Ways to Prevent the Summer Slide

Thursday, July 14, 2016
The dreaded summer slide...when students come back to school in September and have forgotten everything they learned.  Teachers grit their teeth and say, "Sure, the curriculum pacing guide can wait 2 weeks while I re-teach 3rd grade."  The good new is, just like forest fires, you can prevent it!

Now I know what you're going to say: "My kids whine and complain when they do work in the summer." Believe me, I was that kid! When I was in elementary school, my mom used to plunk down a math or language arts review workbook, and I couldn't play outside until I had finished the assignment of the day. Mom's intentions were great- as a teacher, I totally understand it (and thanks, Mom)...but as an 8 year old, I hated it. But there are so many more engaging ways to learn during the summer, instead of through a boring workbook page.   Here are just a few.

These are great ways to prevent the summer slide and have some meaningful family time as well. 
Looking for more ideas? Here are some great ones for kids young and old! Your backyard can be your classroom, so get out and explore!

On behalf of all teachers everywhere, thank you for doing your part to prevent forest fires the summer slide. What are some other ways you've found to prevent the summer slide?

Ideas for Summer School

Thursday, May 26, 2016
Whether you're supervising, teaching, or volunteering at Summer School, you want to provide your students with a fun and engaging few weeks of learning.  There are so many things during the school year that get overlooked due to time, curriculum, or budget constraints, but Summer School is the perfect time to fit them in.  Not sure where to start? Read on! I've got lots of ideas for you.

1. Stick to a Routine

In the heat and lazy days of summer, sticking to a routine helps everyone stay on task. I'm a huge fan of morning work to get us started.  Whether it's math, reading, a question of the day, or a writing prompt, having something to focus on is a smooth and efficient start to the day.  I project our morning work on our Smartboard and the kids fill in the answers in their notebooks. After our morning work is over, we check it as a group and then go over our agenda for the day.

2. Exercise!

GoNoodle is a great way to get the wiggles out, especially on rainy days. It's also a great component to add to your morning routine.  We always start with yoga, then move into a dance or other higher impact activity.  It's just the boost some of my sweeties need after being couch potatoes at home!

3. Get your snack on!

 Most of the time, we asked our students to bring in snacks, but one day a week, my teaching partner and I would provide a snack that went along with our lesson.  Whether it was popsicles, lemonade and cookies, s'mores or watermelon, sharing food with your students is a great way to bond.  It may even be a chance to work on some table manners while you're at it!

4. Get crafty!

Summer school is a great time to experiment with some art mediums that the kids normally wouldn't have access to.  Make some tissue paper pom poms, finger paint, or experiment with squiggle drawing.

5. Stick to a Theme

 Olympics, Beach, Camping, Safety, Watersports, 4th of July...all of these topics are amazing starters for summer school themes.  You can do a weekly theme or even theme your entire session.  I tend to stick to summer themes, but STEM, forensics, robotics, cooking, and sports are all ways to engage your students.  For each theme I would choose books, reading and math activities, and a craft/outdoor activity.

6. Try something new

 Saw an activity on Pinterest that you want to try? Summer School!  Want to experiment with flexible seating? Summer School! Need to test out some iPads for your principal? Summer School!  The few weeks in a summer school session are fabulous opportunities for experimentation.  The expectations for curriculum and data are usually much lower, so think about something you're interested in and go for it!  One year we experimented with a technology rotation that worked so well, I implemented it the first day back to school.

 7. Find the Fun

 Some students may be in Summer School because they have to be, some students may be there because they want to be, some may be there because there's no other safe place for them to go.  So while you're covering curriculum points you missed or prepping for the next grade, try to find the fun in it.  Do things that take your students by surprise.  Hand out stickers with math facts/sight words/periodic elements on them and make them be "nametags."  Instead of guiding the reading, give kids a scavenger hunt through the book.  Make it a summer they won't forget.

If you are teaching Summer School this year, good luck and have fun!
Looking for more ideas? Check out my pinterest board!

End of the Year Ideas for Administrators

Thursday, May 19, 2016
If you have the last day of school circled and highlighted on your calendar, you are not alone! There's a great sense of relief that comes with the dismissal bell on the last day.  But before that last bell, there are a few things you can do to keep up morale for staff and students and ensure a smoother transition back in the fall.

1. Hold a Moving Up Day

What a great way for students and teachers to get a glimpse of the next school year! Moving Up Day is a great way to build community for all grades. 

2. Have an Open House

It's not just for September! You can have an Open House for parents before the end of the school year to showcase what students have learned.  The ESL Department at my school even holds an extra Open House at the end of Summer School to keep our parents updated.  This has been so valuable for our back-to-school transition!  

