Archive for the ‘Directions’ Category

What To Do On a Snow Day? Craft!

Snow days are the best days for teachers. True, you’ll have to make them up on warmer day, but who cares?! Snow days are unexpected gifts. However, if you are anything like me, then you have to figure out what to do in order to avoid feeling stir-crazy! One of my favorite things to do is get crafty. So when my friend, and fellow teacher, and I saw that a blizzard was about to hit Monday night, we stopped by Hobby Lobby after work to store up on materials.

Our craft of choice? Clipboards. They are very handy teacher tools. Clipboards hold my lessons for the day, the roll sheet, the seating chart, the weird assembly schedule for the day that I know I won’t remember, and usually a stack of papers I am grading and shuffling. If you are a future teacher, get yourself a clipboard. A decorated clipboard is even better though.

Here are some basic materials you’ll need to decorate:

Modge Podge  and Foam Brushes: to protect with a clear layer of shellack whatever cutesy-ness you feel like putting on your board. We chose to keep it simple: scrapbooking paper and decorative scrapbooking embellishments. We chose embellishments that would lay flat and could be Mod Podge’d over for protection.

Putting the scrapbooking paper on the clipboard is simple, and we each chose separate ways. First paint a thin layer of Mod Podge on your board, then lay the paper on flat. My friend used an X-ACTO knife to fit the paper down to size, while I used a small sheet of paper and decorated the edges with a collage of small paper squares. I didn’t think I would be able to perfectly cut the paper to fit and then perfectly position it straight on the board, and any imperfections would have driven me crazy! So something purposely imprecise was what I needed.

After the large paper and any designs are glued down, paint several layers of Mod Podge over it, painting each layer in opposite directions, horizontal strokes and then vertical. After this, decorate with your embellishments then repeat the layers of Mod Podge again. At this stage you will want to flip your board over to start on the reverse side. Lay the board on some aluminum foil to avoid sticking. This is not a gluey project where newspaper should be used!

The end result of our project is this:



And then mine….




How to Create Writing Prompts

I laugh to think about the time my friend Courtney and I tried to create a writing prompt for 11th graders during our student teaching. We started with “In an essay, tell whether Rappacini is a good guy or a bad guy…” We ended up getting some really low-level papers back, way beneath what the students were capable of. Guess what? Our assignment prompt was really low level!

Here is a guide to making smart prompts in order to get smart work back:

CRAFTS Writing Prompts Guide

C- Context

R- Role


F- Format

T- Topic

S- Strong Verb


Within the novel, Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, the Lake Windsor Downs community has recently experienced muckfires and mosquito infestations. You are the President of the Homeowners Association. In a monthly newsletter to the residents of Lake Windsor Downs, explain what has happened and describe what the association is doing to fix the problems.

C- Lake Windsor Downs community has recently experienced muckfires and mosquito infestations.

R- You are the President of the Homeowners Association.

A-    residents of Lake Windsor Downs

F- Newsletter

T- explain what has happened and describe what the association is doing to fix the problems.

S- Explain, Describe


Here is a wonderful acronym developed by KIPP schools to help remind students how to pay attention. I think what makes SLANT so great is that it doesn’t assume kids know what to do in order to stay focused. Instead, it breaks down what exactly a paying attention person would do. Plus, it’s a great little word to use when giving guidance, “Make sure you are SLANTing!”

Sit Up.


Ask & Answer Questions.

Nod Your Head.

Track the Speaker.

I plan on working this into my classroom vocabulary this year and displaying a SLANT poster prominently on the wall.

Seat Signals

Seat Signals are a clever way to keep the classroom pace ticking along smoothly and students focused with minimal distractions. Unfortunately, junior high kiddos aren’t exactly low-key with their needs, so it is important to create very low-key ways to take care of business and continue with the learning.

Raised Hand

Seat Signals- nonverbal ways students indicate to the teacher they need something without getting up from their desks.

  • Bathroom Visits- raise hand with hall pass out on desk to be signed.
  • Pencil Sharpening- hold up pencil in raised hand. Wait for teacher to visit desk and switch out student’s pencil for a sharpened one. Keep lots of sharpened pencils on hand. They can pick their pencil up at the end of class.
  • Tissue- raise hand and pinch nose with other hand.
  • Library Visits- hold up book in raised hand with hall pass out on desk to be signed.

All of these nonverbal requests should also be responded to nonverbally- either a nod of a head indicating a “yes,” a pencil or tissue handed to the student, or a hand signaling, “not now” or “in 5 minutes.”

