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Monthly Thoughts: August

As I enter my fourth year of teacher-blogging, I'm realizing that the posts and ideas I have are so scattered across my blog and TpT Store, it's sometimes hard to find information. I'm excited to be launching a fun series on the blog called "Monthly Thoughts" to help solve this dilemma.

At the end of each month this school year, I will be uploading a clickable PDF themed around the upcoming month. There will be twenty ideas on that page that will link you to a post, idea, resource, freebie, quote, etc. from my blog or store. Each month will be a new collection of ideas, both old and new, and I hope it will help make the school year and summertime planning easier to navigate.

Be sure to download the calendar page from my TpT Store HERE each month when it's released. It's a clickable PDF, so you will be redirected to my blog, TpT Store, or another website for all of the information when you click the small image.

While I have themed many of the months around holiday items, there are also plenty of ideas geared towards other academic areas, like nonfiction, getting ready for state tests, and more. And if these don't align with your own scope and sequence, hopefully a few can add to your bag of tricks when you do cover those topics in your own classroom.

I'm launching with the August calendar today, which you can find in my TpT Store HERE.

Monthly Thoughts: August

Download from TpT HERE to be able to click from the PDF.

Some of my most favorite things are in this month's calendar! I am a true believer that the amount of time and energy you put into the first 1-2 months of school will pay huge dividends for the rest of the year. Because of that, there are community-building activities like Brain Breaks, Morning Meeting and High 5 to a Great Year.

I also love getting management systems underway from Day 1, so Voice Levels and Class Rules will be essential.

Getting parents involved is also key, so the questionnaire from Open House and Mystery Readers can give them meaningful ways to be a part of your classroom.

Seasonal activities all center around Back to School and include Word Work, Writing Prompts, QR Math Critters, and the ever-popular Did You Know? Fun Facts.

There's plenty more, so take your pick and click away to find more information on any and all of the images you see.

Download HERE and enjoy! I hope these ideas will get you excited for the school year ahead!

NEW Erin Condren Goodies: Launching July 19th

I was so fortunate to receive a box full of surprises from Erin Condren this week and I can't wait to share it all with you!

Launching on Tuesday, July 19th are some new accessories and a functional lunch tote to help make this upcoming school year even more fancy and fun!

Pencils, highlighters, and erasers are the perfect companion to the rollerball pens and wet-erase markers!

This lunch tote is personalizable and available in nearly every pattern and design!

I use these planner stickers a lot and love the extras that will help keep me even more organized this year.

Some things are familiar, some are brand new! My favorite is the lunch tote and the two-pocket folders. Both will be well-used throughout this upcoming school year and I am absolutely *LOVING* the new notebook with lined pages and a separate bullet list on the side!

For a detailed review, be sure to watch my YouTube video below:

For $10 off your first Erin Condren order, click HERE.

Erin Condren Teacher Planner Stickers & Setup

I'm knee-deep in summer relaxation, so while curriculum is on the back-burner, I always love spending some lazy days with stickers and planning.

I am a huge fan of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner (watch my walkthrough HERE), and have several items in my Etsy Shop to help you personalize and adjust the pages to make them your own. Click on any photo to be taken to the listing in my store.

Weekly & Monthly Numbers

One of the first items I listed in my store were weekly numbers to fit in the top corner of each week. It's a simple but uniform way to make those numbers pop. I have one set that runs for weeks 1-40, but there is also a new version if your school is on quarters: 1-10, four times.

I've also added some new monthly numbers to coordinate with this year's gemstone theme. These are the same size as the weekly numbers, so they show up a bit more than the ones that come with the planner. The monthly calendars are some of my most-viewed pages throughout the year, so I like the bigger numbers for my teacher-tired eyes!

Happy Birthday Pages

These are some of the most useful pages, and I think the possibilities for this spread are endless!

While they are originally set up to track birthdays throughout the year, the lines under each month mean you can use these pages for anything.

I have several options below, from dates, to goals, to supplies, to professional development:

Absentee Log

I have found this spread to be a great way to track communication with parents or students. I will track our calls and chats (anything non-email) and check if there was follow-up. I am liking the idea of using these pages as student communication this year, too. Tracking positive phone calls and/or notes home is a habit I try to implement at the beginning of the year, but by second trimester, it's hard to keep up. I'm looking forward to recording on these pages to keep me motivated all year long. 

