Space Saving Center

Is space an issue in your classroom this year?  Do you feel like you are up to your eyeballs in students?  If your secretary calls you one more time saying she has another student for you, will you literally break down in tears at school?  Is your closet  already stocked with chocolate, your favorite caffeinated beverage, and an industrial size bottle of Tylenol?  If this is your year, continue reading.  If this isn't your year, you should bookmark this page, because it might be your turn next year.

My second year of teaching I had 32 students and only 28 desks.  Yes, you read it correctly.  More students than desks.  Crazy, right?!!!  I did eventually get enough desk, but it took awhile.  And to put a cherry on top of it, this was my second year of teaching.  Thankfully my school was full of "Mother Hen" type teachers who took me under their wings and graciously shared their secrets with me.  I thought I'd pass along one of the nuggets today in case you find yourself in the same predicament.  It seems like it's this time of year (and in January) when you get an influx of new students.  Why, I don't know, but it seems to work than way.

How do you teach reading in a small group when you have limited space?  What do you do with the other students if you don't have room to set up centers?  The students need to be engaged in something productive and engaging so they won't interrupt your lesson.  The answer is a self-contained center . . . a.k.a. file folder centers.  Instead of going to a separate table or carpet area for center time, students use their desks for center time.  The file folder centers are small and self-contained.  As a general rule, it should only takes one student to use this type of center.  You can make file folder games for more than one students.  But, this is dependent upon what type of desk you have and the arrangement of them.  Many centers can be adapted to a file folder center.  All it takes is a little ingenuity.

These Sentence Shuffle Centers worked in more ways than I had originally planned.  They improved my students' fluency rate which helped their reading levels.  I absolutely LOVED them as a fast finisher activity.  You know those students who see class work as an Olympic event!  They are the ones who always finish their work in half the time as the rest of your students and then you wonder what to do with them.  The answer . . . tell them to go to your tub of folders of Sentence Shuffle Centers.  They can take it back to their desk/table and work quietly.

Sentence Shuffle Centers can be set up as traditional centers or as a file folder game.  Here is an example of how I made my Thanksgiving packet into a file folder game.


I used the center sign for the front cover.  It has a white background so it doesn't take too much ink but still has some color to make it inviting to students.

Inside the folder is the sentence shuffle sheet where students stack the word phrase cards.  This sheet is laminated on the folder.  The word phrase cards are kept in the 6 X 9 white envelope on the left.  

The white envelope is laminated on the folder.  Laminate the envelope with the flap down.  Then take a knife and slice the flap open.  Use velcro to keep the envelope closed.

Glue and laminate a 9 X 12 envelope on the back of the file folder.  Laminate the envelope with the flap down.  Cut the flap open with a knife after you laminate it.  You will store the writing sheets in this envelope.  

This form can be used different ways.  You can either laminate it on the folder and have your students write their names with a marker.  Or you can tape a form on the folder each year.

I have 2 different versions of the form for you.  You can either download the PDF version or you can download the Powerpoint version so you can type in your students' names.

Fluency center #1

I have Sentence Shuffle Centers for grades K-5 in a variety of topics.  Click on the pictures below to see them.


Holiday Organization

With the holiday season upon us, you know what's soon to follow . . . . stress!  Every year when I put away the Christmas tree I tell myself that I'm going to be better organized the next year.  I'm going to do more of this and less of that.  But, some how I end up falling into the same patterns each year.  Are you the same way?  I found something that I'm going to try this year and you may want to try it, too.  It's a holiday organizer and it is made by a teacher and is for teachers.  The great thing about this organizer is it helps you get organized at home AND at school.  Let's take a stroll through memory lane and see if any of these sound like your ghosts of November past or December past?

*You rarely have a day that is on your regular schedule because of days off for the holidays or rehearsals for holiday programs.  And we all know what happens when children get off schedule!  Now suddenly, even your most well-behaved student has done his/her Dr. Jekyll-Mr Hyde routine for you.  You have the days counted until the next break.

*Your students are more irritable and tattle more frequently.  You go home and tell your husband, best friend, or mom, "My students couldn't get along with their own shadow today."

*You get more phone calls, drop ins, and emails from parents expressing their concerns.   The sad thing is, this is the time of year when you really don't have extra time on your hands to respond to this, yet you must. In reality, they are feeling the holiday stress so they pass some of it along to you.

*If you are mom/dad and a teacher, you get the double whammy of having children hyped on the holidays at school AND at home.  You think back to those pre-children days of "Calgon take me away . . . ."  You no longer can come home, take a bubble bath or take a nap to recover from your day at school because you have children.  You get to come home and put on your "Mom/Dad hat".  Now your only reprieve is to call Dominos Pizza.  You are now on a first name basis with your pizza delivery guy.  

If a few of these sound familiar, you may want to try the teacher holiday organizer.  Here are a few pages from it:

On this page you can keep track of what baked goods you plan to make.  It's time to put on your Martha hat. There is a shopping list page so you won't be caught short of an important ingredient.  You can look at your schedule by the month and by the week.

There is a place you can keep track of your budget which is sure to make your spouse happy.  Pages are included for school events and after-school/family events.  There is also a page for planning holiday parties, both for home and school.

These pages are great for long term lesson planning.

