Mother’s Day Mother of the Year Writing & Art Project

Mother’s Day is right around the corner and what better way to celebrate Mom than with her own Mother of the Year magazine cover and article. Inspired by Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year issue, this persuasive writing and art unit teaches students how to systematically write a five-paragraph essay all about Mom. In honor of mothers everywhere,  this unit is FREE until Sunday! Click here to download now. Read more

Happy 100! Celebrating the 100th Day of School

I can’t believe we’ve already been in school for 100 days! Where does time go? To celebrate this momentous occasion, my class participated in several 100 Day activities. Here are a few highlights from our special day:

1. If I Had $100 Writing Activity: I purchased this $100 bill pad from Really Good Stuff and printed pictures of students’ faces in black and white. I trimmed the pictures and glued each one onto a $100. Read more

Looking For A Last Minute Holiday Project?

Looking for a last minute holiday art project? Check out these easy, adorable activities that require minimal prep while keeping students actively engaged in learning.

Make a 3-D Christmas Tree: Follow the directions included in our new Winter Holiday Art Projects unit to make this neat 3-D tree. Students fold, cut and tape to assemble the tree and then decorate with markers, sequins and pom-poms. Read more

Holiday Survival Guide for Teachers

Our school recently kicked off the holiday season with a Winter Wonderland celebration this past week.  In Arizona, that means delivering 12 tons of snow to school grounds!  The kids are super excited for all of the wonders of this magical season.  It can be difficult to fall into the trap of filling December up with a variety of holiday fluff activities.  Don’t let yourselves make that mistake and waste weeks of instructional time.  Holiday activities and lessons can be both rigorous AND fun!!!  We’ve created CCSS aligned integrated literature units that use anchor texts to support a variety of standards in engaging and interactive ways.  Check out these great tools to help you survive the craziness of the holiday season…

Christmas Essentials: An Integrated Common Core Unit

Hanukkah Essentials: An Integrated Common Core Unit

Holiday Fun FREEBIES

Winter Break Phonics Packet

In addition, to keep students motivated and working hard, download our Reindeer in the Room: Holiday Behavior System.  We completely understand that these next few weeks can seem like pure torture as students seem to get wilder by the minute.

Reindeer in the Room is the perfect solution for maintaining a calm, productive classroom during the holiday season. A special reindeer, only used by teachers, is sent to watch over the classroom and this reindeer reports nightly to Santa. Each day the reindeer watches the classroom and he/she picks one student who demonstrates outstanding behavior; this student gets an antler award. The students who did not make good behavior choices (i.e. shouting out incomplete homework, etc.) will get a big hoof, telling them to stomp out misbehavior. The reindeer moves each morning after he gets back from the North Pole.

home-995239-1 home-972943-1Reindeer Cover

Calming Christmas Craziness

Is Christmas craziness taking over your classroom? As a veteran teacher, I’ve tried every behavior management trick and technique to calm holiday chaos that predictably arrives every year around December 1 and found limited success. These three weeks should be full of fun and learning, but for years they left me exasperated and exhausted. I decided to take back control with Reindeer in the Room, a customizable, effective behavior management plan I created based upon Elf on the Shelf.  It’s made a tremendous difference in my classroom and I’m excited to share this idea with other teachers. Follow these easy steps to introduce Reindeer in the Room to your class:

1. Purchase a small reindeer. I found mine at the Hallmark store, but they can be found anywhere.


2. Read Elf on a Shelf to introduce Reindeer in the Room. The majority of students have an elf at home and it is a perfect connection to the Reindeer in the Room. I explain that Santa sends elves to watch children at home, but Santa gives teachers an extra special helper, a reindeer. He comes down from the North Pole and gives Santa a daily behavior report. This report provides valuable information to Santa because education is very important to him. Santa expects that all children listen, participate and give their best effort.

3. Read poem to students to introduce the reindeer and show them the reindeer. Explain that the reindeer works just like the elf, watching the class carefully and then reporting to Santa each night. Each day the reindeer will give a special antler reward to one or two well-behaved students. The reindeer will also leave a hoof on the desk of misbehaved students as a symbol to “stomp out” poor behavior immediately.DSC_1521

4. Discuss behavior goals with the class and record on board. Students will write 3 individual behavior goals and record them on the Reindeer Promise sheet. The reindeer reads these goals and watches students’ progress towards them.


