The Owl Has Landed…

‘OWL’ of our hard work has paid off! We are thrilled to announce the launch of our products at Really Good Stuff, a leading educational catalog company that sells high-quality, innovative teaching tools. Really Good Stuff discovered us and were impressed by our inspirational mission of awakening the joy of learning in all students. Driven by this mission, we created a unique line of hands-on, strategy-based resources. Sharing a common goal of making a difference in the lives of teachers and students, Really Good Stuff and Astute Hoot formed a partnership and got right to work.

Our journey took flight as we collaborated with the fantastic Really Good Stuff team to turn our digital resources into hands-on products. We’ve learned so much along the way about product development, manufacturing, merchandising, and distribution. One year later, the boxes of sample products finally arrived.

RGS box

Opening the boxes was better than Christmas morning! It was such an amazing feeling to see how years of dedication, passion, and perseverance came together and turned out better than we could ever imagine! Our dream of bringing multi-sensory tools into the hands of students and teachers around the world has come true!

Opening RGS box

Our products support, enhance, and integrate well with any reading and math curriculum program. They help teachers effectively differentiate for all learners. Best of all, students love them!

Hazel Learns to Read

We are delighted to help awaken the joy of learning and to contribute to the creation of proficient readers and mathematicians everywhere with these innovative products!




Meet our strategy animals and see how they come to life in our newest video. Check out our complete line of products at Really Good Stuff  along with our digital resources available on our website to bring some magic into your classroom!

 3 signatures

Create Your Own Magical Guided Reading Strategies Roost

Do you love our reading strategies animals but aren’t sure how to incorporate into your classroom theme? It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3! You don’t need to have an owl or woodland theme at all.  Create your own personalized Guided Reading Roost in 3 easy steps:

Hazel's Reading Roost collage 2

1. Determine Reading Roost location: Display reading strategy animals in a prominent location near the guided reading table, carpet area, or on a large, central bulletin board.

Determine location

2. Create the magical tree: There are many ways to create the magical tree in the reading roost. Purchase a silk tree from local craft store or garage sale to use as the focus of the Reading Roost.

Create a magical tree

Lightly dust with gold glitter spray paint and cut out glitter foam leaves for a magical look.

Magical effects

Hazel's Reading Roost 2

Use a pre-made tree like this one from Really Good Stuff. Simply purchase and assembly; add extra leaves as desired.

Pre-made tree before

Premade tree after

Make your own tree by crinkling brown butcher block paper to make a large, textured trunk and branches.  Add green butcher block paper leaves or purchase fabric leaves from local craft store to complete the look.

Homemade tree BEFORE Home-made tree AFTER

3. Print strategy animals: Use a color printer to print reading strategy animals on thick, durable cardstock and laminate for durability.

Print strategy animals

Place self-adhesive Velcro to the back of each animal and accompanying place where each animal lives (i.e., leaf or branch of Reading Roost tree). This allows you to pull appropriate strategy animal(s) to greet the students and teach the lesson.

Add velcro

Here are a few helpful tips to make our reading strategy animals fit into any “habitat” or classroom theme:

1. Pick a tree that works with your classroom: My classroom has a woodland theme, so the silk tree with the large, green leaves works perfectly. However, if you have a jungle, pirate, nautical, or tropical theme, a palm tree would be best for your roost. Trees are an integral part of most habitats and locations so it is natural to see one in any type of setting.

2. Add your own touch: Add minimal, themed items to enhance your tree. For this pirate themed, classroom, I found a variety of fun decorations at Hobby Lobby and added them to give it a personal touch.

Pirate accents

Hazel’s eye patch is my favorite feature! This pirate-themed Reading Roost is just one of the many possibilities.

Pirate Hazel

Other suggestions to incorporate into popular classroom themes include:
Ocean – Make a tropical palm tree and add shells and beach decor around base of tree with the saying, “A Sea of Strategies”
Bees – Add a bee hive to tree and hang a few buzzing bees around the tree with the saying, “We Are Buzzing With New Strategies!”
Sports -Add a few balls or sports-themed items around the tree with the saying, “Strategies Are A Ball!”

Get creative and think outside the box! Download our Guided Reading Strategies Bulletin Board Set to get started. Need suggestions or ideas to get started? Email me at — I would love to help you bring the magical world of Astute Hoot to your students too!

Check out our complete reading strategy units here along with our hands-on resources and posters available from Really Good Stuff.


4 Dirty Little Homework Confessions


As a former special education teacher, I always thought that homework time would be a breeze when my boys Alec and Jake got to school.  I knew all of the most effective strategies and consulted many parents during conferences and IEP meetings about homework tips.  I even helped create this Free Homework Reward Chart.  Some days really do go very smoothly.  I have a delicious, healthy snack waiting for them when they get home; they are focused, independent, and complete all of their work quickly; they look forward to reading their book and read for more than the required daily minutes!

