“Reggie the Rhyming Raccoon is my name.
Learning to rhyme is my game!
When words rhyme, they have the same ending sound–
You can hear this in the words ground and found.
I’ll teach you to hear and find the rhyme.
With my help, you’ll rhyme on your own in no time!”
Like many other educators, I’ve been missing my students greatly and have been trying to wrap my head around providing quality specialized intervention instruction during distance learning and remote instruction.
Most of my students have goals in the area of reading fluency. During the school year we used a variety of strategies to increase their fluency. One of our most effective strategies was Repeated Reading. In the Repeated Reading strategy, students read the same short passage of text several times, improving with each time they read. Repeated Reading has been shown to improve decoding automaticity, phrasing, comprehension, rate and confidence.
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Planning back to school lessons is similar to cooking a gourmet meal—you need several elaborate ingredients, thorough instructions, specific materials and a great deal of time. Despite my best intentions, my back to school lessons, much like my gourmet meals, always seem to fall short of my expectations.
After 11 years of teaching, I finally cooked up the perfect recipe in The Best of Back to School Lessons and Activities. It’s a well-balanced combination of community building activities, procedures practice, behavior basics, assessment time along with a heaping dose of fun. This unit includes:
–Comprehensive first week lesson plans
–50+ interactive, engaging activities with objectives & detailed instructions
–Homework ideas with accompanying parent instructions
–Daily math lessons
–Quality Back to School literature
–Cooking and art projects
–Photos of completed projects
Get cooking with our Gourmet Week at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Best-of-Back-to-School-Lesson-Plans-Activities-735456
**Visit our Astute Hoot TPT store for more great deals!
As veteran teachers, we know that Back to School often means countless meetings, endless hours of preparation and a great deal of stress. Combat the chaos of the classroom with these quick, easy, low cost tips!
Are you exhausted? Are you suffocating under a mountain of IEP paperwork? Have you fantasized about applying for a job at the mall? Are you already dreaming about your next beach vacation? Do you wish you had more time for self-care? Do your weekends consist solely of of Netflix and grading?
As educators, we’ve experienced these same thoughts and more. It was only through the creation of these 4 life-changing intervention resources, that we’ve been able to find balance, have free time, and renewed joy in our careers.
Let us help you avoid the special educator burn out. Download these ready-to-use resources to reach your ultimate teacher fantasy of work life balance. Having less planning, less stress, more free time, and increased effectiveness can be all yours with a simple click…
Special Education Ultimate Survival Kit
“The Special Education Survival Kit is amazing! I feel so organized and ready for the year thanks to this! After going through this, I feel like I have a rock solid foundation for the year in several areas. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
–Melissa, special educator
Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle
“I cannot say enough about how wonderful the Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle has been in planning and instructing literacy. The students absolutely love the animals, they are so motivational! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!”
–Sam, reading interventionist
Phonics Intervention Bundle: Multisyllabic Words
“The Phonics Intervention Bundle is a WONDERFUL product! I’ve been looking for a strong product that uses multisyllabic words to teach the different syllable types. I’ve used this unit to patch some curriculum holes and round out our intervention materials for this skill. LOVE!”
–Jennifer, second grade teacher
Special Education Time-on-Task Observation Chart
“The Time-on-Task Observation Chart is so useful to track data. Saved me a ton of time! Assisted me with reporting focused talking points for parents.”
–Carly, special educator
NEWLY REVISED ULTIMATE SPECIAL EDUCATION SURVIVAL KIT!
Today I had a rare moment: some peace and quiet at home and an opportunity to sit down and read a book. As I was diving into Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg I read about the “imposter syndrome”- the phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt. It perfectly described how I felt as a special education teacher during my first few years in the classroom. Even though I graduated with honors, received exemplary reviews from my principal, and made significant academic and behavioral gains with my students, I still sometimes felt as if I was a fraud and didn’t belong the classroom. Eventually those feelings faded as I continued my education and experience, but I wished that I had some resources at the beginning of my career that would have helped me feel more confident and be more effective in my role. Although sometimes I felt as if I was using trial and error to best reach my students, I know that that I always gave them 110% and feel so blessed to have been a part of their lives.
When I was working with pre-service and first year teachers, I wanted to impart my knowledge and experience to not only them, but to all teachers working with students with special needs. After 19 years of teaching special education, I’ve gathered my top resources and bundled them together for the “Ultimate Special Education Survival Kit.” Now, that I’m back in the classroom, I recently revised and updated several resources and forms to be even more effective. The following resources are in a zip file, with a total of 165+ pages, including a ton of new FULLY EDITABLE resources for easy customization:
-Beginning of the Year Checklist for Special Education
-Beginning of the Year Welcome Letter from Special Education Teacher
-Co-Teaching Weekly Collaboration Agenda
-IEP at a Glance
-IEP Goal Bank
-IEP Goal Tracking for Small Groups
-IEP Progress Monitoring Calendar
-IEP Goal Tracking for Caseload
-General Academic Interventions
-Lesson Plan Differentiation Checklist
-Lesson Plan for Specialized Instruction
-Paraprofessional Roles and Responsibilities
-Parent Input Form
-Progress Monitoring Data Trackers
-Special Education Caseload Organizer
-Special Education Due Date Tracker
-Special Education Master Schedule
-Teacher Input Form
-Time on Task Observation
-Reading Foundational Skills Rubric
-Reading Comprehension: Literature Rubric
-Reaching Comprehension: Informational Rubric
-Narrative Writing Rubric
-Expository Writing Rubric
-Written Response to Text Rubric
-Math Problem Rubric
Work smarter not harder! Don’t be stressed out…LOVE your special education career with these ready-to-use tools, assessments, and templates that will make your life so much easier.
*Reposted and updated from original post in 2013*
Do you struggle with helping students process their behaviors and learn to make better choices? Are your time-outs ineffective? Are your students repeating the same negative behaviors? Having strategies for effective behavior reflection is critical to creating a positive learning environment (and staying sane).
