Sunday, October 19, 2014

Common Core Writing in October {Writing Center/ Task Cards/Halloween Writing Projects}

I'm planning to use these again with my class starting tomorrow so I thought this would be a good time to rerun the post. 

We are going through pencils like crazy and it is only the second month of school. We began math journals this week and have completed some structured narrative and opinion writing pieces as well as a few writing projects that were coupled with crafts (Bad Case of the Stripes, and Rocking in my School Schools). We also conducted spider research and are in the process of drafting one of my annual favorites: Diary of a Pig in conjunction with our literature study of Charlotte’s Web. Gosh! Typing it all out makes me realize just how busy we’ve been. 
While we seem to always have some writing in the works, I also love to give them time for free writing so they can work on their craft in a way that they choose. The problem was that I would hear that infamous line, “I don’t know what to write about.” At that point I would redirect them to the paragraph idea banks which provided them with a huge list of topics that were personal to them, but I felt like I needed to also add in another option. 
{Click to Access and Download the October Mega-Writing Packet}
And so I created a collection of fun prompts for the month of October that not only motivates them to write, but also covers so many of the Common Core standards. 
There are prompts for narrative, opinion, informative, and creative story writing. I have these presented as a 4 single sheets of prompts so they can see all the prompts at a glance and also as individual task cards that can be taken to their seat or a comfy spot for writing. 
The packet even includes the narrative and opinion prompts using the same 7 page writing process packets as my popular Narrative and Opinion Paragraph of the Week Packet (brainstorm, organize, draft, edit, publish rubric) if you want to use these prompts to take them through the writing process. These are great for homework throughout the month of October.
The packet includes everything shown in the Table of Contents below:
{Click to Access and Download}
The packet includes materials that will allow you to cover almost all of the Common Core Standards for writing...and if you want to actually cover them all you simply need to add in a step having them publish their final copy using the computer.

This blog posts gives you a look at one of my most popular writing packets: Haunted House for Sale which is great for descriptive writing.

Are you looking for an easy and consistent way to have your students practice their writing? This blog post explains what I use for growing their craft, preparing them for assessments and using as homework and / or emergency sub plans as well.

Seasonal Writing Projects
I love documenting my students writing progress with these adorable keepsake writing projects. The growth they show between the fall and the spring is amazing! The following links will take you to the blog posts where I showcased the seasonal writing projects.

Be sure to follow my blog and store  and Facebook Page for notification of the FreebiesClick here to access a collection of Teacher Tips or tour my Classroom Makeover here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spiders: A Comprehensive Integrated Thematic Unit for Grades 2-4 {Common Core Aligned; science; reading; writing}

I'm so happy to announce that I have added a comprehensive teaching resource focused on SPIDERS to the Clutter-Free Classroom Store. It includes over 100 printable differentiated pages with activities that are perfect and Common Core aligned for students in grades 2-4, but would also work well for 5th graders. 

I used it in my classroom as a two week unit prior to reading Charlotte's Web {look for details on that unit soon}. This unit is also a wonderful option for the month of October when kids are motivated by all things Halloween. If your school does not allow Halloween in the classroom you will find that this is a great way to make the kids happy without mentioning the holiday. 
{Click to Access and Download this Resource}
 I've included a pacing guide outlining how I used it in my classroom as well as a page detailing each of the activities. There is little to no prep involved in using the activities and printing. There are optional materials for creating anchor charts and displays in the classroom which require some cutting and glueing, but they are not necessary as there are printable versions for individual student use as well.

Check out all the images below to see what is included. :)

This integrated thematic unit provides teachers and students with a complete collection of printables for a two-week study of SPIDERS. The unit can be used as a stand alone resource or in conjunction with other materials. There is little to no prep involved (just optional anchor charts if you choose to make them) and all you’ll need to add is a collection of books on the topic for your students to use for their research. I’ve even included tips on easily acquiring books and resources.

