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My Plain, Boring, Not Picture-worthy Classroom

For the past few weeks, I have been venturing into my classroom off and on to set up for the first day of school.  For me, that meant taking out my library books from the shed, emptying my closets out to access the folders and other supplies I would need to distribute to the kids, putting up my new word wall made from Target One Spot stuff (if you follow me on Instagram you know that I bought out the notebook paper stuff from 4 different Targets ;)), and putting up the tissue paper borders for my boards (which still had the felt up from last year....because that stuff is expensive so it is up for a while ;))

I was feeling pretty good about the status of my room.  The boards looked neat.  It was empty and plain, but functional.

Then I went on Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram.

I kept seeing pictures of BEAUTIFUL classrooms.  Fabulous libraries.  Gorgeous quotes filling the walls.  Comfortable nooks with amazing carpets, chairs you could sink into, and the perfect lamp in the corner.  These pictures were of classrooms to die for. 

And I felt inadequate.

I felt pressure to make my room as immaculate as what I was seeing in everyone else's room.

I wanted to post pictures of what I was doing in my room, but no angle in the classroom could hide the boringness that is Room 6.

Don't get me wrong.  I LOVE those classrooms.  I wish I had one of those classrooms.  But honestly, it just isn't me.  That is not my style, and quite frankly, I don't have the decorating chops to make my room gorgeous.  Nevertheless, I felt like my own room, my own space, my own little blog here, was just not worthy to share with you.

But then I began to think.  If *I* am feeling this way, I know that *you* probably are too.  If you are feeling less than blogworthy too, then you are probably the same kind of person that I am.  A non-creative, non-decoratey person who lets student work later in the year be the star.  Later in the year, you will probably have a room that looks like it threw up student work (which I LOVE).  But for now,  you probably have a nice, organized (ish) room with butcher paper and borders.  Your tables are good to go.  You may have a word wall up.  Your library is ready for students to go wild in.  You have new text books on the floor in boxes and composition books on top of the bookshelves ready to be handed out on the first day.  Your room is functional.....and that is ok.   Mine is too. 

Let me be the first to tell you.

You are worthy.

I am worthy.

We are all worthy.  Beautiful Pottery Barn classroom or functional set up, we all are there with one thing in mind, educating students.  We all will do that over the course of this year and our room environments will grow to reflect that learning.   It is ok if your room isn't picture perfect on Day 1.  It doesn't have to be.

And if it is, can you come and decorate for me please?  ;) 

Crafting Paragraphs from the Middle Out

Using paragraph of the week to teach the students good paragraph structure by writing the middle sentences first.When I am teaching my students how to write a paragraph, I begin with the middle sentences.

I know, I just heard a collective *gasp* amongst you all.

Why?  What?  How?  Huh?

I know traditionally we have all started teaching paragraph writing with the topic sentence.  I mean, that is what the kids are going to actually write about, right?  So why not start with it?  Well, I find that if I start with the topic sentence, I get paragraphs that are either super short and bland, OR they are off topic because the supporting sentences don't actually match the topic sentence.  How many times have you read a paragraph that started off with "My dog is white and sweet." and then started to veer off topic into other things about the dog?  Using such a narrow topic sentence backs the kids into a corner they don't know how to get out of.  So starting in the middle has been a successful way for me to get my students to write clear, coherent, broad paragraphs.

Let me show you how I do this with my students.  Now, I am going to use my Paragraph of the Week to do this. Why?  Because I use it in class with my kids.  It is scaffolded and ready to go and makes my life waaaaaaaay easier, so the pictures you will see are going to be of that resource.  You don't have to use it though.  You can take these ideas and use regular paper and your own prompts no problem.  I just personally like the POTW :)

When I start brainstorming a paragraph topic with the kids, I ask them to write at least 10 things on the paper that go along with the topic that you would like to write about or include in your paragraph.

Now that the student has everything he could possibly need to write about the subject at hand, I ask him to write one sentence talking about the topic.   For example, if the subject is "Reasons cell phones should be banned in public places", the student might write:

Cell phones are a nuisance to all people except the one talking on it.

Organizing wriitng with the middle sentences first.
This sentence becomes the detail.  It answers the topic and gives a detail about it.  But I, as a reader, want more.  I want some explanation.  WHY do you feel that way?  Tell me more.  This is then an explanation sentence.

No one around the caller wants to hear what is being said as they don't know the other half of the conversation, causing unnecessary noise that bothers 99% of the people in the area.  

That then becomes, as I like to call it, a "Detail/Explanation" combo.  It helps the reader to see just what you mean with elaboration on the one detail.  It gives more.  It makes the writing a bit more interesting.

