Making a Classroom For My Students

I'm about to enter my 5th year of teaching. I've been in the same classroom for all 5 of those years. As I worked in my room a bit this summer, I couldn't help but to have a few thoughts that kept swirling around my head. Some may not understand why I put so much energy and effort into my room, especially since I've gotten to stay put and haven't had to move. I even feel at times judged and feel like I have to defend why I'm putting so much into the space. The truth is, I really like to recreate the space in some scale for a new group of students. I like to challenge myself to use a space better, to make it more functional, to make it more appealing. Some may think I go overboard or I should spend my energy in other things in the summer months, but my classroom is a place that I love to be and I hope that those who share it with me love to be there too. So even if I didn't change a whole lot this past summer, I did make some changes that will hopefully impact my students for the better.

But first... a little tangent.

Even with the same room, I'll be starting a new adventure in a new grade. If that wasn't a big enough change, I've also felt a shift in my teaching focus... one that I attribute to my time working as a teacher these last 4 years and with what I've seen in our communities and world. I'm finally finding that shift away from me being the ring leader and putting it on my students. I'll admit that when I first started, I of course liked to think that the choices I made were because of what I thought worked best for my students. However, if I'm being honest, some choices that I made were more so based on what I wanted to make work for my students because it worked for me personally. I think it's a fairly common approach when you are first starting out. You are trying to figure SO much out and juggle everything. You want to be student centered, but I have found that it takes time to understand what that really means and it takes courage and confidence to make adjustments that might make you, the teacher, uncomfortable. Now some may think at times that some of my ideas are out there... setting myself up for failure or trying to follow a fad. But as my instructional coach once said to me, "When you get an idea in your head, you run with it." I sometimes think to myself that I may run with an idea and I may go in the wrong direction, but if I think it's going to make a better change for my students, I'll go for it. I am so excited for this school year to begin, even with all the changes and the bits of fear of failure. Here's a glimpse into my room this year where I will welcome 20something 4th graders in less than 2 weeks.

I kept the same colors as last year- I really like the blues, greens, and teals. I'm trying flexible seating this year. One thing I want my students to focus on for flexible seating is picking a space that students feel successful in during a particular learning experience. I still have desks and tables- since some like that. I still have my normal chairs- since some like that. I added some stools, some wobble stools, some floor seats and some exercise balls. But where students sit will change throughout the day for most of them since their reading spot may not work for them writing. Some of my students may want an assigned spot to call their "home." I already know that for at least one of my kiddos, they will have an assigned seat since the anxiety of "claiming" a spot numerous times a day would not be beneficial for her learning... I personally feel the same way- I need to know I have a space- so part of being flexible is knowing that is what some students benefit from best. I'm going for options.  But, we will have lots of materials that need to be stored so one of my first goals for the classroom is to be well organized and that everything has a place.

I'm using a "home base" concept for things such as notebooks, name tents, pencils, etc. I've spread them out throughout the room so that we don't get traffic jams with 25 students all in one spot sifting through bins looking for their personal writing notebook. At these home bases, each student will have a drawer. The drawer will hold their reading notebook and their just right chapter books. When it's time for reading, they can pull out their whole drawer and take it to wherever they are reading that day. Whiteboards are leaned against the drawers as well. These will have their Plicker cards attached to the back so we know who they belong to. Math and writing notebooks will be stored in the book boxes. 3 kids per home base, so each book box will have 3 notebooks. On the top, there's a spot for extra post-its, scissors block, a cup for dry erase markers, highlighters, pens and pencils, name tag holder, mini- pencil sharpener, eraser caps, and mini- stapler. 

I also have water bottles for my students. Right now, I have character traits labeled onto them. Once they pick the water bottle they want, I'll add their number to the top cap so they can easily grab them from here when not in use. I got these water bottles in packs of 3 from the Dollar Tree. I used them last year and they held up great!

On the left, you can (barely) see hanging Ikea garbage cans. They hold folders perfectly, so our word work groups will use these to store their word work items. On the right is my drawer tower from Michael's that I got last year. There are 3-4 students per drawer. Inside these huge drawers will house our take home folder and our miscellaneous folder (that also holds our journals). On the top of the drawers are bins for extra homework and handouts and Friday Folder items. If things don't work out, I've cleared cupboard space and have room for bins or crates to hold folders... we'll see what works best.

