Mental Modifiers: Calming Tools to Help Students Regulate Emotions

It seems that our students are coming to us with a lot more on their minds than when I was an elementary-aged student. Our district has been beginning to really focus on trauma informed teaching to help our students be successful in school (and hopefully beyond). A lot of the tips we've gotten we are already doing...we just need to be more consistent with them. One thing though was creating a calming box of sorts to help students regulate their uncomfortable feelings and keep them in class. 

We just started implementing this the last couple of months, but I've noticed that students who typically would want to leave the room, have a melt down and refuse to do work, or get stuck in an emotion for far too long are now staying in class, regulating themselves, and continuing their learning.

Below I'll share a few tips that my school and myself have done so far to help our students manage their emotions.

We've read the book Moody Cow Meditates and our instructional coach gathered supplies for us to make our own mindful jar. I'm sure you've seen them around. They are jars with glitter and oil and when you shake it, the glitter goes all over and you watch it all settle while deep breathing. I had a student make one and bring it in to share, so I have two now. The book talks about a cow that is having a terrible day but through the mindful jar and some basic meditation strategies, he is able to let go of those uncomfortable emotions a bit and regulate himself.

The book was a nice introduction to our "mental modifiers" (which you will see below). After reading the book and modeling how to use the mindful jar, I also showed them the other items in our bin and how to use them.

Why do I call them mental modifiers? Well for one, I love a good alliteration (what teacher doesn't). But second, I want students to know that they can feel these uncomfortable emotions and it's ok. I don't want to send the message that it is not ok to be disappointed, or frustrated, or anxious. To modify something, it means to make minor changes as to improve something or make it less extreme. I want to teach my students how to properly regulate these emotions- not avoid them completely. That is how these items got the name "mental modifiers." What we have in our bin are:

  1. Our mindful glitter jar
  2. A small pin-wheel
  3. A ball (Koosh ball in this case)
  4. Hand fidgets (a toy called a Tangle and a marble in a sleeve)
  5. Play-doh
What's awesome is that since we started this, students have brought and donated other fidgets to our bin. We have a glowing rose that changes colors and another squishy ball that is a favorite of students. I created a resource to help students know which tool can be used with different emotions (although students ultimately decide for themselves)

First, they have to identify the emotion they are feeling. I used the "Inside Out" emotions as a starting point and then made these overlapping emotion equations that name other emotions students might feel. Sarah Pecorino's illustrations were PERFECT for this! I would strongly encourage you to snag her illustrations if you haven't yet.

I have them on a master sheet that will be at the calming spots as well as individual equations that will be put on a ring that give ideas on which mental modifier might help them with that emotion.

I think it's really important for students to be able to name the emotion they are feeling (not necessarily to me, but for themselves). I love the idea of using the Inside Out feelings as a starting point, but knowing that if you are feeling surprised, it is because you have a little joy and a little fear happening at once. I added which tools might be most helpful for that emotion too. My amazing instructional coach came up with a little handout to go with the Play-doh to guide students into making a pot to help them process the situation. They go step-by-step through making a pot, filling it with the situation or uncomfortable feeling, and then squishing it away. Instead of kids just going and playing with the Play-doh, they are processing and regulating it for themselves.

One last tool that I introduced this year were these privacy stands/motivators. These standing plastic frames allow me to slip in some motivational words to help those students who get easily distracted or students who want to give up. Students come and take one to their space to give them a little sense of privacy while also getting some inspiration.  Even better, they can pass on the good vibes to a classmate on the other side since I have words on both sides. These are used often since I introduced them, especially with our flexible seating this year since they don't take up a lot of space.

Above all else, one of the greatest strategies to help our students with trauma or really big emotions is  to set and hold high expectations for them and build a relationship with them. Of all the research I've been doing on the topic, high expectations and relationships are mentioned in it all. So although all these tools are a great addition to our room, I want to continue to work on these two strategies to provide a safe space for students to grow and take risks. If you don't have funds to start your own mental modifier bin, start with the relationships with your students- there is always room for improvement (as I'm reminded of daily).



Reestablishing Routines Without Boring Your Students [Freebie]

I wrote this post last year on the iTeach Third blog and thought it would be great to share it again here to help you plan for when you head back to school after winter break! Enjoy!

background image credit to: Worth a Thousand Words
Happy New Year iTeach Third Readers! There's nothing better than coming off of a long break and feeling rejuvenated and refreshed! I hope you all had some time to take care of yourselves and enjoy some well-deserved time off!