5. Display Reindeer Promises and Reindeer in the Room on a bulletin board. I purchased this Santa head from Hobby Lobby and then added the title, “Santa’s Watching….” as a reminder to students.


6. In order to determine gets an antler and hoof each day, I take quick notes on a Post-It throughout the day. I specifically look for students that I see going above and beyond (helping others, picking up trash on playground, etc.). I give a hoof to students who lose a star (as part of my classroom behavior plan). Antlers and hooves can easily be used with existing behavior systems. For example, antlers can be given to students who get to blue (excellent behavior) and hooves can be given for students who go to yellow or red on stoplight behavior system. There are days when no one gets a hoof.

7. Each night before I leave school, I put the antler(s) and hooves on students’ desks and move the reindeer to a new location. Students are so excited to discover the reindeer’s new location and see who earned antlers and who got hoofed. I briefly discuss this with students before we go over the schedule and take attendance in the morning. It sets the tone for the day and reminds them about their behavior goals.

Download the full unit at

Move Over Elf on the Shelf–The Reindeer is in the Room

Is Christmas craziness taking over your classroom? As a veteran teacher, I’ve tried every behavior management trick and technique to calm holiday chaos that predictably arrives every year around December 1 and have found limited success. These three weeks should be full of fun and learning, but for years they left me exasperated and exhausted. I decided to take back control with Reindeer in the Room, the teacher’s version of Elf on the Shelf. Just like the Elf on a Shelf, the Reindeer in the Room features a special helper (a reindeer) who is sent to watch over the classroom and reports nightly to Santa.   It’s made a tremendous difference in my classroom and I’m excited to share this idea with other teachers. Follow these easy steps to introduce Reindeer in the Room to your class:
1.Purchase a small reindeer. I found my reindeer at the Hallmark store but I’ve seen them everywhere including the Target Dollar Section.

2. Activate background knowledge and build excitement.  I call the students to the carpet and I read Elf on a Shelf to introduce Reindeer in the Room. The majority of students have an elf at home and it is a perfect connection to the Reindeer in the Room. I explain that Santa sends elves to watch children at home, but Santa gives teachers an extra special helper, a reindeer. He comes down from the North Pole and gives Santa a daily behavior report. This report provides valuable information to Santa because education is very important to him. Santa expects that all children listen, participate, and give their best effort.

3. Introduce Reindeer in the Room. Show students the reindeer and read the accompanying poem. Explain that the reindeer works just like the elf, watching the class carefully and then reporting to Santa each night.
Each day the reindeer will give a special antler reward to one or two well-behaved students. The reindeer will also leave a hoof on the desks of misbehaved students as a symbol to “stomp out” poor behavior immediately.

4. Record reindeer promises. Discuss behavior goals with the class and record on board. Students write 3 individual behavior goals and record them on the Reindeer Promise sheet. Explain that the reindeer reads these goals and watches students’ progress towards them.
5. Create a  Reindeer in the Room on a bulletin board. Prominently display promises on a Reindeer in the Room bulletin board.
6 .Move the reindeer nightly and award antlers and hand out hooves. In order to determine who receives the antler and hoof each day, I take quick notes on a Post-It throughout the day. I specifically look for students that I see going above and beyond (helping others, picking up trash on playground, etc.). I select one student to get an antler award; I place the antler headband, printable antler certificate and Santa chocolate on student’s desk before I leave work for the night. I give a hoof to any student who lost a star (as part of my classroom behavior plan) or who has a messy desk. I place the hoof printable and coal on the student’s desk.

Antlers and hooves can easily be used with existing behavior systems. For example, antlers can be given to students who get to blue (excellent behavior) and hooves can be given for students who go to yellow or red on stoplight behavior system. There are days when no one gets a hoof. I track antlers and hooves in my grade book to ensure that everyone (or most) will get an antler award.

