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Sunday, December 30, 2018

7 Tips for Teaching a Big Class

At the beginning of last school year, I was excited to be teaching a new grade at a new school in a new district.  I had made a big change, and it was just what I needed.  To add to all of the "new", I was starting the year with 30 students.  Thirty is definitely on the big size as it is, but we all know that new kids trickle in over the course of most school years...and last year was no different!

7 Tips for Teaching a Big Class


By the time the school year was over, I was sharing my classroom with 34 awesome 5th graders.  We all learned a lot, grew a lot, and had a pretty good time while doing it! It was definitely a learning process for me, and hopefully I can share some of what I learned to make your year better for you!


Notebooks that say smile and amazing

1. You've Got to Embrace It

Here's the thing, your class size is your class size whether you like it or not, so you've got to embrace it.  It's going to be crazy.  It may get chaotic.  It's going to be crowded.  But your attitude will be a major determining factor in the kind of year you and your students have.  Now, I'm not saying that my teammates and I didn't take time to vent about the added challenge we were facing; we're only human!  But throughout the year, I'd joke "I'm mentally preparing for how I'm going to respond when [my principal] comes to tell me that I'm getting my 33rd/34th/35th student."  You may have to "fake it till you make it" but having the most positive attitude you can will go a long way. 





Student chairs lined up in a row

2. Room Arrangement 

While I'd wrapped my brain around having a big bunch of kids, I was having a harder time figuring out how all those desks were going to work in my smallish classroom.  That might have been the part that was the most stressful for me.  Luckily, my students were OK with all the experimenting I did while trying to figure out the best room configuration for us.  I want to share with you guys some of things that worked for me.

  • Push groups of desks together.  I started the year with 8 teams of 4 since my district is a big believer in Kagan cooperative learning.  That meant that there were teams and desks wall-to-wall.  Then I decided to push the teams together so desks were in groups of 8-9.  This made a HUGE difference.  Kids were still in their teams of 4-5, but we gained a LOT of floor space which made it easier to move around. 
  • Find a way to give kids space to spread out.  One thing I noticed as the year went on was that we were so packed in there that kids didn't have a lot of personal space and I could see levels of grumpiness increasing because of that. I let them work at my small group table, in a quiet spot on the floor, etc.  You have to get a little creative, but your students will thank you if they have a place to momentarily "escape".
  • Get rid of your desk.  It's surprising how much extra space this will give you.  Use your small group table as your "headquarters". 
  • Give flexible seating a shot.  When I got my 34th student, I knew that I could either fit 34 desks into my classroom or keep my sanity.  I couldn't do both.  I'd used flexible seating at my old school, but was trying to not rock the boat too much at my new school.  I reached out to my principal and told her I'd like to try some flexible seating. I know not everybody is ready to jump into flexible seating, but here are a few things you could try. 
    • Sweet talk you custodian like I did and see if any tables are available.  They take up a lot less room than desks. 
    • Take the legs of a table and have a low table.  It doesn't technically give you more space, but the room will feel more open.
    • You can get rid of a handful of desks and provide some floor seating options like pillows, stadium chairs, or rocker seats.  These all can get tucked away nicely at the end of the day. 
    • Move to community supplies and if you don't have cubbies, etc., provide bins (they can be cheap!) for your kids to keep their personal supplies in. 


cup of dry erase markers

3. Have your students help!

One thing that every teacher deals with is having about a million things at a time running through their head.  Having a large class can make that even worse.  There are just SO MANY moving pieces. And teachers (including me) often have a hard time delegating responsibilities.  At one point, it really hit me - "There are 34 people in this room who are not me.  How can they help me more?"  I know that I am lucky in that I teach 5th graders who are pretty capable of having different responsibilities in the classroom, but I think that students at any age can do a lot more in the classroom than they may be doing.  And I found that having students help with the little things honestly freed up some much needed space in my brain as well as making the classroom run more smoothly. Plus, kids of all ages LOVE having jobs to do!

