2017 - The Classroom Nook


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Christmas Survival Guide for Teachers

I remember it all too well.  Those few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a bit overwhelming.  You're desperately trying to keep holiday-crazed kids focused and learning all while trying to maintain your sanity both inside and outside of the classroom

There's Christmas shopping to do for family and friends, holiday parties, papers to grade before the long break, and about 100 other things to check off of your to-do list.

You want to incorporate holiday fun into your classroom, but you barely have time to eat during this time of year let alone plan holiday activities for your students.

Well, breathe, friend, breathe...

As we enter this crazy time of year, I want to help you feel less stressed and more prepared for the hectic weeks ahead.

And I think I have juuuust the right resources to do the trick.  Below you'll find my top tips for making it through December alive and well.

Read on and carry on :)

Easy Ways to Increase Student Participation (...and Build a Stronger Classroom Community!)

Easy Ways to Increase Student Participation (...and Build a Stronger Classroom Community!)

Consider this statement:

"Relationships come first, everything else is second."

Would you agree?

So often teachers focus on teaching the content, but we often forget a very important core element of teaching:  relationships.  Students learn best from teachers that they have genuine relationships with.  If we fail to set that foundation, we are passing up incredible opportunities for learning and growth in our classrooms.

relationships come first, everything else comes second

Now, imagine this:

You're working on a new concept with your students and instead of having the same 3 students engaging in your classroom discussions, you have nearly the entire class interacting with one another (cue the laughter and smiles), while you watch learning expand from wall to wall in your classroom.  What a lovely sight!

Is it achievable?  Sure is!

Dare I say you can have all of your students participating in their learning AND building relationships with you and each other...at the same time?  Well, I just did and I'm gonna show you easy ways on how you can start doing it tomorrow!!

(All of these ideas are some of my biggest take-aways from the Annual Conference for Middle Level Education that I recently attended)

I'm gonna share this information with you in two ways.  I've got a cliff notes style as well as a Facebook LIVE replay that you can check out to get the full details!  You choose!


5 Games to Play with a Hundreds Chart

learn 5 games you can play with a hundreds chart

I love using hundreds charts with my students.  It's such a simple tool that has so many purposes!

You know what else I love?  Games!

I'm always trying to turn something that students need to learn into some form of game.  If the game requires little prep and simple materials - even better!

Put the two together and you've got 5 games to play with a hundreds chart.

Wait.  I'll take it one step further and give you a FREEBIE with 5 games to play with a hundreds chart!  Sound good?


How to Create Your Next Novel Unit (Plus- Ideas to Use with the Book: The One and Only Ivan)

One of the most common pieces of feedback I get from teachers who use my resources is "Your units are SO organized and well thought out!"

I must admit I'm a bit of a organizational and systems freak.  I do like to have a specific process for everything, and I obsess over little details.

(I guess that might explain why my husband came home to a reorganized kitchen last night...oops.  Got carried away there.)

I'm always looking for ways to be more efficient and more productive (see this post here for a game-changing tool that I use to organize my day).

I guess that's why I'm constantly looking for ways to make my units better for teachers, and - I'm happy to report that I feel like I've FINALLY nailed down a solid system for creating a comprehensive and user-friendly unit.  (That is...until I come up ever better ways.  #neverstoplearning)

After finishing my most recent novel unit, The One and Only Ivan, I gave a backstage pass to my content creation process via Facebook LIVE.

In the broadcast I dove deep into:
  • How I decide upon and organize the skills, strategies, and standards used in the unit, AND the free web-based tool I use to keep it all organized
  • How I section out the chapters of a novel so that it makes sense to students (and the teacher!)
  • Elements and components that I include in EVERY unit to make it engaging and meaningful for students
  • PLUS:  How many times I actually READ the novel during the content creation process

You'll also see how I used my content creation process in creating The One and Only Ivan.

Have a look:


Getting Ready to Teach: Force and Motion

I know from my own experience and in my conversations with other teachers that it is often a struggle to fit in science and social studies into your day.

The demands that teaching math and ELA have put on teachers leave very little time (both in your planning & prepping as well as in your instructional time) to develop engaging activities for the content areas.

