December 31, 2016

Connecting to Characters or, (Sh!t, Carrie Fisher Died)


As a teacher, I am always striving to help my students connect to characters. I have so many memories from childhood of curling up with books and diving into a different world. Suspension of disbelief came easily to me. It translated to film as well.


Princess Leia was the first character that I truly connected to. She was smart, strong, and sassy. I wanted to be her. I had hair long enough to not only make those iconic Princess Buns, but I could pull off the Ewok Village Headband Braid as well. 

Connections in childhood remain as we grow older. And, as we learn who the characters are played by, that connection transfers to the actual person. I never watched When Harry Met Sally and didn't think of Princess Leia, but I grew to appreciate Carrie Fisher's talent and impact on the entertainment industry.

Celebrity deaths are nothing new. But as I've grown older the impact has changed significantly. At four years old, I didn't understand why my mother was crying over Elvis Presley dying. But I get it now.

The loss of childhood connections can be an adjustment. Losing Roald Dahl in 1990 wasn't as tough for me. Although we lost an amazing writer, my connections to him remained safely secured in the books he had written. Richard Harris' death wasn't as difficult either because I had grown to love Dumbledore in the books first. My connection to Dumbledore was through J.K. Rowling; not Richard Harris.

For me, it's not grief insomuch that I knew Carrie Fisher and I will miss her personal connection to me. But, I do feel the loss of a piece of my childhood. A sadness that settles when you realize that Princess Leia is gone forever. No one will ever be able to replace her. She was the first Leia I knew and the connection is now gone.

Conversely, was I heart-broken when Kylo Ren put his lightsaber through Han Solo? Of course! But it wasn't the same level of grief because I knew Harrison Ford was still alive. Odd, but true...

Be still my Geeky Heart!
Lately, my connections to literature and film have begun to merge. The geeks out there know what the rest of us geeks want. My favorite Christmas gift this year was a hoodie my hubby bought me. Nothing beats a mash-up of Star Wars and Harry Potter!

I am not sure how my students will respond to Carrie Fisher's death when I get back in the classroom. For many of them, I imagine it's a small blip on their screen and won't be mentioned at all. But it will linger with me for quite a while. 

As the New Year begins, I will continue to encourage those character connections; keep guiding students to delve into their novels and find that character that speaks to them in a way no other character can. Hopefully, they will leave my classroom with at least one character that they will mourn the loss of later in life. But it does beg the question: Are characters in novels "safer" than those on the screen? Either way, there is no denying the deep-rooted connection I have to Leia and many other characters still "out there". Connecting to characters is an ever-evolving gift that I endure to share with my students.

I do have Episode VIII to look forward to next year. It will certainly have a much more meaningful impact knowing that it was the last time Fisher played Leia in real life. And, I have very strong feelings about what should be done with Episode IX (all Star Wars geeks do).

RIP Carrie Fisher, you will be missed.

November 23, 2016

Thank You TpT Community!



Happy Thanksgiving!


There is so much to be thankful for. As I sat down to write a new post I kept swirling ideas around in my head trying to figure out which topic and direction I wanted to pursue this month. A list? Comedy-driven? Family versus Work? It felt like an impossible choice. Then, the light bulb went on: TpT (or, rather, the TpT Community).

I have had a whirlwind 6 months. It all started last April. I took a chance, stepped outside my bubble, and attended the 2016 Northeastern Regional TpT Meet-Up and it's been "go time" ever since: Instagram! FB! Blogging! Not to mention dabbling in Periscope and Blab!

So, I dedicate this post to the TpT Community and the people who have been such an inspiration to me as I continue on this journey.

I'm thankful for...

The Flock: you create and deliver an unbelievable experience for TpTers. I never realized how much of a bubble I was in until I attended the Meet-up. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to pop that bubble and reach out to fellow TpTers.
Literary Sherri (Middle School Resources)
Brain Waves Instruction (Middle School Resources)
Ellen Weber (Secondary Resources)
Selma Dawani (Primary through Middle School Resources)
Yay for Pre-K (Primary Resources)
The Classroom Nook (Intermediate Resources)
Kinders in NY (Primary Resources)

Some AH-MAZING people I met while there:
Second Grade Estrellas (Elementary and Bilingual Resources)
Leigh Sanna (Primary Resources)
Keri Brown (Primary Resources)
Special Teacher for Special Kids (Elementary Resources)
Miss Chantal Cares (Elementary Resources)

PLUS!!!!!

Tabitha Carro
Flapjack Educational Resources (Elementary Resources)
Smartphone Marketing School (Market Your Business With Just Your Smartphone)
Flapjack Factory (Learn How to Create Your Own Resources)

Hallie Sherman
Speech Time Fun (SLP Resources)
Teacher Blogging School (Learn How to Blog Like a Boss)

The CNY Group
Learning Lab (Elementary and SPED Resources)
Reading in Room 11 (K-5 Reading Resources)
Teaching Eternity (ELL Resources)

Blog Queens (They made this Blog sooooo pretty!)

