Tackling Back to School Paperwork

The first day of school is always cra-zy!!!  There is so much to do; from getting to know your students to procedures to supplies...and then there's the paperwork!

There is so much paperwork at the beginning of the year to send home to families.  You want them to know everything about your own classroom, supplies, rules, etc...but you also have to send home paperwork from your school and district too.

I try to make things easier for parents (and myself) by creating one envelope with all papers to send home on the first day.  Parents can read through and sign papers that need to be signed and send it all back right in the same envelope.

I have found this to be easier than simply using students' take home folders because I can get all of the paperwork packed into envelopes ahead of time, saving time on the first day.  I do not have to worry about handing out papers, putting in mailboxes, etc.  Envelopes are ready to go and each child just has one thing to carry home on the first day.

This is not only a time saver for the first day, but it is much easier when students start bringing back all of the signed paperwork.  I separate the paperwork into categories and copy on different colored paper so that it is easy to sort as it comes back from the students.  You can categorize by papers that parents will keep home, getting to know you papers, dismissal/arrival forms, permission slips (photography, internet, etc.), and volunteer forms.  When students start bringing back alllllll the paperwork it is easy to sort by color to save some time!
This free letter to parents to attach to your back to school papers is part of my VIP Nest that is FULL of FREE resources!  You can grab it by clicking below to subscribe to my weekly emails full of info, teaching tips, and exclusive VIP freebies!
You can also click below to grab this pack of back to school forms which includes THIRTY editable back to school forms, a first day of school book for students to complete, and a "Welcome Back" door or bulletin board decoration!

Happy Teaching!


Getting Started with a Class Economy

I love using a class economy in my fourth grade classroom for so many reasons...real life application, math practice, and organization, to name a few.  But one of the major reasons that I love using a class economy is that once I get things going, it practically runs itself!

So what is a class economy?  A class economy is a classroom management system where students learn real life applications such as keeping a checkbook, budgeting, earning and losing money, applying for a job, and more.  

To get started, I copy our "Class Cash" and do a different color paper for each increment.  I just use colored paper (Astrobrights is my favorite!) and I do not laminate...the students keep their money in their folders (checkbooks) and there is (hopefully) not a lot of exchanging of money so it really does stay in good shape, and it's a big time saver to skip the laminating!  

I also create a checkbook for each student; I use a two pocket folder with prongs.  In the prongs, I copy a checkbook register two sided and give each student a few copies of the register.  I also keep extras copies ready to go if a student needs an extra page, and by using the prongs, it is very easy to add on when needed!

I copy a wallet for each student and we assemble them together on the first day to hold on to their Class Cash.  And I copy a flipbook for students to use a reference and keep in their checkbooks.  I have these ready to go so students can assemble and keep in their checkbook as we go over each of the terms.

I decide the jobs for my class and depending on how many students I have, the jobs may vary.  I like to have one job for each student so that they can apply for the job that they'd like.  One very important job that does not change is the coveted job of the "Banker."  The job of the banker is truly how the class economy runs itself...the banker is in charge of collecting and handing out the money.  And trust me, students LOVE this job and are very honest when distributing and collecting the money.  Once the banker's job begins, I do not have to copy, cut, laminate, pass out, clip, count or anything...I only need to decide the deposits and withdraws that occur (and that is the easy part)!

The first week of school is always a lot of procedures and routines; setting up a successful class economy is no exception.  I introduce the students' checkbooks right on the first day...it is always VERY exciting!  Students love the idea of having money and cannot wait to start earning!  In the first week of school, I reward the whole class for smooth transitions, hallway behavior, names on their papers...any behavior that I'm excited to see in the first few days of school!  And by rewarding the whole class students can see the expectations that I have for those important procedures and that there is the opportunity to be rewarded.  And since the whole class is earning the Class Cash, we work on depositing the Class Cash in our checkbooks as a class.  