I want people to walk into our classroom and be drawn to the work of my students. I'll be honest and say I've always struggled with displaying student work and changing it often. Because of that, I've given up my cupboard doors and have given them to student work displays #4thgradefridge. I added the swinging metal command hooks (my favorites) so that I can punch a hole and hang student work easily... as well as layering it. I took the Target square adhesive labels and put one next to each hook. Inside these pockets will be a picture of that student. We'll also add their hope and dream under their picture. Each student will have their own little fridge space to display their work and be proud. 

I also changed out one of our bulletin boards to showcase photos of my students inspired by Learning in Wonderland. I just put some background pieces of paper right now on the board so they act as natural frames. I want to be able to change pictures out and wanted to save $ so I didn't do actual frames this year. We got a brand new beautiful playground that I can't wait to take students out to and snap pictures of them playing the first week. Even better- the new playground matches our classroom colors haha. I'll stick the pictures using ticky-tac and print them from my home so I can control the size.

I like adding homey touches that are relatable to students. Magnetic letters, lightbox, and note station are set here for students to interact with. I let students write me notes about anything. You can find my templates for free here.

Our major bulletin boards are labeled for easy reference. I have one that says Language for our reading and writing charts, one that says Math for math charts, and then this community board where we display our rules that we create together and our welcoming classroom lesson charts. 

Our math vocabulary cards are posted here. I'm changing the way I do math this year thanks to Ladybug Teacher Files. To better meet my students' needs, I'll be doing a math rotation between 2 groups.  Our curriculum has different resources to help support differentiation so I am going to make it a goal to use them more (hence the triangle and square).

Our math rotation materials have proper storage in the same area to make planning and accessing materials easy for both me and my students.

Our control center here helps students get situated in the morning. They do lunch count and attendance here, our jobs are displayed, and our morning routines will be posted here too (after we learn them). Our interactive graffiti wall happens here also inspired by Miss 5th and her whiteboard prompts.

That's my classroom for the year (mostly). I hope students who had me last year feel enough change to make it exciting and I hope new students feel welcomed and supportive. I also hope that I can keep this positive outlook knowing that these changes won't be easy, but that if I maintain a positive attitude, we can get through the hiccups of learning new systems and routines.

What classroom changes have you made this year?



Books Teachers Love: August

We're baaaaaa-ccckkkk! Books Teachers Love is back to our monthly sharing of excellent books that we love to use in our classrooms... especially at the beginning of the year! I mean, look at all these amazing titles!

The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson

The book I'm sharing is one I was introduced to by my mentor teacher my first year of teaching. It is one of those books that is so rich with so many learning opportunities. I'm sharing a few with you and calling this...

I say cover-all-your-bases kind of book because it really does. It's that rich. It's about a girl who's father retells a story from his childhood every spring while they plant their garden. The boy's story revolves around making a serious lapse of judgment and lives with turmoil until he makes it right. You can't HELP but feel for Mr. Bellavista, a key character (and the only one with an actual name in this book), but the boy learns a lot about not just gardening, but how you can find friends in unlikely circumstances if you give it a try. I've used this with 3rd graders and will use again with 4th graders because it's one of those mentor texts that just keeps on giving. Let's go around the bases, shall we?

One thing to do with this book is some reviewing on parts of speech. This book is rich with vocabulary so it's a great time to review how thinking about the part of speech can help you figure out the meaning of a word. To start, I pull words out from the text that can be more than one part of speech- it all depends how it's used. These aren't difficult to read or understand... the idea is to think about how the word can be used.

Students spin the spinner and land on a word. That word can be used as a noun or a verb, so they spin the 2nd spinner and then they have to write a sentence using that word in that part of speech. It gets students thinking on context, so when they get to difficult words in the book like trudged, they can think about the part of speech based on context.

For example: If I spun and got sign, I could write two very different sentences
Verb: I signed my name on the dotted line.
Noun: The faded sign hung loosely on the telephone pole.

The word itself isn't difficult, but thinking how it can be used changes its meaning entirely. Practicing with common words can be a great scaffold for those more challenging word. 