I ask my students to write three of these combos before they ever get to the topic sentence.  The kids are sticking to the subject (banning cell phones) the entire time, but they aren't hindered by sticking to just one topic within that subject.

Once all three "Detail/Explanation" combos are written, the kids can then look at them holistically and decide upon a topic sentence that captures the essence of what is being said.  The same goes for the conclusion sentence.

Write the middle sentences of a paragraph first.  It helps keep the kids focused and structured.
At the end of it all, the students have a nice, broad, clear, coherent paragraph.  Does it have structure?  Yes.  Is the paragraph on topic?  Yes.  Does it jump around and get all crazy?  No.  Is it a bit boring?  Probably.  But that is ok.  Once my kids have mastered this whole paragraph process, starting with the middle, then moving to the framing sentences, I am able to teach more of the writing craft that truly makes their paragraphs sing.  This is just how I start my students.

What tricks to writing paragraphs do you have?  Please share them!  

First Day of School....the Lesson Plans

Let me preface this by saying that this is a LONG post.  But bear with me.  There is a lot of information and a lot of useful stuff for a surprise at the end.  It is worth it.  I promise :)

For me, one of my biggest summer stressers is getting my first day of school planned out.  I always want to make sure that I have enough activity to keep the kids engaged and occupied, but I also want to set up my rules and set the tone for our year long classroom culture.   It is tough balancing classroom management, rigorous academic pursuits, and fun.  (I mean, I do want the kids to WANT to come back :) )  So over the years, I have tried my hardest to refine what I do on the first day of school so that we are productive and exciting, all rolled into one.

What I thought I would do here in this post is lay out my schedule for you.  I will go hour by hour, heck, minute by minute and show you exactly what I do on that all important first day of school.  If you like this schedule, you can print it out here.

Now, if you are hoping to read something mindblowing and amazing, you probably won't.  I save the mindblowing for later in the year ;)  I just want the kids to come in, feel like they are part of a good classroom, and set the tone for the 179 more days to come.

Before school starts, I set out a pencil and a questionnaire on each desk.  I don't have name tags out.  I want the students to sit wherever they want.  Why?  One, it let's them feel sort of special that they can choose their own seat and two, it tells me who their friends are.   I get a little, instant snapshot into my class from the first second of the year.
First day of school questionnaire to get to know the students
8:10 - 8:30am (20 minutes)  Classroom Opening
Students walk in, choose a seat, and begin working silently.  As they are working on the questionnaire (you can grab a copy of it here), I walk around and take attendance.  I generally look on the name portion of their paper but, as is usually the case, not everyone puts their name on it so I quietly ask names.  I introduce myself at the same time.  Making the visual name recognition matched to a face helps me to learn the kids' names a bit faster.

8:30 - 8:45am (15 minutes)  Morning Greeting
After, I introduce myself and our morning greeting.  I have written multiple times about this, so I will just leave it at that.  :)

Great way to use the Important Book as a get to know the students activity in the begging of the school year8:45 - 9:15am (30 minutes)  The Important Thing About Me
Next, I like to get right into academic pursuits before diving into rules.  Since the kids are still in the "honeymoon stage" in the first hour of school, I figure it is as good a time as any to get them reading and writing.  If you read my blog at all, you know how much I love The Important Book .  I use is all.the.time.  It is just a great, great book that can be applied to so many different things.  So we started off the year reading this fast read and discussed what makes our own selves so important and unique.  The students then create a circle map of the most unique and mundane qualities they possess.  In the coming days, they will use that map to create a fun little "All About Me" type writing (you can read about it in detail here)

9:15 - 10:00am (45 minutes)  Classroom Rules 
Finally we begin in on the classroom rules.  I have the students brainstorm a list of things they think would make great rules in our room.   They usually come up with all sorts of things, from no running to don't talk when the teacher is talking.  "We" then decide upon the 5 "umbrella rules" that would encompass most of the little rules they came up with.  I put "we" in quotation marks because, really, I have those predetermined.  I just guide my students to think they came up with them. Tomorrow we will use the Circle Map to sort the little rules under the main umbrella rules.  (for the full lesson, see this post can also get the templates to use in your classroom.)
Displaying the rules that were created together on the first day of 5th grade.

10:00 - 10:15am (15 minutes)  Yard Rules
After discussing class rules, we do a bit of yard rules.  What is our play area?  Where do we line up?  How do we get into number order?   How do we all play together?  I don't go too much into it because 1) they are 5th graders and 2) again I want to see what they do.  If all heck breaks loose, I will know that I need to get into my "make good choices" lessons tomorrow.

