Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Build Classroom Community

Building a classroom community is so important as you start out your school year.  Students need to know that your classroom is a safe space where they come to learn and make friends.  Here are four tips to help you establish a positive environment in your room.



#1 Get To Know Each Other

Start off your year with some getting to know you activities that encourage teamwork and friendship.  Something as simple as building a puzzle together or playing a game of memory can help kids get to know one another and begin to establish friendships.

One of our favorite activities of the year is when we "adopt a friend" for the day.  The students are randomly paired up with another child to visit friendship stations.  They play some partner games, paint friendships rocks, and make friendship bracelets.  We even make friendship soup! The kids leave for the day with new friends and a sense of classroom community. Hop over here to see all of the activities in action.




#2 Talk About Your Gifts

I'm not talking about presents, but more about the gifts we each bring to the classroom.  Everyone knows there's always that one student that stands out in the crowd.  The one who looks great, can read way above grade level and just seems to have their act together.  He's the one that all the other kids look up to.

But what about everyone else? Aren't they special too? What do they bring to your classroom?  I like to talk about our gifts and point out all the special things about each one of us.  Maybe you have a student that is a fantastic artist.  They can draw anything. That's their gift! Maybe that's the child you call on to help make a special poster for the room.  Or maybe your gifted reader needs help drawing a picture....so they can ask your budding artist for help!



Do you have a student that is really shy, but also very loving?  Maybe they are the one who always notices someone when they are crying or feeling sad.  Do they step in and give a hug when needed? That's their gift! They bring the gift of empathy and love to your classroom.

Is there one student who loves to help out? They notice when something is out of place and put it back? Maybe they are quick to clean up a mess on their table.  That's their gift! When another child spills or needs some help cleaning, call on this student to help them out.

I love to point out these gifts to my students and pretty soon the other children are noticing too.  They will start to tell ME when they notice someone's gift. .  They will say things like "Billy is really good at math....that's his gift to us.  He can help us if we are struggling".  Or "Jill will always play with me on the playground.  That's her gift.  She is a good friend".



#3 Change Tattles Into Toodles

Tattling.....it's like a dirty word to an elementary teacher.  Nobody likes it, but we all deal with it every day.  So how do we put a stop to tattling? Change your tattles to toodles!

Tell your students that a tattle is when you are telling the teacher about something that will hurt the other child.  But a toodle is when you tell the teacher something that will help the other child!  Tattles hurt....toodles help! Teach your students to tell nice things about the other children...things that will make them feel good!

We have lessons about good and poor choices at the beginning of the year. We talk about the kind of behavior that we expect in school.



Then I encourage my students to tell nice things about their friends.  They can tell about something nice that a friend did for them or why they like them so much. We have special notes called "Nice Notes" that the students can use to write a nice message about their friend. These notes are specifically designed for young students that are just learning how to write.



We keep the Nice Notes at our writing center with some sentence starters and pictures of good choices.  Students can write a note to a friend and put it in the nice note basket.




Every couple of days, I will read the notes out loud to the class and then we hang them on our Nice Note bulletin board for all to see.  Imagine how special a child feels when they see a nice note written about them!





#4 Write Encouraging Words To Your Students

As teachers, we are all busy every minute of the day.  Sometimes it's easy to forget to tell kids what they did right that day.  But praising children is so important.  They will forget the times you yelled at them.....but they will always remember when you made them feel special and loved.  

Find a few minutes every day to tell a kid something good.  Keep a checklist on your desk of student names and make it a point to pick out 2-3 kids each day that you are going to praise.  It can be something as simple as walking by as they are doing their work and pointing out something you really like about their paper. Maybe you want to tell them you noticed how quiet they were during your lesson.  Or maybe you want to mention you were watching them on the playground and saw them being nice to another child.  Put a check mark next to their name so you know who you have praised.....and who you still need to show some love. 



Find something good about every child and let them know what it is.  Give them little notes to say "hey I noticed you today and I think you're great!".  This will do so much to boost their self esteem and create a positive classroom community.


I keep these notes in my desk, ready to go and at my fingertips.  They are quick and easy....but really make my kids feel great.  





Want to get started building a positive classroom community? You can grab everything you need,  here. 