Sometimes, however, things do not go as smoothly and we really struggle to get through homework.  On these days, all of my best strategies back fire and I have to admit that homework time stinks!  Here are my homework confessions on these not so ideal days…

1) I don’t always make my boys read the full 30 minutes listed on their reading logs, but I still sign off on them. One day I was volunteering at school and another mom and I started talking about homework.  We shared that sometimes we let out kids just read for 15 or 20 minutes.  We both felt so naughty for admitting to it, but also relieved that we weren’t the only slacker mom!  When I think about the overarching purpose of daily reading time, I am confident in saying that my boys get daily reading practice and that they truly enjoy reading.  I do not want to get in a power struggle about reading exactly 30 minutes or more.  Reading should not be an unwelcome chore.  It is a part of our daily routine, but we are flexible about the exact minutes because my boys read for enjoyment on the weekends as well.

2) Sometimes we do not have a quiet, distraction free, organized space for homework. I know that children work best under these peaceful, scholarly environments, but when the reality of our busy schedule sets in, we need to adjust at times.  My boys have completed their homework in the car, on the soccer fields, and in the doctor’s office before.  We’ve also gone on whole family searches for necessary homework supplies such as a ruler, sharpener, or glue stick that is not dried out.  These experiences have taught us to go with flow and adapt to get things done.  That’s an important life skill!

3) On occasion, I have served up an unhealthy snack after-school. I work from home now so I am so fortunate to be able to greet my boys when they walk home from school and have a healthy snack ready for them on most days.  Like these yummy apple crescent roll-ups I found on Pinterest…


There have been days, however, when my work day has run longer or I have been on a call and the boys have had to fend for themselves to get snacks.  Those snacks will usually consist of Cheetos, fruit punch or candy.  Eeek!  Definitely not brain food, but it kept them quiet while I wrapped up work.


4) We’ve experienced our share of full on homework meltdowns. If you’ve never experienced this, consider yourself lucky.  For the rest of us, I’m sure you know what this consists of: tears, crumpled up papers, broken pencils, slammed doors, yelling, refusal to work, etc. Unfortunately, I’ve lost my cool a few times in these situations.  I had difficulty understanding why the boys were not accepting my help, were shutting down when I knew they were fully capable, were struggling to stay in their seat and focus, or why an assignment that usually takes 5 minutes is now taking 30 minutes to complete.  Well, guess what?  We all have bad days and get stressed out, even kids. Through the years, I’ve learned that it is much more effective to take that movement break, provide them with some extra help even though I know they can do it, break assignments into smaller parts, give them some extra TLC and empathize with them because homework can be overwhelming.

Overall, I’m so proud of how far my boys have come along with homework and school in general. They are now in 4th and 2nd grades (Alec got on Honor Roll this past quarter and Jake got straight As) and the for the majority of the time homework time is a success.


Some days, however, I know it is going to be a rough day from the moment they walk in the door. Now, I do some deep breathing and put on some relaxation music in the background in preparation for what lies ahead!  I’d love to hear what your challenges and successes are as well! Please leave your comments and homework tips below.




It’s Fall Y’all! 50% Off Sale on EVERYTHING on Website!!!



The holiday season is quickly coming upon us! To show our appreciation for your support we have marked every single product 50% off when you purchase directly from our website. Click here to check out our store! Hurry…sale lasts from October 12-18 only!

While you are at our website view our newest video here to see our prodcuts in action and download FREEBIES here. Our specialty is intervention and special education resources for grades K-2. We’d love to hear your comments and feedback!

See what the hoot’s about….

Halloween Black Lagoon Literature Study
“Absolutely LOVE it & thanks so much for including photos of the finished products. This makes things so much easier and eliminates the guess work. :)” ~Nicole S.

Ultimate Special Education Survival Kit
“This was amazing! I feel so organized and ready for the year thanks to this! Some of the things in here felt like fun and creative super tools. I am still a fairly new Sped teacher and after going through this I feel like a have a rock solid foundation for the year in several areas (behavior, back to school, and even reporting out intervention plans in a more effective, clear, and concise manner). Thank you, thank you, thank you!”~Meliss G.

Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle
“A phenomenal resource that will allow my students to improve their reading abilities. I am looking forward to using this. This will be one of my life savers for guided reading next year. Thank you so much for sharing!” ~Sonia R.

Math Problem Solving Unit
“We have just embarked on our journey into the Problem Solving Pond. The students are loving it and I am loving the results. Thanks so much!” ~Kim T.

Intervention tools for RTI and Special Education
“Amazing resource for intervention planning! It’s so nice to have it all in one place and ready to go at my fingertips. Thanks!” ~Lauren G.

Phonics Intervention Essentials Bundle for Multisyllabic Words
“Super cute! My kiddos enjoyed the chipmunk! It was easy to do as well because everything was made for me!” ~Shayna R.

RTI Resources: Secrets of Successful Teams
“I absolutely love all of the forms included in this packet. I think they are going to work great for our RTI committee next year!” ~Kelli F.


