October is almost here!  I love the fall and the things that come with it - even parent teacher conferences. Yes, I love parent conferences because I finally have a system that works for me.  It has taken a lot of time and energy to figure out the best way to organize, plan, and run effective parent conferences. Read on if you'd like to hear my tips!
Conference Sign Ups
Organizing the conference sign ups was my least favorite part of the process UNTIL I was introduced to my new best friend: Sign Up Genius.  Sign Up Genius is a game changer!
Is it just me or did the summer fly by?  It's crazy how fast it went, but I am EXCITED, too. There is something awesome about starting a new school year.  There are so many possibilities! Designing a new classroom set-up and/or decor, creating new activities to try, and having a new group of children waiting to learn are just a few of my favorite things about the beginning of a year.

The flip side to a new school year is the stress that is lurking under the surface.  There is A LOT to do and the first few days of school can be difficult to plan.  So, I am going to share my list of First Day Faves.  This list includes all of the activities that I think are critical for a smooth start to a new school year.

Math is a subject that teachers (and students) either LOVE or DESPISE. I love, love, love teaching math! Here are 3 tips to start your math year off on the right foot.

1.  Routines & Organization
Everybody knows that routines are important. There are routines for everything at school. Setting up math routines at the beginning of the year is one way to make planning instruction easy and enjoyable. 

I use the workshop model with four stations to teach math. So, I spend the first few days explicitly teaching the model. I start by introducing the concept of Math Workshop. 
This shows two pages from my lesson.

Routines for organizing and putting away materials, group work, independent work, station transitions, and turning in work are all modeled and discussed. I introduce one station at a time and we practice that station as a whole class.
Routines are created together. I add them as we talk in class.
Once they really know the expectations and routines we launch into a full fledged lesson. It seems like a lot, but it is worth the time and effort it takes. 

In my classroom I have a dedicated space for math materials. Group baskets hold math curriculum materials, group folders house differentiated directions for each group, and baskets (or bins) hold math manipulatives. This helps students to find things they need to be successful. 

My group table is stocked with everything I might need to teach a lesson. Chart paper, white boards, markers, tape, glue sticks, extra pencils, and anything else you could imagine is within reach. It keeps me focused and ready to tackle the teaching.
My desk/small group table. I wish I took the picture with my colorful stools!

2. Share Student Work 
Sharing work in key in my class. I want my students to learn how to look at a work sample and discuss the positive and negative aspects of what they are seeing. I start off slowly by generating a list of discussion starters. This is helpful for students that are not sure what to say. (I will update this post later with a picture of my list.)

I will choose a piece of work, remove the name, and share it using a document camera. (Before I had a a document camera I would scan it and display on my interactive board.) Students use the discussion starters and we talk about the work. 

This is powerful because students learn that there is value in every piece of work even if the answer is WRONG. In fact, wrong answers are more powerful because students see the positive comments about the strategy used rather than the incorrect answer. 

3. Spiral Review of Concepts
Math is usually taught in one of two ways: by unit or with a spiral review. In the unit approach decimal place value may be covered in September and then never talked about again. Teaching with a spiral approach means that you continually revisit concepts to make sure that students are keeping the skills we teach them. 
Good teachers work hard to make sure that students understand the concepts that are covered in class. Unfortunately, many of our students will "forget" the skills without continued practice. When I started teaching 20+ years ago I used to take a piece of paper and fold it into 6 boxes. I would put a different problem in each of the boxes. I chose problems strategically to make sure that my students were practicing math in the current unit, math that had already been taught, and upcoming concepts. I used this information to determine if my students were holding on to the concepts I had taught. I loved it!

Curriculum and standards have changed a lot in the last 20 years. My 6 problem spiral review has, too. Last year I decided that there had to be an easier way to look at this work. Wait for it. There is! I played around with the idea in my classroom and loved the data that I was collecting. So, I spent my summer creating a full year digital version that is self-grading. Yes, you read that correctly, self-grading. Click here if you are interested in checking it out.





I wrote about my true feelings for homework in a previous post.  I have spent a lot of time thinking and planning for my approach this year. In my opinion there are 3 things that upper elementary students should be doing for homework.



