This is my second year teaching second grade, and I couldn't be happier with my job.  However, everyone has off days from time to time.  For young children, an off day can seem particularly bad.  To help students navigate through some tough times, I created a calm down bin (with some help from our wonderful guidance counselor.)

Using a calm down bin in the classroom

The items that I placed in the bin fall into three categories: distracters, stress relievers, and visuals.  In addition, I placed a timer and this sheet for directions and other calming activities.

Free directions for a calm down bin

The deep breaths, stretching, counting, and happy thoughts were suggestions from our guidance counselor.  Students practiced these and now know when they may be the best strategies based on how they are feeling.  

I use a silent timer so the other students will not be distracted.  So far, no one has abused this.  The one in my classroom is very similar to this one.

When I was deciding what to place in the bin I wanted to address two issues.  First, there are times when students are very sensitive and tend to react strongly in different situations.  In these cases, I wanted to make sure students had something to take their minds off what was bothering them.

Distracters to add to a calm down bin

The liquid motion bubbler is the perfect distraction.  I even had a student tell me that watching to see which color would "win" helped take his mind off of what was bothering him.  

I added the Where's Waldo book to keep the student's focused on something other than what was bothering them.

The second issue I wanted to address is when students need to go to the calm down bin because they are stressed or angry.  In these cases, I wanted to make sure students had a safe outlet to relieve their stress.  I included fidgets to helps with this.

Fidgits to add to a calm down bin

The therapy putty is a gift from my guidance counselor.  I found something similar on Amazon here.  These stress balls are my favorite item in the bin.  I admit to using on an occasion or two.  The stretchy bands are also great.  Students can pull, twist and turn them to relieve their stress.

The final thing that I included are some visuals from the guidance counselor.

Visuals for a calm down bin

These charts are great for students to identify how they are feeling and make decisions on how to improve their mood.

When I first introduced the Calm Down Bin to my class, students were dying to play with the items.  I did allow for some time during the first week for students to investigate and try out the items.  For about two weeks, I had students ask me to go there fairly regularly.  However, this greatly diminished once the novelty wore off.

How to make a clam down bin
(You can download the sign and directions from my bin here.)

If you have a calm down bin, center, or corner, I would love to hear your ideas for what to include.

Thank you, and have a great week!

Voice Cards for Fluency

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    There are so many fabulous teaching resources out there.  Sometimes, it's hard to know where to best spend my limited teaching budget.  It's a good thing there are also a wide variety of free resources for educators.  Today I would like to share three of my favorites.

    Three Fabulous and Free Teacher Resources


    I absolutely love Angela Watson's Truth for Teachers podcast!  She tackles a wide variety of issues in education.  Some of my favorite topics include: becoming more efficient with lesson planning, dealing with unmotivated students, and maintaining a positive mindset despite all the lofty expectations put on teachers today.  

    The podcast airs every Sunday night.  I always look forward to my Monday morning commute to listen and receive an extra bit of motivation for the week.  I have found an immediately actionable idea in every single one of her podcasts.  I can not say enough good things about it!  You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or anywhere you listen to podcasts .  (I personally love the app, Pocket Casts.)

    Three Fabulous and Free Teacher Resources


    I have spent a small fortune on books over my 23 years of teaching, and I don't regret any of it.  Nothing makes me happy quite like a student who finds that perfect book.  Despite my love for books, there are times when a audio book is more suitable for a student.  Whether it's a lower reading level, an auditory learner, or a student who just wants to mix it up a little, it's nice to have that option readily available.

    Enter Storyline Online.  This is a fabulous resource where students can select a book and have it read to them.  There are tons of options, so there is something for everyone.  There is no need to sign up or create a password.  Just click on a book and enjoy!  My students love it!

    Three Fabulous and Free Teacher Resources


    I love how engaging technology is for both myself and for my students.  My biggest problem is trying to keep up with it all.  One site that I have found to be extremely helpful is the Free Technology for Teachers blog.  This site shows you step by step how to use some of the newest technology features in the classroom.  It covers everything from Google Classroom features to editing videos.  There is something for everyone from novice to experienced technologist.  I am somewhere in the middle, and a big chunk of my to do list comes from this blog.  It is awesome!

