Using Eggs to Engage

This time of year is always a fun time in the classroom; by now, the kids have learned to work independently & your classroom is like a well oiled machine, it could practically run itself! While everyone may have a little bit of spring fever, they're ready to go outside, ready for nicer weather, and especially ready for spring break; I always like to do some fun & engaging activities to keep everyone on track. And plastic eggs are a cheap (and fun) way to get the kids up & moving while having fun learning & reviewing! Here's a few ways I like to use plastic eggs that you can try in your own classroom...
No matter how old they are, kids love a good old fashioned egg hunt!! It's definitely a fun way to engage students & there are so many things you could put inside the eggs besides candy...although there's always room for candy too! 

1. Writing Prompts: Write short writing prompts on paper & slip them into the eggs. As students find the eggs, they can pull out the writing prompt, find a spot & write. You can put the same prompt in all of the eggs or do a variety of prompts so each students' writing is different.
2. Word Problems: Create word problems to put in the eggs. This is a fun center that you could incorporate into your math rotation or as an activity students can do as they finish their work. Students can find an egg & then work to complete the word problem. When they're done, my students love to hide the egg again & then find a new one! They're up & moving & they have motivation to complete the task so that they can hide the egg & find another.

3. Crack Open Sentences: I love to fill the eggs with short or incomplete sentences that students can "crack open." Students can find the eggs, crack them open (literally) & find the sentences inside. They have to work to make the sentence "juicier" by adding in more vivid words & details. For example, they may find a sentence that reads, "It was a cold day." It's their job to spice it up! "The chill sent shivers down my spine when I stepped outside!"  When they finish they can hide their egg & find another!
4. Rewards: I love to fill the eggs with special classroom rewards & hide them. You can have students choose an egg when they exhibit good behavior or work it in to your current reward or behavior system.  My class has a class economy, so the eggs could also be added into our store!

5. A QR Code Surprise: If your class is like mine (and if you're like me) then I'm sure they love QR codes!! You can make QR codes & put them inside the eggs. There are so many possibilities with QR could use writing prompts, math problems, link to a website to help research for a social studies or science topic.  You can do anything with QR codes, and your students are sure to love them all!
With eggs that come apart in two pieces, what better game to play than matching! There are so many things you could put on the eggs to match, and the kids will love finding the matching pieces on their own or with partners! All you need is a Sharpie & eggs! 

1. Root words: On the tops of the eggs write a variety of prefixes and on the bottoms write a variety of root words. Students can match prefixes & root words & write the word's new meaning.

2. Math facts: A quick & easy matching game to play is to write math facts on the eggs. You can write any sort of facts: multiplication, division, equivalent fractions, decimal-fraction equivilants, so many possibilities! Put all the eggs in a basket & let the matching begin!

3. Punctuation practice: Another quick prep game is to write sentences on the eggs with missing punctuation. Students will have to figure out the missing punctuation & match to the sentence. 

4. Easily confused homophones: Some examples that I use their, there, they're; your, you're; hour, our, are...I write the homophones on the tops of the eggs & sentences on the bottom with a blank. Students have to match the homophones to the sentences properly. 

There are so many fun things to do using plastic eggs, and they are such a cheap resource to use! And you don't have to buy a ton of eggs; a quick tip that I do is use hairspray to erase the Sharpie from the eggs! It works so well, and not just on the eggs, it removes Sharpie from most surfaces. 

Do you use eggs in your classroom? What fun things do you do when spring is in the air? 

I hope you enjoy these fun springtime activities!

Happy teaching!


3 Tips for No Stress Test Prep

It's that time of year again, we turn the clocks ahead, the days become longer, spring is in the air...and testing season is upon us!  Dun, dun, dun.  The dreaded words that seems to sneak up on us...test prep.  When I first started teaching, I would stress out because I hadn't opened the test prep workbooks that my school had ordered.  While other teachers were working their way right through them, mine were still sitting inside the cabinet.  Oh, that big, yellow, thick workbook filled with page after page of black and white passages with question after question filling the pages; multiple choice, short answer, extended response...the Groundhog Day of teaching manuals!  Do you know why I hadn't taken them out of the cabinet?  Because I disliked those books as much as the kids did! 