7. Move the reindeer nightly. Each night before I leave school, I move the reindeer to a new location. I try to get creative and also make sure that the reindeer has a good view of the classroom to carefully watch behavior.

Students are so excited to discover the reindeer’s new location and see who earned antlers and who got hoofed. I briefly discuss this with students before we go over the schedule and take attendance in the morning. It sets the tone for the day and reminds them about their behavior goals.

8. Have fun! Download Reindeer in the Room to calm the Christmas chaos in your classroom.  I’d love to see pictures of your Reindeer in the Room in action.


Hanukkah Essentials: Latkes, Dreidels, Menorahs & More


Hanukkah is here and what better way to engage students than through integrated Hanukkah activities aligned to Common Core Standards. Here are highlights from our Hanukkah Essentials Unit:

1. KWL menorah: To start our unit, students completed a Hanukkah KWL. They knew that Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated in the winter but had many questions regarding traditions and origin.

Hanukkah KWL

2. Hanukkah research: During social studies time, students researched to answer their specific questions from their KWL menorahs. They summarized and recorded new learning on their Hanukkah fact sheet.

Hanukkah research

3. Delightful dreidels:  Students colored and assembled dreidels using the template included in the unit.

Making dreidels

Playing dreidel

While students worked on their dreidels, I pulled small groups to make these adorable edible dreidels.

edible dreidels

dreidel step 1

dreidel step 2

dreidel step 3

dreidel step 4

4. Memorable menorahs: While students colored and glittered menorahs (included in the unit), I pulled small groups to make these keepsake handprint menorahs.

Glitter menorahs

Handprint menorah

Menorah step 1

handprint menorah step 2

handprint menorah 3

5. Luscious latkes: I used Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat by Naomi Howland as the anchor text for the Hanukkah unit. During reading group time, students made predictions, summarized the story and determined moral of the story (all lesson plans and graphic organizers are included in the unit). As a culmination, we made homemade latkes (recipe included in unit). I shredded potatoes and students formed the small potato pancakes.

Homemade latkes

We also tried the premade pancake mix, a much easier option. Most students preferred the mix to the traditional latke recipe.

Premade latke mix


Download our Hanukkah Essentials unit for these ideas and much more!


The Ugly Truth About Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner and kids are focused on costumes, candy and creepy creatures–it’s enough to make you batty before Halloween even arrives! It’s tempting to use Halloween coloring pages and other fluffy activities to keep students calm and help maintain your sanity, but don’t succumb to the pressure. Here are 5 secrets for creating engaging, academic Halloween activities:
1. Select an interesting topic: Most students love bats so I created Going Batty: A Stellaluna and Nonfiction Bat Unit. This comprehensive book study centers around our reading and writing strategy animals. It engages all learners while teaching research-based, standards-aligned decoding, comprehension and writing strategies within the context of authentic text. Students retell, compare and contrast characters, determine cause and effect, use text evidence to analyze character traits, make text connections, ask and answer questions using text and participate in shared bat research2. Decorate classroom: I turned Hazel’s Reading Roost, my guided reading area, into Hazel’s Reading Roost Visits the Bat Cave. I added a large bat from Party City and spider webbing for a creepy effect.

I added magnets to these 3-D bats, Beware, and Stay Out signs, all inexpensive treasures from Target’s Dollar section. I also found this adorable bat doormat at Target.

3. Incorporate dramatic play: Act out key vocabulary terms and the important events in the story to build comprehension and increase active engagement. Here are my students acting out a few Stellaluna vocabulary terms included in the book study.vocabulary 1

Bat Vocabulary

4. Integrate art: During our bat research, students ask questions, and use text features to find answers and record answers on this adorable bat foldable.  After they finish writing, they color, cut and fold bats and I hang them up in our Bat Cave. In this unit, students also create foldable KWL bats and write reports on a large bat template. Students also decorate and cut out both and I hang them from the ceiling with fishing wire, giving the bats a flying effect.

ask and answer questions

Bat question

5. Add food: Bring in food items or make a theme-based snack. Stellaluna eats mangoes, so I brought in one for students to touch and smell. I passed out small pieces for students to try; many had never tasted a mango before.


