01 August 2018

10 Tips for Helping BIG Kids Manage Themselves at HOME

TOP 10 Tips for helping BIG KIDS Manage Themselves at HOME

1. Teach them to use their phone/iPod clock. Alarms, timers, and reminders can all be used to help kids manage themselves.  Teach kids to set an alarm to wake themselves in the morning, or to alert them it's time to go to practice.  They can use a timer to manage the amount of time spent on video games, or practicing instruments, or memorizing vocabulary or math facts. The reminder app is super helpful, too! If your child has a weekly homework assignment, set a weekly reminder to go off each week to remind them to do it.  Do they have a recurring activity?  You can set reminders to go on bi-weekly, or just certain days.  This may be my FAVORITE tool on iPhones!

2. Set up a "homework zone" in your house.  This is a tip I share with all parents at Open House.  I have my kids do their homework in one designated spot-the dining room.  In the dining room, I have one drawer filled with school supplies, such as loose-leaf paper, pencils, glue, a calculator, highlighters, etc.  When the kids sit down to do homework, there is no excuse about not having a pencil, or time wasted looking all over the house for the needed tool.  They know my expectation is for them to sit in the dining room where there are very few distractions, and get their stuff done.  I'm nearby for help as needed, but there isn't a TV or toys to distract them, and anything they need is in one place.  Choose any location that works in your home, but keeping it stocked and free from distractions will help your kids work efficiently!

3. Set up a "Phone-a-Friend" system.  This is a great tool for kids who may have forgotten an assignment at school, or have questions about work that I can't answer.  (I've found this to be especially helpful as my kids get older and their homework gets harder for me!  Middle school math is not my forte, I admit.  I'm useless when my son has Algebra homework.) My kids call or face-time their (trustworthy) friends for homework help, and have been known to use the printer to copy blank worksheets for friends (or receive copies) when they forget something at school.  Screen shots of forgotten textbook pages have also been passed between friends!  Please note, this tip is NOT meant for copying work from someone else! You will have to lay down that law with your kids before teaching them how to do this!

4. Unpack the backpack.  This is such an easy and important task, yet one that often gets skipped! Homework and notes can easily get lost in the depths of a messy backpack.  I've seen students' backpacks filled to bursting with loose papers crumpled up from months ago!  The easiest way to avoid this from happening, is to set a routine of emptying backpacks at least once a week.  (This also helps find missing Tupperware, molding leftovers, etc!)

5. Use a sharable family calendar. We have four very busy family members.  I am only one mom.  I cannot and will not take responsibility for all the lessons, practices, doctor appointments, school projects, business trips, meetings, playdates, and so on for the entire family. Instead, we have family calendars.  I have one that I personally monitor on the wall in our kitchen that is color-coded by family member.  It is in a very obvious place where everyone passes multiple times per day.  Once an event is on the calendar, it is each person's responsibility to check the calendar and know their own schedules.  We also use the app Cozi (there's a free version that is all we need, I've never seen the need for the paid version, personally).  This app, in my opinion, is better than just using the calendar app on your phone.  I love it because once you set up an account, every family member has access to the information, on their phone or regular computer. Husbands and kids can update it from school, work, or anywhere and it is also color-coded!  Even better, it has a list function, so we keep our grocery list on the app!  My kids have been trained to add their own items to the list, instead of just telling me when they are out of something!  Better yet, I never forget my shopping list at home, and my husband has it on his phone which makes it easy to have him stop to pick something up on his way home from work! It works well as a "to-do" list, too!

6. Teach your children E-mail courtesy and how to talk to adults.  This is a biggie, and not something that comes naturally to anyone!  Kids need to be empowered to talk to adults.  They need to learn the etiquette of how to talk to adults.  Kids need to be taught how to craft a "professional" E-mail. As a teacher, I am constantly amazed at the E-mails I get from students.  They write to me as if I am their friend using incomplete sentences, text abbreviations, and all capital letters.  I've even received messages that are flat out rude, demands for extra credit or help with things that they are just too lazy to do for themselves, like find a page where a reading selection starts.  Parents, PLEASE teach your children to be respectful to adults in person and online.  E-mailing a teacher is a great way to ask for help, but it shouldn't be the first thing they do!  When crafting a message to a teacher, or any adult, remind your child that they should be polite, use proper spelling and grammar, and that their teachers have lives outside of school and may not respond immediately. Kids need practice with this skill.  They also need practice talking face-to-face with adults.  Let them know it is their job to talk with teachers and other adults about issues that involve them.  Parents cannot and should not always do the talking.  Let your kids order for themselves at restaurants, remind them to look people in the eye when talking, encourage them to make a phone call instead of just texting.  Start this young, so that their confidence and experience can grow over time!

7. Include your child on school- or team-related E-mails.  Does your child's school or team use messaging apps like Remind.com or TeamSnap?  Does your child's teacher send newsletters via E-mail or use Instagram or Twitter to keep parents updated?  If so, have your child participate in these communications, too!  It's easy to add their address or phone number to the distribution list.  This will help you avoid being the middle-man who has to relay messages.  For example, I used to get so annoyed reminding my son when and where his soccer games were and what uniform to wear.  Now, he gets the messages from TeamSnap, and these details are his responsibility!  It has saved me so much nagging!