Just as I reward whole class behavior, I also take the opportunity to practice withdrawing money as a whole class as well.  I try to stick to withdrawing money as a class so that we can practice subtracting money but also so that students are learning together.

Making deposits and withdrawing money in the first week helps students learn how to use their checkbook but also is a great way to show the procedures and routines in the classroom.  I set the expectations high in the first week and it pays off for the rest of the year!

Throughout the first week we take a look at the different jobs, I model the jobs, and we decide on how much each job will be paid.  Some jobs are more work than others and DO deserve more pay.  Allowing students to take part in the salaries is important and also shows how just like in real life, jobs vary.  

I also have students pick out a few fun rewards that would be worth saving money for and also use a brochure to help teach about budgeting.  If students want to save to earn the special rewards, they must stick to a budget!

At the beginning of the second week of school, students are now familiar with the procedures and routines, they understand how to earn money and when money will be taken away, the also have an understanding of each of the classroom jobs, what a budget is, and how to save for special rewards.  At the beginning of the second week, I allow students to apply for jobs.  You can decide how long students will have their jobs for and be flexible as well!  One week may seem too short but a month too long; so see what works for you and your students!  

Once a month students have a "Market Day" and we discuss entrepreneurs, consumers, and marketing.  I choose a small group of students to be entrepreneurs and they create a proposal to sell something to the consumers.  Students choose a variety of projects and I always encourage something that will be within a reasonable budget and time period.  Some may make friendship bracelets, artwork, games, and more!  It is a great time for students to spend the money that they've earned and for the entrepreneurs to learn about the hard work of marketing and selling items.  

Laying the ground work in the first week helps the class economy run smoothly.  Students are then able to deposit and withdraw money on their own, they have everything organized in their checkbooks and can reference back to the important info they have when they need to.  The class economy now begins to work on its own with not much intervention needed!  
Happy Teaching!

You can find all of the materials that I use for a class economy and market day here!


5 Reasons to Use Mentor Text

I love to use picture books as mentor text in my classroom.  I love gathering my students on the carpet to read aloud and share some of my favorite books, but also use them as an anchor for the important skills we are learning!  And my students always love to sit and listen to picture books too.  It sometimes feels like there is so much packed into one day, and we expect so much or our students; sitting down to read a good picture book always brings forth amazing conversations and feelings.

Mentor text are anchor text that are used as an example for students.  Students use the mentor text to help impact their own writing.  The mentor text can be read during a mini lesson to help students learn about the skill you are focusing on.   A mentor text provides students with an example of good writing and sets expectations for their own writing.  Mentor text can also provide students examples of important reading skills like inferences, cause and effect, characters, and more.  A mentor text can be a short text, a teacher or student example, a picture book, or excerpt of a longer text. 
While reading mentor text, model how to read as a writer. 
•Why did the author write this text?
•How can this help me?
•Can I try this?
•Have I read another book like this?
•What works for the author?
•What do I notice about the author’s craft?
•How can I apply to my writing?
Mentor text are such an effective way to inspire students’ writing.  They become immersed in the books through your expression, the pictures, and the stories and they can use those feelings as they begin their own writing. 

For a free list of suggested mentor text, you can subscribe to my newsletter below!  This list has 34 suggested mentor text that I love to use in my classroom for different skills and classroom themes...and the skills are all listed for you!

Happy Teaching!