Here are some of the little "tasks" I had students help me out with:
  • Changing the date on the board
  • Being in charge of taking our library cards to/from the library
  • Putting homework in student mailboxes
  • Grabbing my walkie-talkie at recess time
  • Turning on and/or connecting the projector when we were going to use it (I've got kind of a clunky set up)
  • Taking tardy passes down to the office on the way to lunch or recess (without me asking!)




school supplies scissors and markers

4.  Delegate

I know we're not all lucky enough to have parent or other volunteers, but if you do, USE THEM! It took me a while to get into the swing of the best ways to use volunteers, but I found that using them to both work with students and help me out with tasks was the best combination. 
  • I've always had parents who can't come in to help because of work, but say they could help at home.  In the past, I never used them much, but once I realized that I could send laminating home to be cut or booklets to be stapled, those parents became a great resource. 
  • Even if students were playing a math game or something like that and were fine working on their own, I'd ask a parent volunteer to take them into the hallway or another common area to work just to free up a little space in the classroom.
  • Let go of the perfectionism and have volunteers hang up bulletin boards or classroom displays.  If it's not perfect, I promise you're the only one who will notice.
  • Get in the habit of asking yourself, "Could somebody else do this?" and if the answer is yes, and you have someone that can do it, let them.  That frees up more time for you to do the things only you can do like planning and grading. 



red pen and a graded essay

5. Don't grade it all!

It's hard to ignore the fact that you've got a big class when you have a giant stack of papers to grade sitting in front of you. Thirty plus math tests, essays, reading assessments, etc. is a LOT.  One of my good friends is also a 5th grade teacher in my district and she only had 19 kids.  I spent way to much time lamenting the fact that I had 15 more math tests to grade than she did! Grading those summative assessments is unavoidable, but really think about what else you need to grade.  Do you need to take the time to look over 30+ homework assignments, or could you review them with the whole class?  Do you need to grade every piece of classwork or can you quickly scan through it to use as a formative assessment?  Can you give a short exit ticket at the end of class and not have to review entire pages of math to see if your students got the concept?  This is one area where you can really save yourself some time and sanity. 





student at a desk

6. Make time for every student

One thing I found was that when you have so many kids in your class, it can be really easy to unintentionally let some kids slip through the cracks during the day.  So I made a point to be at my door in the morning to greet everyone (while I let the students take on some of those beginning of the day tasks I mentioned above).  All of my students have numbers, and those numbers are on popsicle sticks to make sure everyone is getting called on during the day, but I'd also write a few kids' names on sticky notes and stick them on my cart or my projector.  That may make me sound like some kind of absent-minded professor, but if you've had a big class you know that it's easier than it should be for kids to "hide" when there are a lot of classmates around.

I also did"lunch with the teacher" for small groups at the beginning of the year just for a chance to get to get to know all of my students a little in a smaller setting.  Then it was a popular reward/incentive for the rest of the year - I think we all enjoyed spending time together with a little less chaos.  Whatever system or structure you use, make sure you are intentional about making every student feel like they are seen and heard - even if you have to leave sticky notes for yourself! :)




routines and procedures

7. Routines & Procedures

I know that I'm not telling you anything new when I say it's important to have routines and procedures set up to make things run smoothly in your classroom.  We all know that.  But with 34 students in the room, I found that I had to run the ship a little tighter than usual.  Normally turning your homework in when you come in in the morning is a simple process, but have you ever watched 3 dozen kids try to turn their homework in at once? Gets a little crazy.   I added a second homework turn in location, and then gave a student the job of collecting both piles.  (See Tip #3!) We ended up having to form two lines when lining up after lunch or recess because it's hard to get an orderly line when you have students waaaaaaay back at the end of the line. 

Each classroom is (obviously) different and those are just examples of two things I put into place last year to help me manage all my students and keep my sanity!  I encourage you to think about ways you could put a routine into place where maybe things have been a little free flowing?  What's making you the craziest? Can you change a procedure or make a "rule" to help out with that?  It'll help you keep control of the chaos and your students will appreciate the structure, too! 

If there are some behaviors popping up in your students that you'd like to get a handle on before they get too out of control, click here or on the picture below to check out how I use Individual Behavior Goals in my classroom. 

student behavior goal sheets

Do you have a big class this year?  Leave a comment to tell us how many students you have and any tips or tricks I haven't mentioned! 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Iditarod in the Classroom!



Traditionally, February in the classroom means all things Valentine's Day.  But for me, it means my favorite part of the school year... Iditarod time!  This post will fill you in on how to incorporate the Iditarod into your classroom, and there's also a giveaway!

using Iditarod lessons in the classroom

Year after year, the Iditarod is my students' favorite unit, too.  Whenever I have students come back to visit me, one of the first things they'll ask is, "Do you guys still study the Iditarod?" You better believe it! I think the most appealing part of it is "following" mushers and the competition of the race.  Everyone like a good race. 

After we've had some time to learn about Alaska, I share the book Togo with my students.  It's so great.  It tells the story of a dog whose team took part in the 1925 Serum Run to get life saving medicine to Nome where there was a diptheria outbreak.  The book is a great lead in to the history of the Iditarod. 