All this means is that when you DO get to fit in science or social studies, you better make it count.  By that, I mean, your lesson better be top notch in order to get the biggest bang for you buck!

If you're feeling like you just never have time to plan stellar lessons for the content areas, then this post is for you (if you need to teach force and motion, that is 😉).

I want to share with you some fun and engaging ways to teach force and motion in your classroom.

Feel free to steal an idea or two!


How To: Teaching Theme (...So that students actually get it!)

teaching theme free resources

I'll be the first to admit that I've made a lot of teaching mistakes.  

I've stood in front of the classroom DESPERATELY trying  to teach my students a skill or strategy, only to see blank stares looking back at me.

And likewise, we've all been there when we have resorted to spoon-feeding our students the answers just to trick ourselves into thinking that our students understood a concept, when really...they didn't.

Oh, I've been there!  

One of those times was when I was trying to teach theme to my students.  They didn't get it.  Not even a little bit.

Theme is hard to teach because it's an abstract concept that isn't found directly in the text.  In addition, students often  confuse the main idea of the text as the theme.

theme is hard to teach because it's an abstract concept that is not found in the text.  In addition, students often confuse the main idea as the theme

After pulling my hair out one too many times trying to teach this skill to my students, I finally decided to do some research both online and in my own school to see what other teachers were doing to teach this tricky concept to their students.

And I finally started to get some answers....and some results from my students.


Giving Students More Choice in the Classroom

increase student motivation by giving them more choice in the classroom
Once upon a time I was a tired, stretched-too-thin, first year teacher working on my thesis in grad school.

Been there?  It wasn't pretty, but I made it through.

The official title of my thesis in grad school was: Students Choice in the Classroom and Its Impact on Student Motivation.

Fancy-schmancy huh?!

Truth be told, I HATED working on my thesis, but it did force me to focus on the power of giving students more choice in their learning.

The findings for my thesis were not surprising:  student were, in fact, more motivated to learn when they felt they had more choice in their learning environment.  More choice in HOW they learned, more choice in WHAT they learned, and more choice on WHO they could learn with.

More choice leads to more ownership, leads to more student buy-in, leads to more motivation.

It makes sense, right?

student motivation increases when students have more choice in how they learn, what they learn, and who they learn with

If I TELL my 3 year old daughter that she WILL wear her black shoes to preschool, I will no doubt get push back.  But, if I let her CHOOSE from 3 pre-selected shoes choices (all of which I'd be okay with), it's a win-win and she doesn't end up screaming because I won't let her wear her flip-flops in a blizzard.


But - I won't make you read my thesis to get all the juicy details on how you can apply these findings in your classroom.  (Thank goodness, right?)

Oh - and in case you're wondering - real education scholars like Lev Vygotsky also believed in these ideas, so my thesis is in good company :)

Instead, I'll share with you some practical take-aways that you might find helpful.


10 Anchor Charts for Teaching Students About Making Connections

Get inspired by 10 model anchor charts to help teach the reading strategy of making connections

Who doesn't love a good anchor chart?  Now - an anchor chart with a purpose?  That takes a little inspiration, and that's what this post is all about!

We all teach students about making connections at some point during the school year, so I wanted to give you some great examples of anchor charts that you can use with your own students at varying points of your instruction.

However, rather than just throw out 10 anchor charts about making connections at you without any intention, I've divided the post into three sections to help you plan your instruction on making connections:

  • Anchor charts to INTRODUCE making connections
  • Anchor charts to teach students to SHARE their connections
  • Anchor charts to help students to make DEEPER connections

Take a look!

Using Reading Partnerships in Your Classroom (Part 2: Strategies for Going Deeper)

learn strategies for helping your students have meaningful reading partnerships

This post is part of a 2-part series on reading partnerships. If you missed part 1 on setting the foundation for reading partnerships, you can catch up HERE.

In part 2 of this series, we're going to turn our focus to the "meat" of reading partnerships:  the book discussion.

Remember, reading partnerships are different than buddy reading in the sense that you are setting intentional purpose for the time students are spending together.  In part 1 we talked a bit about how the majority of the reading is done individually, and students meet to DISCUSS and REREAD.