But with our nice long break comes getting back into a much needed routine. Our students have been away from our normal day-to-day for some time now, and it's important that we reestablish our routines that make our classroom run efficiently! A common mantra in our school is, "Go slow to go fast." We might not jump right back into heavy content on day 1 of returning from break, because we know that if we take the time to reestablish our classroom and revisit our hopes and dreams, that we will be able to obtain more later in the year. I'm not sure about your district and pacing, but our second half of the year is often filled with brand new content that our kiddos haven't really been exposed to yet. I'm talking multiplication, fractions, and we can't forget the state tests. We've got to have our classroom running smoothly in order for us to fully devote our focus to these concepts.

But I also know, that when students come back from this break, they know how our classroom works already... they just need a little fine tuning. So I'm here to share a few different ways to get your students involved in reestablishing routines that can be done in fun, engaging ways!

I like to have students move and mingle when possible. I myself am a busy body, so to sit still for a long period of time just doesn't cut it! This activity is a great way to get students to both move and mingle while reviewing little tid-bits that they might have forgotten. 

This works best for things that have 1 answer. I like it to review lots of random little things such as pencil etiquette, parts to a routine, etc. The object is to find somebody who knows the answer to a certain statement. Some of my specific examples include:

Find somebody who...
  • knows how many books we take home in our baggie
  • knows the 5 parts to our 5-star greeting
  • knows where sharp and dull "lost" pencils go
  • knows what to bring to _______ time

If they ask someone and that person can give the answer, they then write their classmate's name in the box and go on to a new one. Here's mine that I'll be using this year in full.

You can either take mine as is (although it is pretty specific to my room) or use it as inspiration to do you own. I included mine as an example as well as an editable version so that you can type in things that you want your students to review in a fun way.  Click the appropriate link below.

Side note: the editable version may look a little fuzzy on your computer screen, but it should print clearly.

We follow the Reader's and Writer's Workshop model and there are many different components that go with it. Instead of us doing a whole group review over each of them, I like to first see what they remember about our expectations. I've done this in the past (and you can read about them here) where I put Y-charts with different focuses around the room. If you are not familiar with the Y-chart, it asks students to think about how something looks like, sounds like, and feels like. 

Students move around the room, write an idea on the different posters on how an aspect of our work shop looks like, sounds like, or feels like. I try to emphasize for them to write down what they SHOULD do as opposed to what they SHOULDN'T do. For example, instead of having students say, "Don't talk." I try to have students say, "Have a zero voice." We like to reinforce the correct behavior, so I often try to have students rephrase if they give the negative by simply saying, "If we aren't going to talk, what will we do?"

After students have time to go around, add their ideas, and read others, I give one Y-chart to each table group. They read all the responses, discuss, and highlight the 3 "most important" things to remember. Then, they report back to the rest of the class. By doing this graffiti activity, the students are in charge for the vast majority of it and are engaged throughout the reviewing process. They get to move, chat, and respond in a meaningful way. 

If you want to use any of these Y-charts for your classroom, you can grab my examples below.

I hope the first weeks back for you are smooth and that you can find time to enjoy your students while slowly getting them back into the swing of things!



Books Teachers Love: January's Owl Moon

I know you are probably days away from enjoying a well-earned long break! I have until next Thursday (I'm trying not to be bitter), but how good would it feel to have a few read alouds planned for when you return in January?! If you are looking for a rich mentor text to help your writers, especially with narratives, then Jane Yolen's Owl Moon is where it's at.

It's a classic if you ask me, as I remember reading it as a kid and I find myself now as a teacher turning to it year after year. Here are the top 4 ways to use Owl Moon as a mentor text in your classroom this month:

This story focuses on one specific evening out. If your students are struggling with coming up with an idea to write about for a personal narrative, give them the prompt, "It was late one (season) night." Have them make a 4-square in their notebook and label each box with a season. Then have them brainstorm memories they've had in the evening of that season. This will help them focus in on one specific night and tell it bit by bit. Last year, I taught 3rd grade, so the focus was on personal narratives in our curriculum. This year, I'm in 4th grade and so they are encouraged to write realistic fiction. This strategy could still work where students think about possible events you could do in the evening of those seasons and pick one to write long about.

