Sunday, January 17, 2016

New Year's Organization Challenge: week 3

The challenge for this week involves space and storage planning.  Think about your physical classroom space and what part(s) of the room are and aren't working for you.  Think about the subjects you teach, and how you store your materials for easy use.

The first thing I suggest doing is creating an ideal layout for your entire classroom.  IDEAL.  Even if you don't have all of the furniture or storage items that fit in to this idea plan, sketching out a plan will help you itemize the things you still need to make your classroom the ideal space for you.  This plan may change over time, but keeping this plan in the back of your head will keep you grounded when you are out shopping and find something that is a great deal, but not a part of your plan.

Next, make a plan of how you will store specific items like student books and materials, teacher supplies, community supplies, novels, computers, centers, etc.  You'll need to 1.) figure out where you want to keep these items, and 2.) how you will store them to make everything work for YOU and your students.  While I keep my students in mind when I create and plan anything, ultimately it has to be something that works for ME because my students follow my lead when it comes to handling and maintaining materials.

Here are some ways I keep things organized in my classroom.

I don't keep a teacher's desk.  I use a student table and keep my everyday items on a clipboard and inside chair pockets at my table (since those chair pockets aren't assigned to any one specific student).  My 1920s elementary classroom has an old coat closet.  I use two large metal storage cabinets -- back to back -- to divide this closet in to two sections.  One side of the closet is for students to store their book bags and coats.  Since hooks are limited, they are numbered and students are assigned a number.  It did mean that I have to call certain numbers to the coat closet first, since some hooks are underneath others, but the kids are pretty good at getting it right.  And when they pack up? I just call the numbers in the reverse I did in the morning.  

The cabinet that is on the other side of the cabinet shown below is filled with community supplies.  At the start of the year, we ask students to bring in tissues and lined paper.  I buy baby wipes in bulk and store them in that cabinet as well.  One shelf is solely designated for guided reading books that go with the Journeys series I have in my classroom.  Of course there is a sign on the cabinet that just says "Please ask your teacher before getting supplies from this cabinet."  It has not been an issue.  

This cabinet faces my "teacher side" of the closet.  Students do not go inside this side of the closet unless I ask them to get something.  Extra bins and other supplies are stored in clear bins so they are easy to find.  Items that I need regularly -- like staples and dry erase markers -- are kept in an over-the-door shoe holder on the swing door to the closet.  

At the entrance of my "teacher side" of the closet, there is a wide section with one built-in closet with no doors.  This is where I keep any teacher guides that I use all the time, or books that I cannot get rid of because they go with the curriculum materials that belong to my grade level(s).  

I am lucky to work in a building in which I can choose the materials we use for reading instruction, so I do keep my student Journeys books on a cart by the door.  Those books are only used periodically.  The majority of my reading instruction comes from novels/trade books.  Over the years I have really built up a large selection of class sets of these books.  Due to large class size caps in my district, I have 34 copies of each book in each of these bins.  If I had to pick one organizational method that makes the most sense for my room, it is the purchase of these bins.

*Bins with green labels are 4th grade titles and blue labels are 5th grade titles.
*The pink and purple bins are materials for a classroom volunteer who pulls an accelerated group for me each week.  
*The bins on the bottom belong to the Journeys series (so they belong to my school).  
*And I <3 greek mythology, so I hold on to those materials in their own special bins.

Anyway, the point of these pictures is to prove that I've made a plan to make my classroom work.  People always ask me how I keep things so neat and organized, and the truth is that it works for me because I've made a master plan.  This doesn't mean that messes don't happen.  I do have to spend time each week putting things away.  BUT, because I have a place for everything, I know exactly where it all goes.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year's Organization Challenge: Week 2

How did we do with last week's challenge?  I found the top of my teacher table by Friday, and when I had students help me clean the room before dismissal, I even let someone wipe it down (the normal rule is they don't wipe my table top).  I also sent home every graded paper and all turned in homework assignments with the students on Fridays.  I do this on a regular basis, and attach it all on a weekly report that their parents sign.  They bring the weekly report back, and keep the piles of papers at home!  I also cleaned off a shelf in one of the cabinets in my closet.  I was able to organize the materials for my monthly school store.  It felt good!

