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5 Ways to Engage and Motivate at the end of the School Year

As the school year winds down, it's not easy to keep your kids engaged and motivated to keep learning.  Here are 5 ways to keep them going until the very end.


     How do you stay motivated through the last few weeks of school?  For me, this was the toughest time of the school year.  Testing is over, summer is almost here and kids have a hard time staying focused. To be honest, teachers have a hard time staying focused, too!  So what can you do to stay motivated and keep your students engaged in valuable learning experiences until the very end?

Mix It Up!        One thing that works for me is to rearrange my daily schedule.  I might add something new to the morning routine or move a subject I normally teach in the morning to the afternoon.  A really easy change could be the morning sponge activity.  Instead of the daily language, math or reading review have them start with a drawing/writing activity.  Write a prompt on the board and tell the kids they have fifteen minutes to draw and then set the timer for a 5-minute quick write.  At the end of the quick write, we take a couple of minutes to share and then the paper is put in our writing folders. Students might want to expand the writing at a later time.


Brag About It!       Add a new element to your behavior system.  Kids love brag tags so why not add a weekly brag tag.  On Monday I display the brag tag that kids have the chance to earn through the week.  We talk about the behaviors or qualities they need to display through the week in order to earn the new tag. I also give them each a brag tag nomination slip.  They can fill out the slip to nominate someone else in the class who they think has earned the weekly brag tag.  Nomination slips are placed in a box.  I go through the slips after school and give out a few tags the next morning.  On Thursday I have every student fill out a slip in which they nominate themselves!  They are asked to explain what they’ve done to earn the weekly brag tag.  This makes it possible for every student to earn the brag tag by the end of the week. 
Click on this image to download this free sample so you can get started with brag tags.

Give your kids brag tag goals.  This allows you to focus on specific behaviors for the week.

Expert for the Day.    I start this project about 30 days before the end of the year.  Each student chooses a nonfiction book with the purpose of learning something new.  They read the book and do some online research to become an expert on the topic.  Then they are scheduled to present what they’ve learned as the Expert for the Day.  Depending on the time you have, you can schedule 2 - 4 students to present each day.  Or, one year we invited parents in for our Expert day.  The kids set up around the room and parents wondered through listening to the short demonstrations. Their presentation includes a demonstration along with visuals to display their new knowledge.  Everyone loves seeing the creative way our classmates share their expertise. 


Put on a production.       Kids love to ham it up so putting on a little play or reader’s theater is the perfect way to keep kids engaged during the last few weeks of school.  Reader’s Theater scripts are my favorite.  There are so many free scripts available is a wide range of topics.  You can even have students take a well-known story and turn it into a script themselves!
Here are a few online sources I’ve found:

Timeless Teacher Stuff-- http://www.timelessteacherstuff.com/

Start a project.       Now that your state testing is over you have time for a fun project.  Research projects or book projects are perfect because they can incorporate reading, writing, science, social studies, art, and music.  One of my favorites is a wild animal park project. The kids are divided into groups.  Each group will research the animals and plants for a specific habitat.  Then the group creates the part of the wild animal park for their habitat.  The parts are put together to create the class park.  You can do sooooo much with this type of project; research, math problem solving, studying animal and plant adaptations, write songs or poems, etc.  This project is available in my TpT store.  Click on any of the images to check it out.










     No matter how you spend the last few weeks of school I hope you remember to take care of yourself.  If you don’t, you won’t be able to enjoy your kids.  The year has been long and probably very challenging at time.  Remember to take the time to reflect on the growth and accomplishments of your students.  And never forget the positive impact you’ve made on their lives.
As the school year winds down, it's not easy to keep your kids engaged and motivated to keep learning.  Here are 5 ways to keep them going until the very end.



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Thanks for the Memories

End of Year Memories Booklet.  Great activity to relive and gather memories from the school year.


As the school year comes to an end we all have mixed feelings. Excited for the summer ahead, sad to say good-bye to friends, stressed to get all the paper work finished on time, pride in the accomplishments of our students and even a little nervous about what the next school year will bring.

No matter what you're feeling I'm sure you spend time sharing memories from the school year.  Many of you will have memory books and yearbooks for students to sign and write notes to classmates.  I have a different way to relive special and personal memories-- Memory Bracelets.  I've used this bracelet idea at the beginning of the year as a getting-to-know-you activity, but it works wonderfully as a memory sharing activity, too.