During the unit, I randomly hand out these chocolate eyeballs for on-task behavior, organized desks or any other positive behavior that I spot.

I've Got My Eye On You

At the end of the bat unit, students read a recipe and follow directions to make Bat Snacks, one of their absolute favorite activities.

Bat snack_600_2

Love these ideas? Download our complete Going Batty Unit, our FREE Bat KWL foldable and FREE Bat Name Tags, all guaranteed to keep students actively engaged in learning during the Halloween season.


Last Day of School Blues























Looking for an engaging last day of school project? Use our Last Day of School Blues FREE Activity to help students reflect and discuss end of year feelings. My students LOVED it and it kept them engaged in learning on the last day, which can be a difficult feat.

First, the class and I discussed our feelings about the last day of school. I explained that it is normal to have a mix of emotions; I told them that I was sad to see each of them leave, proud of all that they learned, and excited to start summer vacation. Students took turns sharing feelings and I recorded these on the board for our reflection sheet activity. Next, we read  Last Day Blues by Julie Danneberg. In this story, Mrs. Hartwell’s students are worried about how sad she’ll be and how much she’ll miss them over summer break. They look for the perfect gift to help her remember them and decide to make a poster with a poem and drawings featuring all of the things that they’ll miss about school, especially Mrs. Hartwell. As we read, I stopped several times to discuss, make predictions, and create text connections.


Then, we made the Last Day of School Trail Mix. We read the recipe together and the class discussed what each ingredient represented in the recipe:

  • Alpha Bits cereal represents new concepts learned this year
  • Twisted pretzels represent the twist of emotions felt on last day (excited, sad, nervous)
  • Whoppers represent the whopper of a year we had
  • Good and Plenty represent plenty of good learning this year
  • Starburst represent the start students they’ve become
  • Smarties represent how smart and mature the students have become

Last day of blues ingredients

Students wrote in each representation as each ingredient was discussed and added to the trail mix.

Last day of blues trail mix


Finally, students completed the Last Day Blues self reflection sheet using the list of emotions we brainstormed while reading the story. Afterwards, students took a Gallery Walk, silently walking around the room to read and observe each reflection sheet. Students participated in a Think-Pair-Share to discuss similarities and differences between the reflections as well as favorite memories from the year.

Last Day Blues Reflection SheetThis activity kept students engaged and focused on the last day of school, but more importantly, it gave them a valuable opportunity to reflect on and discuss key highlights and memories from the year.

I hope you have a wonderful last day with your students!



Celebrate Earth Day with The Lorax

Earth Day is fast approaching and with spring fever in full force, our engaging, comprehensive Lorax literature study is the perfect solution!

Our Lorax literature study integrates elements from our Guided Reading Strategies Bundle which teaches critical reading strategies in a child-friendly way. In our charming book, students meet Hazel the owl, a struggling reader, who stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based CCSS reading strategy. These delightful animals and rhymed text motivate the most reluctant readers.

Bring the Lorax alive in your classroom in 4 easy steps:


1. Prepare Reading Response Journals.

Print Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Animals and accompanying Reading Strategies Poster to introduce students to the each strategy animal. To create the journals, I printed the cover, Reading Strategies Poster, Sentence Stems, and Trait Tree in color and the Reading Response journal pages in black and white. I laminated the front and back cover and bound them for durability.

While there are pre-made reading response questions, select the amount of questions and the content of questions that are appropriate for your class. There is a blank journal page included for you to create your own reading response question(s) for differentiation purposes.

2. Create a Lorax bulletin board.

I projected a picture of the Lorax from Google Images and traced on orange and yellow poster board. I purchased yellow pool noodles from the Dollar Store and Truffula tufts from Hobby Lobby. Later in the week, students each made their own Lorax using the templates included in the unit and I added them to the bulletin board.

3. Make Truffula Tree pencils.

I purchased inexpensive glitter pom-poms from Amazon and glued them to the tops of pencils. Students used them to complete their journal entries and they were a huge hit!

4. Include supplemental activities.


At the end of the study, I had students make their own Lorax cover. First, they made a hand-print Lorax with orange paint, let it dry, and cut it out. Next, they used Sharpies and crayons to draw the background. Finally, they glued the Lorax on the cover.