Giving practice tests from a workbook was not why I became a teacher!  I was here for the "a-ha" moments, the fun stuff, the hands on!  Did I really need to use this workbook?  Soon I realized that no, I did not need a workbook.  I realized that test prep should not be approached as simply preparation for the test but with the thinking that my students should be learning skills that enhance their learning and understanding far beyond the test.  I could provide my students with the necessary tools and skills they would need to be successful on standardized tests without the "drill and kill" practice tests.  I could integrate test prep into our curriculum while still (gasp!!) having fun and learning new skills they would benefit from beyond the test.
I have 3 test prep methods that you can use in your classroom to help students prepare for the test as well as develop their study skills for the future. 

I like to have students use classroom magazines or passages that relate to a topic we are covering in Social Studies or Science.  This keeps the reading relevant to what we are learning and helps keep students interested.
There are a lot of things that get students excited.  Group work is one of them.  Getting up and moving around the room is another!  And do you know what students love more than working in a group while moving around the room?  Writing on chart paper!  Put up a piece of chart paper, pass out some fancy markers that smell like licorice, and watch those eyes light up! 

I write a question on a piece of chart paper and have enough for each of my groups.  I then give each group a set of markers and they use a different color marker for restating the question, answering the question, providing evidence from the text and wrapping it up.  They work together and take turns; each time they switch the marker color, a new group member does the writing.  They work together to build the best answer and make sure to include each part of the answer by taking turns and changing colors.  When they are finished, I have each group share their written answer while others provide constructive feedback.  The key word=constructive.  (You can find a free poster to encourage constructive feedback below!)  Students can learn from each other and how different each group's answer is.  They willlearn from the way others restate and use evidence too.
Another way to have students work in groups is to give each group a question and have each student answer the question on their own.  After each student has completed their answer, have them work together to really pull apart each of their answers to combine them for one SUPER answer!  In doing this, they are learning what their strengths are and they also start to realize what they may need to work on.  Maybe they notice their evidence could be stronger, but they learned what they could add in and how to make it stronger by looking at the new and improved SUPER answer! 
When students have an understanding of the types of questions on the test, they have a better chance of choosing the right answer.  You can teach your students the difference between literal questions, the "right there" questions they can find right in the text; and inferential questions, the "in your head" questions that require some thinking.  Once students understand the relationship between the question and the answer they are looking for, it will make determining the answer much easier! 

One way I like to practice the types of comprehension questions is to have students read a passage and then have THEM create questions based on what they read.  They must decide if those questions are literal or inferential.  You can have students work in groups with different passages and then have groups switch to try to answer the questions.  Students love having the chance to "be the teacher" and they will learn to analyze the questions in order to find the best possible answer.

Lastly, talk about the test!  I love to read picture books with my students and when you have been testing or prepping for the test, students will love the time when they can wind down and listen to a good book!  A few of my favorite books to read aloud are: Testing Mrs. Malarkey, Beautiful Oops, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes, The Most Magnificent Thing, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, Wilma Jean the Worry Machine and The Big Test
Open up the dialogue in your classroom so that students feel comfortable asking questions about the test and discussing test anxiety.  Help students form a growth mindset when thinking about the test and discussing it.  Using positive and encouraging words at home and at school will have a big impact on your students!  And as testing approaches, you can do a variety of things to keep student's spirits high.  I love this idea from Katie from TeachRunCreate on Instagram.  She sent each student a hand written note in the mail so they would receive it before the test!  Ashley, the Texas Lone Star Teacher, has a free "Words of Encouragement" resource for parents, past teachers and classmates to send encouraging words.  More Time 2 Teach also has a wonderful free resource for parents to send in some notes of encouragement for their child.  You can leave a note on the students desk, have a fun breakfast before testing begins, or plan a fun activity for when testing is over too! 

You can grab these free motivating sticky notes for student's desks HERE!
What else do you like to do to prepare for testing season?  I hope you found a few new strategies to use in your classroom! 

Happy Teaching!

If you would like a free Question Analysis activity, you can subscribe to my newsletter HERE.  You will receive a free set of growth mindset exit tickets and also gain exclusive access to my Free Resource Library!
You can check out these freebies in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.  Send home a brochure to parents with some testing tips and also hang a different version of "Do not disturb" on your door while you are testing!
You might also be interested in these products to help students with important test prep skills in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.

Please note: This post does contain affiliate links, which means that if you click to purchase a product mentioned, I may receive a small commission.


