Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Few of My Newest Faves...

Happy Thanksgiving Ya'll!  There is so much to be thankful for on this beautiful day!  I'm thankful for each one of you that takes time to visit the blog, my TPT store, and all things social media. Thank YOU for your support over the years!

Today I wanted to share my experiences with a few products I had seen on the internet, but never had the opportunity to try out until now...Kwik Stix and Pencil Grips.  They are a MUST have when working with kids in your classroom or with your own kids at home.  The Pencil Grip company sent me a few samples to try out and share with you all.  Below are some pictures of the paint sticks and pencil grippers.



I knew Kwik Stix were fabulous for mess free art projects, but wanted to see how they could be used on the academic side of the classroom.  The children I worked with looked forward to our math intervention time because they were going to the have the opportunity to use something their peers didn't get to use.  Can you say, motivated kiddos?!  I've never seen a student work so hard for the "reward" of getting to use the paint sticks to color in ten frames, solve math problems, and use a number line.  It was MAGICAL!  Yes, kids can use markers or crayons to do the same thing, but then you lose the magical component.  Kids like to have things others don't...human nature for sure, and it's a huge motivator to do things that aren't so fun.  My advice to keep the magic in the stix is to pull them out randomly.  The beauty of these paint stix is the fact it's real tempera paint that doesn't bleed through paper...#winning and dries in less than 90 seconds.  No need to find a drying space in your classroom or at home for all the artwork!  Simply perfect for anyone who is a slight control freak like yours truly! ;)  If you go on Pinterest, you will find several cute art projects you can do (painting pumpkins is one of my favorites).

Stickers and Kwik Stix...genius and MESS FREE (click picture to be taken to original blog post on the craft)

solving math problems

drawing out pictures for word problems

using two different colors on ten frames to solve math equations

building numbers on a ten frame and connecting it to base ten blocks
I also used the Kwik Stix with my little nugget to practice weekly sight words.  This was another win for me because doing sight words with mom is no fun until now!  I never understood the power struggle parents would share with me at conferences when discussing getting homework done.  I always thought I wouldn't have those same struggles because, well I'm a teacher and I "know" how to keep kids on task; boy was I super wrong about that!  I have the exact same struggles as the parents I conferenced with.  What I decided must be the issue is my little knows I'm a teacher, but I'm her mom; therefore, I'm not in charge of her learning at school so why should she do "school" things with me?!  The kwik stix have helped remedy that mindset...thank goodness, because I wasn't sure if we were both going to even make it to kindergarten!  #thestruggleisrealfolks ;)

my little practicing her weekly sight words

tracing over sight words first written in pencil and then over with kwik stix

The other product I wanted to share with you are the pencil grips!  I have a few kiddos with handwriting so atrocious you can't read it!  Before the pencil grips I would suggest to parents Handwriting Without Tears; however, little did I know...a simple change in gripping a writing tool would correct most of the concerns.  I'm loving the gradual release design of the grippers.  The grippers meet your kid where they are currently at and get them to where they need to be.  
The gradual release grips that grow with your child

Gripper 1

Gripper 2

Gripper 3

As an Academic Coach I work with a variety of children in different grade levels; oftentimes, with terrible handwriting.  Teachers ask me to help with the academics and "if I could help with the handwriting that would be fabulous".  One teacher in particular noticed a huge difference in her student's writing in a few short days of the child using the gripper.  The gripper is also good for righties and lefties.  There is a R and L to guide the child to proper gripping for their needs.  The colors are fun and the grippers are squishy to make writing a more comfortable task.  Below are a few pictures of a child working on handwriting and trying out the different grips.  Over the past few weeks his handwriting has improved drastically and the teacher is thankful she is able to read what he writes. :) 
first try..."feels weird" 
second try..."feels a little better"
third try..."feels just 'write' ;)"
Now you are probably wondering where you can get these magical tools for the classroom or home? There are a few places you can go starting with online at Target, Amazon, and ThePencilGrip.  I'm pretty sure you will start seeing them inside Target stores as well, so next time you're there check out the arts and crafts section to grab you a set.  There are so many fun sets in thick and skinny sizes (metallic, neon, and classic colors).  

Stayed tuned for future posts on how I use the grippers and stix...Happy Thanksgiving friends!  Enjoy all of the wonderful blessings in your life!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Color Coding Reading Passages


Happy Tuesday Everyone!

