Teacher Stuff Newsletter #3 - Back to School

 


The 3rd edition of the Teacher Stuff Newsletter is available, and the theme is 'Back to School.' Check out this collection of free resources to help you get ready for the new school year. Just click on the picture to go to the google slide that has live links to the resources. You can also see previous newsletters by clicking the arrows on the slide show. Happy New (School) Year!

3 Back To School Books With Creative Gifts & Activities For The Beginning of The Year

 


1. A Teacher's Top Secret by LaNesha Tabb: 
Pens or Pencils (with a free tag download)

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. That means I get a small commission if you use my links to buy something, but at no cost to you.

Are you looking for a back to school gift to start the year off "write"? Try tying tags onto a pen or pencil that say, "You are just 'write' for our class!" I give these to my students before school starts. We have students come in to do assessments before the first day of school. They come in small groups, and they are usually pretty nervous. I start by reading the book A Teacher's Top Secret. I found this book last year, and it is awesome! It tells the students a big teacher secret––that we pick them to be in our class because of all the special gifts they have to offer our classroom family. It talks about how sometimes it gets pretty heated and teachers throw down over the students to make sure they get them in their class! It's really cute. After we read the book, it's time for them to start their beginning of year assessments. I give them their pen and tell them it is a special pen that will help them do their best! 

You can download the tag for free here in my TpT store. I print the tag on different colored AstroBright card stock and use a 3 inch circle punch to cut them out quickly (Note: You have to cut off some of the extra paper to get the hole punch close enough to cut out the circle perfectly). These tags are made for the 3 inch punch. Then I use a regular hole punch in the top and curling ribbon to tie it onto the pen. 


This year, I'm adding this little fairy or elf door to my classroom. I'm going to let the kids know that we have some magical friends that live in our classroom who left the pens for them to use during their assessment days, and I will show them the little door. I will let them speculate on who or what could be living there! Once school starts, one of our first units is fairytales and folktales.  After I read The Elves and the Shoemaker by Jacob Grimm and Jim LaMarche, it will lead us to the discovery that we have magical elves that live in our classroom. Our elves will leave little notes, drawings, and words of encouragement sporadically throughout the year. I think we'll also have some visits from their cousins from the North Pole around Christmas time and their friends the leprechauns will visit around St. Patrick's Day and play tricks on us!


        

2. Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour:
Make a Bed For Pebble


Lubna and Pebble is a beautiful book that I love to use to start off the year. It is about a little girl who is a refugee (it doesn't specify from where) who comes to a new country, and she feels lonely and scared. Her best friend is a pebble that she holds when she is scared, and she talks to it when she is lonely. When they make camp and pebble is cold, dad helps Lubna make a cozy bed for pebble. When a new boy joins the camp, Lubna becomes his friend because he is lonely and scared too. When it's time for Lubna to leave the camp, the boy doesn't want her to go. She leaves her best friend pebble with him so he has someone to hold onto when he is scared and talk to when he is lonely. It is a very touching story of friendship that is beautifully written and beautifully illustrated. 

After reading this story, we talk about who feels a little scared and lonely in a new classroom. Then I pass out a pebble friend to them to hold onto when they feel that way. This is a gift that is super special to kids EVERY time. We bust out the STEM supplies next, such as cardboard tubes, egg cartons, small boxes, etc. and I let the kids build a bed for their pebble. When they're done, we all go around and introduce ourselves and share our bed creations, then I let kids go back and make adjustments if they got new ideas from other classmates. I encourage them to collaborate with each other on their modifications as we also build classroom community. This is always an amazing first day activity that leaves kids feeling excited about coming back to school.

 

3. Scribble Stones by Diane Alber:
Scribble Stones


Scribble Stones is a great follow up to Lubna and Pebble (I typically do it several days later or the following week). Scribble Stones is a book about this stone that has waited his whole life to be chosen for a special job only to become someone's paper weight. It's disappointing until one day these scribbles use all the paper in the office. The stone has a great idea, and the scribbles use him to create their art! In the back of the book, the scribble stone project is explained: You find a stone, add some art, and then pass it on to someone else to spread kindness in the world. They add more art to the stone and pass it on too. It's a great way to start a chain of kindness. At the beginning of the year when we go over classroom rules or the school PBiS letters, kindness is always incorporated.

