16 May 2017

5 Tips for New (or New-To-Grade) Teachers

😊This post is also featured on the TpT blog!😊

Are you a new teacher or a veteran teacher who is changing grades? 

I see you!  I've been you! 

In my 15+ years of teaching, I've taught 7 grades! Teachers are not always given the luxury of time to plan for changes, either. Quite often, you catch word that you are being moved in August, then you are so worried about setting up your classroom that you can't even begin to think about curriculum!  

Been there, done that!

Now I'm here to help! I've pulled together some of the things that I wish I had access to right away at the beginning of a new year in a new grade, and I'm laying it all out for you! I hope you can find some calm in the storm knowing that someone has walked a mile in your shoes, survived, and is willing to pass on tips to make your transition easier...

Tip #1 Make Learning Fun for Them, and Easy for You!

When I first moved up to middle school, I had to remember a lot of grammar rules, terms, and tricks that I had stored in the far reaches of my memory bank!  Since I know teachers get bumped from grade to grade, I decided to make some products that would make teaching grammar skills easy for veteran teachers and new teachers alike! The students will like these activities, too, because they aren't boring fill-in-the-blank worksheets or diagramming sentences!





Tip #2 Don't Reinvent the Wheel!

Something else I would have loved to have as a new-to-grade teacher is pre-made, ready to go lesson presentations and activities to start my year off right and RIGHT AWAY! There is no reason you need to customize every single lesson.  Until you are comfortable with your new curriculum, use lessons that have worked successfully in other classrooms. Borrowing lessons from veteran teachers is a great way to ease into new or unfamiliar curriculum.  


Tip #3 Read, Read, Read!

I think that most English or Elementary teachers have a secret crush on books.  I freely admit that I am a book addict! I love books of all kinds, board books on up to novels! My primary goal as an ELA teacher is to get kids to LOVE reading. I love reading aloud to kids, even middle schoolers. I love recommending books, I love doing novel studies, I love discussing what students are reading in their free time. Still, as teachers, we do have to teach reading comprehension strategies and other vocabulary and writing skills. I've created some novel study guides that offer more than just your basic comprehension questions and get students deeply involved in the story - not just lists of vocabulary words and comprehension questions! These novel study guides won't take the joy out of reading by burying students in busy work.

Tip #4 Teach with Music!

Students often have difficulty understanding theme and mood in literature, but they totally get T.V. shows and popular music! I've created these two products to help! Each activity starts with an exploration of popular theme songs, either from T.V. shows or movies. Kids often learn better through music, so these activities spark interest and grow dendrites :) I love to use these activities at the beginning of the year because students LOVE them and I love learning more about my kids!


Tip #5 Use Interactive Notebooks!

I'm a BIG FAN of Interactive Student Notebooks, too! I like to think that after my students leave my class and head to high school, they will have an ELA Reference "Bible" to take along with them! These notebooks are essentially a collection of skills learned throughout the year. My students find themselves referring back to notes in their ISNs at different times of the year to refresh their memories or to review for tests. Here are a few of my favorite ISN templates and activities:


I hope that some of these suggestions will help you in your quest to make this your best year yet! Take a deep breath, believe in yourself, and let those who have walked before you help you get started on your new path!

Click on the pictures above to find out more about my best-selling products in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. To get you started, you can click on the two pictures below to download some ready-to-use TODAY freebies!


 Find more great activities and resources from Tween Spirit on Teachers Pay Teachers!

04 May 2017

Gamify Your Classroom!

At this point of the year, I think it's safe to say the kids are losing interest in being in school and teachers are pulling out all the stops to keep kids motivated and engaged!

Between state standardized testing, end-of-the-year evaluations, and the weather finally improving in some parts of the world, student engagement is probably pretty weak in your class...am I right?  I'll bet most of you are running on fumes, too...I'll admit that I am!

Well, here's my secret to re-energizing yourself, your students, and your curriculum...

gamify (ˈɡeɪmɪˌfaɪ)

to adapt (a task) so that it takes on the form of a game

What does "gamifying" look like in a classroom?  It can look a few different ways!  Read on...