Instagram Peeps
You are the place I go to when I want a "pick-me-up". Thank you for making my feed a funny, caring, and motivating place to be. 

I am now living outside my bubble. I've got a lot going on and things continue to float along. But, I've learned that there is an incredible community of educators out there and someone is always around to keep you going. With all the avenues we have today, there is no reason to live inside a bubble.

If you are ready to pop your bubble and take a chance, click the link below and come say "Hi" to me in April. Hope to see you there!

October 10, 2016

The Mistake I Make Every Year, or (How to Slow Down the Sand in the Hour Glass)


I don't care what the Rolling Stones say: time is not on my side. I have 180 days to cram enough knowledge into my students' heads to ensure they will be prepared for fifth grade.

But, let's face it. It's not really 180 days. Things such as snow days, hour (or two) delays, assemblies, field trips, mandatory testing, etc... chip away at those 180 days until I'm left with the tattered fragments of a calendar that delivers far less than it promised. The sand starts to flow and I am never free from the fact that there are fewer and fewer grains in the glass each day.

When I first started teaching I would take the first day of school and rip through policies and procedures like a Chinese fire drill in order to get to the business of teaching. I thought that I was establishing rules and routines when the reality is I most likely had a group of youngsters that were akin to deer stuck in headlights. Yikes!

It was flawed in so many ways. I was in such a mad dash to get things up and running as quickly as possible; only to realize that adjustments needed to be made shortly thereafter. Thus, I would have to go back and reteach the procedures or rearrange groupings. Reteaching took much longer. Regrouping disrupted the flow of information. And, I don't have that kind of time.

Now, as a more seasoned educator, I have learned that slower is better. I don't panic if my reading groups aren't established the first month of school. I am OK with taking a bit more time to scrutinize the DIBELS scores before choosing an intervention to increase fluency. I am still clicking and sorting data to determine exact math needs. It's all OK. 

I always talk about how September is tough and that I much prefer mid-October. By that time, my classroom is a well-oiled machine and the focus is on students learning and watching the growth. I've come to the conclusion that not every cog needs to be in the wheel as soon as possible. It's more important to place the cog correctly. Only when the cogs are properly placed does the machine work efficiently. My goal is the well-oiled machine that needs as few repairs as possible. Slower is the way to get there.

Slower means that my reading groups will start closer to October. There are plenty of things (routines, procedures, expectations) to teach in the interim. Slower means that flexible groupings will be stagnant for a bit, but they will still be flexing where needed. Slower means that I might take 90 minutes to get the students through a 60 minute flexible grouping schedule. It's all OK.

Although I still prefer mid-October when all the "start-up" stuff is established, I have learned to like September more. I have learned to embrace a slower pace in the opening days of the year and to help the students fully digest what learning will look like in my classroom for the next 10 months. I have finally embraced the concept: we go slow to go fast. (I even have a sign nearby to constantly remind me.) Although I still feel sand slipping through my fingers each day, this mantra has helped me to at least slow down a bit and in the process helped the sand slow down too.

September 11, 2016

2016-17 Classroom Reveal, or, (The New, The Same, and The Tweaked)

Some have accused me of not being organized, while others have raised their eyebrows at the mere thought that someone could say such a thing. But, one thing is certain: my classroom will rarely look this good again.

Every September offers teachers their yearly "do over": the ultimate tabula rasa of careers. We get to decide how much to repeat and what needs to be scrapped. And, there is always the in-between: "I'm going to keep that, but this time...". Teachers are truly lucky in that regard. 

I now present to you the "new", the "same" and the "tweaked" of my classroom!

Stuff that's new this year:

MY DESK
IG Inspired Desk!






No, the desk isn't new. But, the welcome sign is! I couldn't resist. After looking at all the amazing posts other teachers had shared on their Instagram accounts, I was inspired to jazz up my own desk a little bit. And since it's most likely the first thing that draws your eye when you walk in, why not give a friendly message to the person coming through the door?

Let the Brag Tagging Begin!
Reading Log Brag Tags ready to go.
BRAG TAGS
I have taken the plunge with Brag Tags. I love the concept and have seen some positive energy coming from the students this week with all the possibilities these present. I am excited to see where these tiny bits of motivation take the students this year. 



Stuff that's the same:

MY VAN GOGH CHAIR
Stay Off!
This is my most prized classroom possession. I love this chair. I won it in a silent auction a few years back to raise money for my district's art department. The best part is, it was designed and painted by my class while in art class that year!  It's so important to me, that when I was changing classrooms I brought it home with me for the summer. (I wasn't taking any chances that it would end up in the wrong place!) By the way, I am the only person allowed to sit in this chair. You can sit in the teacher wheely chair all you want, but keep your butt off the Van Gogh!

