Saturday, August 27, 2016

Welcome Back to School - Open House!

It's crazy to believe that summer is already over and back to school is here again! As sad as I am to see summer go, I am super excited to get this school year going! One of the first things that signaled the end of my summer was getting back in my classroom and putting things together again. This year teachers only had one full day in our classrooms before open house so the pressure was on!

Here is what my set up looked like for open house! I laid out my classroom flip book (template is by Learning in Wonderland), Class Dojo parent letter with student codes, and "Meet Your New Teacher" letters (template is by Learning in Wonderland again!) I also gave each student a bottle of bubbles as their welcome gift!

This year I decided to attach my name tags with adhesive pockets from Target! They were $3 for a 20 pack and I love how easily I can change out the name tags when I move seats! These skinny name tags can be found here and you can choose clipart to match each of your students!

I had a desk set up in the front of my room for parents to sign in and share transportation information! These open house forms are FREE in my store and can be found here!

I always like to include some light refreshments for my parents, especially when it starts to get warm in the classroom! Lemonade, cookies, and some mints are usually my go-to because they are super easy to prepare. I also love including this cute sign that can be found here along with some other open house signs!

Open house is the perfect opportunity to ask for donations for your classroom! I typed up some items from my wish list on these hands and printed them on colored paper. This sign is included in my open house signs pack found above!

I had a HUGE turn out this year with 14 of my 23 families attending! Meeting my kiddos made me extremely excited for this upcoming school year and I can't wait to learn and grow with them this year!

What are your favorite open house traditions? Let me know by commenting below!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Best Pencil Sharpener EVER

This might just be one of the most important blog posts I ever write. Yes, you read that correctly! 
Let me start by saying it takes a lot for me to get REALLY excited about a product. I have very high expectations and it can be difficult to find things that live up to them. That being said, I have truly found the single best pencil sharpener on the market!

I don't even know where to begin! This pencil sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies has it all going on!
First of all, I love the fact that it's 100% user operated - there are no batteries and no electricity. This makes the pencil sharpener completely portable and you're ready to start using it as soon as you take it out of the box! Plus, my students are always insisting on using the dinosaur manual pencil sharpener that's bolted to the wall of my classroom (they completely ignore the fact that it only eats their pencils!) so this was the perfect solution!

The company is owned and operated by a teacher named Troy and they donate $1 of every pencil sharpener sale to a charity called Pencils of Promise that uses the proceeds to build schools in developing countries.

It is so easy to operate that a baby could do it (okay, maybe not a baby... but a young child could certainly use it without a problem!). You can have a perfectly sharpened pencil in SECONDS. Yes, seconds! I mean seriously, look at this point! And did I mention that it's QUIET?!

If you want to see a tutorial of how to operate this pencil sharpener and see it in action, check out my YouTube video below!

Is there even a reason NOT to buy this pencil sharpener? I've yet to find one!
One pencil sharpener is $24.99 with FREE shipping and they come in every color imaginable!
If you choose to order a 3 pack or 36 pack, they are even cheaper! The package includes a clamp that can be used to secure the pencil sharpener in place or you can purchase a permanent mount from their website! They also carry replacement parts so this is the only sharpener you will need for the rest of your teaching career!
What are you waiting for?! Click here to order yours today!

Do you own this pencil sharpener already? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, February 19, 2016


Despite being the shortest month, it always seems to drag on!
There are more indoor recess days than any sane teacher can handle.  Students start slacking. You are literally counting down the days until spring break!

What better way to break routine and whip your students back into shape than BOOT CAMP!

It all started when I saw an army helmet at the dollar store and my mind started racing with all of the possibilities! I decided it would be best to incorporate reading, language arts, and math so the boot camp could be a full day adventure! I ended up continuing boot camp for 2 full days and very easily could have done a third! There are so many possibilities!

I purchased anything and everything camouflage I could find from Amazon, Dollar Tree, Hobby Lobby, and Party City and went to work decorating my classroom! Not going to lie... You could have put a camo umbrella in front of me and I would have bought it!

The camouflage helmets and aviator sunglasses both came from Dollar Tree (I may or may not have visited Dollar Tree stores over 100 miles away to get enough for all my students!) The dog tags, pencils, and table cloths all came from Party City and the canvas bags are available on Amazon.