I usually get 3 - 4 inch stones for every student in my classroom from a local landscaping company since they are so heavy, but I put a link to some stones here that should work too. I have the kids use colored sharpie markers to decorate their stones. I used paint one year, and it was pretty messy and didn't stay on the stones, so sharpies work better for me! After the kids finish decorating their stones, we decide who to give them to in order to spread kindness. This can be tricky because beginning of the year 2nd graders are really still first graders, and they want to keep their stone. We really have to emphasize kindness and decide as a class how to pass them on. It helps that they got their own stone to keep with the Lubna and Pebble activity, but this is a big and cool stone! Two years ago we decided to share our stones with parents by putting them out by the front door of the school. Parents could not enter the building due to COVID, so we thought they would appreciate our beautiful stones in front of the school when they picked up their kids. Last year we decided to give our stones to kindergartners. My class thought they were probably afraid to start school for the first time and having a scribble stone would make them feel good about school. I can't wait to see who my students decide to share them with this year!

 

I have done these beginning of the year activities with my students for a few years, and they are always a huge hit! They are great ways to build classroom community and start off with some fun! 

Classroom Digital Data Tracker Shortcuts in Google Sheets

 


As a teacher, if I got to pick a super power, I'd have to go with freezing time. Remember those shows from the 80s where a witch could blink or put her two fingers together and freeze time? If I could do that, I'd have more time to grade papers, create lesson plans, workout, or sleep! While I don't yet know how to give myself super powers, I do know how to give you a little bit more time––every teacher's dream!


It's important to collect a lot of data about our students, but trying to sift through it all can be a lot. Here are some shortcuts I learned using google sheets as a digital data tracker to cut down on the time I spend sorting data so I can spend that time analyzing it instead. It makes report card time SO much easier too!  


1. Alternating Colors: 

Format––alternating colors

Image from Gyazo

Okay, this is a really simple no-brainer that has been done since the beginning of teaching time, but it really does help! Google Sheets will make every other row an alternating color so it's easier to follow one line across the row. Just go to Format ––alternating colors. You can even pick different color combinations or customize your own. Freezing rows that need to stay in the same place can help with following the line across the row or column too. Check out my post Create Your Own Auto-Filling Data Spreadsheet With These 4 Tips for directions on how to do this. 


2. Drop Down Menus: 

Data––data validation––list of items

Image from Gyazo

This shortcut became a time saver for me because I am assigning a different value or weight to different test questions within a single test. The math program we use at my school tests a bunch of different standards on one test––not just one strand at a time. I have to figure out which standard correlates to each individual problem on the test and record them under a separate standard in my grade book (rather than one score for the whole test). So problem #1 which tests standard 2.NBT.1, for example, might have 3 parts (a, b, c), so I want it to be worth 3 points. But problem #2, which tests 2.OA.2, might only be worth 1 point. Using a drop down menu helps me remember how heavily I weighted each test question when I'm recording the grade so I stay consistent. To make a drop down menu, highlight the whole column, and go to Data––data validation––list of items. I always use 'list of items' and then list the numbers possible separating them with a comma like this: 1, 2, 3. I like it because it puts the number choices in the drop down menu for you to choose. Then click on the arrow to choose one of those numbers.


3. Color Code the Data
Format––conditional formatting–format rules–"is equal to"–change the default color with the paint bucket

Image from Gyazo 

This shortcut has made the biggest difference for me! I like to see a data page color coded so I can get a sense of whether a student (or my whole class) is passing a standard at a glance. For example, if I have a problem worth 3 points, I can make 1 out of 3 points unsatisfactory and color code it red; 2 out of 3 points would be partially proficient and I would color it yellow; and 3 out of 3 points would be proficient and I would color it green. Then at a glance I can see if a lot of kids missed a certain question by the colors I see going down that column. I was color coding my data before, but I would highlight and change the color in each individual box. Conditional formatting has revolutionized my data analysis! I can set a whole column at one time to change the color of the box when I put the score in. Just highlight the column or row that you want to color code using the same data parameters. Go to Format––conditional formatting–format rules–"is equal to"–change the default color with the paint bucket. Now when you type in a number or choose a number from the drop down menu, it will automatically change the color based on the rules you set. 


