Papers. Papers. And more papers. Sometimes it can feel like teachers are drowning in papers. With the addition of technology that allows us to communicate digitally, we can significantly decrease our use of paper and single-handedly save the trees. Using digital communication is also going straight to the source. Not to mention, less of a chance students aren’t handing parents that super important paper you spent time typing and then will spend more time fielding phone calls from the parents who didn’t know. A class blog can save you from all of this!
A class blog can give you back time. Have you heard of the “asked and answered” technique for answering questions? Basically, you respond with “asked and answered” any time a student or child continues to ask you the same question. With a class blog, you can now direct students and parents to the place that contains all the answers. Here are 5 specific ways that you can use a class blog to save you time and many headaches.
Share syllabus or unit details
Most of the time we write type these up for students to keep track of their learning and assignments, but how many times have you needed to make extra copies for students who miss place them? All too often. Place these documents on a class blog and students, as well as parents, will have a place to find the information anytime they need it.
By using a class blog for this you will also have the opportunity to include links. Send students to their Google Classroom, an assessment site, articles you need them to read or any other website and document needed. By including this on the class blog you also allow parents access. As a middle school teacher, I find that the more I can include parents in what we are learning the more invested students are in the learning.
Classroom Procedures & Expectations
At the start of each new quarter, I find it necessary to remind middle school students of our classroom expectations. Sometimes a particular class begins to struggle with a specific expectation, like checking books out through our system. Typing it out and making it available to students and parents will give you a place to send students who may need to be reminded of the boundaries you’ve set for the class. Having it available to parents will allow you to inform them of all your expectations so that if their child crosses the line you can be sure the lines were explained.
If you have specific procedures in your classroom for things like book check-in and out, or a weekly assignment that students may need reminding about or may need a step-by-step for a while. This can also be very helpful when a new student joins your class. You can send them to the blog and you will be less likely to forget telling them an important piece of information.
Replace the Newsletter
Does your building send out a newsletter each month? Ours does. Inevitably I end up losing track of time and miss the submission deadline. Even when I do remember there is only so much room in the building newsletter to include what our class is up to for the month. With a class blog, I can write as much as I need to so that parents have all the details about our upcoming projects. A class blog newsletter also allows me to include photographs or videos of student work.
Highlight Student Work
One of my favorite ways to create community in our classroom is with my weekly precept awards. Each Monday I present a new precept and by Thursday students vote for the student who has lived out that precept. Sharing this with parents can help give the students more confidence and give parents insight about their kids at school.
Sharing student work or allowing students to write a post on behalf of the class can also be a great confidence booster. Give students ownership if you need their buy-in. You could even tap into their competitive nature and make posting a contest.
Inevitably every year a parent asks me how they can help their child be a better reader. This usually leads to me writing down some information and trying to think of all the best answers. Now I just email them a link to my blog post. I’ve also had parents ask about our online grade book system and what are the best books for their child to read that will keep them reading. All of these questions can now be answered with a detailed blog post. The best part is that I’m no longer providing solutions for one parent at a time. Now I can give solutions for parents who may not even think to ask. Adding it to the class blog gives me a place to send them and helps me to give specific detailed information.
The best part about the class blog is that once I’ve spent the time to write out each post I don’t have to spend the time the following year doing the same. I can go into the class blog and unpublish posts then republish them during the right time of the school year. For the posts that help provide parents solutions I usually keep those in one category so parents can always find them.
If you want to start your own class blog I have the perfect step-by-step free email course that will have you ready to blog in 5 days. Add your email below then check your inbox. Each day I will walk you through the setup process and make sure you know how to navigate the WordPress platform.
After just one school year of weekly blogging in the classroom, I’m convinced that this is the best way to engage students in writing. Blogging has also been a fantastic way to build relationships with my students. The most beneficial classroom management tool for any teacher is having a positive relationship with their students. However, we all know that making time to cultivate these positive relationships with each and every student is time-consuming. That’s where blogging in the classroom can help! Consider how a student who writes a blog post about their favorite novel character gives you insight into their reading habits, interests, and their general outlook on life. Maybe they share a particularly difficult math concept the finally mastered. Perhaps they take photos of a recent piece of artwork and write about the process. Blogging is the perfect opportunity to assign writing for every grade level and every subject area.
As a blogger it’s customary to write with a conversational tone, making this an easy writing style for kids. My students were almost always more willing to write a blog post than to author an essay. But this activity is not just for English teachers, let me share why and how any educator can use blogging in the classroom.
Let’s start with a list of benefits (just in case you need to convince anyone blogging in the classroom is the right activity for you).
Improved Literacy Skills: This is more of a byproduct of blogging. When you set specific expectations for what blogging looks like in your classroom and provide timely feedback to students their writing is going to improve. Of course, this could be said for any writing program. Blogging adds engagement for students through an authentic, global audience. When they are able to hear feedback from classmates, parents or anyone else who reads their public posts, students begin to write with a higher quality.
Digital Citizenship: Blogs are now a part of nearly every brand with a website. Showing students what this concept looks like through a quality blogging program in your classroom will help them see the future job opportunities they could pursue. If you choose to include images with blog posts you’ll need to teach them about copyright laws. You are also showing them how to appropriately communicate online through posts and comments. This would hopefully transfer to their social media presence, as well. We have the opportunity to teach them how they can use their platforms for leadership opportunities rather than engaging in negative interactions.
