My Classroom

Welcome to my second grade classroom, my home away from home.  Each year, I refine my classroom with special finds from Target and Hobby Lobby (my favorite!) to make it comfortable and inviting. I love to think outside of the box, using plastic table cloths for curtains and bath mats for classroom rugs. My goal is to make the room a safe, creative space that promotes engagement and exploration.
2nd grade's a hoot


As a traditional academy teacher, I use Spalding spelling, HMH Journeys reading, and Saxon math to teach highly-performing students at an accelerated pace. I use the district-prescribed curricula along with our reading and math strategy animals to help students learn, apply, and transfer critical strategies across settings. My classroom décor centers around Hazel Hoot, an adorable green screech owl, and her special strategy friends. See how I integrate Hazel’s Reading Roost and Problem-Solving Pond along with our hands-on tools to support and enhance required curricula.

Special Spaces

Hazel’s Reading Roost

In our charming book, Hazel Meets the Reading Strategy Friends, Hazel stumbles upon a magical tree in the forest. Out of the tree appear 10 colorful woodland animals that each introduce a research-based, standards-aligned reading strategy. These animals guide Hazel to become a proficient reader.
Hazel's Reading Roost_rs
Each day students attend Hazel’s Reading Roost, my guided reading group, as one of their four reading rotations. During guided reading time, I use the woodland animals to teach specific strategies and concepts through the context of authentic literature.
Jessica at Reading Roost_rsGraphic-Organizer_rs2 Decoding-and-Comprehension-Banners_rs2
I use our animal puppets and reference our Decoding and Comprehension Banners throughout the lessons. Students use our accompanying graphic organizers and our hands-on tools to practice and reinforce the strategies.

Reading TreeTo 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.

During guided reading group time, students sit in a circle on our  Astute Hoot’s Numbers and Letters Rug. I post a specific learning goal for each group and reference it throughout the lesson using our Learning Scale Banner. Students enjoy monitoring and reflecting upon their thinking and learning. They understand that honest ratings help me as a teacher because I can see what they understand and areas in which they need more help.
Our hands-on tools, such as Rereading Raccoon E.Z.C Readers and Detecting Deer Picture-Clues Windows, are displayed on shelves right next to Hazel’s Reading Roost.
Really Good Stuff Product Display_rs
I purchased inexpensive shelves from Target and painted them Hazel green. I found a variety of glassware at The Dollar Store and added these adorable animal labels to complete the display. This display maximizes storage space and provides easy access to necessary resources.
Behavior management is critical for successful small group instruction. Before I start groups, I turn on my owl lamp as a signal to students that I am not to be bothered unless it is an emergency. I’ve also worn an owl headband as a signal as well. Select a visual cue that works for you, then model and practice extensively in the beginning of the year.

Problem Solving Pond

Problem-Solving Pond_rs
In our sequel, Hazel Meets the Math Strategy Friends, Hazel swoops down to catch her dinner at the local pond when she grabs Upton, an enchanted fish. Upton oversees Problem-Solving Pond and promises to introduce Hazel to his animal friends, all who teach a special problem-solving strategy. Using these strategies and Upton’s guidance, Hazel blossoms into an accomplished mathematician who is able to tackle problems with ease.

In order to recreate the Problem-Solving Pond, I covered a bulletin board with fadeless blue water paper and added green tulle and silk pond stems to border the pond. Upton’s Solving Word Problems Poster and Strategies Banners are prominent features of Problem-Solving Pond; I reference them throughout each lesson. I added Velcro to the back of each strategy animal allowing me to detach to use during lessons.
I found this stuffed animal on Ebay that looks just like Upton and hung it with fishing wire and a plastic hook. During guided practice, I toss Upton to students and he helps us complete the problem-solving steps. Students LOVE solving problems with him!
Problem-Solving Pond Upton with student
During center time, students solve Saxon story problems using the strategy animals and our Problem-Solving Journals.  They also use our hands-on tools such as Problem-Solving MatsBreaking Badger’s Slide and Learns, and Fact-Fluency Fox Flashcards to reinforce learned strategies and concepts.
Students enjoy using the Astute Hoot rug to discuss their journal samples. They stand on the strategy animal that they used to solve the story problem and then discuss the strategies, process, and thinking they used.