Morning Meeting: Setting the Tone for the Day

A couple of years ago I set a goal that no matter what, everyday we would have a morning meeting in my classroom. I felt like it was always something that would get pushed to the side. We would have an assembly, students would be pulled out of the room for services, or we would be finishing up morning work and let time slip away.  It was an easy thing to pass by when other things came up.  So that year, we did. We had a morning meeting every. single. morning.
Morning meeting is a short meeting in the morning with the whole class where students are usually seated in a circle, on the floor, together.  My morning meetings are usually about 20 minutes long.  This time is meant for building a strong classroom community where students learn to respect and appreciate each other.  Students become comfortable and learn to communicate and promote kindness within the classroom.
It was truly amazing when we did our morning meeting every day. I feel like I really got to know each and every one of my students so well, and I really felt like they got to know me too. I learned so much from these morning meetings and I'm so glad that I stuck with it and didn't let other things push this time aside.
So what do we do during morning meetings?  Some days we may just do one activity, but some days we may do more than one.  Read below for some ideas and activities that I do during morning meetings...
I love starting the day with a good read aloud! And there are so many great character building books to read during this time!  You also have the opportunity to choose a book that may have a theme that you would like to discuss with the class.  Here are a few of my favorites that always evoke amazing discussions! 
I use this awesome pack of morning meeting activities from Brooke Brown-Teach Outside the Box. The kids LOVE when we do games like these, they get excited when they see my mini notebook of games come out!  They are fun team building games that involve thinking, talking, and working together. 
I give students the opportunity to share anything that is on their mind.  They can sign up to share if they have something on their mind.  Students share a variety of things and as you continue with morning meetings, you will see your students feel more comfortable sharing things that are personal to them.  Some of our best meetings may just be spent  sharing and discussing...students share their wins, challenges, problems, excitement.  And when you share and open up to your students, they will do the same to you!
I keep a small bucket (from the Target Dollar Spot) labeled "Happy Thoughts" and little "Happy Thoughts" slips so that students can fill one out and drop it in throughout the day, anytime they have a happy moment or have something that is worth sharing. At the beginning of our morning meetings, I share their happy thoughts and we celebrate with each other. They have the choice to leave it anonymous but if they'd like to put their name on it, they can. 
This is such a great way to start the day!  I love the positivity that it brings and I also love having students take a second to think about what they're proud of or what made them happy that day. 
If you would like to try out a "Happy Thoughts" jar, I have free labels and slips in my TpT store HERE.  There are also "Proud Moments" labels and slips for an alternative!

A few years ago, I heard growth mindset and thought it was another buzz word that we sometimes hear in education.  Then I decided to do some research and decided, this was more than a simple phrase that would get tossed around and forgotten...this was something that would change the way I teach and the way my students learn.  And morning meetings are the perfect time to introduce and discuss a growth mindset.  It is truly the best, most positive way to start the day! It helps remind students how they can change their mindset, right from the start of the day! 
You can check out the growth mindset activities that I love to use HERE.
Having a morning meeting starts your day out on the right foot.  No matter how your morning has been...maybe you were rushing, didn't have your coffee, you were late to work; a morning meeting can help brighten the otherwise gloomy start to your day. Your students may also be having a rough morning for so many different reasons and taking the time to have a morning meeting may help them share something on their mind or their feelings.  It can also lift them up when they're feeling down by teaching them how to change their mindset.  A morning meeting starts your school day on a positive note and truly helps build your classroom community!
I hope you found a few new ideas for your morning meeting time! What sort of activities do you usually like to do during morning meetings? 
Happy Teaching!

I also have a few free activities in my TpT store that align with morning meetings and building a culture of kindness in your classroom.
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How to Manage Small Reading Groups

While working with small guided reading groups, it is important that the rest of your students remain focused and on task to achieve their reading goals too.  But don't worry, with some careful planning and organizing, your small groups can be easily managed.

I have a few tips to share about running guided reading groups while your small groups continue to thrive on their own!

Guided reading helps students become more successful readers at their instructional reading level.  Students engage in text at their instructional reading level and are guided by the teacher in a small group that allows for personal one-on-one interaction with the teacher.
A student's instructional reading level can be determined by doing a running record.  A student's independent reading level will be at a 95-100% accuracy level and an instructional level will be at a 90-94% accuracy level.  If students fall below 90% accuracy, they will fall into a frustration reading level and will require extensive, one-on-one support (which would not be recommended for guided reading groups).