The camouflage netting and inflatable tires all came from Amazon (thank you Amazon Prime for offering two day shipping!) If you can borrow an air pump from your P.E. teachers, I highly suggest it! Nothing makes you feel out of shape quite like blowing up 8 inflatable tires!

I hate to admit it but dressing like a Drill Sergeant was the most comfortable decision I have ever made! I snagged the green pants super cheap from J Crew (you can't beat $70 pants for $6!) They might have been in the men's department but I'm just going to pretend they were put away in the wrong area.

Anyone can put on a costume but getting into character is an entirely different story. I cannot stress the importance enough! Your kiddos will eat it up! Although my throat is a little rough after yelling "ATTENTION!" for 2 days straight!

Of course I had background music playing throughout the day! Here is one of the links I used:

Now let's talk CONTENT! Enhancing the atmosphere is one thing but teaching rigorous content is what matters! I decided to focus on the skills that my students have been struggling with since the beginning of the school year. They are tired of reviewing them so this was the perfect opportunity to engage them to the max!

For math, we focused on the dreaded WORD PROBLEMS. My kiddos normally cringe when I mention them! But I must say... I didn't hear an ounce of negativity about word problems the entire time! Although I did tell them there's no crying in boot camp so they may have been intimidated!

I used my Word Problem Survival Guide to well, guide my math instruction for the 2 days! This flip book includes examples, guided practice, independent practice, task card practice, and more! Not to mention it can be created with only 3 pieces of paper and no trimming!

My 75 minute math block normally consists of 30 minutes of whole group and 45 minutes of math groups/stations. I have 4 math stations that my students visit (you can see how I organize my math groups here) and my students completed the "DRILLS" and "OBSTACLE COURSE" for 2 of those stations.

I decided to use these binoculars from Hobby Lobby with the task cards so students could focus on taking a "closer look" at each problem. Some times you just need simple props to convince students that the activity is fun (even though they are still doing work!)
For reading, we focused on MAIN IDEA/author's central message/central theme/whatever else you want to call it. This is that one skill that we just can't nail down. So a little extra practice never hurts!

For the first day, I decided to incorporate some hands on practice. I started by showing a Flocabulary video on main idea and then completed a mystery bag activity to help students understand the difference between the subject, details, and main idea. I filled the canvas bags I purchased from Amazon with various items that were all related in some way. Students worked in groups to go through the items in each bag and decide the subject and write a main idea statement about the items.

Here were the items I stuffed my bags with:
BAG 1: Up DVD, Frozen DVD, microwave popcorn, M&M's, Mountain Dew bottle, and remote
BAG 2: scarf, glove, ear muffs, snowboarding goggles, and fuzzy socks
BAG 3: bag of coffee, powdered creamer, sugar packets, coffee mug, and coffee filters
BAG 4: plastic cups, plastic spoon, bottle of water, plastic ice cubes, lemonade packets, and sugar
BAG 5: chocolate chips, cinnamon, measuring cups, measuring spoons, beater, and wisk

We went through one of the bags together as a class as an example (bag 5). We decided the subject was baking, the details were the individual items in the bag, and the main idea was that you need both ingredients and tools to bake.

For the second day, we reviewed the mystery bags from the first day and listed all the main idea statements that students came up with. Then students were given an article on President's Day (hooray for cross curricular!) and worked in partners to write the important parts of the passage on index cards (mostly details). Students "packed" the index cards in a "duffle bag" (AKA a manila envelope... come on people, keep it simple!) Then students were told that their duffle bags were too heavy and they had to unload them! They were only allowed to take the most important index card... the main idea! This activity really helped students differentiate between the details and the main idea! I was so caught up in this activity I forgot to take pictures... oops! #reallife
For language arts, we focused on CAPITALIZATION! Goodness knows we are still struggling to use capital letters correctly in our writing.

Again, I used a Flocabulary video to review what my students already know about capitalization (they know a lot... they just struggle to implement it!) Then of course we needed a cadence to match to since was boot camp after all! I wrote this cadence to identify the main uses of capitalization. If we can remember the lyrics to the whip and nae nae, we should be able to remember the words to this as well! I'm inserting a JPEG that you can use in your own classroom!

Then I broke students into 2 groups for a mini obstacle course relay! I gave each student a sentence with magnets on the back that either had correct or incorrect capitalization. Each team got into a line and had to jump through the inflatable tires one at a time to put their sentence on the board under the correct category (correct or incorrect). Then we reviewed each sentence as a class and identified the capitalization rules!