Memory Bracelets, a great activity to relive and collect memories from the school year.


The first step is to brainstorm as a class, the big events from the year- field trips, class projects, school assemblies and plays, class visitors, special events, holidays, etc.  Make sure you give kids time to talk and share their persona memories about these events.
Then give each student a set of Wonderful Memories slips.  The slip has a place for a student's name and then space to write a special memory.  To save time I suggest you fill in each student’s name before you copy the pages for your class.  Each student will need one complete set of Wonderful Memories slips. Give students several small blocks of time to fill in a personal memory for each classmate.  If you have them complete the memories page at one time, the memories tend to be less personal and more redundant.  Once all the memories are collected have the students cut them apart and store them in an envelope.
End of Year Memories Booklet.  Great activity to relive and gather memories from the school year.


Now it's time to make the bracelets. Each student should have a pipe cleaner to collect the memory beads, a baggie of pony beads and the envelope with the memories.  Sharing the memories will include finding a classmate, reading the memory and placing a bead on their pipe cleaner and pasting the memory slip onto a blank space of their memory book.

End of Year Memories Booklet.  Great activity to relive and gather memories from the school year.


The memory sharing can be done all at once or in small blocks of time.  Kids will know who they need to share a memory with because they have a memory slip for each classmate.  When all memories have been shared the kids can twist the ends of the pipe cleaner together to make a bracelet, or keep it straight as a keepsake. They'll also have a memory slip from all of their classmates to take home with treasured memories from the year.





Relive the wonderful memories from the school year with this unique activity and booklet.



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Grading---Keeping it in Control!

I don't know of a single teacher who says they love grading papers, but it is such a valuable part of teaching.  A student's written work is one piece of data or evidence that we have to see how well the students are understanding the skills or concepts being taught in class. Through the years I've found a few ways to keep the paper grading from becoming too overwhelming.
Everyone can keep their paper grading under control with these simple organizational ideas.

First,  you need a way to keep the papers organized.  I've tried pocket folders and a binder with pocket dividers.  Here's how I set them up.

Subject grading folders are a very simple idea.  I made sure to have a different color for each subject.  Then I wrote To Be Graded on one pocket and Graded on the other.  When a set of paper was graded I wrote the scores on a class slip, clipped it to the set and moved them to the Graded pocket.  The class slip of paper was an easy way to temporarily keep the scores until they could be transferred to my grade book or computer grading system.
Using a separate folder for each subject or class is an easy way to organized papers that need to be graded.

A Grading Binder became my favorite way to keep the paperwork organized.  I liked having everything in one place, but it is larger and not as easy to slip into a bag to take home for the evening.  When I set up my binder I used dividers with pockets.  The pocket dividers were labeled for each subject.  On the front pocket I wrote To be Graded and the other side was labeled Graded.  Just like mentioned above, a class strip with scores, was clipped to the graded set of papers.

One of the advantages of using a binder is you can have so many other things right on hand.  One handy item is a zipper pocket at the front of the binder to hold marking pens, sticky notes, stickers, and a grading scale.  The binder can also have a section for your grade book pages.  I always kept a paper grade book, even when my district went to computer grade books.  I liked having those paper grade sheets to look at quickly.
 Keep your paper grading in control with these simple ideas,  Use folders to keep all those papers organized.

Other time saving tips:
-Label each set of papers with the assignment, page number, etc. 
-Have sticky notes close by!  You never know when you might need to write a note to a student or to yourself! 
-If you assign a % score, use a grading chart or wheel.

 Keep your paper grading in control with these simple ideas,  keeping the materials you need close at hand is essential.