The packet includes differentiated materials to make modifying simple and enables you to use it with a variety of grade levels and abilities. It is completely Common Core aligned and ideal for second grade, third grade, fourth grade and homeschool, but would certainly be useful to 5th and 6th graders as well.

Included in this packet you’ll find:
  • TEACHER GUIDE: outlines a 2-week pacing plan and details how the materials can best be used
  • SAMPLE CHARTS & DISPLAYS: photographs of charts created using the printables  found in the packet
  • TIPS FOR GATHERING RESOURCES: explains ways to easily acquire books and other resources to use 
  • FACTS AND INFO FOR TEACHERS: provides educators with background knowledge on the topic
  • NON-FICTION SCAVENGER HUNT: familiarizes students with the elements of non-fiction that will be helpful to them when conducting research and learning about the topic
  • THEMATIC BOOKMARKS: both color and ink-saving versions of thematic bookmarks the students may use
  • SCHEMA MATERIALS: individual student charts and materials to create collaborative classroom displays documenting what the students know, wonder and learn as well as a means of addressing misconceptions
  • READ TO FIND OUT: set a purpose for reading by having students list their questions prior to beginning the study and have them record the answers as they discover them
  • NOUNS, VERBS, and ADJECTIVES CHART: gets the students brainstorming related vocabulary
  • CAN / HAVE / and ARE CHARTS: helps to organize student thinking and assists with writing...there are individual student printables as well as a collection of options for creating a collaborative classroom chart
  • VOCABULARY ACTIVITIES: includes word cards with and without definition for a classroom display, individual student charts, and a student created booklet which provides an opportunity for students to illustrate words, use them in context, define them and explain their meaning in their own words
  • WORD STUDY ACTIVITIES: using vocabulary cards or their lists students will alphabetize and sort the words by syllables to strengthen dictionary and spelling skills
  • LABELED DIAGRAM ACTIVITIES: a collection of options for working with diagrams to increase understanding of the topic and related vocabulary; students have opportunities to label images and/or illustrate and label on their own; there is also materials to create a classroom display
  • VENN DIAGRAM: students can deepen their understanding of the topic by finding the similarities and differences between the subject and related things
  • FACTS and OPINIONS: this can be used as an independent work activity or as a center/workstation and provides students with the option of sorting pre-written statements related to the topic or brainstorming and listing their own
  • PROMPT CARDS FOR DISCUSSION OR JOURNALING: students can use these cards to have partner or group discussions on the topic based on both their own thoughts and opinions and ideas gained from research; the cards can also be used as journal prompts 
  • LIFE CYCLE ACTIVITIES: students will have an opportunity to research, illustrate, discuss or write about the life cycle 
  • INFORMATIONAL WRITING PRINTABLES: a large collection of differentiated materials to take students through the writing process including graphic organizers, two-column notes, top-down webs, drafting paper, planners, and thematic final copy paper
  • THE IMPORTANT BOOK ACTIVITY: inspired by "The Important Book" by Margaret Wise Brown, this activity serves as an informal assessment on student knowledge of the topic; it is ideal for creating a class book as well and includes both color and ink-saving black and white covers
  • COMMON CORE STANDARDS ALIGNMENT: a complete list including the standard number and description for all of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade standards that are covered in the materials in this packet.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Unplug from Social Media~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 9}

As part of this series I am sharing free resources and printables to complement the tips and ideas shared in these posts. Upon completion, the eBook will be an easy-to-read format that organizes all of the strategies in one place and provides you with printable organizers, labels and more. It is available to download for free on my products page. With each new blog post in the series new pages will be added to the eBook. You can access each new addition by redownloading it.
{Visit my FREEBIES and More Page to Access this Free Resource}

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Tips for Using Parent Volunteers Outside the Classroom~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 8}

Many students come from families with working parents. These parents may want to volunteer, but their schedules do not allow for them to come into the classroom during the school day. By creating a list of tasks that family members can complete at home you will not only help them to feel more involved in their childs’ education, but you will also find this can be a time-saving strategy for you as the teacher.