Low- or No-Tech: I love using Task Cards with my students as a way to up the fun while learning! Task cards require no technology at all...well, once you've printed them!  I use task cards in a few different ways, depending on my mood:)  

  • Play Scoot! "Scoot"  is a fun way to get kids moving.  I tape as many task cards as I have students around the room or on desks.  Each child gets an answer form, then they move from one card to the next in number order and responds to each task card on their answer sheet.
  • Pass the Cards! In this version, the kids stay at their seats, but the cards move.  Once a child answers the card's question, they pass it to the person next to them until they've responded to all the cards.  This works especially well for task cards with multiple choice or short answer questions.
Poetry Vocabulary Task Cards
  • Scramble!  I give students parts of a sentence that they have to unscramble to create a complete, correctly assembled sentence with proper punctuation. You can find this game (in a non-holiday version) "The Great Clause Race" in my TpT store for only $1!
The Great Clause Race
  • Around the World! This is the classic game we all played as kids in school, usually with multiplication flash cards.  2 kids stand up next to each other, the teacher reads a question from the card, and the first child to shout out the answer moves to the next opponent.  
  • Team Challenge! This may be my favorite!  I make 5-6 sets of the same task cards.  Rather than giving students an answer sheet, I put them in small groups and have them race against other groups to sort them.  (This doesn't work for all types of task cards, though!  I especially like to do this with parts of speech, three types of verbs, verbals or other grammar topics.) This variation requires kids to work together and gets their competitive juices flowing.  It's great support for weaker students and they don't feel as intimidated.
Task Cards
  • Minute to Win It!  This is also a great team variation.  I separate kids into teams and create challenges like "find all the cards with a noun underlined, then be the first to clothespin them together", or "be the first to alphabetize the words", or even "use all the sentences containing an infinitive to build a house of cards".  My middle schoolers LOVE playing Minute to Win It!
  • I Have, Who Has? You can't do this with basic task cards, but you can find specific "I have, who has?" cards on TpT, at teacher stores, or you can make your own.  This is a great game to calm kids down and really make them focus.  Each student gets a card or two (you have to pass out all the cards in the set for the game to work and come full circle).  One card will say "start"-that student begins by reading his card.  The rest of the students have to listen to the speaker, then look at their card to see if they have what the speaker is looking for.  For example, card one may say, "Who has the prefix that means 'under'?"  The student holding the card that says 'sub-' responds, "I have 'sub-', who has the prefix that means 'to do again'?" and so on until one student is left with the "stop" card.  When I taught elementary, I'd often end my day with this game while we waited for buses, or right after lunch recess to calm students down and get them re-focused.

Tech Required: There are SO MANY amazing, interactive game programs designed just for schools!  If you haven't tried any, please do!  Here are a few of my favorites: 