8. Advocate for your child in advance, but then let them take control.  This is another way to set your child up for success and independence.  Show up for all Open Houses and parent-teacher conferences.  Let the teachers or coaches see your face and let them know that you are there to support your child.  Ask questions that you might have, and set up a good line of communication and respectful relationship.  Then back...away...slowly...  Once you all understand expectations and have a respectful relationship set up, let your child take the lead in future communications as much as possible.  They need to learn how to advocate for themselves.  Encourage them to talk to their teachers and coaches, send E-mails occasionally, and be confident in their ability to solve their own problems!

9. Keep up with MiStar/Zangle/Edline/Google Classroom...whatever your child's school uses! Parents should definitely check in on their kids' grades online when possible...but make your child keep up, too!  YOU are not the one doing the work, YOU should not be the one responsible for noticing missing assignments.  Encourage your kids to check their grades weekly, so that there are no surprises and no desperate pleas for extra credit at the end of the term.  The vast majority of teachers will accept late work, but not after grades are posted! These online grade books are a fantastic way for kids to monitor their work habits and grades.  

10. Offer help, but set boundaries.   Make yourself available to help your children.  Sit with them to do homework, make the call to the teacher or coach if necessary. Just don't do it all the time.  Many parents over-help, so make sure you set boundaries about how much help you'll give on homework, or what types of issues warrant a parent intervention at school.  Let your child know that you are stepping back, but not out of their responsibilities.  You will need to step in and monitor their work, but you aren't going to do it for them.  Be there for support, encouragement, and understanding...not enabling.

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

05 July 2018

Sun, Sand, and Savings RAFFLE Time!

Hey all!  Here are the links to register to win one of three $100 gift cards!  Just click on the name of the gift card you want to win, and you'll be forwarded to Rafflecopter to register:)

Good Luck! ☘☘☘☘
Don't forget to follow me on Instagram to find out about next week's deals!

28 June 2018

"Sun"sational Savings Coming Your Way!

Last summer, I joined up with some of the best TpT Teacher-Authors around to offer back to school savings on some of our best products AND we are doing it AGAIN this year!  

Each week, we'll have special products marked down for ONE DAY ONLY, so you've got to jump onto Instagram or Facebook to follow us at #sunsandandsavingssale each week to see what we've got for you.  Sales will run every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday each week in July (except July 9-15).  There will also be an awesome giveaway each Saturday, so make sure you register for those too!  Here's a hint of what's coming your way!

Starting Monday, July 2, check out my Instagram feed @Tween_Spirit_Tpt or search #sunsandandsavingssale to find the link to our sale items!  (psst...I'll be posting a Task Card set, a Color By Code activity, and a Reading Comprehension activity each for just $1!)  Look for this (or similar) graphic on Facebook and Instagram to find your way to next week's deals!

It's never too early to plan for the new year!  Especially, if your school year starts in early August like mine does now!  (I'm still getting used to Florida living ;)  I'm used to having until Labor Day before going back to school!)  Happy shopping and saving!

11 April 2018

Teaching with Taco Bell...and other Real World Lessons!

This teaching tip comes from my 9th grade son! 

We were having lunch after a soccer game this weekend at Taco Bell, per his request.  As we were eating, he noticed something about the sauce packets that warmed the heart of his English teacher mom.  "Look at the way the sauce types are punctuated, Mom," he said.  "The word 'mild' is in parentheses, so it's like quiet.  'Hot' is underlined, like important.  'Fire' has an exclamation point, so it's like yelling a warning."

Taco Bell teaching a grammar lesson?  YES!!!  First of all, "Yay!" for the kid who notices such things, but second of all, there is a super fun and tasty grammar lesson to be had here! 

I have to admit, I got WAY too excited about the prospect of having a punctuation lesson/taste test with my students in the near future.  Isn't this a fun way to get kids to understand the use of punctuation marks? Here's all you need to do:

1. Go to Taco Bell, grab a few packets of each type of sauce.
2. Buy some tortilla chips.
3. Have your students try each type of sauce, discuss the different tastes.
4. Have students "close read" the packets, what do they notice?
5. If they don't notice on their own, point out the punctuation marks.
6. Connect the taste test to the punctuation marks.

I absolutely LOVE any opportunity to connect curriculum to the real world!  I give extra credit to students who find typos or mistakes on signs and in published texts.  I have a collection of signs, mugs, dishtowels, etc. with funny grammar sayings.  We watch video clips to analyze speech patterns and impressions of the speaker based on their grammar and usage. It's these connections that help students understand why grammar lessons are important, and helps them become "close readers" of the world.  Grammar and punctuation lessons can be dull if just presented in diagramming sentences or fill-in-the-blank worksheets.  I like to jazz up my lessons with real-world connections, and fun activities like this taste test!

I can't wait to do this activity with my middle schoolers next week!  Let me know if you try this activity in your classroom and how it goes!  I'd also love to hear about your great ideas for making grammar fun!  Comment below with your ways to make grammar fun and engaging!

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!