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!

My Facebook page is full of great mentor texts, anchor charts, freebies, technology links, and other ideas for your classroom.  I'd love to have you follow me there!


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!

    My Facebook page is full of great mentor texts, anchor charts, freebies, technology links, and other ideas for your classroom.  I'd love to have you follow me there!


    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!

      My Facebook page is full of great mentor texts, anchor charts, freebies, technology links, and other ideas for your classroom.  I'd love to have you follow me there!


      Voice Cards for Fluency

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        My students are in the process of completing student-led conferences.  We had our first round last week, and our second round is scheduled for this Thursday.  I loved doing student-led conferences when I taught fourth and fifth grade.  However, I have to admit that I was quite nervous to try this with my second graders.  So far, they are going very well.  I am extremely proud of how my students have grown to know themselves as learners.

        One of our recent focuses has been reading fluency.  I wanted my students to have a way to share what they have learned with their parents.


        I had students select a favorite "just right" book that they wanted to practice for a fluency reading.  They selected a passage from the book (or in some cases the entire book).  Students were given time in class for two days to practice their reading independently and with a partner.  The job of the partner was to give the reader one compliment and one suggestion.  Students had a different partner each day.

        After having some practice, I recorded the students using the Smart Recorder app on the iPad.

        Using the iPad to self-evaluate fluency

        This is a paid app with lots of cool features that I plan on exploring.  However, if you are looking for a free app to record and save students' reading, I recommend Voice Recorder.  You can easily save, organize and share recordings on this app.

        After the students listened to their recordings (1-3 minutes), they evaluated their reading based on criteria we discussed in class.  Here is the form they completed.

        Free fluency self-evaluation form

        During the conference, I played a portion of the reading, and students shared their strengths and goals with parents.  Students were able to explain why they selected their goals.

        If you'd like to download this form, you can grab it here.

        I hope your conferences are going/went well!

        Thank you!

        My Facebook page is full of great mentor texts, anchor charts, freebies, technology links, and other ideas for your classroom.  I'd love to have you follow me there!


        Voice Cards for Fluency

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          I love YouTube!  I use it all the time for my classroom and when I am trying to learn a new skill.  What I don't love about it is the advertisements, other clutter, and the fact that the next video starts playing automatically.  I have found four extensions that take care of all of these issues.

          (Not sure what a Chrome extension is?  Read about them here.)


          One solution to these problems is to use SafeShare.  I used this site for years.  You just copy and paste the link and then submit it.  This site allows you to watch the video distraction free.


          What I don't like about SafeShare is the extra step.  I know it only takes about a minute, but sometimes I need things on the fly.  Also, if I'm watching a video for myself, I don't want to have to copy and paste the link.

          I am going to share four of my favorite Chrome extensions.  If you take a minute to install these extensions now, you will not have to worry about copying and pasting links ever again for school, and you won't have to look at any annoying ads when viewing YouTube for personal use.

          (Click on the image to go to the Chrome store and download the extension by clicking on "Add to Chrome".)

          AdBlock gets rid of YouTube advertisements.

          Distraction Free Extension clears up the clutter on YouTube.

          Hide Comment keeps YouTube comments out of view.

          NextVid Stopper prevents the next YouTube video from starting automatically.

          Once these extensions are installed, you no longer have to worry about your students seeing unintended material on the videos.  All this and no copying and pasting required.

          What is your favorite Google extension?

          Thank you!

          My Facebook page is full of great mentor texts, anchor charts, freebies, technology links, and other ideas for your classroom.  I'd love to have you follow me there!


          Free Multiplication Puzzles

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