Close Reading: Giving Students a Purpose for Repeated Reading
To teachers, close reading can sometimes seem intimidating.  I used to feel like I did not have enough time in my reading block to have students complete meaningful reading and respond to it.  And to students, close reading can seem repetitive...and let's be honest, that's because it is!  It seems repetitive because close reading is reading the same text multiple times.  Students may feel that they are bored or uninterested when reading the same text over and over; it may seem like a chore to them, which in turn feels like pulling teeth to you!  But when students are given a purpose for each reading with high interest passages, close reading can become a thoughtful and careful analysis of the text.  I'm going to share a few ways that I keep my close reading organized, interesting, and purposeful in my classroom.
Students love having tools to use...but they need to know how to use them the right way or you may end up with an entire page highlighted yellow...I'm sure you've had a few pages like this before! #highlightallthewords  I like to have some things readily accessible for students to use and also give them a little bit of variety.  Some things I like to have available are: pencils to take notes and annotate, sticky notes to take notes during and after reading, highlighters to highlight vocabulary and text evidence, close reading bookmarks with annotating marks, finger eye puppets to track reading, pointers to single out unfamiliar words, some fun glasses and magnifying glasses to zoom in on vocabulary, main idea, or other key words. I keep my tools organized in an easy to move caddy.  Students can grab it when they are working in groups.  I find it easy to use a class set of supplies rather than individual supplies because it is easy to move from group to group and I can easily organize and restock as needed.
To keep myself organized, I like to keep all of my close reading passages in a binder, because I'm not going to lie, I have all the heart eyes for binder organization.  I separate them by month and I can easily pull out the passages and response pages for the month to copy and have available.
To help keep my students organized, each student has a close reading folder and each group keeps their folder in a small magazine holder.  (You can click HERE for free group labels.)  I do not have the students keep their folders in their desks because we all know, there's always going to be a folder that gets lost or one that rips in a desk.  Also, by keeping the folders out, it is easy for me to check in on how actively students are close reading, monitor how they are annotating the text, determine if we need to revisit a concept such as main idea or text structure, and also helps with vocabulary to focus on.  I can easily do this quick, informal assessment of the student's progress and adjust our focus...and most times the students don't even know I'm doing it! #teacherwin
Here's a peek at the quick notes form I use to assess the student's close reading.  Click HERE to download this form for free! I laminate this sheet and use sticky notes to take quick notes about vocabulary, skills, questions, and annotations.  You could also laminate and use a dry erase marker to take quick notes.  Laminating allows you to use the same quick notes page from day to day and save those copies!
There are a few things students keep right in their folder from week to week; their bookmark and their flipbook.  Both of these are resources they use each day as they close read.  Their flipbook lays out the purpose of each reading.  When the purpose for reading is clear and students have it right at their fingertips, it makes the repetitive reading not-so-repetitive anymore!  With each reading, students have a new set of eyes on the text; first reading is the main idea, second reading is vocab and text structure, and the third reading is comprehension through inferencing, theme and author's craft.  Their bookmarks have text annotating marks on them so students are able to annotate with meaning.  It may be fun to mark up the text, but it needs to be meaningful marking!  There is also a spot on the bookmark for sticky notes where the students can write down their thoughts and questions after they read.  I like to have them write down their thoughts after reading because they have a quick thought for our discussion about the text.  Each week they add in their passage for the week and each day they add in their response page.  (Click HERE for a free set of student folder labels!)
To really help students understand and give a purpose for WHY they are close reading, I model, model, model before we get started.  A great way to do this is to display an enlarged text for the students to see.  You can do this on your interactive whiteboard, with a document camera, if your school has a poster maker (lucky!!) you can make a poster size text, or send a short text to a local print shop to have a poster made.  It is nice to have an anchor chart for the students to look back at as you are diving in to close reading!  When you model on an enlarged text they can watch as you annotate, stop to take notes, and pause to think. And if you're like me, with a flair for the dramatic while modeling, they probably won't forget watching your close reading demonstration!
The first read is a true cold read.  I do not give my students any background knowledge about the text, nor do we discuss the text before reading.  I set the purpose for reading:  we are going to determine the main idea.  Determining the main idea in the first reading will set them up for success in their repeated readings as well.  To model the first reading of the text, I read the text slowly aloud.  I do not make any marks, I do not stop as I'm reading, but read it all the way through.  After reading, I write down some of my thoughts about the main idea on a sticky note.  I invite students to help me put my thoughts in to words.  "Let's think out loud!"  I prompt their thinking with questions such as, "What is this text mostly about?"  We think of the big picture.  Students then work on the first reading of their own passage during one of their guided reading rotations.  We come back together at the end of our reading block to discuss the first read and main idea of the passage they have read.
The second read is when we really start to get focused and pull the tools out.  I set the purpose for reading: vocabulary and text structure. Understanding the text structure in a text is an important skill that will help students as they answer questions about text.  I then go through how to use each of the tools and how each tool helps with my purpose for reading.  And of course, they want to use the tools!  They're fun to use and that's what they are there for!  If they are excited to use these tools, then guess what?  They're excited to read...even for the second time!  Before reading, I number the paragraphs of the text in the left margin.  This helps students read the text in "chunks."  It seems less overwhelming to students when it is a longer text and it also encourages students to stop and think as they read.