  • Quizlet and Quizlet Live! I really think this is the complete package of games!  It's really easy for teachers to set up an account at quizlet.com and to have his or her students join their class.  Once you've got an account, you can either create a set of flashcards, or use a set that another teacher has already posted.  Now that you've got a set of flashcards created, the FUN begins!  Kids can log in at anytime and use the flashcards in a variety of ways-as normal flashcards, as a matching game, a race between players, and my personal favorite in-class game-Quizlet Live!  Quizlet Live allows a teacher to break a class into teams that have to work together-YES! TOGETHER!- to match up terms and definitions.  They have to work together because each student only has a few of the answers.  As a team, they all see the definition, but only one teammate has the answer, so one kid can't do all the work!  Watch a demo here: https://vimeo.com/161809345.  Trust me your class will LOVE this!  Quizlet is something kids can do on their own at home to study, and it even has an option for teachers to create a variety of tests to print off.  Quizlet is super student and teacher friendly!
  • Kahoot! This is actually my least favorite online game, but kids like it.  Kahoot allows you to create your own or use sets made by other teachers, just like Quizlet.  Unlike Quizlet, Kahoot is a multiple choice game.  Here's what I don't love.  The question is only visible on the teacher's projected screen, but the answers are only on a student's device.  That makes for a lot of looking up and down, and honestly some frustration visually.  This game is usually played with all students playing for themselves against the rest of the class, which is great for bright, competitive kids with quick fingers, but can be frustrating for slow-processing kids.  The newest update does allow for teams, which I think is an improvement to keep all kids engaged. 
  • Quizizz!  Quizizz is my latest find and current favorite.  Quizizz is similar to Kahoot, in that it lets you create or use sets of multiple choice questions made by other teachers.  However, the big difference is that each student sees the question and answers on their own screen and that it is student-paced.  In Kahoot, the whole class has to wait for all students to answer (or the teacher can set a time limit) before moving on to the next question.  In Quizizz, as soon as a student answers a question, the next question pops up on their screen and they can move on.  It takes the pressure off slower students, and eliminates boring wait time for quicker students.  There is still a level of competition involved because the teacher can post a leaderboard and a winner can be named, but this is an option, not a necessity.  The other fun thing about Quizizz, is that after each question, a meme pops up congratulating them or encouraging them.  There are pre-loaded memes, or teachers can create their own.  The kids and I think they are pretty funny!
  • Nearpod! Now, Nearpod isn't as much of a game, as the others, but it is still a fun teaching tool.  I wrote a blog post about it last year, if you want a more in-depth review.  Since that blog, they've made updates which I think make it more fun.  With Nearpod, you can upload your own powerpoint or google slide presentations and add student activities to the slide show.  When you present, each student sees your slide show on their own device while you project it.  Between slides, you can insert activities such as multiple choice questions, polls, short answer responses, drawing responses, true/false questions, etc.  The students answer the question or do the activity on their device, then all responses pop up on the teacher's screen.  It's a great way to quickly insert formative assessments in a presentation, and it keeps kids' attention and gets students actively learning  during what would otherwise be a lecture-based lesson.  Most of Nearpod's functionality is free, if you upload your own slide shows.  However, there is a paid option that allows you more choice of activities, and the ability to purchase already created Nearpod presentations.

If you are looking for ways to keep student engagement high right up to the end of the year, I hope you try out some of these activities!  Do you have other ideas to gamify a classroom?  Let me know by commenting below!  

12 April 2017

TPT Flock 2017 Recap and Giveaway!

Last weekend I had the privilege of hanging out with a bunch of
 AMAZING Teachers Pay Teachers authors!

We all flocked together!

TpTFlock17 was a meet up of teacher-authors/bloggers in Rochester, NY.  It was organized by a team of upstate New Yorkers and a few others with roots in the NY region.  These women pulled together an amazing workshop filled with teaching advice, business advice, and even some TpT "celebrity" sightings! 

Thank you for putting on such a great event!

The event was held at the beautiful Woodcliff Resort and Spa in Fairport, NY.  We had a group dinner Friday night, then Saturday was filled with workshops on Pinterest, Instagram, Blogging, product creating, and more!  I feel like I need to take a week off from school to sit at a computer and make new products and pins and blogs!!!

For me, the best part of the weekend was meeting new people.  I had the opportunity to get tips from successful TpTers like Danielle from Study All Knight, Tammy from Juggling ELA, Tabitha from Flapjack Educational Resources,  Jamie from The Not So Wimpy Teacher, Erica Bohrer, Karen Jones, and Hallie from Speech Time Fun.  These women are all so helpful and just fun to be around!  Staffers from the TpT HQ in NYC were also in attendance!  Amy and Elliott led a panel where we were able to ask questions about TpT as sellers and buyers, and they were really listening to our suggestions and concerns. 
Dinner at Champps

Hanging after the conference with Amy from TpT HQ and Tricia from Tricia's Terrific Teaching Trinkets

Chatting with Danielle Knight
  Jenny from Art with Jenny K was the keynote speaker and led us all in an incredible group art project that was revealed at the end of the day!  How cool is this creation??
Everyone at the conference made one little square and it turned out THIS cool!
Besides taking away TONS of ideas and tips, the gifts and giveaways were amazing!  Many of us participated in a gift exchange- items that we all use to make products or our lives easier.  I received this fun bag of goodies from The Teacher's Cat filled with Flair Pens, Post It Notes, and a waterbottle.

