Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Increase Engagement: Table Mascots

While I was cleaning  my garage over Christmas break, I came across a grey plastic grocery bag knotted at the top.  As I picked it up to toss it into the trashcan, I noticed the odd shapes and movement it was making. I untied the top, and peaked inside to find a random collection of solar power dancing toys.

Now, I have no idea where these toys came from.  None.

But who am I to throw away an opportunity like that? Literally.

I carried them back to school in the little gray bag they came in where they sat in my cabinet for about 3.5 weeks. Then came the day when we were doing a POP Challenge and I had NOTHING for prizes. I scrounged through my cabinets looking for anything and everything (I've been known to give away broken crayons and dust bunnies) and my eyes skirted across the gray bag.  With a huge smile, happy dance, and sigh of relief, I knew what I was going to do!

For each class, I set the solar power dancing toy on the Smartboard and told them the Pop Challenge prize would be naming rights and the opportunity to house the homeless toy on their group's table until our next Pop Challenge.

And it worked.

Every day the winning table gets their mascot and proudly sets it on their table.  They name it, and even make little clothes and accessories for it.

Everyday I get asked if we are going to do a new Pop Challenge for the chance to win the toy for their table.

It's a highly coveted honor to house the dancing flower on your table for the week.

So much so that they worked together, used their notes, and thought critically to sort sentences without any guidance from me!   THEY WERE EXCITED TO DO GRAMMAR! Whhhhaaaaat....

Money Spent = $0
Student Engagement = 100%
That's a total win in my book!

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Instagram Novel Project

I love Instagram.

It's just telling your story in pictures.

I also love stories.

So I started thinking about how I could combine the two....and the Instagram Novel Project was born!

During the reading process, I'm super big on visualizing while we read. So many of my students struggle with this concept!

The idea of the Instagram project is to get them thinking about what the story looks and fees like as we read. 

How it works...
1. I put them into groups of 3 or 4 for the duration of the novel.

2. As we read a chapter or selection, the students are jotting down the BIG THINGS that happen (central idea!)

3. The group picks one important scene from the chapter to recreate and take a picture of. I let them bring their own devices.  It just made it easier.  If this is not an option, you can always use the school iPads.

4. They then create hashtags, comments from other characters (inferring), and captions.

That's it!

It's super easy, fun, and engaging!

If you would like the project outline, rubric, and student planning sheets, they are available on my TpT store!  Just click the picture below!

Happy Teaching,

Monday, January 30, 2017

Why I Read Aloud to my Middle Schoolers

So I have this theory that is not at all, to my knowledge, backed up by formal research. 

Just observations I have made over my 13 years teaching.

My students don't understand the patterns of dialogue, character voices and tones, and nuances found in a novel because they have not been read aloud to consistently.

I know elementary teachers do read alouds, but a lot of times the teachers are the only ones that have the books.  Students listen, but they are not seeing how it is written, so they can not replicate when reading independently.

Students need to read the words in their head as it is read aloud.  They need to see how the dialogue is written in order to understand quotation marks. They need to recognize that a new paragraph in dialogue in a different character speaking. 

This is something that, and I'm not exaggerating here, 85 out of my 110 students do not understand at the beginning of the year.
I still remember the first book read aloud to me that I got my own copy to follow along with.  It was in third grade and my teacher, Mrs. Roth, read Island of the Blue Dolphins.  It was magical! I was so engaged with the characters and their challenges that didn't want her to stop. When she had to, I couldn't wait to read again the next day.  I felt the characters were apart of me. It was in that moment a reader was born.

This is the moment I try to give to my 7th graders. 

So when you walk by by classroom, you will hear me reading aloud. I take on Katniss' persona, I try to capture the angst of Four, and the ego of John Wilkes Booth. After a couple of weeks of them hearing me, I assign reading parts.  {Check out this post for a more detailed explanation of this process}.

And then, at the end of the book, you will hear my students clapping, sighing, and excitedly asking if we will read the sequel {not in class, but they do it on their own!}

If you have any questions about how I do read alouds, please email or comment below! I will be happy to share!!

Happy Teaching,

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Five Things I'm Thankful for This Week

1. Dry Shampoo

My world has been forever changed!  I have tons of hair that takes me tons of time to wash, dry, straighten, and curl.  I was doing this on a every other day basis. Now, with my recent purchase of awesomeness in a bottle, I'm doing this every 4-5 days!!  Even with working out!  The extra time in the mornings have been amazing. Somehow I'm still rolling into school just barely on time....I need a driver in my life. #lifegoals

2. Lunches I Can Shake

I'm not very creative in the food department, nor do I make the time to prepare meals to bring to school. I'm also not brave enough to eat the school food (they warm food up in the individualized plastics bags they come in...that really can't be safe). So now, I just bring my super amazing protein powder and shake, shake, shake during lunch.  Instant nutrition and extra time to work while the kids eat! (If you would like to know the type of shakes I use, email me at I would love to share!!)