Here are the challenges for this upcoming week.  Choose 3 or more of these challenges to meet by Friday:

1.  Empty your teacher desk drawers.  Throw away anything you know you won't use or need.  Reorganize the materials you will use, but don't forget to wipe out the drawers before you put anything inside.  This will make you feel amazing every time you go to open a drawer!

2.  Open a cabinet with shelves or drawers.  Choose one shelf or drawer and throw away or give away anything that you haven't used in three years.  Anything in this drawer/on this shelf that you are keeping can stay just for the time being.

3.  Find TEN items to throw away or recycle.  The only restriction on this TEN is that it has to be items that belong to you (not student work).  If it's still usable, consider donating it to another teacher.
4.  Go through your bulletin board and classroom decor pile(s).  You know there is stuff in there that you haven't used in years, and stuff you know you won't use again.  If it's in great shape, see if you can give it to a student teacher.  Only keep what you know you will use.

5.  If you have old curriculum materials that are not a part of the new curriculum stuff you use, figure out what to do with it.  Ask your admin what you should do with the textbooks that are not in use.  Ask if there is a closet in which they should be stored.  Every school district has different rules about how to handle old books, so make sure someone gives you the correct response.

BONUS:  Take all of your cleaning supplies and personal supplies (ex: bottles of lotion, wipes, board cleaners, etc) and figure out where you can store them so they are easy for you to get to, but out of the way.  Picture this area like a little kitchen cabinet in your classroom.  I have a lot of random things that fit in to this section of my teacher closet, but they are so helpful to have on hand.

Again, let me know how it goes!

I got new tables this year, and I sit with the students in the middle of the room.  Of course, I also have a small pile of things that I always need on hand (a clip board for grades and important papers, my roll book, and the novels we are reading).  Since taking this picture I got new chair pockets, so I keep a majority of the things I use every day in my own chair pockets.  It's very handy.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Who wants to get organized for the new year?

I am challenging my fellow teachers to get organized in their classrooms as a resolution.  Each week, I am going to challenge you to choose THREE things from my list of five organizational tasks.  The goal is that by spring break you will go in to the end of year pack-up with an organizational plan.  These next few weeks of January will be focused on eliminating unnecessary clutter.

Here are five tasks for this week (choose THREE or more):
1.  Open up a cabinet with shelves or drawers.  Choose one shelf or one drawer and throw away or give away anything that you haven't used in three years.  Anything in this drawer/on this shelf that you are keeping, can just stay for the time-being.

2. If you have a teacher's desk or table, find the top of it by the end of the week.  Get it to a point that you can wipe it down with some Lysol.  You know you need it.

3. Find FIVE teacher books to give away or donate. Not the kind that belong to your school.  I'm talking about those books we all buy when we hit up Barnes and Noble, or when we used to teach that one novel but don't anymore.  Give them to a younger coworker, or throw them in your trunk to donate to a local thrift shop.  

4.  Find something that needs fixing.  It could be a computer that's having issues.  It could be a wobbly student desk, or a poster that has faded from the sun.  Fix it.

5.  Make sure all of your teacher guides and teacher materials are sorted by subject and/or grade level.  For example, one shelf may be Literacy while another may be Social Studies.  If you only teach one subject but your grade levels vary, perhaps one shelf could be designated to each grade level you teach.  It doesn't have to be a shelf.  It can be bins or drawers.  See #3 above while you work on this challenge, because my guess is you'll find plenty of books or materials that you know you bought on a whim but don't plan to actually use.  

BONUS: Take every homework paper in your classroom and A.) return them to students to take home, or B.) recycle those puppies!