You might be wondering why sharpen the pencils for the students…well, pencil sharpening is a loud and time consuming process. The sharpener in my class is attached rather high on a bookcase and its screws are loose so the whole thing wobbles. Naturally, the short kid without a steady arm gets a junk pencil every time. I’m just going to take it down and buy an electric sharpener for my desk, just for me to use!

Notice that for trips outside the classroom, the students have hall passes which must be signed. They receive these passes at the beginning of the year- 3 for each week. Once they use them, it’s too bad, so sad. This is a school-wide technique and I really love it. The students must learn to conserve passes and not use them all up on Monday. If your school doesn’t do something like this, try initiating it on your own! It’s very clear-cut and there is no ground for confusion.

Movement for Learning

They say you never forget how to ride a bike. The thing is…it’s true! Once you do something, it goes into your procedural memory and pretty much stays there. Moving around or acting things out ends up being a great way to remember all kinds of things.

That’s why I’d highly encourage you to try and find ways to incorporate movement into the classroom. I know my college professors always told me this, but secretly in my head I was picturing 32 kids running around the room driving me bonkers. Naturally, I didn’t do much movement at all this past year.

However, if you plan out the movement and you keep it focused and short, there shouldn’t be any crazy scenarios like the one that ran through my head. Students can simply stand up, right next to their desks. The movement can only be in their arms. Make it what will work for your non-chaotic classroom.

Pat your head

Here is a nifty example:

Parts of the Friendly Letter with Movements

  1. Heading- pat your head
  2. Greeting- wave
  3. Body- shake your shoulders and body
  4. Closing- stomp your feet
  5. Signature- sign your name in the air

Once students start acting out the information, it really will become knowledge that stays in their heads. Try to think about little ways and also ask your colleagues! A teacher in my department has her students bounce up and down like bunnies when going over why it’s important to stay on topic in your writing- you don’t want to be hopping all over the place like a rabbit with your thoughts.

Remember, the first step to doing something is to visualize it. The same thing can be said for learning!

Giving Group Time a Timeframe

Using small groups during a lesson is a great teaching technique. You want your students to get with 2-3 others and discuss, form questions, answer questions, etc. and then regroup as a class shortly thereafter to put all the newfound intelligence together.

Group Time

Um, but how are you going to make “shortly thereafter” happen? Kids can waste time and even though you can offer warnings like “5 minutes,” “3 minutes,” “1 minute,” the time spent still ends up lasting too long. Those verbal reminders are truly helpful…but if you are like me then these times aren’t exact and often I guiltily extended them.

Easy Fix- Add in a Song.

  1. Tell the students- we will be getting into groups of 2-3 (and then offer instructions on grouping and tasks as you so choose to do).
  2. You will have the time of this song to work with your group.
  3. When you hear the song coming to a close, then it’s time for you to closing up your group time.

This works well because the typical song will be about 3 1/2 minutes in length. The perfect length for some quick group time and then moving on. A familiar song’s ending will also cue the students so you don’t have to work at it as much.

Choose songs that are happy and upbeat. A downer tune or a slowjam isn’t going to liven up the room and inspire happy learners. Choose songs that may even seem corny- I like cheese. Make sure the songs aren’t from R. Kelly’s 12 Play or anything that is going to make you blush. Don’t creep out the kids!

Here are a few goodies to inspire: The Beatles, Kool and the Gang, KC and the Sunshine Band, BeeGees, Abba, Toto, Hall and Oates

What are some favorite songs you would recommend for the classroom?

So…Who Does What?

Happy Small Group

Your students are in pairs. An activity is about to begin. You tell the class, “Okay, choose someone to be the writer and someone to be the speaker.” Bad idea. At this point you probably have a classroom full of partners playing the staring contest. Are you counting on your students in the partnership to have the maturity or take-charge mindset to delegate a role or take a job that is out of their comfort zone?? Uh-uh. Not gonna happen. Let’s go back in time and do this right.

Assign Students with Group/ Partner Roles…the Right Way

  1. Your students are in pairs.
  2. Look at each other. Pick someone to be the duck and someone to be the goose. Done? Okay good.
  3. The duck will be the writer and the goose will be the speaker. Annnnd….go!

Duck and Goose

Why This Works-

  • Deciding to be a duck or goose is easy. It’s arbitrary and meaningless.
  • Later, when it’s task time- there is no awkward dance. Everyone has been assigned a role.
  • This allows some students who would never volunteer themselves for a particular task to get a chance to branch out. It also allows those students who have a tendency to take charge and overshadow their group members to get a smaller role than usual.
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