Walk the Line: 5 Tips to Teach Lining Up Procedures

Do you have difficulty getting your class to line up quickly and quietly? Does your line seem to go on forever? Like most teachers, I have experienced the frustrations of lining up and walking in line. Follow these five easy steps to put an end to the talkers, the stragglers and the wanders once and for all.

1. Establish line procedures: Explain and model expectations. Students will face forward with arms at side and closed, quiet mouths. As students walk in line, they stay close to person in front of them and use gentle, walking feet.

Establish line procedures_web

Scaffold the steps by using these sentences:
“When I say one, please stand up and push in your chairs.”
“When I say two, please turn and face the door.”
“When I say three, please follow your line leader to the place to lineup.”
When students are very familiar with these steps, simply call the number or use a nonverbal cue by holding your fingers. You should expect this process to take two-three weeks and constant reinforcement.

2. Use tape to model line formation: To design effective transitions in your classroom, start by mapping the route. There is one right way to line up, one path each student follows on the way to the reading area, door and other areas. Teach students to follow the same path every time. First model this path and then students practice it under your watchful eye, several times per day. You can even tape each path using a different color of masking tape so students know the exact route to get to designated area. Once students have mastered these routes, remove masking tape so it doesn’t leave a permanent mark on the carpet.

use tape to model line _web

3. Label stopping points: Map the route to important places around the campus. Take the same routes to specials, cafeteria, playground and bathrooms, labeling stopping points along the way. Stopping points allow the students in back to keep up with the line (no more stragglers) and help wanders remember the designated routes to specific destinations. I tape small owl decals to the sidewalk at class stopping points; these serve as a good visual cue to remember these important points. Remove decals after stopping becomes automatic.

Label stopping points_web

4. Provide visual cues: Create a visual cue to remind students to stay (or get) quiet in line. We are Weinberg Wranglers at my school and students all use a ‘Wrangler W’ to signal quiet time. Visual cues don’t add any additional noise and give students feedback.

provide visual cues_web

5. Reward and reinforce: Add some fun to the line by setting a daily goal. For example, set a stopwatch and time students as they line up in ABC order. Encourage students to beat the previous time. Be sure to provide modeling, praise and constructive feedback as needed.

I also use the Mystery Walker poem and select one Mystery Walker for each line. This student gets a ticket to Treasure Box drawing at the end of the week. You can also give students Mystery Walker paper bracelets or a hat as a reward. If all students are doing a great job, give them a Quiet Line Loop. Attach loops together to make a class chain. Determine how long the chain needs to before the class earns a reward. If the class earns a compliment in line, add an additional loop to the chain.

Mystery Walker_web

Download our Back to School Toolbox: Routines, Procedures & Transitions unit for additional tips and activities for teaching effective transitions and routines.


Students love Letterman, our Friendly Letter Superhero.

Friendly Letters: Superhero Style

Children love superheroes so what better way to engage them in writing than with Letterman?

During my second-grade friendly letter study, Letterman, our Friendly Letter Superhero, visits the classroom each day to teach a specific friendly letter skill. He leaves colorful L’s on the classroom door to signal his visits. My students are true believers! They are so excited to see L’s on the door in the morning; they race over to the Learning Nest to read his latest letter. 

Students love Letterman, our Friendly Letter Superhero.

Letterman first introduces himself and asks students to write a letter to him, a perfect pre-assessment. The next day, he teaches the parts of a friendly letter with a color-coded letter and special chant. During subsequent lessons, he teaches students how to plan, draft, edit, revise and publish letters. Students pull name sticks to determine which classmate they will write to. Using Letterman’s superhero skills, students complete the writing process and mail the letters after publishing.

Letterman bulletin board

I pick a mail carrier to deliver the mail using authentic United States Postal Service materials. Students love wearing the mail carrier shirt, hat and mailbag as they walk around to classmates’ desks, delivering the much-anticipated letters. Students read and share their letters with each other.

Mail carrier

Delivering mail

As a post-assessment, students write a friendly letter to me to demonstrate their new friendly letter superhero skills. I copy all of the letters, including the pre- and-post-assessments and make a Line of Letters for all students. I fold 12×18′ construction paper in half like a book. On the back, I staple the pre- and post-assessments next to each other and glue the accompanying rubric underneath the letters. On the inside of the construction paper, I staple the student’s letter to classmate with classmate’s response and rubric underneath. These are perfect to share at parent-teacher conferences or to send home with report cards.

Sharing Letters 2

Letterman comes to visit the class throughout the year to keep students’ friendly letter superhero skills sharp.

Letterman preview

Click here to bring Letterman to life in your classroom, too!



Special Education 101: Setting Up Your Classroom

Welcome to the first post in our Special Education 101 blog series. I’ll be sharing my top tips, tools and resources I’ve gathered from over 15 years as a special educator.

The classroom environment is a critical component to academic success. Teachers can proactively set up their classrooms to minimize distractions, decrease misbehavior, and increase academic engagement.  Here are 5 key considerations when you set up your classroom.