Here is a flashback photo of when I was given the task of creating a guided reading book closet:

Report back to tell me your accomplishments!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

DIY Chromebook Storage

Last year I submitted a Donor's Choose proposal for a set of Chromebooks for my 4th and 5th grade Literacy classroom.  With a lot of help from social media shares, I received 14 Chromebooks by spring.  It was awesome!  I was also lucky enough to find an extra laptop cart hidden in a closet, so I had a place to store my Chromebooks, which made setting them up go pretty quickly.

But, that cart was really big.  I don't know if it was created to store 17 inch laptops from the early 2000s, but it was really hard to rearrange my furniture around it.  So it got me thinking of alternatives for storing my Chromebooks, and of course Pinterest.  I stumbled across this page that showed an Ikea cabinet as storage.  Hmm.  I happen to live about 5 miles from the first Ikea ever built in the U.S.  I'm so close that my husband has been known to get up on weekend mornings and go over and eat their $1.00 breakfasts before hitting up Home Depot.

I made a plan, and this is what I came up with:

I bought this Ikea cabinet in white (it is available in bolder colors for those braver than me).

I liked how the original post separated each Chromebook but wanted something that allowed them some "air" so they don't overheat when being charged.  I remembered seeing a ton of teachers who use dish drying racks and other paper sorters to store their machines.  I would have done the dish drying rack method aside from the idea that I wanted a cabinet that had locking abilities.  So off to Amazon I went.  I have Amazon issues, but that would take another entire entry.

I found this literature sorter.  And I bought two.  I love it so much, I'm trying to figure out a way to organize my home office so I can buy more.  And then set up a spare bed in that room so I can lay around and stare at the magnificence of the mesh organizer.  

Before I even assembled the cabinet, I was having nightmares about how I would handle all of those cords.  I definitely thought about this part for a few days.  AND I'M VERY GLAD I ALREADY HAD MY CHROMEBOOKS BEFORE ATTEMPTING THIS PROJECT.  Why?  Because different models of computers have different locations for their charging ports.  And the only lonely Chromebook I already had has a port on the side near the back.  But the new books have a charging port on the back of the actual machine.  So knowing the location of these was the focus of the entire configuration.  If you are going to do something like this, make sure you already know where each machine charges.  

I ended up with some cord clips of the cheaper variety.  And zip ties.  If you don't have zip ties, you need them.  Even if you aren't making your own computer cabinet.  I will always find a way to use zip ties.  You can zip them through grommets of a pocket chart to hang on a stand. You can connect two desk legs together  if making a group.  YOU CAN KEEP YOUR CORDS FROM BEING YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE.  

Just buy them in bulk, okay?
Of course, I needed power strips.  And, I made sure that they had extra long cords on them.  This was key when assembly started.:

I assembled the cabinet first.  It was actually quite simple.  I assembled it on top of a table so I didn't have to spend the entire cord zipping time bent over or on the floor.  

Then, I thought about where I would put the power strips.  In the original post, they are inside the cabinet.  But, I wanted to be able to switch them off easily, so I actually mounted them to the back of the cabinet (with zip ties, of course).  This cabinet is considered a TV stand, so there are two 3 inch holds on the bottom of the unit.  I decided that I would feed each charging plug out that bottom hole and up to the power strip.  First, I needed to figure out where to put the power strips.  I marked spots for the zip ties and brought a drill in to school.  

And then I had my first lesson on drill bits.  When the first two wouldn't even start to penetrate the metal cabinet, I almost scrapped my plan.  Luckily, our building engineer had come in for something else.  He took a look at the bits I used and immediately told me they were for wood.  He helped me find a drill bit that worked great in the metal.  It was a little smaller than the hole I needed, but it created a "starter" hole that I made bigger with another drill bit.  Once the holes were drilled, I started zipping those power strips on.  I didn't get a picture of it, but I actually used a sharpie and wrote the number of each Chromebook above the outlet in case I needed to remove just one plug.  (I also wrote the number on the actual plug as well during set-up.)