The wooden Pinocchio in the
background was from a trip to
Italy and my father's birthplace.
A LITTLE CORNER OF LOVE
Right next to my desk I keep a few reminders of "my why". It's nice to glance over at different times of the day and see these smiling faces. It's also a nice way for the students to meet the important people in my life. I have a hodge podge of items: pictures, drawings, travel mementos, little notes, etc... If you don't have a corner of love- create one! It's a great energy boost when teaching starts to drag you down.

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS
My classroom could not function without these two boards. 

Where the "magic" happens.
On the left is the "chart". It tells the students who is going where and in which order. Student groupings change daily (one for ELA and different groups for Math). Also, I will group students within groups: see the "paired" sticks? And, sometimes we "Jump the Board". That's when students work with the student across the board from their stick. 

It may sound complicated, by in less than two weeks my students can read and run this board with no help from me; which is extremely helpful on the days a substitute is in the room!

To the right is the Classroom Helper Board. I change up who is in charge of the different jobs once a week. 

Stuff that's tweaked:

MY CLASSROOM LIBRARY
After years of cramming books onto shelves sideways, I finally bit the bullet and bought new shelving. Then, of course, it bothered me that they wouldn't match. So, I then bought contact paper that was close to the theme in my room. It wasn't an exact match, but I was aiming for "close enough". This was the result.
New look = new labels!
Increased shelving means an entire
section devoted to Harry Potter!
















I must say though, despite the time it took to paper the old shelves, I am glad I did it. Plus, I now have room for all my chapter books. (I haven't been brave enough to tackle the picture books...yet.)

TODAY'S GOALS (RE-IMAGINED)
So, must of us have had some sort of "Today's Goals" chart floating about for the past couple of years. Every night after the students left, I would erase the "old goals" and write the new goals for tomorrow on a dry erase surface. 

This year, I am changing it up. I decided to create a "Your Targets" poster using a Class Dojo image. Each day I will write the actual standards (4.NBT.1, RI.4.1) instead of the "wordier" version. This week we explored the different standards along with the abbreviated codes and starting next week (every Tuesday and Thursday) we will have a "Standards Check" that the students will use to self-monitor their progress towards mastery.


Brand new way to keep track of standards and targets!
WBT Rules made with fans bought at Hobby Lobby and black plastic plates.
WHOLE BRAIN RULES
I love the simplistic methods of Whole Brain Teaching. I added on the Diamond Rule this year and weeded out "Raise Your Hand For Permission to Leave Your Seat". Rule #3 doesn't work so well when you have flexible seating in your classroom. So, I got rid of that one. Thus, I am still at five rules and have kept them numbered that way. Now, if only I can remember which one rule goes with which number! (Good thing I have the visuals to help...)

Whelp, that's the lay of the land for this year. I will most likely continue to tweak here and there for the next couple of weeks. But, the "big stuff" is done. 

My room has a much more zen-like feel this year; more than ever before. I love to sit among all the changes, as well as all the familiar. I'll take all the up-front organization I can get. Because, as some of you may relate, in a few short weeks I'll be flailing about trying to find the copies I just ran, the Reading Inventory Correlation Chart, and my notes from last weeks' faculty meeting!

August 28, 2016

Free and Easy First Week Fun

Welcome Back!

As the pack of students floods the hallway and makes their way to your classroom, have no fear. I have 3 fun, free, and easy activities you can do with your students to ensure the first week has a perfect balance of fun and function.

Sample bulletin board of t-shirts my
students created last June.
FOR INDIVIDUAL RESPONSE: 
Click here for a Summer Fun T-Shirt Craftivity

This print and go activity has so many possibilities. You can pretty much put anything at the top of the shirt and make this work for your classroom. This September, I will be asking the students to write/respond about "Summer Fun".

I have included three different levels of response depending on the needs of your learners. One version with just lines, another with lines and a blank space for drawing, and a third with just a blank space.

You can print on colored paper, or have the students embellish in their own way. If you are going to break out the glue and glitter, I recommend you print on cardstock to give the artwork a bit more stability.

Once t-shirts are complete, collect them and you have a ready-to-go bulletin board!


FOR WORKING IN PAIRS: 
Speaking and Listening Task Cards
Check out my Speaking and Listening Task Cards. These cards can help establish the speaking and listening norms in your classroom and it gives your students an opportunity to do what they love best- talk about themselves! 

Although this is designed for pairs, the first few times we use these cards, I do it as a whole group or within a small group setting. I take my time explaining the norms, modeling the expected behaviors, and give each side an opportunity to share their ideas as well as question their partners. The "listener" half is very challenging for many students. This activity gives them the practice of listening for information and not simply listening to respond with their own input.