Just a word about student work . . . I don't like and never gave my students "busy work".  I define busy work as anything given to a student just to keep them busy, and did little or nothing to help that child learn or master a skill or concept.  I've seen trash bins filled with student work that was never looked at by the teacher. If a student takes the time to do it, then I think a teacher should take the time to look at it.  But that doesn't mean you have to assign a score or grade to everything. So, here are a few ideas of what to do with student work you know you'll not be scoring or grading.
-Have students exchange papers in class.  They can each use a marking pencil or crayon to check the answers as you read them aloud.  Walk around as students are checking to see if any papers need more attention from you.  Or, you can collect the checked set of papers to look through quickly to see if anyone needs a little reteaching of the skill.
-Assign checking partners.  Students get together to compare answers. If answers are different the students rework to see where a mistake was made.
-Check work as students are working.  Walk around with a marking pen and put a star on problems that are correct, or circle problems you want the student to look at again.  When students turn in their work, you can quickly look through the rest of the work to get an idea if students have done well, or need more practice.
-You don't have to grade everything on the page.  Box in one section and grade only that area.  If it's a written paragraph or essay, grade it only for one writing trait.
-Read through the student work and give a simple star or sticker to indicate you've looked at their work.  You can pull out papers that need more of your attention.
 Keep your paper grading in control with these simple ideas.


Click on the image to download the free printables to help simplify your grading.


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Setting Smart Goals with Students

How do I get my students to set goals for the new year?  Help them write S.M.A.R.T. goals.

The new year is here!  It's the perfect time to help your kids set goals. I know we've all set New Year's Resolutions and they've probably lasted just a few days. That's probably because the resolution wasn't S.M.A.R.T. In order for goal setting to be effective you need to show your kids how to write S.M.A.R.T. goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Realistic and Timely.

As you have a discussion about S.M.A.R.T. goals, go over these questions.
Specific:  What exactly do you want to accomplish?
Measurable:  How will you know when you’ve reached this goal?
Action:  What will you need to do in order to reach your goal?
Realistic: Is this goal reachable? Can I really do this?
Timely:  When will you reach this goal?  What is your deadline? 


You can download these pages to help your students set up their S.M.A.R.T. goals for the new year.
 Help your students set SMART goals.




Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals with your students just got a whole lot easier!  Free Download!




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Winter Fun with Winter Books

Let it Snow!
One of the reasons I live in the Arizona desert is the snow-free winters. I don’t hate snow, I just don’t want to live with it. But these snow-free winters mean a lot of our students have never seen snow and that’s a shame because the snow can be a lot of fun. 

So…. I use books to bring the fun of snow into the classroom without living in the cold and mess!  

Snowy days ahead!  Let your kids experience the cold winter days with fun and engaging books about snow.  You can also download a free activity!

Thomas’ Snowsuit by Robert Munsch, Very funny book about the difficulties of putting on a snowsuit.  (You can listen to the author the book aloud on his website!)

The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino. This link will take you to a free teacher's guide!

Snow by Cynthia Rylant,  a young girl enjoys a day in the snow. this link will take you to a brief activity guide for the book.
Snow Day by Lester Laminack, This delightful story puts a twist on "Snow Day."

A Perfect Day by Carin Berger, This book paints a picture of a perfect day in the snow.

Snowballs by Lois Ehlert In this beautiful books students will enjoy the collages used to make the pictures.  The link goes lesson ideas for this book.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner, A wonderful informational text about life over and under the snow. The link will take you to lesson ideas.

Blizzard by John Rocco This book is based on true experiences by the author.  The link will take you to a book trailer.  

The Missing Mitten Mystery bySteven Kellogg, After a day of playing in the snow a little girl discovers one of her mittens is missing!  Where could it be?  The link goes to a site with free lesson ideas.

Polar Bears by Gail Gibbons Another wonderful book filled with interesting facts about these giants of the north.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen In this nighttime adventure a girl and her father go searching for owls on a moonlit winter night. The link takes you to lesson plan suggestions.

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Brigg,  (the link takes you to Snowflake Bentley's official website)  I saved my favorite book for last.  This beautiful book was introduced to me by a good friend who lives in Vermont.  One year she sent me the book along with a snowflake print from Bentley's collection as a Christmas gift.  I instantly fell in love with the book and used it in my classroom every year.  
You can download a free activity to go along with this very special book.

Check out this free activity that goes along with a wonderful book about Snowflake Bentley.



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Simplifying Classroom Jobs

Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.

Most teachers would agree that classroom jobs are important. The challenge is how to make the jobs meaningful and how to get students to take responsibility for them.

Throughout my years as a classroom teacher I tried so many different systems.  Some were okay, but most of them ended up being more of a chore for me.  I got so tired of giving reminders to students about their job.  Much of the time, students had jobs in name only.  I ended up doing all the work myself.