- Choose the appropriate behavior reflection form based on your students’ levels (reading, developmental, age, etc.)
- Present this tool to the student in a 1:1 setting after their behavior has deescalated and they are ready to reflect
- Provide supports in completion (e.g., teacher prompting, student can dictate to adult)
- Select, model and practice appropriate replacement behaviors for the future
- Guide student to write an apology letter to help them realize how their behavior affects others
- Copy and send home for parental signature; save original in student file for behavior documentation and data collection
- Use for every minor behavior infraction; instead focus on target behavior(s) and/or moderate to severe issues
- Present and discuss in front of whole class
- Forget to review and discuss the behavior reflection and appropriate replacement behaviors with student
- Overlook positive behaviors and attempts to make better choices
Two versions of the Think Sheet are included, as well as a template for an apology letter.
As a resource teacher, I use specialized instruction in my intervention groups to help my students meet their IEP goals as well as make progress towards grade level standards. While implementing the district prescribed intervention curriculum, Wilson Reading System, I discovered a few key things about the way students learn:
1.Systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction is essential in helping students with learning disabilities master the alphabetic code-breaking skills needed for foundational reading proficiency.
2.Students need a thorough understanding of a range of effective strategies, as well as knowing when and why to apply them within a variety of texts (e.g., controlled decodable text, authentic literature, meaningful non-fiction texts).
3.Motivation and engagement during reading instruction is a critical ingredient to student success.
Integrating all 3 components can be a challenge at times, but I’ve found great success with supplementing Wilson with our Astute Hoot reading strategy animals. Not only do my students consistently meet their IEP goals and make significant progress on district reading assessments, they LOVE coming to reading intervention and they are engaged throughout the entire lesson! (Let’s face it…sometimes direct instruction phonics programs can get boring for students and teachers).
Our strategy animals and accompanying resources have also been used to supplement and enhance other reading programs such as Fundations, Harcourt, Journeys, Spalding, Sonday and Reading A-Z. In addition, they are perfect for book studies and units using authentic literature and expository text. Each lesson incorporates the following; Hands-on tools to make the strategies concrete and memorable; Animal strategy friends to motivate and engage students; A variety of texts to promote transfer and application of skills.
Here’s how I teach reading in my K-4 resource room:
- At the start of the year, I introduce the reading strategy animals to the students by reading Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals and showing students our introductory video below to get them excited. Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, is a struggling learner as she lacks the strategies needed to help her succeed. In our charming book, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.
- I break down the 10 step Wilson Lesson by practicing the procedures and routines for one block at a time per session. I use the reading strategy animals to help teach each part. Once students students understand the routine for each block, we combine multiple blocks in our lessons.
- Authentic text is selected to incorporate into our weekly lessons to provide students the opportunity to apply their strategies in meaningful and relevant ways. Currently, I’m using a variety of books from National Geographic Kids to boost their skills in reading informational text.
Check out our reading strategy animals in action!
I laminated our Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk graphic organizers and use them as part of Warm-Up Work at the start of each session. I just post 3 words on the board and students segment (one-syllable words) or syllabicate (multi-syllable words) and mark them as appropriate. I love that this is pretty much NO PREP and it is a perfect time to review concepts with which students struggled in the previous lesson or preview concepts for the upcoming lesson.
Students love using Paco the Pointing Porcupine for Quick Drill and Quick Drill in Reverse to name letters and sounds! The hands-on tools keeps them focused and on task. Paco also helps students with keeping their place during wordlist reading in the Wilson Student Readers.
Using the Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Slates on the magnet letter boards provides a great visual support to help students with segmenting and syllabication. They always want to make Sally and Charlie proud of their awesome reading skills!
Ramona the Re-Reading Raccoon keeps students motivated when reading students to build fluency and accuracy.
Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel is a student favorite! Students use her “Tell the Tale” tool to touch each story element when we retell the story verbally. A non-fiction version which includes main idea and details is also available.
Vern the Visualizing Vulture helps students master key vocabulary words by prompting students to visualize the meaning of the word and drawing a picture of of their visualizations.
Lastly, I posted the strategy posters and “I Can” statements on a bulletin board for easy reference for students. Our “I Can” statements are aligned to IEP goals and state standards, as well as to a specific reading strategy.
Read more about our strategy animals here! Astute Hoot’s unique cast of strategy animals make learning safe and fun while teaching critical strategies in a child-friendly way. Students make an immediate connection to the animals and relate to Hazel’s struggles. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant readers. Our books, posters and hands-on tools are available for purchase here via digital download including printable do-it-yourself options of our tools. Ready made tools and posters are available as intervention kits here.
I’d love to hear how you make phonics fun and engaging! Check out some other special education blogs here:
I’m so excited to be back in the classroom this year! After 14 years as a special education resource teacher, I changed gears to work in the capacity of an Instructional Coach and Special Education Coordinator in high needs schools. Although this work over the past 4 years has been rewarding, I’ve missed the direct, daily contact with students.
After I accepted my new position as a K-3 Special Education Resource Teacher, I quickly got to work in planning out my new classroom. I considered student need, layout, materials, and decor to prepare my room. I’m thrilled to share these 3 essential components of my new classroom with you!
1. Strategy-Based Bulletin Boards and Learning Centers: I set up strategy-based bulletin boards that are being used to support and enhance district curriculum. My students are already in love with all of the strategy animals! Our strategies provide excellent interventions to use with any curriculum as they strengthen HOW students learn, and do not necessarily change WHAT students learn. Here are some specific examples of how I incorporate our strategy animals into the curriculum.