10:15 - 10:35am  (20 minutes)  Recess 
Time to breathe :) - 11:00am  (25 minutes)  Calendar Math
When we enter into the room, I introduce the procedures for Calendar Math.  This is SUCH an important part of my math block.  I get the kids started from day one on this.  During recess, I place a blank calendar page with pieces blocked off that I don't want them to do.  When they come in, the kids immediately get to work.  I know they won't finish, but that is ok.  I just want them to get into the routine.  After about 10 minutes, we go over it together.  Again, I show them the procedure of using a red pen and really correcting any mistakes.  This isn't about getting everything perfect, it is about learning.

11:00 - 11:30am  (30 minutes)  Math Diagnostic Test
A math diagnostic test is next.  On the first day I want to make sure I get some semblance of where they are math wise before I start in with Math Rotations.   This diagnostic is all of the 4th grade standards that they really should have mastered.  It helps to give me little snapshot of their math skills so I can plan from there.  It also helps to keep the day "academic".  You can pick up the diagnostic test here
Give this math test at the beginning of the year in 5th grade to see exactly where your students are.

Perfect spiral math for fifth grade that can start on day one of school.
11:30 - 12:10am  (40 minutes)  Classroom Economy Introduction
On the first day of school I definitely get into my Classroom Economy.  The kids are so crazy excited by it!  I pass out their first dollars and then they buy their first wallets.  We discuss earnings and fines, expenses and jobs.   The first day is a basic overview but it really pumps them up for this classroom management tool.  Once the "rules" are set in place, I begin handing out money for anything they do that is good and even start fining if I have to.
The first day of school is the ideal time to begin a classroom economy in fifth grade.

12:10 - 12:50pm  (40 minutes)  Lunch
Breathe and eat.  :)

Great get to know you activity for the first day of fifth grade.
12:50 - 1:20pm  (30 minutes)  All Hands In
At this point, the students are given a large piece of white paper.  I ask them to trace their hands, with arms.  The kids then use the circle map to start drawing different aspects of their personalities on the hand.  This really is the beginning of their first homework project.  Here is the entire lesson if you wish to read it.

1:20 - 1:50pm  (30 minutes)  Clean Up and Homework Procedure
We learn our clean up procedure here.  I actually pass out the Procedure Manual for the first time and we head to the back where it talks about our 60 second clean up.  This manual will be used in great detail in the coming days, but on day one, we just read this part.  Then, I pass out the planners given to us by my school.  The kids write their first homework assignment in it.  Homework on day one is the following:

Have your parents sign and return the parent forms
Using a procedure manual with all classroom procedures is a great way to get the students to buy in to rules in fifth grade.

I want them to have homework, but I like to easy into it rather slowly.  Again, I want them to *want* to come back ;)

1:50 - 2:20pm (30 minutes)  Read Aloud
Once the homework is written, students head to the rug for our first read aloud of the year, There's A Boy in the Girls' Bathroom .  I always start with this one because it is fast, easy to understand, engaging, and has a great lesson that carries us the entire year.  We read for as long as we have left before the bell rings.  I always make sure there is sufficient time for this on the first day of school. 

2:20 - 2:30pm  (10 minutes)  End of Day Dismissal Routine
I share with my students our end of day routine, which consists of me standing at the door, dismissing the kids from the rug.  They put their chairs up and head to the door where I look them in the eye and bow.  It is a nice, calm way to end the day and still have a connection with each child.  Sometimes I say, "It was nice to teach you today" or something to them.  Sometimes it is just silent.  Either way, the kids get a sense of closure on the day.

Now, breathe.

My first day is pretty filled.  Sometimes I don't finish everything.  Sometimes things take longer than I had planned.  Sometimes I need to fill in extra minutes here and there with little mental math games or ice breakers or read alouds.  But in general, the day flows nicely.  Do we have full bulletin boards by the end of day one?  No.  Do we have every single rule memorized?  No.  Do we feel productive and like we are on our way to a great 5th grade year?  Yes.

Want to read even more Back to School ideas? Hop on over to some more excellent upper elementary teachers for their ideas too!

Keeping Track of Our Attendance

Combating absenteeism.  It is just one way this teacher has tried to get kids into their seats.As we all are well aware, you can be the best teacher in the world but if the kids are absent, it doesn't really matter.  Teaching an empty chair is doing nothing for anyone.   A few years ago, we were really struggling with an absenteeism problem at my school site.  Kids just weren't coming to school.  For one reason or another, they were taking days off like crazy.

Today I wanted to share a little thing with you that has been working to help get the kids into their seats each day.  
A 5th grade education blog with a great idea for keeping kids accountable to attendance.
Since the kids were missing so many days,  I thought that if they actually *knew* how many days they were absent within a given month, it just might help to make them think about coming in.  To help them keep track, I created this little postcard on Vista Print.  You can see that all the days we are in school are written on the card, from September to June (this is actually a Vista Print image of the card from a few years ago, so the dates don't match up to our school year now...but you get the idea)   At the beginning of the school year, we talked about why attendance was important and ways that we could make sure we came to school each day.  Then, I showed them how to fill in the card.