Authentic Writing Audience: We are always telling kids how important written communication will be for them and blogging is a great way to practice. The real world skills of writing for an actual audience, who is not a teacher giving them a grade, will help them see the fruits of their writing. Through comments, students can hear how people interpret their writing and how it helped them. There are several places teachers have joined together in sharing blogs and solicit comments. A special hashtag, #comments4kids, has been established and is frequently used by teachers who blog with students.
Connect Home & School: Blogs are a great way to keep parents up to date on what their child is learning. Parents can tangibly see their child’s growth and progress that’s not an indistinct letter grade. Using the class blog to keep parents informed of the happening of each quarter or monthly learning can be helpful. We all know the school newsletter often goes from mailbox to trashcan. Whereas a blog might be more convenient for them to check from work or home and may provide more relevant, timely information for their child.
Metacognition: A high level of thinking defined as “thinking about what you think.” Blogging takes on an editorial style of writing where students can share their opinions and thinking processes that took place on the way to establishing this opinion. Commenting on peer blog posts is another way to get kids thinking critically. They should learn how to make a connection and add something new to the topic in their comment. They will also need to learn the etiquette of disagreement.
These may have convinced you that blogging is a great idea, but it’s writing and you may not be a writing teacher. Let me share how every school subject could use blogging as a way to enhance their curriculum.
Students could write blog posts that share an in-class lab. They could write in a step by step format so that other classes could replicate this lab. As a teacher, you’ll need to assess their knowledge so you could ask them to write a reaction to the outcomes of their lab. This could be preparation for students competing in Science Fair.
Rather than asking students to read about an event or person in a textbook they could each find research and documents to share within a blog. They could then make connections to how that aspect of history has played a role in today’s society. Students could even think through alternate historical outcomes and how that could have affected their lives. Let them become local historians and collect stories from the community to document on a blog.
Students are always asking, “How am I going to use this one day?” Make this the focus of your blog and have students figure out how that math concept is used in the real world. Students could write tutorials as a way of providing homework help.
Sharing videos of student choirs would be a wonderful way to showcase student talent. Students in Music Theory type classes could write informational blog posts about famous musicians, styles, and instruments.
Physical Education and Health
Students can blog about the history of different sports. They could invent their own sport or activity and provide details for playing. If there is a major sporting event taking place, like the Olympics, students could profile an athlete or sport. Students could write posts that could help their peers find support when dealing with difficult situations, and include resources for finding professional help. There might be a need for writing step-by-step instructions or a top ten list that other students would find helpful.
This is another great way to showcase student talent and allow them to describe their process for creating the art. Students might write a profile for a famous artist, or better yet a local artist.
Blogging would be a great way for students to write about the countries where the language they are learning is spoken. They could even partner with a classroom in those countries and write collaboration pieces. For the truly advanced students, they could write posts in the foreign language.
For any subject and grade level writing is always a great way to ask students to perform a summative assessment. You could create a prompt that asks them to share what they learned. For example: Pretend your table partner was absent, explain to them what knowledge they missed today. There are a number of ways to ask students to write. Providing students with an authentic writing experience, even when it may be for assessment purposes, gives them motivation for more thorough writing.
Still feeling overwhelmed? Let me help! I’ve created a Blogging with Students course that will walk you through each step for setting up a class blog and student blogs. I give you lesson ideas, video tutorials, and a full curriculum to get you through the school year. Go to the course site here for more information. Drop your email to stay updated on all things blogging with students.
Want to give blogging a try for yourself first? Start with a class blog. Sign up for my free 5-day email course. Each day I will walk you through the process of setting up a powerful class blog that parents will love and students will appreciate. You will get to see firsthand what blogging can do for your classroom.
A Christmas Carol is arguably the most widely known Dickens story of all time. Made into movie after made-for-TV movie, this story has been told over and over again. Each year the 7th-grade language arts teachers dust off our textbooks and read this play with students. We all know that as much as we may love a story it can become boring eventually. Here is an idea to breathe some life back into teaching A Christmas Carol plus teach students the art of persuasion.
Before they changed our standards and took away persuasive writing it was a staple writing assignment essay. I enjoyed teaching students about the techniques of persuasion and we usually did this in the form of a letter to parents. We would write parents a letter persuading them to buy a particular item for Christmas. Some of you may have just cringed at that last sentence.
YES, with more experience as a classroom teacher I started to see how this assignment was troublesome. Many students came from homes where Christmas was not celebrated or presents were not part of the budget or the requested gift was simply out of the question. So I needed to take a different approach. That’s when I created the Scrooge Speech Contest.
We always read A Christmas Carol at the start of December. Sometimes the play version from our textbook or the Scope Magazine version. In the years I had advanced students we read the actual text. In the years I was scheduled for co-taught classes we read a shorter, illustrated version. Either way, every version shares the story of how Scrooge changes from a tight-fisted miser to a man who celebrated Christmas with all his heart. At the end of the story, we learn that he did give money to the men who asked for donations and he became a benefactor to the Cratchit family. This was the perfect opportunity to change our persuasion writing assignment.
The new assignment was to convince Scrooge that the charity of your choice should receive his donation this Christmas season. A chance to teach writing and speaking skills all in one.
Students started by choosing a charity. The first year I let this be a free for all. That was a huge mistake! Students had a terrible time researching and we ended up with 20 speeches about the Humane Society. I must have had a lot of animal lovers that year. The problem was students weren’t branching out to see what charities were even possible they just went with what they knew.
