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Jul 27, 2015

50 Beginning of the Year Activities, Ideas & Freebies!

back to school ideas

     I hope everyone is enjoying their summer break!
I hate being the bearer of bad news, but Back to School is quickly approaching...Yikes!! 

beginning of the year ideas

I'm sure many of you are clinging on to those last few days of vacation. If you are having trouble setting down the margarita and jumping back into school mode, I totally understand. Hopefully the transition can be a bit easier for you after reading this blog post!

When it's time for you to plan out the first week of school, where do you start?

Do you focus on implementing classroom rules and procedures?

Do you focus on team building and collaborative activities to provide students the opportunity to get to know each other?

OR do you just jump right into content and curriculum?

Maybe you implement a combination of all three?

In this post you'll find activities, ideas (and maybe a few freebies woo-hoo!!) to get you back on track with planning for the new school year. I like to break down Back to School Activities into the following four categories!

-Team Building / Ice Breakers
-Behavior Management & Rule-Setting
-Games and Fun Activities
-Creative Writing and Artistic Activities

Team Building / Ice Breaker Activities 

Create a Group Name & Logo/Mascot! 
Here is a FREE resource I designed where students can work with their new group members to create a group name and image that represents their team!  This is a great team builder and ice breaker activity! Use the link below!
back to school freebie

back to school ideas

beginning of the year freebie

My Time Capsule
back to school lesson
 Have students create a time capsule! During the first week of school, ask students bring in a tin can or Pringles container. Allow them to decorate as they please. Have them write a message to their future self and write a date that they can finally open their time capsule. This is a great activity for strengthening creative writing and self development! Find the time capsule here!

Break the Ice with Task Cards
ice breakers classroom
Have your students perform ice breaking tasks that promote interaction with their peers! 

Group Puzzle Pieces
team building activities
Have students create a big puzzle within their group. Each puzzle piece has their name and drawings of what they love. After they fit their pieces together, they can discuss in a group how they decorated their piece and why. 

Games & Fun Activities!

Board / Dice Games
back to school board game
 Implement fun board games for back to school! 
This game is "Back to School" themed with questions such as, "What is the school subject called where you learn about plants, animals, and the natural world around you?"

Find My Match - Matching Game
back to school matching game
Cut and laminate "Back to School" themed matching cards. Find them here. Students must go around the classroom trying to find a student who has the same Back to School card as them. The catch is that they cannot show their cards. They must use descriptive language such as, "I have an item that carries my supplies to and from school". 

Color-Coded Questions
back to school ice breakers
This game can be used will Skittles as well! Have students answer color-coded questions as a beginning of the year ice breaker. 

Behavior Management & Rule Setting

The Zen Zone
behavior management zen zone
"The Zen Zone" is a great tool to implement starting the very first day of school. While giving your students a tour of the classroom, show them the assigned table called The Zen Zone. The Zen Zone has the jar, writing prompts, paper, and a pencil. Students who are having a rough day or having difficulty staying on task are sent to the desk. They pick a writing prompt at random from the jar. All of the prompts help them reflect on what is currently bothering them or preventing them from having a successful day at school. Get in the Zone here. 

Early Finishers
brain breaks early finishers

You know that student... the one who whips through an assignment at lightening speed only to raise their handed with that dreaded question... "I'm done, what do I do now?" 
If students ask you that question, you can finally direct them to the these bored buster activity prompts. Find them here. 

Creative Writing & Artistic Activities

Two Truths and a FIB - FREEBIE!

Do you know the game "Two Truths and a Lie"? It is the same creative writing and team building activity that you can play with your students! Have students write down two true statements about themselves and then have them write a false statement. Go around the room and have students try to guess which statement is false about each student. This freebie can be saved onto your computer as a PNG file and printed as a document. ENJOY! :) 

Self Portraits
Students can create self portraits to hang in your classroom! Have them come up with three words to describe themselves.

Fun Back to School Coloring- FREEBIE!
Sometimes, you just need a time-filler. We understand. If you need a little time to set up for the next activity, here's a free Color-By-Numbers activity for your students. Download as a PNG file and print.

For OVER 50 Back to School Activities, be sure to check out the links below! 

Jul 16, 2015

Flash Freebie - The ZEN Zone!

The Flash Freebie is going on RIGHT NOW!  (until 8 PDT)  "The Zen Zone - A Behavior Management System for Back to School!" will be listed as FREE!