The discussion component of reading partnerships is the heart, soul and PURPOSE of these partnerships.

reading partnerships - book talk guidelines
However, student discussions can easily fizzle out if students are not taught the art of conversation. Remember that book talk guidelines poster I showed you in the last post?  (ya know - the one that's part of the FREE starter kit below?)

In today's post we're going to break down the art of having quality conversations using the book talk poster with our students, so let's get to it.


Using Reading Partnerships In Your Classroom (Part 1: Getting Started)

Getting started with reading partnerships in the elementary classroom

If you've been teaching for all of 3 minutes, you're likely familiar with buddy reading.

The idea behind buddy reading is great and can definitely be used effectively if taught correctly and practiced over and over with intention. 

However, too often, time spent buddy reading lacks purpose and can easily turn into wasted time in the classroom.  In my experience as a teacher, I've found that if I didn't explicitly set the purpose and intention for an activity in my classroom, I might as well have not done it.  Students don't assume our purpose and therefore don't know what we are expecting from them unless we tell them.

getting started with reading partnerships in the classroom

Let's think about the reasons WHY we want our students to buddy read.  Primarily, we want our students to have authentic fluency practice, right?  We also hope that by using buddy reading in the classroom, students will engage in meaningful discussions about the book.

These are both good reasons, but sometimes we don't relay this purpose to our students.  We send them off to buddy read and hope for the best.

If you're wishing that the time your students spend buddy reading in your classroom was time better spent, then you may want to consider implementing reading partnerships in your classroom.


Teacher's Toolkit: 3 (FREE) Games to Help Students Practice Using Context Clues

If we want our students to increase their vocabulary,  it's important that they develop their skill for using context clues.  The downside?  It can be a pretty dry skill to teach....unless you use games  to do it.

Once upon a time I had a blog that was all about sharing learning games called The Classroom Game Nook (sound familiar?)  And - although I don't post there anymore, all of the games that I created for it are still up for grabs.  You can visit it HERE!

I still feel very strongly about the benefit and effectiveness of using games to help students learn, so today I'm digging into the Classroom Game Nook vault to pull out 3 past games that I've created for helping students learn about and practice using context clues in their reading.  Feel free to add them to your teacher toolkit to pull out for literacy centers.

Best part?  They are all FREE in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!


Getting Started With Interactive Notebooks

They're everywhere.

Interactive notebooks, that is.

And they aren't going anywhere!

Have you ever thought that you'd like to implement interactive notebooks in your classroom, but not sure how you'd get started?

Perhaps you're nervous to implement them with your students because you've heard horror stories from teacher friends who felt they took up too much instructional time, or that it was just chaotic and not worth the effort?

Well, stick around because I'm going to give you some tips for making them a success in your classroom.


Dealing With Overwhelm in Teaching (3 Actionable Strategies)

Related image
What happens to you when you get overwhelmed?  For me - my head goes into a tail-spin as I think about everything that has to get done before a specific date or before a specific project can get complete.  For teachers, you might feel overwhelmed most at the beginning of the school year (setting up your classroom, prepping for the first day of school, open house) or during state testing time, trying to cram in any extra information you want your students to get before they're asked it on the test.  Chances are you go through several cycles of overwhelm throughout the course of the year.

It's just the nature of the job, right?

Today I want to share with you 3 actionable solutions to help stop overwhelm in its tracks before it takes over your life.  Let's get to it.

Using a Personal Pie Chart to Visualize Fractions {FREEBIE}

visualizing fractions with a pie chart

Today's post is provided by education.com, an educational website that provides teachers and parents with tools and resources to support their child's learning growth.


Make a Personal Pie Chart

For many kids, the best way to learn about fractions is to represent them visually. Visual learners in particular can get bogged down by multi-step word problems. This activity will help your students tackle those tricky fraction word problems by way of a hands-on method.