4. Average the Score:

=(click in the box of the student total)/(click in box of the total possible) 

Going back to my math test example, I have random test questions across several units that fall under one standard. We use standards-based grading, so I average all of those individual test questions over several different units to determine how the student is doing on that one standard. To do this, first I have a total column at the end of each standard, and I have the spreadsheet automatically add up the total number of points the student earned for that standard (see the blog post Create Your Own Auto-Filling Data Spreadsheet With These 4 Tips for directions on automatically adding totals). For example, if unit 6 had five test questions for standard 2.NBT.B, and unit 7 had four test questions for 2.NBT.B, I have a box at the top of the spreadsheet with the total number of points possible––in this example 24––and then the spreadsheet calculates the total number that student earned. In the "Score" column, I have the spreadsheet average the score and turn it into a percent. To do this, click in the "Score" box for the first student and type =. Then click on that student's "total" box and it will add it to the formula. Next hit the / (which means divided by) and click on the box that has the total number of points possible. My formula for this example looks like this: =X5/X4


Image from Gyazo

To make sure the score is shown as a percentage, highlight the whole score column and click on the picture of the % on the toolbar across the top. Now at a glance you can see which students are passing the standard over time.

I also have a blog post that I published a few years ago called Create Your Own Auto-Filling Data Spreadsheet With These 4 Tips. It shows you how to freeze rows and columns, automatically add totals, automatically populate data on a shared page, and create pivot tables to analyze data. You should check it out for ways to make your data tracker even more legit.

I hope you find these tips helpful in saving you time during your data collecting! 


5 Types Of Intervention Tools For the Playful Classroom and How to Use Them



This summer I read the book The Playful Classroom by Jed Dearybury and Julie Jones, and I participated in the book study hosted by Carly and Adam and co-hosted with authors Jed and Julie! It was very inspiring, so I wanted to share some of my favorite ideas here. Providing playful moments in the classroom is so important to academic learning and social-emotional development. I think we can all agree that with the shifts in education the last few years due to the pandemic, academic learning and social-emotional development are high priorities in our classrooms. Here is some research from Jed and Julie's book that supports the necessity of designing playful moments in our classrooms:


Play and exploration trigger the secretion of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) a substance essential for the growth of brain cells (Greenough & Black, 1992; Gordan et. al. 2003; Dewer, 2014). 

 

Play allows us to make mistakes without high-stakes consequences, thus enhancing learning (Fordyce & Wehner, 1993).


Play enhances social skills, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution ability (Jenson, 2005). 

There is MUCH more research that supports the validity and purpose of a playful classroom, including what I have seen as a teacher over my teaching career. Learning CAN and SHOULD be fun! Designing playful moments in the classroom can absolutely be rigorous, although it's okay to make a little time to just play too. It's all essential to the development of the whole child. 

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. This means I get a small stipend if you use my links, but at no cost to you. Thank you for your support!


The book and the group in the book study shared many ideas and examples of play challenges to try in the classroom. I also took some classes on reading and math intervention this summer.  In this post, I am going to synthesize my learning about play and intervention to share some of my favorite ideas on making rigorous intervention playful too. Here are 5 types of playful intervention tools that I am going to try this year and how I will use them in my classroom. Amazon Prime Day is on July 12th and 13th this year, so these ideas include some things that may be just in time for saving big on #AmazonPrimeDay!

1. Pop-It Game Board – 4 Players





There are a lot of possibilities for this game board, and they are on sale! Thanks to people in The Playful Classroom book study for finding these!

Math Intervention Ideas: 
  • Addition War (addition fluency): With a deck of cards (numbers only–no face cards), deal out all the cards face down in equal piles to each player. Two players turn over 2 cards each from their pile. Each player adds their 2 cards together and whoever has the highest number wins the round. The winner pops a bubble on his/her side of the game board to keep track of the number of rounds won. To increase difficulty, this game can be played with subtraction (smallest number wins the round), multiplication, or division. 
  • Place Value War (place value, number sense): With a deck of cards (numbers only–no face cards), deal out all the cards face down in equal piles to each player. Two players each turn over 2 cards from their pile. Each player tries to make the highest (or lowest) number possible using the 2 cards they flipped over as digits in the number (i.e. the cards 2 and 5 can make the number 25 or 52). The player with the highest (or lowest ) number wins the round. The winner pops a bubble on his/her side of the game board to keep track of the number of rounds won. To increase the level of difficulty, change the number of cards drawn to make 3 or 4 digit numbers.
  • Tens Go Fish (missing addend, fluency with numbers to 10): With a deck of cards (numbers only–no face cards), deal 5 - 7 cards to each player and put the rest of the cards in the middle for the "go fish" pile. Students try to make a match by putting 2 cards together that make 10 (i.e. 7 and 3, or 6 and 4). Like Go Fish, students can ask another player for a number, but they have to figure out the missing addend they need to ask for in order to make 10 (i.e. 8 + ? = 10 They need to ask for the number 2). When they lay down a match, they can pop a bubble on their side of the game board to keep track of their matches. To increase the level of difficulty, let students use addition or subtraction to make 10 and/or more than 2 numbers to make 10 (i.e. 3+2+5 = 10). You can also pick a different target number, such as 25, or use fraction cards to make a target number. 