I then model reading using tools and annotating the text.  I track my reading with a finger puppet.  I stop, and stop often, to circle words that I don't know or phrases that I think are important.  I model using context clues to think about the unknown meaning.  I also model going back to reread the sentence when I have stopped to understand meaning.  Many times students just continue reading which can affect their comprehension.  If I'm still unsure of the word, I leave a sticky note or a pointer to remind me to go back.  I also stop and think aloud about the text structure.  "I notice the author..."  After reading, I go back to the words I circled and think aloud about the meaning and encourage students to do the same.  I write down thoughts on a sticky note and we discuss together.  While I am modeling, I encourage student participation throughout the process.  Students then work on the second reading of their passage during guided reading rotations.  We come back together at the end of our reading block to discuss the second read, vocab and text structure.
The third read is when we really get deep!  I set the purpose for reading: making inferences, the author's craft, and theme.  This really encourages deeper thinking and after reading the text a couple of times, students should be able to dig deep and use their prior knowledge about the subject.  Again, I use my tools and annotate as I read.  I stop often for deeper thinking this time; making connections, asking questions, noticing important parts of the text.  I model how I can use my schema as we read.  We write down thoughts on sticky notes after reading and make inferences about the text.
I then model looking for evidence in the text that supports my thinking when I'm responding to my reading.  It is sometimes a difficult concept for students to choose the right evidence.  But with each reading that we've done, we've built our knowledge of the text with the main idea, vocabulary, text structure, inferencing, and theme.  This knowledge will help students determine what the question is really asking, which makes finding the evidence a less daunting task. 

Students then complete the third reading of their text and when our guided reading rotations are completed, we come back together as a group to discuss what they have read.
After the hard work and modeling that we have done with our shared text, students have a clear purpose for each reading of the text.  While the purpose may be the same time after time, the text will be different and when you choose high interest text, students will look forward to what they will read next!  If you have a subscription to a classroom magazine such as Scholastic News, National Geographic, or Time for Kids; you can use those passages for close reading as well! 

I am a firm believer in modeling before diving in.  And when you take the time to go through the process with your students, with the little bit of dramatic flair to make it fun, they will have a clear purpose for close reading and with high interest passages, you can't go wrong!  Your students will be actively reading and analyzing text while remaining engaged.
Happy Teaching!
If you would like to try close reading passages for free, click HERE.  You can also find all of my close reading resources, including passages, flip book, bookmarks, and more!
Please note, this post does contain affiliate links, which means if you click to purchase a product mentioned, I will receive a small commission.


Preparing for Your Maternity Leave

Pregnancy is such an exciting time, but it is also a busy time as your family prepares for the baby!  As teachers, we also work throughout our pregnancy to prepare our classrooms for our maternity leave.  Preparing for a maternity leave is important to help your students and substitute transition while you are gone.  

I have had three very different experiences with maternity leave and I have a few tips to share to let you know what I have done to help prepare my students, myself, and my classroom for maternity leave.

Ask for help, accept the help...take all the help you can get.  Don't try to do it all!  This may be hard to do at first (if you're like me) but don't push yourself!  Pregnancy is exhausting, being a teacher is exhausting, being a pregnant teacher is ex-haust-ing. There's no denying it!  During each of my pregnancies, as I neared the end, I had a hard time going up and down three flights of stairs to my classroom so many times a day.  Other teachers were willing to help take my class to and from specials or lunch so I would not have to go up and down so many times.  This gave me a few extra minutes (most of the time to use the bathroom!) and it really helped me.  I'm so glad that I asked for that little bit of extra help!

Do you have parents come in to your classroom to help?  Having parents come in to the classroom and become familiar with the routines and procedures is a huge help to you and also for your substitute when you are out!  Some things that I love to have parents help with are: packing the students Friday/take home folders, helping with our classroom store, reading aloud to the students, working with small reading groups, helping with group projects, and helping with bulletin boards and doorway decorations; to name a few.  Having parents come in and help while you are still present in the classroom is important because the students become familiar with the volunteers and the parents also become familiar with your classroom...all of which will be extremely helpful for your substitute when you are out.  Parents are always willing to help at home too!  Don't be afraid to send home small tasks like cutting or sorting!  Send things that parents are able to do from home but will also save time for you!  The extra time saved can be used as time to prepare for your leave.

