Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Morning Letters

Whew! Note to self: don’t get sick on the first week back to school!

This week we had 3 teacher days (meetings, more meetings, and working in our rooms) 1 open house, and 2 days with students- and boy, am I exhausted!

I’m linking up with BigTime Literacy for Sunday Morning Letters- a fun way to give you a window into my thoughts and feelings about this week!

http://bigtimeliteracy.blogspot.com/2014/08/letters.html?showComment=1408797053101#c1049479695733782589

Dear 4th Grade Team,

Thank you for being incredible to me this week. You have checked in on me, fed me, lent me things, shared ideas, and even offered to let me take a quick nap at your house on a day I was feeling very sick (since I live almost 30 minutes from school). You are organized, flexible, understanding, and helpful- and I find myself feeling so blessed and excited for this year with YOU as my team!

Love,

Your Very Grateful Newest Member

 

Dear Hairstylist,

You somehow did everything I asked you to, and yet I wasn’t thrilled with the result. I’m not blaming you, but I’m not loving it. That said, you adding in an extra mini-facial and short scalp/shoulder massage because it was my first time at the Aveda Institute was JUST what I needed after a tiring first day of school.

See you next time (I think),

The Girl with the Bangs That Make Her Look Like a Tween

 

Dear Principal,

With our new contract, I know you’re working to be very strict about start/ end times. I know it’s not your fault, but that’s how you need to be. I get it- and that made me appreciate it even more when you came to me on a teacher work day and told me to go home and take a nap because you could tell I was sick. You are a principal who wants to follow the rules, but even above that, you want to do what is right for your people- and that is commendable. (Even better? You did this on the day before Open House, when I’m sure you had a billion other things to do yourself.)

Gratefully,

Your Newest Fourth Grade Teacher

P.S.—Thanks for not stressing me out too much about having your daughter in my class!

 

Dear Classroom Library,

You know I love you. I do. But when I’m labeling every one of your books, it would be really nice if you weren’t QUITE so huge. Same goes for when I’m moving those same books back to school. And organizing them. And labeling the baskets. So… maybe just don’t grow TOO much for awhile, okay?

Your faithful labeler,

Mrs. G

 

Dear Cough,

You can go away any time now. It’s only been a little more than a week…

Cordially,

ShouldHaveAbsOfSteelByNow

 

Dear Rosie (my dog),

I’m sorry Back to School Time has been such a hard transition. I know you got really used to having me home all the time this summer, and me being at school so much this week and ALSO taking you for shorter walks because I didn’t feel well… you made it clear you were NOT happy, and I’m sorry! We’re planning some trips to the park and dog park next week to make up for it  : )

Love and Milkbones,

Mommy

 

Dear Husband,

Despite working second shift and hardly seeing me this week, you did an amazing job of checking on me, picking things up for me, offering to help, and basically just being super supportive when I needed it most.

Love,

Jenny

 

Dear New Class,

I love you already. I missed having a class, and I can tell you are going to be fun. Now, we still have a LOT of work to do when it comes to listening, following directions, meeting the expectations, following procedures, etc… but you are a very sweet class, and I am loving your creativity and excitement for school!

LET’S DO THIS!

Mrs. Garwood

 

I really enjoyed linking up for this fun way to recap my week! How was your week?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bright Ideas: Photo Puzzles to Introduce New Topics

Last week at a PD training, a presenter showed us the most simple but totally engaging way I’ve ever seen to introduce a new topic in the classroom.

Absolutely one of those, “how have I never thought of this before?” ideas- which is why I had to share it with you during this month’s Bright Ideas hop!

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Imagine you’re in my class and you walk in to see this on the board:

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Ask the students what this is, and what evidence they have to support it. Kids might say a mountain, a canyon, etc. based on the creasing and shape.

Next, show them this one.

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Hmm. What do they think it is now? Do they notice the dark spot, and what do they predict that might be? Do they see the little bit of white in the corner?

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Ooh- now THIS one should change some minds. Now they might not think it’s some sort of landform. Maybe someone will guess that it’s an alligator?

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Now, with this photo, will they still think alligator? Someone might explain that the teeth look different, or that the snout is rounded. Maybe they’ll notice the missing teeth, and wonder why teeth might be missing.