Iditarod classroom powerpoint presentation
For a Powerpoint Presentation that explains everything you need to know about the Iditarod, click on the photo above.

The real fun begins when students pick the mushers they'll be learning about and following during the race.  I print off a list of mushers from the Iditarod Website and do a drawing for names.  I usually have my students work with a partner, because it seems to be more fun when you have a classmate who's on your "team".  The first thing to do learn about their mushers.

students researching Iditarod mushers

writing letters to Iditarod mushers
You can find resources to use to follow mushers by clicking on the photo above.

Next, it's time to learn more about the rules of the race. Students enjoy "packing" their sled with mandatory items, and getting creative about what they'd bring with them during the race.

Click the photo above to check out my other Iditarod Activities.  
Students also create a flag for their musher that they use to keep track of where their musher is during the race.  The kids BEG me to check the website to see where there mushers are during the day, and I've heard from parents they they're checking at home, too.  One parent even admitted to me that she was checking on her daughter's musher while she was at work! (Not gonna lie, I've "picked" the same musher to follow for the past few years, and I may be a little attached.  Go Martin Buser!)


Using this checksheet helps students keep track of where their mushers are. 



When the race is over, students write letters to their mushers.  They are FULL of questions for them.  It's a great way to practice writing with an authentic purpose.  I have students use their home addresses, and they're so excited about the possibility of getting mail at home.  I'd say that ideally about half of the students get letters back.  They love bringing them in to share with their classmates.


Last year the Iditarod Unit was right before our standardized testing.  I realized my students needed more practice answering questions and writing about paired texts, so I created two nonfiction texts and some writing prompts to go along with the Iditarod.  It was perfect, because I could use the excitement and engagement about the Iditarod to get some great writing practice in.  You can check those out {HERE}.

If you've been thinking about using the Iditarod in your classroom, I highly recommend it.  It's something your students will always remember.  




Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Multiplication Sundaes!



Memorizing multiplication and division facts is such an important part of 3rd grade Math!  With everything else I do with my students in Math, I aim for higher level thinking, digging deeper, etc. But when it comes to multiplication and division facts, we just need to MEMORIZE!  We use lots of different strategies to help memorize facts, but the best (and most fun) motivation to memorize? Multiplication Sundaes!!!

multiplication sundaes

Each fact (2s, 5s, 10s, etc.) is a part of the sundae.  Students have to pass the quiz to earn that part of the sundae.  We set a date for the Multiplication Sundae party, usually towards the end of the year.  Whatever they've earned on their paper sundae, they get to have in their real sundae!  At first they don't believe that we won't just give everything to everyone, but once they realize I'm not bluffing, they're so excited to start passing those quizzes! 

multiplication fact quizzes


We practice learning the facts in an order that is easiest to trickiest, not numerical order.  For each fact, there are two different quizzes.  After the first test, different students are taking quizzes on different numbers, so I call out each number, and students come to get their quiz. The Quiz A and B options are great when students don't pass their quiz the first time. 

I give them one minute and then all pencils are put away.  To save time and increase ownership, I have students take out markers to correct their tests.  I'll read off the answers for one quiz at a time, and it really does pretty quickly.  By the time I get to the last few answers, it's awesome to see the excitement as students can tell they're about to pass!  We've talked about being sensitive about cheering since not every classmate has passed their test, but it's inevitable for a "Yesss!" to slip out here and there! :)

multiplication sundae tracking page

There are some different ways to display sundaes.  In the past, I've hung everyone's sundae on the wall, which makes for a fun display, and an extra bit of motivation.  However, the way my classroom is set up now, I don't have any wall space that kids can reach.  (My room used to be a middle school science room...I've got counters for days!) I'm thinking of some other options - taped to cabinet doors, maybe? - but for now they keep their sundae in the math section of their Data Binders.  I do like that their parents can see the sundaes weekly and know what facts to help with at home.


multiplication sundae parent letters


I have letters to send home to parents when we start the sundaes explaining the process.  When it's time for the party, I have families sign up to bring in everything we need. Since we do our parties in the spring, it's GREAT to be able to go out to the park next to our school where ice cream drips aren't a big deal. :)  In my Multiplication Sundae packet, there are editable letters to help you organize each step of the process.  

There are tons of options available in this packet.  You can choose if you want your students to memorize fact up to 10 or 12.  There are also division quizzes for every fact, so if you want, you can have your kids pass BOTH multiplication and division before they get the next part of their sundae. 