The next year I created a list. This list has grown since spending time with a number of charities through my World Race mission trip. The list also became an opportunity for me to share the work I did overseas. The list, which is a Google Doc of links to the charity websites, helped for the most part. I still had students choosing what they knew. This is not necessarily a problem, however, on the day of speeches, it’s hard for the class to sit through the same speech over and over again. That’s when I initiated a draft day.
Students were given access to the list of charity links and they had 10 minutes to investigate their options. This also gave me the chance to strike up a conversation with an individual student and help them choose a charity that might fit with their passions. I could steer the animal lovers to other charities like the World Wild Life Fund or Puppies Behind Bars. Once students found a charity they connected with they would type their name in the shared spreadsheet. I kept the spreadsheet for all 3 of my classes so that no student had the same. This made the speech day more bearable for me. There are enough charities in the world so why not learn about as many as possible?
Research and Writing
The next few days students learned a few basic research skills for navigating a website. Check off any digital literacy standards you have for that day. They would keep track of their research in these Digital Notecards I designed. Once they had a full picture of the charity they began working on their presentation. Most organizations these days have very detailed websites. Students can usually find all they need for the presentation on the one website.
It’s important to take this opportunity to teach students the proper etiquette for giving a speech with a slide presentation. Middle schoolers tend to write everything they want to say on the slides and then proceed to read those slides to the audience. As we all know this is poor form. I would model for them what a presentation should look like by presenting my favorite charity Remember Nhu. Sharing this charity allowed me to present personal testimony from working with this organization and the impact it made on my own life. When students see this they tend to want a personal connection to the charity they picked. That is a beautiful moment! One year a student shared how Wyld Life changed things for them and gave them hope for a better future.
One-by-one students present their charity to the class. Sharing an overview of the charity, who are impacted by the organization, a major project currently taking place, and how Scrooge’s contribution will make a difference. If the charity has a short introduction video that students can use for the overview section I do allow them to share the video. I also make stipulations that they can only include 1 video and the whole presentation cannot exceed 5 minutes. As students present, I find it easiest to assess their speech in a pre-made Google Form. This allows me to give them a point value for each section and provide feedback. It also makes entering final scores from the spreadsheet super quick.
Take it up a notch
Here are a few ideas I’ve used to really take this project to the next level. Since my students are blogging in class they have turned their presentation into a blog post. Another option would be a class Google Site where students could upload their slide presentations to be shared publicly.
Another fun way to take this up a notch is to collect actual funds for the speech winner to donate to their charity. My second year implementing this project we raised $100 and we were able to donate that money in the student’s name. It certainly makes giving a very real experience. Especially if a student has never had the means to give. I set a mason jar on my desk to collect change and posted to my Facebook friends that we were doing this with a way for them to help. There are a number of ways that you could go about doing this now and possibly generate a large enough donation to allow several students to make donations in their name. It can be hard to choose just one. Another option, rather than having to choose, could be to draw from a hat or randomizer.
If you host a Scrooge Speech contest this Christmas season I’d love to hear how it goes and see any links if you decide to share. Have any other ideas for how to make this project awesome? Share them in the comments.
My first years as a teacher I loved going to professional development meetings. I have always loved to learn new things. Probably why I became a teacher. In that first year, I discovered a workshop called What’s New in Young Adult Literature? and it changed my world. I became addicted to conferences and all things professional development.
The year I traveled to Pittsburgh for the NCTE conference is hands down the best conference I’ve ever attended to date. I shook hands with Walter Dean Myers and intently listened while he shared about his own visit to Egypt. Lois Lowry was such a quiet, reserved woman that I could say nothing but a simple thank you and quietly walk away in awe. Laurie Halse Anderson held up her line to chat with me like we’d been friends for years. Sarah Weeks was a new author at the time and I’ve been a raging fan ever since. Jon Sonnenblick, also new at the time, was super funny in spite of having written a book about childhood cancer. To me, this was a “red carpet” experience! Authors are the English teacher’s celebrity.
The next school year I immediately completed the appropriate paperwork requesting to attend NCTE again. However, that request was met with budget cuts and the opportunity to attend amazing conferences dwindled as the years went by. Working towards my Master’s degree was about all the professional development I was taking in and it wasn’t much fun any longer.
Then came the technology boom.
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In my career, I have gone from walking students to a computer lab filled with desktop computers to a Chromebook for every student. Learning how to utilize that technology in the classroom has been a major teaching overhaul for most of us in this profession. Some of us have embraced it while others prefer the traditional days of handwritten papers. Learning to use technology effectively has not been easy, so I understand the teachers who hesitate to bring it on board. However, technology is not going away anytime soon! We would be doing our students a disservice if we did not help them to navigate the world of technology.
Our building is not a one-to-one just yet, I believe it’s in the works. We did change over to a Google school and this has completely transformed my teaching and any kind of workflow I use for creating. In the beginning, I had no idea what being a Google school even meant. Then I was introduced to Kasey Bell, the author of Shake Up Learning.
My very helpful media specialist printed me a copy of Kasey’s free Google Cheat Sheet. After reading this I immediately wanted more! I went to the website signed up for her email updates and printed nearly every free resource she offers. I had to stop once I realized how much free stuff she actually has available.
One of my favorite resources was the teacher challenge. This helped me to learn so much I didn’t know existed in the world of technology for the classroom. Learning from Kasey has catapulted a domino effect in my life personally and professionally.
For starters, I am now a blogger. My students are bloggers. Which gave me the idea to help other teachers create bloggers out of their students. My world has opened up to the many possibilities that technology provides.
One of which happens to be a new way of gaining professional development without needing to travel or take a day off of school.