1. Keep space clear for easy access and movement for students in wheelchairs.  Set up desks and tables to allow for wide aisles and space to turn around.

wheel chair access

2.  Set up tables for small group work.  It is important to have designated space for guided reading groups, small group interventions, and center-based instruction.  Small group instruction allows for easy differentiation when working with students with a wide range of ability levels and needs.  Check out this recent post on how to create a DIY interactive whiteboard table.

Use this dry erase table to promote active engagement during small group instruction.

3. Provide room for sensory equipment if needed.  Even if your school has a designated room or space for sensory equipment, it will be important to have a special space for sensory breaks in your classroom as well.  This space can be a quiet place for students to take a break when over-stimulated or a place refocus by completing activities per their sensory diet.

sensory equipment

4. Create a literacy rich environment.  Label classroom objects and materials to strengthen reading skills.  Set up a motivating and comfortable reading corner with a variety of text genres and levels. Use word walls to post commonly used words and thematic vocabulary.


5. Display student work on engaging bulletin boards.  Encourage students to take pride in their work and show what they know by showcasing their work on a special bulletin board.

Display Student Work

Looking for more resources and ideas?  Check out our Ultimate Special Education Survival Kit with over 125 pages of ready-to-use tools, assessments, templates and resources.




Does Anyone Hear Me? The Art of Active Listening

Does anyone hear me? Am I speaking English? Why aren’t my students listening to me?

Do these questions run through your mind frequently? I found I was repeating myself over and over like a broken record and ready to bang my head against the wall. I finally realized that I was making a costly oversight that was hindering academic achievement and testing my sanity.

Listening is such a critical skill, yet I never took the time to truly teach it. I expected that my students would walk into my classroom with the understanding and ability required for active listening. When they didn’t listen, I would punish them for something that hasn’t been taught.

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.

ALP example

Now I introduce active listening on the first day of school in 3 easy steps:

1. Create a common definition:  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.

ALP looks like

active listening behaviors collage

2. Practice active listening indicators: Next 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.


ALP poem student example

ALP class page

3. Reinforce and provide regular feedback: During the first few weeks of school, we say the poem together before each lesson to ensure that all students are active listeners. As students become proficient, we recite poem in the morning only and I will give active listening reminders before each lesson by saying, “Let’s do an ALP check,” and provide feedback as necessary. I also share this with specials’ teachers as well as cafeteria aides so that students understand that I expect active listening throughout campus, not just in my classroom.

ALP poem class

Need suggestions for teaching other routines, procedures and transitions? Download our Back to School Teacher Toolbox: Routines, Procedures and Transitions that has engaging activities and lessons to teach 10 critical classroom routines.

PREVIEW Routines and Procdures_Page_1

Happy New Year!


Golden Keys to Success, classroom management plans, behavior modification

Flash Friday Freebie: Classroom Management Keys

It’s our Flash Friday Freebie! Download the free Golden Keys to Success Classroom Management Plan and purchase the accompanying Golden Keys to Success Lesson Plans to start your year off on a golden note.

Do you every feel as if you are a glorified manager, simply trying to control the herd and maintain peace? Your classroom management plan is to blame.  Most of the current, trendy behavior plans focus solely on teacher-based management. In these systems, the teacher directs and tries to control students’ behavior with little student involvement or ownership.

The clip system is the perfect example. Each student has a clothespin labeled with his/her name on it and begins the day in the middle of the chart on green “ready to learn.”  During the course of the day students have the opportunity to move their clothespin up and down the chart according to their behavior choices.  Positive behavior choices allow the student to move up a level and inappropriate behavior choices cause the clothespin to move down a level.

This system is  extremely laborious as it requires constant teacher monitoring and feedback. What happens if the students didn’t move the clip when asked? What happens if you forgot to tell the student to clip up or down? What do you tell the concerned parent when you forgot why her son clipped down? How do you handle the student who “lost” his clip? Everyone who’s used the clip system has experienced these scenarios, probably more than once as in my case. These issues occur because we are trying to dominate students’ behavior rather than make them accountable.

The Golden Keys to Success Classroom Management Plan and accompanying lesson plans are your answer! This program teaches five critical life skills: be respectful, take care of self, be prepared, be prompt and participate. Students learn how to apply them to the classroom and transfer them to new settings and situations.

Golden Keys to Success, classroom management plans, behavior modification

In this program students learn the definition of each key and practice the specific, accompanying behavior indicators. Furthermore, it provides daily home-school communication as students are required to get parental signature on the Keys to Success chart nightly. If an infraction occurs, parents can easily read the marked indicator to understand what happened.

Golden Keys to Success, classroom management plans, behavior modification

Golden Keys to Success, classroom management plans, behavior modification

The Golden Keys Success also provides weekly reflection; on Fridays, students write a Glow, an achievement, and a Grow, a short-term goal for upcoming week. A colorful, parent brochure explains the system, positive and negative consequences and essential questions about classroom behavior.