What You Need:

  • Construction paper
  • Piece of cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Compass or large tin can for tracing
  • Several Index cards
  • Pencil or pen

What You Do:

Prep for this game by making the playing cards. On each index card, write out a fraction word problem. These are pretty easy to write once you get the hang of it. Here are four to start with:

(Note: Start playing this game with eight as the constant denominator. You can change this up as your students gets the hang of it.)

  1. Theresa baked an apple pie and cut it into eight pieces. She ate one, and gave one to John. What is the fraction of the remaining pie?
  2. Peter has eight pieces of candy. He gave Julie three, Tracy three and Dan one. What is the fraction of the candy that he gave away?
  3. Natasha bought eight cookies. She gave two to her brother, two to her dad, and two to her mom. What is the fraction for the number of cookies she has left?
  4. Rose has eight baseball cards. She gave two to Tom and two to Michael. How many cards did she give away?

Now, have your students make his/her own personal pie chart. Use a compass or trace a large coffee can (or similar size object) on a piece of colored construction paper. Cut it out. This will be your base.

Repeat this step with a piece of white paper.  Evenly divide the circle into eight pieces, or wedges. You might have students fold the circle in half 4 times to help them create even sections.  Now, have your students color each of the eight pieces and cut them out.  Alternatively, you can download these FREE pie chart templates that have pie charts and wedges up to eighths!

Review fractions with your students using the pie chart base and wedge pieces. Be sure students have the basic understanding of numerators and denominators.   Have students manipulate the pie wedges to create different fractions of the whole pie.  This will help students visualize the fraction.

Give your students a couple of practice runs using their personal pie charts.  As a whole class, with a partner, or as individuals, ask them to use their charts to show 1/2, 2/8, 3/8, 7/8.  Students will place the appropriate number of pie wedges on their pie chart base to represent the fractions.  For example, if you give your students the fraction 1/2, they will need to place 4 wedges on their pie chart to cover up half of the chart.  Make sure that they understand that it takes 4/8 to cover up half of the pie chart.

Once students have the basic understanding of using a pie chart to visually represent fractions, extend their learning by play a game with their personal pie chart!  You can do this together as a whole class, or have students work in partners.  

To play:  Draw from the pile of playing cards (the index cards with the word problems), challenge the students to solve the word problem and show their answer on their personal pie charts using the pie wedges. You may need to do the first few together. Take turns drawing cards, and, as your students gets more comfortable, set up a point system for every correct answer.

After your students have mastered denominators of eight, create new wedges for the personal pie chart as well as new playing cards using other denominators. This will help students to see that one whole can be broken up into 6 even pieces, 4 even pieces, 3 even pieces...etc...

You might even begin to have your students use their personal pie chart to show equivalent fractions.  For example, if you want to show your students that 4/8 = 2/4, you can place 2 pie charts side by side, one chart using a set of eighth wedges and one chart using a set of fourth wedges. Students will see that it takes 4 of the 8 wedges to cover half of their pie chart and 2 of the 4 wedges to cover the half of the other pie chart.  (see left)

This activity can even lend itself into a discussion on comparing fractions.  Students will easily be able to see that 1/8 is smaller than 1/4.  Use this pie chart throughout your entire fraction unit to help students keep a solid visual in their mind whenever you discuss a new fraction concept.  The possibilities for using these pie charts during instruction and as a game resource are endless!



Making your Bulletin Boards Work for YOU: 3 Ways to Get More Out of Your Bulletin Boards

You don't have to convince me - pretty bulletin boards are my JAM!

I would spend HOURS on just one bulletin board.   I obsessed over every detail - I would even get almost all the way done - have a new inspiration and pull it all down and start all over again.  When I was done I'd sit back and pat myself on the back for a job well done.  Then, I would wait for the "ooos and the ahhhs" that would follow from fellow teachers as they passed by my classroom.

::::insert mic drop here::::

But - all that fame went to my head -  And I eventually fell from cloud nine.

I remember one year, I had made a particularly beautiful display (ps - I'm not really this big-headed in real life - I'm just doing it for the effect😁) - and I made a reference to something on a bulletin board that had been up in our classroom for weeks - when a student then responded with "what bulletin board?"

::::picks mic back up::::

It hurt.


