Back to School: Classroom Prep

Back to school is an exciting time, but also an exhausting time!  All of the things that teachers do to prepare for the new year can be taxing - physically and mentally.  You are making a million different decisions, climbing up and down, reaching for this and that, and lifting more than your usual load.  Is it any wonder that teachers collapse a weekend of two into a new school year?

Everyone prepares for the new year a little different.  I think this is a little like developing your own teaching style.  With time and experience, you eventually figure out what system works for you.  Keep in mind, there is not one system that is better than another.  It is figuring out who you are and how you work best to prepare for the new year.

Super Efficients: The S.E. teacher can walk into his or her classroom and within a couple of hours have it completely whipped into shape.  Bulletin boards are a tool  - the style is often modern or minimalist. Materials are neatly organized with no extraneous "stuff" sitting around.  S.E. are often found in leadership positions because they are usually efficient in all areas of their life.

Marvin or Martha Stewarts: These teachers see their classroom as their "home".  As such, they spend all summer planning the perfect theme, color, and/or arrangement for their "home". If you aren't a "Marvin or Martha", you don't understand what would possess a person to spend so much personal money on your classroom.  While "Marvins and Marthas" realize that the way they decorates doesn't make a difference in the academic achievement of their kids, they don't care because it makes them happy!  And a happy teacher is a good thing! 

OMGs:  This group enjoys every moment of their summer vacation.  They are at the lake, by the pool, enjoying their family, and having a great time.  Then they get the letter from their principal about the upcoming new year.  That letter is their OMG moment. I have been friends with several OMG teachers through the years.  Every faculty needs to have a few OMG teachers because they don't get stressed about too much and are a fun friend.  The good thing is this group works very well under tight deadlines.  In fact, I would go so far as to say they thrive on deadlines.

These are just a few of the styles I have seen through the years.  I'm sure you could name a few more.

If this is your first year of teaching, you may be wondering what you need to do.  I always recommend talking to mentor first.  Your mentor will be your best source of advice.  Here are a few things that I do:

Big Stuff
I like to start with arranging the big stuff first.  When arranging furniture, you need to consider:

Whole Group (desks/tables)

  • Where will you teach when your students are sitting at their desks/tables?
  • Can everyone see the white board or Smartboard from their desks/tables?

Circle Time / Carpet - Whole Group Lesson

  • Where do you sit?
  • Do you have an easel or whiteboard?
  • Where will the students sit?
Small Group (teacher's table)

  • Can you see the students who aren't at your table?
  • Where will you store the materials you need to use when you teach here?

  • I personally think it is better if centers are scattered throughout the room.  It is noisy when all of the students are in one small area.  I try to alternate areas for centers - noisy / quiet.  If two types of centers are quiet (Example: computers with headphones and library) I would put one of these on the east wall and the other on the west wall.  Put the two noisy centers on the north and south walls.
Teacher's work space (desk/table/computer/file cabinet)

  • Granted, you may not get to actually work at your desk or table during school hours, but you may work on it before or after school.  Mine was usually in a corner near the closet.  This is probably a teacher preference thing, though.
Bulletin Boards
If you are a Marvin or Martha, you can skip this next part.

For non-Marvin and Marthas, you do not have to have every single bulletin boards completely decorated before the first day of school.  It is nice if you have a welcome to my class bulletin board with your students' names.

I DO think it is welcoming if you have all of your bulletin board covered with paper and border.  Otherwise, you give the impression to students and parents that you aren't prepared.  You can put up a sign like the one below on your bulletin board:
Click HERE to download the under construction bulletin board freebie.

Seating Chart: Assign or not?