During a reading center with a parent volunteer, students also read and followed directions to make a Truffula Tree snack using simple ingredients.

On the last day of our study, I brought in these adorable Lorax cookies made from Nutter Butters, yellow frosting, and Wilton candy eyes.

Do you have other Lorax ideas or fun Earth Day projects? Please share below.

Celebrate Dr. Seuss in Style

Read Across America is around the corner–celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with these fun, no-prep activities:

1. Cat in the Hat Kabob: Download this FREE recipe to make these adorable Cat in the Hat kabobs, a perfect activity to incorporate during your Read Across America celebration. You only need 3 ingredients–large marshmallows, red Swedish fish, and kabob sticks to make this snack. (Use strawberries and bananas to make a healthier kabob.) This activity includes Common Core State Standards as students are reading functional text and answering text-dependent questions.

Dr. Seuss snackdr.-seuss-kabob-1-800x5292. Cat in the Hat Pointillism Portraits: I found this cute, FREE template from You simply need red, white, and blue paint along with Q-tips (or students can use their fingers). My students LOVED this activity!

Materials 1Pointillism 1Completed painting 13. Seussical Photo Booth: I borrowed the librarian’s giant Cat in the Hat and added lettering to create this Seussical photo booth. I took a picture of each of my students which will the cover of our Dr. Seuss books (compiled at the end of the week). Replicate this with any type of Dr. Seuss-themed props.

A Seussical 2nd GraderCheck out tomorrow’s Read Across America blog where I will show you how to use Dr. Seuss supplies (from Target’s Dollar Section) to teach character trait analysis and central message.

Dr. Seuss suppliesJessica_blog_signature-SMALL

TpT Back to School Sale 2017

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!


Master Meet the Teacher in 5 Easy Steps

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.

Master Meet the Teacher in 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.Welcome to second grade 2Welcome to 2nd Grade paperworkWelcome to 2nd Grade folder

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.Meet the Teacher Agenda

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.

Transportation InformationOWL About 2nd Grade3. 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.Whooo's Hungry

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.Meet the Teacher engaging activities Meet the Teacher student activities

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).

Classroom Bingo

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 2

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!

Helping is a Hoot 2Helping is a Hoot! owls 2

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

jake at meet teacher

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!


Teaching In Style: 5 Key Back to School Pieces

Back to School time is right around the corner and one of my favorite parts is picking out a few outfits for the first week of school. Here are 5 key pieces to start your year off with a bang:

Dress for success

1. Bold, Bright Color: Everyone looks better in color. Wearing the right color next to your skin can have a rejuvenating, uplifting and brightening impact on your complexion and overall appearance. Pale skin and dark hair look best in jewel tones such as ruby red, sapphire blue and emerald green. Skin tones with beige or pink undertones look great in muted colors. Yellow or peachy undertones look best in bright colors. However, there are no absolutes; wearing what makes you feel good when you put it on should be the general rule.

Pop of Color

2. Versatile blazer: A well-cut, tailored blazer is a wardrobe essential because it adds polish to any outfit. Pair it with your favorite dress or pencil skirt for work; add jeans and a crisp button-down for weekend wear.

versatile blazer

3. Mixed prints: Stripes & florals, leopards & polka dots or plaid and a graphic T are a few bold combos to spice up your style. Here I paired two different stripes to create a nautical weekend look. Pair this with jeans and you have a chic, casual Friday outfit.

Mixed prints

4. Crop Tops: Crop tops are the latest trend; they are all over stores in a variety of shapes and cuts.  While they look fantastic on celebrities, most of us shutter at the mere thought of wearing one. However, crop tops look great over button-down blouses, which can be very formal and stiff.  Crop tops are the perfect way to add color or pattern to any outfit.

crop top

5. Peplums: Peplums instantly narrow your waist and give you an hourglass shape, making it flattering on all shapes and sizes.

the peplum

Savvy Shopping: Many stores like Ann Taylor and NYC & Co. offer teacher discounts. Nordstrom Rack, Target and Marshalls are great places to find inexpensive, trendy pieces. My favorite find? EBay! I try on dresses and shoes at the mall and then search for them on EBay. Most are available at a fraction of the price. Be sure to buy from sellers who offer returns and have great feedback.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you have a great start to your new school year. Be sure to download our FREE Top 10 Tools for Back to School. Happy New Year!