Using the Wilson Language System, I incorporate our Sally Sounding-Out Slates or Charlie Syllable Slates to provide additional visual cues and practice to spell and decode words in isolation. These can also be used to focus on specific words in connected text to practice sounding out the phonograms. It not only makes learning fun, but it also helps struggling students who need additional support. This intervention uses the same content and Wilson instructional method, but provides a different format for practice and student response. Using the Slates and accompanying graphic organizers also provides a structured space for written dictation. Using our reading strategy animals along with a systematic, researched-based curriculum such as Wilson enhances motivation and investment, which is incredibly important for reluctant readers.
Our math strategy animals fit in perfectly with the district curriculum. Students are expected to solve 2 or more word problems as part of the daily lessons. I introduce each of the Problem-Solving Pond strategy animals systematically as they correlate to the standards and concepts. As students become proficient with one strategy, I introduce another. After all strategies are introduced, students learn how to pick the most efficient strategy for the problem. Upton the Understanding Fish is used daily to help students complete the seven problem solving steps, explain thinking and justify solutions. Just as with Wilson, using these strategies does not alter or modify the curriculum in any way, it just enhances it and presents it in a way which students can grasp it more easily by making the concepts more concrete. Student connect with the strategy animals and are motivated to use various strategies to solve the problems. It also relieves math anxiety and builds independence by providing a toolbox of “animal friends” students can use to solve problems.
There are 5 animal strategy characters which teach the writing process stages and 5 animals who focus on mechanics and conventions. Writing can be especially difficult for students with special needs. The strategy animals help eliminate writers’ block and encourage students to persist with writing stamina. Because each animal has a specific job, it forces students to pay greater attention to each critical part of the writing process.
2. Reading Corner: I set up an inviting and comfortable reading corner which has books organized by level and topic. My students love the Beanie Babies sitting on the bookcase. They get to each pick one to read to on Fun Fridays to build fluency. My favorite part of this area is the multi-sensory syllabication charts featuring Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk. I attached pipe cleaners to the charts so students can practice chunking words into syllables.
3. Sensory Support: Knowing that many of my new students would need support with sensory issues, I prepared various options for them. I have flexible seating arrangements using wiggle cushions, exercise balls, and lap desks. Also, I put together a sensory basket containing Play-Doh, squeeze balls, Legos, Unifix cubes and a timer for 2 of my students. Lastly, I signed up for a Go Noodle account and we use this for brain breaks.
The first few weeks of school have been amazing! I’m so glad I followed my heart and returned back to the classroom. Helping students with special needs truly is my calling. I hope you enjoyed taking a peek into my new resource room. I’d love to hear about how you set up your resource room too! Please comment below.
See our strategy animals in action in this short video!
As veteran teachers, we know that the beginning of year often means countless meetings, endless hours of preparation and a great deal of stress. We are here to help! Our tried-and-true Back to School resources are guaranteed to help you work smarter, not harder. Plus, they’re all ON SALE! Visit our TeachersPayTeachers store and use code BTS2017 for 25% off the entire store! Check out a few of our top-rated, best-sellers below:
Best of Back to School Lesson Plans & Activities: This unit focuses on establishing procedures, explaining expectations and building classroom community while creating an organized, efficient schedule with minimal preparation. Our comprehensive first week lesson plans include 50+ interactive, engaging activities with objectives & detailed instructions, homework ideas, daily math lessons and art projects.
Golden Keys to Success Classroom Management Plan: Golden Keys to Success is an efficient behavior management program that builds character, promotes self-monitoring and ensures high behavioral expectations. This program has made a huge difference in my students’ behavior because it teaches them to be responsible for daily choices. Golden Keys to Success focuses on 5 important life skills and qualities that students need to become successful citizens. This 90 page unit includes 21 detailed lessons with essential questions and quality literature, 34 engaging activities and projects, a Weekly Responsibility Chart (for students) and a parent brochure with overview of program, consequences and helpful parent tips.
Math Intervention: Problem Solving Essentials Bundle: Our Math Intervention Problem Solving Essentials Bundle provides an entire year’s worth of Common Core aligned, differentiated problem-solving activities to give students the strategies they need to solve word problems. Perfect for general education, special education, RTI and math intervention! Can be used with students in grades Kindergarten, first, second and third. This 200 page file has all of the lessons, activities, worksheets, printables you need for comprehensive problem-solving instruction during math intervention, special education and general education. This is a perfect math intervention supplement to any existing curriculum or can be used as a stand alone resource.
Writing Intervention Tools for RTI and Special Education: Do you have students who are struggling to write and get their ideas down on paper? These special education writing resources will help even the most reluctant writers experience success and increase their independence with the writing process. This is a great writing intervention tool for special education classrooms, ELL, RTI and/or for differentiation within the general education classroom. Resources can be used for various writing topics and assignments.
This unit systematically guides students through the writing process and teaches critical strategies in a child-friendly way. In our charming book, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling writer, who takes a vacation to the desert to visit Grandma Hoot. Grandma suggests that Hazel take a hike for writing inspiration and along the way she meets 10 animals; 5 that teach the writing process and 5 that teach writing mechanics.
Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle: Looking for a complete reading K-3 reading intervention kit that includes fluency, comprehension, sight words, and phonics activities? Need engaging and motivating reading supplemental products to enhance your existing curriculum? With over 25 years combined experience in special education, general education, and reading intervention, we have bundled our top reading products to create a 515 page “Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle” for only $25. Purchased separately, these items would cost over $65. These activities, lessons, graphic organizers, posters, assessments, and printables have been proven to make significant reading gains in not only our classrooms, but classrooms across the country. These are a great supplement to any general ed or special ed curriculum. This Reading Intervention Bundle contains more than a whole YEAR’s worth of phonics instruction with 15 individual units.
We hope that these products reduce that dreaded back to school stress and make your life easier. Happy New Year!
Welcome to my second grade classroom, my home away from home. Each year, I refine my classroom with special finds from Target and Hobby Lobby (my favorite!) to make it comfortable and inviting. I love to think outside of the box, using plastic table cloths for curtains and bath mats for classroom rugs. My goal is to make the room a safe, creative space that promotes engagement and exploration.