Webinars and online courses are the new waves in learning. In any profession, not just teaching.
Online learning provides a few things that in-person conferences can not. For starters, you can learn anywhere, anytime. If you have a device and WiFi you can learn something new. The other great part about online learning is the community built around it. Nearly every course out there also provides a Facebook group where people who have taken the course can share ideas or ask questions. The Shake Up Learning group is a wonderful place to get answers quickly or learn new ideas or teacher hacks.
The latest from Shake Up Learning is a Google Slide Master Class. Kasey often refers to Google Slides as the “Swiss Army Knife of the G Suite tools” because it is so much more than just another presentation tool. Her course is for any K-12 educator looking for new and dynamic ways to use Google Slides in the classroom. If you know how to find the Slides app and start a blank presentation this course will teach you the rest. On the other hand, if you’ve been using Slides, like I have, for a number of years you are still going to learn new and innovative ways to incorporate Slides into your classroom.
In the Slides Master Class, you’ll also learn three bonus lessons.
BONUS 1: Stop Motion Animation
Save yourself valuable instructional time and that oh so elusive teacher sanity by packaging your assignments so that students have EVERYTHING they need in one place.
BONUS 2: How to Create Magnetic Poetry with Slides and Drawings
This bonus is one of the most requested resources! In this bonus, you will learn how to create interactive lessons like magnetic poetry with Google Slides AND Google Drawings.
BONUS 3: 50 Google Slides Lesson and Project Ideas
This bonus lesson is loaded with 50 ideas for using Google Slides in your classroom. There are ideas for every grade level and every skill level. Use the skills from this course to design lessons and projects for your students.
My students recently completed the Vision Board lesson idea. I taught them how to add Unspalsh photos, use text over photos, and how to download the slide as a .jpg so they could add it to their blog. I love how easy this was and what I love it, even more, is that their parents can see them and comment on them.
If you’ve never visited Shake Up Learning at the website or through Facebook I encourage you to go there now! You can also visit or tune in to the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast that Kasey co-hosts with Matt Miller from Ditch That Textbook. Free PD every Monday afternoon!
When I started blogging there was a whole new world of teachers sharing their knowledge and helping each other learn on social media. Jump over to my post about why teachers need to embrace social media if you don’t know what I’m talking about. I was amazed by the teaching ideas and lesson sharing that was happening on Instagram. Then I discovered Facebook groups for teachers. I was living in the dark about how these social networks brought me top-notch professional development on a daily basis. The more I read Twitter and discovered teachers to follow, the more I realized I was starting to build my Professional Learning Network.
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Why PLNs are a good thing
For several years now my principal has been trying to build a Professional Learning Network among our own building staff. He started with a book study on Learning in the Fast Lane. Small groups of teachers were assigned a section of chapters to teach and share what they learned. We all had a great time sharing our creative lesson plans and talking about what we were learning and how it could help us better serve our students. Not every staff member participated, but those who did really felt it was a benefit for our classrooms.
Honestly, our staff hasn’t always been the greatest at collaboration or learning from each other. This idea has been a culture change that my principal continues to work towards. A culture change like this can be difficult when many teachers already feel overworked. Plus we were on improvement status by the state because of our test scores. Nothing makes you feel like a failure than a report card with a D. As much as I loathe this system, teacher evaluations, school report cards, and standardized testing, they are the reality. As it turns out they helped us start to make a culture change towards a local Professional Learning Network.
How to make a PLN in your building
Because I’ve been so inspired by all the other teacher bloggers and teachers sharing on social media, I partnered with our media specialist (who’s super creative) to come up with a few new ideas to help our staff. We started with a Summer PD Bingo board. This idea came from a principal blogger who teamed up with another principal blogger friend to help their staff escape summer slide. Our PD board used a lot of the same tasks, but we did try to add a few things we knew our staff might be excited to try.
Find a copy of the Summer PD Bingo board in our free resource library. Don’t have access to the library? Join the Teach.Mom.Repeat. newsletter and get instant access.
To sweeten the pot for choosing to participate I collected some teacher treats. Throughout the summer I connected with a few teacher authors and a number of local businesses to donate prizes for our Bingo winners. At our opening meeting in August teachers turned in their boards and we drew for prize packs.
Our next step was to find a way for teachers to share during the school year. Last year the board adjusted our contract hours so that we have a 25 minute flex time at the end of the school day. The purpose of this time is for collaboration and planning. Although it may only be 25 minutes it’s enough time to share ideas or get people started with the right resources.
Once a month we are planning a “Learn from the BEST” session. Teachers sign up on a Google Doc with the ideas they have for sharing and the concepts they would like to have someone teach them. Teachers will present in their own classrooms so any necessary materials will be readily available. I have also created a Google Site where we will be able to share any digital materials, session notes or even videos of the professional development. Making materials available to all staff even if they couldn’t attend on that day.
Hopefully this opportunity to teach each other will continue to cultivate a collaborating community amongst our staff. We have such excellent educators at our fingertips we should absolutely be learning from each other. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with the EdCamp professional development model. Learning from teachers who are also in the trenches every day with students can provide a much-needed solution to a current problem. That’s the best part of holding sessions based on resident experts; you can ask for specific solutions to a problem. There isn’t much in the world of teaching that hasn’t been seen before by another teacher. When we can help each other problem solve we can get back to doing our job. And possibly schedule a little more time to enjoy our family and friends.
Does your building have an established Professional Learning Network? What ideas can you add to help make our PLN plan better?