Owl Moon slowly builds. It sets up the hook of a story beautifully. There are lots of ways to start a story, but I love the description Yolen uses to open the scene and set the mood. She uses almost all the sense: hear (the train whistle and dogs), see (trees and moon), feel (no wind and woolen cap). She then moves to telling the story bit by bit. You can feel the suspense build as they wait to encounter the owl. You can map this out with students on chart paper and then have them plan out their possible story arch. Want a free template? Visit this past post to download one. Using a triple timeline with the senses can help students think of the same moment in different ways.

Yolen includes loads of similes and metaphors throughout the book... and some are a bit more abstract. We study them together and then replace them with that they really meant so that students could see the impact these figurative language examples have on setting the mood and making us feel like we are a part of the experience. We then find spots in our writing where we could replace what we really meant with a more figurative example. You can make a chart like this one to show students how to form their own similes and metaphors.

Need I say more? Again, some of these are actually examples of figurative language, which is often one of the tools we use to help students show instead of tell. I love how Yolen incorporates so many senses throughout the story. You could do a great lesson on types of adjectives to use and which sense it goes with. For example, short and round go with sight; icy and cold and wet go with touch and so on. I often would write these sentences without the adjectives at all and then we place them back in to see how our mental image changes.
As you can see, this book is a gem when it comes to studying the craft of writing a realistic fiction or personal narrative story. You really get your bang for your buck with this one. If you don't have it in your library yet, you are missing out!

Want to win your own copy of this book and 3 other books? By entering the giveaway below, you could win any 4 of the books presented this month by the ladies of the Book Teachers Love group! Which teacher wouldn't love to win free, amazing books that they could use?!

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Books Teachers Love: December's Before Morning

You guys. I found a GEM! I was strolling around B & N (let's be honest, I was in there for nearly an hour enjoying books) when I came upon this book. I knew it was perfect for my December Books Teachers Love post!

I'm featuring Before Morning by Joyce Sidman. After you check out this AMAZING book, make sure you look at the 11 other awesome books teachers are showcasing this month.

Since buying it, I've read it myself over 10 times, noticing something different each time. It has so many awesome elements that it packs a total winter (and academic) punch!

I may be a tad biased that the author is a Minnesota author and that I often make this wish every winter for a snow day or two. This book is unlike any I've read in a while, though. It is written as an invocation- or a wish poem as Ms. Sidman explains at the end. The words are few, but they are so rich in meaning when they are added to Ms. Krommes AMAZING images. I love this style. If you go over to the amazon link, you can see images of part of the process in making this book.  That alone would be so fun to show students. But, I'll be sharing the many different things you could cover in this book ranging from reading, to writing, to art.

Reading: Text and Picture Connection to Promote Comprehension

The pictures and limited text go hand in hand for all sorts of reading skills- inferring, predicting, word solving- you name it. Each time I read it, I thought of a different question I could pose to my students. I started to run out space of writing them all done, so I decided to make some post-it prompts to place on the pages so I remember what I wanted to pull out from my students.

Have you ever printed on post-its? It's one of my favorite things to do when I have the time to prepare for it. I ended up making one for because it is THAT loaded with good talking points. Obviously I probably will not use them all, but I wanted options. 

I have a general template I print off. Then I stick my post-its on it. Then I print the ones I want and stick 'em right in! Some of the pages have no words at all, but a ton of details to pay attention to. I want to remember what is significant in each picture when I'm reading it aloud to my students. 

Writing: Write Your Own Invocation Poem

As soon as I read this, I thought about how I could scaffold this to have my own students write their own invocation poems. I started creating some planning pages and I can't wait to give them a try with my students when the first big snowfall happens here! I typed out the poem and then noticed some patterns, so I made a pretty blank template and then one with prompts to help us craft our own. Then I also made a brainstorming page for those that may struggle with writing a wishing poem about. 

Vocabulary and Phrases

Even though this book has very few words, they words it does have are not simple by any means. They are loaded and a bit obscure and students will need to use the pictures and background knowledge to help them figure it out. I made some vocabulary cards and thought about the different strategies we could use to figure them out. I also made some figurative phrases cards to talk about what the author really meant by those phrases.