As a traditional academy teacher, I use Spalding spelling, HMH Journeys reading, and Saxon math to teach highly-performing students at an accelerated pace. I use the district-prescribed curricula along with our reading and math strategy animals to help students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate Hazel’s Reading Roost and Problem-Solving Pond along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance required curricula in this blog series.
Hazel’s Reading Roost
In our charming book, Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Friends, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.
Each day students attend Hazel’s Reading Roost, my guided reading group, as one of their four reading rotations. During guided reading time, I use the woodland animals to teach specific strategies and concepts through the context of authentic literature.
I use our animal puppets and reference our Decoding and Comprehension Banners throughout the lessons. Students use our accompanying graphic organizers and our hands-on tools to practice and reinforce the strategies.
To replicate the magical tree, I purchased an inexpensive faux tree from Goodwill and gave it a dusting of gold glitter spray paint. I glued glitter foam leaves to give it an enchanted gleam and used Velcro to attach the animals. This allows for easy removal during reading group time. Read more about creating a Reading Roost here.
During guided reading group time, students sit in a circle on our Astute Hoot’s Numbers and Letters Rug. I post a specific learning goal for each group and reference it throughout the lesson using our Learning Scale Banner. Students enjoy monitoring and reflecting upon their thinking and learning. They understand that honest ratings help me as a teacher because I can see what they understand and areas in which they need more help.
Read tomorrow’s blog to see my Problem-Solving Pond and accompanying math tools.
Just the mention of Meet the Teacher or Curriculum Night makes most teachers break out into a cold sweat. Why is this? We speak in front of people all day, every day, but the difference is their age. Children will still love us if we make a mistake, get nervous or act silly (they especially love when this happens). Adults by nature are more judgmental and harder to win over. Stop the dread and take back control with these 5 easy steps.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare: Plan your handouts and student activities at least 2 days before the big event. Don’t wait until last minute–that’s when the copier breaks or the computer runs out of ink. On each student desk, I place a student information card along with a Welcome to 2nd Grade form that outlines everything students will need on first day of school. Before I start my presentation, I have parents complete the card and read the Welcome to 2nd Grade form as we wait for everyone to get to the classroom. Many schools now combine Meet the Teacher and Curriculum Night and this can be so overwhelming to all parties involved. Parents are often in and out of your classroom during Meet the Teacher, making it difficult to listen to a full curriculum presentation. At Meet the Teacher, I explain that on the first day of school, I will send home a comprehensive Welcome to Second Grade folder. In one pocket of the folder, I include all of my policies and procedures. This includes an introduction, Meet Mrs. Murphy, curriculum overview, grading procedures, specials and classroom schedule, and much more. Parents read these and keep at home as a reference throughout the year. In the other pocket of the folder, I include all the paperwork that needs to be signed and returned. This includes office paperwork, volunteer form, and the classroom directory. Parents return the signed paperwork by Friday. I show them an example as I explain the folder so they know what to look for on Monday.
Not sure what to say at Meet the Teacher and Curriculum Night? Download our Welcome Back to School Parent Packet for several important customizable letters and forms. Use the coupon code hoot50 for 50% off all of our digital files!
2. Post directions & agenda for the night: Write specific directions for parents to read as they come into the classroom. Make sure they know they must fill out transportation form, room parent slip and student information card. Plus it gives them something to do (other than staring at you) while waiting for the presentation to start. Many parents must attend more than one Meet the Teacher on the same night. Help these parents by posting an agenda (with times) for the night so they can determine the best time to quietly exit and go to next session.
This year, I placed 4 owl rugs around the classroom at the 4 centers I wanted parents to attend before leaving. These centers included OWL About 2nd Grade, Helping is a Hoot, OWL About Transportation and Volunteer Opportunities and WHOOO’s Hungry? (refreshments–see below). On the board, I wrote, “Learn OWL about 2nd grade by traveling to each center marked by an owl rug.” This visual made it easy for parents and students loved discovering each owl center.
3. Serve refreshments: It is polite to serve refreshments for guests in your home and the same etiquette applies in the classroom. I purchase inexpensive cookies (from Target or Walmart) and place on serving trays. Add decorative napkins and flowers as a finishing touch.
4. Provide engaging activities for students: At the beginning of the night, I need to address just the parents and don’t want students talking or running around the room. While parents are completing necessary paperwork, I gather students (and their siblings) and bring them to the carpet area where I give them a word search, pencil and white board. I explain directions and set expectations for their behavior. I also pass out lollipops to eat–this keeps their mouths busy while I am addressing parents. Be sure to put a garbage can there as well or you will have wrappers and sticks all over the room.
After I speak to parents, I give the kids a scavenger hunt with 9 boxes of items to find in class. I glue small, round stickers to each scavenger sheet; students place a sticker on the box after the item is found. When students are finished, they get to help themselves to refreshments (I set a limit on number of cookies or you will have a couple that will try to take the whole tray–trust me, I’ve learned from experience).
5. Create suggested supplies visual: Each year students come in with random bags of supplies and rarely want to share them with the rest of the classroom. To alleviate this problem this year, I listed specific supplies I wanted to students to bring and then created a visual of what the supplies should look like. I simply purchased a medium-sized pencil case and glued the requested supplies inside and showed it during the presentation, reminding parents to unwrap items and place inside case as shown. This year all the students brought their prepared pencil cases just as I had shown and it was a HUGE time-saver! They simply put inside their desks and we were able to move on to other procedures.
6. Helping is a Hoot: Parents love to donate supplies at the beginning of the year, so I created a Helping is a Hoot tree; each owl has a needed supply written on it. Remind parents to pick an owl or two before they leave for the night. They return the owl with donations during the first week of school. Be sure to thank them for giving a hoot!