We also received a "swag bag" filled with donations collected from Teachers Pay Teachers, Starbucks, Tailwind, and generous TpT sellers such as Melonheadz, Illumismart, KB3 Teach, Poppydreamz, SillyOMusic, AlinaVDesigns, and Pigknit...just to name a few!

I loved everything about this meetup...it was honestly as good as the full Teachers Pay Teachers conference in the summer...just in a smaller dose.  If you are interested or involved in TpT in any way, you HAVE to check out this conference next year.  It was well worth my trip from Michigan, and I've already got it on my calendar for April 2018!

Giveaway Time!

I'm still on cloud nine from all the fun and I want to share the love with you!  Comment below for a chance to win a $10 Target gift card by April 30, 2017.  Write a comment about what kinds of things you'd like to see more of on TpT, your favorite resource from my store (or anywhere on TpT:), topics you'd like me to blog about in the future...whatever!  On May 1, I'll choose a commenter at random and he/she will win a $10 Target gift card!

30 March 2017

10 Tips for Helping BIG KIDS Manage Themselves at SCHOOL

I have a 5th grader and an 8th grader at home.  I just received letters from both the HIGH SCHOOL and MIDDLE SCHOOL informing me that I now, officially, have BIG kids!  How will I not have any little kids anymore?  My mommy heart is crying crocodile tears, but my mommy brain is spinning with thoughts of "how in the world will these two handle the new responsibilities of middle and high school?"

So, instead of looking at baby pictures with teary eyes and a glass of chardonnay, I stepped out of my mommy-self and put on my teacher-thinking-cap.  I work with big kids every day.  I help big kids get organized in my classroom.  I advise parents JUST LIKE ME on how to help their kids adjust to middle school.  Plus, my son has survived middle school with great grades and minimal drama, so I must have done something right. So, I sat down and made a list.  (Doesn't everything seem easier to handle when you start with a list?!?) Actually, I made 2 lists...one for teachers at school and one for parents at home! I'll share each list in a separate blog post :)

TOP 10 Tips for helping BIG KIDS Manage Themselves at SCHOOL

1. Each student should have a dedicated homework folder.  This folder goes to EVERY class and only work that needs to travel between school and home goes in it.  Now there is no need for kids dragging 50-pound backpacks home or forgetting something important in their locker!

2. Teach kids to use their planner/assignment book.  Spend time at the beginning of the year teaching this skill, then follow up throughout the year with occasional check ups.  Reward those students with fully filled-in books.

3. Use Google Classroom!  It is SO easy to set up and manage.  You can post assigments, a calendar, e-copies of work, online textbook links, video links, just about anything you can think of.  This is a life-saving resource for kids who forget papers...all they need is an internet connection and device!

4.Use remind.com to make parent/student communication quick and easy!  Just sign up for an account, then you can send texts to remind parents and students of upcoming due dates, tests, etc.

5. Create a team blog to use as an online assignment book.  Our 6th grade team all has "ownership" of a blog and we all post our daily assignments in one place.  This is especially helpful for students who struggle to fill in their planners.  Google Sites and Blogger are really easy to set up and use!

6. Have a box of extra copies in your classroom.  Put a file folder in for each day of the month.  Toss in a few extra copies of papers passed out each day for absent or absent-minded students.  If today is March 30, the papers go in file #30.

7. Don't let important materials leave the room!  I like to have ISN/Journal storage bins in my classroom.  I also don't let textbooks leave...students have online textbooks for home.

8. Offer a "Get Out of Jail Free" card!  Let kids know that we understand mistakes happen and occasionally we are all forgetful.  I like to give out one or two homework passes per quarter and my team uses "oops" coupons which students can attach to late work for no point loss.

9. Reward GREAT behavior!  Our school is a PBIS school and we give coupons to students who are caught being good.  Then, each teacher has a "store" in their classroom where students can redeem their coupons for candy, late work passes, leave class early passes, sit in the teacher's seat reward, etc.  Students really love these rewards and it helps keep them on task!

10. Offer help, but set boundaries.  I like to open my class for lunch one or two days a week to students who have questions, need extra help, or need to make up work after an absence.  I also make myself available via e-mail.  However, many students (and parents) try to overuse this help, so make sure you set boundaries about how quickly parents should expect a response from e-mail, how many times a student can come in at lunch, or how late in the day is acceptable to send e-mails about homework.