I placed each cord inside, with the thicker part of the cord going through the hole on the bottom and around the back to get plugged in.  Once I had the first 8 plugged in, I slid the shelf under them and installed it near the top of the cabinet.  I did this to the other side of the cabinet as well.  Once that was done, I placed the computers in the mesh organizer, lined up the chargers with each computer and installed a cord clip under the top shelf.  Then I zip tied every darn cord that was hanging all over the place to keep it all tidy on that top shelf.  I also numbered each slot of the mesh organizer so students know where each computer goes.  There are also numbers on the side of each computer AND a number right at the tip of the charger so plugging them in is easy.  

I did remove the computers when I had the cabinet moved to the floor, but here is what it looks like completely assembled.  The last computer in the photo is my "old" chromebook, and the empty spot is for my teacher lap top.  I will only have the power strips turned on if the cabinet is open because I do not want anything to overheat.  To prevent the doors from possibly shutting on their own, I used an extra-large binder clip on the shelf (upper right) to prop that side open.  

P.S., That cord sitting under the cabinet has since been zip-tied to the power strip on the back of the unit.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Warning!  There is nothing fancy about this blog post.  There are no links listed and nothing here will WOW you.  I'm blogging now about my own experience two weeks ago when I taught similes and metaphors.

In the past, I have taught similes and metaphors as two different ways to compare.  Although I introduce them together, I would generally teach similes (an easier skill, IMO) and then I would move to metaphors.  Well, two weeks ago, I decided I would teach them as the same skill.  I mean, after all, they are used for the same reason, right?  

So I created a T-chart on the board.  "Simile" titled the left column, and "metaphor" titled the second column.  We first gave each of them the same definition: the comparison of two unlike things.  We wrote that definition under each column.  We focused on the fact that they both have the same function.  Then I asked my students this important question:

If they are both the same, why are there two kinds?

And that's when I entered the key words "like" or "as" under the simile column.  We discussed how similes have those key words inside of a comparison sentence.  

Then we used this example of a simile: My sisters is a sweet as an angel.
It's not earth-shattering.  It doesn't dig down in to the depths of great novelists.  It just is a plain simile.  And with this plain simile, my students were able to identify what/who was being compared, and they identified the key word AS.  

Next, instead of giving an example of a metaphor, we took the simile above and we changed it in to a metaphor.  Because we know that a metaphor has the same function, this was a simple task of rewriting the comparison without using like or as.  And in a flash, we got this metaphor: My little sister is a perfect angel.  Yes, we added some words.  We did that to make sure our new metaphor made sure that the reader understood the meaning of the comparison.  

We did a few more of these together.  And each time we created a simile, we identified WHY it was a simile, and then we changed that simile in to a metaphor that made the same comparison.  

Each morning of last week, I had my students write a simile comparing two unlike things in their morning warm up.  Then, I had them convert them in to a metaphor.  Did all students write perfect metaphors?  No.  But, for a new skill, most of my 4th graders have really grasped the idea.  

And I think it all has to do with my different approach....

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Supporting small businesses

This is not teaching related, but I had to post it now that we are approaching the holiday season(s).  I fully intend to support small businesses as much as possible.  Many people think that shopping at a small business causes a price increase for what you're buying.  This isn't always the case, and you should definitely shop around, but think of the immediate impact you have when you do this.

If you do not live near small businesses, consider online places like  Many artisans on etsy are able to create amazing items that would make awesome and one-of-a-kind gifts for friends and family.

Example:  I was thinking about the upcoming cold weather (I have random thoughts all the time).  I was trying to figure out if I needed to think about buying a new pair of gloves that allow me to wear my wedding band and engagement ring without it getting stuck to the weave.  Then I started to think about an alternate ring that I could wear that didn't stick up like my engagement ring.

I ended up wanting a ring made with my husband's signature.  His signature is certainly "special" and I even cringe when he signs his name because I do teach cursive.  I went to etsy and searched for "signature rings" which yielded many affordable results.  I ended up going with a store called SilverHandwriting and all I had to do was have my husband write his name, take a photo of it with my phone and upload it to etsy.  Then when the shop owner said she could do it, I spent a mere $30ish and a week later I have an awesome ring!