For the second day, we trained to become Army medics that needed to tend to "wounded soldiers"! Our wounded soldiers were paragraphs that had numerous capitalization mistakes! Students worked in partners to repair the mistakes with bandages and write the capital letter on top. This activity was a BIG hit!

I found a box of 60 bandages at Target for less than $2! Each group of students needed 8 bandages so I used 2 boxes. Super easy!
If you are interested in my Word Problem Boot Camp product, you can click the image below! The product contains the flip book and task cards featured in this blog post along with a pre-assessment, post-assessment, and more!

Here are all the links to the items I used for decorations and the prices!
Canvas bags (6 pack) - $16
Inflatable tires (8 pack) - $37
Camouflage netting (6'x8') - $12
Camouflage table cover - $3.50 each
Dog tags (12 pack) - $6
Pencils (12 pack) - $3
Binoculars (2 pack) - $3
Army helmets - $1 each
Aviator sunglasses - $1
I could not have had more fun with this transformation! My students all learned a TON and had fun while doing it! Best of both worlds! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will be happy to answer them!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

We Heart Maryland BLOG HOP

What better reason to come out of semi-blog-retirement (AKA letting life get in the way of posting for weeks on end) than a blog hop with FREEBIES and GIVEAWAYS?!

Do you need any more reasons to realize that Maryland teachers are down right AWESOME? We have 10 freebies and 10 giveaways for you to hop around to! On each blog you will find a freebie only available during the blog hop, a Rafflecopter to enter for a giveaway, and a button to hop on over to the next blog! Not to mention you will see a different reason to heart Maryland on each blog!

How do I pick only ONE reason I love Maryland? Between the crabs, Old Bay seasoning, and beaches everywhere you turn, everything about Maryland just feels like home to me! I have lived in Maryland for my entire life and couldn't even begin to imagine living anywhere else.

As strange as it may sound, the number one thing I love about Maryland is the flag.

Yes. I actually do have the Maryland flag on the wall of my office. If that isn't Maryland pride, I don't know what is!

Not to mention, I have the Maryland flag on multiple articles of clothing.

This may seem ridiculously weird to a lot of people, but here in Maryland it is completely normal to put your state flag on anything and everything! I swear!
Now that I have bragged about my state a little, it is time for a FREEBIE!

February is one of my favorite months! Between Valentine's Day, President's Day, and the 100th day of school, there is plenty going on all month long! I personally know that months like this can be crazy so any timesavers for the classroom are appreciated!

I don't know about you but designing cute task cards for math, language, or reading can take FOREVER! These February Editable Task Card Templates will allow you to create task cards for any subject in the blink of an eye! Just click the image below to snag your FREE set of 3 templates perfect for the month of February! [NOTE: The freebie is no longer available. It was only available during the time of the blog hop]
Please note that these templates are for personal use only. This freebie is ONLY available during the blog hop from February 13, 2016 - February 20, 2016.
If you like this freebie, you will LOVE my giveaway!
I am happy to announce that I am giving away the full set of my Monthly Editable Task Card Templates! This full set includes 3 themed templates for each month plus 3 bonus surprise templates that are not available anywhere else!
It's a $36 value that could be yours for FREE! Enter for your chance to win using the Rafflecopter below! 
That is only ONE of the 10 freebies and giveaways! Hop on over to see what Cheryl loves about Maryland! Don't forget to keep hoping until you have entered for a chance to win all 10 giveaways!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Inference Investigation: Turning My Classroom Into a Crime Scene!

Tired doesn't even begin to cover it y'all! This past week was American Education Week. Now, if you are one of those lucky teachers that live in an area where American Education Week is nonexistent, let me break it down for you. AEW is an entire week where family members and family friends visit their students during the school day. Now in theory, AEW is great! I whole heartedly support connecting parents and guardians to the classroom and allowing family time to see their children during the school day. However, if you are a teacher, it is beyond nerve wrecking to have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, and who knows who else sitting in the back of your classroom for an entire week!

As stressful as this week was, I will say that I am happy it happens. It's only one week out of the entire year and it really pushes me as a teacher to create engaging activities for my students.  Although this may be easier said now that it is over!

I always save one of my absolute favorite activities for this week - I call it "Inference Investigation". 

Basically, I transform my classroom into a real, live crime scene and my students become the investigators! Without even realizing it, my students make so many incredible inferences as they uncover the clues and decipher what they mean. Here's the layout:

I complete this activity during my fossil unit in science so it works perfectly! However, you could easily adapt this activity to work with any unit or theme!