Most importantly, remember to smile, breathe and believe in yourself! You’ve got thi
Helping other teachers and students is our passion and we are excited to contribute to your classroom success! We know Back to School time is so expensive for teachers and we want to help! Use the coupon code hoot50 for 50% off all of our digital files!
Check out our other Back to School blogs for additional tips and tools: Back to School Organization 101, Back to School Cooking, The Art of Active Listening, and Classroom Management Keys and many more. Happy New Year!
You know that feeling of excitement you feel when you spot a cute new idea on Pinterest? Those all-too-familiar thoughts run through your mind. “It looks so easy, there aren’t that many materials, how hard could it be?” Yet despite your best intentions (and a few hours of your life you’ll never get back), you experience that dreaded Pinterest fail.
Just like that cute Pinterest project, we all start the new school year with the best intentions and high expectations. However, the beginning of the year can evoke that same dreaded Pinterest fail feeling. I remember thinking, “Why aren’t students listening to me? Why can’t they unpack quietly? Can’t they just sit at the carpet? I’m telling them to do these things, but they aren’t.” What I failed to realize is that I wasn’t teaching students how to perform these routines and procedures and I was setting myself up for failure.
Those wonky Pinterest cupcakes can easily be thrown in the garbage and remade, but those first few days are the most valuable time in the whole school year. This precious time shapes expectations, behaviors, and routines for the rest of the year. Invest up front with practicing key procedures during the first few weeks of school and this investment will be returned to you tenfold throughout the year. Students will clearly understand expectations, behavior problems will be eliminated, and instructional time will be maximized. Nail those first few days using 3 of our tried-and-true, fool-proof tips for teaching key procedures and routines.
1. Teach Active Listening: Listening, like any other concept or skill, must be explained, modeled, practiced and reinforced, especially the first few weeks of school. Students must know what listening looks like, sounds like and feels like. First, create a common definition of active listening. To do this, I give each student 3 colored Post-Its. On the first Post-It, I ask them to write down what active listening looks like. I call students up to the board and each student shares while I sort and label students’ responses. After all have shared, we come up with a consensus and repeat the process for the sounds like and feels like indicators. I record these on my Good Listening Poster. Next, we practice active listening indicators. I share my Alert Listening Position (ALP) poem that teaches specific active listening behaviors and we practice these behaviors several times. Students are actively engaged in learning as they chant the second line of each stanza and model the listening behaviors with their bodies. We also practice non-ALP behaviors such as slumping in seat, head on desk, no eye contact so students can understand non-examples. While we are practicing, I rove the room and take pictures of excellent ALP examples and post to my ALP poem to use as visual reminders of expected behaviors. Students also get a copy of the ALP poem and add visual cues to help them remember active listening expectations.
2. Perfect (Un)Packing Procedures: Unpacking and packing up can be a laborious, timely chore that can lead to a huge waste of instructional time. Students who have trouble staying focused often forget items or get lost during this time because they may struggle keeping track of this multi-step procedure. To teach this critical procedure, I select an unpacking/packing up song that I play every day the entire year. Students become familiar with the timing and lyrics and can use this to gauge how much time they have left to complete this procedure. I use Pharrell’s “Happy” as our unpacking song and it is a hit with the kids.I also create a visual checklist of all of the items needed to unpack and pack up. I use this visual checklist to model each specific step, one step at a time. I show the students how to do it and then start the music and let them do it. Have students freeze when done with that specific step. Then, refer to the visual checklist for the next. Be sure to set expectations for completion. Explain what students should do when they finish unpacking or packing up or else they will wander, talk, or dig in their desk. I tell my students to sit at their desks with an ALP and always praise those who unpack or pack up efficiently and redirect those who need a little extra help. Students will need a lot of modeling, practice, and reinforcement as they learn these new procedures. During the first week, I have students unpack and pack up with me, step by step. I gradually reduce the assistance, reviewing the visual checklist, and watching the students as they unpack/pack up. I stand in high traffic areas, reminding them to stay in a line or wait until person is done before putting water bottle away. I pick a couple of role models who demonstrate excellent unpacking skills and have these students model the specific behavior(s) to the class. By the end of the second week or start of the third week, students should be able to unpack/pack up independently using the visual checklist and music to assist as needed.
3. Gather at the Carpet Area: Assign each student a seat on the carpet area. I measure the space needed for each student and then add a self-adhesive label with child’s name on the carpet. Be sure to put students who have vision issues or behavior issues up front as a support. Model how to stand up, push in the chair, and walk quickly and quietly over to the carpet area. Name students in the first row in order, and have them walk over to the row and sit down in criss-cross position. Repeat for the rest of the rows, giving praise for specific behaviors. Model returning to desks and then call rows one at a time back to desks. Practice this procedure several times over the first few weeks. When students are proficient with this, remove the labels.
Are you overwhelmed with the thought of all of the routines, procedures and transitions you need to teach your students at the beginning of the year? Our Back to School Teacher Toolbox has everything you need to create an efficient classroom. This Toolbox contains engaging, colorful resources and activities that explain how to model, practice and reinforce important routines such as moving in the classroom, gathering materials, cleaning up, freezing at teacher’s signal, lining up, and tightening transitions.
Work smarter, not harder with our ready-to-use back to school lessons and activities. Happy New Year!
- FREE Top Ten Tools for Back to School
- Best of Back to School Lesson Plans and Activities
- Back to School Toolbox: Routines, Procedures and Transitions
- Classroom Management System: Rules, Consequences and Rewards
Create an amazing interactive whiteboard table for guided reading groups and math groups in two easy steps! Purchase a roll of self-adhesive dry-erase paper.
1. Measure Table. Use a yardstick or measuring tape to determine dimensions of table. Roll out dry-erase paper and cut large sections to fit measurements. It is easier to do the sides first and then the middle. Working in three smaller pieces will prevent bubbling and wrinkling.