Onto 2nd base, this book is great for life lessons. The dad in the story tells the child the same story every spring. And there's a reason: memories often teach us life lessons. We talk about how and why the dad shares this memory and what life lessons he learned along the way. Get your students thinking and reflecting on their summer break by writing down their summer memories and then life lessons they learned. It could be as simple as, "I played outside with my sister a lot. We loved to go to the swimming pool. The life lesson I learned is you should go outside and enjoy nature with others." This is a great way to hear about summer vacations while reviewing how to come up with life lessons.

Rounding to 3rd base, this book is full of great opportunities to practice character work. 

This year, I will be using this book to review character work of the past and putting rubrics and exemplars in student notebooks for them to reference all year. I put mine in already so I'm ready to go and model for my students before they try on their own.

I used pages from my Responding to Reading Pack. We'll start by just noticing what our main character (or Mr. Bellavista would be a great character too) thinks, says, and does. They'll reflect and rate their work using our rubrics that are glued into their notebooks.

For some of these skills, such as character motivation (which there are a lot of great examples in this book), I put the rubric underneath the graphic organizer so that I could also put a list of adverbs next to the g.o. for students to use as a support. When we talk about motivations, we often talk about how a character does, says, or thinks about something, as this can show why they are doing it. With this book, there's so many questions: "Why did the boy throw the tomatoes?" "Why did he feel guilty and the other boys didn't?" "Why did he watch the garden?" You could talk about character motivation for Mr. Bellavista too... there's a lot of options.

We'll also talk about the problem and how the character reacted and dealt with it, as again, it's a great example of paying attention to details both in the text and in the illustrations. The beautiful watercolor like pictures are beautiful to look at while we read.

If you choose to read this book for any or all of these reasons, you are sure to hit a home run with your students this fall. I included the first two activities in a free book companion set that can be downloaded by clicking the image below!

But wait! I'm teaming up with 11 other bloggers who are sharing one of their favorite books for September! Check each of them, snag ideas and resources and enter to win 4 of the books we feature. Even better... you PICK the 4 that you think you'd enjoy most to add to your classroom. After the Rafflecopter, check out the other amazing books teachers are sharing for Back to School!

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6 Ways to Incorporate Post-Its into your Instruction

Post-its aren't just for student notebooks during reading time or reminders for you on what you need to complete over your prep. There's lots of ways to incorporate this simple tool into your instruction! Take a look at 6 ways I've used them in the classroom!


How to implement: Posts-its are great for creating bar graphs in the classroom. I put a piece of colored duct tape down as my axis and label the categories with a sharpie. Students write their name on a post-it and place it on the category that fits them. Consider use sentence strips to label what the axis represents.

Other ideas: Think if you want to use color to show other patterns. If you are doing a graph on the number of siblings, maybe give all first born students one color, second borns another color and so on. That way, you can discuss your graph in multiple ways. Use for actual math lessons or for morning meeting activities and sharing.


How to implement: Pose a question and have students write their response on a post-it. Then, attach the post-its to a board or large piece of paper (fire optional). Number students off and give them 1 board for each group. Students go around sharing response around the camp fire and discuss what they think. I often don't have students put their names on these and they aren't always in a group with their post-it- it makes students think about the content on the post-it and not who wrote it.

Other ideas: Use for math strategies- students solve a problem and groups discuss/explain how each person solve it. Practice book club and lit circle discussions with accountable talk. 


How to implement: Keep your vocabulary board alive and well! Use post-its to create categories for students to help reference and connect their vocabulary words. The beauty- have students think of how words can be grouped together and have them create their own headers. Instead of grouping words alphabetically, going this route will make your students have to think about their vocabulary word in a different way: "I'm looking for a word used to describe the degree of an angle"

Other ideas: Add quick pictures or other helpful hits to your post-it headers. In the above, I included pictures but also used roots and suffixes to help build in additional supports, such as for the word polygon. Change groups/headers even with the same unit words to help students see other connections between their vocabulary words.


How to implement: Print off images that go with your unit of study and use post-its as your vocabulary cards. Words that are related to a particular concept go under the picture for students to reference.

Other ideas: Decide if you will make them previously, complete with definitions, of pass that work onto your students. Give each group a word and have them practice using dictionaries to find the definition and put it into their own words. Then have students present their word and post it under the appropriate picture for other groups to use and reference. 