First, I set the stage for my students. I convince them that a real Paleontologist is coming to the classroom after lunch to talk to them about fossils and will be set up at the back table with plenty of samples for them to see! Then, when my students leave for lunch, I set up as quickly as I can! I mean, sacrificing lunch one day is worth it, right? I seem to think so ;)

The first thing I do is open the window and tape dinosaur footprints to the floor leading from the open window to the back table. The footprints are just printed on regular paper and taped to the floor! My students never seem to noticed ;) The perks of teaching second grade! I also flip over a chair and the trash can to make it appear as if the dinosaur knocked them over on his way to the back table!

Next I set up the back table to make it appear as if the Paleontologist was hard at work when the dinosaur broke through the window! I bring mulch from my garden at home to cover the table with dirt (this is where it pays off to be really tight with your custodian!) The plastic Paleontologist hat was found at the dollar store a few years ago and always comes in handy! The dog bone (uh, I mean dinosaur...), paint brush, and mask were also found at the dollar store! You could also include any other tools you have laying around!

Then I leave a trail of dirt from the back table leading towards the classroom door and use my shoes to make footprints! I also knock over another chair because I don't know about you, but if I were a Paleontologist running from a dinosaur, I would probably be leaving in a pretty big hurry!

Then I tape off the back of my classroom and classroom door with CAUTION tape (thanks Home Depot!) and voila! My crime scene is ready to go!

When the students return from lunch, I remind them that the Paleontologist should be set up at the back table and let them enter the room ahead of me. I almost immediately hear a murmur of whispers and the look on my kiddos' faces is always priceless!

I give them time to get close to the CAUTION tape and investigate on their own. I am always impressed with their investigation skills!

Once the excitement has dulled down, we work together as a class to identify all the clues and then the students work in small groups to identify the meaning behind the clues! Then students are given time to independently write a narrative of what happened on the back.

This year I got extremely lucky! Towards the end of the activity, a helicopter happened to fly by outside and my students came to the conclusion that the helicopter was looking for the missing Paleontologist!

Now, it is entirely your choice to tell your class the truth after the activity or not! Personally, I let my students continue to believe the Paleontologist is missing because I don't want to break their trust. But I typically tell them the truth at the end of the school year.

If you are interested in completing this activity in your own classroom, click the image below for the FREE download!

If you complete this activity in your own classroom, please share your experience with me! I would love to see how this activity has been adapted to fit your students' needs! :)

Friday, October 9, 2015

FREE is my Favorite Number

It's crazy that the first month of school is over and October is officially here! This means I can finally wear my scarves, boots, and vests without being judged TOO harshly! Not too mention... use candy corn in as many lessons as possible!

This week on my Periscope stream, I decided to bring you the TOP 5 FREE WEBSITES I USE IN MY CLASSROOM!

Yes... you read that correctly! All of these websites are completely and entirely FREE! I don't know about you but free is my favorite number!

If you click each image, it will take you directly to that website so you can create your FREE account right away!

You are probably already familiar with Class Dojo as more and more teachers have started using it! Class Dojo is a behavior management system that students LOVE! Not only do students love it, but parents too! After you create an account and add a class, Class Dojo automatically creates parent invitations for you! All you have to do is print and send them home! Parents will follow the directions provided and enter a unique code to create an account. Parents are able to view their child's progress online and receive weekly e-mail updates if they wish! 

The best part is... students are able to create their own account separate from their parents! Students can customize their Class Dojo monster and track their points from home!

Here's how it works: you are able to customize the positive and negative behaviors you choose to use along with the point values for each. Students will earn points for positive behaviors and lose points for negative behaviors (if you choose to have students lose points - some teachers don't!) Then, you can have students "spend" their points any way you like!
You can message parents directly through Class Dojo... much faster than e-mail! You can also send out class announcements through Class Dojo that will be sent to each parent. With Class Dojo, it's super simple to remind parents of upcoming events such as tests, field trips, and picture day!

Class Dojo has recently expanded and started implementing "Class Story". Class Story is similar to an Instagram... but for your classroom! As the teacher, you are able to post pictures to keep parents updated with what students are learning.

Here is a recent Class Story post of mine! My parents love being able to see actual pictures of what is going on in the classroom!

