Writing Tips and Tidbits

Through the years, writing - the instruction of it - has been a love-hate relationship for me. I absolutely love, love, love journal writing. This is where I find out all of the little details about my students that make them unique and helps me build relationships with them. Strong relationships with students equals better classroom management which makes me a much happier teacher! 

Finding out those little details like winning the big soccer game on the weekend or their beloved cat is sick gives me connections with my students.  Sometimes they need a high 5 and other times they need a pat on the back. The smallest gestures can have some of the biggest payoffs.

Finding time to teach all of the different writing lessons that was on my wish list was the "hate" part of my relationship.  Writing lessons are so time consuming.  But, they are so important, what's a teacher to do?  One morning at 3 a.m. I had an epiphany!  What about a structured writing homework program?  Keep in mind at the time I was teaching kindergarten (2nd quarter).  I sent home a special spiral notebook which was their home journal along with a spaceman and a letter explaining my expectations.  Each week I wrote 2 sentence starters in my newsletter along with my expectations.  In the beginning they had to complete the sentence, begin sentence with a capital letter, end with correct punctuation mark, leave spaces between words, and draw a picture.  I slowly increased my expectations - 2 sentences, 3 sentences, etc.  The amazing thing was the impact this WRITING program had on my READING program!  Even my lowest readers began to soar!!!!  When I stopped and thought about it, it made sense.  Twice a week, a parent is sitting one-on-one with their child helping him/her sound out words.  They are hearing the sound, writing the letter, seeing the letters . . . if we could have thought of a way to incorporate the sense of smell and taste we would have used all 5 sensesI've also used a similar type of Home Journal Homework program with 1st grade and 3rd grade and had the same type of results.  

It's evolved through the year as I worked through the bugs. Overall, I really think it's the support of the parents that makes all the difference.

I just finished a new packet for TPT that includes all you need to incorporate the Home Journal program with your class. It includes a year's worth of assignments. The other part of my "hate" relationship with writing is the amount of time it takes to grade writing assignments.  In this packet are tips to make grading manageable. Plus, other teacher tips that I learned a long the way.

There is a Kindergarten version and  Primary version.


Too much paperwork


Do you ever feel like you're drowning in paperwork?  Do you have stacks of papers as far as the eye can see?  Is it a rare occurrence when 100% of your class turns in an assignment?  I've been in your shoes and there is a way to tame the paper tiger.  Have you ever read the book "The Tipping Point"?

The author, Malcolm Gladwell, gives examples of how small things can make big differences.  My tipping point with paperwork was when I came up with this form:

The form above is a microsoft doc. For some reason when I upload it to google docs it changes the format so it no longer looks like the picture above. If you want to use this form, you will have to do some editing.  After you click on the picture above, click on "file", and then click on "download as", you will download as a microsoft doc.  After that you can edit the doc. to fit your needs.


I print off several copies of this form, cut them apart, and keep a stack near my "turn in" spot for work.

I've done this differently depending on the age of my students.

When I taught 3rd grade, after I taught the lesson, handed out the assignment, I filled out the top of this form, and TAPED a strip to the counter by the "turn in" spot.  When students finished their assignment, they highlighted their name on the strip with a yellow marker, highlighted their name on their assignment, and turned in their assignment to the correct tub/slot/file or whatever the "turn in" spot is.  Having them highlight their name on the strip and their assignment solves 2 BIG problems.  You will rarely have students who forget to write their names on their assignments and when work time is over it is very easy to see who hasn't turned in their work because their name isn't highlighted.  With older students I have a "O" helper which stands for organizer helper.  My "o' helper collects the assignments from the "turn in" spot, puts them in number order (which makes it easier when you record grades), puts the strip with highlighted  names on top, and clips them together.  I have a special spot to put these collected assignments in.  If you noticed, there is a column on the strip for reason why the assignment isn't done.  The reasons are: #1 - absent, #2 - pull-outs (reading specialist, speech therapist, etc.), #3 - left school early, #4 -worked too slow, and the other column is for grades.  This is helpful if you have an electronic grade book.  I keep all of these clipped together assignments in a tub.  In the morning, I lay out the previous day's work on my reading table.  It's very easy to call on students whose names aren't highlighted to see if they completed their work at home.  If they did complete their work, I highlight their name with a blue highlighter which tells me they completed it the next day.  If they turn it in 2 days late I highlight it in pink, 3 days is green, and 4 days is purple.  On Friday, any unfinished work is finished during Friday Fun Day.  I don't input grades until that time so assignments - with the exception of students who have been absent - should be finished.