It went from this:

To this:

Now I want signature jewelry for everything!  :)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014: Setting up Word Work and Writing Activities

This year we will use Journeys for our Literacy instruction.  Although we will use a basal, I am going to try to create a schedule that runs like a reading workshop.  During the time that I work with students, some of my students will work on word work activities and an interactive writing center (created by Jody Udovich, which is Uh-mazing).   My word work centers are housed in plastic drawers and the writing center is housed in a file box.  (see photo)  There are more photos of my new classroom HERE.

I've posted about my word work centers before.  Some of them are the same as before, while I've added others.

 This particular word work activity has two drawers (so enough for two kids) and a record sheet.  Students will take the entire drawer (either #1 or #2) AND a record sheet to their seat.

You can download my word work instruction sheets and record sheets HERE.
 Above: All items for the activity are inside the drawer.  Below: Under the materials, I have laminated and hot-glued instruction sheets so students can be as independent as possible at this time.
 If an activity has a record sheet, they are located in the third drawer.  If the activity does not have a record sheet, there are just three drawers of the same activity.

Here is a list of the word work activities my students will have access to:

4th Grade -
1.  Cursive Vocabulary - Students will use skinny dry erase markers on a personal wipe board to practice writing word wall words in their best cursive.
2.  Vocabulary Clips - Students will match clothespins (with vocabulary words written on each one) to definitions on sentences with context.  I think I will use Social Studies words for this activity.  I haven't yet decided and, therefore, my clothespins are currently blank.
3.  Stencil Spelling - Students will spell their current spelling words with stencils I picked up at the local teacher store.
4.  Bottle Cap Spelling - Long ago, I saved water bottle caps from many cases of water.  When I had enough, I wrote a letter on each one.  Students will use these caps to spell out their longest spelling word for the week with the bottle caps, then then they will spell smaller words with those same letters and record their work on a record sheet.
5.  Letter Cards - Students will use letter cards to spell out their weekly spelling words and take a picture of the finished product.
6.  Sight Word Test - Students will test teach other on their quick reading of Dolch and Fry sight words.  If they miss one, they write it down on a record sheet.  They are no penalized for missing a word, but this will give me an instant list of words they need more practice with.
7.  Letter Card Fun - Students will mix spelling with math using my Letter Card Fun center.  Since this activity is geared toward younger students, I only used a portion of it for my older kids.
8.  PA Counties - Students will identify the counties of Pennsylvania on a map.  This is a tricky thing to do from memory, but I think it will be good practice (and it ties in to their 4th grade Social Studies).
9.  PA Cities - same as above but they will identify PA cities.
10.  PA Rivers - same as above but they will identify PA rivers.

5th Grade -
1.  Cursive Vocabulary - Students will use skinny dry erase markers on a personal wipe board to practice writing word wall words in their best cursive.
2.  Mystery Words - I have letter cards in an envelope.  Each envelope houses only the letters needed to spell one longer mystery word.  Students manipulate these cards to figure out the mystery word, but to also spell out smaller words.
3.  Rainbow Words - This is an oldie, but a goodie.  Students will write this week's spelling words using alternating colors of the rainbow.
4.  Vocabulary Water Art - Students will write this week's vocabulary words on a coffee filter in any design they like.  They will turn it in DRY, but once I give them credit for doing the assignment, they will be allowed to add droplets of water to it to create coffee filter water color art.
5.  Magnetic Sentences - I bought these magnets from Lakeshore.  Students will create sentences and then identify parts of speech.
6.  Letter Stampers - Students will use alphabet stampers to spell out their weekly spelling words.
6.  Sight Word Test - Students will test teach other on their quick reading of Dolch and Fry sight words.  If they miss one, they write it down on a record sheet.  They are no penalized for missing a word, but this will give me an instant list of words they need more practice with.
8.  US States - Students will identify the US States on a map.
9.  US Capitals - same as above but they will identify US capital cities.
10.  US Rivers - same as above but they will identify major US rivers.

Hope this gives someone some good ideas!