  • Assigned: Sometimes I assign my students seats before they arrive.  I usually assign them alphabetically so it is easier to distribute materials at the beginning of the year.  Plus, if teach a grade 1st grade or older, parents may request that their child not sit by so-and-so.  I don't get this request as often when I assign them using this method.  When I do get a request, I explain that students will sit alphabetically in the beginning when we are distributing materials. Later, I will move my class after I get to know them a little better. Usually this is enough to satisfy them.
  • Choose your seat: If you have been given a heads up that you have some anxious students or parents, I would highly suggest letting the students choose their seat.  The years I do this, I hand the parent and student a name tag and Sharpie.  The student wrote his/her name on the name tag after choosing where he/she wanted to sit.  This didn't create any discipline problems like you might think, even though I ended up with all boy or all girl tables.  It was harder to distribute materials though.
Once you get the big things arranged and bulletin boards set up, it is time to organize.  How do you prepare your room?

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.

Tech approach to teach reading and writing


FREE ABC Letter Tracing
This app will help you save paper.  Students can use their finger or stylus to trace the letters.

FREE Play Sight Words: Grades 1 & 2
This app is available for iPhone and iPad.

FREE Phonics Silly Sentences 
This app has a free and paid version.

Have you seen this version of Bob Books?

ABC Phonics Rhyming Words
Your students will enjoy practicing their reading skills with this app.

Looking for more activities?  I have Pinterest boards with more activities to teach reading.  Click on a picture below to check out some of these boards.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.

Back to School Shopping

It will soon be time for school to begin and you know what that means, right?  Time to do a little shopping.  Back to School time means new clothes and shoes for me.  I am always looking for that perfect pair of shoes.  You know the ones that will magically support my feet, look cute, and keep me energized all day long.  I have yet to find these elusive shoes, but hey, hope springs eternal! In the meantime, I will keep shopping, trying, and buying shoes until I find them. 

In case there are others out there like me, I decided to give away a $50 Gift Card Mall so you can choose where you want to shop.

I am joining my friends at the  Owl-Ways Be Inspired blog with a Back to School giveaway. You have a chance to win gift cards to some of your favorite places to shop. Plus, each blogger is giving away an additional prize.   

Enter on the Owl-Ways blog to win the prizes below:

To enter my giveaway:
  • Click on the Bloglovin' sign on my sidebar.
  • Click on the follow button.
  • Click on the rafflecopter link below.
  • Leave your email address in the rafflecopter so I can contact you if you win.
  • I will email the winner and announce the name on my Facebook pagon Sunday, July 26th.   If I don't get a response by Monday, July 27th @ 10 p.m. (Pacific Time Zone),  I will choose a different winner.
I also have a little freebie for you, too!

Ocean themed sound boxes are a fun additional to your guided reading or small group lessons.  Best of all they are FREE!

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.


FREE Handwriting: Multi-sensory tips


After teaching for a number of years in the same grade level, I found myself looking for ways to challenge myself - teaching wise. Seriously, how many ways can you teach _____ , you fill in the blank? Two of the ways I found to challenge myself was to integrate my curriculum and incorporate as many of the five senses as possible in my lessons.  Try it sometime, it's harder than you might think!  
The sense of smell is the hardest sense to incorporate into lessons.  One of my favorite lessons with the sense of smell is to add a flavor extract such as peppermint to paint.  Students can paint word wall words or practice writing letters with Q-tips, paint their favorite scene from a story they read, or make dots with Q-tips to make an array in math.

Another fun smelly lesson is to use shaving cream.  If you want some extra fun and a new smell, use gel shaving cream.  Your students will enjoy the change the gel makes.  The great thing about gel shaving cream is you can add a seasonal touch to your class with all the different colors it comes in.  Students can practice math facts, spelling words, sight words, and more with shaving cream.

Would you like to try these? Click on the picture.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE.
Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.

Short Vowel Word Families Mega Fun

It seems it is inevitable . . . show 'n tell and star students are two questions I can count on at Back to School Night. One of the ways, I have made show 'n tell manageable for me, is to have a weekly theme.  The picture above is an example of a show 'n tell assignment.  I send home the note below with my newsletter telling parents the theme and date.  Students bring a picture to share and add to our class collage.  I hang the pictures below in the middle of each collage.  Students see these same word family pictures in other assignments so it is familiar.  I hang the charts up around the room so students have them as another resource.
Word sorts encourage young readers to focus on the patterns in words. 