To really make this an efficient experience you’ll want to look for jobs that can be completed on a regular basis. This means that you will not need to take additional time to explain what needs to be done. Below are some great options for home volunteers.

Sharpening Pencils: Send home packages of new pencils in a large zipper bag. The families can sharpen them at home and return them to school in the bag.

Preparing Book Orders: Volunteers pull the individual catalogs out of the booklet they come in and staple them together with the cover sheet explaining how to order the books. I find it is helpful to attach an envelope labeled with the students name for them to send in the form and money.

Cutting: This is a great task for people to do while watching TV.

Making Playdough: Playdough is a great item to have in all classrooms. Even in third grade I have it available for indoor recess and also use it when exploring many math concepts. 

Laminating: Laminating small items is a great task that parents can do at home. You can purchase a personal laminator and plastic pouches at a low cost (I have had my laminator for years and have shared my love for it here on the blog. It's still going strong and was well worth the investment) for them to keep at their house and simply send home the items as needed. 

As part of this series I am sharing free resources and printables to complement the tips and ideas shared in these posts. Upon completion, the eBook will be an easy-to-read format that organizes all of the strategies in one place and provides you with printable organizers, labels and more. It is available to download for free on my products page. With each new blog post in the series new pages will be added to the eBook. You can access each new addition by redownloading it.
{Visit my FREEBIES and More Page to Access this Free Resource}

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Create a System of Delegating Classroom Tasks~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 7}

If you are forunate enough to have a student teacher, a classroom assistant, a clerical aide or even a parent volunteer then you’ll want to make the most of the time they have set aside to help you. Creating a system for delegating tasks will allow them to take the initiative in completing the jobs they are capable of doing for you.

Begin by gathering the following:
a notebook
file folders labeled with number in the corner
two dishpans or similar containers

Designate a location in the classroom to house the container so that your helpers always know where they can find it.

Use the notebook to list tasks that they can complete for you. Let them know to check the notebook to see what needs to be done and to cross off the task when it is completed.

Use the folder to hold the papers they will need to photocopy, sort, file, apply stickers to, alphabatize, etc. When you are listing a task in the notebook also make note of the folder the papers can be found in (i.e. photocopy math homework folder#3 or organize book order forms folder #5).

Use the containers to house the folders, notebook, and other items needed to complete the tasks such as a stapler, hole-punch, etc. The second container may be used for the helper to place the completed tasks into.  I personally like to use dishpans for this purpose because they can be stored inside one another until the helper needs to use it to place the completed tasks into.

As part of this series I am sharing free resources and printables to complement the tips and ideas shared in these posts. Upon completion, the eBook will be an easy-to-read format that organizes all of the strategies in one place and provides you with printable organizers, labels and more. It is available to download for free on my products page. With each new blog post in the series new pages will be added to the eBook. You can access each new addition by redownloading it.
{Visit my FREEBIES and More Page to Access this Free Resource}

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Color Code Your To Do List to Prioritize Tasks~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 6}

As part of this series I am sharing free resources and printables to complement the tips and ideas shared in these posts. Upon completion, the eBook will be an easy-to-read format that organizes all of the strategies in one place and provides you with printable organizers, labels and more. It is available to download for free on my products page. With each new blog post in the series new pages will be added to the eBook. You can access each new addition by redownloading it.
{Visit my FREEBIES and More Page to Access this Free Resource}

Monday, September 22, 2014

Save Time by Prioritizing and Letting Go of Tasks~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 5}

Truth: it will never all get done. If you are a teacher you will never EVER be the proud owner of a blank to do list. It simply is not possible. Sure we can chip away at those “in your face” things that have official deadlines like report cards, lesson planning, returning parent emails, etc but the bottom line is there will always be a million and one other teacher-related tasks cluttering your mind. However, by prioritizing your responsibilities and being willing to let go of tasks that aren’t necessary you will have a stronger feeling of accomplishment and be less overwhelmed.

One of the best tips I have for helping teachers organize their classroom is to start by purging anything that does not need to be in the space. Simply put, the less you have the less you have to manage. The same is true for the never ending to do list. 