Once you have established the norms, continue to use these cues to lead your students through many different discussions throughout the year. Change up the question cards depending on the content you are working on: incorporate them into your guided reading groups, use them for think-pair-share activities, or have students defend their positions with one another on various topics. These cues are flexible enough to be used in any situation where students are speaking and listening to one another.

FOR WHOLE GROUP:
This is a great first day activity, but it could be done anytime and in many different contexts.

Get a roll of toilet paper. Stand at the door to greet the students in the morning. As they come in, ask them to take "as much as they will need". (I never tell them what they will need it for...) Once the morning bustle has settled down, explain to the students that they will share one thing about themselves for each piece of toilet paper they have. 

Some students will stick to one fact per square. Others may "think outside the square" and rip their pieces into smaller pieces so they can share more about themselves. And, others may keep their piece "whole". It's a fun activity that can give you some great insight into how your students think.


Have a great start to the school year!




August 14, 2016

Searching For Ticonderoga or, (Where Has My Favorite Pencil Gone?)

An Open Letter From a Fourth Grade Teacher to Her Favorite Pencil
Dear Ticonderoga,

It been an amazing run. Really. I look back on our time together (more than a decade) and can't believe how quickly the time has gone by. We've been through it all; good times (grading, conferences, CSEs) and not-so-good (testing, BEDS day, PD) and you have always been right by my side. You have been the one constant in this ever-changing career...until last fall.

I've searched deep within and I am convinced: it's not me, it's you. You have changed. I miss your perfectly centered graphite and your spongy non-smudging erasers. What's happened? How could this be? I want the old Ticonderoga back. The one I know and love.

At first, I thought it was me. Perhaps I had angled the pencil incorrectly while trying to sharpen. I even blamed the students, "How hard are you pressing down to erase?" "You broke another tip already?" But, it was you the whole time. All you. 

I even have proof.
I am begging you. Please bring back the old Ticonderoga. Find it within you to center that graphite and hold on to a correctly constructed eraser using a quality ferrule. You can do it. You did it before and you can do it again. 

You have it within you to get back to "The World's BEST PENCIL". And when you do, I will be right here waiting...

August 7, 2016

WHY YOU STILL NEED SPMS! or, (What Are You Waiting For?)

Hello Everyone!
Remember how I told you about the membership I'm using to take amazing photos, videos, and graphic designs with just my iPhone? Well, it's open to new students again - but just for a week from August 8-15th! Now is your chance!
This membership has been a game-changer for my social media presence and my business. It's self-paced, gives you lifetime access, and I take it right from my phone whenever I have a free moment. With the ease of access and linking capabilities, you will be able to not only keep up, but excel, in areas of your business with just your iPhone!

If you're interested, make sure you sign up by August 11th before the price increases by 10% - bit.ly/SPMSfritcher (affiliate link)

This course has revolutionized the way I approach social media. In the three months I have been learning and applying different techniques, I have noted the following:
* Number of followers on Teachers Pay Teachers increased by 30%
* Number of followers on Instagram increased by 80%

Now, granted, I may have increased followers without the knowledge I have gained...but I doubt it would have been that fast. The catalyst has been my ability to create quality images and posts from just my iPhone!

Sign up today and you'll get instant, lifetime access to easy-to-follow lessons on:
* product photography
* graphic design
* sales graphic creation
* lighting and setup
* script writing
* video production & editing
* iPhone productivity
* & all of it from your iPhone - learn on the go!

You'll also get access to a private Facebook group that yours truly is in, learning all the latest tips on iPhone visual marketing.

Let me know if you have any questions!

July 31, 2016

The NYS SS Inquiries

Geography and Resources Section
New York State has offered us a new curriculum. If you've had a chance to dabble with it, you may have found that there is some stuff there-- but not too much. There is certainly plenty of room for adding and adjusting!

While I was doing some dabbling myself, I wanted to create a way in which students could learn the content, keep it organized, and still be engaged. So, I developed lapbooks: one for each inquiry.

Each inquiry is broken down and taught in sections using a lapbook. And, each section of the lapbook is arranged using the Compelling and Supporting Questions. I have also included sections for developing vocabulary and additional note-taking. Take a peek!

This peek is geared specifically for the first Inquiry in 4th grade: New York Geography. But do not despair, because I have designed and have lapbooks available for all six of the 4th grade inquiries!

Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth Grade are available as well! (Scroll down to find the links.)

NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: New York Geography (Lapbook)

To start, I made this lapbook using two file folders. Then I organized the Compelling Question and the Supporting Questions into sections of the lapbook. I also added in a couple of vocabulary activities and an area to take additional notes. 