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Did you guess the photo puzzle right? Today we’re learning about DINOSAURS!

There’s also a popular game app called 4 Pics 1 Word, where players are given four seemingly unrelated pictures and have to find the word that ties them all together. For older kids, introducing a new unit or novel with a puzzle in this format would be a lot of fun.

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Can you tell what this one would be?

While photo puzzles might just seem like a fun fluff activity, if it’s done right, it’s not! With the right guidance from you, kids will be brainstorming, thinking creatively, discussing, justifying their opinions with evidence, and evaluating the validity of others’ ideas. (Helloooo Common Core speaking and listening skills, right?)

And could you picture having students create their own for books they read, or concepts they’ve learned about? What a thought-provoking hallway display and fascinating assessment it would be to have them create and explain these!

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How to Create a Photo Puzzle

1)  Find a high-definition image. (I suggest Morguefile.com or even a Google image search if you’re just using it for educational use in your own classroom.)

2)  Open the photo as big as you can.. (You may want to download it.)

3)  Zoom in and crop sections of the picture.

You can use a photo editing program, or just take a screenshot. On Windows, you can press your keyboard’s PrintScreen button to “copy” a screenshot to your clipboard, or even easier- use the program Snipping Tool (which probably came on your computer but you didn’t know it!) to save just part of what’s on your screen with no cropping needed. On a Mac, look for the program Grab (also already there!) or click Command-Shift-4 and then check your desktop.

Of course, you could also put your images into a PowerPoint for easy display, or use a program like Picasa to easily create a collage for a “4 Pics 1 Word” style image.
I am so excited to use these photo puzzles with my class this year! Do you have any more ideas for me?  : )

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If you enjoyed this Bright Idea, I’d love for you to join me on Bloglovin, Facebook, or Instagram for more teaching ideas and resources! (And some cute dog pictures, because... I'm kind of obsessed with my dog, haha.)

Be sure to visit some other entries in the Bright Ideas Blog Hop, too! If you’ve never browsed through one of these before, I highly recommend it- there are over 200 high-quality, 100% ad-free ideas from some of the best teacher bloggers out there!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Summer That Should Have Been

Today- with less than five days of summer to go- I looked at my To Do list from June.

The number of things not-crossed-off is STAGGERING.

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I had the whole summer, people. For the first time since I was 15, I wasn’t working a job all summer. TpT (and my husband’s job) have finally made it so that I could take a summer break, and I had such grand plans to get so much done!

If I didn’t do this stuff during the summer, when am I supposed to do it?

I’m looking around our apartment and thinking, “Summer was supposed to be my time to catch up and actually clean up this place!” annnd yet my dresser is still piled with clean clothes to be put away, my coffee table is covered in papers to file, and my bathroom counter is a disaster area. I really should have done that.

And the appointments. With my school’s hours and my commute, I leave the house around 8 and get home around 5. The summer is the perfect time to fit in every appointment with my doctor, eye doctor, dentist, accountant, etc.- and I got maybe half of them made and done. Definitely should have made that happen.

Did I mention I should have gotten my car fixed during the only extended time during the year when I don’t need to drive it every day?

Oops.

And don’t get me started on all the things I should have done for school.

Even worse? There are FUN things I didn’t do!

Pool day? Totally doable- part of our apartment rent pays for pool access and I can literally walk to it- but NOPE. I didn’t go to the pool ONE time this summer.

Amusement park? There’s a nice one less than half an hour from me, and I didn’t spend even one day riding roller coasters and eating blue ice cream.

Zoo? I love living in a city with a great zoo. I thought I might get a membership and go a few times… but I never even made it there once.

There were so many things I should have done! Recipes to be tested. Crafts to try. Blog posts to write. Products to make. Places to visit. Letters to write. Workouts to do.

Seriously! June, July, and half of August, and what do I have to show for it?

 

I am relaxed.

I am refreshed.

I am  ready and excited to go back to work!

I can look at all those things I should have done this summer, or I can look at what I did do. I was a little productive- but I also slept in. I read books. I went on vacation. I hiked. I took naps. I spent time with friends. I took photos. I binge-watched a TV series. I wasted hours on Pinterest.  I spent full days in pajamas. I ate ice cream like it was my job.