Now the school year is back in full swing, I'm trusting most everyone is getting to the nitty gritty of reading comprehension in mini lessons and guided reading groups.  What am I talking about you ask? TEXT EVIDENCE.  Oh, how it can be such a frustrating phrase heard in education.  The Common Core is known for asking students to identify text evidence in both oral and written comprehension questions.  If you look on Pinterest or search the internet you will find an abundance of paid resources for students to practice finding text evidence in short reading passages.  I'm definitely guilty of purchasing my share of cutesy passages for homework and guided reading practice over the years. Well folks, this year I wised up and saved my money because we are building a house (and time) aint NOBODY got time for that creating passages and now prefer to use Readworks or Newsela instead.  



Are Readworks or Newsela cutesy?  Nope!  Not really; however it's free and does the job of providing did I mention FREE interesting leveled passages/articles for students to find text evidence with.  Now, I'm sure you might be sitting there thinking, how will I know what evidence students have found if there isn't directions for my students with cute little crayons beside each question?  I've got you covered!  In my classroom and with the students I work with this year, I control the colors for each question.  There's nothing complicated about it.  I just pick a few colors (crayons or markers) for the comprehension questions and ask students to color a dot for each number using the color I say (i.e.  put a red dot next to number one, and green dot next to number two, etc).  I stick to basic colors as much as possible because the goal is to keep it simple.  When students come to my guided reading table, I get out the smelly markers; because who doesn't love a good smelly marker?!  Research shows that when information is presented in color, people retain more of it.  The smelly markers are just the cherry on top because they are fun and not available at student desks.  Students actually get excited to meet with me because of the markers.  Who knew?!

Below is an example of a Readworks passage I'm currently working with a student on, so you can better visualize what I'm talking about.  Need to save paper?  You can print two pages to a page by simply changing the printer settings.

Inexpensive smelly markers you don't mind sharing with students

free reading passages
Text evidence highlighted to match color dot beside question number

Different colors for each question


So what do you need to get started?  Markers, passages printed for free from either ReadWorks or Newsela, and students to practice the text evidence.  Easy peasy my friends!  I hope I've shed some light on reading passages and text evidence.  The more money you save on cutesy passages, the more money you have for fun things like shoes or Target!  Until next time friends! :)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Brag Tags Post #2

Welcome Back!

I'm here to wrap up my thoughts on all things brag tags!  This is the second part (a little late) of my brag tag series. If you missed my first post, you can read all about it here.  Like I mentioned in my previous post we have a brag tag end of year celebration party.  Basically students have collected brag tags all year and get to spend an hour or so reminiscing over tags earned with friends and create necklaces with a variety of beads.  They have so much fun and it's so cute to listen to the conversations about the tags.

These kids were rockstars and kept up with the binder ring all year!!  I had 20 second graders last year and these 7 were responsible and kept up with the binder ring!  
If you remember from my previous post, I mentioned starting the year with binder rings for each kiddo to put brag tags on.  At the end of the year students exchange the binder rings for a beaded chain to create a unique brag tag necklace.  Now, you might be wondering what happens to the kids who have lost the binder ring at some point in the year???  That's a fabulous question!!  I DO NOT replace binder rings at any point in the year.  I make the expectation crystal clear at the beginning when I'm introducing brag tags.  If a student loses the ring they DO NOT get replacement tags; instead he/she will get a snack bag to keep tags in for the remainder of the year.  When it comes time to trade in rings for necklaces, students without a ring are given a piece of yarn to make the necklace. At the end of the day all students DO get to make a brag tag necklace; however, the material the necklace is made with depends on the student being responsible throughout the year.  Below are some pictures of materials to make the necklaces as well as pictures of my cuties at the end of the year necklace party!  My biggest piece of advise when starting brag tags is to play by rules you are comfortable with.  If you search brag tags on TPT or Pinterest, you will find thousands of variations which could be challenging/overwhelming to manage.  Keep it simple and do what you are most comfortable with!  A teacher on my team last year only used one specific brag tag.  In her classroom the children worked hard to see how many they could get during the year.  The beauty of brag tags is they are flexible and can be made easy to use based on individual teacher comfort.  If you would like to check out some brag tags I have in my TPT store click here.  I would love any comments about your experiences with brag tags. :)))
Materials for the necklaces.  The cheapest place for the chains was amazon or Hobby Lobby at a $1/necklance.

These are the specialty beads.  My thoughts were to keep it simple.  I bought the beads at Hobby Lobby using 40% off coupons.

I called one table at a time to the necklace making station to gather materials to take back to seat for necklace making.

Hard at work.

Students with the yarn making the necklaces.

If students needed more materials they could go back to the station and gather more materials.

Some of the brag tags

All students enjoyed making the necklaces and each was so cute and different.


Monday, August 1, 2016

All Things Brag Tag (Post 1 of a 2 part series)

Happy Monday Everyone!