Yes, you read that correctly.  I don't like homework.  I am a teacher and I DO NOT LIKE HOMEWORK!  Surprised?  Maybe you are or maybe you are not.  If you are like any other teacher or parent on the planet you have probably seen the great homework debate playing out.  It has been all over social media, the news, and in various forms of print.  Many people think that this is a new issue.  It isn't.  The debate has been going on for years!



Back to school is slowly sneaking up on unsuspecting teachers. Wouldn't it be AWESOME if you had a list of teacher tested read aloud books? Well, consider this my gift to you! I asked some teacher blogger friends to share their favorite books to read aloud at the start of school. Check out the list to see the books we love. 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is my favorite book to read at the start of the school year. There are so many things to discuss in this book. Themes of character, acceptance, friendship, and trust all lend themselves to building your classroom community. If you haven't read this book yet, you should! But, make sure you have a box of tissues close by. 
Grades 4 - 8 (Although I think ALL kids would benefit from it.)

Kristin, from Samson's Shoppe, loves A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. 
"This book is based on a true story of a young boy named Salva Dut who gets separated from his family during a civil war in the Sudan. Salva perseveres despite his situation to learn to read or write and make it all the way to Rochester, NY. He is later reunited with some family members and uses his resources to raise money to bring water to neighboring tribes. Students fall in love with this story. They are in awe of how different life is in other countries that do not have electricity, let alone running water, as well as the determination Salva had to survive despite the difficult circumstances. It is a remarkable story that lends itself to many classroom discussions and lessons."
Grades 5 - 7
Marypat, from Just Add Students, recommends The Get Rich Quick Club by Dan Gutman.  
"This book is so much fun to read out loud! The chapters are short (great for a time to "settle" before class). Chapters end with cliff hangers (kids beg for more reading). It has a wide variety of characters, so if you can, use different voices (you'll get to practice your Australian accent!). And best of all, it's funny! My students (even hard-boiled middle schoolers) love this little novel. A great way to model reading with expression. Just a fun, fun little read!"
Grades 4 - 7 
Kirsten, from Learning with Mrs. Kirk, recommends The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown.
"It is a very simple book with a powerful message about being yourself. It also is a good lead in to getting students to share important things about themselves."
Grades 1 - 5
Julie, from The Best Days, loves this book by Chris Van Allsburg.
"I read this book at the end of my author study on Chris VanAllsburg. I read this at the end because our focus of study is inference. This text is very different looking and is a mystery. What the students don't discover until the end is shocking -OR their inferencing allows them to dig to the bottom of the mystery presented to them as readers and they MUST hold the secret till the end. I do NO talking during this text specifically to wait for the gasp that happens when they discover that the town of Riverbend has been a coloring book all along! It is extremely well written and the pictures are plain and progress to strange, but in the end, it totally explains why the pictures were so strange all along! There always is a second viewing of this book, simply because the kids want to see the pictures again once they know it was a coloring book!"
Grade 3

Renee, from Science School Yard, loves this book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich.
"Teachers struggle finding ways to incorporate science into their school day. Picture books are the perfect solution to springboard any science topic. Starting off the year with this book is a perfect start!"
Grades K - 2
Michele, from Michele Luck's Social Studies, recommends The Lorax by Dr. Seuss.
"I used The Lorax every year to start off my Geography Review unit for my middle and high school History classes. It always got my students' attention and taught them the 5 Themes of Geography, but also taught them a valuable lesson about the importance of caring for our environment."
Grades 6 - 12

Jennifer, from Cookies, Coffee, and Crafts, likes this popular book.
"Pete the Cat is a familiar character and it teaches different areas of the school building and what they are used for. It also shares what students do in the lunchroom, playground, library and the classroom. Plus like all Pete the Cat books it has a repetitive pattern which children love."
Grade K

Samantha, from Secondary Urban Legends, is a fan of this book by Gordon Korman.
"Use it for growth mindset. It is easily relatable to students who have struggled in school and have "owned" it in the form of a nickname."