Most importantly, I spent time with those I care about. I hung out with my husband (who works second shift, so I don’t see him much on weekdays during the school year). I spent hours every day with our newly adopted dog (who is the CUTEST thing and loved every second). I visited family , hosted friends, and met new friends, too.

Summer

Simply put? I made summer break a BREAK- and honestly, I don’t regret it much.

Teachers give, give, give through the school year. Sure, the average person doesn’t get it- but beyond the hours I spend at school (too many), I come home with a bag full of work, a mind that can’t stop brainstorming, and a heart still stuck on worrying about my kids. Never mind the stress of new standards, new teacher evaluation systems, drama with co-workers, and all of the other complications we face. I love what I do- but (probably like most teachers) loving it so much and caring so much means that  I run myself ragged sometimes. It’s hard to not pour your entire soul into teaching, and it’s as exhausting as it is fulfilling.

And by the summer, sure, it feels like I should have used that time to catch up- but what I really needed was a break, and I am so glad (for once) I took it.

So despite that To Do list nagging me about the summer that “should have” been, I can honestly say that I will be a BETTER teacher to my kids this year because I gave myself a true break this summer.

And I’ll be happier, too.

Monday, August 11, 2014

It’s SHARK WEEK! {including a freebie!}

All teachers know that kids learn more when they’re excited and engaged. Today a team of bloggers come together to help your students take a BITE out of learning with a theme your students are sure to love!

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One way I help my students get excited about learning is to add their names into my lesson examples and our math problems whenever I can. It helps spark their interest and sometimes I can show something I know about them (for instance, if I know Danny plays soccer, I can do a math problem about his minutes of soccer practice).


Of course, picking topics the students are interested in always helps, too!

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My Shark Week freebie is a multisyllabic word game featuring the phonics pattern "-ar." My multisyllabic word games are all about helping kids "chunk" and decode bigger words! In this game, the "ar" is underlined in the word to help kids recognize the pattern, while still giving them practice with decoding longer words. Of course, to make the card game fun, there are some "SHARK BITE!" and "DOLPHIN RESCUE!" cards thrown in!

This game makes a perfect center or Word Work game. My RTI and tutoring kids LOVED this kind of game last year!



Click HERE to try it out for FREE!

Be sure to go for a swim in the linky party below. Every blog in the jawsome Shark Week Blog Hop features a fishy freebie for you and your students- but hurry! Shark Week only lasts until Sunday, August 17th  : )

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Balancing Your Reading Instruction- and A Great Back-to-School Deal!

Last year as a reading specialist, I saw so many students who were good at PART of reading. They were fluent decoders... who couldn't understand a drop. Or they would struggle with every letter and sound, but they'd be able to recite it back to you.

I realized very quickly that my kids needed a balanced approach to reading. They needed a little of everything in bite-size lessons and continued practice so they didn't lose it- plus some "real reading" to apply the mini-lessons we'd learned!



When I was teaching intervention, here's what our time looked like for my second graders:

- Come in, re-read from Book Box while I do running record or fluency (5-10 minutes)
- Phonics Mini-Lesson & Review (usually The Phonics Dance, which I love!!- 5 minutes)
- Fluency practice (Monday, cold read with our Fluency Folders, Friday- hot read with our folders, every day in between- fluency or sight words game -- 5 minutes)
- Comprehension Mini-Lesson (usually using our CRAFT board-- 10 minutes)
- Guided Reading with a book (usually from the LLI Kit), or occasionally close reading with a passage (This was a great time for my Text Detectives sets!-- 15 minutes)

Of course, not every day was like this... but in our 45 minutes, we usually tried to hit on phonics, fluency, and comprehension for sure.

It's a lot of work, and it takes time to put together a guided reading routine. I used my friend Em's plan (you can read it here at Curious Firsties) as a great place to start my planning- and then I looked at what my kids really needed... a little of everything!

When I was teaching full-group, I tried to fit in these same things. (You can read more about how I fit in my reading mini-lessons and small group instruction here.)

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 I have also teamed up with Educents with some instant downloads for you! This Year Long Curriculum pack is loaded with great activities like interactive notebooks, center games, guided math resources, and LOTS of print-and-go pages for your classroom!  What I love most about this pack is that it includes themed items for throughout the school year- and not just reading, either.