When I taught kindergarten and 1st grade, I still used these strips, put the papers in number order, had students finish their work during Friday Fun Day, but it took a lot longer to train them in the highlight your name on the strip and assignment procedure.  Once I got to know my students, I was able to train a student or two who could put the assignments in number order, but I didn't have an "O" helper as a job.

These strips are great documentation because they are color coded.  If your have a staffing for a student, look through your strips to see how many non-yellow marks he/she has.  You can also see if there is a reason why his/her work isn't getting finished.  Maybe getting pulled for support is interfering with work time so his/her schedule needs to be tweaked.  In this day and age of RTI, pressure for test scores, being held accountable to very high standards, is there really such a thing as too much documentation?      With this system, you're making your life easier, so the documentation is an added side benefit. Good luck if you decide to try it!

This system is a part of my packet which is sold at TPT.

Lorraine @ Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies is having Classroom Organization Tip Linky Party and I'm joining the fun.  Thank you Lorraine for hosting the party!

Becca @ Teaching First is hosting an organization linky party.  I love parties so I'm joining the fun.

I'm also linking up with Debbie Clement's linky party.


Reading Fluency - aligned with 1st - 3rd CCSS

Of the five components of reading, fluency is the one that seems to take a "backseat" most often when teachers have hectic schedules. Nowadays, we have more and more demands on our time.  When something has to give, it seems like fluency lessons are the ones chosen.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to teach in a district that hired a reading consultant that met with my grade level several times a year. We discussed the reading progress of our students.  Dibels was one of the scores we discussed. She told us something interesting that really brought home to me the power of a true balanced literacy program.  She said there are typically 3 times that new students are added to the reading specialist rolls.  In first grade, students who need the support of the reading specialist are lacking phonemic awareness and phonics skills.  In third grade, a new crop of students "suddenly" appear.  These students lack phonics skills needed to decode the more academic language that is presented in third grade. These students were usually sight word readers, often teaching themselves to read before they entered school. As you can imagine, when the 3rd grade teacher tells the parent of an early reader that their child needs additional support in reading, there are questions.  How did this happen? The last "new crop" of students occurs when a student enters middle school. These students can usually decode and comprehend the meaning of words, but their fluency rate is very low.  Middle school students are expected to read vast amounts of material in a short period of time, so even though they can read and comprehend the words, they fall behind in their studies.

The bottom line is a quality program needs balance.  Where do you find more time in an already hectic day?  My answer was to work smarter.  We incorporated some fluency activities during our reading group lessons and added a fluency center.  My students' fluency rate improved when I became more balanced in my approach to reading. 

My fluency center uses 3 minute egg timers.  I didn't have a stop watch or I would have used 1 minute for the time frame.  The handout the partners fill out gives choices for length of time.  I found a dozen timers at Oriental trading for $5.  Here's a picture:

Get your copy here for FREE!

I am linking up with Lisa @ Growing Firsties.  Hop over and visit her for more fluency ideas.


Organization Tip: Stamps & Stickers

Becca @ Teaching First is having an organization linky party and I'm joining the fun!

With the amount of stickers and rubbermaid containers I've bought through the years, I should open either a Hallmark Store or a Container Store.  I'm always trying to "build a better mouse trap" when it comes to organization.  Is there really such a thing as a classroom that is too big or has too much storage?  I haven't found one yet. So, I feel it is imcumbent on me to do my best to be the Queen of ORganization. I'm still waiting for my crowning, but I'm working on it!

I've tried different ways to organize my stickers and, I think I've finally found the one that works best for me.  I found  coupon organizer wallets make the perfect storage unit.  I bought one for each month and a few extra for subjects such as language arts and math.  They are small and portable which makes them easy to throw in my tote bag if I want to grade papers at home.  They stand up so I can store them in a basket in chronological order so it's easy to find which one I need.  Dollar Tree has some colorful ones in stock right now.  I put labels on mine to make it easier to identify them.  Here's a picture and a copy of the labels if you want to make some, too!



I like to keep my stamps in rubbermaid container with drawers categorized by seasons and subjects.  Here's a picture and labels in case you want to try it, too!