Jul 15, 2015

Building Great Writers

Building Great Writers
Over the past 15 years of teaching English to middle school students, I have worked diligently and rigorously on alleviating my frustrations when teaching and reviewing writing.  Every year I start out with the same expectations (alright, maybe a dream) that my students will write an articulate first essay that is sprinkled with strong verbs and adjectives, constructed with a solid structure, and speckled with flowing sentences that are craftily placed. However, my hopes soon become a pipe dream, as my students still struggle with the same skills-writing a solid introduction, conclusion, and lengthening their sentences to sound more fluid, refined and sophisticated. I know they learned these techniques the year prior, and I ask myself, why are these skills not sticking, and what can I do to fix this…quickly? I thought I would share with you how I have learned and created successful and fluent writers, as well as the techniques, tricks, and tips that seem to work.

First, my motto is to engage, simplify and excite.  Let me be frank.  As much as we want to think so, most middle school students do not like to write, especially structured essays; therefore, creating exciting and engaging writing lessons, which simplifies the process, is always my first task.  I have turned the parts of an introduction into a silly acronym-Give The Toddler The Cookie (Grabber, Transitional Sentence, TAG, Thesis Statement and Concluding Sentence). The acronym for the body paragraph is TALES-Topic Sentence, Add an example/Claim, Lift a line/Cite a line from the text, Elaborate and Sum it up. I have my students repeat and practice this over and over until it is engrained in their mind, and crazy enough, they can recall it very easily!

Secondly, scaffolding the writing process is so important, and as teachers, we can’t always expect them to know everything. One can easily use the metaphor that writing is a building process.  A teacher has to start from the foundation to build higher-level writing techniques; in other words, a teacher has to start with the basics, practice the basics, to move to the next step or floor. Therefore, I start all the way in the basement with more sophisticated words and sentences. We work on replacing “dead words”, lengthening sentences with compound and complex sentences and choosing more sophisticated words. In essence, these small techniques produce better paragraphs.  I then move onto technique and structure.  I build the foundation of an introduction, a body paragraph and a conclusion. This does not happen overnight.  This is a good week and half process that consists of a lot (A LOT) of practice and mastery.  Once we practice this, we move onto the harder items like citations and elaboration.

Lastly, when I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember practicing skills repeatedly until I mastered the skill (Do you remember writing the script “S” over and over?).  Unfortunately, because we are short on time and our curriculums are more complex and riddled with work, we don’t have the time to spend with our students to teach them how to master a skill.  In education today, it is about teaching a skill, quickly moving onto the next subject and covering the curriculum.  I firmly believe in mastering a skill.  How can I expect my students to write well if I only taught and practiced the techniques of writing once? Therefore, when I teach writing, if I have to quiz my students every day for two weeks on the acronym “TALES” and what it stands for, this is what I will do until all the students get it correct and MASTER the skill.

         Right from the beginning of the year, I have my students write out a model-planning page for themselves, that they can apply to any class.  As a “Do Now”, I will have them practice writing their planning page over and over without any assistance, until they have it completely memorized. Sometimes I will grade their planning page, and sometimes I will have them just write it out for practice.  All in all, the repetition is essential to commit these items to memory.
If you notice, there is a common theme here, and that is scaffolding, practice, and repetition.  If you are constantly and consistently jogging your students’ memory on the same skills, it will eventually become embedded in their brain bank. It’s easy: build a writing structure for your students, practice, and repeat the process again until it is mastered. You will then begin to see the amazing changes in your students’ writing."

About Me:
  I have been teaching middle school English for 15 years in an affluent district on Long Island, New York.  I absolutely love, love, love teaching, and it is definitely my calling. I love sharing my lessons, ideas and products on Teachers Pay Teachers, and I know teachers appreciate when they can find materials that really work in classroom.

When I am not teaching, I love spending my time with my husband and my 5½-year-old son. He has such a love for reading, and I hope his passion for reading continues.

Come check out my Teacher's Pay Teachers Store:

Jul 13, 2015

Viva Las Vegas - Recap of TpT Conference!

 WOW - I just returned home from Vegas and I can't believe it's already over! I already miss all the inspiring and wonderful people I met (and reunited with) at the TpT Conference.

Also-  a quick thanks to The Elementary Entourage for providing this fun post-conference linky party! :)

I am deeply motivated to produce great teaching content that I want to make this as SHORT as possible so I can get back to creating and sharing resources  ;)

First and foremost - THANK YOU TEAM TpT! It was stellar and inspirational to say the least. It was evident the amount of time and work you put in to make everything spectacular.

I wish I could list all the fabulous seller connections I made but here's a collage of just some of the wonderful people I met!