You can see- my Super Text Detectives- Find the Text Evidence August Edition, Sweet or Sour? Valentine's Multisyllabic Word Game, and Reach for the Stars fluency folder kit are all included in the bundle. My three products ALONE are worth $12.00- so you can see how $19.99 for all 21 products above is a pretty sweet deal!

All three of my included products help your child in reading- one for comprehension, one for fluency, and one for increased accuracy (which will help fluency, too!)


Here's my Reach for the Stars Fluency Folder Kit! Last year, when I was a reading specialist, we were required to track our students' progress in fluency... but so often, kids see that timer come out and instantly think they have to speed-read. I really worked with my kids on seeing fluency as multi-faceted- including Pausing, Accuracy, Speed, and Expression- "not reading like a robot." This kit is the best way I've found to keep parents in the loop, let students track their own progress, and help me organize my fluency data too!

(You can read more about teaching fluency as more than just speed here!)


The Sweet or Sour? Multisyllabic Word Game is part of my series on TpT, inspired by one of those kids who could decode like a champ... if the word was short. The minute you gave him a two or three syllable word, all of his skills were mysteriously gone! This pack focuses on reading words with common suffixes and helps "chunk" the big words by putting small spaces between each word part. My kids love playing this game, and after a few rounds, I can really tell a difference in their decoding skills!


And of course, one of my Super Text Detectives packs! I have to tell you- these are by far my best-selling type of product on TeachersPayTeachers, and one of the most popular with my students, too. With Common Core's focus on text evidence, I asked my students to cite their reasons... and quickly found out that many of them didn't really understand how to go back in the text and find the answer, even when it was stated exactly! With this product, they HAVE to go back- because the directions are to underline the answer in the text with a certain color. My kids thought this was much more fun- coloring instead of writing? Woohoo! Finding the text evidence in this FUN way really set the stage for moving the skill to writing. It was really ideal for remedial reading comprehension with my RTI kiddos!


For a limited time these three products and 18 OTHERS are $19.99 from Educents- which is about 78% off!  (Educents is like Groupon for teachers!) There are over 600 pages of materials ready for you to use throughout the year -  sure to be helpful all year!


You can also take peek at some of the other products included in the bundle at any of the links below! How do you balance your reading instruction?


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Thursday, July 17, 2014

School Is Sneaking Up On Me… and the Indiana Dollar Sale!

Is it just me, or is this summer going WAY too fast? I just got back from a trip (recap to come!) and suddenly it feels like I need to be getting ready for back-to-school already. I only have about a month until we go back- and that includes moving into my new room, going through all of the resources left in my room by the last teacher, getting a handle on my new curriculum, and our August PD and teacher work days!

Did I mention my new room currently looks like this?

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YIKES. And that’s before I move in ANY of my own stuff!

So, as I start thinking about next year and the things I’ll need, I’m checking out the Indiana Teachers’ Christmas in July sale. Yes, I know a lot of people are doing a sale right now, but this one is as easy as Dollar Tree or the Target Dollar Spot.

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C’mon teachers- you all know how easy it is to fill up your cart with back-to-school stuff when it’s all $1 : )

Some of my FAVORITE blogger/sellers have marked down over 100 resources to just ONE DOLLAR for today only. I have found some awesome things to make back-to-school a little less “omgoodness-it’s-only-a-month-away?!” scary… and I hope you do too!

Here are my items on sale:

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An Exclamation Mark Mini- Unit centered around one of my FAVORITE back to school books- including a craftivity, differentiated writing prompts, two flipbooks, and a page to break down the puns in the book, too!

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Nonsense Word Context Clues- a pack that uses nonsense words to teach the skill of using context clues to find the meaning of an unknown word. The “silly” words make it fun and make sure that EVERY student in your class is truly practicing the skill.

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Sweet or Sour? A Game for Reading Multisyllabic Words with Prefixes- one in my series of games to help second/ third graders transition from applying decoding rules to monosyllabic words to those “bigger” words. The words are spaced to help students practice “chunking” them into smaller pieces, and the game element makes it fun!