Wendy, from First Grade Fireworks, likes Wodney Wat.
She says, "It teaches kids about antibullying." Who wouldn't want kids to learn about that?
Grade 1

Rachel, from Fifth is my Jam, LOVES Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.
"I have been obsessed with this novel since 6th grade. Gary Paulsen is an amazing author and really brings the character to life! I love the mystery and thrill in this survival story! My students are obsessed with it and always want to go back for more!!"
Grade 5 - 6


Leigh, from The Applicious Teacher, suggests First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg.
"I love this book and read it year after year! It's a great way to connect with students about their feelings when starting school. I also love the twist at the end. Most students are so surprised by the fact that the girl in the story is actually the teacher. This book allows for so much conversation about the use of illustrations, inferencing, and feelings. The connections students are able to make to the book make it a perfect lead in for close reading as well!"


Wow! This list of books makes me excited to start thinking about school again. I love introducing my students to books that they have not read. I hope you enjoyed this list. If you sign up for my newsletter you will receive a freebie that can be used with just about any book! If you like the freebie you can check out some other resources here.

What is your favorite book to read aloud?

Math Workshop a.k.a. guided math is an amazing way to approach math instruction.  Organizing it on the other hand can be a challenge. 


1.  Create Groups with a Purpose
In order to best meet the needs of all learners students should be grouped purposefully.  The best way to do that is to figure out what your students already know.  Give a pre-test at the start of each unit and form groups based on the data.  Following up with a post test at the end of the unit will clearly show how much each student learned.

2.  Organize Materials in the Classroom
A clear defined space for math materials makes organizing a breeze.  I organize math work by group.  Each group has a plastic basket.  Math books,  interactive notebooks, and group folders are kept inside.


Keeping math manipulatives together is another way to help organize for Math Workshop.  When materials are kept together students can easily find what they need to be successful at each station.

3.  Plan Ahead 
A clear plan helps Math Workshop run smoothly.  Differentiated lessons that are targeted to each group help to keep students engaged throughout each station.  I use a folder system to keep each group on track.  Work for each group is placed inside the folder along with a set of directions for the group to follow at each station.  Folders are prepped each afternoon before I leave the classroom. Here is an example of the direction sheet that I use.  The direction sheets follow the order of the math stations the group follows.  If you are interested you can check it out here.

I also use my interactive white board to show the order of the Math Workshop Rotations. This is helpful if there are other teachers, teacher assistants, or administrators coming and going throughout your math class. You can find it here.


Check back soon to read more about how I use Math Workshop in my classroom.  How do you organize for your math class?


I started hearing about Boom last summer, but I wasn't really sure what it was. It sat on my to investigate list for quite a while. I am SO glad that I finally checked it out and I think you will be, too.

Do you use task cards in your classroom? If you answered YES, then you should give Boom a try because it is basically a task card's trendier cousin aka a digital task card. Boom decks can be used on interactive whiteboards, computers, and tablets that have modern browsers (released within the last three years).

There are three things that I LOVE about Boom.
  1. It is a paperless resource! 
  2. They are self-checking. Yes, self-checking! Instant feedback for the student as they are working through the cards has been a game changer in my classroom. Click on the image for a preview of a Boom Card deck.
    3. You can access data. In this day and age of data collection that we are teaching in, 
        gathering data quickly is important. Boom Cards can help with that.


Another thing that is AWESOME about Boom Cards is that you can get them right on Teachers Pay Teachers. It is okay if you don't have a Boom account. When you redeem a Boom Card deck purchase from TpT, Boom Learning will open an account for you. For TpT customers that are new to Boom Cards, Boom Learning will give you, for one year, a free account that lets you track student progress for up to 80 students. At the end of the year you can choose to renew or not. If you choose not to renew you can still use your Boom Cards in Fast Play mode, but Fast Play does not track data.

Here are some Boom Card sets you might be interested in:

I am relatively new to Boom Cards, but they have become integral to my classroom. I have purchased and created many Boom Card decks. In full disclosure, Boom Learning will be giving me a membership for one year for sharing my thoughts with you about Boom Cards. But, even if they weren't I would still sing their praises. 

Have you used Boom Cards in your classroom? I would love to know what you think. Comment below.

The end of the school year triggers mixed emotions in many teachers. Some are excited that the light is at the end of the tunnel. Others panic because there is still a lot TO DO.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, having some fun and engaging activities on hand to end the year is a must. So, I am excited to share 3 of my favorite year-end activities with you.
Stem Activities
I love to use STEM or STEAM activities in my classroom at any time of the year, but as the school year winds down I like it even BETTER. There is something about working in a group to solve a challenge that keeps students engaged. The only thing better would be going outside to complete a challenge. 