    Do you have any favorite free resources?  I would love to hear some more ideas.

    Thank you, and have a great week!

    Voice Cards for Fluency

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      I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!  I am already in back to school mode, as we have only three weeks left of summer break.  I will be out of town for four days, so it's time to get back into the swing of things!

      Last year, I blogged about the importance of early observations for reading behaviors, and I shared a reading inventory to track my early observations.  (You can read that post here.)  These observations were so insightful that I decided to try the same assessment strategy to monitor my students' behavior during writing workshop.

      This post shares a free Writing Engagement Inventory to help create groups for writing stamina.

      If you are unfamiliar with an engagement inventory, it is a system to monitor behaviors during workshop time.  As I walk around the room, I mark the on/off task behaviors that I notice.  This data was extremely useful last year as I planned for my first reading strategy groups and conferences.  The inventory really helped me prioritize the early needs of my young readers.  Later in the year, I used the inventory as an ongoing way to document my observations.

      My inventory is adapted from the one I read about in Jennifer Serravallo's awesome book, Literacy Teacher's Playbook.   (There is also a book available for intermediate grades.)


      For writing, I wanted the observation form to reflect on/off task behaviors, utilizing resources, and well, writing.  Here are the codes I decided to use.

      Great suggestions to include in a writing engagement inventory!

      I created the form using Google Slides so I am able to fill it out on my iPad as I walk around the room.  Here is what the form looks like.  (The codes are on the bottom.  The font is tiny because I need the space for my 25 students.)

      This post includes a link to a digital writing engagement inventory.

      I plan on using this form about three times throughout the school year to monitor writing behaviors.  (Possibly more or less often for some students)  Each check point is about 5-10 minutes, depending on the time of year.  That way, I can get a good feel for which students are able to maintain their stamina.

      If you are interested, you can access this form here.  Once you make a copy, you should be able to edit it any way you wish, including making the codes work for your classroom.  You can print the form or use it digitally.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

      One of my big projects this summer has been to update, add to, and bundle my classroom decor.  I now have six different color combinations bundled with five different decor items.  Each set includes a student number pack, word wall letters & heading, editable pennants, editable binder covers & spines, and loads of editable label and sign templates.  Items are also sold separately if you do not wish to purchase the entire bundle.  In order to celebrate the completion of this project, I have all of my decor items (including the bundles) marked at 20% off through Thursday.  To see the items, you can click here or on the image below.


      Thank you!

      Free Narrative Leads Activities

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        We are in the midst of our fairy tale unit, and the students and I are having a ball discovering new versions of classic fairy tales!


        There are loads of different versions of fairy tales out there.  This year, I have really worked on familiarizing myself with new titles as well as incorporating some that I used when I taught intermediate grades.  As I am gradually adding to my stash, I'd like to share some that have stood out with me and my students.

        A great fairy tale to teach the influence of setting

        An excellent fairy tale to teach point of view

        A great fairy tale to teach the influence of setting

        A fun fairy tale that is great for character changes

        An excellent fairy tale to teach point of view

        Not only are these fairy tales loads of fun to read and discuss, but there are tons of great comprehension activities you can do with your class.  

        *Talk about the influence of setting
        *Point of view activities
        *Hold "court" for the villains in the story (after hearing their side)
        *Character changes
        *Opinion writing
        *Persuasive writing

        Read Write Think offers a huge variety of activities for using fractured fairy tales.  They offer great suggestions for students in grades K-10.


        In addition, I created an organizer to compare and contrast different versions of the fairy tales.

        A free organizer to compare fairy tales

        You can download this organizer here.

        I'd love to here from you.  What is your favorite fractured fairy tale?

        Thank you, and have a great week!

        Voice Cards for Fluency

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          I respect your time and will only send relvant tips, updates & freebies.

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