Yearly Planning With Stickers

I have updated all of my planning stickers to coordinate with either the 2015-2016 planners or the new 2016-2017 planners. One of the fun ways to get started with them is to set up the Plan Your Year page. I love being able to jot down the scope and sequence of each subject throughout the year.

Granted, these stickers are all I have done when it comes to thinking about next year, but it's only June, so I'm okay with that!

Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Etsy to see when new designs are listed. While I'm not taking custom orders at this time, I am always open to ideas and suggestions.

To see any of these stickers and plenty, plenty more, be sure to head to my Etsy Shop: http://3rd.gr/Etsy_shop

I hope these gave you some ideas to help continue to make your Erin Condren Teacher Planner your own! If you would like $10 off of your first order, be sure to sign up HERE.

***And, in super-big and exciting news (if the yearly glance didn't tip you off), I am heading back to the classroom FULL TIME next year! I will no longer be job-sharing, but be back to teaching my thirdsters all day long. My sweet daughter will be coming with me to Kindergarten in the same building, so I am extra excited to see the adventures that next year brings. Thanks for your continued support and I hope your summer is off to a relaxing start!

2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner {Part 2: Walkthrough}

I am so excited to be sharing the insides of the 2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner with you! I unboxed this beauty, along with several other goodies, a few days ago and you can watch that HERE.

This year's Teacher Planner is similar in format to previous years, which I love since it's a system that has worked for me, but the small design changes they have made in colors and fonts really makes it seem new!

If you have never tried Erin Condren's planner or products, I cannot recommend them highly enough. She has everything from planners to cards to notepads to cell phone covers.... and more! Her paper quality is fantastic and they make great gifts for anyone on your list, including you! Personalization is available on almost every item as well. See more of my posts about Erin Condren HERE.

Without further ado, here is the walkthrough of the 2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner:

One correction I want to point out: In the video, I mentioned they do not come with Date Dots and I was wrong. After checking, they DO come with stickers for each and every month to put on the circles in the monthly spread. This will add even more beauty to the calendar portions!

These Teacher Planners will launch May 3rd (Teacher Appreciation Day!) HERE.

If you haven't signed up with Erin Condren, you can use my affiliate link HERE for $10 off your first order!

Have a wonderful Teacher Appreciation Week!

2016 Erin Condren Teacher Planner {Part 1: Unboxing}

It's that time of year, again! Amidst all of the craziness of April/May and wrapping up a school year, I was beyond excited to come home today and see a beautiful, pink Erin Condren box on my front porch!

Inside, I was thrilled to find the newest edition of the Erin Condren Teacher Planner, along with several other coordinating goodies.

Just like last year, I will split this review into two parts: the unboxing and a full walkthrough of the planner itself.

Without further ado, here is the unboxing video!

This year's Teacher Planner doesn't release until May 3rd. Until then, you can read up on all of my other Erin Condren posts HERE.

To sign up and receive $10 off your first order, click HERE.

See you soon for the full walkthrough!

Disclaimer: ErinCondren.com gave me this planner to review, but all opinions are my own. I only promote what I use and love!

Getting Ready for State Tests

State Tests (PARCC this year) are around the corner and I am compiling some things to help my students (and I) get through the long two weeks ahead.

I posted some tips from a few years ago HERE and I am reposting a few of them here, with some added ideas as well.

1. Relaxing Music

We aren't allowed to play music during the test, so I assume you aren't either, but I love having quiet music playing as the kids are coming into the room and getting themselves situated. It's bound to be a time full of nervous energy, so with calming music in the background you can begin to get them relaxed before the long test time ahead. Finds some great artists and stations HERE and HERE.

2. Brain Breaks

We are allowed to take one, 3-minute break during each test, and I plan on taking advantage! I do recommend having some Brain Breaks on hand before the test begins (and then hopefully one in the middle, if it's allowed), but be very selective as to which one(s) you choose. Calming, stretching, massaging breaks will be best and allow kids to get some wiggles out, but in a smooth, centered way. Our tests are all computer-based, so I want them to relax their eyes, stretch out their bodies, and really be able to settle in nicely for the duration of the test. After the tests are complete, though, a dance party is definitely in order ;) Find hundreds of Brain Break ideas HERE.