Golden Keys to Success, classroom management plans, behavior modification

The best part? It’s our Flash Friday Freebie! Download the free Golden Keys to Success Classroom Management Plan and purchase the accompanying Golden Keys to Success Lesson Plans to start your year off on a golden note.



Flash Friday FREEBIE

The first week of school is a time to focus on establishing procedures, explaining expectations and building classroom community. Infuse some fun into these lessons with our FLASH FRIDAY FREEBIEBack to School Character Education Classroom Cooking Unit.

First Day Jitter Jumble: Students often feel nervous and anxious on the first day of school and it is important to address to help them feel more comfortable in the classroom. Read First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg and discuss Sarah’s feelings and compare to students’ initial feelings. Then follow recipe to make Jitter Jumble together, discussing and recording what each ingredient represents. Students can then complete First Day Jitters recording sheet as you serve Jitter Jumble snack to class.

Jitter Jumble

jitter jumble student page

Apple Mouth Snacks: Teach students the appropriate times to talk in class with this easy snack recipe. Discuss the importance of talking times and quiet times at school; reinforce that both are needed throughout the day. Complete Venn diagram together to compare appropriate and inappropriate talking times.  Students can then follow recipe to make the apple mouth snack.

apple mouths

Venn diagram

Friendship Salad: Help students define key qualities of friendship with Friendship Salad.

friendship salad

Read Horace, Morris but Mostly Delores by James Howe, stopping when Horace and Morris kick Delores out of the Mega Mice Club. Ask students if they’ve been in a similar situation and then brainstorm a list of strategies Delores could use to solve this problem. Read to the end, stopping to discuss as needed. Make Friendship Salad afterwards, discussing what each ingredient represents. Walk Friendship Salad around the room, allowing students to see and smell it (they will be very anxious to eat it). Then pull out the final ingredient…..a rotten banana. Start to peel the banana and move towards bowl; students will scream in disgust. Explain that the rotten banana ruins the salad, just like cruel behavior can ruin a friendship. Remind them to treat others with kindness and respect….don’t ever be the rotten banana. I post a picture of the rotten banana on our classroom door as a reminder.

rotten banana

Unit details: Detailed lesson plans are included with essential questions, materials list along with suggestions for teacher modeling, guided practice and independent practice. Each lesson includes accompanying worksheets and graphic organizers to help students understand and reflect on these important character traits and life skills.

Start your year off right with our comprehensive line of Back to School products! Be sure to check out our Best of Back to School Lesson Plans & Activities, Golden Keys to Success Behavior Management Planand Back to School Teacher Toolbox: Routines, Procedures & Transitions.

Happy New Year!


Blast Off Back to School Sale!

As veteran teachers, we know that the beginning of year often means countless meetings, endless hours of preparation and a great deal of stress. Let us alleviate some of your stress with our tried and true back to school resources guaranteed to help you work smarter, not harder. Plus, everything’s ON SALE!!!!





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.

Best of Back To School Preview

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.

Preview Keys to Success_Page_1

Common Core Math Problem-Solving Essentials Bundle: This ultimate bundle provides an entire year’s worth of differentiated Common Core problem-solving activities to give students the strategies they need to solve word problems. Perfect for general education, special education, RTI and math intervention! This 636 page file has all of the lessons, activities, worksheets and printables you need for comprehensive problem-solving instruction. It is the perfect supplement to any existing curriculum or can be used as a stand alone resource.

Problem solving bundle preview

We hope that these products reduce that dreaded back to school stress and make your life easier.

Happy New Year!


Owl Themed Classrooms are a Hoot!

Clearly I love owls and my students do too! Here is a peek into 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. My goal is to make the room a safe, creative space that promotes engagement and exploration.

Welcome to my classroom!
Welcome to my classroom!

This area is my students’ favorite place. Each day students attend Hazel’s Reading Roost (my guided reading group) as one of their four reading rotations. During this time, we use a woodland strategy animal as we learn and practice specific reading concepts through the context of authentic literature. Students read text at their instructional level using our Hoo Can Read? Reading Fluency and Comprehension flashcards and complete graphic organizers that accompany the strategy animals.

Hazel’s Reading Roost revolves around Hazel Hoot, a struggling reader, who comes across a magical tree one day on the way home from school. She meets 10 strategy animals who help her learn the necessary skills and strategies needed to become a successful reader. 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.

Hazel's Reading Roost: Guided Reading Center
Hazel’s Reading Roost: Guided Reading Center

Our Problem-Solving Pond features 10 strategy animals that help students solve story problems. In the pond story, Hazel Hoot swoops down to eat a fish and he begs her to let him go as he is Upton Understanding Fish, the ruler of Problem-Solving Pond. Hazel lets him go and Upton introduces her to the strategy animals, teaching her critical problem-solving skills in the process. Each week students learn and practice new strategies as they complete a differentiated template in their problem-solving journal.

In order to recreate the Problem-Solving Pond, I covered a bulletin board with fadeless blue water paper and added green tulle and pond stems to border the pond. I found this stuffed animal on Ebay that looks just like Upton Understanding Fish at the top along with his problem-solving steps. As I introduce each strategy animal, I put it in the pond for students to reference.

