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Oriental Trading Wishes Granted!

One of the great joys of a new school year is browsing through the new Oriental Trading catalog for classroom goodies.  Teacher Heaven, right?!?  This year it's a bit more amazing because they have created a Teacher Wish List function!  Keep reading to see how you can get your wishes granted.

This year I decided to change my classroom theme and I knew that Oriental Trading (as usual) would be my go-to place for Superhero things.

Take a peek at the amazing goodies I found for my classroom.

Years ago, I began using badge holders for my students' nametags.  This saves me from having to handwrite or print new tags each time they're needed.  In fact, it means I have nametags on hand at any given time - this is super convenient for subs during unexpected absences. 

These Superhero Lanyards are perfection for my little marvels!  They're bright, colorful, fun, and safe (with that breakaway clasp).  Even better?  I'll be able to use them year after year after year!

These Superhero Tickets are the perfect incentive for my students!  Last year, I began using the Golden Ticket system.  I just cut gold paper strips and laminated them, but these are SO much better!  My students are super excited to earn these for random good deeds throughout the week and then turn them in on Friday for free choice selections.

These hanging swirls made the PERFECT back-to-school activity.  When I handed these out, the students "OOHED" and "AAHED."  They were quite obsessed with the foil swirls.  I mean, why wouldn't they be?!  They add so much color and pop to our classroom ceiling, all while sharing a little about each of my new marvels.

Here's a close up look of the front...

...and back of the hangers.

And, here's one more look at them on display from a distance.

What kid doesn't love stickers??  These superhero stickers will be the perfect way to say "well done" on students' papers, or right on their shirts!

I mean, how about that marvel t-shirt?  Do you think my students are excited about my classroom theme? I'd say so! :)

These dry erase magnets are so versatile that I knew I needed them to be a part of my classroom.  For now, I am using them to label my file cabinet drawers.  They make it super easy to locate the right item the first time!

The next few items, I got for incentive rewards in my classroom.  My school uses Accelerated Reader and I like to have little rewards for students who reach specific goals, but these items could also be used for birthday treats, welcome back gifts, or star student surprises - the possibilities are endless.

Can we just talk about these medals for a moment?!  The quality is AMAZING!  They are made of rubber with a fabric lanyard.  Students will treasure them!

Whew!  Those are just a FEW of the things I found for my superhero classroom.  You can view the rest of the items that I have my eye on HERE on my wishlist.  Here's a little sneak peek of it:

Oh my gosh, those pencils, right?!  Creating a wishlist on Oriental Trading is super easy and you have the option to share it via social media, email, or even print a hard copy of it to share.  Often times, at the beginning of the year especially, parents are eager to help your classroom.  What an easy way to share with them some of the things you'd like to have for your classroom.

Just visit Oriental Trading and click on the Wish List heart at the top (red circle below).

Then, to share your wishlist to your website, Facebook, or through email, just click the SHARE button (green circle) and choose your preference.

That's it!  Then, just wait patiently as your wishes are granted! :)

*Disclaimer: Oriental Trading sent me products in exchange for a blog post; however, all opinions in this post are mine.

The Benefits of a Classroom Theme

Photo Credit: Classroom Clicks

Just like with everything else in education, classroom décor is cyclical. Right now the trend is to go with bright colors or neutrals.  Everyone wants their classrooms to be a replica of their homes - warm, inviting, cozy, and beautiful - truly Pinterest worthy.  But, I just can't let go of my fun classroom themes and I'm here to tell you why.

I get it.  I really do.  Teachers want to make their classrooms a place they love.  As teachers, we spend more time at school many days than we do at home.  It should be a place we love!  But, first and foremost, it should be a place our kids love!  I promise you can find a way to have a balance.  For example, I'm changing my classroom theme to superheroes this year and I'm not a big fan of the cheesy store-bought items - those bright blues, reds, and yellows.  To make it a place I will love, I've chosen to use red, navy, and gold as the base colors - colors that are a little more classic.  But, my main goal is to make sure my students love the space.  I remember the first year I had a monster theme and I had a little girl come to Meet the Teacher.  With wide eyes and huge grin on her face, she turned to her mother and asked, "Can we make my bedroom like this?"  Y'all!  She loved our classroom so much (the instant she walked in it) that she wanted her bedroom like it!!!  THAT is priceless.