Sub Plans

'tis the season to get sick . . . fa la la la la.  If you are like me, when your mind is foggy from minutes of sleep rather than hours of sleep, Walgreens is your new favorite "go to" place to shop, and your body feels like it's gone a couple of rounds in the boxing ring, making quality sub plans is not a realistic expectation.  But, take it from me, the better your sub plans, the easier your return will be.

Through the years of getting notes from subs such as - "I wasn't sure how you have your students turn in their work . . . ", "I wasn't sure how they lined up for lunch, so we . . . " I have made an emergency set of sub plans that have included those details that I didn't always think of when I was foggy headed and sick.  I still prefer to go and set up lessons about what we are currently studying.  But, this kit works as an outline so I don't leave out important information.  

Also included is one day of plans that would work with 1st-3rd grade class.  The math assignment is fact families.  Depending on your class, they could either do addition/subtraction fact families or multiplication/division fact families Or you could differentiate the assignment within your class.

Each school has a different emergency sub plan policy & procedure. Most schools require a copy of your emergency sub plans in the office.  This is a kit that would work for that.  I also like to keep a sub tub in my room in case there's ever a day when I couldn't go to school to do my sub plans.  In 20 years of teaching, that's only happened once, but I sure was glad I had the sub tub ready to go when that day happened.  My sub tub is a different color than all my other tubs, is clearly marked, and I showed my students and the teachers next door where I keep it.  Thankfully, because of the advanced planning, when I had to use my emergency plans, the day went off without a hitch!

Here's a peek at some of the pages from my kit:
This kit is available at TPT for $5

Forms ready for you to fill out:
-Class schedule
-Recess rules & consequences
-Class management: Rules/consequences
-Student information: pullouts, medication, etc.
-Class roster
-Nurse pass
-Office pass
-Library pass
-Lesson plans with worksheets
-Class procedures
-attention getter, passing out materials, completed work,
beginning and end of day, and lunchtime


Organization Tips #1


If you're like me, you're always looking for ways to become more organized and efficient. Time is a precious commodity which teachers have in short supply. Here are two of my favorite systems of organization:

TIP #1:
The next time you need students or parents to sign up for something, add a touch of tech to make your life easier.  The website Sign Up Genius is free and user-friendly.  It could be used for so many things . . . parents signing up for crafts/snacks/volunteer at your next Valentine's Day party, students could sign up for who they want to research for the class biography project, faculty could sign up for the next baby/wedding shower, and a million and one other ways.  Check it out!  

TIP #2:

Dollar Tree is a great source for letters to use on your bulletin boards.  Right now they have the ones below that are so perfect for school!

I love bulletin boards.  They help create a warm and inviting environment.  Plus, they can add a seasonal touch to your classroom.  The most time consuming part of changing bulletin boards is finding the letters for the title.  Some of my teacher friends cut out the letters needed for the title with the Ellison die cut machine, kept them in a ziplock in their monthly file.  This system didn't work for me because I rarely put up the same bulletin board twice.  Plus, I like the letters below better than the ones made with the Ellison die cut.  With the die cut machine I used construction paper and the paper doesn't hold up over time.  I also tried laminating the letter but that becomes one more job to do when I'm trying to simplify my life.  The letter packets are sturdy enough to be used over and over without being laminated.

The next glitch, was finding the letters.  I originally stored the letters of the same color/pattern in a large brown envelope.  It was like letter scavenger hunt each time I changed my bulletin boards.  Finally, the clouds parted one day when I was looking in my file cabinet.  Why don't I make 26 files . . . . one for each letter, and keep all of my "A's" in one file, all my "B's" in the next one, and so on and so forth. Something so simple saved so much time!  Why didn't they teach us some of these time-saving tips when we were in undergrad?    

Becca @ Teaching First is having an organization linky party and I'm joining the fun!


Money Rap


With Presidents Day just around the corner, you can integrate social studies and math by reviewing money when you talk about the important leaders of our country.  I am a big believer in multiple intelligence and am always looking for new ways to reach the different learning styles.  The Money Rap (below) has been around for a long time.  It's an oldie but goodie.  I don't know who wrote it, but if you do, please let me know. Music is such a great way to reach those musical rhythmic learners.  

You can print the cards on card stock and let volunteers hold the signs up when you sign about that coin in the song.  

Click HERE to download this for free.

I also have some money packets you should check out.