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Turn the Question Around- One of my most popular resources on TpT! Perfect for teaching kids to write in complete sentences. I ALWAYS use this during the first week of school because it allows me to get to know my students while also giving them pressure-free practice with QUITA, or putting the question in the answer. Teaching them this strategy EARLY saves me so much frustration later!

For today only, all of these are just ONE DOLLAR… and so are the resources below!

 

Thanks for checking them out : )  When do you go back to school?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top 10 Tips for Landing a Teaching Job

Since graduating college 5 years ago, I have searched for a teaching job three times- once out of college, again after a Reduction in Force, and finally when my husband landed a job out-of-state. The job search process can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are 10 tips for landing a teaching job!

Top Tips for Landing a Teaching Job- Luckeyfrog's Lilypad

1) Build and use connections.
I can’t tell you how many times a position in my school was posted as “available,” but the principal really had someone in mind already. Usually, this person was a substitute teacher, a paraprofessional, a student teacher, or a volunteer that the school staff knows and loves already. Whenever possible, find a way to spend time in the school and network so you can be that “in” person!

2) Aim for professionalism everywhere- including online.
Administrators are looking to hire education professionals. Be sure that you make the best impression possible- from your interview attire, to your resume’, to your social media profiles and postings. Professionalism alone won’t win you the job, but a lack of professionalism can make you lose it.

3) Find a proofreader.
When a principal hires someone to teach spelling and grammar, they are looking for someone who can demonstrate it. In a stack of resumes, would you put one on top that says “alot” as one word? A computer spell checker is not enough. Ask a friend to double-check your application materials, especially your resume and cover letter.

Setting up for a Teacher Job Search- from Luckeyfrog's Lilypad

4) Organize your job search materials- both physical and digital!
Most teacher job applications ask for your resume, a letter of interest, letters of recommendation, your transcript, and your educator license. I kept important original documents in one folder, made extra copies of everything, and scanned everything I thought I might need digitally. I put every digital file into a designated job search folder, so I was never searching my computer to find the right file. When I started looking, I also created a job hunt bag for my physical portfolio, copies of my resume, letters of recommendation, etc. It was all in one place, ready for an interview at a moment’s notice.

5) Search online…
Use the Internet to your advantage. Find teacher job search platforms (such as K12JobSpot.com and SchoolSpring.com), but be sure you also check the website for the state Department of Education and the websites of your local districts. I made a bookmarks folder on my computer to make it much quicker to check these every day. [You can read more about job search organization here.]

6) … and go in person!
Although digital application platforms can be efficient, a personal touch can make a huge difference. I like to stop by schools (dressed in a suit) and ask if I can introduce myself to the principal. Even if I can’t, I drop off a physical copy of my resume’ if they’ll take it, and I am sure to be very polite to anyone I see! (Sometimes you may not meet a principal- but you want to make a good impression with the secretary, custodian, or whomever you meet!) Face-to-face can be the edge you need in a digital arena. Adding a handwritten thank you note after an interview can tip the scales in your favor, too.

7) Highlight your experience and strengths.
When you create a resume, letter of interest, and portfolio, give specific examples of extraordinary activities you have done. We all have taught lessons, given assessments, etc.- but what did you do that other teachers wouldn’t have done? The more specific you can be, the more you will stand out!

Teaching Portfolio from Luckeyfrog's Lilypad

8) Use your portfolio in your interview.
Let’s face it- most principals and interview committees just don’t have time (or take time) to look through your portfolio. When I interviewed, I created a portfolio for myself to use as a prop. When the principal asked a question about my classroom management, I not only told her what I do, but I was able to show her as well. Visuals (especially photographs!) are incredibly effective in helping administrators imagine you teaching in their school. [Read more tips for making a teacher portfolio HERE.]

9) Do your research and show why you want THIS job, not just any job.
Even if you just plain need a job, take the time to research each school and district so that you can personalize your letter of interest and resume’ to match. Ask an example- if they’re an RTI school, mention your previous experience providing interventions for struggling students. Before an interview, this research can also help you come up with great questions to ask that show your interest in the job!

10) Make it “you”!
One time, I applied for a position and never heard back, even though a teacher in the district had personally recommended me. When he asked the principal, she told him there were over 400 applicants for a single position. In an applicant pool so large, you need to do something to make yourself stand out. When I dropped off my resume’ and materials to schools last fall, I placed them in these rainbow folders. Unconventional? Sure, but when a principal mentioned it at an interview, I knew showing a little personality had helped my resume’ stand out.