Themes help to give the class an identify and bring everyone together as a team - right from the start!  I often hear students talking on the playground and one student will say, "What class are you in?"  My student will answer, "Mrs. Madden's."  The child will respond, "Oh, are you the monsters?"  Children may not know all of the teachers' names, but let me tell you, they know the class themes!  At my school each class has a class t-shirt with their mascots on them and students wear them proudly!  My students will draw me pictures of monsters, bring me little monster gifts, and even tell me all about a cool monster they saw somewhere.  Now, while I don't always want a shelf full of monsters, the theme is an instant connection and that is priceless.

I've been teaching the same grade for 19 years now.  I know some teachers change grade levels to "switch things up."  I LOVE second grade and couldn't imagine teaching another grade.  However, I do get that little "itch" every few years to make a change.  My theme is where I can do that.  I don't change it every year - that would be way too pricey!  Instead, I keep one theme for 4-5 years.  This allows me to build on the theme...add a little to it as the years pass.  But, changing it up every few years allows my creativity to shine through.  I enjoy digging through Pinterest, party stores, and dollar stores collecting ideas.  Not just for decorating ideas, but for student centered learning ideas that integrate our theme.  The transformation that happens in my room isn't all for my students, it's also for me.  It gives me that extra little spark and excitement for a new adventure and that is priceless, too.

I can't reveal too much about my new theme yet because it's still a work in progress, but here are a few of my superhero transformation pics so far.

These felt masks will unit my students on the first day of school.  We'll take a superhero class pic as we students write about what qualities make them SUPER!

Easy and cheap bunting across windows brings our theme colors to the forefront.  This is just fabric cut into shapes and attached to the top of my window with red duct tape - no sewing at all!

Bulletin board are in progress to match the bunting and tie our room together.

Extra fabric is used to make a scrap valance to hang on our classroom door.

Accessories are found throughout the room to tie it altogether.

Our class T-shirt that will be worn proudly!  Yes, that's the Wonder Woman logo flipped upside down for Madden's Marvels! ;)

Our Super Studio headquarters is just a black foam science trifold that I transformed into a cityscape.  We will use it as our "recording studio" for iPad recordings.  It will block out distractions and when the light is "on," the rest of the class will know to use whisper voices because a recording is in progress.

Check back in a few weeks to see the full classroom reveal and to watch the magic begin! 

Fun, child-centered classroom themes may not be for everyone, but if you've been on the fence, I encourage you to jump in and give it a try!  Often, teachers don't jump in because of the cost factor.  But, go ahead and decide to keep the same theme for several years, at least, knowing that you can build on it.

If you already have a theme in your classroom, think about what it is and if it is for you or for your students.  If your theme is your favorite college team or your favorite color, it may not really be inclusive to all of your students.  Make your classroom a place you love, but also a place your students are excited to come to each and every day - even before they know you!

If you're on the hunt for classroom décor for your theme or are looking for a new theme, check out the themes in my shop. I've updated almost every single theme this summer!  Each theme contains over 40 resources, including editable newsletters and Open House slideshows.

Whatever your theme, or non-theme, I hope you have the most magical year yet!

2016 Long Range Plans {Template}

The purpose of this post is just to provide those of you who use my long range plan or planning calendar templates with the updated templates for the 2016-2017 school year.  If you want to read more about how I lesson plan and use these, you can read my Lesson Planning blog post series.

This was my view all day long, but my goal was accomplished.  And, now that they're done, I know it will be worth it - these two documents keep me SANE and on track during the school year. 

Here's a peek at my long range plans:
Ah!  The one-page per quarter layout is just DREAMY to me!  Haha!  You can download mine or the template that I start with below.  Please use these for your own use, but do not repost or share.  You can feel free to direct others to this post to download for their own use.  Thanks!

My planning calendar shows the timeline for my units in a calendar format, but also lets me add important dates and events.  This stays at the front of my lesson plan binder and I write meetings and notes on it daily.