Introduce word sorts in your whole group lessons using these signs and colorful word cards.  They fit easily in a standard word pocket chart.  
For this lesson:
  • Students read words from the word family of the week: -et.  
  • Then decide whether the word is a real word or nonsense word.  Put the word in the correct category.
  • To further emphasize the word family, I have my students highlight the word family with colorful plastic rectangles.  I cut up folders to make these.
You will see your students begin to pay more attention to the words they see after doing activities like the one above.  

There are book lists with some suggested stories you can read during your whole group or circle time lesson that include topics with the word families.

Compare stories using a Venn diagram.  You can make a class Venn diagram with the signs included plus there are individual ones, too.

The Venn diagram signs can also be used as book tubs signs.  There are interactive journal printables that can assign after reading stories to your class.
  • Just the Facts:  assign after reading an informational text book.
  • Beginning, middle, and end:  assign after reading a literature book.

Differentiate All Star vowel lesson during small group:
  • Option #1: Show your students one of the word cards (see examples below).
    • Students will copy the word on their white board.
  • Option #2: Show your students one of the picture cards.
    • Students will spell the word on their white board.
  • After writing the word, tell your students to write the vowels on the each line below the word.
  • Make new words by substituting the vowel in the word for the vowel on the line.
  • Draw a star or circle the words that are nonsense words.

Use one of these two different assignments for additional practice to extend your lesson.

The ABC Order literacy center includes words cards that are the same words on the assignment.  These word cards are small enough to fit in the small pocket chart from Target Dollar Spot.  To make this center hands on:

  • Sound out words using sound boxes.  The ocean themed ones are a perfect addition if you read the book, D.W. All Wet during the -et word family week.  Best of all, the sound boxes are FREE.  Have you seen the plastic ice cubes (in the picture above) at Dollar Tree, Target, or Bed, Bath, & Beyond?  The ice cubes are fun to use and color, too!
  • Arrange the words in ABC order before completing the assignment.
  • Complete the assignment.

Do you have early finishers?  Make extra sets of word cards from the ABC center and put them on rings.  These word cards are black and white which is ink friendly plus the cards are small (8 per page). For organizational purposes, copy different lists on different colors.  Give students an egg timer and challenge them to read as many words or words rings as they can before the time runs out.  Great prep for Dibels!
A magazine center is a great way to introduce students to informational text.  Students love to explore using magnifying glasses.  You will probably hear some giggles if you don't look at which magazines you put in this center. For this center, students will:
  • Find words or pictures that include the word family.
  • There is one assignment that includes all of the word families.  Use this as an assessment - students can either find pictures or draw pictures, or send it home for homework the last week that you students study short Ee vowel - word families.
  • For your early finishers, there is writing page so  students can write sentences or a story using the words or pictures that they found in their word hunt.

Time to get creative!  There are word banks included that you can use for a writing center.  Challenge your students to write a story including as many of the words as possible.
Want to add a tech component?  Make a word bank using Wordle.  Students can make their own word bank or use the one that is included.

Dig into Dictionaries can be completed with the good old fashioned dictionaries or the tech type.  Have you checked out Word Central yet?  It is a fun site that students can look up words' definitions plus has other helpful information like rhyming words, thesaurus, and more.

There are 3 different assignments so you can find the assignment that fits your students' needs.
  • Option #1: Draw and illustrate the word.
  • Option #2: Draw, illustrate, and use the word in a sentence.
  • Option #3: Draw, illustrate, and write the definition.

Are you ready to have some mega fun? Check out my preview file for more details.

Looking for more ideas?  I have Pinterest boards with videos, games, and other fun stuff.

Sources to make my blog post graphics can be found HERE. 

Click HERE to read my blog's disclosure statement.