Each lapbook uses a similar format. Below is an explanation of how I chose to organize the information. You may want to organize differently depending on your classroom needs. Although I give suggested positioning of the pieces, you will have the flexibility to customize these lapbooks in whatever way makes the best sense for your learners.

Front Cover
The cover will help introduce the topic to the students and ask them the Compelling Question. Students will work through the different flip pages to fill in information about "where you live". 

Interior Left and
Vocabulary Flip Book Section
When you first open the lapbook, the vocabulary flip book will be to the immediate right. Students can use the provided definitions to match up to the vocabulary terms- or you can have students use an alternate means for defining the words; it's up to you!

Lapbook Fully Opened

When you fully open it, the three Supporting Questions are organized into each section of the interior of the lapbook. Headings and interactive notebook pieces: such as foldables, envelopes, puzzle pieces, etc...will guide your students through the different information, texts, and maps that relate to the lapbook activities for the left and middle section. The right side contains a flip book that the students will use to read through text and record the gist, a claim, and evidence to support their claim.

The bottom of the third section has space for an envelope that holds a vocabulary matching game. The bottom right corner is a collapsible shape where students can record "Other Interesting Words" they encounter while working through the material.

The final section (middle back) has an area for students to jot down additional notes during the Inquiry.

Along with all the lapbook pieces and parts, this resource includes PowerPoint slides, a 2-point written response for each Supporting Question, a 4-point written response as a culminating activity, and scoring rubrics.

You can buy this resource at my Teachers Pay Teacher Store here:



Or, you can buy all 6 Inquiries as a BUNDLE for a discounted rate:


To see brief videos of the other lapbooks being offered, click the links below!
YouTube of NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Manhattan Purchase
YouTube of NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Government and Citizens
YouTube of NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Call for Change
YouTube of NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Industrialization
YouTube of NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Immigration 

Second Grade SS Inquiry Lapbooks can be located here:
NYS Grade 2 SS Inquiries BUNDLE
NYS Grade 2 SS Inquiry: Urban, Suburban, and Rural
NYS Grade 2 SS Inquiry: Symbols
NYS Grade 2 SS Inquiry: Civic Ideals and Practices
NYS Grade 2 SS Inquiry: Geography, Humans, and Environment
NYS Grade 2 SS Inquiry: Community History
NYS Grade 2 SS Inquiry: Economic Interdependence

Third Grade SS Inquiry Lapbooks can be located here:

NYS Grade 3 SS Inquiries BUNDLE
NYS Grade 3 SS Inquiry: Global Geography
NYS Grade 3 SS Inquiry: Globalization
NYS Grade 3 SS Inquiry: Cultural Diversity
NYS Grade 3 SS Inquiry: Leadership and Government
NYS Grade 3 SS Inquiry: Children's Rights
NYS Grade 3 SS Inquiry: Global Trade

Other Fourth Grade SS Inquiry Lapbooks can be located here:
NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Manhattan Purchase
NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Government and Citizens
NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Call for Change
NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Industrialization
NYS Grade 4 SS Inquiry: Immigration

Fifth Grade SS Inquiry Lapbooks can be located here:
NYS Grade 5 SS Inquiries BUNDLE
NYS Grade 5 SS Inquiry: Complex Societies
NYS Grade 5 SS Inquiry: Slavery and Sugar
NYS Grade 5 SS Inquiry: New France
NYS Grade 5 SS Inquiry: Puerto Rico
NYS Grade 5 SS Inquiry: Declaration of Independence
NYS Grade 5 SS Inquiry: Bananas

Sixth Grade SS Inquiry Lapbooks can be located here:
NYS Grade 6 SS Inquiries BUNDLE
NYS Grade 6 SS Inquiry: Agriculture
NYS Grade 6 SS Inquiry: Religious Freedom
NYS Grade 6 SS Inquiry: Olympics
NYS Grade 6 SS Inquiry: China and Rome
NYS Grade 6 SS Inquiry: Islamic Spain
NYS Grade 6 SS Inquiry: Black Death


Additional NYS ELA Resources available in my store can be found at the links below:
NYS Grades 3-5 ELA Anchor Charts Assessments and Protocols
NYS Grade 4 ELA Module 1A Writing Tasks Pack
NYS Grade 4 ELA Module 2A Writing Tasks Pack
NYS Grade 4 ELA Module 3A Writing Tasks Pack
NYS Grade 4 ELA Module 4 Writing Tasks Pack

Additional NYS Math Resources available in my store can be found at the links below:
NYS Grade 3 Math Modules Task Cards BUNDLE
NYS Grade 4 Math Modules Task Cards BUNDLE

Thanks for stopping by!