I'm sure most of you are starting to go back in the classroom to get ready for B2S 2016!  As you begin to think about classroom management and student motivation, definitely consider using Brag Tags.  There are a plethora of blog posts out there on how to implement them as well as TPT sellers creating them, including me. ;)  I used them for the first time in my 2nd grade classroom last year and it was a game changer! It's a super cheap way to celebrate individual student success and change unwanted classroom behavior. Everyone likes to be praised right?!  Brag tags do just that and provide a visual reminder of student successes in the classroom.  Angie over at Lucky Little Learners was my initial inspiration to try them out.  She has some fabulous posts on how to implement them and there is definitely no reason to recreate the wheel over here, right??

Now, in the social media world there seems to be some backlash on using Brag Tags in the classroom because teachers don't want to create students who are "braggers".  Well friends, I called them brag tags all year and never once received any negative feedback from administrators, co-workers, parents, or students.  In fact, EVERYONE thought it was a genius idea and a few other teachers at my school jumped on board to do brag tags too!  HOWEVER, if this is a concern for you there are alternative names for the same tool/product.  Some teachers are calling them Swag Tags, Wow Tags, Fab Tags, etc.  Regardless of what you want to call them in your classroom, they are amazing!

So, how do they work you ask?  Well, that's up to you.  In my classroom I introduced brag tags on the last day of the first week of school.  I put them on student desks before they arrived to create excitement and questions about the tag.  I gave each student a 2 inch binder ring with one brag tag on it that said 2nd Grade Rocks.  As a class we went over how to earn a brag tag and how to be responsible with the brag tag ring.  I never told students which brag tags I had...it was a mystery all year and the students couldn't get enough of the tags.  They never knew when I would pass some out. It was fabulous!!!

As with anything new....I started out simple with brag tags for Daily 5 station behavior. Basically, as we were building stamina each day for the first 6 weeks of school, students were earning brag tags for demonstrating desired behaviors at each station.  Everybody wins!! In Thursday's post I will answer some FAQ about all things brag tag.  :)  My next type of tag I started to roll out was the homework tag.  I surprised the class with homework brag tags the first time I collected homework packets. Every student who turned in their homework packet received a brag tag.  The excitement continued and it was hook, line, sink in all things brag tag.  Once I had everyone's buy in, I began to slow down with passing out brag tags to only a few of the best of the best behaviors each day.  Students worked so hard to be the best of the best and my classroom was pure bliss!  Well, most of the time! ;)  I even had special substitute brag tags my assistant and sub would pass out in my absence.  Every. Single. Sub. LOVED the brag tags and how helpful it was with classroom behavior.  I'm not going to say the tags were miracle fixes, but for the most part it made a big difference in the majority of my student's behaviors.

My Daily 5 Inspired Brag Tags:







Now, lets discuss the binder ring for a minute...I made a point of stressing to the class to be responsible with the ring the very first day I passed out the tags.  They could hook the rings on backpacks, pant loops, keep them at home, or in the pencil boxes at school.  My classroom expectation was that students would keep up with the brag tag ring all year long.  At the end of the year students turned in the ring to me for a beaded chain necklace.  We will talk more about the necklaces and binder ring responsibilities in my post on Thursday.  If you go on Pinterest and search brag tags you will find a multitude of ways teachers display brag tags to give you some ideas if you're not feeling the student responsibility vibe.  I believe in student responsibility.  If you set your expectations high, most students will rise to meet or exceed your expectations.

I hope to have peaked your interest in at least considering brag tags.  Come back Thursday for a follow up post to how brag tags worked in my classroom.  See you then!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Planner Talk: My Honest Opinion About 4 Popular Planners

Hey Friends!

Yikes!  I'm terrible at keeping up with the blog during the school year.  I tried, but failed at doing better.  Sorry!  Honestly, our year has been crazy busy between the lil nugget's schedule and my husband's NASCAR schedule; not to mention the hectic daily classroom happenings!  I'm thankful for the blogging break because I'm rejuvenated and ready to share what I've been up to in the classroom and TPT land!

