Mornings: The First 30 minutes at School + FREE Morning Work

One of the hardest things for me to figure out as a new teacher was planning for the un-plannable.  A parent that has a quick question, a call from the office, or a student throws up.  It seemed like so many of these un-plannables happened during the first 30 minutes of school.
The un-plannables have a way of throwing off the rhythm of a teacher and all of the students. I had always been a morning person until I began experiencing the unplannables.  I would get all of my ducks in a row and then "BAM!" something would happen that would knock them all down.

I knew I needed to find morning work that students could begin independently and hopefully last 10-15 minutes. The key word is independent. Sixteen of my twenty years of experience has been in either a kindergarten or first grade classroom.  Independent isn't exactly a kindergartener or first graders middle name, you know what I mean?
Morning messages are my favorite way to begin the day. Messages include skills that are a review and a stretch for students. The variety of skills is important because classes will always include students that have a range in skill that is larger than we would prefer.

Students begin their morning message after they put away their backpacks and other morning tasks. They will complete as much of the message as they can independently.  My favorite "I" word.

After taking attendance, lunch count, and dealing with unplannables, I go over the message with my class.  Although students know they do not have to finish the message during the work time, I do expect them to try their best to answer as much of it as they can.
Students may not be able to answer everything. We will go over the message together at the end of the work time.  Something that seems hard today will seem "easy peasy" another day.  All it takes is a little practice.

Messages review important skills.  You will find skills that may be introduced earlier than you teach them or above grade level.  This is why I think my students bloomed when I began using this method of morning messages.

Skills are reviewed day in and day out.  We went over the message together at the end of our morning work time.  Students could correct their message if they made a mistake.  That immediate feedback is important.

A mini lesson is like a t.v. commercial. Students retain information from commercials because they are short and repeated.  It is so effective that companies spend millions of dollars and Congress passed the Children's Television Act which regulates the minutes of commercials during children's programming.

You will be surprised when you see some of your lowest performing students begin to bloom when you incorporate morning messages.  When I wrote messages on chart tablet or on the white board, I found that:
  • There were days that I forgot to write a message.  Oops!  There goes the schedule.
  • My messages were not always the best quality. 
  • My students were looking at MY message but did not have THEIR own copy of the message which meant more off task behavior.
  • Students did not have a copy of the message for fluency homework.
  • It was crazy time in my class when the unplannables happened at the beginning of the day.
Send home the message for fluency homework.  Perfect when you have an assembly, field trip, or other activities that prevent you from meeting with your reading groups.
Would you like to try a week's worth of FREE leveled morning messages? Click here and let me know on TPT what you think.

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Behavior and Work Habit Tips - Winter theme

A change in weather can change your students' behavior and work habits. When that happens, it is time to try something new.
Do your students ask you questions about something you just finished explaining in step-by-step detail? When you notice this happening, change how you ask for your students' attention.
Most of the attention getters that teachers typically use are verbal.  Try using a noise maker like a train whistle when your class has seasonal wiggles.  You can find whistles like the ones in the picture at stores like Dollar Tree, Michaels, or Hobby Lobby.
Your class may become talkative during the change in climate.  Try planning more partner or group activities.  Yes, they are still talking, but you are choosing the topic of their discussions.  You can pick partners or groups using seasonal shapes like the snowflakes in the picture above.  Each shape represents one group or partner set. Cut the shape into the same number of students you plan to have in each group.  Pass out the pieces and give your students time to find their partners or group members.  Extra bonus with this activity is it works as a wiggle break.
Have you lost some of the pieces to a set of calendar numbers or small shapes?  You can repurpose them into a classroom management tool.  Put the pieces in a bag or box.  Let your students draw one out of the bag or box before you begin a lesson.  You can use the shapes and calendar numbers when you want to form cooperative groups: (example)
  • Green trees will meet in the library corner.
  • Snowflake #1-6 will meet near the computer center.
  • Mittens will meet by the math center.
Change in season means a change in work habits.  You may find more incomplete assignments and work turned in that is less-than-the-best quality work.  You can motivate your students with this quick and easy way to showcase top quality work.  A string of twine with clothes pins is the quickest way to do this.  You can add this in your classroom or hallway.  
There is something magical about Scratch 'n sniff stickers.  Add one to the papers you display and all of your students will want to have their assignment featured there.
What do you do when the seasons change your students' behavior?

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