In my classroom I have had great success helping students manage their assignments with a “Must Do / May Do” Board. The board simply lists the things that are not a choice and need to get done as well as the options for when the “must dos” are completed.

Typically teachers write out a to do list that sequentially lists tasks as they come to mind. Instead try listing the tasks in a 3 column format. In the left column list the items that you must complete (report cards, lessons plans, etc). In the middle column record the things that you should (change a bulletin board, clean out a filing cabinet, etc). In the right column list things you would love to do...IF you had the time.

Writing the list this way will force you to prioritize things right from the start and will make it easier for you to focus on what is most important and perhaps even eliminate some things that just aren’t necessary.

Be kind to yourself and learn to embrace the fact that there will always be something that should get done. The key is determining what needs to gets done immediately and what you can just let go of.

As part of this series I am sharing free resources and printables to complement the tips and ideas shared in these posts. Upon completion, the eBook will be an easy-to-read format that organizes all of the strategies in one place and provides you with printable organizers, labels and more. It is available to download for free on my products page. With each new blog post in the series new pages will be added to the eBook. You can access each new addition by redownloading it.
{Visit my FREEBIES and More Page to Access this Free Resource}

Sunday, September 21, 2014

New England Teacher Blogger Meet-Up

I can't believe meet-up day is next week! 

In case you missed it the first time, we're having a casual get together for New England Teacher Bloggers. Be sure to email me ( if you plan to attend.

I put together a linky party to get to know the folks coming so if you plan to attend please swing by this blog page and link up your blog. You may want to do a special blog post introducing yourself (where you are coming from, what you teach, etc), but you can just link directly to your blog if you wish.

Below is the original post:

The event will be held at the Boston Museum of Science on Saturday, September 27, 2014.  

In selecting a venue, it was important that the location be as central to everyone as possible and provide the opportunity for mixing and mingling and chatting with everyone. The cafeteria at the Museum offers open seating and a variety of food choices including a salad bar.

The Museum is an easy drive (it is immediately off rte 93 so no need to actually drive in the city), but is also accessible via the commuter rail and the T. They offer free admission for teachers (be sure to take advantage of this even if you are not planning to attend the Get Together because it is such an amazing deal) so there is no cost to enter the museum.  They also have an amazing educator resource center that loans books, dvds and other resources for free! Contact them to make an appointment if you are interested in checking that out.

I also thought this was a great location choice for anyone who would be traveling to Boston with their significant others/kids because it would give them lots and lots to do while we meet and greet! Not only are there many things to enjoy in the MOS, but the Boston Duck Tours leave from there as well.

Are you interested in joining us? Send me an email at and I’ll add you to the group! I’m really looking forward to getting to know you all.

Also...if you are a New England Teacher or Teacher Blogger please share this info on your blogs, Facebook, instagram, etc. to spread the word. The more the merrier.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Save Time by Getting Students to Help You ~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 4}

Aside from yourself, your students know your classroom the best. I have shared tips on my blog for managing student jobs that will help your school days run smoothly (you can view that post here). In addition to the job chart tasks, students can also be used to assist you with completing many tasks that you would otherwise take on yourself. 

The key is to utilize their eagerness and ability to help in an efficient and effective manner. This can be accomplioshed by listing tasks that they can complete that are not time sensitive as you think of them and scheduling a time for the children to assist in completing them.  Here are a few tips to make it a successful experience:

  • Schedule a block of time outside the regular school day to have your helpers come in. I have found that 30-60 minutes once a week or once every other week is sufficient.  Because this is not instructional time you can also use the time to do some of the administrative tasks that you need to do file, plan, etc.
  • Obtain the proper permission from administration and/or parents.
  • Select students who are capable of getting the jobs done quickly and accurately. Because you may not want to exclude children you may consider sorting tasks by ability.  Alternately you may enjoy inviting former students who are now older and capable of taking on more responsibility to come back in and help out.
  • Have everything you need ready to go when the students arrive. 
  • Provide the students with a copy of the list of tasks that need completing and allow them to check them off when they are done.
  • Preparing Science Experiements: Provide students with a list of materials and have them sort them onto trays or into dishpans for easy distribution during class.
  • Organizing Math Manipulatives: Volunteers can count out and bag up pattern blocks, cubes, etc that will be used for math lessons and activities.
  • Leveling Books: Capable students can use the Scholastic Book Wizard to type in book titles and record the reading level on the cover. 
  • Maintain Your Library: Students can check to make sure books are shelved properly by direction, level, genre, etc. This is also a good opportunity to dust the shelves and clean the area.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Save Time by Implementing Efficient Email Strategies ~Time-Saving Tips for Teachers {A Daily Blog Series: Day 2}

Email can save you lots of time, but if not managed properly it can cost you valuable time as well.  When you check email throughout the day you open yourself to constant distraction.

We often find ourselves on mail lists that are of no value to us. Typically there is a link hidden somewhere within the text of each email that allows you to opt out of getting them. Do this!

Sometimes you’ll receive emails that you know don’t need to be read without even opening them. This is especially true for promotional mailings alerting you to a sale. Simply delete these without taking the time read them.

Ideally you will want to respond to a message immediately so that it is not lingering as an undone task. This is not always possible. For that reason it is helpful to set up folders for messages that are awaiting an action. Typically you can get by with 3 folders: answer, do, and save. If you are not able to act immediately on a message forward it to a folder or tag it with a label to answer or act upon it at a later time. If it simply needs to be saved so you’ll have it to reference it can be moved to a saved folder to clear out your inbox.

Avoid checking email throughout the day. Instead check it first thing in the morning when you arrive at school to see if there are any messages that are time sensitive or contain information needed for that day (schedule changes, meetings, etc). Delete and sort emails quickly. Designate time after school to check it again and act/respond to the day’s messages as needed. Add these times to your daily schedule to help you stick to them. Be sure to communicate to your students’ families that you typically respond to emails in the afternoon.

Often we waste time stressing over how to respond or how to word an email tactfully. If you are trying to compose an email and it is taking more than a few seconds of thought it may be best to skip the email and make a quick phone call instead. This is especially true for email where “tone” may be wrongly inferred.

Before sending an email ask yourself:
Is this email necessary?
Will this email invite or require a response from the recipient?

Simply put the less email you send, the less email you’ll receive.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Constitution Day {classroom ideas, crafts, lessons, books, pictures, tips, videos and more}

Did you know that on September 17th ALL teachers in schools that receive government funding are required to teach about the Constitution? 

Here's the thing...I don't typically get into the debates over politics and about how the people making these laws and policies aren't teachers, but this certainly falls into that category. Do I think the Constitution is important? Of course. Should children learn about it? Sure. Do I see why they picked September 17th as the day that we must teach a random lesson? Yes (It's the day the Constitution was signed).

While I do understand the thought behind it, as teachers we know that it is not considered best practice to randomly teach an isolated lesson about a topic that requires a great deal of background (much less attempt such a task only a couple of weeks into the school year). In the past I scrambled to find something to fulfill my obligation as Constitution Day ALWAYS snuck up on me. It seemed the same was true for many of my public school teacher friends so I knew it was time to plan ahead and create something useful for a spectrum of grade levels.

The final result was a 50+ page packet for grades K-5 with a choice of different activities included. There is certainly something for all abilities and levels and can be used year after year (even if you change grade levels).

{Click to access and download the Constitution Day Packet}
{Click to access and download the Constitution Day Packet}

I'm  really looking forward to doing the included Classroom Constitution lesson this week as I feel it will be an awesome community-building activity AND will make the upcoming Constitution Day lessons have so much more meaning to them. If you have already developed a set of  "classroom rules" you can still do this by discussing how the established rules have been working for the class and making the focus be on Amendments.
I decided to try something new this year. Because students don't typically have a lot of schema about the Constitution and since we are required to teach a lesson about it so early in the year, I am planning to create a Classroom Constitution in place of the traditional "Let's make a set of class rules together" lesson. I'll be teaching it this week and will blog about it next weekend (the full directions are already included in the packet), but the basic idea is that they will work together to draft a document that outlines the expectations in the classroom. It will include related vocabulary such as Preamble, Articles, and Bill of Rights...and best of all...we will make amendments to it. 