Let's get started with all things planner!  Lately, there has been lots of planner chatter on social media with who has what and what's popular right now in the land of lesson planning.  Teachers are funny creatures when it comes to getting "new school year excited" a week into summer break!  I've definitely been one of them, but it still makes me chuckle because the school year ends and almost immediately it's time to get ready for the new year.  I'm fortunate enough to have first hand experiences with four of the top planning tools out currently. Below are MY opinions about each planner. I haven't been paid to endorse any product, so you can trust this is the honest truth according to me.  I hope it's helpful! ; )

1st up...Erin Condren Planner:  Here is a picture of my teacher planner from a few years ago. When I first got the planner I was smitten with every flashy detail the planner had.  Honestly, I think I was more excited to have something people around me didn't have than the actual planner.  Sad truth, but I want to keep it real for ya'll.  Click here to preview the planner and see how in all actuality I didn't use many of the "extras" Erin Condren is known for.  I did enjoy a few of the flashy features such as the pocket folder, clear page inserts and the small bag at the back of the planner.  The EC planner sells for $55-$75.  In my opinion it's not worth the money.  Especially since the style has changed and the covers are interchangeable.  I purchased an EC life planner and it's been a huge waste of money!  The covers fall off...annoying to say the least, and I realized I'm a digital calendar person for all things social in our life.


Erin Condren Teacher Planner before the changeable covers

2nd up...Teacher Anchor Planner:  Last year I had the pleasure of winning this beautiful planner from CJayneTeach in an Instagram contest.  I didn't know anything about the product and was just super excited to win a "teacher prize"!  I won a beautiful binder as well as the planner.  This planner looks very much like a printer friendly version of the EC planner in my opinion.  There's nothing cutesy or colorful about the planner on the inside.  It differs from the EC planner because it does have CCES listed for K-2 as well as tips to being more efficient with planning efforts. When you check out the preview you will see I used parts of the planner, but then ended up just stapling purchased lesson plans on the pages.  It became a glorified binder with pages everywhere!  The planner sells for $56, but again...I'm not sure it's worth the money; at least not in MY opinion.  Click here to check out the inside of the planner.




Teacher Anchor Lesson Planner
3rd up...Create 365 Happy Planner Teacher Edition:  Ok, so this planner was just gifted to me by my mom as a thank you for helping out when my nana unexpectedly died last month.  We stumbled across this planner on accident when wondering around Hobby Lobby for a few brag tag accessories to end the school year.  I'm super excited about this planner because it seems to have the EC flair, with a teacher price tag.  The best of both worlds, right?!  The planner retails for $29.99.  You can use a trusty 40% off coupon to make the price even more affordable.  You can check out the planner by clicking here.  Below are a few pictures of the planner, accessories purchased at an additional charge, and my stamping catastrophe with the checklist stamp.  Currently, I'm uncertain of my feelings with the stamp because of the unpredictability of stamping the entire stamp image.  Hopefully, the more I use it, the more accurate the stamping will be.  There is one other stamp I wanted to complete the planner, but my Hobby Lobby didn't have it.  Luckily, my mom's HL did and she is bringing it to me in August. :))  In my humble opinion, this planner is the best of all of the worlds and is 100% worth the money!  The word on the street is it sells out quickly; however, is replenished often.



4th up...Planbook.com:  Ok, so I used planbook.com for one school year.  It was ok, but I didn't feel like I was ever really prepared to teach.  I think for me, the price was right, but I'm a person who needs to write out the game plan to own and execute it.  From an administrator's perspective, planbook.com is genius and every teacher should use it because it's legible, can be shared with administration/special area teachers, can be CC aligned, and allows you to view all plans (old and new) with a few clicks from a device. Some of the features that are helpful as a teacher are the lesson sharing options, CCES objectives just a click a way to adding to your plans, and the links/files you can attach to each block of your day.  You can also repeat activities each week if your classroom has certain procedures/activities that are the same. I used the app version on my personal iPad as well as had it on my SMART board in the background, so I could click on links/resources as needed throughout the day. This style of lesson planning is good for mapping out your weeks, but I still needed the process of writing things down to be successful at executing the plan. Below is a screen shot of my first week plans when I taught 5th grade.  The cost is $12 a year.  If you choose not to renew your subscription, you still have access to your old plans, you just can't edit them.  

Thanks for hanging with me as I shared my opinions on all things planning related.  Every teacher is different with styles and needs.  Every school/district also has different expectations for lesson plans. I hope my experiences with the variety of products have helped you figure out what is best for your planning/classroom needs.  As always, comments are appreciated!  Have a fabulous Tuesday! Until next time...

Monday, February 1, 2016

Classroom Teacher Supplies Sharpener Review!

Happy Monday!

I'm FINALLY back after a crazy two weeks of surgery AND jury duty!  If you know anything about anything, than you know being out of the classroom is absolute TORTURE!  Yikes!  The paperwork and catching up I have ahead of me!  I will say one huge sanity saver has been our new pencil sharpener compliments of Classroom Friendly Supplies.  Click here to check out the awesomeness!
Now to share our experiences with the sharpener that EVERY teacher should have in the classroom. First, it's purple!  How can you not like a purple pencil sharpener?!  Next, it's a fun design and pleasing to the eyes.  Again, how can you not resist?!  If the aesthetic features aren't enough to convince you, than how about the functionality of the sharpener??