Job Search Tri-Folder from Luckeyfrog's Lilypad

Sending a deluge of teaching applications with no response can be discouraging, but stick with it! Finding the right school that appreciates your talents and strengths is well worth it. Best of luck to you on your job search!

{Oh, and if it goes well? You may end up in a new position like me! This year I’ll be teaching 4th grade science and social studies! Excited to try something new!}

If you liked this post, you may also find other posts in my On the Hunt for a Teaching Job series helpful… and once you get the job, be sure to check out my series, I Just Got a Teaching Job, Now What?! Thanks for reading  : )

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Bright Idea: Happy Journals

Time for a bright idea for teaching your students to be happier!

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A few years back, I worked with a student who was constantly negative. She would constantly tell me everything that had gone wrong with every day, and her very self-centered worldview made it hard for everything not to seem like some kind of personal injustice.

I worked with this student after school, and thankfully her parents understood that their child needed emotional support as much as she needed academic support.

I wanted to encourage some positive self-talk and giving the student an opportunity to reflect on the positive things going on in her day, so we created a Happy Journal!

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I gave her complete control over the cover. I drew “Happy Journal” on the cover to get her started, but otherwise I let her fill in pictures and words of things she loved, and a few stickers too. I wanted it to feel like HERS- and show all the things that made her happy.
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On the inside cover, I wrote her a personal note about the purpose of the journal. I’m an optimist at heart, and I truly believe in the power of forcing yourself to TRY to think positively, even when you don’t feel like it! Looking for the blessings is a powerful thing.
Every day, I asked her to write 3 positive things about her day or about life. Occasionally, she could even think of more.
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Having a reason to look for those good things (and meeting with someone to stay accountable) made a huge difference in this child.
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I wasn’t picky about spelling, punctuation, or even complete sentences- this was all about taking the time to notice good things in life. It also helped me (and her parents) to see some of the things that helped her mood.
After doing this as a sort of intervention for one student, I think that it would make a great end-of-the-day activity for ALL of my kids after they pack up for the day.
A Happy Journal made a huge difference for this girl. Hopefully, it’s an idea that could come in handy in your classroom, too!  : )
If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out another Bright Ideas post on how I organize progress monitoring data and anecdotal notes. Please consider following me on Facebook, Instagram, and Bloglovin!
You can read lots more Bright Ideas for your classroom here. Be sure to check the grade level and topics!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bright Ideas- Label Centers for Easy Setup

It’s that time again! Today I’m here to share a bright idea for labeling your centers to make them even easier and quicker to set up each week.

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I have a ton of “center” style activities. Even when I started using the Daily 5 in my classroom, I still used these a lot for Word Work, reviewing skills, small group focus lessons, and as fast finisher activities.

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When they come with a cover page or directions, I like to laminate it and tape it onto the front of a manila folder.  (A colleague of mine likes to laminate the whole manila folder and then use an X-acto knife to slice apart the opening which is even sturdier!)

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I also add a Velcro dot to the flap since the brad tends to wear out. Small pieces inside go in Ziploc bags to stay organized.

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This has worked really well for me, but I still have to open each center and re-read the directions each year to make sure I set out the right supplies. This year, I realized I could make that easier on myself.

Enter: washi tape! (easily removable, and also cute)

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With just a little tape and a Sharpie, I am labeling each center with the supplies students will need. I also put a C in a circle if I need to copy something, like a recording sheet.

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Now, when I get out a center, I don’t even have to open it to know exactly what I need to get out. At a glance, I can make sure a center is ready and kids won’t need to interrupt me.

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And the best part? I can gradually add these labels as I go through the year, so it doesn’t have to be a huge one-time project!

I love sharing ideas and resources from my classroom- so if you think you might be interested in more, please follow me on Bloglovin, Facebook, or Instagram : )

Do you love finding Bright Ideas for your classroom? Check out the link-up below to see over 100 posts from some amazing, creative bloggers. Every time we have this link-up, I stumble across an idea that makes my life so much easier- hope you do, too!


An InLinkz Link-up

Thanks for stopping by!


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