Parents ask me all the time, “How can I help my child be a better reader?” “What can I do at home to help my child be a better reader?” The simplest answer to this question is READ. Read with them. Read to them. Read a page then have them read a page. READ. READ. READ. Let them see you reading, even if it’s the newspaper, magazines or work emails. Show them that reading is a life skill. This really helps them to understand why it’s important to learn reading skills.
When we discuss reading accountability at the start of the school year I share an infographic with students that illustrates the importance of reading. It explains that reading for at least 20 minutes a day during the school year will expose them to over a million words. Exposure to words is how we all get better at reading. Vocabulary is key. Knowing the meaning of words allows us to comprehend what we read. Knowing strategies for figuring out unknown words while we read is also a skill good readers possess.
Some of the links found in this post are affiliates. This means if you make a purchase after clicking through we will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for your support and please know that we only endorse products we use and love.
So the simplest way to become a better reader is to practice it. Just like any other skill. Professional football players still show up to practice because even they can become better at their game. (Unless you play for the Browns!) I share a personal example with the kids that demonstrates even really good readers still need to look up unknown words.
When I read Wonder I had never heard the word precept before; I understood the concept from the story but had never known the meaning of the word. Once I looked it up I realized that my understanding was slightly off and with the true meaning I understood the author’s intent more clearly. Has this ever happened to you? Share that with your child or students. Show them there is always an opportunity to learn new words.
While reading at home is an important way to become better at reading it’s not the only way to help increase reading skills. Here are 3 activities to practice with reading, as well as a few websites and apps that can help.
1. Depth of Knowledge
The simplest comprehension questions ask us to recall important facts. If we can read something and then share the important parts then we have successfully comprehended the story. However, students often struggle to determine what’s important and what’s just part of the story. Characters and their actions that move the story forward are important. If a character stops to buy candy at the gas station it could be to show us that they have a sweet tooth, or share insight to the setting, or to have them interact with another important character. If they simply stop to buy candy and move on then there isn’t much important in that. However, students who connect to behaving similarily can feel like it should be important when it’s not.
Ask your child to recall the important parts of the story from the chapter or section that they just read. If it sounds like it may not be important to the overall story probe them for why they feel that was an important part. If they can defend it to show significance this is great practice for comprehension.
Being able to articulate why a character made a decision or acted in the way they did helps students see the big picture.
If students are reading out loud and stumble on a word saying it for them is good. But then ask if they know what it means. Sometimes we just need to hear a word in order to recognize it; making exposure to words such a vital part of becoming a better reader. If they can’t tell you the meaning ask them if the context around the word can help them figure it out. Still unsure or can’t figure it out? Looking up the word in the dictionary is necessary. Find a place in the house where you can write these words so your child will see them daily that can also help. It takes several times seeing a word and thinking about what it means before we add it to long-term memory.
A few websites that are good for simple word practice include:
There are also several phone apps that are free word games. Any word game that is not just spelling words will help increase vocabulary. One that is great for middle school is called The World’s Worst Pet. It’s a strange name for an app, but it has helpful games to learn new words. You can also choose the level of words and increase as kids gain more knowledge.
3. Reading Websites
There are several websites that provide reading practice for kids whether they are in a classroom or at home. Often they require a login and have paid versions, but they also usually allow for free features as well. Here are some of my favorite sites:
ReadWorks.org is geared towards teachers, but their Article-A-Day option is great for at home practice. Many of the sites are geared towards teachers who use these in their classrooms, but it’s just as easy for a parent to set up an account.
FunBrain.com is a great site for books online and reading games. They offer searches by grade level from Pre-K to 8. There are also vocabulary games as well as other subject areas available.
LearnOutLoud.com is a great place to find free audiobooks. Titles are mostly classic books, but those can be very exciting. When listening to an audiobook it is always best to have the physical book to look at while listening. This helps kids engage with the vocabulary.
Newsela.com is a current event website that allows students to read nonfiction at their level. The site is geared for teachers to use in their classrooms, but this can be accessed at home as well. You will need to create an account to access the content. Although it’s not the site’s intent, parents can easily create an educator account and add their child or children to a class you call Home. If your child’s teacher is already using this site then ask if they would assign articles for your child to practice at home.
There is a navigation tool on the left that allows you to choose a child’s level by grade and then narrow by skill. If your child’s teacher has expressed a specific area they need to practice this is a great way to zero in on that particular skill. Kids can search for a topic that is of interest to them, which will help them engage with the reading. After each article, there is a quiz for students to take. You can track their progress in your account and celebrate their growth!
Finding support for helping our older children be better readers can often be a difficult task. There is a plethora of support for young, emergent readers but there are very few options to help our tweens and teens. It’s assumed that by the time they get to be this age they are fluent readers, but that’s not always the case. Books can often be a turn off for older students if they haven’t been able to find one they enjoy. The resources above should help to make reading easier for them and an activity they can hopefully enjoy. If you’re looking for popular book suggestions here are 50 for the secondary student.
Teacher friends, share your greatest resources that you suggest to help parents help their children.
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At the start of the school year, I was seeing lots of posts where teachers created a classroom poster to show kids the books they were currently reading. My husband had actually done this in his classroom last year and I ran out of time then forgot to make one for myself. This year I turned to Canva.com to make my own classroom poster that would fit inside my 11×14 frame that hung just outside my door. I decided to design a poster that would allow me to write the title with a dry erase marker on the glass of the frame. This would save me from having to print covers everytime I picked up a new book to read. Which is also better for the environment.