The Library

My students are avid readers and I want to foster their passion so I made the library like a living room, complete with a shag rug and comfy chairs. I made “curtains” with adhesive plastic table cloths from Party City; I simply placed adhesive along metal window valance and folded under remaining table cloth, glue-gunning the extra onto the valance. (If the custodian only knew how much glue gun was used to create my classroom, he’d faint!)
Classroom library

I was fortunate to inherit a comprehensive collection from my mom who was a reading specialist for many years, but was overwhelmed at first with storage and organization. Dollar Store dishpans were the answer! I sorted books based my topic and/or genre and also labeled reading level. I made tags for the front and printed labels for the front of each book; this helps students return books to the appropriate location.

Center Spaces

Word Wizard Center

At the Word Wizard Center, students practice their Spalding spelling words using Sally the Sounding-Out Snake and Charlie the Chunking Chipmunk. I created a class set of Sally Sounding-Out Slates and Charlie Chunking Chipmunk Syllable Slates using a color printer and cardstock. I glued them together so they are double-sided and laminated.
During Spalding instruction and the Word Wizard Center, students sound and stretch one syllable words on the Sally side, recording one phonogram in each of Sally’s segments. Students chunk multi-syllabic words on the Charlie side, recording each syllable in one of Charlie’s acorns. Students are expected to mark phonograms and analyze words to determine appropriate Spalding rules and syllable type.

Word Wizard center prep is a breeze! Each week, students use whiteboard markers, laminated Slates or Chunking Chipmunk’s Slide and Learns to practice spelling words. I simply switch spelling lists and learning goals as needed.

Charlie’s Nutty About Syllables Bulletin Board and Word Wall are used as a reference during Word Wizard time. Students use the Syllabication Posters to help determine syllable type and we add weekly words to the Word Wall.

Sensational Scientists Center

During the Sensational Scientists Center, students complete an inquiry-based activity aligned to our current unit of study. Students record observations, questions and new learning on their O.W.L. (Observe, Wonder, Learn) graphic organizer or in our science journal. I place leveled non-fiction text and several hands-on materials for students to explore. Students get to wear “lab coats” (mens’ white button down shirts) which they LOVE!

Writing Center

It is important for students to respond to text in writing using textual evidence to form opinions, support arguments, make connections and inferences, and determine author’s purpose. During the Writing Center, students use our Reading Response Journal and sentence frames to respond to text. Students also work on shared research projects such as these animal research murals created as part of our Charlotte’s Web study.

During our Charlotte’s Web unit, I turned the Writing Center into Zuckerman’s Barn, replacing the chairs with bales of hay. Students painted the background (sky, sun, grass) and I added the animals as students completed their research murals. I also included a wide variety of informational text about farms and farm animals to assist with research.
Writing Center_rscharlotte2charlotte3

Murphy Market

A classroom market is a fun, easy way to strengthen students’ money skills. This guaranteed favorite can be used throughout the year and modified according to instructional needs. Visit your local dollar store for grocery baskets, cashier receipt pads, calculators and price labels. (Make sure each student in the center has a grocery basket so each has opportunity to shop.) Make a store awning using a cardboard science project trifold and cover it in fabric. A simple, inexpensive cash register can be found on e-Bay or local thrift shops.
Bring in canned products, purchase plastic play food or pull out Treasure Box trinkets. My market is holiday-based to appeal to student interest so it changes regularly. Students can shop for Thanksgiving dinner, holiday gifts, school supplies, etc. Changing the product once a month promotes engagement as students are excited to see and purchase new items.
Price items according to students’ instructional needs. If you just introduced money, keep prices low and easy to count. This provides counting practice and builds number sense. As students become proficient counters, increase the prices and have students add more complex numbers. You can also add dollars and cents to increase difficulty.

Add functional text forms to incorporate reading and writing standards into the market. Simple items such as shopping lists, receipts and inventory check-lists require students to read and write a variety of functional text, an important component of informational text.