Isn't she beautiful?!

THE pencils are AMAZING and sharp...like dangerously sharp!!  My students get two sharp pencils every morning to start the day.  The pencils are so sharp they actually keep up with my students all day long!  This was INCREDIBLE to watch in action.  To translate in teacher language...the students were not up wondering around to get a pencil!  I also didn't have to listen to the nerve grinding electric option we had before.  Can you say WINNING?!

Several people have asked on my IG account about student use, so I put the question to the test. What I found is for my particular group of 2nd graders, it is NOT kid friendly and becomes a nightmare to get broken points out of the sharpener.  I want to stress it is NOT kid friendly with MY group of kids; however, a colleague down the hall in 3rd grade doesn't seem to have ANY issues with her students using the sharpener.  I guess it really depends on the grade level and group of students in the classroom to see if it's rough and tough enough to hang in there for a school year or beyond.  That being said, it seriously takes only 5 minutes to sharpen a bucket full of pencils each morning, so for me it's worth it to spend 5 minutes of my time getting the pencils ready for the day.

Don't you think the pencil tips are absolutely beautiful??
Another question asked on my IG account was about the noise level.  Is it truly the quietest pencil sharpener ever??  My honest answer is...I'm unsure.  Is it more quiet than the electric option? Yes! Most definitely YES!  To me it sounds like any other crank sharpener; however, it's cuter and more efficient with the sharpening.  You can choose to mount it or move it around the room, take it home for the weekend, or pass it across the hall to share the love with another teacher.  So many options!!!

The final question asked to me was about the dreaded dollar store pencils.  You know, the ones that don't ever seem to sharpen and then unravel...becoming a huge distraction and teacher annoyance?? Well my friends I'm happy to report the sharpener was up for the challenge and does not discriminate against any pencils.  

The dollar store pencils can't bring down the best pencil sharpener ever!

So, basically what I'm saying is...EVERY. SINGLE. TEACHER. could benefit from purchasing one of these fabulous pencil sharpeners.  The past month has been bliss not listening to the electric sharpener.  Feel free to check out this video to learn more about the Best Pencil Sharpener Ever! Comment below if you purchase one and share your thoughts.  Until next time my friends.....

Friday, January 22, 2016

Five For Friday! (First Timer)

Happy Friday Ya'll!

Today I'm participating in my first ever Five For Friday Linky party!  Let's get this party started!  I'm giving you five things I've experienced/completed this week.  Who knows what theme I will choose next week!

I started the week like most classroom teachers with a day off from the classroom because of MLK day!  The lil nugget and I relaxed around the house with a playdate for the both of us!  We love our friends!

On Tuesday I had the pleasure of participating in a half day mandated Human Diversity Training. There is nothing better than spending a teacher work day in meetings right before report cards are due.  #TeacherProblems
On Wednesday I had surgery to help correct my infertility issues for the possibility of baby #2 later this year.  The crazy thing is, at first glance the surgeon thought I had Hydrosalpinx.  After getting in and taking a look, he realized the reason my fallopian tube was blocked and swollen with fluids is because my right ovary was sitting on top of it!  Crazy, right?!  My organs had been relocated to an empty cavity in my body preventing mother nature from working properly.  He thinks when I was pregnant with the lil nugget, she didn't have much room to move around, so she pushed things out of the way to be more comfy while in utero.  Maybe she knew from the get go she didn't want any siblings! ;)  He also discovered I had a mild case of Endometriosis as well as a few cysts needing to be removed.  Basically, the original surgery went rogue and a different procedure ended up happening.   Now I'm just chilling at the house recovering from a very uncomfortable surgery.  The lil nugget is fascinated with my incisions and the glue that is "keeping mommy together".
Yesterday I blogged about a list of 2nd grade Kahoot games anyone can use if needing to spiral review content.  I will continue to add to the list each week, so definitely check back often.  If you haven't tried Kahoot you should!  Easy peasy engaging activities for your class.

Yummy Homemade Banana Bread
A view from our backyard this morning. :)
Last, but not least today is a Snow Day for everyone around us.  The lil nugget's school is closed today, so I'm home recovering with her.  She has been a fabulous assistant running the stairs for me, picking things up I can't reach, and baking with me.  We made some homemade banana bread together and will enjoy it with some hot chocolate this afternoon.  I can't take her out to enjoy the snow today because of the risk of slipping and falling as well as the bending over movement I currently don't have.  The mister will be home shortly to play in the snow with her.  Snow days are the best!  I hope you all have a fabulous weekend!  Until next time! :)))