I personally use Class Dojo in conjunction with a clip chart.  I found it was too hectic to try to give students points throughout the day so I decided to pair Class Dojo with a clip chart! I have my students move their clip throughout the day and then I award points at the end of the day depending on which level they made it to!

Super Student - 4 points
Awesome Behavior - 3 points
Good Choices - 2 points
Ready to Learn - 1 point
Think About it - -1 point
Teacher's Choice - -2 points
Parent Contact - -3 points

Students are then able to "cash" in their points for various prizes such as stinky feet (take off their shoes in the classroom for the day), lunch bunch, and even be teacher for the day!

EPIC is by far one of the most amazing websites a teacher could find! There are hundreds and hundreds of FREE books at all different levels! You can access these by visiting the website OR downloading the app! The website is super user-friendly so students of all ages can enjoy this website/app!

Teacher accounts are absolutely FREE and you are able to make profiles for each of your students! You will create a 4 digit code for each student to access their profile. You are then able to see what books your students are reading, how long they are reading them for, and more!

The best part is... this website has fiction books, nonfiction books, math books, science books, social studies books, and MORE! You can use this for literally every subject! You are also able to "favorite" books so you can find them more easily.

I personally use EPIC to display books that I want to read with my class but may not personally own. It is so much easier than taking a trip to the library and trying to locate the book! It displays the text and pictures big enough for all students to see!

As an incentive, I love to bring my personal i-Pad into the classroom (especially on Fridays!) and pick students who are doing an excellent job reading to self during our DAILY 5 time to use the EPIC app! I personally believe it is super important for students to have opportunities to read digital text... especially when they will need to do so for standardized testing in 3rd grade in my state!

You will never see my class as happy as when I announce they are going to use Kahoot!

Kahoot is an amazing website where you are able to create and play your own fun learning games! Here's how it works:
Sign up and make a FREE account
Create a Kahoot (either a quiz, discussion, or survey)
When you're ready to use it with your class, click "play"and select your preferences
Click "launch" and a game pin will appear on the screen
To join the quiz, students will enter the game pin on their device ( on a web browser or use the app on a phone or tablet)
Students will enter their name and join
Then students are ready to start answering the questions!

The best part of Kahoot? If you don't feel like creating your own quiz or survey, you can search through hundreds of remade Kahoots that other teachers have already created!

I personally use Kahoot to review math concepts, reading stories, language topics, or science or social studies topics. You can use it for literally ANYTHING!

I tend to use Kahoot in groups. I have access to 5 mini laptops in my classroom so I use one per group. Students will rotate the laptop around the group so each person gets a chance to answer a question. If I want smaller groups, I sometimes am even brave enough to let students use my phone as another device!

Plickers is such an easy way to formally assess your class and the students won't even realize they are being quizzed! 

All you need is your computer, a projector, a phone, and a Plickers card for each student! It's THAT simple!
After you make an account, you can create your roster. I recommend entering student names alphabetically. They will each be assigned to a numbered card. Print the Plickers cards on cardstock and laminate for durability.

You are able to create as many questions in advance as you want and add them to your queue when you are ready to use them!

Then, when you are ready to quiz your class, give each student his/her Plickers card. Every student's card will be different! This way, students won't be able to see what other students are answering! Students will hold their card different ways depending on which answer they want to choose.
For example, if they want to choose A, they will hold their card so the A side is on the top.

Start the quiz on your computer that is projected on the board. Students will be able to see the questions and answers as you go. When students hold up their card to answer, you will use the Plickers app on your phone to scan the room. The app will quickly read the students cards (like a QR code) and store their answer. You can then reveal the correct answer and move on to the next question!

Front Row is the ultimate website for differentiation! Teachers are able to make a FREE account and then add student names to create individual accounts. Students are able to access their account using their first and last name and their class code (which the website will create for you). 

Students are able to access math and reading lessons that are perfectly adapted to their ability level. As students' performance increases, the lessons will increase in difficulty. Or, if students need more help with a particular topic, the lessons will adapt and become easier.

ALL the lessons are aligned to Common Core!

Students earn "coins" for correct answers, which they love!

This is a great website to give to parents who want to challenge their kids at home! They can work on the lessons at their own pace and it will always be the perfect difficulty level!

Those are the top 5 free websites I use in my classroom! I hope you will find these websites helpful in your teaching!

If you are not already following me on Periscope, please do!
Just download the Periscope app and search for me @pocketfulofprimary!