But - I had an eye-opening moment about the purpose of my bulletin boards.  Up until then - I was really doing the bulletin boards for me - and not for the benefit of my students.  (Ok- be honest - what have YOU done in your classroom for the purpose of impressing yourself or other adults in your building, and not for the purpose of student learning?  We all have SOMETHING!)
using bulletin boards in the classroom

Does this all sound familiar?  If so, I want to give you some suggestions for how to get MORE out of your bulletin boards so that they aren't just some pretty display in the back corner of your classroom.

Check these out!


Tips and Tools for Successful Co-Teaching

The year I taught in an integrated classroom was, to say the least, eye-opening.  It was both my worst year teaching, AND the year I learned the most about myself as a teacher.

I was the general education teacher in a classroom of 23 students along side one special education teacher...and together we were damage control.  Academically our students were low - but behaviorally, they were lower.  On the very first day of school when one of our students caused a fight in the bus loop - I knew we were in for a very, very long year.

I paint a pretty picture, don't I?

Well, in efforts to be completely transparent about my experiences, I wanted to give you the full story.  You can read even more about this year in my teaching career, and how I survived it, HERE.

But, despite the challenges that that year in an integrated classroom brought me, I learned a lot.  I learned to be more patient with the students (sometimes), I learned to be more compassionate toward the students that were the hardest to love, and I learned that I had a LOT to learn. 

I also learned how to share my classroom with another teacher.

Whether you job-share, work along-side another teacher in your classroom, or even work closely with your grade-level team members, successful co-teaching requires you to be intentional and specific.

Here are some tips that I'd like to pass on to you:

Creating a Student Reader's Notebook (VIDEO)

I'm not sure if you know this about me - but - I love all things organization.

That's not a unique quality for teachers, I know.  We love our organizational bins and folders!

I'm always looking for ways that I can systematize just about everything in my life.  I like processes, systems, and checklists to help me stay on top of my life.  (Just check out this post on how I use google calendar to organize my life, and you'll see what I mean!)

Does my life always run smoothly - of course not (I have a three-year old daughter, after all!).  However, I know that my day will run smoother if I have an order and structure to it.

Our students need structure and systems, too.  Each year I that I taught, I was always tweaking my organization systems, looking for better ways to create better order in my classroom.  One organizational tool that I really loved was my students' reader's notebook.

Before using reader's notebooks, I was swimming in a sea of student reading logs, reading responses, post-it notes, and other reading-related activities from my students.  Once I implemented, the reader's notebook system, I had ONE place to keep all of my students' reading materials.  It was a sanity saver.

The reader's notebook put my organization-lovin' heart at peace - and it just might do the same for you!

In this post you'll learn:

  • what a reader's notebook is
  • what goes in to a reader's notebook (VIDEO TUTORIAL ALERT!)
  • how to use reader's notebooks effectively in your classroom
  • how my students benefited from having a reader's notebook
Let's get started!


Set it and Forget it: Classroom Activities & Systems To Prep For Year-Long Use

Greatest kitchen invention of all time?

The crock-pot!

There's nothing better than walking into your house after a long day of work and being welcomed by delicious smells coming from the crock-pot that you prepped that morning.  Knowing that dinner is ready and all you have to do is sit down and grab a fork is such as good feeling, right?

The crock-pot invention is even better on those hectic week nights where you ended up having to stay at school late, run a bunch of errands, or encounter any other interruption that may arise and delay you from getting home to get dinner on the table.

When I know that I have something prepped and ready to go in the crock-pot, it's one less thing on my to-do list, one less thing to think about, and one less thing to scramble to get done.

But - I'm not here to talk to you about 10 easy meals you can prep in your crock-pot - nope - I'll leave that to another blogger.

What I AM here to talk about is what you can prep for your CLASSROOM now to have ready to use all year long.  I'm not just talking back-to-school planning.  I'm talking about planning stuff you'll use alllllll year long.

Over, and over, and over.

I'm about to save you TONS of time during the school year.  No last minute, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants planning and scrambling!

Having some activities and systems set in place before the school year starts  will take work off your teacher plate, and let you worry about more pressing classroom decisions and tasks.  AND - prepping these things in the summer when you have a bit more time makes it even easier.  Let's take a look!