Hazel's Problem Solving Pond: Math Bulletin Board
Hazel’s Problem Solving Pond: Math Bulletin Board

Observe, Wonder, Learn are the key themes in my room and this bulletin board is the first thing you see when you walk into the room. I made the paper using turquoise water color paint, water and white butcher block paper. I love the watercolor effect. I purchased the owl rug from Target (in the bath section) and painted thin wooden letters purchased from Hobby Lobby. I added laminated orange cardstock squares as a backdrop for student work. I change this board frequently to display our learning.


OWL Bulletin Board
OWL Bulletin Board

This area serves as our whole-group space for activities such as morning read-alouds, writing lessons and center activities. In the beginning of the year, I create a carpet seating chart. The owl rugs are the start of each row; I put horizontal lines of masking tape on the carpet and write each student’s name in his/her spot. After students are trained, I remove the tape (I’ve learned that custodians hate masking tape). I place thematic, leveled books in the bookcase and hang student work from the owl clips made from clothespins and our owl templates.

The Learning Nest
The Learning Nest
Owl clips for displaying work
Owl clips for displaying work

I used owl-shaped labels to organize and clearly mark the contents of supply baskets, book bins, and other storage containers throughout my classroom. It not only pulls the classroom theme together, but also creates a literacy rich environment.

Storage bins
Storage bins
Books bins for classroom library
Books bins for classroom library

Sometimes it’s the small things that matter most. I regularly add new owl accents, picture frames, rugs, and other items to the classroom (I might have a problem….). Ebay and Target have a wide variety of owl accents and I love the fuchsia, turquoise and apple green frames and accents found at Hobby Lobby. Here is an example of how I used masking tape and an owl rug to teach students the correct pathway to pick up their mail from their cubbies for their dismissal routine.

Perfect pathways
Perfect pathways
Owl decor details
Owl decor details

Even my newsletters, parent communication forms and behavior charts coordinate with my owl themed classroom! Here are two FREEBIE behavior chart files for you!

Hootin’ for a Great Day:

Hootin' for a Great Day!
Hootin’ for a Great Day!

Look “Hoo’s” Behaving:

Look "Hoo's" Behaving!
Look “Hoo’s” Behaving!

It is fun to collaborate and share ideas with fellow owl lovers! I’ve started an Owl Themed collaborative Pinterest board to collect inspiration for my classroom and share ideas. If you’d like to be added to the board, please follow the board and comment with your Pinterest information below and I will add you.

Owl Themed Classroom Collaborative Board
Owl Themed Classroom Collaborative Board

Thanks for stopping by!


Lights, Camera, Action!!!

We just finished filming our newest video that shares the story of how Astute Hoot came to be!  Our goal was for our mission statement, “Creating innovative learning tools to awaken the joy of learning and spark enthusiasm in all students” to come to life in this video.  Even though the finished product is only 2 minutes long, it took hours upon hours to prepare, shoot the video, and make revisions until it was just right.  It sure was a learning experience for us, but we are so excited to share our final video with you!

My favorite parts of the video are the children!  My sons, Alec and Jake and my adorable niece Miranda were the stars!  They were genuinely excited about interacting with our reading and math strategy characters so no acting was necessary.  Their pure enjoyment and curiosity about learning was able to shine through in a wonderful way.  They had so much fun!  Alec even said “I hope every classroom in the world could have the Astute Hoot animals!  Then kids would love to come to school and they wouldn’t be bored anymore!”

Jessica, Tina, and I on the other hand, had more outtakes and redos until we got it just right.  There were plenty of giggles, jumbled words, and even some strange animal sounds.  All in all, we had a blast with whole process, but are very glad it is done!

We would truly love to hear your feedback and comments!  Did our mission come to life? Is this an effective way to tell our story?  What are your favorite parts of the video?

Thanks for watching!  We’d appreciate it if you could share the video to help spread the word about Astute Hoot!


Master Meet the Teacher & Conquer Curriculum Night

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 easy tips:

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.  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.

meet teacher paperwork

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.


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.

word search

word search meet teacher

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.

suggested supplies

6. Make a Giving Tree: Parents love to donate supplies at the beginning of the year, so write down each item on an apple and post on a Giving Tree. Remind parents to pick an apple or two before they leave for the night. They return the apple with donations during the first week of school.


giving tree

giving tree 2

Most importantly, remember to smile, breathe and believe in yourself! You’ve got this!

jake at meet teacher

Back to School Organization 101

Does the sight of this classroom make you shudder?     Unfortunately for many teachers, this is reality during back to school season. As soon as we sign our contract, we become immediate hoarders, stock piling supplies purchased during those great back to school sales. But once we get in the classroom, we realize there’s simply not enough space for 100 boxes of crayons. What is one to do? Here are 4 easy storage solutions to get your year off on the right foot:

1. Book Boxes: These colorful cardboard book boxes are perfect for any type of paperwork. I purchased several to hold daily work as well as quarterly copies of behavior charts, writing paper and reflection forms. I also use them to store my centers; each box holds a specific concept (i.e. ABC order, antonyms). They can also be used as writing portfolios to organize students’ writing pieces.