Have questions about how I organize things? Have other ideas to help students become more responsible?  I'd love to hear what you do! Comment below or e-mail me at teachwithmrsb@gmail.com!   

05 March 2017

How do you teach VERBALS?

This is a shout out to all my 8th grade teachers!  We are all tasked with trying to get students to understand VERBALS! (thanks Common Core 😱) Those pesky "verbs in disguise" are confusing as heck for students!

If your school is like mine, you probably were given a big set of grammar worksheets and maybe a reference book to use, right?  B-O-R-I-N-G for teachers and students, and not especially effective for getting kids excited about the thrilling world of grammar!  Over the past few years, I've tried to jazz up my grammar lessons by using games, coloring, and interactive activities. I rarely use the worksheets given to me by my district, however I do use them when teaching verbals!

So HOW do I teach verbals? Well, verbals are HARD to understand, no doubt about it, but they are even harder to understand if a student doesn't have a solid understanding of the parts of speech.  Even though CCSS doesn't have standards in 8th grade related to teaching nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, I feel very strongly about reviewing these parts of speech before even mentioning verbals.  I focus most of my 2nd quarter grammar lessons on practice with nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs- especially adjectives and adverbs.  I love using ISN templates as a place for students to take notes and I've created Color By Code review sheets for students to practice.  I spend at least 2 days reviewing each of these four parts of speech.
ISN Templates for Note Taking

Adjective and Adverb Color By Code

Parts of Speech "Minute to Win It" sorting game

Playing "Scoot!" with task cards
Once I feel that my students have a solid understanding of the jobs of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, it is time to BLOW THEIR MINDS with verbals!

I love using ISNs, so I start with having my students glue an anchor chart in their ISNs.  You can grab the one I use for FREE here. Then I've created Nearpod presentations to use to introduce verbals as a whole individually.  (If you'd like to know more about Nearpod, an interactive PowerPoint platform, click here to read my blog about it!) You can use whatever lesson-style you like to introduce the basics of verbals, but I personally love turning PowerPoints or Google Slides into Nearpods!  I spend four days introducing verbals, and this is one of the few times of the year I actually use the worksheets given to me by my district, because kids need A LOT of practice identifying verbals:

Day 1: Intro Verbals as "Verbs in Disguise", anchor chart and explaining the three types of verbals and how they look like verbs, but don't act like verbs in sentences.  I give them a packet of practice sheets which we will do in class together.
Day 2: Participles- I have a presentation just on participles in Nearpod.  Then we do a practice worksheet in class together.
Day 3: Gerunds- Nearpod and worksheet
Day 4: Infinitives- Nearpod and worksheet

Now that my students have had some experience with the three types of verbals, I add in the FUN!  I truly believe learning comes from student experience, not teachers' lectures.  So, I spend the next few days letting kids play around with verbals.  I use these task cards in a variety of ways with my students.  First, I post them around the room and give them a task card form.  The students "scoot" around the room reading sentences on the task cards and determining which type of verbal is used in each sentence.  I ask them to compare answers with a partner and if their answers differ, they work together to try to figure it out.  I also like to use these cards to play "Score Four!".  Score Four is a lot like the card game "Spoons".  Kids work in small groups and try to be the first to collect four task cards containing the same type of verbal, then grab a spoon or pencil from the center of the table. Students LOVE the fast-paced nature of this game! Here is what the cards look like:
Click picture to grab this activity!
By now, my students usually have a pretty good grasp on those pesky verbals!  As a final review, I challenge them to recognize when a word is being used as a verbal or when it is just acting as a verb in this Color By Code activity:
Click picture to grab this activity!
 I've tried teaching verbals a variety of ways over the last few years, and incorporating a combination of interactive introduction presentations, worksheet practice, and games to keep students engaged in reviewing has really upped my students' scores on the assessment!  I hope these strategies will help you too!

If you've got great ideas for teaching this tricky subject, I'd love to hear your suggestions!  Please post ideas in the comments, because teaching is all about collaborating!