2. Trim to Fit: Use an Exacto knife to trim around the edges. Colorful duct tape can be used to seal the edge of the table to prevent peeling.
My students LOVE using this table to share their learning and engage throughout the lesson in a novel way. In guided reading, we use the dry-erase table to create Thinking Maps, cite evidence, ask and answer questions, and note connections. Students also write down key vocabulary words and illustrate the story elements.
During math groups, we use the table to demonstrate thinking and solve problems. Students draw mathematical pictures, tallies, number lines, and number sentences as they work through problems. Students are encouraged to explain their work using their drawings.
The whiteboard table can also be used as a behavioral incentive. Stars or points can be awarded to each student in a little square or circle near their workspace on the table to encourage on-task behavior and work completion.
Yesterday as part of my blog series, Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet, I gave you a sneak peek into my second grade classroom with a focus on my math area. I use the district prescribed curricula along with our reading, writing, and math strategy animals to help my students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate the Writing in the Wild West along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance the required writing curricula.
Writing in the Wild West
In our charming book, Hazel Meets the Writing Strategy Animals, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling writer, who takes a vacation to the desert to visit Grandma Hoot. Grandma suggests that Hazel take a hike for writing inspiration and along the way she meets 10 animals; 5 that teach the writing process and 5 that teach writing mechanics.
In order to recreate the desert scene for the Writing in the Wild West space, I covered a bulletin board with vinyl western background from Party City (similar items are available at most craft stores and on Amazon). I added faux cactus from Hobby Lobby to give it a 3D effect. I placed the Strategy Banners on the side of the bulletin board; I reference them throughout each lesson. I printed our Writing Bulletin Board Set added Velcro to the back of each strategy animal allowing me to detach to use during lessons.
I also made a space to display student work. I took pictures of my students faces, printed and cut them out, and then added these adorable cowboy hats to each one. Finally I glued each picture onto a clothespin and glued the clothespins to thick ribbon that I stapled to the board. I use these cowboy clips to easily change writing samples frequently.
As the other blogs in this series mentioned, I love to display our hands-on tools in cute, inexpensive jars with printable animal labels. Students have easy access to Stella’s Spacers, Cal’s Capitalizers, and Preston’s Punctuation Prongs, all which they enjoy using during writing time.
Have a cute classroom décor idea? I’d love to hear it! Be sure to check back on Sunday to read our latest Back to School blog.
Yesterday as part of my blog series, Set Up Your Best Classroom Yet, I gave you a sneak peek into my second grade classroom with a focus on my guided reading area. I use the district prescribed curricula along with our reading, writing, and math strategy animals to help my students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate the Problem-Solving Pond along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance the required Saxon math curricula.
Problem Solving Pond
In our sequel, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel swoops down to catch her dinner at the local pond when she grabs Upton, an enchanted fish. Upton oversees Problem-Solving Pond and promises to introduce Hazel to his animal friends, all who teach a special problem-solving strategy. Using these strategies and Upton’s guidance, Hazel blossoms into an accomplished mathematician who is able to tackle problems with ease.
In order to recreate the Problem-Solving Pond, I covered a bulletin board with fadeless blue water paper and added green tulle and silk pond stems to border the pond. Upton’s Solving Word Problems Poster and Strategies Banners are prominent features of Problem-Solving Pond; I reference them throughout each lesson. I printed our Problem-Solving Pond Bulletin Board Set added Velcro to the back of each strategy animal allowing me to detach to use during lessons.
I found this stuffed animal on Ebay that looks just like Upton and hung it with fishing wire and a plastic hook. During guided practice, I toss Upton to students and he helps us complete the problem-solving steps. Students LOVE solving problems with him!
I also found inexpensive jars at Hobby Lobby to hold our hands-on tools such as Max’s Counters, Brian’s Slide and Learns, and Fiona’s Fact-Fluency Pencils and added these adorable labels.
During center time, students solve their Saxon story problems using the strategy animals and our Problem-Solving Journals. They also use our hands-on tools such as Problem-Solving Mats, Brian’s Slide and Learns and Fiona’s Fact-Fluency Flashcards to reinforce learned strategies and concepts.
Students enjoy using the Astute Hoot rug to discuss their journal samples. They stand on the strategy animal that they used to solve the story problem and then discuss the strategies, process, and thinking they used.
Read tomorrow’s blog to see my Writing in the Wild West classroom space and accompanying hands-on tools.
We were very fortunate to receive some sample products from Dowling Magnets. Our wheels are already turning and we’ve come up with some great uses for these resources in our classrooms in upcoming school year.
Kids LOVE the Make a Face Magnet Set pictured above. This 47 piece set is great for creative play, free time, and cooperative play. I’ve been using this during summer tutoring as a break time choice between lesson activities. I also plan to bring it along on our road trip to Utah and Colorado next week!
I’m super excited about the following magnetic math resources that I’ll get to use in the fall:
This Magnetic Demonstration Number Line will be a perfect fit for use with our math strategy animal Hailey the Hopping Hare. Number lines are perfect for students to use place value, number sense and skip counting to add or subtract numbers. Students first start with the bigger number in the problem; this number is the starting point for hopping. Then they decompose or break apart the second number by place value (into 10’s and 1’s). Depending on the problem, students will either add or subtract, hopping first by 10’s and then by 1’s. I plan to print out and laminate a small Hailey the Hopping Hare hands-on tool so students can use her to hop along the number line and keep their place.
Using the Ten Frames Magnet Set will be perfect for students in my math intervention group to master counting, addition basic facts, place value, odd and even numbers within the context of ten. What I like the most about these is the hands-on component. The magnets are perfect for concrete learners and I love that they will stay in place rather than falling all over the desks and ground. Our math strategy animal Max the Modeling Mouse, will helping introduce this tool as he helps students use manipulatives, counters or drawings to model, or represent the mathematics of the story problem.