I drafted a one page summary explaining the Constitution in kid-friendly terms. It's a great guide for teachers and students to help understand the basics. There are two graphic organizers included. These are helpful for recording information as the students learn about the Constitution, as planners for a writing project on the topic or they can be used as a culmination activity to assess student understanding.

The Preamble activity can be differentiated for use with Kindergarten through upper elementary. It was designed to help students understand what the words and phrases mean and includes an overview for teachers, a choice of a poster or a flap booklet for students to put the preamble into their own terms, a colorful title for a classroom chart along with labeled cards for students to either illustrate (younger learners) or explain in words and/or pictures (older learners). The idea is to assemble these onto chart paper using the included title to create a super-simple display.
These themed pages can be used with the included prompts or any prompt you select and are differentiated to meet the varied needs of your learners. They include drawing paper, head line/midline/baseline paper with room to illustrate, and lined paper for older learners.

This section contains two different versions. The first includes the wording of each amendment with an explanation of what it means and the second includes the wording of each amendment with space for the student to explain what it means. Both include space to record their thoughts in either words of pictures. These can be used to have each student complete a book of his own or as a collaborative project to make a class book or display. A cover is included.

Show the students the video titled, The Preamble to the Consitution which is part of the Schoolhouse Rock! DVD . I highly recommend this DVD as it includes every School House Rocks video ever created. While they are old, they truly engage the kids and are so short that they can be incorporated into so many lessons. We use them for grammar, science, social studies and more.

Although it is a bit harder to find, your friends may also enjoy The Birth of The Constitution:This is America Charlie Brown [VHS] which (like it's Pilgrim and Thanksgiving video) includes a surprising amount of actual content at a level kids understand.

If you or your school has a subscription to Brain Pop you could show the video they created to teach about The Constitution as well.

  • As an extension, have your students complete a "House Constitution" at home with their families.
  • Host a classroom discussion about the Constitution by asking open ended questions such as "What would happen if there were no laws?"
  • Gather a collection of books for the students to read during self-selected reading (see list below for ideas)
  • Have students complete a biography project on one of the Framers who were influential in creating the Constitution.
  • Make a timeline of the events leading up to the signing of the Constitution.
  • Have students create artwork or practice writing their names with feathers dipped in ink.
  • Create a word collage of vocabulary that relates to the Constitution.
{original sources  - clockwise: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4}

Me on The Map is one of my all-time best-selling products. It would be a wonderful way to help students understand that they are citizens of the United States, prior to learning about the Constitution.

Biography Activities to Use when Studying Anyone contains a variety of mini-projects that are extremely open-ended because they can be applied to anyone. They are perfect when learning about historical figures, but I also like to use them to have the kids complete autobiography projects about themselves. You could use any of the activities in the packet to study the Founding Fathers who created the Constitution.

I use my Living Biography Museum packet as part of our biography unit. Again it would be a great enrichment activity when learning about the men involved in the creation of the Constitution.

If you are looking to integrate some science and social studies then Ben Franklin is the dude for you. He is my favorite person to research with the kids because he did so much. We learn about him at the same time we are covering science and electricity in science. It will be nice to have the connection to the Constitution as well.

Because Constitution Day falls early in the school year, your students may not yet be skilled in having discussions that require them to state and support their opinion. You might find my Common Core Opinion Paragraph of the Week to be helpful in developing those skills for future discussions. {It is also available as a bundle with my Common Core Narrative Paragraph of the Week}.

Coming soon! Check back soon as I will be updating when I complete the activities in my classroom.

Be sure to follow my blog and store  and Facebook Page for notification of the FreebiesClick here to access a collection of Teacher Tips or tour my Classroom Makeover here.

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