When I shared this photo on Instagram a lot of people sent me messages asking how I had created the poster. The simplest answer was Canva. But it did take me a lot of scrolling to find the template I had used. To make this easy for everyone to duplicate I recorded a video to show you how to make your own.
Here is my finished product, along with my latest Cricut vinyl projects.
Hope this video tutorial helps! I’d love to see your projects come to life. Be sure to post them on Instagram and tag me.
If you’re interested in learning more about blogging in the classroom as I mentioned in my video join my Blogging in the Classroom mailing list. Learn how blogging can become your total package writing curriculum and give your students a voice.
One the greatest aspects to establish in the classroom, right from the start, is a sense of community. Classroom community is important for students to feel they are in a safe place to share ideas and take some risks. When they feel the environment around them will support them even if they didn’t get the right answer they will still be willing to try. Their willingness to try will make for a much more productive class period each day.
Now, this all sounds great, but it can often be difficult to establish a community within a middle school classroom. For one thing, middle schoolers can be pretty opinionated. By the time they get to 8th grade they may have been burned by others and until you prove them wrong they are convinced you will be the same kind of teacher. Middle schoolers are also big fans of drama. They often carry a grudge like a new momma carries her newborn. They cuddle it and feed it and watch it grow.
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This can make creating a class community a difficult process. That is why it’s best to start as soon as possible.
Here is an idea that was sparked by a teacher I connected with through Instagram. If you have read the book or watched the movie Wonder then you know what I mean by Mr. Browne’s precepts. He was a teacher who started his class with a precept, a word I had to look up in the dictionary because I’d never heard it before reading Wonder. Precept is defined as a rule or direction dictating a way you should act or behave. To me using this word makes so much more sense than calling them inspirational quotes, or even using just inspirational quotes.
Hashtags are all the rage so I’m going to use #MotivationMonday to kick off each week. Even if we have a holiday Monday and start the week on Tuesday. When students come in and get settled we will start with our posted precept. Read the precept out loud together then discuss what it means. This is a quick, 5-minute conversation.
As the week moves along notice when kids are living out the week’s precept. Tell them how they are demonstrating it and call them out to their classmates for doing so. This will allow everyone to see what the precept in action looks like. By Thursday all students will need to cast their vote for the classmate who they felt lived out the precept. This will be done through a simple Google Form that students can find on our class blog. The form asks simple questions: voting student’s name, nominee’s name, why they deserve to be recognized. At the end of the day Thursday I will go through the votes and the student with the most votes will be awarded a small laminated version of the precept poster. They will also receive a printed list of the reasons why they were deserving of this precept. All voters names will be kept anonymous. It will be up to students if they would like to share that they voted for that student and why.
In class on Friday, we will spend a few minutes celebrating that student for their outstanding accomplishment. It is my hope that this will encourage positive behavior. Our class motto is a positive presence & a positive participant. Using the weekly precepts will help support and uphold this message.
When you teach in a class that has multiple levels of learners, meaning you’ll need to pull them into small groups for many of the lessons, it’s a good idea to start building a community that also recognizes differences. As a teacher who has an intervention specialist for every class it’s no secret to the kids that there is a second teacher in the room for a reason. The kids who are on IEPs know they need extra support and the minute you ask them to join a group away from the big group they often feel stupid. The stigma is real and if we don’t treat it in a way that can make these kids feel comfortable they will continue to see themselves as a label.
Caterpillars and Butterflies
Over the summer I kept hearing about or reading about how caterpillars change into butterflies. This made me think about the obvious theme of metamorphosis. Starting out as something small with little skills and turning into something more beautiful and grand. But then I started to think about the life of a caterpillar and the life of a butterfly separately.
As a caterpillar, they crawl on their bellies and eat leaves. In that state, those things are good for them. As butterflies, they now get around with wings, totally new skills because of a totally new body. They now eat nectar. Again, a totally new food source which is perfect for nourishing their totally new bodies. (Sorry, I’m not a science teacher so this is really basic here, but I promise a good point is about to be made.) As caterpillars, they needed to eat a certain kind of food to fuel the body they had at the time. It’s what was best for them. Imagine if a caterpillar tried to eat nectar rather than the leaves it’s body truly needed. They probably wouldn’t grow and they would most likely be super hungry all the time. It’s the same for us.
If we try to “feed” ourselves something that we aren’t ready for or can’t grasp the concept of right now then we are going to get frustrated and shut down. It’s important for us to know what we need in order to grow. Or it’s important for students to understand how they learn best in order to actually retain knowledge.
Like caterpillars, we can often evolve over time. If we build up our knowledge enough to transform our weaknesses into strengths we become something new, a butterfly. Now we have to figure out how this new self learns and grows. That can often mean trying something we have never tried before because we are something (or at least our mindset might be something) we have never been before.
This little breakdown of the metamorphosis theme is meant to help students think about how they should be aware of their personal learning style AND understand that it can change. It’s possible to train yourself to be a better learner in a style you may not have been successful with previously.
Why this matters
For example, I’m the worst singer! I listen to the radio in the car, but I’m not really a music kind of person. However, when I had my children I discovered that singing to them soothed them to sleep. I’m still baffled by this! Plus, I’m so bad with music that I really only know two songs. The ABC’s (yes I’m a total ELA nerd) and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Do you know that my two-year-old has been singing ALL of the correct words to Twinkle Twinkle since she could speak sentences? I discovered that she learns things when they are in a musical lyric. So I started making up songs to teach her things. I’m not about to go live with these songs, but she is learning and so am I.