Bulletin Boards

Golden Keys to Success Behavior Management

I use the Golden Keys to Success Behavior Management Plan to build character, promote self-monitoring, ensure high behavior expectations, and provide daily home-school communication. In this program, there are 5 Keys that teach important life skills and qualities that students need to become successful citizens. Under each key are specific behavior indicators; each indicator is explicitly taught, modeled, and practiced the first week of school. This bulletin board is in a prominent location in the front of my classroom.
Golden Keys to Success bulletin board_rs

Hoot & Holler For Student Work:

Students love to see their work displayed! I have 2 large bulletin boards centered solely on student work.  I made the paper using turquoise watercolor paint, water and white butcher block paper. I love the watercolor effect. I added laminated orange cardstock squares as a backdrop for student work. I change this board frequently to display our learning.

During our Charlotte’s Web unit, students analyzed Wilbur’s character traits, citing evidence from the text. They each chose a character trait  and painted these pig portraits with the trait and textual evidence listed below.
Work Boards_rs

Keep Calm & Teach On Board

We’ve all had that dreadful teacher moment–the time when a student vomits all over you or your behaviorally-challenged student forgets his meds during a full moon. It’s that moment that sends shivers down your spine, makes you question your career choice and urges you to head for the hills and never look back. However, those 25 bright, shiny faces are staring at you, waiting for your reaction and depending on you to remain cool, calm and collected.

In times like these, rely on your Keep Calm and Teach On board, a special reflective space that helps you de-stress, regain composure and focus on the big picture.  This board should reflect your personality, interests and favorites. Fill with special pictures, mementos, dreams and aspirations.
To create my board, I gathered several of my treasured pictures and mementos and then narrowed down to my absolute favorites. I measured my dimensions of my allotted space and replicated my board on a large table, rearranging several times until I found the perfect arrangement.  It took only about 10 minutes to hang (thanks to my trusty glue gun).

Besides providing some stress relief, my Keep Calm and Teach On board helped organized my desk area. I moved all of my important, yet unsightly school paperwork (staff phone list, parent directory, special notes, etc.) and taped to the inside of my cabinets right behind my desk. Now I’m ready to tackle any classroom challenge that comes my way!

Order & Organization

Let’s face it, the minute you sign your teaching contract, you become a hoarder, collecting everything from egg cartons to baby food jars. I don’t know about you, but my classroom is very limited on storage. To make the most of limited space, I store materials underneath my rectangular tables and cover it with adhesive plastic table cloths (I love these!).  No one even will guess that you have 100 coffee cans under there!

Computer photo and table storage

These colorful cardboard book boxes are another life saver! I purchased several of these from the Target dollar section and use them to house reading center games. I simply sorted my games and printed labels for each box. Each week while planning for centers, I simply pull the game(s) I want and put them into my daily work bin. It makes planning such a breeze!
Cardboard boxes

Details, Details, Details

Sometimes it’s the small things that matter most. I regularly add new owl accents, picture frames and other items to the classroom (I might have a problem….). Target and e-Bay have a wide variety of owl accents and I love the fuchsia, turquoise and apple green frames and accents found at Hobby Lobby.
Materials baskets

I strive to make my classroom a magical place full of laughter, learning, and love.
Magical classroom

Please contact me if you have any questions about my classroom. I’d love to hear any great ideas you have as well!


10 comments on “My Classroom

  1. astutehoot on said:

    Hi Dr. Levine,

    I wanted to follow up with some recommendations for accommodations you can use along with Saxon and Spalding while integrating our reading and math strategy animals. Our strategies provide excellent interventions to use with any curriculum as they change HOW a student learns (accommodations), not necessarily WHAT a student learns (modifications). Here are some specific accommodations which can be used in a whole group setting as interventions. Since you are local, I’d be happy to meet with you as well to demonstrate how our resources can be incorporated into your curriculum.

    1) Using the words from the Spalding curriculum, use our Sally Sounding-Out Slates or Charlie Syllable Slates to provide additional visual cues and practice to spell and decode words in isolation. These can also be used to focus on specific words in connected text to practice sounding out the phonograms. It not only makes learning fun, but it also helps struggling students who need additional support. This intervention uses the same content and Spalding instructional method, but provides a different format for practice and student response. Using the Slates and accompanying graphic organizers also provides a structured space for writing phonograms rather than just writing in a lined notebook. This is especially helpful for students with visual and fine motor issues.