3. Plan Summer School

If you've got some money left in the budget, plan for few weeks of summer school.  It can be for certain subgroups- ESL, Basic Skills, Sp.Ed, or for certain grades. Summer school can be all new topics and themes or it can be an extended year program.  I've done both versions, and some of my plans for a few different grade levels are linked, just in case you need an example.  STEM, robotics, forensics, environmental studies, and book clubs are all great starting points for course offerings. If you need more hands, round up some local college education majors as volunteers- free for you and resume builders for them!

What are some things you do to close out the year and prepare for the next one?

Morning Work: My Favorite Part of the Day!

Sunday, April 17, 2016
My first few years of teaching, I would stand at the door greeting every student as they walked into class and began copying the objective and word of the day.  I thought it was a genius thing to do- we engaged, then they immediately had something to do.   My low-functioning students knew exactly what to expect each day, were independent, it was a no-stress no-prep routine for me, and I rarely gave it a second thought. When I moved to a new school, I followed the same procedure, and it was working great (or so I thought). But after a while, I realized my students were not learning from just copying, and the routine had become stale.  I needed something for them to do that was low or no prep, followed a routine, and could be done in the first 5 minutes of class. After lots of research, blog reading, and trial and error, I found my solution: morning work! 

I spent a few hours over the summer with my pacing guide and created an outline with the topics I wanted to focus on during each month.  They fell into the categories of writing, grammar, phonics, and vocabulary.  That was a perfect way to organize my week.  I decided to keep the format for each week the same in order to provide the structured routine my learners needed. I included things my students could do independently, as well as things they would need help with, as well as topics that would promote class discussion. 

After just a few weeks with our new routine, my students were able to greet me at the door like usual, then come in and get to work on something that tied in to what we had learned or would be learning.  I found myself re-arranging some of my lesson plans to better incorporate my morning work topics, and vice versa.  If there was something scheduled for Thursday but we were learning about it on Monday, then I just switched up the days.  

Each Monday my students added the week's prompts to their own notebooks, and each Friday they turned them in.  I didn't grade each day's work, but we always discussed the prompts as a class before continuing on with our work. 

I could print them 2 or 4 to a page, depending on the size of my kids' notebooks, which varied year to year.  But since we've gone paperless, the kids use OneNote or Google Classroom to open up each week's file of work. 

one of my students researches the prompt of the day using his tablet

Morning work time quickly became my favorite part of the day.  I found myself really looking forward to the discussions we would have or reading the 20 word stories the kids would write.  Sometimes I'd let my students work in partners or groups to complete the day's assignment and that was always fun, too.  

I made a version for Google Drive, too!
If (and when) my principal walked in during the first 5 minutes of class, he would see my students actively engaged in review or enrichment that was on their level, not just boring seat work.  That alone filled me with a sense of pride, and dare I say, *hoping* that he would walk in just to see it.

independent morning work, great for 3rd and 4th graders. get the bundle!:

There were some times when my kids got really invested in a prompt, such as the research writing prompts on Mondays, that we'd skip Tuesday and Wednesday morning work and just work on writing.  I'd often have students suggest topics for the writing prompts, and most of the sentences contained the names of their sisters, brothers, and friends.  This was more than just busy-work or seat-work- it was a framework for our entire classroom.  There were many times I'd hear "Remember, we talked about that in Morning Work?" 

Just this simple change revolutionized the way I teach, definitely for the better.  Have you revolutionized your teaching? Tell me all about it!

Newcomer ESL Curriculum Outline

Monday, March 14, 2016
To all the ESL, EFL, and ESOL teachers out there, thank you for the work you do.  It takes a big heart to shape little minds, and it takes an even bigger heart to help newcomers adjust to life in the United States.  Whether you’re teaching 5 year olds or 17 year olds, you know that some students come to school lacking the basic foundations of education.  It’s then up to us to bring them up to grade level in just a few short months. When I received my first class of newcomers, I searched high and low for a pacing guide, an outline, anything, and came up short. So I decided to share the one I created over the course of two school years.

This curriculum outline is just that- an outline.  I have topics divided by units, but these four units took us two full school years to complete. They may take your class one month, one year, or four years.  No two classes are alike.  


My students were 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 7th graders, and none had ever been to school before.  One had never even held a pencil before.  When I say we started at the very beginning, I am not exaggerating.  We started with learning to spell and write our names, learning the ABC’s, and learning to count to 10. Some things took us a week to learn, some things took us 4 months. 


In full disclosure, it took us almost two full school years to even get close to a third grade Common Core standard.  I can hear the gasps.  Go ahead and pick your jaw up off the floor.  Here’s why: students need to survive before they can thrive.  In terms of language acquisition, that means they need to be able to communicate verbally before they can become readers and writers. I always say, “If they can speak it, they can read it.  If they can read it, they can  write it.” It’s tempting to drill students on sight words and grammar structures to have them keep up with the class, but doing so without teaching strong verbal communication skills may delay a student’s progress. 