Meaningful (& FREE) Valentine Gifts for Kids

As Valentine’s Day nears, teachers everywhere are scouring their local Dollar Stores and Target Dollar sections for the perfect holiday-themed trinkets. This pursuit of the perfect, “inexpensive” gift often leaves teachers exhausted and broke. Plus, these gifts often end up in the bottoms of backpacks and shoved in desks, never to be seen again. Save time and money with these three meaningful gift ideas that your students will remember for years to come.1. Write personalized desk notes: Use dry erase markers to write a personalized note on each student’s desk. They will absolutely LOVE reading these kind words and sharing the compliments with their friends. Give students baby wipes to easily remove notes, leaving clean desks in the process (an added bonus).

2. Create 14 Reasons I Love You: Each day leading up to Valentine’s Day, leave a heart with a quick note about something you admire, enjoy, or appreciate about your students. Starting next week? Simply add 2 or 3 hearts each day leading up to Valentine’s Day.

3. Give the gift of literature: Bank your Scholastic bonus points and use them to order leveled, holiday-themed books. Add a short, personalized note inside as the final touch.Check out our FREE owl-themed Valentine cards and give yourself a Valentine gift with 28% off on our TpT Store using promo code LOVETpT.

Martin’s Big Words: A MLK Character Analysis Collage

My class is currently learning how to analyze character traits using textual evidence. Since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is around the corner, I decided to use Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport to create character analysis collages with my students.
Martins big words

In this pictorial biography, Rappaport provides an age-appropriate portrayal of this influential leader, adding key quotes from King’s writing and speeches. These quotes are in bold, colorful print to capture students’ attention and help them understand King’s character. Before the lesson, I typed several quotes from the text, making each a different color, for students to use in their collages.

Martin's big words example

I read Martin’s Big Words aloud to my students, stopping to discuss quotes, describe feelings and make connections. The students were so engaged with the text!  Afterwards, I gave each student a piece of 11×18 white construction paper to draw MLK. First, they lightly sketched with pencil, then they outlined with Sharpie and finally colored with different shades of crayon.

MLK drawing

MLK drawing 2

After recess, I read the book again, this time giving each student a Post-It to record key character traits during read-aloud. Students then selected two to three quotes that supported the character traits they recorded on their Post-Its.

Martin's Big Words Character Analysis Collage quotes

Students glued their quotes and traits on their MLK drawings, creating these adorable character analysis collages.

MLK collage example 1

MLK example 2

MLK example 3

I hope you students will enjoy making these collages as much as mine did!



5 No-Prep Thanksgiving Activities

Looking for ready-to-use Thanksgiving activities that keep students engaged in learning? You’ll be thankful for these 5 easy activities:

1. Create A Classroom Market: Murphy Market is a center I created in which students purchase items, add totals and learn to make change. To create this center, I purchased several inexpensive Thanksgiving canned food items and priced according to my students’ academic needs. Since we are working on counting quarters, I priced most items in increments of 25.

Murphy Market 3 I scoured my local Dollar Store for market supplies and found these adorable shopping baskets, play food, price stickers and receipt books. I posted weekly grocery specials (be sure to avoid alcohol and other inappropriate items) along with specific directions for the center.

Murphy Market 4

At Murphy Market, students shop for 2-4 Thanksgiving items. I scaffold the number of purchases based on instructional needs; my proficient mathematicians shop for 4 items while my developing mathematicians shop for 2 items.

Murphy Market 2

Murphy Market 5

After selection, students come over to my whiteboard table and we take turns adding up totals. Each shopper takes a turn to show items and name prices while all students play cashier, adding up totals. This keeps students engaged and provides multiple opportunities for mathematical practice. We compare strategies and answers and then move to the next shopper.