Art: Scratch Paper Designs

I loved the design of the art in this book and thought that when we write our poems, we could try to mimic the style to also get some art integration to accompany our poems. I found a tutorial here that didn't require a whole lot of materials, yet they are exciting. I'll be honest and say that it didn't turn out as well as the example as I was playing around with it, but it was still so fun and had a similar impact. I think we'll still give it a go and try! All you need is some cardstock (I used water color paper) black acrylic paint and oil pastels. I used a toothpick as our scratcher, but will search for some other options. Some parts came off super clean so I'm going to continue to investigate why that might have been. 

Whew! Told you this was loaded with options! If you are so lucky to go get this book, feel free to download these resources here. Or better yet, enter to win this book and 3 others by entering the giveaway below!

Check out the other books below!



Books Teachers Love: November's Something Beautiful

Another month is approaching so you know what that means...

Brought to you by:

We're a group of elementary teachers that LOVE children's book and LOVE to share a book for the upcoming month along with some ideas on how you might use it!

This month's books have a November theme. My book this month is one that can be used anytime of the year, but has a special meaning around this time of the year.

So there isn't anything in this book tying it to fall or Thanksgiving, however, the way the author explains what beautiful means connects so much with the idea of gratitude.

It starts with a girl seeing a lot of things in her neighborhood that don't seem beautiful.  However, through her mother and teacher, they explain that "Beautiful means when you have something, it makes your heart happy." The book then goes through then a series of different characters that our main character runs into and asks them, "What is your something beautiful?" Most of the things they say are not actual objects, such as a tasty meal, a baby's giggle, a song. Some of the people do share actual objects, but they are everyday items generally.

During the season of Thanksgiving, we have a lot of discussions of things we should be grateful for. I love the idea of looking for things that are beautiful to us and being grateful for them.

So one way to use this book is to make a beautiful, grateful wreath.

I simply cut out a ring on my silhouette as well as little leaves. I decided that each color represents a different category. Yellow leaves were people (and pets) I found beautiful that I'm grateful for, orange were things in nature that were beautiful, and red were either tangible or non-tangible things I found beautiful (such as my wedding ring, handwritten notes, and birthdays). I folded the leaves in half to add some dimension before gluing them all around the ring. Looking at gratitude through the lens of things we find beautiful offers a unique twist to the old question: "What are you grateful for?"

Also, since our conferences are late this year, I'll be using this book to create a class book to have out at conferences for families to look at while they are waiting for their conference.

I'll either have a mixture, let students pick one, or just have one of these templates (haven't decided yet) to have students share what things are beautiful to them. Once they all complete a page, I'll print one of the cover pages, add a class picture to the cover and get it bound to share with each other and our families! Simple!

(Click either image above to download your copy!)
Want a copy of this book? It could be yours! If you win, you get to pick any of the 4 featured books from any of the bloggers below!

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Visit the other blogs to see what other books you could win this month and snag some awesome resources for November!



One Word: Integrity

Do you have that one word that you find yourself constantly referring to? For the last few years, my own word that I find myself using over and over is integrity. It applies to so many things that my students and I encounter throughout the day. So every year, I explicit teach about it so that we can be consciously working on it all year.

After our first sub day, I found it was a great time to introduce this. Our sub day wasn't awful, but it's a great time to discuss the word integrity. I define it to my students as doing what is right, even if no one is watching. I then give them the example of me doing my job in the classroom everyday because it's what I need to do (and want to do). I could just let them play games all day and goof around, but our principal and their parents are counting on me to teach them and do my best. They aren't watching me all the time- I have to practice integrity.

After I define it, we discuss how integrity is mainly shown through our choices. I show and discuss the the poster above that poses 3 questions. If they can say yes to all the questions, then that choice shows integrity. If not, then their choice won't show integrity.

Next, we do a little activity that allows them to brainstorm choices for given scenarios, which also demonstrates to me that they know the difference between right and wrong. They travel around to the cards that are spread out, read them, and write down a choice. Where they write it depends on if the choice shows integrity or not. I typically just grab my extra large math boards and draw a line down the middle.

My kiddos this year were so focused while they traveled around. If they got to a board and someone else had written their idea, I let them put a check mark next to it, but a lot of them thought of other choices. It was really neat to see!

Do you teach into integrity? Grab this resource in my store!