Monday, March 21, 2016

Whole Class Journals

Last summer, I was looking for some easy additions for the Work on Writing area in my classroom. While searching around on Pinterest, I kept seeing the idea of Whole Class Journals.  I decided these would be a perfect, EASY addition to my classroom.

using whole class journals during wriitng

Each day during our literacy block, the students who have a Work on Writing rotation have the option of writing in a Class Journal.  They can look through the basket and pick out a journal topic that interests them.  


Whole class journal notebooks
The basket sits on top of the bookcase for easy access!

Then they head back to their seats to write.  Most students like to read what their classmates have written before they get started with their own writing.


The Class Journal covers have reminders about expectations for the writing inside, however I've found that students really put forth their best effort knowing that their audience is their peers!

whole class journal notebooks class journal

Having a bunch of journal covers to choose from is great, because I can rotate them out to keep things from getting stale, or to incorporate seasonal topics.  I stocked up on composition notebooks before school started to take advantage of those great back-to-school sale prices.  I like to use composition notebooks because they're sturdier than spiral notebooks and do a good job holding up with the amount of use that they get.  

Whole Class Journals have been a perfect addition to Work on Writing.  And I honestly think they've helped build a community of writers as kids read each other's writing much more frequently and even have conversations about it.  ("Hey Megan! I play soccer too!")  I'd highly recommend them for any classroom, whether you use them for Work on Writing, a Writing center, early finishers, etc.

If you're interested in the Class Journal covers in the post, you can grab them HERE!





Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Power of Student-Selected Behavior Goals


behavior goals for classroom management

Deciding to have each of the kids in my class choose their own behavior goal has been a game changer for me.  Game. Changer.  

We have a token system, where kids can earn classroom "currency."  It works well, but something was missing. My class can earn "brownie points" as a group and earn rewards as a whole class.  They love it.  But, again, something was missing.  There were still a handful of students who made me want to bang my head against the wall! (We've all been there, right?)

I knew that for us to have a great classroom community, I needed this student to stop blurting out, that one to keep track of his belongings, this one to ask for help, and that one to share his ideas with his classmates more, etc.   So I made a list of all the behaviors that I wanted to see more of.  I was thinking off the kids in my class as I wrote my list - both the ones with great behavior and the ones are more disruptive.

I made goal sheets for each behavior on my list, phrased as an "I can..." statement.  There are 10 boxes on each, and when students fill up the boxes for showing the positive behavior, they'd get a reward coupon.  The next morning, I printed them off, cut them up, grabbed some stickers, and crossed my fingers that this plan would work. 


students pick behavior goals

At our Morning Meeting, we talked about Growth Mindset and Goal Setting, topics we've covered a lot this year.  I explained that I wanted them to think about a behavior they could get better at, and then I read all the goal choices to them.  The next part is when I had to take a leap of faith - letting them pick their own goals to work on. 

And you know what, I wasn't disappointed.  All but one student picked the exact goal I would have picked for them.  I feel proud that we'd gotten to a point where they are able to be reflective about their strengths and weaknesses.  With that one student, I asked, "Are you sure you don't want to pick 'I can finish my work.'?"  His response was, "You let everyone else pick their goal, why can't I pick mine?" Touche.  

It's been working really well.  It's amazing how much it helps for each student to have ONE behavior to really focus on. And they are bought in since they were able to choose what they need to work on. One girl asked me to add "I can ignore distractions" because she told me she found herself paying too much attention to what was going on around the room.  I loved that she was being so reflective and quickly added it to our goals.

student behavior goal sheets
You can click on the picture above to purchase my set of goal trackers.

Tips for using the Goals:
  • I use stickers - the ones from the Dollar Tree or Target Dollar Spot fit perfectly - but my teammate uses a stamp, and that works great for her.  Just make sure it's something the kids don't have access to! :)
  •  Keep the extra goal sheets in a place where it's easy for kids to access them to pick new ones.  
  • Pick a designated time for students to trade in their completed sheets for a reward.
I hope these are able to be as helpful to you and your students as they are to me and mine! 