How to implement: Post-its are great to make interactive anchor charts. You lay out the outline but leave the meaty work to do together. Prepare your post-its to whatever degree you want. In this chart, I started by just putting each word on a post-it and had students help me place them on when we are most likely to first encounter that word. We then defined it and I wrote the definition with them. You can see the words that we hadn't learned yet at the bottom of the chart without a definition.

Other ideas: You can use this with any content or unit. It's become one of my go-to strategies for making charts as it lets me plan out what I want to get out of the chart, but students still use the chart because they helped in its creation. Consider a variety of post-it styles and sizes. I've used arrow shaped ones for cause/effect relationships for example. 


How to implement: This is a chart fully made out of post-its in a matrix style. When working on broadening our vocabulary for character traits, we made this chart. I gave each student a word and they had to find other people with the same colored post-it. They then had to figure out what all of these words had in common (the top row was not passed out or shared yet). We then put them in an order from what we though were the weaker words vs stronger words. When students then were writing about their biography characters, if they wanted to say their person was honest, they could work towards picking a stronger word (we used our seed, seedling, tree, apple tree rubric system). What I enjoyed about this matrix is I could take columns out. I got tired of hearing brave, fearless, courageous, so I just removed that column and forced students to think of other actions and pick a new word. The matrix using post-its allowed us to be flexible.

Other ideas: Use it for when to use certain transition words in writing (transition words for opinion writing perhaps). For more of a challenge, don't color code post-its. 

What's your favorite way to use post-its?



Monday Made It #9

And we are now in August. I've still got nearly a whole month to enjoy. This week is full of busyness but I hope next week will be my relax week. This may or may not be my last MMI that I can link up with but I'm forever grateful for it as I've finished many projects that I otherwise wouldn't have!

First up-Birthday Swag! I decided to get a little something for birthdays this year. Last year, I did  scratch tickets which were great (and free) but this year I'm changing it up. Walmart had a variety of Scentos items so I grabbed packs of markers, pens, pencils and play dough. I got a class set of pencils as well for open house night.

I made little birthday tags that I'll fill out with their name. And to make birthday time even more fun and random, I created icons for a spinner.

Since I got different items, we're going to spin to determine what item the student will get. I have a large magnetic spinner that I attach to the whiteboard and then these little icons will be placed on it as well. The birthday student will spin and whatever they land on will be what they get to pick out. That way, it's "fair" and once an item is out, I can just remove that icon. Students loved to scratch off their ticket under the doc camera and enjoyed the element of surprise so this will do the trick I think!

Another thing I made was an item that has been requested often since I made my class journals last summer. People wanted blank tabs for math, for younger grades, etc. I just don't have the time to customize it to everyones' needs however, so I put blank tab sets into a resource and posted it in my store. Now you can add 3 sections, 4 sections, or 5 sections to any notebook you please! Works great for interactive notebooks, reading and writing notebooks, science and social studies, and math- you name it. 
Of course they are on sale with the TpT sale going on starting today so hop over, check them out, and get creating!

I've been a lean, mean, task card creating machine! I'm trying to get the first 2-3 units prepared for when we go back to school and I've finished the first one. Since I'm changing up the way I do math, I wanted to incorporate more task cards tied to our standards and our curriculum. Since Minnesota does not use the Common Core for math (we do for literacy interesting enough), I'm making a lot of the cards to fit our specific standards. 

We use Math Expressions (which I love) and they have a lot of additional resources I'll be using as well so I don't need to create everything, but while I have the time, I'm enjoying it as it's helping me get better acquainted with my new grade standards. MX uses circles, triangles, and squares to differentiate some tasks, so when I made the task cards, I added the symbol. That way, even if I download something from another TpT author, I can quickly draw the shape to help remind me which group should get it. 
The cards I make, I'm also trying to color code (tip from The Brown Bag Teacher). Not every set will be green or blue, but for more simple cards that follow similar structures, that's the route I'll go. I absolutely love the photo cases as storage of these... it just makes my organizing heart happy.

Well, I'm off to move wishlisted items into my cart! I've been waiting all summer (although there were a few resources I just couldn't wait for) to buy some resources and get them ready for the new year! Are you shopping today?


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