The first week of school my read aloud will be Hermie by Max Lucado. It tells the story of a caterpillar who desperately wants to be special like so many other bugs. Then when he becomes a butterfly he recognizes that he hadn’t become his true self. I’ll ask the kids what they think is Hermie’s greatest lesson learned. Their answers should reflect ideas about being ok with who you are or where you are at presently. That we don’t need to desire or try to be something we are not. Especially because we all have the potential to become someone greater than we are today, at this moment.
Next, we will all draw ourselves as the butterflies we see for our future selves. Students who feel comfortable drawing from scratch will get a blank white paper and those who need an outline to get started can have a copy. They will color and cut out their butterflies and we will hang them in the classroom.
My next major point to students will be noticing how different each butterfly was drawn. I’ll make an observation that the process inside a chrysalis is probably not the same for a bright blue wing as it would be for a marbled yellow and black wing. That means that in order to be formed into a butterfly each one might need something different to achieve the end result. The same idea applies to our classroom, each student will need a specific path of lessons to achieve mastery of a skill.
Now we have established the idea that we all have the potential to be something different than we are right now and in order to get there, it can look different than the person sitting next to us. Ultimately creating a safe space where different is good.
Now is the time to ask students what goals they need to set in order to become that butterfly they envision. What new skills does this butterfly have that the caterpillar didn’t have or wasn’t very good at? What goals would help that butterfly gain these skills?
Keep in mind this whole class activity is a metaphor!
I would love to hear from any of the teachers who give this approach to classroom community a try. Share in the comments how or if you plan to give this a go.
Teachers have been preparing for their year most of the summer and the excitement builds to crescendo the day students walk through our doors. The last lesson plan we really want to follow is to stand at the front of the room and go through a massive list of rules. Some teachers will choose to do this. You can be different and set a tone of learning on the first day with this lesson plan.
Often times the first day of school will not follow your regular time schedule. This makes for difficult lesson planning to figure out what you can fit into the usually short time you have with these new students. Take advantage of this unusual timetable and let it work to your benefit. Even if you run a normal schedule this plan will be one that students will enjoy. You will also learn a lot about your new kiddos!
Set a tone of learning
Show them your books. There will be plenty of time to go over how to turn in papers and where to return supplies and the consequences for bad choices. Let your students know that on day one your priority is their learning. Sharing your books and the passion you have for them will make a strong first impression.
Consider how much information these kids are taking in on the first day. Nearly every teacher is going over some part of the handbook or handing out their list of rules and expectations. I used to be that teacher. I would write them a letter that talked all about my expectations for being a student in my classroom. We would read it out loud together and it would serve as a model letter which they would replicate for homework that week. Now multiply this by the number of teachers an average middle schooler or high schooler sees in a day. That’s a lot of information to take in within a seven-hour day.
Get them talking
The first day of school marks a change in the social scene hub. Wherever the crowds were gathering over the summer this all changes on the first day of school. Kids are excited to see which friends are in their classes and where their locker is located and who they will sit with at lunch. The kids are much more focused on their social scene day one then they are about the expectations teachers are explaining to them. So why not let them be social? As long as they are talking about books, let them talk.
Listening in on these conversations will provide you with valuable information. Pay attention to who resists and who dives in with both feet. Your resistors are now on your radar! Those who dive in and start talking about the books in the stacks they’ve already read will be your marketing committee. Use them to share book talks and favorite reads for those who aren’t so excited about reading. Find more ideas about the readers you’ll be meeting in your middle school classroom in this guest post I wrote for the Booksource Banter blog.
How to share your books
This is an activity that I call Speedbooking. It’s similar to the concept of Speed Dating. To prepare for this activity you’ll want to place seats in a circle or have a fixed pattern for books to travel. At each student seat place a stack of 4-5 books. Choose a good cross-section of your library. Be sure the stacks are a mix of books. Pull some of your most popular, “fly off the shelf” titles. Don’t forget about the books in a series. Research shows that students are more likely to continue through a series. So including these books will be good for your reluctant readers.
When students arrive in the classroom tell them that they’ll have time to look at the books, but not yet. Start with a conversation about how to choose a book. Ask them to give you all the ways they make an informed decision about choosing a book to start reading. Some of the most common answers might include reading the back of the book (great place to teach the word synopsis vs. summary), read the first few pages, looking at the cover. Another good teachable moment to mention that judging a book by its cover is ok when it’s an actual book. A few answers that don’t often come up but are worth mentioning are to choose a favorite or trusted author, read in the middle to look for words that might be too hard, look for key aspects that identify the genre. Keep this talk to 10 minutes and it helps to make a list on the board or in an anchor chart.
Now they are ready to start looking through the books. In order to keep track of the books they like try my record sheets. One is a running record and the other is meant to replicate Instagram. This can be used for your visual students. Often the struggling readers have a hard time finding books they like or that on their reading level. They might feel pressure to write titles down because those around them have several on their list. Giving them the option to draw and use the Instagram template gives them something to keep their hands and minds busy if the stack isn’t for them.
Each round takes about 90 seconds. It helps to set a timer. The kids will catch on to the process which allows you to listen in on conversations happening or strike one up about a book you might recommend. Ideally, you’ll have time to allow all the stacks to make it around the circle.
Follow up lesson plans & ideas
After all your classes have been through the stacks and have created a Future Reading List be sure the lists are placed where they can be referenced often. Most likely your schedule will only allow for this activity to take place. The following day is a great opportunity to show students your book check out system. If you currently do not have one or are looking for a free system that is digitally tracked read my post about using Classroom Organizer. If your library needs some “beefing up” check out this post about reading recommendations for middle and high school.