Thursday, September 13, 2018

Friendship Activities For Kids

Friendship activities are a great way to begin your back to school lesson plans. Creating a caring classroom climate and teaching friendship social skills will set the tone for your whole year.



For many students, coming back to school (or starting school for the first time) is an exciting time of the year! They look forward to all the new and exciting things they will learn and making new friends.  But for some children, it can be a different experience.

Many children worry if they will have a friend.  Who will they play with? Who will they sit by for lunch? Will anyone talk to them or be their friend?

Or maybe you’ve been in school for a while and you’re noticing a lot of tattling or other problems in your classroom. This lesson on friendship will help solve these problems!

Day 1

A great way to ease your students worries and encourage friendships in your classroom is by "adopting" a friend for the day.  The story Stick and Stone is the perfect book to use with this lesson. In the story, Stick and Stone become friends and stick up for one another when they are bullied and help each other out of sticky situations.  If you don't have this book, you can watch it on YouTube.


After we read the book, the children choose sticks and stone from a basket. The sticks and stones were numbered and the students had to find their friend with the matching number. Everyone was paired with a random person, not necessarily someone they were already friends with. This gave all the students an opportunity to meet a new friend. 



Next, the students visited friendship stations with their partner. This gave them the chance to do something fun with their new friend and also get to know other kids in the process as well. The students did the following activities:

Friendship Bracelets

The students colored little paper bracelets that said things like “Will you be my friend?” “ Friendship rocks!” “Best friends", etc. When finished, partners helped each other tape the bracelet on each others  wrist. 





Find A Friend

The students worked with their partner to find students in the room who liked different things like pizza, ice cream, school, dogs, etc.  They walked around the room with a clip board and students wrote their names under they things they liked.  This gave kids another opportunity to get to know other students in our room.  There were two versions, for both readers and non readers, so everyone could participate!





Friendship Rocks Memory Game

The students played a memory game with their partner called Friendship Rocks.  Each set of pictures showed children doing different activities with friends.  






Kindness Rocks

I found some large flat rocks at our local dollar store. The students painted the rocks with tempera paint and then when dry, added smiles, hearts or nice words like love or friends with permanent marker.   We hid the rocks on the playground and left them for friends to find. We thought that this might bring a smile to someone when they found a kindness rock!





Day 2

On the second day, we revisited the story Stick and Stone and then the students made a flip book about the story.


We also made Friendship Soup. I purchased cereal, marshmallows and other goodies as the ingredients for our "soup".  This big bowl that we mixed our ingredients in represented our classroom and each ingredient in the soup represented all the things we need to have a great year  at school. We added things like fun, respect, doing out best work, etc.  In the end, each ingredient spelled out the word FRIENDS!



We finished out our day with a mini book about making good choices.  The students read about a poor choice, and then found a picture that would be a better choice to glue in their books. 



Finally there was a simple assessment to find out how much they learned about being a friend.  


The students really loved all of these activities and it was a great way to start our year out on the right foot. But, if you're finding that your students need a little reminder,  these friendship activities could  be done at any time of the year.  You can take a closer look at everything included in this lesson here.  



Sunday, August 26, 2018

Classroom Set Up in 5 Days Flat!


Back to school is here and it's time to get your classroom set up and ready to go for the year.  Are you dreading spending the last of your summer in a hot classroom arranging furniture and putting up bulletin boards? Here's how you can get your classroom ready in no time flat! 



I know, I know.....we have to face it.  We are about to turn that calendar page to September so we might as well start thinking about ways to get ourselves organized and ready.  So, what's the first thing you should do before walking into your classroom to get ready for a new school year? 




Day #1 ~ Get a tall glass of your beverage of choice! 

Seriously...I fill my YETI to the  brim with an ice cold tea because I know once I get in that room, I will be there for hours.


And ~ Arrange your  furniture 

Now I'm pretty lucky because our custodians are ROCKSTARS and they basically put all of my furniture back in my room just the way I want it.  At the end of each school year, take photos of how you want the furniture placed and hang them on your board. When the custodians are finished cleaning, they can put all the furniture back just like the photos. This will save you a ton of time when you come in to set up your room. 

Now, sometimes I make changes in my head over the summer (shocker!) and so I rearrange a little.  Here's a few photos of my classroom BEFORE pics.  