July 15, 2016

13 Teacher Hacks to Save Yourself Time and Money When Setting Up Your Classroom


     Happy Back-to-Schooling! 
As you creep back into your classroom to scratch up the newly polished floors and place more adhesive over the adhesive that didn't come off the walls last year, I have a few teacher hacks to help your set-up go a little smoother and certainly cheaper this year. Whether you are Type A (get your do-to list, flair pen, and highlighter ready) or Type B (save this blog to an area on your device you will forget to access later), there is something listed that you can apply to your classroom. 

1. Use a PAPER Monthly Calendar
This has been an amazing time-saver in my classroom. Granted, if you are primary, you may need/use those adorable calendars that you piece together one day at a time to help your little ones learn about time, date, weather and the like. However, if you teach upper elementary and have been stuck in perpetual calendar hell, this will forever change the way you feel at the end of the month when it's time to change the calendar.

When you use a paper calendar, you can write on it; because at the end of the month it's going in the recycling bin anyway. (Type A's will coordinate their calendars by event using different fonts, stickers, and colors. Type B's will grab whichever writing utensil is handy to make additional notes as the month progresses)

Yes, yes, yes, I've used those write-on wipe-off calendars and I can honestly say that I didn't know which was more annoying: trying to pry the numbers off to create the next month (I learned to love March because of this) or the wipe, wipe, wipe required to get all the ink off. 

A desk calendar will cost about $5.00. Or, you can go whole hog and buy a wall calendar which can run up to $30.00. Either way, do yourself a favor - buy a paper calendar. Your bulletin board will thank you.

2. Color Code Your Curriculum
If you have the capabilities, I highly recommend you color code your copies. 


There are several ways to approach this. 
A. Color code by subject area.
B. Color code by practice versus assessment.
C. Color code by "title". For instance: I teach NYS/Eureka Math. Problem Sets are pink, Homework is white, Exit Tickets are green, etc...You get the picture.

The copies on the left are color coded and then stacked by lesson. I grab the "rainbow" I need for the day and teaching begins!

Type A's have already been doing this. Type B's are just happy to find the copies they need. But, lessons and life are so much better in color. And, your "work to grade" basket will thank you.

3. Put Tennis Balls on the Chairs
This one trick has several benefits. Type A's will jump on this tip. Type B's will get to it either over the break, or next school year.

It significantly reduces the amount of noise that is made when chairs are being pulled out or pushed in. It makes it easier to actually move the chairs by creating a smoother surface against the tile. And, it protects the floor. It's the least you can do after scratching up the new wax. 

I usually asks student to bring in a can of tennis balls (even used ones will work). So, talk to your high school (if they have a tennis team) or a local tennis club. If they have used balls they no longer need, offer to take them off their hands! The dollar store also sells dog toy tennis balls. Super cheap and they do the same thing.

Tennis balls will last for a couple of years, so you won't need to request them every year. But get them on your chairs - the sooner the better. Your custodian will thank you.

4. Binder Clips for Your Mailboxes
If you use an individualized mailbox system, do yourself a favor and use binder clips to label the slots. Using binder clips instead of adhesive labels is so much easier for more than one reason. 


A. They can be moved. You can move the names around in the event, say, oh, a student is added to your roster the day before school (after you have already labeled everything in the room). New student? No problem. Just move the clips. 

B. At the end of the year it is soooo much easier to pull the labels off the clips rather than the plastic/wood/cardboard that separates the slots. 

C. The mailboxes won't be as "beat up" from repeated adhesive throughout the years. They may have an indent where the clip was, but at least you won't be systematically breaking the material down year after year.

D. If you are Super Type A, you can move clips during the year when your roster changes and keep your mailboxes in alphabetical order with minimal effort. (Unless, of course, you use class numbers too. In which case, good luck with that.)

Binder clips have made the start of the year "mailbox labeling" and end-of-year "stripping task" a lot less annoying. Use the clips. Your mailbox will thank you.

5. Use What Walmart (or any store) Stores the Stuff In
If you are anything like me, you will buy class sets of certain items before the school year starts: notebooks, composition books, spirals, folders, etc... When you do, grab the entire container the items are sitting in. Think about it- it will be the perfect size for whatever you are buying because it was designed to hold that specific item. 

When you get it to your room, throw some contact paper around it to make it pretty. (This step is optional.) All Type A's will do it. Type B's will vow to do it "when things slow down"; but in reality the cardboard will break down to be recycled before a Type B actually puts the contact paper (sitting in a cabinet in its original shrink wrap) on the box. It's OK either way. The point is you have just fashioned yourself a free container to hold classroom supplies. 

And, the store won't care if you take the box. Trust me. It's one less item they will need to break down and put in their own recycling bin. Grab the container. The store (and your wallet) will thank you.