Literacy Intervention Ideas:
  • Sliding Letters (decoding multisyllabic words, fluency): With a set of multisyllabic words written on flashcards, have students practice breaking these words apart and reading them (even better if the words are from a story they are reading!).  After they have had some practice with these words, mix the words up and cover the word revealing one letter or one group of letters at a time (i.e. in the word "centipede," reveal the 'ce' at the same time so the student knows it should make the soft c sound). The students try to guess the word before it is totally uncovered. They get one point for every word they read correctly and one point for each letter that is still covered when they guess the word. They can pop a bubble on their side of the game board to keep track of their score. This game can be played with all players trying to guess the word as it is being revealed or you can let each player have a turn. 
  • Guess the Covered Word (inferencing, vocabulary): Using a sentence from a book you are reading or from a sentence you created, cover a vocabulary word you want to focus on with a sticky note. For example, In the read-aloud The Fisherman and His Wife, you heard the fisherman’s wife say, “It ___________ me that the sun and moon will not rise and set at my command.” (the missing word would have a sticky note covering it). The students generate words that they think would make sense in the blank from the context of the story. The words should all have similar meanings, so students are generating synonyms. On the sticky note, write the words the students generate (i.e. annoys, irritates, displeases, etc.). You may have to let them know that phrases are not accepted (such as "makes me mad"). Then use the sticky note to reveal the first letter in the covered word. In this sentence, it is the letter 'D'. Cross off the words on the sticky note that could not be the covered word – in this example: annoys and irritates. Let students generate new words after each letter is uncovered. The student who generated the correct word gets 2 points, any students who guessed the correct word from the list get 1 point. Students pop a bubble on their side of the game board to keep track of their score. To change the level of difficulty, the teacher could generate the list of words for the students to choose from.
  • Pass! (fluency with long vowel combinations): Make 30 flashcards with words that have the same long vowel sound (i.e. words with a __silent e, ay, ai). Pass out all the cards so each player has the same amount of cards. The first player lays down a card, reads it, and tells the vowel combination (i.e. rain – /ai/). The next player would have to put down a card with the vowel combination /ai/ and read it too (i.e. pail). If a player does not have an /ai/ card, he/she would have to pass. If a student lays down the wrong card, leave the card on the discard pile, but no point is given. Keep going around the circle until no one has any more cards with that long vowel combination. Then the next player lays down a new long vowel combination for the next round (i.e. say – /ay/). Players can pop a bubble on his/her side of the game board when they lay down a correct card. The game is over when someone runs out of cards.

2. Pop-It 100s Chart and Pop-It Alphabet




 
  