3. Door Signage

Our class is next to the bathroom, so I want to make sure that everyone knows it needs to be completely quiet when they are in our hallway. I hang this sign on our doorway during each test and then keep it handy for other class assessments we have throughout the year. It's a freebie on Google Docs HERE if you'd like to pick it up for your door.

4. Non-Food Encouragement

I have done food as treats before, but wanted to mix it up a bit to discourage sugar highs at 10am. So, I used a common fun find from the dollar store, glow bracelets, and attached these freebie tags (on Google Docs HERE in two versions: test and PARCC) using double-sided tape. If you have a 2" round punch from my Brain Breaks, use it on these circles! It is a great way to cheer them on, but keeps the energy manageable and the day flowing as normal. Which brings me to....

5. Routines

So technically, this isn't a new thing to do, but I wanted to stress the importance of getting back to the normal routine and structure of the day once the tests are done. We test for the first 60-90 minutes each morning, but that leaves a whole bunch of time in the day where we can do and accomplish a lot of fun things! We're knee-deep in our Animal Research Reports (read more about these through the years HERE), the kids have never been more independent in reading and Daily 5, and we still do have about two months of school left. So, when the tests are done for the day, we immediately turn our attention back to the goodness of school. I have found that this keeps me sane, as well as my students. It also releases a lot of anxiety or worry around the test when it doesn't dominate our thinking for the day. Your testing may be structured differently, but I encourage you to get back to the wonderful routines and systems you have worked so hard to develop with your students as soon as you can!

Best of luck to your students and you during this testing time!

Relaxing Classroom Music for Independent Work

Over the years, I have loved having soft music playing in my classroom during independent work time.

I had previously blogged about some classical guitar artists that we enjoy HERE. Be sure you read that post and set up a Pandora/Spotify station with those musicians- you won't be disappointed!

I do pay for the monthly Pandora service and enjoy listening to it both in class and at my house, so it's worth the $3.99/month charge. *I pay for Pandora myself, they do not endorse this post or my blog. There is a free version, but it has commercials, so I never liked the disruption and decided to subscribe. Even if you don't have Pandora, keep reading. These artists have some fantastic work and you can even grab their CD's and downloads on Amazon.

Over the course of the year, and especially now as we head into spring, I like to vary the selection a bit. One of my favorite finds is the genre of Slack-Key Guitar. This is a traditional Hawaiian genre and wow, it is beautiful! Take a peek at this video to see what I mean:

You can hear (and see) that it is beautiful and complex, but also relaxing and calming. I am instantly de-stressed when this channel comes on and I know your kids will love it as much as mine. Plus, because it's Hawaiian, it helps me to stay warm and serene on a snowy March day in Colorado like today!

Some of the artists I enjoy from this channel include:
This is by no means an exhaustive list! I have found even more artists from the Wikipedia article HERE to add depth to my channel and discover even more lovely melodies.

If you don't have access to Pandora, of if it's blocked by your school's internet, there are CD's and online albums you can use/download and I have found that this specific collection is fantastic! You can pick it up on Amazon and listen to sample tracks here:

I hope this genre can give your classroom music some newfound calm and serenity as we head into warmer months and begin to wrap up the school year. Enjoy!

Expanding on Nonfiction Text Features

One of my first resources in my TpT Store was my Nonfiction Text Features packet. This oldie-but-goodie has seen a lot of use over the years and I have found that the combination of the posters, having them accessible on a binder ring, using sticky notes, and thinking about why a feature is used as we go through resources are not only fun and engaging for the kids, but they really help to make these concepts stick.

To read more about the ways I use this packet, click HERE and HERE.

I first created these as our state was moving to more nonfiction-focused reading standards, but I never realized how many text features would need to be highlighted throughout the year! It seems like each year, there are more and more questions asked about text features, and I was finding my original packet was not enough to keep pace.

Therefore, I am excited to say that I have compiled a Part 2 to this resource, full of twelve new text features and still providing all of the great activities from the first packet.

The text features highlighted in the new packet are:

  • pronunciation guide
  • guide words
  • website/ hyperlink
  • title page
  • label
  • icon
  • sidebar
  • appendix
  • title
  • cutaway
  • graphic organizer
  • source

I personally think these packets work best when used together, and with 24, you are still not having to deal with an insane amount. I would highly recommend mixing-and-matching throughout your introduction of these features, since some are more important and frequent than others. In Part 2, I have also included pages with #13-24, so if you ever wanted to use all 24 features for a scavenger hunt or quiz, you can!