Getting Into the Mindset of Curriculum Mapping

Let's be real.  Curriculum mapping typically conjures up feelings of over-whelm and dread.  It's tedious, time consuming, and often confusing.

Now - let's be reeeeally real.  There were several years of teaching that I was flying by the seat of my pants from unit to unit, not knowing what I would be teaching next week, let alone a month down the road. Forget about mapping out the curriculum for my entire year.  It just didn't happen.  The result?  I would get to June and still have several untouched units that I was supposed to teach, but didn't get to, or I just breezed through it so fast that I might as well have not even taught it.

Sounds familiar?  If so, then this post is for you.


How To Have The BEST First Day of School

The first day of school is typically filled with all kinds of emotions.  You're excited to meet your new students, show off your fresh classroom, and dive in to a brand new year.

You're also likely feeling over-whelmed, scatter-brained (feeling like you are forgetting something...), and pressed for time to get it all done before day one.

Setting a positive tone on the first day of school is crucial to setting yourself up for success.  Allow me to walk you through your survival guide for having the best first day of school!


3 Steps to Finding Freedom from Your Cluttered Desktop

How many times do you waste minutes, hours, or even days searching for the perfect activity or lesson for students that you know you already have? You know the story…you’re about to teach a new unit and you remember a super fun lesson that you know would work perfectly. However, you just can’t seem to remember where you stored it on your computer. You search your desktop and computer files…endlessly. Then, when you finally find just what you’re looking for, you swear to get organized…as soon as you have a free moment.


Student Blogging {A New Kind of Journaling}

More and more, teachers are looking for ways to take traditional paper/pencil activities and make them digital.  We've seen interactive notebooks go digital, digital learning guides, and other tasks take a digital turn.

This is a trend that I don't believe is going away any time soon, so we might as well get on board, right?

So, what's next?

In today's post I'd like to share with you one more way that you can put your class-set of tablets, iPads, or chrome books to good use:  STUDENT BLOGGING.


Using Your Summer to Plan for a Successful School Year

I get it.  It's your summer break.  You want to be sitting pool (or beach)-side with a tiny umbrella drink in your hand.

I want that for you, too.  Really.

But, I also want a stress-free start to the school year for you.

I've been there:  8pm at school- the night before school starts - scrambling to finish up my room and making last-minute copies  That's a big ol' scoop of stress with anxiety on top!

I'm a true believer that slow and steady wins the race.  I believe that you can do a little back-to-school prep at a time (with a little umbrella drink in hand, by the way!) to make large strides in planning a successful school year.

Now before you click out of this post thinking "B2S planning in the summer!?  Aint nobody got for that "  - stay with me for a second.  In this post, I'm going to give you bite-sized nuggets of tips and strategies that will help you plan for your school year AND maintain your summer-lovin' style.

Bookmark this post so you can return again and again to check out a new tip whenever you're ready.  The next time you're sitting in the sunshine with your phone, tablet, or iPad, read up on some ways you can prep now for success later!

I promise - it'll be painless!  Below you will find a library of resources that cover a variety of topics ranging from classroom set-up to launching reader's and writer's workshop.


{Mini-Series} Tips for Differentiating in the Classroom: Be Discreet...but also open

Teachers - I've got one more quick tip (more like a pep talk, really) for you to round out our mini-series on differentiating in the classroom.  

But first, if you missed the other tips, find them here:
Tip 1:  Get to Know Your Audience
Tip 2:  Plan Ahead...But Be Flexible
Tip 3:  Mix It Up & Be Responsive

And now - the last tip.  It's simple, but important:

{Mini-Series} Tips for Differentiating in the Classroom: Mix It Up & Be Responsive

Welcome back to part 3 of this mini series on quick tips for differentiating in the classroom.

If you missed the first two parts, you can catch them here:
Tip 1:  Get to Know Your Audience
Tip 2:  Plan Ahead...But Be Flexible

Once you're all caught up, let's continue...