Share your first day of school routines that have helped you get to know students right away while setting the tone for learning. I’d also love to hear from anyone who tries this plan!
Teach.Mom.Repeat has a whole new look! After one year of blogging, we have decided to take Teach.Mom.Repeat to the next level. In order to do this a rebrand was in order.
This isn’t normally a topic I write about, and I don’t have plans to start blogging about how to blog. However, I have found that blogging in the classroom is a total package writing curriculum. Which I why I’d like to share the blogging education I’ve gotten in this past year. I’ll share how a lot of these things are now part of my classroom blogging curriculum and the Blogging with Students course that launched in Septemeber 2017.
I also wanted to share all the new style pieces that went into Teach.Mom.Repeat’s new look through a giveaway. At the end of this post, you’ll find details for entering. But don’t just scroll to the bottom! If you want to see what will be included in the Blogging with Students course read about how I have given this blog a major overhaul.
When I first started this blog last summer I thought I had done my research. Wrong! There is so much more to blogging than choosing a platform, theme, and niche. Beware the posts that tell you it’s possible to start a blog in 10 minutes or less. It may be true that a blog can be up and running in 10 minutes, but it’s not accurate if you have actual blogging goals.
At first, I was really only looking for a creative outlet, but then I started to realize the cost involved in starting my new creative endeavor. Hosting, themes, logos, stock images, courses, fonts, email services, just to list a few. Once I invested some money I started to realize I’m going to need to monetize this blog to recoup my cost. To do this well it takes more money and a better-looking blog. Hence the rebrand.
How to Rebrand?
Start with your color scheme.
Once I had learned more of the ins and outs of WordPress I started to discover how I could manipulate my theme. All without the knowledge of code talk. Picking 3 to 4 colors that will unit your blog is important. This will drive the way you create featured images and other essential photographs, like a profile picture. Teaching kids to do the same with their blogs will help them get a taste of graphic design elements. It’s also a great way to bring art into the classroom.
Photographs that represent your style.
My next objective was to style myself for photographs. My mom introduced me to two locally owned businesses run by moms just like me, who sell handmade jewelry and clothing. Willow Elizabeth jewelry can be seen in my profile photo and other stock pictures scattered on the site. My favorite purple tee from Unsalted Boutique with the perfect TeacherMom saying, “Kind words cost nothing” can be seen in several featured images.
Luckily my husband is a professional photographer and agreed to take new photos of me. Professional photos are important. If you want readers to take you seriously a beautifully edited photo helps. Anyone who has seen a beautifully crafted Instagram account knows how important edited and color coordinated photographs are to a brand.
If you want to start a serious blog hire a photographer to take headshots of you for the profile picture. Make sure it represents what you blog about and your style. Have them also take a few shots that you can use for featured images and Pinterest images. I’ll come back to Pinterest later. When readers see your face they feel connected to you as a person.
Translating this into the classroom can get tricky with safety issues. That’s why I teach kids how to make their own cartoon avatars like Bitmoji. Most of them are already familiar with this concept and have their own to add so it’s a fast lesson.
Logos and headers and images
Changing my logo was actually my husband’s idea. He had created the first one for me, pretty quickly without much intentionality. We have a friend who works in the graphic design business and does beautiful hand lettering. As a gift to me, my husband commisioned her for a new logo. I love that she captured every aspect of what Teach.Mom.Repeat. represents. A nearly empty pencil jar for my classroom, a dinosaur for my son and a teddy bear for my daughter.
The more I educated myself on this blogging adventure the more I learned how it is possible to make this a new income. In the past, my husband and I have brought in extra income through coaching. However, it’s hard to dedicate time after school for practices and games when you have small children. I also tried direct sales, but again there is more time out of the house after school hours. Blogging allows me to use nap times and evenings giving me the freedom to be with my family more. It has also helped me to connect with so many other educators and moms around the world.
To truly make money with a blog there is a lot of preparation and goal setting that needs to take place. Teaching this to my students will help them see how online businesses are career opportunities. Along with all the other careers associated with blogging, for example, the tech people I have talked with when I need help fixing a problem. There are countless businesses that utilize blogging on their websites which means blogging doesn’t have to just be a self-made business.
Teaching students email etiquette will serve them later in their careers and possibly make them more marketable. Along with the lessons in design and using the WordPress platform, it all could benefit a student who needs to have some prior knowledge of these things to enter the ever-growing technology fields.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ll be launching a course for teachers to use blogging in their classrooms as a writing program. The intention is not just for the ELA classroom. I hope that the lessons on writing informational and argumentative formats will serve any subject area. While this course will be geared towards the upper elementary, middle and high school grades there are plans to collaborate with lower grade levels for a future course.
Once school starts I will be launching a Make Over Your Mornings email challenge. I know the first few weeks of school are always high adrenaline and I don’t have trouble waking to my alarm. But once the routine settles in I start to create bad habits like pressing the snooze button. If you want to join us in creating more productive morning routines, whatever that looks like for you, then sign up below.
There is also a fun series on Instant Pot recipes coming this winter. If you’ve been following me for a while now you know how much I love my new Instant Pot! There will, of course, be updates on all the blogging lessons and our new reading rotation schedule.
Thank you for sticking with me and joining me on this blogging journey. If you’d like to continue to hear more AND be entered into our style giveaway sign up to receive emails below.