These are still wonderful to use with any Scholastic News or Time for Kids weekly magazine, and printing on sticky notes is still such a hands-on and exciting way to look for these features:

All of these Nonfiction Text Feature packets are available in my TpT Store now.

Have fun delving in even deeper to these Nonfiction Text Features and have a wonderful week ahead!

Erin Condren Teacher Planner: Weekly Planning Time-Lapse

You all know how much I love my Erin Condren Teacher Planner. You can find lots of posts about this love HERE.

I have found that ending my Sunday by laying out this initial skeleton plan allows me to get in the right frame of mind once Monday hits. I used to dread laying out each and every detail of the week, only to have to pull out a huge eraser and redo most of Wednesday through Friday-- either because we got too far behind, too far ahead, there was a random fire drill or an assembly... you name it!

Now, my Sunday nights are filled with stickers and minimal writing-- how much more fun is that? I can visually lay out my week, see what goes where, make a few notes of things I will need to prep and check on as the week gets underway, and then fill in the remainder throughout the day and week ahead.

This may sound completely different than how you plan, and that's ok! The beauty of planning (if you have the choice, that is!), is to find a system and a flow that fits you best. What works for me may be a nightmare for someone else. It took me several years of finding the sweet spot that fits my personality, teaching style, and helps me stay sane. Hopefully this can give you some ideas if you're still looking for your own personal planning style!

I use stickers (found in my Etsy Shop HERE) to streamline the planning process and to avoid rewriting things over and over. I choose two colors that speak to me that week (this week it's starting to look like Spring, so I chose the March colors), and then alternate them for visual interest.

Then, with my trusty pencil, I fill in as much as I know. I will come back and jot things down as they come to me, or if certain to do's pop up, but I leave most of it for when I am at school and "in the zone." There, this is open on my desk and I am constantly jotting, occasionally erasing, and always glancing down at it throughout the day and week.

Enjoy this time lapse and I hope you're having a wonderful week!

Parent-Teacher Conference Timekeeping

We had Parent-Teacher conferences this week and I forget how exhausting they are! I have a wonderful group of students and parents, but meeting after school and into the evening is tough, especially when I'm usually in yoga pants by 6!

We have a very tight conference schedule and I want to honor parents' time (and my own!) by sticking to the sign-up times. It's easy to get off track and off topic, but I need to remind myself during those types of conversations that it will be a domino effect that will keep me at school later and later, possibly having to reschedule other parents if they have been waiting too long.

Here are a few tricks I use to ensure that we stay on time:

>>>Use a Timer: This has been a great way for me to self-monitor during a conference. We have back-to-back 20-minute time slots, so I use a timer to make sure I am staying within that time frame.

I take conference notes on a Google Doc, so I open a different tab on my browser and set it when we get started with the sound off. I find that using a timer avoids the need to look at a clock or look at my watch, which are all very not-so-subtle body language messages that you probably don't want to be sending to your parents.

If you Google "timer," they have their own that pops up and you can easily turn off the sound.

>>>Set an Agenda: .... and stick to it! I always lay out how the 20 minutes will be split up, either breaking it up by academic subject, the student work or data I need to go through, goals from the student and from parents, etc. I want parents to know what the next 15-20 minutes will entail, so they can be a part of it and I'm not the only one talking the whole time. 

I also have to remember, that while I go through 25-ish of these every conference season, they only have it once, so I want them to be as involved and invested as possible. Many times, I will even allude to what we'll cover in our class' weekly newsletter the Friday before, so they can send me any questions in advance and we can all be on the same page. 

>>>Have Other Parents Help: Even with these two steps, life happens and conferences run over. I do like to remind parents that we need to start and end on time, but when it comes to talking about their child, 20 minutes can be so short! 

I put this sign on the door to have the next parent help in keeping us on track. Because my door is closed, they will simply knock at the start of their session. This is a nice reminder that we need to wrap up since someone else's conference is starting now. 

I have this available for free in Google Docs HERE if you would like to print and laminate for your class door. I will sometimes post a schedule by the door on very busy nights so parents know that the evening is full and time is of the essence.

Parent-Teacher Conferences are definitely a wonderful (yet sometimes stressful!) part of being a teacher, so keeping your sanity through them all is so important. I hope these tips help you to keep better track of time in order to have the most successful meetings yet!

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