At the start of each day, the students would come in to school and mark their card with a green crayon.  Once the card was marked (indicating they were here), the bankers then paid them for attending school that part of our classroom economy.    If they were absent, their table partner would actually be responsible for the card.  The partner used a red crayon to indicate they were not in their seat.  For those who came in tardy, a green crayon was then colored OVER the red crayon.  You can still see the red, but you also have the green.  This showed that the student was tardy.

Getting into the routine of this took some getting used to, but once we were in it...the kids really dug it!  Just the fact that they could physically see how many days they were here or not really did make a difference in their attendance.  They just didn't want to be absent, so they weren't as inclined to be "sick" in the morning.  My first year implementing this I had more perfect attendance trophies at the end of the year than ever before.  Who knew something so simple could be so effective!

What do you do to help combat absenteeism?

5 Ways to Keep Your Classroom Positive

Keeping my classroom a positive place is something that I know will encourage my students to be active, present members of our room.  Here are a few ideas that I have used to make Room 6 a positive place.

Morning Greeting

I start my morning, EVERY morning, with this fun little call back chant.  I wrote in greater detail about it here, but basically, once our morning work is done, I begin my class by saying to them "Good morning my most amazing (or any adjective) class."  To which they respond, "Good morning my most amazing teacher!"  Um....who doesn't like being called amazing???  Changing the adjective helps keep my kids on their toes and really enjoying that greeting.  Then I say, "How are you doing today?" and they respond with, "We are lookin' good and feelin' fine."  Every single face has a smile on it at that point every single time. of My Eye

To show the students that I notice the little deeds they do each day, I occasionally send home these little Apple of My Eye slips.  The kids love them and it helps to keep things positive.  I wrote in great detail (with a little freebie) here.

Exit Bow

When my students leave the classroom, I always stand by the door.  As they are dismissed, one by one they file past me.  When they do, we look at each other and bow.  Usually I also say something like, "I will see you tomorrow." or "What a great day we had today."  Something.  It is just a way to acknowledge each student in my room, so they don't leave feeling like there wasn't one moment in the day where we connected.  I get to have a little time with each student to just end the day on a positive note. 

Positive Post Card

About once a month, I try to send home a post card to the students saying something good and nice I saw during class.  They love getting mail at home and it is an easy way to connect with the parents as well.  The kids always come back to school so happy that they got something from school with their name on it saying nice, positive things about them.

Happy Birthday Cards (and teeny tiny celebration)

In the upper grades, birthday celebrations often are thrown to the wayside.  In my room, I try to make my students feel acknowledged on their special day with a 5 minute mention.  After the morning greeting (see above) we all turn to the birthday child, sing "Happy Birthday", and I send around a blank birthday card.  Each child signs the card with a little message or just their name and passes it to the next student.  This happens silently while the day's lessons are going on.  Once everyone has signed it, the last child brings it to me, I sign it, and hand it to the birthday kid.  I can not tell you how happy this makes them.  I see these cards all year long.  Kids put them in their folders and look at them the entire year.  Kids who have birthdays at the end of the year are sure to remind me it is their day so they can get a card too.  It is such a positive thing and a great way to make the kids feel included in Room 6.

Here are some other ideas that my friends on Facebook have shared with us.  For more ideas, click the link above.

Our classroom is a safe place to take risks in our learning. I have this posted and constantly reinforce the idea that mistakes are an important part of the learning process. -- April M.  

We start with good news. I choose about three students to share "good" news at the beginning of class. Students share about their weekends, family events, whatever the want to so long as it is positive. This not only starts the class in a positive way but helps to keep students from talking because that students who just has to share about their weekend already told everyone! It also helps develop relationships with teacher and students, I usually try to ask 1-2 follow up questions after the student shares so they know I was listening. -- Beth H.

By thinking a lot about my word choice - instead of "today we are learning about", I use "today we GET to learn about" or "I can't wait to share with you ..." -- Jennifer R.
We have daily end of the day complements where students can complement each other! Also, Morning Meetings... a chance to share what's going on and get to know each other! -- Lynsey G.

At the beginning of the year I pass out letters that spell, " Believe and Achieve". Each student gets a letter or 2 to color and make fancy, depending on how many students I have that year.(I teach special ed. an usually start with between 5-10 students).  I then staple it to the front wall above the white board for everyone to look at all year.  -- Kathy W.

Now it is your turn.  What are some things you do in your class on a daily basis to make it a more positive place for your students to be?


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