This outline is in no way intended to replace an existing curriculum you may be using, nor is it intended to ensure student success for all learners.  It’s just what worked for me! And if there’s someone out there struggling with newcomer students, then I hope it works for you too!

Teaching Kids to Rhyme

Monday, February 22, 2016
You and I grew up with our moms singing nursery rhymes- Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, and Little Miss Muffett.  For us, rhyming comes naturally and doesn't require much strenuous thought.  Even slant rhyme comes easily to people who have grown up immersed in rhyme.

Starting in Kindergarten, the Common Core expects students to recognize and produce rhyming words. (RF.K.2A) But what can we do about the students who didn't grow up with nursery rhymes, or whose nursery rhymes were proverbs or folk tales, and didn't rhyme at all?  What about ESL students who speak languages in which there is no equivalent translation for "rhyme?" I've got some ideas to help you- read on!

1. Expose and immerse

We all read read-alouds in our classroom, so from day one, point out words that sound the same. Over-enunciate for your listening learners and color-code for your visual learners. Walk down the hallway or enter the room to a chant. Put up a bulletin board with word families and add to it throughout the year. 

2. Narrow your focus

Pick a book like "Hop on Pop," or "One Fish Two Fish," something with a great rhyme scheme.  But don't read the whole book! Pick the page with the word family you want to work on, such as "at" "ish" or "op".  Stick with that sound family until your students are ready to move on.

3. Recognize that some words sound the same 

Provide copies for each student, re-copy onto an easel, or project the page on your SmartBoard.  Read the page a few times: once by yourself, once as an echo-read, once as a choral read, then ask for volunteers.  (We're building fluency and prosody skills, too!) Highlight or point out two of the rhyming words, and ask students what the words have in common.  

4. Identify in context

Once students identify the pattern (same ending sound), create a chant or a cheer to highlight the sound. For example, if I were using this page from One Fish, Two Fish, I would teach the kids to clap each time I land on a rhyming word.  I might leave some words out of my highlighting, and ask them to search for the word I missed. 

5. Produce independently

I would give each student an index card with -ook on it, and we would go through the alphabet trying all kinds of combinations.  In my room, it sounds like this: "A-ook, not a word.  B-ook, book- that's a word!" (Think about your pattern before you start!!!) Once we've generated a list of rhyming words with our sound family, I'd ask my students to create a rhyme.  You can give them a sentence frame like this to fill in if you need to: 
I see a _______
I like to ______
She eats a ____
He has a _____

5. Stick with the pattern

Keep practicing with the same word family.  For students in your class who aren't exposed to rhyme at home, the repetition of one sound family is going to be crucial! Sometimes students will understand that top, mop, and stop sound the same, but cannot understand that wish, fish, and dish rhyme as well.  It's important for them to grasp the concept that words can rhyme.  Starting with one family will give them the foundation they need to make connections with other word families down the line. 

6. Practice makes good

If you're looking for rhyming homework, morning work, or center work, try these great units from some of my friends! 
Word Families - A Pin & Spin Activity

Rhyme Time

Word Puzzlers

The Comfort Zone Challenge

Tuesday, February 16, 2016
I can't.
I don't know how.
I don't want to.
I'm afraid.

We've all heard these phrases uttered from the mouths of students young and old.  Although some kids are fearless risk-takers, that can't be said for everyone.  As teachers, we are tasked with instructing in the content areas, but we're also responsible for shaping the minds and souls of the leaders of tomorrow.  Students need to learn that taking risks in the classroom, at home, or with friends can be a safe and positive thing to do. How can we deliver that message in an effective and engaging way? Try a Comfort Zone Challenge!

The Comfort Zone Challenge is a 5 day activity geared towards facing fears, enhancing mindfulness, and reflecting.  It works for students, social groups, or even faculty. 

I start the lesson using quote from NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, "If you don't face your fears the only thing you'll ever see is what's in your comfort zone."  

Then, we discuss as a group the meaning of a comfort zone.  You'd be surprised how many kids think it's a pillow! Students often think that stepping outside their zone is a big, bad, and scary, so I give them plenty of time to talk about their fears before moving on.  

As a group or individuals, students visualize themselves IN their comfort zone, and then visualize themselves OUT of their comfort zone.  Then comes the challenge- a series of activities students choose on their own to complete for 5 days straight.

Students can reflect in an interactive notebook, share with a friend, or share with a teacher. At the end of the challenge your group will have faced some of their fears and will have the courage to take on some more! If you're ready to try the challenge yourself, then click here

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