Math Intervention:
  • Race to 100 (adding on strategy, counting money): First students need 2 dice, some plastic coins, and the 100 chart pop it. The first player rolls the 2 dice and adds them together. If the player rolls a 1 or a 2, he/she can decide if it is a 1 or a 10 or a 2 or a 20. Then he/she takes that amount of money in coins. Each player takes a turn and adds on to the money they get on their next turn. The first one to 100 or $1.00 wins. With intervention students, we could pop the numbers on the 100 chart and add on to the total. This game can be played with money or base 10 blocks.
  • Number Squeeze (number sense, greater than/less than): The teacher picks a secret target number. The students guess a number and the teacher tells them if the secret number is greater than or less than that number (i.e. the students guess 50. The teacher says the secret number is less than 50, so the students pop the 50 bubble on the 100s chart pop it and everything above 50). They continue to guess numbers until they narrow it down to the secret number. 
  • Battle Ship (number sense, +1/-1, +10/-10): With a laminated 100 chart, have each student secretly draw a rectangle around 2 numbers on the 100 chart (i.e. 10, 20), 3 numbers on the 100 chart (i.e. 24. 25. 26), and 4 numbers on the 100 chart (i.e. 56. 66. 76. 86). The rectangles drawn can be horizontal or vertical, but they cannot be diagonal. The 3 rectangles each student drew represent their 3 battle ships. You may want to put each student's 100 chart in a file folder and stand the file folder up so the student can see their own 100 chart but the other player cannot see it. The first player picks a number on the 100 chart trying to sink the other player's battle ship. If the player picks a number that the other player's battleship is on (i.e. 20), the player says "hit." Then they have to figure out if they add/subtract 1 or if they add/subtract 10 to find where the battleship is hiding. If they guess a number that does not have a battleship on it, the player say "miss." Players pop the numbers that are a miss on their hundreds chart pop it. Play continues until one player sinks all 3 of the other player's battleships. 

Reading Intervention:
  • Sight Word Scramble (building words): Choose a set of words that students are working on decoding. They can be words that follow a certain pattern or sight words that must be memorized. Use the alphabet pop it to push down all the letters/combinations in the word. Have the student unscramble the letters to correctly build the word. You may want to have the student use magnetic letters to physically move the letters to unscramble them. Then have the student write the word correctly. This game can be played in partners or small groups with students taking turns building the words and popping the letters and checking the correct spelling.

One play challenge from the book study is 'Hack a Board Game.' These next ideas are ways for teachers to Hack a Board Game to infuse rigor and play into intervention!

3. Hack the Board Game: Headbandz




In this picture guessing game, the players each wear a headband. Without looking at the picture card they have, each player puts a card in his/her headband. Players have to ask the other players questions to figure out which card they have. Try scaffolding the questions and the card choices to make this a rigorous, academic game for the classroom!

Math Intervention:
  • (Number Sense): Using the traditional rules for the game, try replacing the picture cards with numbers. Generate a list of guided questions for the students to use such as: Is it an even/odd number? Is it a 2 digit number? Is it divisible by 5? Is it a fraction? Is it greater than/less than (number)?

Reading Intervention:

  • (Grammar, reading strategies, vocabulary): Using the traditional rules for the game and potentially using the cards that come with the game and/or creating new cards, generate a list of questions for students to ask such as: Is it a noun/verb? Is it used when someone is talking? Is it an onomatopoeia?  In our book study, one of the teachers made reading strategy cards for the headbandz such as "I am theme," I am context clues, "I am plot." You could also make vocabulary cards your class has been studying to go in the headbandz, and the describer has to give synonyms as clues.

4. Hack the Board Game: Pop Up Pirate, Pile Up Pirate, Shark Bite





  

These 3 board games can be hacked and played in similar ways. You can pick one, or you can use them all for novelty when practicing the same intervention skills over and over! The idea to use the game Pop Up Pirate during intervention came from Emily Gibbons at The Literacy Nest