This challenge required students to create a catapult that would launch a ping pong ball high enough to hit it with a cardboard "bat". They had a blast going outside to test!
Can you find the ping pong ball?
I am always amazed at the different designs that the students come up with to solve the problem!
Book Review
So, I am all about time savers. I love completing an activity that will have some staying power. At the end of the year I have students write a book review for the best book they read during the year. Then I create a bulletin board to showcase the books. On the last day of school I cover the bulletin board with paper to keep it fresh for the first day of school. My new students have a ready to go resource for book recommendations.  

Don't worry - my students complete this assignment digitally, so they still have a copy. You can find the resource here.
Memory Book
A memory book is another great activity for the end of the year. I start off by having the students brainstorm events from the year. We list school events, field trips, class moments, and anything that was memorable. 

I love this project because it sparks conversation and laughter as each student decides what they want to include. The memory books we use are created on the computer. Printing is optional. 
There is a printer friendly (black and white) version, too. Check it out here.

I hope the rest of your year is AMAZING! For more end of year tips and tricks you can check out this blog post.
What is your favorite activity for the end of the school year?
Leave a comment and let me know.
The season of standardized testing is just around the corner.  It can be a VERY stressful time for both teachers and students.  Over the years I have tried a zillion different things to help students relax and get through the tests. I was inspired to ask my students what had REALLY helped them to relax and do their best.  Without further ado I give you 7 Ways to Make Standardized Testing Less Stressful:

Teaching students to write a written response about their reading is very important.  It can also be a CHALLENGE.  Am I right?  Some of the challenges I have encountered include:

  • responses that doesn't answer the question being asked
  • responses that answer only part of a question
  • responses with an answer, but no text evidence to support it

This used to drive me crazy, but not anymore!  I implemented the RACES strategy with my students this year and it has made a HUGE difference.
text evidence

Variations of this strategy (RACE, ACE, RACER, etc.) have been around forever. I like RACES the best. It is a really easy way to organize written responses. The acronym RACES stands for the five parts needed to write the answer.
Restate the Question

This is an important part of the process. Students need to understand what they are being asked before they can write an answer. Many questions that students will be asked to answer are not even questions. For that reason, I teach my students to analyze the question. Analyzing the question includes three steps: read the question or prompt, underline the key words, and restate the question as a statement. Here's an example:
Describe how the main character was feeling at the end of the chapter
Use important details from the text to support your answer.

R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...

Answer the question
Next, students answer the question. If there is more than one part to the question students will need to answer ALL parts of the question. Example:
R - At the end of the chapter, the main character was feeling...
A - The main character was feeling excited.
The answers to the first two steps leads to the topic sentence for the written response.  Easy peasy!
At the end of the chapter the main character was feeling excited.

Cite Evidence
Using evidence from the text to support thinking is so important.  The evidence offers proof to show how they answered the question. I ask my students to cite at least two pieces of evidence unless the question asks for something more specific. Sentence starters can be helpful.  Here are some examples:
According to the text...
The author stated...

Explain and elaborate text evidence
This is where students put it all together by explaining how the evidence supports their thinking. I encourage my students to elaborate or stretch out their writing here, too.  Sentence starters are helpful for this part.  Here's a few examples: 
This makes me think...
This explains...

Summarize thinking in a written response.
I teach my students to end a written response with a concluding sentence.  An easy way to do this is to refer to the topic sentence and reword it to conclude the answer.  Here is an example:
All in all the character was very excited at the end of the chapter.

I introduce RACES at the start of the school year and usually review the strategy in the spring for test-taking purposes. (They create their own RACES organizer when we practice for this purpose.)  We are reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio and the book offers many different topics to discuss.  To review RACES I posed the following question:
Why did Miranda pretend to be sick on opening night?

My students did a fantastic job!  Here are some work samples:

I created some resources that I would LOVE to share with you.  Click here to try out a 3-page freebie. The freebie includes two pages that can be used to introduce the strategy to students. The pages can fit into writing notebooks or folders.  
If you like the freebie you might want to check out my paid resource, too!  You can find that resource here.   

I love, love, LOVE the RACES strategy.  What strategies do you use in your classroom?

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