6. Cereal Boxes are Your Friend
As with the tip shared up above, cereal boxes work too! I use these as "book bins". I ask each student to bring in one LARGE cereal box. I cut angles into the box for the students to have easier access. 

I apologize to Type A's who cannot use this tip due to the various box heights, lengths, and widths that will come into the room and cause your left eye to twitch. However, I do offer an additional tip that may help you overcome the need for uniformity: wrap these boxes in contact paper as well. They may be different sizes, but at least they will all look the same from a distance.

A cereal box "book bin" trumps the black hole of a desk where nothing can be found with efficiency. It will keep the books better organized and reduces the abuse the books will encounter while swimming in the sea of papers, folders, eraser chunks, and pencil shavings that are found in student desks. Your classroom library and school librarian will thank you. 

7. Make Whisper Phones
These handy devices blew into the teacher world a bit ago and companies have been making oodles of money off of teachers who clamored to buy class sets of them to help their auditory learners better access information and text. 

Companies charge as much as $5.00/piece (outrageous!) to $16.00/dozen (not as bad but still a crazy profit) for these little plastic devices. I have a solution for those of you with big hearts and small wallets: you can EASILY make your own.

You will need:
4" of PVC pipe
(2) PVC elbows
Duct tape (optional for Type B's, required for Type A's)

I bought the PVC pipe in longer lengths and had hubby cut it down. If you do not have someone handy with a saw around to cut it, ask a friendly sales associate at the store to cut it up for you. If you are buying from Home Depot or Lowe's they are usually pretty good about that sort of thing. If they seem hesitant, play your teacher card. People love to help teachers; and by extension the students in their class. 

Once you have 4 inch pieces, place an elbow on each end. Voila! Type B's are done. Type A's, you will now cut duct tape to stick around the handles so that all phones match, cover up the factory markings, and look pretty. Type B's will live with the industrial markings until students' sweat wears it off of the handle.

For about $0.42/phone you have provided a valuable resource to your students. These are a very popular item in my class. The students love to use them and I love the added value of them being able to hear what the are reading while keeping the volume in the classroom to a minimal. Additionally, we use them during writing. Students who hear their writing are more likely to find the mistakes that need editing and revision. 

Make some Whisper Phones, your auditory (and other) students will thank you.

8. Level Your Classroom Library
Your classroom library will be one of the most used, often abused, sections of your classroom. Students will use it to scan dozens of books as they seek out their next great read. They will ponder: what should I read next, what level is this book, how many points is this worth? 

Save yourself hours and hours (and hours) of time and energy by labeling every book you own. Do it. I don't want to hear: "But Nancy, I have so many books I have no idea where to start!" "I can't possibly get it done, so I'll just let it go." "I've never labels my books before, why should I now?" Allow me to articulate why you need to do this.

Students who are using a "book level" system to choose their next novel can be navigated to the correct section for them. You will notice right away if a student is hunting and gathering in a level that is too hard for them. You can gently guide them into an area that will have an assortment of novels that won't put them over the edge when they attempt to independently read.

Students will become proficient at choosing the right level for themselves when they understand the process and the books have the levels already on the books. They (or you) won't need to waste time finding a level online to determine the level of the book. (Side note: my students become experts at locating book levels and it's a bit comical when the turn a school or public library book to find a level that isn't there!)

When a book has your name on it, you exponentially increase the odds of you getting it back. Most people are proficient at this part of labeling. But, I am throwing it out there to remind you to do it (even your professional books) and to invite you to take it one step further in putting the level and point value on there, too.

If you don't know where to start I'll give a starting point; begin with the new books you just bought. Once you open that box of little blessings, get your name, level, and point values on them before they even hit your shelves. This applies to guided reading group/literature circle books too. You never know where they may end up. 

It's not enough to label your books- label your shelves/bins too. It will not only help navigate students to the correct area, it helps students to know where to put the book back once they are done! 

This hack is of the utmost importance: label DIRECTLY ON THE PAGES. Not on the back of the book, not inside the cover. On the pages. Repeat after me: on the pages. When you label on the pages, it won't wear off (as it can on shiny materials), it can't be covered over with a sticker label (as it can with labeling on inside covers), it can't be removed (as can happen with a sticker label), and it is readily seen with a quick turn of the book.

In an effort to give you full disclosure, the book labeling bonanza did not happen in my room for years. It was completed a handful of years ago by a diligent parent volunteer that asked, "What job do you need done that hasn't been tackled yet?" So, if you're not quite sure what to do with a parent volunteer, give them this job! Your books will thank you.

9. Protective Sleeves and Packaging Tape are Almost as Good as Lamination
Do you lack access to a laminator? Did you make or print something that you want to use but can't stand the thought of little fingers smudging it up before you have time to get to the laminator? I would like to introduce you to Protective Sleeves and Packaging Tape.