Math Intervention:
  • Pop Up Pirate (counting money, identifying coins): To play this game, pirate Pete is pushed into the barrel and you slide swords into the barrel until it causes Pete to pop out. If your sword caused Pete to pop out of the barrel, you're out of the game. To hack this game for the classroom, try putting money flashcards into a pirate's treasure box. You could use flashcards that have an amount written on them, or you could use flashcards that have pictures of coins that students need to identify and/or count depending on the skill you need to practice with your group. Students draw a card and either count out plastic coins to make the amount on the card or identify the coins on the flashcard and/or count up the total. If the student makes a mistake, he/she has to put a sword into the barrel. You should also make some "sword" cards, so if students draw the sword card, they have to stick a sword into the barrel. If the pirate pops out, that student is out of the game. Continue play until one player is left.
  • Pile Up Pirate (counting money, identifying coins): To play this game, pirate Pete is put on the deck of the ship. You must pile up planks and pirates to create a look-out tower made of pirates. Whoever stacks the last pirate without knocking the stack over is the winner. To hack this game for the classroom, try putting money flashcards in the pirate's treasure box, just like the suggestion for the game Pop Up Pirate. Students draw a flashcard that either has an amount written that they must count out in coins, or it has coins that they must count and identify. If they do it correctly, they get to put a pirate on the pile. If they are wrong, they either lose their turn or have to take a pirate off the pile. The player that adds the last pirate to the pile without knocking it over wins the game.
  • Shark Bite (counting money, identifying coins): To play this game, open the shark's jaws by pushing the jaws down until they lock into the base. Twelve sea creatures are pushed into the holes between the jaws until it clicks. Roll the dice and use the fishing pole (fingers are okay to use too) to catch that many fish. The shark will randomly close its jaws when players are fishing, which ends the game. Whoever has the most fish when the shark jumps wins the game. No batteries needed! To hack this game for the classroom, tell students that there is sunken treasure they are looking for, but they have to remove the sea creatures to get to it before the shark comes. Just like in the first 2 game suggestions, put money flashcards into a treasure box. Students draw a card and either count the amount in plastic coins or identify the coins on the cards. If they are correct, they get to go fishing. If they make a mistake, they don't get to fish for a sea creature. The player with the most fish after the shark jumps wins. If you are teaching summer school, this would be a must-do in the classroom during Shark Week! This year, shark week is July 24 - 31, 2022. The Discovery Channel and Discovery+ streaming shares lots of educational information and interesting facts about sharks. 



Reading Intervention:
  • Pop Up Pirate (reading/writing words with R-controlled vowel AR, soft/ hard c): (See the directions for how to play this game under the math intervention section.) To hack this game for the classroom, share the pirate joke with your students, and tell them they are going to practice words with a pirate's favorite letters. Create a set of flashcards with words that have the r-controlled vowel AR or words with hard and soft c, and put them in a treasure box. Have students take turns reading or writing the word on the flashcards. If they make a mistake, they have to put a sword into the barrel. Create "sword" cards to put in your flashcard pile so players have to put a sword into the barrel periodically. If pirate Pete pops out, that player is out of the game. Continue play until only one player is left.
  • Pile Up Pirate (reading/writing words with R-controlled vowel AR, soft/ hard c): (See the directions for how to play this game under the math intervention section.) To hack this game for the classroom, share the pirate joke with your students just like the suggestion in the Pirate Pop Up game, and tell them they are going to practice words with a pirate's favorite letters. Create a set of flashcards with words that have the r-controlled vowel ar or words with hard and soft c, and put them in a treasure box. Have students take turns reading or writing the word on the flashcards. If they are correct, they get to put a pirate on the pile. If they are wrong, they either lose their turn or have to take a pirate off the pile. The player that adds the last pirate to the pile without knocking it over wins the game.
  • Shark Bite (reading/writing words with R-controlled vowel AR silent e words): (See the directions for how to play this game under the math intervention section.) To hack this game for the classroom, tell students they are going to practice words with r-controlled vowel AR (like shark) or words with a silent e (like bite). Create a set of flashcards with words that have the r-controlled vowel AR or words that have a silent e, and put them in a treasure box. Have students take turns reading or writing the word on the flashcards. If they are correct, they get to go fishing. If they make a mistake, they don't get to fish for a sea creature. The player with the most sea creatures after the shark jumps wins. 

5. Hack the Board Game: Flickin Chicken, Velcro Dart Board for Kids



 
These 2 board games can also be hacked in similar ways. You can pick one of these games, or use them both for the novelty of having different games to infuse rigor and play. These 2 games can be used with any intervention skill. 

Intervention (use with any reading or math intervention skill): 
  • Flickin Chicken (word practice for CK vs. K, digraph CH, any word or math practice): To play this game, throw (or place) the target disc. One side of the disc adds a point, one side of the disc takes a point away. The goal of the game is to get the lowest amount of points possible. Throw a chicken at the target (they tend to bounce and roll). Each throw is worth one point. Keep throwing until your chicken lands on the target. The player with the least amount of points wins. To hack this game for the classroom, make a set of flashcards with words that use a 'k' (such as mask) or words that use a 'ck' (such as chicken). Have students take turns reading or writing the words on the flashcard. If they get it right, they get to throw a chicken at the target disc. If they make a mistake, they do not get to throw a chicken, but they have to add a point to their score. The game ends when someone gets a chicken on the disc. Whoever has the lowest score (meaning it took them the least amount of throws for them to get the chicken on the target) wins the game. You could also use flashcards with the digraph CH, or literally any word or math practice. Getting the practice word or math problem correct earns you a throw of the chicken!
  • Velcro Dart Board for Kids: To play this game, hang up the dart board and players throw the sticky balls at the target. Get points for where your ball hits the target, and add up your points. Whoever has the most points wins. To hack this game for the classroom, any kind of math or reading practice can earn students a throw at the target. The player with the most points wins!