What word is one of your go-to words? How do you teach it?



What I've Learned About Flexible Seating: First Check-Up

We are 9 days into our new school year. Given all my changes in grade level, how I’m doing math, trying flexible seating, I’d say it’s been a very successful first 2 weeks of school! I’m excited for what the year has in store, even if I am ex.haust.ed.

I know that a lot of people have tried, are trying, or are thinking about trying flexible seating in their classrooms. I can definitely see why it may not be for some people. I’m sharing how our flexible seating transition has worked out so far in the first 9 days of school. I have 6 ah-has from our short time so far that I hope will resonate with others who are thinking of trying it or who are in the thick of it. This is just my personal experience so of course some may have a completely different experience with the concept. A lot of these ah-has are all connected to each other, as you’ll see when I start explaining them.

Probably the most frustrating thing so far has been storing materials and retrieving them. Unfortunately, the new Ikea book boxes are not deep enough for folders, nor are my plastic drawers (although I wasn’t planning on using these for folders). My other solutions aren’t the best for getting items quickly because it creates a traffic jam. I was always trying to be mindful of this, but I also was thinking, “Let’s give it a try.” We still haven’t worked out all the kinks with this, but we are slowly figuring it out. I told my kids part of having flexible seating is to practice being flexible in terms of our initial plans and routines. Which brings me to number 2.

What I originally thought of for materials didn’t always work out. Our homebase stations are working out pretty well though actually. Minus a few students who keep taking things from other people’s homebase. However, we haven’t lost pencils or markers and our notebooks are all stored in the correct spot so we’ve been very efficient with that. My initial plan for seating options though has changed. I was going to have students pick new spots everyday in the morning. I now have them pick a spot once a week. This is the spot they come into in the morning. This is the spot they sit at if we have a guest teacher. If I need them to be at a hard surface for something, I may say, “Go to your spot.” The difference is, they can pick the chair they use- some like the stools, some like the crates, many like the balls, some like the normal chairs and so on. When it is independent work time however, they can sit other places. So when we are done doing whole group instruction on the carpet together, they pick a space to work. They might sit at a different hard surface or find a spot on the floor. I’m finding that I’m still giving choice in both situations, but it also helps for those times when we need a bit more structure (like a test) because sometimes we don’t have full choice.

When I was in like my 2nd  day, I started to second guess my choice. “It’d be so much easier with desks- they put their stuff in there, they are in charge of it all, and we can go on our merry way.” Instead of giving up and going back to what I was comfortable with, I continued to rethink things and test them out.  Because of number 4.

My biggest worry was that kids would fight over the seats, break them, not use them with responsibility and I would have to police it constantly. It was actually not like this at all. We went over our rules and expectations on day one and we really haven’t had even one scuffle. Students were politely asking to switch seats out to try them and others kindly turned them over. They’ve put seats back where they belong if they move them. They’ve been focused and working in the seats they do choose. And I polled the students and they were really liking the choice and options. Because of this and the money I invested in it, I didn’t want to give up on it yet. I could figure out a way to make the materials work; it just may take some time and creative thinking (or perhaps me letting go a bit).

When we’ve had these issues pop up on our materials, students helped me with the problem solving. They were offering suggestions. I would ask them, “Hey, what if we tried this...” and they would try it and give feedback. They’ve been helpful and flexible in this new adventure because if it works for them, I can make it work for me. It’s about what works for them as long as it isn’t interfering with our class rules and learning.

We had students reading independently for 25 minutes on our 2nd day of school. Seriously. They were LASER focused. The most I’ve seen in years. That includes students stopping and jotting without prompting, students reacting to books, students finishing books and not just abandoning them... I was so impressed. Even more so, because we didn’t have a ‘seating chart,’ students mingled and got to know each other more. I loved when we had some down moments and students would gather in different areas of our room. Some would gather and read together. Others would gather to try to master the cup games we tried. Others would gather to draw or play a math game. I loved that students freely moved around, included others, and demonstrated great self-control in their choices. When I stood back and watched, it made my teacher heart so happy to see a class community truly develop.

So was it all perfect and rosy? No. There were some, “Oh crap- this isn’t working,” moments. But so far, the benefits have far out weighed the downfalls. I’m excited to see how our classroom continues to transform through it all and will be back to give updates as we progress!


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