You can use sleeves to protect and store any 8.5" x 11" inch piece of paper that you want to use before you have time to get to the laminator. In my case, the laminator is in a separate building and its use requires an appointment. So, my trips to laminator-land are few and far between. Happily, protective sleeves have been my go-to way to keep my resources clean and readily accessible to my students. Plus, I have the added benefit of being able to store them in a binder. I have enjoyed this process so much so that I have been able to let go of the need for laminating and embraced the easy storing capabilities that protective sleeves has offered. I have fit about 40 game sheets in a 1/2" binder.

For smaller items, get yourself a roll of packaging tape. This has been a great way to "laminate" small items (typically no bigger than an index card). When you trim it, your scissors will get a bit "gummy". But, it's worth it.

The time saved from protective sleeves and packaging tape is worth their weight in gold. You will save time from not needing to go to the laminator as well as the time on task of trimming and cutting the items that come out of the laminator. I do understand that lamination is one of the most satisfying things you do as an educator. The sense of permanence, of completion, of achievement! I get it- I do!! But try one of these alternatives- your schedule will thank you. (Type B's will be willing to try this immediately. Type A's will not attempt it until they are desperate.)

10. Paper Clip Chains
I teach in a state with some extensive fire codes which are continuously checked and reinforced by several different individuals. For those teachers that would like to hang information or student work from the ceiling (yet stay within the fire safety laws) I invite you to utilize paper clip chains.

In NYS, the code requires at least 24" between the ceiling and the "next combustible" material. Thus, using rope, string, ribbon and the like are a no-no. Fashion yourself a chain made from tiny metal fasteners (which can interlock with themselves) and you are now in compliance! 

Type A's will appreciate the aesthetic value these chains will bring (they blend nicely and match everything). Type B's will be grateful to have something up that is easy to interchange and will actually stay in place.

Make yourself some paper clip chains. The superintendent, principal, head custodian, night custodian, head of buildings and grounds, fire code inspector, and insurance inspector will thank you.

11. Make Some Name Lists
This was a hack I learned while serving as a practicum in a kindergarten. I have been using it ever since. Make a list of students in whichever order works for you. Some teachers prefer alphabetical by first name, other will opt for order by last name. You can fit 4-5 lists on a single page of paper. Then, take it to the copy room and make copies. If you are Type A, only make a few (because when your class list changes, you will throw out the current lists, go back into your computer, revise the order, and copy new lists). If you are Type B, make lots (because you will simply cross out and add to the list each time you use it or give it to another adult to use).

Name lists are a great way to help you organize who has brought in required forms, paid for items, completed certain tasks, etc...and I give them to volunteers so they know which students they have worked with (this is especially helpful when projects run over the course of more than one day). Make up some name lists! Your volunteers will thank you.

12. Create/Find a Reading Correlation Chart
This is a biggie. If you work in a district that watches/uses data on a regular and consistent basis, then this is a hack you can't live without. If you don't know where to find one go HERE. Once at this site, you can choose which reading levels/programs you want included in the chart. Then, print and save in a safe place. Type A's will have it laminated, spiral bound, and tabbed by the end of the hour, twice. In fact, they may even make a set for your whole team. Type B's...don't be Type B about this. Get it printed and at least stored in a folder that you usually know the location of.

For me, I have mine taped on the front of a folder I use to store grades, AIS data, and the like. It has been handy to have when working on report cards, while meeting with parents, or when sitting in CSE meetings. And it's even handier when I get a new student coming in from a district that uses different reading inventories. It's much faster to refer back to the chart than to look it up online.

Print and store a correlation chart. Your future self will thank you.

13. Keep Former Sticky Notes in Your Copy Folder
First, if you do not have a copy folder- get one. This is accomplished by finding a folder and writing your name on the front.

Second, once the school year gets rolling, you will develop a pattern of the kinds of copies you need to make (front-to-back, 25 copies, staple, etc...). Many teachers will place sticky notes on the copies that need specific instructions. Once you have made the copies, keep the stickies! Put them inside your folder and then the next time you need that kind of copy made, simply place the correct sticky to the correct copy. It will save time on re-writing "25 copies f-to-b" over and over again.

This is a great hack if you send your copies to a place in the building where someone else is making the copies for you. It also helps if you send your copies with a parent volunteer. If you make your own copies, this is still a great hack. However your copies are made, keep your sticky notes. 

Type A's will do this. Type B's will have enough of challenge locating their copy folder (if they ever make one). Don't worry Type B's, I love you all just the same. No judgement, just love. But if you can manage this, your planning time will thank you.

I hope this Baker's Dozen of Hacks is helpful to you as you set up your classroom. Thank you to the Type A's for your diligence with careful reading and note-taking and thank you to the Type B's who actually made it this far down the blog.


Have an AMAZING year!