These fun and meaningful ways to practice intervention skills are what really makes learning stick! I would love to hear more suggestions for bringing a playful vibe to the classroom. Please share your ideas with me!

Best Teacher Bag (and what to put in it) #AmazonPrimeDay



I have tried many different teacher bags over the years, so I know exactly what will work for me and what won't work. This past year, I decided it was time to upgrade my teacher bag. I'm loving what I got! 
This post contains affiliate links for your convenience. This means I get a small stipend if you use my links, but at no cost to you.

 

Here is why I love this bag so far:

1. I can see everything in my bag, and I can keep it pretty organized.  
I've used a backpack for a long time, and it's just not working for me anymore. Stuff gets hidden in the bottom and lost, and it can be a struggle to find what I'm looking for and to get everything in and out. This bag stands up by itself, and I can see everything in it. There is a place to put all the things I need to grade and plan. I can add my clutch wallet, an umbrella, and there is a separate space for my computer, teacher binder, and papers.

2. It's sleek, stylish, sturdy, and waterproof.
I like the professional look of this bag. A backpack just doesn't have that professional look, and leather bags take the wear and tear well, but they get beat up easily in our profession and end up looking pretty rough. You never know when we might accidentally set our bag in a puddle of glue or have to run to the car in the rain. The black waterproof outside is sleek and pretty easy to clean (yes, I've already had to clean off a strawberry smoothie my son spilled all over it), but I did add a cute tassel for a pop of color! 

3. It's not too big. (But I got the extra-large, and I wouldn't go any smaller.)
I've been teaching long enough that I'm pretty realistic (usually) about what I can take home and accomplish. There's no sense in hauling a huge amount of work home that doesn't even make it out of the car. I don't need a huge rolling cart that I can barely lift (which I've totally hauled around before!). This bag is on the smaller side, but it fits everything I need to grade and plan on a daily basis–just not my whole classroom!

4. It can charge my phone!
I decided that if I was going to upgrade my teacher bag, I might as well take it into the 21st century! Did you know that they now make bags that charge your technology? There is a place to add a battery pack that will hold power for months, and the cord is integrated into the bag so you can plug it right into the front of your bag and charge it. (Mind-blown!) This is meant for travel, so if you are sitting at an airport killing your battery playing Candy Crush and all the little charging tables are full, you can just plug right into the bag on your shoulder. Genius! The concept works great for those long days in the classroom too! Originally, I was looking at this Bailey Business Tote by Tumi as a teacher bag, but as a teacher, I can't justify the cost. This bag has the same look and functionality, and it can charge my phone too!

What I put in my bag:


 

Not carrying a purse AND a teacher bag is a game-changer that has made ALL the difference for me. Carrying a purse and a bag is too much, and it makes me feel like a bag lady. Instead, I have this clutch wallet that holds all my purse essentials, and I can transfer my clutch back and forth between my school bag during the week and my purse on the weekends without forgetting anything! If I need to run into the store during the week when I only have my school bag with me, I can just grab my clutch and head in. This clutch is big enough to hold all my cards, cash, a checkbook, pen, a travel-sized bottle of headache medicine, bandaids, my keys, and a zipper pouch for coins. I can even stick my phone in it if I need to. Since the tassel I got for my teacher bag came with 2 tassels, I put one one my clutch too!



       

I have used a lot of different planners over the years – the free planners, the erin condren planners, and everything in-between. In the end, digital is easier and more convenient. I do, however, build my own teacher binder that I carry with me everywhere. I have tried printing my own plan pages to put in my teacher binder, but it was just too many pages and got too big to lug around, so now I have a hybrid situation.  I use the digital teacher planner from One Stop Teacher for my lesson plans. Because I still like the feel of having my plan book open on my desk, I pull it up on my iPad so I have the page spread open. This is SO much easier than lugging around a big, heavy teacher planner that has pages I never use. I keep my daily plans and grades digital, and I keep a binder of the everyday stuff I need in my teacher binder.