Book boxes

2. Plastic Bowls: I purchased 4 bowls from Target clearance section to hold small items that I need throughout the day. These bowls are perfect for staples, rubber bands, paper clips and push pins. Simply label and place on desk.

Desk bowls

3. Silverware Caddy: A silverware caddy is the ideal desk storage solution because it has multiple spaces to hold a variety of items. I use the first 3 sections to store scissors, pens and . The back section is much larger, perfect for stickers and notepads. I label each section to help ensure continued organization (especially if students use).

Silverware caddy

4. Tupperware Storage: Inexpensive tupperware is a great solution for small items such as googly eyes, jewels, beads, cotton balls and clothespins. Plus they stack easily, making organization a snap. Add labels to find items easily.

Ziploc storage 2

Have an innovative organization or storage solution? I’d love to hear from you!


Jennifer’s Summer Story


Wow!  This summer is flying by so fast.  My boys attend a school with a modified year-round school schedule so that means that their first day of school is right around the corner on July 21st! Although I worked managing Teacher Development Coaches at a summer Pre-Service Training for new teachers throughout the entire month on of June, I still had a chance to squeeze in some summer fun with my family.

We had an incredible time visiting the Grand Canyon for the very first time.  The boys were amazed at its grandeur…and I was freaked out each time they got close to the edge!  We went on an exciting jeep tour and learned a lot about the history of the Grand Canyon.

Alec and Jake
Alec and Jake

Before we left, the boys picked out some cool souvenirs; a bow and arrow for Jake and a dream catcher and pocket knife for Alec.  We also bought an awesome book called Whose Tail on the Trail at the Grand Canyon? .  The author, Midji Stephenson, signed a copy for us too! We had so much fun reading the book when we got home as we had to guess which tail was on the trail as we turned each page.  The book has beautiful illustrations and fun rhymes.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has visited the Grand Canyon.

Whose Tail on the Trail at Grand Canyon?
Whose Tail on the Trail at Grand Canyon?

Now that we are back from vacation and gearing up for school, I realized that I needed to start getting the boys back on a routine and provide some structure into their days because they have been acting like wild animals  Alec and Jake helped me put together the following visual schedule for our remaining two weeks of summer break.  We have it posted on the fridge and I see them referring to it throughout the day.   I wish I put this in place earlier in the summer!  Children crave structure and routines.  Using a visual schedule and daily routines are great ways to support this for all children.

Summer Visual Schedule
Summer Visual Schedule

A great resource for putting strong routines, procedures, and transitions in place for the beginning of the school year can be found here.


Back to School Teacher Toolbox:  Routines, Procedures and Transitions
Back to School Teacher Toolbox: Routines, Procedures and Transitions


Wise Tool of the Week: The Target Dollar Section

Like most teachers, I love to decorate my classroom for the holidays, a costly endeavor until I found the Target Dollar Section. Clearly geared towards teachers, the Target Dollar Section provides a wide variety of holiday-based classroom materials. On my last trip, I found the following:
Halloween classroom decor: Small rugs, window clings, spider webbing, hats, faux leaves and containers

Party supplies: Bingo, paper plates, plastic ware,cups, confetti, tablecloths, treat bags

Treasure Box items: reward charts, stickers, pencils, erasers, rings and other small trinkets

Plus the pricing is perfect; everything is $4 and under! This makes holiday decorating feasible and fun!


Wise Tool of the Week: Table Skirt Storage

I am an organized person, yet when I became a teacher, I instantly became a hoarder. I signed my contract and suddenly I was collecting everything from baby food jars to milk carton lids for a variety of classroom needs. After a few years of collection and a growing number of ‘teaching cabinets’ at home, I knew I needed a new storage solution.

One day while rearranging classroom furniture, I realized that tables are an ideal storage option. They can accommodate large plastic containers for backpacks, playground equipment, and props and still have room to store file boxes and other organizational pieces. Table storage is extremely practical, but extremely unsightly. No one wants to see these items or they would be sitting out in the classroom.  After researching ways to conceal the storage, I discovered table skirts at Party City. These inexpensive plastic skirts come in a range of colors to compliment a variety of classroom decor and the self-adhesive strip makes application a breeze. Simply measure perimeter of table and cut skirt accordingly. Peel adhesive strip and stick on table ledge. Voila! Storage in a snap.


Wise Tool of the Week: Table Skirt Curtains

Looking for a quick, easy way to create cute window treatments? Table skirts are your answer! Sold at Party City for $8 each, these plastic table skirts come in a variety of shades to compliment a wide range of classroom decor. Application takes less than 5 minutes:

1. Cut length of skirt to fit your window.

2. Peel backing and apply adhesive strip to top of window.

3. Fold table skirt under and glue (or staple) to top of window, creating a billowed, valance effect.

4. One table skirt covers two large windows (see picture).

These adorable curtains have an added bonus–they are also durable and easy to clean (they only need light dusting every few months). What more could a wise teacher ask for?