Murphy Market 6

Murphy Market 7

I change pricing and weekly specials regularly and rotate items seasonally. After Thanksgiving, I will set up a holiday boutique full of Dollar Store holiday gifts.

2. Record Thankful Thoughts: Generate excitement about Thanksgiving and help students realize all of the things they are thankful for with this fun craft. Read and discuss one of the books below.

Thanksgiving books

Then students assemble the turkey and write what they are thankful for on the turkey feathers. Download this FREE craft here. Check out our Thanksgiving Writing With Icons and Sentence Frames for additional Thanksgiving writing activities.

Thankful Thoughts

3. Make Turkey Cupcakes: Students love classroom cooking projects and this Turkey Cupcake recipe is one of their favorites!

turkey cupcake 1

You need plain, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate bells (found at Dollar Store), candy corn, chocolate frosting and Wilton candy eyes (found at Target’s baking aisle near the sprinkles). Students will gather ingredients, read the recipe (functional text) and eat and enjoy them. Download complete recipe here.

Turkey cupcake 2

4. Pose for Turkey Portraits: I found these adorable turkey hats in the dollar section of my local Target. I let students pick their hat of choice and then use them to make Thanksgiving cards. You can also use them for turkey acrostic poems, descriptive writing or Thanksgiving recipes.

Turkey hat 1

turkey hat 2

5. Create Turkey Bags: These cute turkey bags organize and house all of students’ Thanksgiving projects. Simply pick up a class set of brown grocery bags and have students make a turkey on the front. You can use our free downloadable turkey graphic or any other turkey pattern. My students add a red balloon for the gobbler and large googly eyes to add character to each turkey.

Turkey bag




Fool-Proof Tips for Teaching Procedures & Routines

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.Fool-Proof Tips for Teaching Procedures & 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.Teach active listening collage

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.Perfect Unpacking Procedures

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. Gather at the carpet area collage

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.PREVIEW Routines and Procdures_Page_1

Work smarter, not harder with our ready-to-use back to school lessons and activities.  Happy New Year!




End of the Year Survival Guide
















Let’s face it, at this time of year, we all feel like the owl on the right. Keeping students engaged at the end of the year is like running a three-ring circus, leaving teachers tired and exasperated. Use these 8 tips to survive (and enjoy) the end of year countdown:

End of year collage

1. Create portfolios: Showcase students’ finest work samples with student-made portfolios. Make durable portfolios by folding pieces of poster board and stapling along the sides. Students can draw a detailed picture with crayon and then add water color to make a beautiful crayon resist effect. While the class is working, help students individually determine which pieces to include in their portfolios. Be sure to include rubrics and learning scales that accompany each piece.

Creating portfolios

My students used this owl template as a table of contents for portfolio contents. They colored and added craft feathers to owl and glued onto the dried portfolio after completion.

Owl portfolios

Portfolio 3

Portfolio 2

Students wrote Author’s Notes on the back of portfolios that provide a short biography and current picture. We studied several examples from our favorite authors first. Students were so proud to have their very own version just like many authors they studied throughout the year.

Meet the Author notes

2. Reflect on learning: In the beginning of the year, my students completed reading and math attitude surveys, giving me vital information about their background knowledge, strategy application, and confidence level. I was surprised at how many lacked strategies and self-help skills. I gave the same surveys at the end of the year and the growth was tremendous. Students could easily explain strategies they used and all were very confident. I included a picture of one of my favorites. When asked what students do when they need help with reading, the student responded, “I use my strategies, obviously!”.

Students can also track their own assessment data on bar graphs, creating a meaningful visual of growth throughout the year. My students graph their DIBELS fluency scores, monthly Morrison McCall Spalding spelling tests, and Saxon fact assessment scores. Tracking growth helps students take ownership in their learning and is a great way to celebrate success.

Reflection 1

Reflection 2

3. Create end of year journals: Use This Year Was A Hoot! to reflect and record key highlights from the year. This customizable journal includes A Note From The Wise Old Owl (write a special note to your class), OWL-Stars (place for class photos), Branching Out (students record what they learned, became, who they met and how they felt), HOO-Ray! (students write top 10 events of the school year) and much more. My students loved OWL of these activities! Parents enjoy seeing the end of school year journals too.