Another great resource is the Magnetic Coins. I anticipate that these will be very motivating for students to use along with the Magnetic Dry-Erase Boards. Many students in the primary grades struggle to master money concepts. I love using realistic coins rather than boring old worksheets to help students practice this critical life skill.
For more information and other great magnetic resources, visit Dowling Magnets!
The Morning Meeting should be the most meaningful 10 minutes of your day. Morning Meetings are at their best when they are the perfect blend of social, emotional, and academic activities. It is a time to reflect on yesterday’s success, set goals and focus for the day, and build classroom community all while practicing vital ELA skills. Despite the many benefits, the Morning Meeting is often the first item cut when teachers are crunched for time. Here are some tips to implement a meaningful Morning Meeting all year long:
- Gather students in a large circle in your central meeting area. This is a skill that must be taught and practiced many times before students are expected to do it independently. Here are my students at Morning Meeting making a Friendship Web.
Check out our Back to School Toolbox: Routines, Transitions, and Procedures unit for strategies to teach students how to gather at a meeting place.
- Select a student facilitator. Selecting a student facilitator in the Morning Meeting engages the students in the process and builds ownership. This duty improves each student’s public speaking skills and confidence by allowing him/her to take charge of the group. It also promotes a sense of pride and accomplishment. A rotation for the student facilitator ensures that all the students get the opportunity to lead the group.The teacher must model these procedures several times (at least 2 weeks) before selecting a student facilitator. The teacher then serves as a coach, scaffolding support using sentence stems and cues until students are adept facilitators.
- Include behavioral and learning reflection. Use specific sentence stems to help students determine Glows (success) and Grows (areas of improvement).
Use a learning scale to help students rate and assess their progress towards a specific behavior or learning goal. Students can use a scale such as this and point to the corresponding box that represents their rating or use a finger cue to show their rating.
- Greet each other. Teach students a variety of greetings or songs to promote classroom community. We love using Dr. Jean’s songs and chants for this purpose; they are ideal for K-3 students.
- Unpack and start your day. After students have set goals and a purpose for the day, they are ready to unpack and start their learning.Have a great Morning Meeting routine? We’d love to hear from you! Looking for additional strategies and tips to teach vital Back to School routines and procedures? Download our Back to School Toolbox: Routines, Procedures, and Transitions unit for tried-and-true suggestions from veteran teachers.
Animal characters are present in children’s lives from the very beginning on toys, books, and cartoons. Children soon learn to associate animals with comfort, play, and safety. When animals are personified, children readily understand and apply the lessons and messages from the animals. Our extensive research in animal assisted therapy along with our classroom experiences were the inspiration to creating our magical world of Astute Hoot filled with endearing animal characters to help children learn critical reading, writing and math characters.
At the start of each school year, I dress up as Hazel Hoot and read our introductory books to our students: Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Friends, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel Meets the Writing Strategy Friends. Students are instantly hooked and can’t wait to meet each strategy animal in upcoming lessons. They get really into the read aloud and ask me questions about my roost and my animal friends such as “Who is your favorite animal friend?”, “How far did you fly from your roost?” and “Can you take letters from our class to the forest to give to the animals?”.
My students’ favorite activities are using Sally Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk during our word study. Using these tools not only add much needed visual support, but also dramatically increase motivation and engagement. This is so important when using systematic phonics intervention programs as they can easily become monotonous.
Just recently I was doing a fact assessment. I always remind students to double-check their answers, but they rarely do. I got out my Fiona Fact Fluency Fox puppet and had Fiona remind the kids about double-checking and what do you know, they all double-checked their answers. They listen to Fiona’s reminders more readily than mine!
As you can see, our strategy animals anchor the classroom. Our students LOVE meeting each new character and consistently use their strategies in whole group, small group and even independent work! Many parents even report learning about the strategy animals from their children at home too!
Meet all of our strategy animals here! Bring the magical world of Astute Hoot to your classroom too by downloading our comprehensive strategy units from our TPT store or directly from our website: Reading, Math, Writing.
As you can see, our animals are a hit with our students! Do you use animals in your classroom? We’d love to hear about it! Please comment below.
By popular demand, we’ve bundled all of our strategy resources into 2 different Site License options to give you the best possible deal! The Astute Hoot Reading Site License contains over 20 complete decoding and comprehension units and the Astute Hoot Math Site License contains 12 complete problem-solving strategy units. Both options include THOUSANDS of pages the following components:
• Suggestions for use
• Detailed lesson plans using the gradual release of responsibility method
• Built-in assessments and learning scales
• Graphic organizers and reproducibles
• Anchor charts and posters
• Templates for hands-on tools
• I Can statements
• Game boards
• Flash cards
• Customizable problem-solving or reading comprehension journals
• Discussion prompts
• Hazel Meets the Strategy Animals book
• Bulletin Board Set
• And much more!
Using these resources and tools, the most reluctant students blossom into motivated, enthusiastic learners; make solid connections to the strategies, and most importantly, become proficient readers and mathematicians. Used in classrooms around the world, these innovative tools awaken the joy of learning and spark enthusiasm in all students while providing research and standards based resources for students in grades K-3.
Get an early start on Back to School season by downloading the Site License options from our website or from our store on TeachersPayTeachers. Each Site License download includes so many great files and resources that the zip file you will be downloading is close to 300MB. Thank you!
Panic, paranoia, shutting down, frustration, and lack of confidence are all symptoms of math anxiety. Math anxiety has been defined as feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations Math anxiety can cause one to forget and lose one’s self-confidence (Tobias, S., 1993).
Unfortunately, math anxiety affects thousands of students everyday, but thankfully, there are things teachers and parents can do to help:
1. Provide multiple opportunities for success by starting with easier review problems.
2. Use multi-sensory strategies such as hands-on materials, manipulatives, visuals, and cooperative groups to allow students to explore mathematical concepts.