As with most things, the simpler, the better.  A good friend of mine has one of the best job systems I’ve ever seen.  It’s simple and the kids really do their jobs!  The system has four class jobs; Teacher Assistant, Classroom Clerk, Public Relations, and Health & Safety.  Each job has several responsibilities.  

Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.

Now, here's how this system is unique and effective.  Each week there are two people assigned to the job.  One is the Expert and the other is the Apprentice.  The Expert is in their second week of having that job and the Apprentice is new that week.  The teacher doesn't have to train the students for their new jobs every week, that's up to the Expert!  The Expert is responsible for making sure the job responsibilities are completed as well as training the Apprentice.  The next week the Apprentice moves up to be the Expert and a new Apprentice is assigned to the job. With two students responsible for the job, things get done!

Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.

She also has a fun way to give recognition to the eight job holders for the week.  The expert gets the lanyard with the job description and the apprentice gets the name tag that also fits into a little holder that can be placed on top of his/her desk.

You can download an editable version of these job cards here. (Just click on the image.)

 Classroom jobs, how to keep them simple, yet effective.  We want our students to have responsibilities in our classroom, but when we end up giving hundreds of reminders it becomes too much to manage.  Learn about a simple way to keep your classroom jobs effective.







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Tips for Using Informational Text

Informational Text, tips for using it in your daily lessons.

We all know that informational text is playing a bigger role in our reading instruction.  Teachers are also aware that their instructional day is packed and that the content areas of science and social studies often gets squeezed out.  I've gathered some tips to help you use your science and social studies texts and curriculum to teach the required reading skills. Stop thinking of the content areas as a separate part of your day, bring them into your ELA block.

1.  Show students the difference between literary and informational text structure.  
     One of the first things students need to understand is the structural difference between literary and informational text.  Literary text will generally have characters, a setting and a plot that has a beginning, middle and end. While informational text will usually be organized by topic with sections having main ideas and details. To help students compare these two types of texts you can use a T-Chart along with sample texts.  Set the students up in small groups.  Give each group a few text samples and a T-Chart.  Let them explore the text and make note of what they see.  You can sum up the activity by having them list things the texts have in common and some of the major differences they noticed.  Make sure you have a list of the main points you want to make with this activity.  Depending on the age of the students you can guide the summing up discussions to make sure all the main points are covered. 
Click on the image to download the organizer.

 Informational Text T Chart to compare literary and informational text.

2.  Teach students how to find information using the table of contents and index.
     I think the two most important features of an informational book are the table of contents and the index.  As students begin to use informational texts for research projects they will not always be reading the entire book from beginning to end.  They will use the table of contents and the index to find the specific places in the book that has the information they need.
     A fun way to give students practice in using these features is to have a scavenger hunt.  Choose an informational text for which you have enough copies for each student or each pair of students.  I always did this activity with our Science and Social Studies texts because we had a class set.   Write a set of questions that can be answered from the text.  Make sure some of the questions require the table of contents and some require the index in order to find the answer. I also leave a space to write the page number where they found the answer and if they used the table of contents or the index.

3.  Use graphic organizers to gather information.
     Graphic organizers are a must for gathering and organizing information.  There are many different types of graphic organizers that can be used, depending on the text structure and the type of information to be organized. This handy chart will give you an idea of which organizer to use with your students. 
Click on the image to download the chart and 3 free organizers.
 Download your 3 free graphic organizers to use with informational text.

4.  Choose reading strategies and or skills that fit the text.
     Throughout the year students will be learning many different strategies and skills as they become better readers.  You’ll want to choose just one or two to use with this lesson with informational text.  When you’re planning, read the text with fresh eyes and think about the skills and strategies you’re using as a reader.  Mark places where you used specific skills or strategies. When you finish, go over your notes and decide which skills/strategies fit the text and also fit the needs of your students. Then you’re ready to plan you lesson!

5.  Reread the text to teach different comprehension skills.
     Now that you have your first lesson planned, use the text again to target a different skill or strategy.  On the first day you may cover main idea and details with a graphic organizer.  On the second day the focus may be cutting down the details to just the most important ideas and writing a summary.  Later in the week you might focus on vocabulary or author’s word choice. Reading the same text again and again is always a good thing!


Kids love learning about things in their world.  I hope these tips will help you begin using more informational texts in your ELA lessons.


Find out how you can use informational text in your daily reading lessons.



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