3. $2 Ulta Nail Polish

THE. BEST. NAIL. POLISH. EVER. It's $2, it doesn't flake or chip, and lasts all week.  The best I have ever used!

4. Found Notes From Students

This note was found as rules for a new club some lovely students were forming. Personally, I think they are great life rules.  In fact, I might paint them on a pallet and hang it over my stove.  We have already established them as our 7th grade team rules from this point forward.  Haha!
5. Netflix

I don't watch a lot of TV.  Like, ever.  My free time is spent reading {sometimes school related YA novels.  Most of the time, though, it's junk food for the brain} BUT....Gilmore Girls, y'all! I can watch ALL episodes back to back! It is the best!  Whoever came up with this idea needs a unicorn!

Happy Teaching,

Friday, January 27, 2017

Fitness Friday: Change Your Mindset

When you take the stress and chore out of working out, then your mindset and energy surrounding exercise starts to shift.

Think about it...what WANTS to do chores (soooo not the bathroom is not my favorite in the world)

When you don't want to do something, you put it off until the vary last minute, or it just doesn't get done at all.

This is why we always say we will start going to the gym TOMORROW. Because the chore of going today is too much (especially after grading, analyzing data, PLCs, dealing with THAT ONE student, etc.).

We need to restructure how we THINK about exercise. It doesn't have to involve you going to a gym if you don't want to.  Just think of happy and fun ways to get your body MOVING.

Instead of using exercise to lose weight (because that is more about diet me at if you want to know how I plan my meals) use it as a way to relieve stress, gain mental clarity, and experience happiness.

Find a friend at school and make a commitment to walk the halls together for thirty minutes at the end of the day. 

If you're like me, this is the amount of time I usually spend in a teammate's classroom talking about the day.  If we talk while we walk, then we relieve stress and we are happier when we are done. The "optional" assessment the district just added on top of the assessment we JUST GAVE doesn't seem as bad anymore. It is just another opportunity for our students to show how much they are learning this year!

And, after all, Healthy Teachers are Happy Teachers!

Happy Teaching,

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Increase Energy and Excitement: Scavenger Hunts

Our students have been taking benchmarks all week and they needed to get up and MOVING.

Instead of them sitting down and showing them a super cool Prezi on sentence types, I sent them on a journey around the school to find the definitions.

They worked in groups of 4.

To begin with, I started each group out with a different clue, so they started in different locations.

At each location there was two envelopes: One that contained the next clue and one that had the definition.  (you could use multiple choice questions, math problems, challenge questions, etc!!)

To make it more exciting, I added a time element.

The group that completely finished the scavenger hunt in the fastest time won {a little bit of competition makes everything more exciting}

To control the potential craziness, I had each group carry an index card with them.  If they were caught running or yelling by any teacher, office staff, administration, etc that they would sign the card and 30 seconds for each signature would be added to their finishing time. 

Looking for some hints for clues...check mine out:

1. Paint brushes, markers, crayons, oh my! This is where you will go if you have a creative eye. (Art Room)

2. I don’t want to brag, but I really love this magical flag. ( I have a unicorn flag hanging outside my classroom..the clues and definition were under it)

3.  If you’re written up or sick, this is often times where you will sit.  (The lobby in front of the office)

4.  Items misplaced live here, but you may have to walk to somewhere 6th graders fear.  (The lost and found on our 8th grade hall)

5. Ms. K is a jack of all trades, math and LA, sometimes you will find her hiding far away. (a teacher's outside POD classroom)

6. If a cold beverage is what you request, here you can be refreshed.  (the drink machines)

7.  This is a place to catch up with friends, and also where you keep your book bag and pens.  (an empty locker..I put the locker number on the clue card)

8. Shiny objects rest in this display, if you don’t win one you might be dismayed. (the trophy case)

If you have any questions about how to run this activity, comment below or send me an email!

Happy Teaching,

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Energy Leads to Engagement: Reader's Theater

We can't sit behind desks all day, have our students sit for 60 minutes at tables, and expect them to be engaged.

We have to get out there. Get them moving. Get them INVOLVED!

Energy leads to excitement that leads to engagement.

It's that simple!

Now, as much as I would love to be able to put content into songs (Ron Clark is my mentor....although he just doesn't know it. haha) My brain doesn't work that way. So I have to come up with ways that match my personality and teaching style to get the students engaged.

Here is a little idea you can start using right now to get your students ENGAGED and EXCITED!

Reader's Theater:
When we are reading novels, I assign students to characters.

We push the tables back, form a circle, and our actors/actresses are in the middle.

I read the narration and when it comes to a character's direct quote or lines in the book, they read and act it out.

No prep necessary!

When I started doing this, I was so surprised that students were confused on when characters were talking.  They did not understand quotation marks, dialogue, or flow.  This activity has really helped them understand the feelings and emotions of the characters!!

The students get so into it that we have to have a drawing for character parts. For reals, y'all! The WANT to read OUT LOUD!

If you have any questions about reader's theater, comment or email!

Happy Teaching,

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