Letterman to the Rescue!

Children love superheroes so what better way to engage them in writing than with a Friendly Letter Superhero? In this customizable unit, Letterman comes to visit each day, bringing a letter that teaches a specific friendly letter skill. He leaves colorful L’s on the classroom door to signal his visits. Children truly believe in him and even your most reluctant learners will get excited about writing!

This 66 page unit includes:
–Suggestions for use with pictures of letter bulletin boards and work samples
–Common Core standards for grades K-3
–Big ideas and essential questions
–11 detailed lesson plans to teach unit
–Accompanying letters and activities for each lesson plan (Letters can be modified according to date unit is taught, teacher’s name, children’s interests, etc.)
–Pre-and post-assessment
–2 different Letterman templates
–Colorful L’s to leave around room
–Letterman awards

This is a great Back to School unit; through letter writing, children will learn about each other and build classroom community.

Discover The Reading Teacher Within You

Does the thought of reading groups make you shudder? Unfortunately for many teachers, the answer is yes. Teachers simply don’t have the necessary resources needed to meet the diverse academic needs of students. Available resources are usually old, outdated basal readers and accompanying workbooks, none of which is engaging, differentiated or aligned to Common Core.

We understand your frustration and our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle is your answer. With over 25 years combined experience in special education, general education and reading intervention, we have compiled our top reading products to create a 385 page complete reading K-3 reading i bundle that includes fluency, comprehension, sight words, and phonics activities. We used this bundle in our reading intervention program and our students consistently made the highest growth in our school district as measured by DIBELS. This bundle continues to make significant reading gains in classrooms across the country.

This bundle includes:
-Common Core Guided Reading Strategies Unit
-Common Core Phonics Intervention for Multisyllabic Words
-Sight Word Intervention Bundle
-Reading Comprehension and Fluency Flash cards
-Reading Fluency Progress Trackers
-Fluency and Retelling Rubric

Download our Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle to discover the reading teacher within you!

Wise Tool of the Week: Book Cover Chair Pockets

Do your students’ desks look like a bomb went off inside? If so, book covers are your answer! Purchase jumbo stretchable book covers from Target (in school supply section), simply turn one pocket inside out and slide on the back of a student’s chair. You instantly have storage for folders, books and a pencil pouch. Never again will you hear, “I can’t find my…..!” The best news….they are only $1 each! You can purchase a class set for less than $25; normal chair pockets cost $5-$7 a piece. Plus they come in a variety of colors and patterns to match any classroom decor.

Top 3 Tips to Break the Ice and Build Community

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:

  1. Student Scavenger Hunt: Make a Bingo board and write an interesting fact in each (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.
  2. Friendship Web: Students and teacher sit in a large circle. The teacher starts with a ball of yarn, says his/her name and throws the ball to a friend. When the friend catches the yarn, he/she states his/her name and a fun fact about him/herself. Explain that we are building a class web where we are always here to help and support each other. We are all connected in learning. Take a picture and post.
  3. 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? Check out our Back to School Ice Breakers and Community Building Activities for 85 pages of engaging plans and exercises.


Beat the Behavior Blues

Do you have the Behavior Blues? You know, the horrible knot you get in the pit of your stomach when you think about the “naughty” students in your class, the cold sweat when Johnny challenges you in front of the class, the cringed toes as you repeat directions for the 100th time or the exasperated groan when you call home yet again. We’ve all experienced the Behavior Blues in one form or another, but how do you beat them, once and for all?

We all know that misbehavior, whether minor or major, causes major teacher stress and loss of instructional time. Yet many teachers, including me, have made the conscious choice to “just deal” with it and trudge forward rather than create an effective solution. Why is this? For me, I tried everything I had in my repertoire—Treasure Box, teacher helper, loss of recess, parent contact, principal referral—with little results. I kept using the same techniques simply because I didn’t know what else to do.

A few years ago, the Behavior Blues finally got the best of me. After a daunting year with extremely challenging students, I was defeated and ready to quit teaching. Something had to give. I spent the summer reading about behavior management strategies and programs. After a great deal of research, I created the Golden Keys to Success, a systematic behavior system that teaches 5 key life skills that students need to become successful citizens. Students learn to be respectful, responsible, prepared, prompt and active participants. As a result, they take ownership of their behavior. Specific positive and negative consequences are used to reinforce behaviors. There is also daily home-school communication, which promotes a strong partnership.

The Golden Keys to Success program has everything that my classroom was lacking: explicit behavior expectations, specific positive and negative consequences, consistency, parent communication and student ownership. Detailed lesson plans and activities teach behavior indicators in a fun, engaging way with quality literature, cooking, writing and art activities.

Download our Golden Keys to Success Classroom Behavior Management Plan and accompanying lesson plans to beat those Behavior Blues once and for all!


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