Cost:  $5
Math & literacy activities 

Cost:  $4
Money fluency center

Cost: $1.50
-oi and -ar Sorting Center

Cost: $7.50
Get all 3 packets and save money!


Needing supplies, Desk Fairies, Tardies . . . it's that time of year!

Have you caught yourself putting a package of pencils in your shopping cart every time you go shopping?  My husband refers to this as my own personal pencil tax. I can't shop without buying some type of school supply.  Do you feel like you should be buying stock in Office Depot or Target?  In reality, they (the stores) should be giving teachers stock because we help keep them in black.  My hubby feels like teachers do more than their fair share helping the economy out! 

I've added a few new forms to my "Busy Teachers Forms" packet that will help some of the "issues" below:

*Supply Alert:  note to send home to parents asking for needed supplies.  One is a check off list of common supplies.  The second "alert" is for pencils, only.
*Desk Fairy:  A happy note from the Desk Fairy will encourage your Messy Marvins that a tidy desk is a good thing!
*Tardy note:  A note about the importance of students arriving on time.  It also has a line that you write how many tardies the students has had this year.

The "Busy Teacher Forms" was my freebie on TPT from the middle of December until this week. During this time, 14,943 people downloaded this packet.  When I update things I sell on TPT, I can click on a "revised" button so buyers can download the updated version for free.  I'm not sure if this works if you got the original as a a freebie or not.  I clicked the revised button, just in case it would work for those of you who downloaded it as a freebie.  If someone downloaded it as a freebie, can you go to your download folder to see if you can see the 3 new forms (titles are above) in the revised version.  Would you let me know if this works or not?  Thanks!

Here's what the new forms look like when (hopefully) you download them:


Work Habits Tip

I wish every classroom came equipped with a visual timer.  It can be such a helpful tool.  They work wonders with those students who have trouble getting started on assignments and students who seldom complete their work.  I've tried traditional timers in the past.  But, something about seeing the red area disappear works magic!


Grouping Tips

When I want to put my class in a group quickly, like for the Valentine song lesson I wrote about in my previous post, I use decorated tongue depressors.  Tongue depressors can be handed out quickly, are sturdy, and come in a variety of decorations that will enhance themes or lessons.  I have a set of jungle print ones that I love.  

A way to put your class in groups in February is using valentines.  Cut Valentines in 2 pieces.  Cut should be like a puzzle piece.  I like to use pinking shears or fancy edged scissors to make it more interesting.  Put all the pieces in a bucket or bowl.  Students draw out one piece and find their "missing piece".  This method takes more time, but it is very fun and brings a touch of seasonal fun to any lesson!


100th Day of School


Are you looking for a new way to celebrate the 100th day of the school year?  So many times, the 100th day of school is a day focused on hands-on, fun and exciting math activities. But, if you teach 2nd or 3rd grade, you've probably seen the look from your students.  The "UGH!  I've already counted out 100 pieces of cereal and jumped 100 jumping jacks look."  If you teach one of these grades, you are probably looking for some new ideas.

Why not take a social studies twist on the topic?  Let your student "travel" back in time!  Did you know that there were some really interesting things that happened in 1913?

Jan. 1, 1913:  Post Office begins parcel post deliveries.
Feb. 17, 1913:  First minimum wage takes effect in U.S. in Oregon.
Dec. 1, 1913:  First driveup gasoline station opens.

I made a packet that will help you along on your travels.  The packet includes:
  • Portrait: Draw what you would look like if you lived 100 years ago. What type of clothes would you wear. What type of hair style did they wear. What type of glasses did they wear?
  • Graph: Would you prefer to live today or 100 years ago? Ask your classmates, collect the data, and graph the data.
  • Tech connection: Investigate the following topics on the computer – exploration, transportation, commerce, political events, world/national events, and interesting facts.
  • Higher order thinking skills: compare and contrast the difference of the two time periods with a venn diagram.
  • Writing: Fill out the “life for children” information sheet and then writing a creative story that has at least 4 of the 6 details from the “life for children”information sheet.
  • Events: Print on card stock. This can either be used to introduce the tech connection assignment or to decorate a bulletin board.

    This packet is available at TPT for $5.
    Click on the picture above to visit my TPT store.

    ***If you purchased this packet last year, you may go to your TPT downloads folder and download the revised version for free.  I updated the events signs to 1913.