Once you have completed running records for each of your students, you can group them according to their instructional reading levels.  Each group will be reading the same text while in guided reading groups, so you want to make sure you have them grouped properly.  While they are independently reading, of course they can read at their independent level!  But while working in your small group, students should work at their instructional levels.  You can use this formula to determine the instructional and independent reading levels:
I meet with two guided reading groups a day, for about 30 minutes with each group.  Over the years I have tweaked this schedule in many ways, depending on the number of groups that I have and also depending on the amount of time I have.  Ideally, I have about an hour and a half for my reading groups.  

It took me a while to realize that it's okay if I don't see every group everyday!  When I was trying to squeeze every group into an hour schedule, I felt rushed and was not able to give each group the attention I felt they needed.  Not seeing each group every day does take some getting used to, but keeping good notes and data on each group helps!  And the flexibility of this schedule also allows me to switch and meet with groups more than the two times a week that is scheduled, if I find it necessary.

Here is a breakdown of what a small guided reading lesson looks like in my classroom:

I hear all the time from teachers, "I just don't think the rest of my groups can work independently while I'm with a guided reading group for that long."  But, if you know me, you know that I feel very strongly about setting up procedures at the beginning of the year.  And the same goes for small reading groups; if your students know what is expected of them while you are working with a small group, their own small groups will run smoothly...without interrupting you!

So here is a breakdown of reading groups in my classroom:

So what are the other groups working on while I'm meeting with guided reading groups?  The group that I will be meeting with in the second half hour works on vocabulary for 30 minutes.  The other small groups work for 20 minutes on fluency, comprehension, and independent reading (which includes book clubs in my classroom).  Read below to find out more...
While I am working with a guided reading group, students are working on vocabulary for 30 minutes.  My students keep a vocabulary notebook and all of their vocabulary work goes in their notebook.  I collect from each group on a different day to do a quick check of their vocab notebooks.  One vocabulary activity that I have students complete is word ladders from Tim Rasinski.  You can check them out HERE.  And I also use a pack of vocabulary materials for upper elementary students from Chalk & Apples on Teachers Pay Teachers that you can find HERE.

To work on fluency, students do a few things throughout the week for 20 minutes.  I have students do timed reading where they work on a cold and hot read with a partner in their group.  I love THESE timers for students to use to time each other.  I find passages from Reading A to Z, which is a subscription site that my school has a subscription to.  There are also some great resources available from Hello Literacy on TpT for passages too!

I also have students use the app AudioBoom to record themselves reading text.  I LOVE this app and use it for much more than just fluency practice!  I have a basket of picture books available for students to choose from.  They practice reading in a few ways before they actually begin recording themselves.  They read quietly in their head, they then use a feedback phone (you can find these HERE) to practice their accuracy and expression, and then they record themselves using AudioBoom.  Once they record themselves, I am able to turn their recording into a QR code very easily right from my computer, and I attach that code to the back of the book. I then add the books that have codes on the back to a basket for students to grab for a listening center.  They love listening to friends read the stories and they also love to be the storyteller too!  This is an amazing way to work on expression!
Students also work on comprehension for about 20 minutes.  To work on comprehension, my students work on close reading.  They read the same high interest passage for three days.  They have a different focus for each of the repeated readings and work on a response page to enhance their comprehension.  You can find the close reading passages that I use HERE.  You can grab a free starter pack to help you get close reading started HERE.  And I also have a detailed blog post about close reading HERE.
Students also work on independent reading or book clubs for about 20 minutes.  Students can be reading or responding to their book club selections or they are actually having a book club with their group.  You can find the resources that I use for book clubs HERE.  You can read a post about how I get book clubs started in my classroom HERE.

I hope that this helps with planning and managing your guided reading groups.  I have a FREE Guided Reading Binder available to help you get organized  There are data tracking sheets, group and individual student note pages, and more; all to help you get organized.  The guided reading lesson and week at a glance seen above are also available with this download.  Click below for your free Guided Reading Binder!

Happy Teaching!

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