Pages from ThisYearWasAHootEndofSchoolYearJournal

4. Review with sidewalk chalk: Review and practice important concepts using sidewalk chalk. Give students a story problem to solve or a reading response question and allow them to use sidewalk chalk to complete it. Chalk is perfect for spelling and fact practice as well. Plus, it washes off easily with soap and water.

Sidewalk chalk

5. Hold an awards ceremony: Celebrate accomplishments with a classroom awards ceremony. I purchased these inexpensive plastic trophies from Party City and used address labels to make these customized awards. I award trophies for top reader, most improved reader, good citizenship, perfect attendance and much more. Students LOVE them and some actually think they are real gold.

TrophiesParty City Trophies6. Plan cooking projects: Find recipes for a theme-based snack or a craft project to use as a culminating activity. Students love these and they provide an opportunity to read functional text. We just finished Charlotte’s Web so my students read a recipe to create these cute pig cupcakes.

Cooking projects7. Make review bags: Create review bags that include worksheets, games, and text at students’ instructional levels. Encourage students to read and review for at least 30 minutes daily. During the first week of school, I provide a reunion breakfast for students who completed the summer review bag. This is a great incentive to review throughout the summer, plus it provides a wonderful opportunity to catch up with former students. I use a Bashas’ brown bag to hold materials because the sturdy handles allow for easy transportation.

Summer review bagsSummer review bag

8. Provide an end of the year gift: Books make the best gifts and there are always great deals through book orders. This year I made these adorable owl gift bags and added our decoding and comprehension bookmark from Really Good Stuff and an owl lollipop. I can’t wait for them to open them!

OWL Treat BagOwl treat bag materials

Have a great end of the year survival tip? Please share below. Enjoy your last few days with students–we can make it!


Teach Central Message & Theme with Dr. Seuss

Students love Dr. Seuss books because of their engaging, rhymed text, memorable characters, and whimsical illustrations. But, Dr. Seuss books are so much more. They are the ideal tool for teaching central message because each one focuses on a specific theme or life lesson. Plus, the majority of students have had multiple exposures with these books; they are familiar with characters and sequence of events. This background knowledge and literal level of understanding makes it easier to determine the central message, a higher-level comprehension skill.

During our Dr. Seuss study, I preselected books which have the strongest themes and central messages. Students had the opportunity to read many books during guided reading group and independent reading time. I used Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel to teach central message and theme (read more about Sharon’s strategy here). We discussed these messages and themes during reading group time and students cited textual evidence that supported these themes. Students used Sharon’s Central Message Anchor Chart to help them summarize each message or theme.
Central message anchor chartI found Dr. Seuss quote posters in Target’s Dollar Section and purchased 4 as a central message culmination activity. I posted the posters around the room and students took a Quote Walk, silently reading each quote to determine Dr. Seuss’ message. They recorded their central messages and themes in their Reading Response Journals. They colored in the strategy animals used during each reading response entry. Sharon the Summarizing Squirrel helped students summarize each central message and theme while Vern the Visualizing Vulture helped them visualize each quote. Check out the quote posters and students’ central message jourmal responses:

Dr. seuss sign 5.5central message 4.5Dr. Seuss sign 3.5central message 1.5Dr. seuss sign 4.5central message 2.5Dr. Seuss sign 2.5central message 3.5Looking for additional Dr. Seuss activities? Download our FREE Cat in the Hat Snack recipe and read our latest blog, Celebrate Dr. Seuss In Style.  Happy Read Across America week!


Flash FREEBIE Friday!!!!



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.


Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger Hunt
  • 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.
Me Bag
Me Bag
  • 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!
Friendship Salad
Friendship Salad

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!!

Back to School Ice Breakers
Back to School Ice Breakers

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!


Build An Epic Classroom Culture

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.

PicMonkey Collage

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.
Whooo's mrs. murphyWhooo's mrs. murphy prep

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.
Whooo's mrs murphy flap

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.
BacktoSchoolIceBreakersandCommunityBuildingActivities PREVIEWJessica_blog_signature-SMALL

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