Here is a look at what I keep in my teacher binder:

1. 1 1/2 inch binder with cute scrapbook paper.
I tried using a 1 inch binder, but it just wasn't quite big enough–I kept tearing the holes in my pages. Upgrading to 1 1/2 inches made a difference. It was worth the extra bulk of a bigger binder. To make it cute, I cut down 12x12 scrapbook paper to slide into the front, back, and spine, and I personalized it with my name.

2. A plastic 3 ring envelope. 
The first thing in my binder when I open it is a plastic 3 ring envelope that closes with velcro. I'm constantly sticking things in my binder that I need to look at or do later. This plastic envelope is my place to put those things to keep me more organized. (This is not where I put papers to grade. That is coming up later in this post.) 

3. Start with a To-do List & Laminate it.
I don't know if it's lingering COVID effects, getting older, or just the result of having too many tabs open in my brain all the time, but when I'm planning for the week, I always seem to forget SOMETHING. I try to do the bulk of my planning on Saturday mornings before my family wakes up (because I always wake up early). I'll get the big stuff crossed off my list, but there are so many little things that need to get done. They aren't hard or even very time consuming (such as putting their assignment on google classroom), but I always seem to forget something little. This year I got smart and created and laminated a very personalized To Do list for myself with all the little things I do each week to plan. I keep it at the front of my teacher binder, along with a laminated curriculum map, and I use a dry erase marker to check things off so I don't have kids log in to do their spelling practice on Monday only to realize I forgot to assign it! 

4. Divider tabs with pockets.
I use dividers to create these sections in my teacher binder: progress monitoring, class info, testing, standards, student data. I think it's definitely worth having the divider tabs with pockets. I usually have something that I need to stick into the pocket of each section. My friend Kelsey from Teaching Tiny Techies has a Birthday List template and a How We Get Home template that I always use in my "class info" section. I LOVE the Avery 24 tab dividers! I put them in the "student data" section of my teacher binder so that I have a number for every student. I laminate the front page so I can write the corresponding name of each student to their number that year, and I keep a handy data page behind their number from my Assessment Data & Differentiation pack on TpT. That keeps important data at my fingertips. 


  

I love that there is room to keep plenty of different colored flair pens, highlighters, and sticky notes in my teacher bag. These are the only writing tools I use to do my grading and planning! And I'm LOVING the scented flair pens! Did you know they made SCENTED?! I write on my students papers with them when I'm grading, and they love smelling the scent I used and trying to guess the name of the pen! It's pretty cute. I'm not super picky about my highlighters, but I usually end up coming back to sharpie highlighters. They are bigger, so they tend to last longer. The only thing that is non-negotiable for me is a pack of highlighters that include red (or pink will work), yellow, green, and blue so I can color code my data proficient, partially proficient, unsatisfactory, or advanced. Then I need a variety of sticky note sizes.



I use these plastic envelopes to organize the papers that I need to grade because that can get out of control. I use one envelope for papers "to grade," one envelope for papers "graded," and one envelope for papers to "send home." This keeps me organized because I might have graded them but I haven't entered them into my grade book yet. Keeping them separated makes it easier to know what I need to do with each stack that is in my teacher bag.


  

#Reallife of a teacher–we need a good umbrella. This one pushes down so it is compact and fits in my teacher bag, but it's a really nice quality too. It is vented (an important feature!) to keep the wind from blowing it inside out. In Colorado, we have had CRAZY wind this year. I needed an umbrella that wouldn't get blown inside out, and then I needed a brush! Hair ties too. I'm trying out some hair ties that look cute on your wrist almost like a bracelet. I also keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a small bottle of lotion in my teacher bag.


  

Last but not least, I need a good lanyard that I store in my teacher bag when I head home for the day. I cannot find the exact one I have online, but it is Vera Bradley, it is leather, and it holds my ID badge, my electronic key, it opens up and will hold credit cards or an ID, and it has a zipper to keep change for the soda machine. I also keep my class list in there with this Free Editable Lanyard Class List from Jessica Ann Stanford. I also attach an Apple AirTag so I don't lose my keys! They work SO much better than other brands that help you track your keys. They are a must-have!

With #AmazonPrimeDay coming right up, it may be a good time to give your teacher bag an update too!