    I use the Slates during my daily Spalding Practice with my CTA (Chandler Traditional Academy) second-grade students. After oral and written phonogram review, we practice our daily spelling words together on the Slates. After I introduce a word, students write it on the Slate, underline the phonogram(s) and write the appropriate rules. They hold up their Slates to me which provides immediate feedback on their understanding, application and transfer. The Slates also help promote collaborative discussion and higher-level thinking as students have to justify and support their rule selection. After Slate practice, we enter the new words into our spelling notebooks. I use the data collected to pull students who need additional practice with the spelling words.

    Although direct instruction curriculum programs are highly effective, they often can be dry and have limited engagement opportunities. Using our reading strategy animals along with a researched based curriculum such as Spalding enhances motivation and investment, which is incredibly important for reluctant readers.

    2) Our math strategy animals fit in perfectly with the Saxon curriculum. Students are expected to solve 2 or more word problems as part of the daily Saxon lesson. I introduce each of the Problem-Solving Pond strategy animals systematically as they correlate to Saxon’s strategies and concepts. As students become proficient with one strategy, I introduce another. After all strategies are introduced, students learn how to pick the most efficient strategy for the problem. Upton the Understanding Fish is used daily to help students complete the seven problem solving steps, explain thinking and justify solutions. Just as with Spalding, using these strategies does not alter or modify the curriculum in any way, it just enhances it and presents it in a way which students can grasp it more easily by making the concepts more concrete. Student connect with the strategy animals and are motivated to use various strategies to solve the problems. It also relieves math anxiety and builds independence by providing a toolbox of “animal friends” students can use to solve problems.

  2. astutehoot on said:

    Hi Dr. Levine,
    Thank you so much for your question! There are many different options for integrating our resources within a whole group setting using Spalding and Saxon. I’d love to learn more about your students’ needs; this will help me determine the most viable options for successful implementation. Please email directly at I look forward to hearing from you!

  3. Dr. Mike Levine on said:

    Hi Jessica,

    I also work in a an accelerated traditional academy that uses Spalding and Saxon Math, but here the teachers are not to use small groups except before and after the school day. Many of the interventions that are listed in your materials are wonderful, but aren’t allowed because they are modifications and not accommodations. Since I am in charge of coming up with interventions to help our struggling nonspecial education students, what would you suggest? For example, a number of students are getting A’s in their phonograms, but struggle when decoding words. Thanks for your help.

  4. astutehoot on said:

    Hi Judy,
    Thanks for your question! The Reading Intervention Essentials Bundle is the best purchase for emerging readers as it includes all 5 decoding strategy animal resources, 14 complete one syllable and multi-syllabic phonics units, sight word units, reading fluency and comprehension flashcards, and much more! Please let us know if you have any other questions or if we can help you further. I hope your students love the strategy animals as much as mine do!


  5. Judy Bernard on said:

    Hello Jessica,
    I teach Kindergarten. I found your books on Really Good Stuff. I have at least 11 students that are already reading out of 17. I would like to have at least 16 out of the 17 reading before school is over. What books do you recommend I purchase from you to help my students who are on the verge of reading.


  6. astutehoot on said:

    Hi Melissa,
    Thanks so much for checking out our site. I would love to help you decorate next year–it’s one of my favorite parts of teaching. I’ve helped several teachers with a variety of themes; do you have a particular theme in mind? I can help you get started and share my tried-and-true tips with you. Let me know if I can help!


  7. I love everything about your room! Please, come help me decorate next year!!!!

  8. Your classroom is absolutely amazing!

  9. astutehoot on said:

    Hi Deb,
    Thanks so much for your kind words– I am so happy to hear that you are excited to use some of my ideas. Will you please send me pictures of your owl classroom? I would love to see your layout and set up and with your permission, post on a future blog. Thanks so much!


  10. Deb Chapman on said:

    Dear Jessica,

    I love your classroom. I am doing an owl theme this year and cannot wait to use your ideas. Thank you soooo, soooo, much for sharing. Your ideas have saved me a lot of time and my excitement level is off the roof.

    Thank you again,

    Deb Chapman

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