If you aren't quite as lucky with rock star custodians, enlist the help of a friend or one of your kids (gotta love being a teacher's kid!) and have them help you on this first day if possible.  The last thing you want to do is drag your furniture across freshly waxed floors and mess them up!  If you can't find help, another way to move your furniture without ruining your floors is to put little squares of carpet or towel under the legs so you can drag stuff and it will slide.  

Before you start moving furniture, make a diagram on paper.  Find a place for your guided reading table....it's probably going to stay there all year so you better like it! How about your desk? Do you have centers? Where will they go? Figure out where you want everything.....BEFORE, you start moving it around.


Day # 2 ~ Decorate your bulletin boards

When I say "decorate" I use that term loosely.  I'm a huge believer that your classroom should reflect the students and that most of the "stuff" you put on your walls should be made by the kids.  I often start out with empty bulletin boards and I'm just fine with that.  They quickly become filled with anchor charts that I make with the students and other work by my firsties.  

One of the things you can do to save time is cover your bulletin boards with new paper and border - at the end of the school year.  This will save you  so much time when you come back at the end of the summer to set up your room. Cover the new bulletin boards with black paper or newspaper so it doesn't fade.  When you come back to school, all you have to do is uncover the boards and they are ready to decorate!



Plan out your bulletin boards just like you plan out furniture placement.  Think about where you want to post your "I Can" statements.  Do you have a classroom management routine? Where do you want to hang that?  Where will you hang your anchor charts?  How about a calendar? 

All of these things will need a "home" for the year.  Some boards will stay the same all year ~ while others will change with the months or seasons. 






Day # 3  ~ Set up your centers

I love centers and have always used them in my classroom.  Students need to have a chance to move around the room, try new activities and work with friends.  Centers give them the opportunity to do that every day.  Read more about how I use centers in my room here. 

A good idea is to have your centers set up right from the start so you can begin using them on the first day of school.  My firsties are always anxious to try things out.  Start off slowly with only a couple of centers open at first and as they are introduced to the rules and get a chance to practice, slowly add more and more.  Usually by the end of the second week of school, centers should be open for business. 



Think about your centers ~ will you have your centers at different places and tables around your classroom?  Do you have space for that?  If not, maybe your centers will be in tubs that you place on a shelf.  How will you manage your centers? One of my FAVORITE  books to help you with centers is by Debbie Diller called Spaces & Places. This book will give you loads of ideas for setting up  your centers. 




Day # 4 ~  Plan for the first week of school

I am a planner.  I NEED to have my lesson plans prepared and my materials ready.  I am not really a "fly by the seat of your pants" kind of girl.  Now, that's not to say that I haven't been known to scrap everything and go with the "teachable moment".  But basically, I like to be organized and prepared,  especially the first week of school.  

The last thing any of us needs is a classroom full of chaos because you didn't think to run off that paper or you forgot to get a book from the library! Pull out your lesson plans from the year before as a reminder of things you did.  Tweak them with new ideas that you have found over the summer, prepare any materials that you need and you will be ready for that first week with your kiddos!





Day # 5 ~  Prep for your Open House / Meet The Teacher




Do you have an Open House or Meet the Teacher night before school begins? It's a great time to meet your littles before that first day of school and hopefully put any fears they may have at ease.  It's also the perfect time to collect supplies and talk to parents about important information that they will need during the school year.  

Have a plan of how you want your open house to go ~ will you have a scavenger hunt?  Will you show a powerpoint? What will the kids be doing to keep themselves occupied....play dough, a coloring sheet, math tubs?  The last thing you want is kids running around all over the room.  Remember, the parents will take your lead.  So have a plan in place, of how you want your evening to run, so everything goes smoothly.  

Your open house or meet the teacher night is a great time to go over important information with parents. Put together a packet of all the important forms that you will need from parents and show a powerpoint to parents while kids play with something quietly at their seats.  There's so much important information to tell parents and this is the one time in the year when you have a captive audience.  Go over things like bus procedures, lunch, dress code, homework policies, etc.  You can pack a lot into a 15 minute presentation and it gives the parents all the information they need to help their child have a successful year in first grade.  

Do you need a template for your powerpoint and important forms? Hop on over to the Back To School section of my store to check out these fun themes that include an editable powerpoint, meet the teacher letter and forms.