I always LOVE to share my exciting news with my students.  They, of course, are so excited but also have a lot of questions.  Sharing your news with your students or announcing in a fun way will make them feel special and they will also feel included in such an important time in your life.  In each of my pregnancies, I shared the news in different ways with my students.  They are always SO excited, but of course inquisitive.  As soon as I share the news, the questions begin..."Who will our sub be?"  "How long will you be gone?" "Will you be back?" This is the best time to open the discussion with your students to help them understand how the transition to a long term sub will work.  After sharing with your students, be prepared for questions from parents as well.  Parents will find comfort in knowing you will be working for an easy transition to a substitute in the classroom.

I also love to include my students by doing a fun activity. I have them guess the baby's weight, length and name and then we gather and graph the data from their predictions.  They love to see who is the closest once the baby is born too!  To include some writing in to the fun too, I have students talk to their parents about when they were born and write about that day.  They even bring in a baby picture.  They love sharing their stories and pictures and the stories, pictures, and predictions make a fun bulletin board! 

A simple thing to do before you leave to let the students know you are thinking about them is to prepare a couple small things to let them know you are thinking about them!  I have done this in a few ways...

Create something small for the students that will celebrate a birthday while you are gone.  Leaving a small card or treat will mean so much and remind them that you are thinking of them on their birthday!  Stop at the Target Dollar Spot (you'll probably be there anyway😉) and grab a few small goodies for those students.  Your students will love a little birthday surprise from you! You can also find birthday cards and labels for free HERE

Another way to show students you are thinking of them is to leave a fun (and easy) way for them to contact you.  I left a QR code in the classroom and linked the code to a Google form for students to write me a quick note.  I use a Google form because it is easy to check in and see student responses from home. On the form, I choose a "paragraph response" so students have room to write and then I use this easy QR code generator to insert a QR code.  You can find a free template to create a sign with a QR code HERE.  Simply hang it in your classroom and then check in every once in a while to see the notes from your students.  If any students had questions or things for me to respond back to, I email a quick note to my substitute for her to share.
 Once I am home and settled a bit with the baby, I also have Google Hangouts with my students every so often.  They LOVE video chatting and I love hearing about how things are going too.  They get a peek at the baby and it's nice to see their excitement. 

Create a substitute handbook and (if possible) meet with your substitute before your leave begins.  Explain how things work in your classroom...leave no stone unturned.  Explain centers, transitions, hallway procedures, supply storage, parties, homework, pencils, etc.  I may have mentioned this already, but the transition for your substitute when you leave is so important!  Making sure all of the routines and procedures remain *somewhat* the same is so important so that the students can adjust to a new teacher with ease.  Preparing the teacher with the ins and outs of your classroom is key.  It's also important for your substitute to understand that your classroom is HER classroom and preparing her will help her feel comfortable and confident to enter your classroom.  I also like to make a checklist of things I have covered throughout the year before I leave.

Make all the copies!  You may want to check with your administrator or union rep to see what you are required to prepare for your leave.  Some teachers are required to leave plans for their entire leave, some are required to leave some plans and some none at all!  My contract does not require me to leave any plans...but I choose to make plenty of copies for the new teacher before I leave with a week of plans ready.  I also try to complete any big projects before I leave.  I like to make sure any writing projects, book clubs, and read aloud novels are wrapped up so the new teacher can start anew when they begin.   

It is sometimes hard to hand over your classroom to someone new but I know you will do as much as you can to prepare your substitute and your students.  Remember, only do as much as you can and understand that no matter what, things will go smoothly when you are not there.  Your hard work to prepare throughout your pregnancy will ensure that you will be home worry free with a beautiful baby in your arms.  Relax and enjoy your time with your amazing new family.

There are so many things to think about as you are getting ready to welcome a precious new baby to your family!  While you are welcoming someone new to your family, your students will also be welcoming someone new to your classroom and I hope my tips will help your transition! 

Happy teaching!

You can find a pack with everything you need to help prepare for your maternity leave: parent letters, substitute handbook, student predictions, graphing, and writing pages, word scramble announcement page, an original book "What to Expect When My Teacher is Expecting," and more!  Click here or on the image below!

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