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!

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!

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!

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!

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, and have a great week!


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?

I have just finished updating all of my writing prompts.  Each set has 30 prompts, two different styles, and a wide variety of genres.

30 Fun Writing Prompts for March
  
Updating these prompts took a while, so I feel the need to celebrate!  All ten sets are on sale for 20% off until this Thursday, February 23, 2017.  (June prompts are available & on sale although they are not shown.)  Just click on the image below to view.

30 Prompts, two styles, and huge variety of genres in each set.

Thank you, and have a great week!

I hope everyone had a fabulous weekend!  I have recently tried using Padlet in my classroom, and I love it! Today I'd like to share how I use Padlet as a formative assessment.  I am going to talk about character traits with my second graders, but you can use it for virtually any topic at any grade level.

This post explains how Padlet can be used as a formative assessment.

During our read aloud of Charlotte's Web, we were immersed in a character study as our literary focus. At the end of the book, I wanted a way to check in on students' understanding of character traits. In the past, I would have used the chart below.  Students could write a trait and evidence on a Post-it note and place it in the square with their number.

Free sign for Post-it Note "Parking Lot"
(Sign available here.)

I liked this system for the most part, and I still use it when I need something fast.  However, Post-it notes don't always stay posted, they get lost easy, and there's no easy way to store them in a data notebook.  I wanted more concrete lasting evidence.

So.... I set up my first Padlet.


To get started, just go to padlet.com, create an account (super fast), and click on "Make a Padlet".  After that, you will see a screen that looks something like the picture below.  To name the Padlet, simply type in the title box.  I type in directions where it says "description".   This is also when you choose your layout.  I have found that the grid format works best, especially when multiple people are typing at once.

This post explains how Padlet can be used as a formative assessment.

Next, you get to choose the background.  There are lots of fun ones to choose from.  However, for this activity, I download a picture of my own.

This post explains how Padlet can be used as a formative assessment.

I searched "Charlotte's Web" on Google and downloaded this pic.

This post explains how Padlet can be used as a formative assessment.

Now, you are ready to go.  I just copy the link and send it to my students through Google Classroom.  Once the students have the Padlet opened, they can double click anywhere and they will
see a box where they can type in their responses.

They type in their name at the top and at least one character trait with evidence in the bottom part of the box.  Here is a sample.

This post explains how Padlet can be used as a formative assessment.

When the whole class was finished, I was able to see who had a strong understanding of character traits and who still needed a little more work on this skill.  I also had a permanent record of this formative assessment.  I just saved the link to my drive.  (Most of my data notebook is digital.)

I do not have a set of Chromebooks in my classroom.  However, there is an iPad cart in our building that we are allowed to check out.  The iPads worked fine for this activity.  (There is a free app that you can download, but it still works without it just using the link.)

When it came time for a more formal assessment of character traits, I made a graphic organizer for the students to use.

Free graphic organizer for character traits!

You can click here to download this organizer.

Since this activity, I have used Padlet in a variety of ways.  I hope to share more with you in the future. There are options to add pictures, videos, and attachments.  There's even a microphone.  I haven't used any of  these features yet, but I would love to hear your experience if you have given them a try.  Right now, I use the free version of Padlet, and it gives me what I need.  There is also an upgraded paid version that I may look into in the future.
I wanted to let everyone know that I will be participating in the TPT BeMine Sale coming up on February 
7 & 8, 2017.  My entire store will be marked 20% off.  You can get an additional 10% off by using the code LOVETpT at checkout.  I love TPT sales, and I am certainly planning to take advantage of this one!



Thank you, and have a great week!

I hope everyone had a successful adjustment back to school after the winter holidays.  The new year is the perfect time to reflect on our goals.  When I was thinking about student goals, I decided to revamp several aspects of our goal tracking system.  Today, I would like to share the new way my students will be tracking their goals.

Free goal tracking sheets and posters are available on this post!

We started off with the purpose of goal setting - create goals that improve yourself as a person and/or help others.  If you need a resource for this, Squirrel's New Year's Resolution is a great one.  If you don't have access to the book, you can use the video on YouTube


After defining a goal, we brainstormed several specific ideas such as learning all of your addition and subtraction facts by the end of February or learning the rest of your individual sight words by the end of January.  

After students came up with their goals, they recorded them on this sheet.

Use this free form to help your students' track their goals.

The first goal doesn't have a check-in, so I made an adjustment on a second sheet.  That way, students can monitor their goals each week after writing their initial goal.  Because the goals vary in length, I made the form an adjustable check-in that would work for all students.

Use this free form to help your students' track their goals.

I do believe in public displays where students can show their progress.  However, I don't believe in publicly posting individual scores because everyone had different strengths and weaknesses.  I don't think anyone's weakness should be displayed.  Having said that, I created these posters to display.

Great FREE posters for goal tracking!

Great FREE posters for goal tracking!

Great FREE posters for goal tracking!

Great FREE posters for goal tracking!

Great FREE posters for goal tracking!

I hole punched the posters and connected them with rings.  Students now use this as a clip chart.  All students start with their numbered clip (clothespin) on "I just started a new goal." Here is a picture of everything together.

Free Goal Tracking Posters!

Each week, students will record their progress on the goal sheet and move their clips accordingly.  I set my own goal so I can monitor my progress with the students.  Once they accomplish their goals, they start their clip over on the bottom.  Students are allowed to start over at other times if they feel their goal is no longer appropriate or a priority, but they need to discuss it with me first.

If you are interested in the goal tracking sheets, you can download them here.
The goal tracking posters are here

I hope everyone (students and teachers) are able to meet their goals in 2017, regardless of what system you use.  Good luck!

Thank you!

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