanup and lineup when their lunchtime is over?  Or are you expected to walk around and open milk carton, make sure students stay in their seats, etc.?
Teacher's Editions - Leave your T.E. on your desk for the sub even if the lessons in your plans do not include the T.E.  Students may have questions about one of the lessons.  The sub can look through the T.E. to find out how skills have been taught in the former lessons.
Grading:  Check with your administrator to see if there is a policy regarding subs and grading.  As a general rule, the only assignments I asked subs to grade were ones like #1 above. Assignments like math facts or spelling are pretty quick to grade and the grade is not based on a teacher's judgment call.

Assignment #2 is another one of those times where we forget how many decisions we make on a daily basis as a teacher - especially when it comes to grading.  If you look at asmt. #2 you can see that the top part of this free assignment is a color by code.  A sub could easily grade that section. The bottom part of the lesson would be a challenge to grade because it includes teacher's judgment.  The assignment's directions state "write at least 3 sentences or a story about swimming".  As a teacher, we know our students' abilities and challenges.  Many of us differentiate our expectations for a simple assignment like this, which affects how the page is graded.

Example:  Joey has struggled with writing this year.  For this assignment, he would be expected to write one sentence using correct spacing, capitalization, and punctuation marks. Think about how Joey feels when his graded assignment is returned with a lowered grade.  You may have an upset parent on you doorstep if you didn't catch this oversight when you returned from your absence.  It is hectic enough when you return from being gone, why create obstacles for yourself?

Just like it takes longer to cook a meal when you aren't in your kitchen, the same holds true for a guest teacher in a new classroom.  Even a sub with teaching experience will not be as time efficient as you. Use your first couple of weeks of school with your class as your gauge for how much time each lesson will take.

Have you made your emergency sub plans yet?

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Author Study & Birthdays Freebie

Most teachers would rather not count their birthdays. Students, on the other hand, usually have a count down to their big day. Use that excitement for birthdays to build interest with your author studies. You can do this by setting up a permanent literacy center celebrating authors' birthdays. Best of all I have free printables that you can use with your center.
Take the list of authors included with this download to your school or public library.  In the picture above are some of the books written by authors who celebrate their birthdays in February.  As you can see, some of their books would be perfect for your Presidents Day or Valentine's Day lessons.
Author, Jane Yolen, was born February 11th. She is the author of How Do Dinosaurs ____ series. 
The author of Clifford, Norman Bridwell, was born February 15th.  Clifford goes to Washington would be a perfect addition to your Presidents' Day unit.
Introduce your students to new authors with this activity.  Jim Aylesworth, author of Old Black Fly, was born on February 21st.

Who is your favorite author?

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Math Tips & Measurement

Is there a workshop, training, or professional development that you feel made a long lasting impact on your instruction? Although I used different math curriculums through the years, I continued to use tips I  learned at a week long Math Their Way workshop.

EXPLORATION: This is an important classroom management tip that should be taught in undergrad.  Students need time to explore, use, play, and make discoveries with the manipulatives before they use them with a lesson.  

Are you planning a measurement unit in the near future? Get out the rulers, measuring tape, or other tools that you will use during the unit now.  Add these to your Friday fun day choices or let your students use them during inside recess.  Instead of making a helicopter with a pencil and a ruler, your students will be more attentive during your measurement lesson - if they have had time to explore before the lesson.  
Not every learning opportunity has to have a written response. Open-ended activities are great ways to encourage self-learning, creativity, and critical thinking. Pictured above is an easy center you can organize during your measurement unit that is open-ended.  Ribbons, scrap materials, and a variety of measurement tools are all that is needed.

Conversations at this center are interesting.  Some students will pretend to be a fashion designer, others will organize the materials by patterns or colors, and others will pretend to be a store owner. You will see collaboration and hear conversations about math. Students are making connections about what type of jobs or careers would use this type of math while practicing math skills.
Help students make real life connections with measurement with this road tape from Target's Dollar Spot. Distance is another form of measurement.  I cut different lengths and attached it to cardstock. Quick and easy measurement center that students will love.
Students can practice non-standard units of measurement and make the connection that 12 inches equals a foot with these foam feet.  The foam feet are from Dollar Tree.
Measure Me Centers: Seasonal & Literacy themes
Practice, practice, and more practice is needed when students learn to measure.  It is helpful if there is a line showing students where to measure when they learn how to use a ruler.  Once your students become proficient at measuring, give them pictures without a line.  
Treasure boxes is another tip that I continued to use - no matter what curriculum I used. Treasure boxes can be any small container.  I prefer Ziplock containers because they come in a variety of sizes and have colorful lids.


  • I used the color of the lid to organize my groups.  Different teams used different colored treasure boxes each day.
  • It is helpful to have defined workspace if your students use the treasure boxes in a small area like their table.  You can use a small piece of felt or shelf liner (see picture below).  I found the shelf liner at Dollar Tree.  Each roll has 60 inches.  I got six  workspaces out of one roll (10 inches).
  • Train your students to put the lid under the box, next to the workspace.

You can add anything to the boxes that you like. Send home a note to parents and ask for their help in organizing your treasure boxes.  Ask for a variety of materials like:

  • Keys
  • Pinto beans
  • Q-tips
  • Lids from juice or milk 
  • Toothpicks
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Buttons
Treasure boxes are perfect for teachers who teach math using math stations.  They are open-ended and no prep once you have organized a class set.
Put pennies and quarters in one of your treasure boxes.  Coins can be real or pretend money.  This box is a good extension for a money unit or Presidents Day.  Since it is open-ended students, you might see students making patterns by coins, color, heads/tails, or height (stacking coins).  Other students may arrange the coins to spell words.
If you use my Black History Month unit, you know that Dr. George Grant invented the golf tee.  Add golf tees to one of your treasure boxes.  Students can make patterns, shapes, or spell words with golf tees.
Q-tips can be used to make Roman numerals, make shapes, or letters.  I have had good success asking and getting parents to donate household supplies like Q-tips. 

What workshop or professional development has made a long lasting impact on your instruction?

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