I hope by sharing my work it saves you some time and helps you get organized for the new school year!

Back-To-School Teammate Gifts

I'm blogging over at Owlways Be Inspired today and gave a couple of different gift ideas for your team.  Hop over there to check them out and grab the freebie tags.  Here's a sneak peek of one idea!

Student Birthdays Made Easy!

I don't know about you, but if I'm not organized ahead of time with student birthdays I will undoubtedly forget one until the student casually mentions that it's his/her special day.  In which case, I plaster that great big smile on my face while my heart begins to race and my brain is spinning trying to think of how I can make the day special now.

That all changed a couple of years ago when I realized that planning for student birthdays was something I could do during the summer and be checked off of my to-do list for the school year!

So, while I want the day to be a special one for my students, I want it to be one less thing for me to organize during the daily grind of the school year. 

The Gift:

{This post contains affiliate links.} 

To make sure the day is special, I do like to give my students a little gift.  I create these birthday sundae cups during the summer and store them so they are ready to place on students' desks on their big days.  If I've forgotten a birthday - no problem, I have these on hand and ready to go!

I buy the cups from Amazon for convenience (hello, Prime love!) but I've also went to my local Starbucks for donations in the past.

I fill the cups with a few little treats (think bookmarks, candy, erasers, etc.) along with a No Homework Pass and then add white crinkle paper on top to look like whipped cream. 

I punch a hole in the cup lid and then stick a pre-sharpened Happy Birthday pencil into the hole to look like a straw.

Finally, I top it off with a "cherry" sucker sticking out of the hole in the top and add a label to the cup.

It really is a simple little treat, but it looks so special sitting on the birthday kid's desk!  They eat them up. :)

The Card:
I also place a Happy Birthday Certificate on the counter so that classmates can sign it throughout the day.  Everyone likes to receive birthday wishes from all of their friends and what a precious keepsake it makes.

If you have a special classroom theme, you can find themed birthday certificates in all of my theme décor packs.  I'll be using the Superhero ones this year and know that my little marvels will love them!

The Song:
Finally, we have a special cheer that we sing to the birthday child.  I change it up from the traditional birthday song, as my students were getting WAY too silly with that.  This cheer is more of a bootcamp style chant and they love that it's different!

If they birthday kid is a girl, the girls will lead off with the boys echoing and if the birthday kid is a boy, the boys will lead off with the girls echoing.  Everyone joins in on the last line to make the birthday kid feel extra special.

Throughout the day, I let the birthday student be the line leader so that they're feeling a little birthday love all day long.  That's it!  Birthdays are a breeze with pre-prepped gifts and students feel extra special with a little birthday love from the teacher and wishes from classmates. 

If you would like to use these ideas, you can grab them all in this birthday FREEBIE from my shop!  Enjoy!

Making Interactive Notebooks Work in the Primary Classroom

Let's talk interactive notebooks.  They've been all the rage the past few years, right?  I'll admit that I jumped on the bandwagon several years ago myself, but I quickly found myself falling off the wagon.  It may have actually been more of a jump.  You see, I teach 2nd grade.  Second graders still take FOR.EVER. to cut out anything.  And they need lots of help folding.  Should we even mention the gluing?

I couldn't jump off the bandwagon fast enough.  I found that my instructional time was being cut in half (at least) due to the cutting...and folding...and gluing.  Now, I know that some teachers will precut all of the pieces for their students ahead of time.  Those teachers are saints.  This teacher just doesn't have the time to commit to that. 

Fast forward to the next year.  My school decided to require all teachers to use interactive notebooks. Say what?!?  How can a school require ALL teachers to use a specific tool to deliver instruction?  Well friends, that's a rant I'm not even going to start today.  But, it was non-negotiable, so I knew I had to find a solution. 

Let me introduce you to my No-Cut Interactive Notebooks and explain why I have found them perfect for my primary classroom.

When I first created these, I wanted to keep the things I loved about Interactive Notebooks:

* They provide a record of learning.
* They provide interactive activities to showcase that learning.
* They serve as a meaningful informal assessment.