 I also have to thank my fiancé for putting up with me during the conference. The first night we had to order room service due to exhaustion... Sorry babe :(
He also listened to me jabber on and on about the conference during the 9 hour car ride home... He's amazing. We did however get to do some non-TpT related things... We attended The Beatles LOVE by Cirque Du Soleil. It was incredible.

To keep it short, it was a spectacular event. I can't wait until next year's conference.

Some quick takeaways I gained from the sessions:
-be original
-copyright EVERY PAGE
-always provide value
-join a mastermind group (a small group of like-minded people who will push you to achieve your goals)
-always pay it forward

  If you didn't get a chance to go this year, I look forward to meeting you at the next one!

Jul 12, 2015

How To Make Reading FUN!

Hey!  Janet from Mrs. D's Firsties here to talk about making Reading FUN!

....I can't stand teaching out of a scripted book.  I hate following the exact same routine in Reading groups.  If I'm bored, I can't imagine how my students are feeling. Teachers have to make reading FUN!

I'm teaching summer school to the incoming first graders.  These poor little babies don't know their letter names, letter sounds, and can't read the pre-primer sight words.  We spend our time learning about letters, words, and sentences!  I have planned most of our activities to go along with the weekly themes of summer school: beach, animals, camping, and sports.

Here are my tips to help you make Reading FUN!

First, get organized!  Pre-assess your kiddos so you know exactly what kind of lessons (or remediation) they need.   I have a folder for each students. I keep everything I need for one-on-one reading time in a folder (flashcards, books, assessment data, etc).  That way, their time with me is all focused on learning

It is always more fun when you're most boring of things (i.e: flashcards) go along with your theme.  Make a theme for the week or the month!  It'll excite the students and make those boring things more fun!

Let's be honest......flashcards can be boring.  BUT, repetition is a must (especially for your lowbies!) I fancied my flashcards up by adding fun little themed clip art.  Each week, I introduce new themed flashcards.

Have your students practice their words/letters DAILY!  But, make it fun!  Have them trace words/letters in sand (see pic below)!

Gotta' keep it FUN, right? What is more fun than playing with food?  Each day, I have one of my activities include food.  On this day, we used letter cookies to help identify letter names.  Let me tell ya, they work harder when food is involved!

During sports week, I used foam baseball stickers (found at my local craft store) and a baseball mitt (cut out of construction paper) to practice addition and number identification.  You could use the materials for reading/letter id too!  Just get the baseball foam stickers - write letters or words on them.  Call out the letter, sound, or word and have students find the correct sticker.  When my students were done collecting all of the baseballs, they peeled off the back of the sticker and stuck them on their mitts!

Simple can be fun, too!  I took a long piece of bulletin board paper, wrote letters on it, and attached it to the wall.  I called out letters or sounds and my students slapped them with their "magic wands" (fly swatters). 

We busted out the Lakeshore Learning Easy-Grip Sponge Painters for some hands-on letter practice.  I let them pick any letter and stamp away!  While they were stamping, I was asking them questions like "what letter is that?", "what sound does it make?", and "what word starts with that letter?".  They were playing AND learning. :)  
When my students walk in and out of the room, they slap the hands.  I have hands with sight words and hands with letters.  It seems like a TON of words...but, this is what the board looks like after 3 weeks.  I introduced/reviewed 2 pre-primer words each day.  

We also practice our sight words with my Sight Word Sentences.  It is a page of sentences that all start with the same 2-4 words (Dolch pre-primer sight words).  The repetition is AMAZING for struggling students.  By the last sentence, they've started to remember the word and are reading the sentences.  *This picture shows one of my incoming first graders helping an incoming Kindergartner. So sweet!

My students always have a writing activity.  Yes! Writing and reading go hand-in-hand!!!  Although I help my students spell the words, they come up with the answers AND must read back their sentences to me.  Sure, we took some time to paint fish and make baseballs.  But the activity also involved writing and reading!

Students wrote rhyming words on baseballs, cut them out, and glued them on their mitts.

The students made a baseball with red paint (for the stitching) and then wrote if they liked baseball or not.

So, the key to helping your students with reading in the summer months is TO MAKE IT FUN - get organized, use themes, be repetitive, use food, make lessons hands-on, and have your students use writing to help their reading!

About Me: 
My name is Janet and I've been teaching for 10 years! I {heart} first grade, but I've also taught 2nd grade.  I've been blogging and creating for TPT for about 3 years.  I love spending time with my boyfriend and my family.  I'm super obsessed and in love with my dog, Tobey!  I hope you stop by and check out my blog and TPT store!!


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