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Friday Letters - Easy Parent Communication

I'm always trying to think of new ways to keep parents and families in the loop about what's going on in our classroom.  I use lots of different ways to meet different parents needs -- paper newsletters, e-mails, the Remind App, but I've decided on my favorite...FRIDAY LETTERS!

students write Friday letters to parents

I still use the communication methods listed above, but Friday Letters have become one of my absolute favorite parts of our classroom routine. The process has evolved over the years, but the way it looks now is every Friday, my kids take out their Friday Letter notebook and write a letter to their parents about what they've learned in school that week, challenges they've faced, successes they've had, and just life in general. ("Can we please have pizza this weekend???") Then, and I think this is the coolest part, over the weekend, parents sit down and write a letter back to their child.  It honestly warms my heart seeing the letters that are written back and forth on a weekly basis.  Kids are telling their parents cool facts they've learned, what they are reading in class, that they are having a hard time getting the hang of multiplication, or that they've made a new friend in class.  The letters back from parents are encouraging, full of advice, pride, and love.  And sometimes reminders about sloppy handwriting! :)

Friday letters to parents
Writing about the books she read this week.
Friday Letters serve a few important purposes:
  • Kids are keeping their parents in the loop about what is going on in the classroom.
  • Students are practicing their writing with an authentic purpose.
  • Parents are able to model good writing for their students. 
  • They further build the relationship between parents and students. 
  • These notebooks serve as a chronicle of a (school)year in the life of a child.  Parents and/or students can hang on to these for years!
communicating with parents
Telling his mom what he learned from Time for Kids.

On Mondays, I do a quick check to see if Friday Letters have been completed.  We keep track with a chart on the back cover and a sticker every Monday each time a letter is written.  For every 5 stickers the kids get a small reward.  In a perfect world, every student would have a letter back from their parents every week, but I know life gets in the way sometimes! I'll send home reminders, and for most families that is effective. The student forgot to show their mom and dad, or it  was just one of those weekends.  No big deal.  We put forth every possible effort to get students' family members to write to them, but as a last resort, I will have our principal, assistant principal, or another adult at school write back to them.  

friday letter parent communication

I HIGHLY recommend starting Friday Letters in your classroom, even if it's the middle of the school year.  You'll love seeing the connection and communication between students and their parents!

UPDATED:  You can grab a copy of the 2018-19 cover page and parent letter (HERE}

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Fall in Love With Teaching Blog Hop



I'm so excited to be getting together with a fantastic group of 3rd grade teachers to share what we love about teaching.  I can't think of a better way to kick of my new blog, so...welcome!

A handful of years ago, my principal decided that our school was going to be going departmentalized. And he wanted me to teach Math.  He was very complimentary about why he wanted me to be a Math teacher, and I do enjoy teaching Math, but...

books on a bookshelf

...what about all my books?  My classroom library is my pride and joy! I'm attached to all these books!  (Ok, to be fair, I probably haven't read half of them, but still!)  I had a really hard time wrapping my brain around how life as a teacher would look for me without teaching reading. 

Well, I was determined to still fit quality children's literature into my day in as many ways as possible.  I did my best to bring books into Math, and even more than ever into Writing.  I still got to do Read Aloud with my homeroom class, and I cherished that chance to share some awesome books with my kids. (Stay tuned for future blog posts where I share some of these ideas with you!)

After 3 years as a "Math Teacher", one of my teammates announced she was moving to another state. We wondered who would be the new Reading teacher to join our team...would it be someone in the building, or would we have to interview external candidates?  Then all of a sudden, smack dab in the middle of a math lesson, it hit me...me! ME! MEMEME! I want to be the Reading Teacher!!  As soon as I could I went to my principal to throw out my idea to him.  I was honest.  I told him, "I need to get my spark back.  I need to teach Reading." Luckily, cause he was awesome, he agreed right away.

Just focusing on Math and Writing helped me grow as a teacher for sure, but once I got to be a "Reading Teacher" again, it felt like all was right with my teaching world.  Now we're self-contained again, and I'm loving teaching every subject!`

When my awesome Third Grade Tribe decided to do a Blog Hop with a fall theme, focusing on what we love about teaching, I knew right away that this post would be about...well, I think you can tell by now!

All the Places to Love

I've got a stack of books that I love to use as Mentor Texts (the picture above is just a sample), but one of my favorites to start the beginning of the year with is All the Places to Love, by Patricia MacLachlan.  It's a beautiful story of a boy describing his family's favorite places on their farm.  The detail in both the pictures and text is fabulous!

pages of the picture book

I have my students practice paragraph structure and the writing process, while describing a place that is special to them.   Tip: it works best to describe the place as "special" instead of "favorite" -- kids do a much better job writing about a place that is close to their heart than why __________ is their favorite restaurant!

examples of student work

Each student publishes their writing on a simple piece of lined paper.  You could absolutely have them type it up, we're just not quite there at the beginning of the year. They also get a full page to draw an illustration of the place they love.  

We chose one of the pictures to serve as our cover, and then I scanned it into my computer and typed a title in a text box.  I bound the pages together, and we had our first class book of the year.  So easy! 


All the Places to Love class book