But I also wanted to add my own spin with these goals:

* NO CUTTING or FOLDING for students
* Minimal gluing
* Interactive activities and games for all concepts
* Opportunities for differentiation
* Written reflective responses

So, what does this look like? 

The Notebook
I choose to use composition notebooks.  I like these better than spirals because of several factors. 

1) Students don't accidentally (or purposefully) rip the pages out.
2) There is no spiral ring to unravel or get caught on things.
3) They are more sturdy and easier to store.
4) Half pages (and all of my INB pages are half-pages) fit perfectly into these.

The Prep
I give my students a cover to design for each of my notebooks.  This is just a way for them to make them a bit more personal to them and for me to easily identify them.  After designing their covers, I use packing tape to secure them to the notebooks.

I also add a ribbon to the backs of the notebooks that students can flip and use as a bookmark.  I hot glue and staple the ribbon to the inside of the back cover. 

Finally, I staple a Ziploc bag to the inside of the back cover.  This will hold two pennies and a paperclip, which students will use for most of the activities.  It's super important to teach students HOW to close a Ziploc bag and give them time to practice, practice, practice on day one.

The Pages
My No-Cut pages are just that - absolutely NO cutting or folding for students!  I just print out the INB pages and slice them in half.  Each student gets half a page to glue into his/her notebook.  That's it!  Super easy.  Super quick.  Let's move on to the learning! 

(Now, I know that some teachers stress the importance of the cutting and folding and those ARE important motor skills that young students need to develop.  However, during my very limited instructional time is not the time to do this.  We do LOTS of cutting and folding in my classroom...just not DAILY during instructional slots  For those students who struggle with this, their frustration sets in before the instruction even begins.)

Anchor Charts
Many times, I will provide students with a personal anchor chart for that unit that provides important terms or concepts that they can refer back to during the unit.

One thing that I really tried to build in were opportunities for reassessment.  We all know that not all students master concepts that first time they are introduced.  Many times they will need to work with me again in a small group.  Many pages have been designed so that students could do that page over and over again for practice without repeating the exact same problems.  For example, in the ABC order page above, students could do this page several times and not select the exact same words to group together for alphabetizing. 

Here's another example.
In this addition example, students could do this page over and over again and add different numbers each time thanks to the spinner.  Why is this important?  Because now, if I need to pull a small group of students to work on a concept and want them to do a little formal assessment to show me they've grasped the concept, I don't have to go searching for an additional page.  The same page can be used again.  The teacher already has the page handy and the student is already familiar with the format.  Win-win!

Partner Games
I also use a LOT of partner games in my notebooks.  Most of these games use spinners or pennies and are just plain fun!  Let's face it, kids learn best when they're having fun and not even realizing that they're working.  Many of the games ask students to work with a partner.  I think it's extremely important for kids to have an accountability partner and someone to talk with about new concepts.

Early Finishers
Many of the board games in the notebooks can be played over and over and over again.  This means that the notebooks also become an instant tool for early-finishers.  Students love to pull out their notebooks and play games throughout the day!  Again, students are engaged on current skills and the teacher isn't having to prepare anything extra for this engagement.  Another win-win!


Many of the pages can also be easily differentiated without much tweaking.  Take this subtraction page for instance.  If I have some students who are not ready to move to three digit subtraction, I could easily tell them to only spin the spinner twice to continue making two-digit numbers.  Since the problems aren't written for the students, it provides an opportunity for differentiation and also extra practice

Having students talk about their learning is so important!  That's why almost every page in my notebooks have a little pencil pal at the bottom that asks students to explain something or extend their learning in some way.  I like to think of these as my "exit slips" except that they're built right in to my interactive notebooks - no need to copy anything else!

These responses let me know if students truly understand the concepts or if they still have some misconceptions that need to be addressed.

If you're looking for a way to simplify the management of Interactive Notebooks while keeping the interactive activities and engaging learning, this just might be the solution for you!

Right now, I have the following No-Cut Interactive Notebooks available:

* 2nd Grade Math notebooks for all standards,
* science notebooks for weather, animals, and nutrition,
* grammar notebook
* Weekly Poem Work for grades 2/3

Click HERE to view my No-Cut INB section of my shop.

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