3. Incorporate games to practice math skills such as Battleship, Monopoly, Yahtzee, Tangrams, etc.
4. Include technology in your math lessons and centers for additional review and reinforcement.
5. Make math safe and fun by using friendly characters to teach strategies.
To combat these feelings of anxiety and help students approach math with confidence and success, we’ve created 10 math strategy animal characters, each with a specific job. In our FREE book, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel swoops down to catch her dinner at the local pond when she grabs Upton, an enchanted fish. Upton oversees Problem-Solving Pond and promises to introduce Hazel to his animal friends, all who teach a special problem-solving strategy. Using these strategies and Upton’s guidance, Hazel blossoms into an accomplished mathematician who is able to tackle problems with ease.
Astute Hoot’s unique cast of strategy animals make learning safe and fun while teaching critical strategies in a child-friendly way. Students make an immediate connection to the animals and relate to Hazel’s struggles. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant students and alleviate math anxiety.
Teachers love using these resources too! “I am using the Astute Hoot math strategy animals and my kids LOVE them. They couldn’t name a single EngageNY strategy but one week into your material and they are all over it – “break apart badger! hopping hare!” THANK YOU SO MUCH. I used to dread teaching math and now it’s really fun.” ~Andrea, 2nd grade teacher
Download a FREE copy of Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends and check out the accompanying digital resources and hands-on tools to support and enhance your instruction. This is perfect for special education, math intervention and general education classrooms.
Tobias, S. (1993). Overcoming math anxiety. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Flash FREEBIE Friday: Beginning of the School Year Ice Breakers and Community Building Activities
You know the horrible feeling when you walk into a room and you don’t recognize a single soul? Even worse, everyone else already knows each other, happily mingling together. Most adults shudder at the thought, yet as teachers, we fail to consider how these situations make our students feel. Many students come to school on the first day without knowing anyone, much less bathroom and cafeteria locations. We fill the first days with procedures, rules, and other endless explanations without taking any time to help students feel comfortable and safe, two basic conditions required for learning.
Here are my top 3 icebreaker activities:
- Student Scavenger Hunt: Make a Bingo board and write an interesting fact in each (e.g.,Went to Disneyland this summer). Students will hunt for a classmate who matches the fact and record his/her name in the box. This activity gets students moving and talking, both of which they are hesitant to do the first few days. It also allows time to practice important transitions and procedures such as freezing at teacher’s signal, cleaning up and active listening.
- Me Bags: Me Bags are a great way to build community. Send home a brown bag with a cute label asking students to bring 3-5 items that represent them. These items can be favorite toys, colors, pictures or special treasures. All items must fit in the bag. Set aside 10-15 minutes each day to share the Me Bags. The students will love learning about each other and discovering all the similarities they have! This is also a great activity to strengthen listening and speaking skills.
- Friendship Salad: Purchase 3 cans of fruit, bag of marshmallows, 1 large container of yogurt and an old, very rotten banana. Read a friendship book (Horace, Morris But Mostly Delores is a great choice) and stop right after friends get in a fight. Discuss possible strategies to solve the disagreement. Then make the Friendship Salad. Show the bowl and tell students this represents the classroom; it is empty and needs many things such as good friends, happy days and lots of learning. Pour in one can of fruit—these are kind kids in the room who help others (can elaborate). Pour in the second can of fruit—these are the hard workers in our room—they always give their best effort and complete their work. Pour in the third can—this represents students who share. Dump in the bag of marshmallows—these represent respectful, polite words used with each other. Add the yogurt—this is for smooth, happy days. Stir together and walk around to let the kids see and sniff. Then show, the secret ingredient—the rotten banana! Start to peel and put in and students will start to scream in disgust. Explain that it only takes one person with rotten behavior or a rotten attitude to ruin the whole classroom. Extend the explanation to the story (i.e., Horace and Morris were being rotten friends when they excluded Delores). The moral of the lesson—don’t be a rotten banana!
Like these ideas? Download our Beginning of the School Year Ice Breakers and Community Building Activities on Teachers Pay Teachers for 85 pages of engaging plans and exercises. Please follow us on TPT! We appreciate your ratings and feedback. Thanks!!
for one day only: Friday, August 13, 2014Fr
Free for one day, August 13, 2015! Check out the rest of our store and use code owlk3 for 20% off of all digital files. Check out our accompanying hands-on tools at Really Good Stuff and use coupon code ten15 for 10% off!
We hope you have an amazing start to your school year!
You know the horrible feeling when you walk into a room and you don’t recognize a single soul? Even worse, everyone else already knows each other, happily mingling together. Most adults shudder at the thought, yet as teachers, we fail to consider how these situations make our students feel. Many students come to school on the first day without knowing anyone. We fill the first days with procedures, rules, and other endless explanations without taking any time to help students feel comfortable and safe, two basic conditions required for learning. Getting to know each other is the first step in building an epic classroom culture.
This year, my students created Whooo Are You? owls as our first getting to know you activity. Before school started, I made this Whooo’s Mrs. Murphy poster by enlarging our owl template at Office Max. I laminated it and then put my perfectionist husband in charge of cutting the feathers into flaps.
I glued orange poster board on the back of the poster and added pictures and sentences to explain each flap. I posted Whooo’s Mrs. Murphy in a prominent, child-friendly location during Meet the Teacher. The students (and parents) loved lifting each flap and learning more about me.
During the first week, I had students complete a similar activity using our owl template. Students wrote favorite facts about themselves on the templates, colored, and then added craft feathers as a finishing touch. I displayed the owls on a WHOOO Are You? bulletin board and they were a hit!
Looking for other ways to build an epic classroom culture? Check back on Friday for our FLASH FRIDAY FREEBIE which features our best Back to School ice breakers and community building activities.
Students are more successful when they monitor and reflect upon their thinking and learning. Cultivate a classroom of self-reflective learners using these concrete strategies from our recent blog post at Really Good Stuff.