{Mini-Series} Tips for Differentiating in the Classroom: Plan Ahead, But Be Flexible

Welcome back to this mini series with quick tips for differentiation in the classroom.

If you missed last week about getting to know your audience to help you start the process to differentiating in your classroom, you can read up about it here.

Now on to this week's quick tip>>


{Mini-Series} Tips for Differentiating in the Classroom: Get to Know Your Audience

If there's one buzz word that is constantly coming up in education today it's this:  Differentiation

When it comes to education, one size does not fit all. Each student is unique and learns in a distinct way. So it’s our job to tailor our teaching to appeal to those unique kids and their distinctive ways.

Easier said than done, right? After all, you may have upwards of 25 kids in your class, while there’s just one of you.

There’s no doubt that differentiating is a challenge, especially when you teach multiple subjects. But your efforts to customize your instruction are key to reaching all your students, from the most gifted to the most struggling learners. Without it, you risk boring some and confusing others.

The question is, how?  

Over the next few weeks I am going to give you some insight into HOW to effectively differentiate your instruction.  Each week I'll share a quick tip that you can hopefully take, implement, and see results!

Let's get started!

The Writer's Toolkit: Building Better Writers

We all want our students to be better writers, right?  We want to provide them with the best instruction and resources to help them take their writing to the next level.

For me, teaching writing was tedious.  It was kinda that time during the school day that I almost (ok, not almost - completely) dreaded.  I knew that the hour would be spent with interruptions, off-task students, and blank stares.

You too?

I've heard the same cry from other teachers that I have spoken with.  One of the biggest complaints I have heard from teachers is that they have a hard time getting students focused, and keeping them focused in and on their writing.

Sometimes, students just don't know where to start, or what to do next when it comes to their writing.  When you want your students to improve their writing, they don't always know where to begin.

Enter in the Writer's Toolkit:
I created the writer's toolkit out of the need expressed by teachers to have a one-stop shop for students to go to help make their writing better without having to have you hold their hand every step of the way.  We want our students to become more independent in their writing, and the writer's toolkit gets you one step closer.

The writer's toolkit gives students their own space to be creative and have everything they need to improve their writing right in front of them.

In the writer's toolkit, students:
  • can get inspiration for what to write about
  • complete check-lists for each stage of the writing process to keep them on track from pre-writing through publishing
  • have the tools they need to make better word choices in their writing
  • can check up on how to use punctuation correctly in their writing
  • can learn how to make their writing smooth and organized
How to use the writer's toolkit in your writing block:
The writer's toolkit is simple to create.  You will need two file-folders.  I absolutely adore these colorful ones from Oriental Trading.  They are little bit thicker and sturdier than your standard file folder, which will allow it to stand up better once the tool kit is completely assembled.  Plus - their cute design gives the finished kit a beautiful look!

You are essentially creating a writing "cubicle" office with the folders so that students can stand the toolkit up and use the different parts of it during their writing time.  The cubicle set-up is the perfect way to keep students focused on their writing.  When upright, the cubicle is tall enough to help block out distractions of other students working in your classroom.  The cubicle is large enough so that 2-3 students can work together gathered around it, if you are having a more collaborative writing session. However, students can also lay it flat and access all the important components of the toolkit.  The flexibility of the toolkit allows your students to use however they want.

You will likely not need a writer's toolkit for every student to use at the same time, but rather just a few toolkits for students to use as needed.  However, if you're looking have a class-set, you can print the components of the toolkit out in black and white to save ink.

The only thing you will need in addition to the components provided in the kit is 2 file folders.  The folders are taped together (and laminated, if desired).  You can then easily cut out the components of the kit and glue to the inside of the folders.

Once assembled, simply place the toolkit at a writing center for students to use or in an easy place for students to access when needed.  The toolkit folds up nicely to lay flat on a table or shelf.  It is easily mobile for students to take with them anywhere in the room.

The key to making the toolkit a success in your class is...you guessed it: modeling!  In your mini-lessons, small-group instruction, and individual conferences, show students how they can use the components of the toolkit when working through their writing.  Overtime, students will begin using the kit on their own without prompting.

If you'd like to check out this writer's toolkit and all the details, you can find it here.


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