These pages will help you at school:  plan your party, remember to send thank you notes to your students, document any service projects you did, and other helpful stuff.

The creator of this amazing 47 page organizer is April @ A Modern Teacher.  She has generously offered to give THREE of these away.  If you'd like a chance to win one, you need to go to my facebook page October 29th - November 2nd.  Find the picture at the top of this post and leave your name and email in the comment section.  April will give THREE away on November 2nd.

Click on the picture below to find out more about this organizer:

(There are a variety of patterns to choose from)


November Trace, Write, Draw

Time, there's never enough of it, right?  I think I've found a way to save you a little bit at school.  This center should be a snap to set up.

Additional supplies:  Markers or highlighters for tracing the letters, pencils for writing the words, and crayons for coloring the pictures.


Make one copy for each of your students of this page.  Students will trace the words in the boxes, write the letters in the blank boxes, and then write the word on the line.  Students will draw a picture that includes all the words.

STEP 2: Different extensions for different groups

Each group begins with the same piece of paper.  Since classes are made up of such a wide variety of ability group, there needs to be some extensions.  To save you time copying different assignments and to save you time answering questions, you will post these signs in the center.  Team signs and extension signs come with the packet.

Extension #1:  

Extension #2:

 Extension #3:

All of the words (19 altogether) from the 5 assignments are on cards like these:

There are cards with a colored background.

There is also a version with a white background so you can save money on ink.
This can be set up as a word bank which will be needed to do one of the extension activities.

You can purchase this for $4 at my TPT store by clicking on the picture below:


Genre Day

Was The Book Whisperer on your summer reading list?  If so, your students probably have a reading goal of 40 books this year.  Did your parents gasp when you announced the goal at your Back to School night?  One way you can help your students reach their goal, plus pay more attention to the different genres is by having "Genre Days".  Once a month, put students into small groups, preferably 4 or less, and read books from the designated genre.  Ahead of time, ask your librarian for books to supplement your class' library books for this category.  You need more books than you have students.  For every group of 4 students, you need 5 or 6 books because students' fluency rates vary.

This was Traditional Literature Day.  To make things a little smoother, books were divided into groups and stacked on the back counter.  One student from each group picked up their group's books.

Students also saw a video about John Henry:


Here is a helpful handout.

 Deana @ Primary Punch, has a genre packet that you should check out.  She gave me a sneak peek and I was completely impressed.  It complimented our Genre Day perfectly!  Here are a few tidbits:

Genre signs

There are definitions included that students can glue in their journals.

There are bookmarks for the students, too.

Click above if you'd like to purchase a copy.


Card stock is a teacher's friend!

Today's tip is for those of you who either don't have access to a colored printer or would like to cut down on your expenses.  Those colored ink cartridges add up quickly!

My personal philosophy is "kill two birds with one stone" when at all possible.  To save money and your time making materials for your students, stock up on colorful card stock and use it to make your centers.  If you watch for sales, you can get it pretty cheap. One of the best places I've found for card stock sales is Michael's.  You can sign up for their text alerts so you'll know about their current bargains.  Below are this week's coupons which could be used to purchase card stock:

When I make a center with card stock, I don't laminate it.  So, I cut my work time significantly.  Who doesn't need the gift of time?  You've add color to your classroom, and saved money on ink cartridges.

I have a series of fluency centers.  They each have a colored version and a black and white version so you can choose the one that works best for you.  Here is an example of the Bat and Pumpkin Facts packet, the black and white version printed on colorful card stock.

The witch's finger does not come with the packet.  I do think it adds a little seasonal fun, though!

Click HERE to view centers organized by reading level.  Grades K-5.


Virtual Field Trips

Today is the one year anniversary of my blog.  I had no idea when I began this journey where it would take me.  When I first began, I felt like I was writing into the black abyss.  Slowly but surely teachers found my blog, readers began to leave comments, and global collaboration was born.  I love it!  In one year, I have had 1.3+ million blog page views, have written 300+ blog posts, and have gotten to know countless cyber friends.  I can hardly wait to see where my second year takes me.  Thank you for joining me on my journey into blogland.

The word journey can be a springboard for many lessons.  We can travel or go on a journey using books or field trips.  Of course schools will always "travel" through books, but with budget cutbacks, many districts no longer take field trips. Your students can still journey to far away places through the use of virtual field trips.  These can be set up as a computer center or as a whole group activity.  Here are a few places to add to your "travel" itinerary:

Smithsonian National Museum of National History

Plimoth Plantation

Virtual Jamestown

Statue of Liberty

White House


Mount Vernon

Lincoln Memorial

Australia Zoo tour with Steve Irwin

Fire Engine

NASA Space Shuttle

Ellis Island

Google Lit Trips

Visit with Authors

I made a few printable that you may download for free.

Students can rate their experience of their "travels" on this chart.

Students can document their "travels" on these maps:



Students can write about what they learned on this worksheet:

You can do this activity as a whole group lesson to enrich your social studies curriculum. Or this can be set up as a long term center. For that option, staple this into a book and each week choose a new destination.  This is a simple way to integrate technology, social studies, and language arts. Click below to download the pages.


Do you know of any virtual field trips that I should add to the list?  If so, leave me a comment and I'll add them.