Lesson Plan Series {Writing Unit Plans}

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Alright, I've shown you a peek into my standards and long-range plans so today is all about the lesson plans.  I told you in the introduction that I used to live by the Monday-Friday lesson plan format.  I mean LIVED BY IT!  I only switched to unit plans while kicking and screaming, but it was one of the BEST things I ever did for myself as a teacher.  Sometimes change is a blessing that you have to discover!

1) You see the big picture.
When planning week to week, it is often hard to see the "big picture" - to see how long it's actually going to take you to reach the end and to know what the end will look like once you get there.  With unit plans, I'm able to wrap my head around the entire unit - with the end in sight - and plan the steps in getting us there.  It just makes so much more sense!
2) You don't need to REINVENT the wheel every single year!
Oh my gosh.  The time these unit plans save me has been a gift.  In the past, I would sit down with "last year's plans" and retype (or rewrite) them all into THIS YEAR'S plan format - because you know the dates change, the alignment of subjects change, etc.  But, it always felt so ridiculous for me to be copying my plans again.  SO redundant!  NO MORE!  With a unit format, I'm able to just go into the unit to change the dates and tweak any lessons that I want - no need to retype any of them!  That's right - my lesson plans are basically done for the year before the year even starts...the "meat" of them anyway!
Here's a glance at the unit plan format I use....nothing "cutesy" about it - straight, to the point, with all of the required details for my district. 
 {Click picture to download PDF, Click HERE to download an editable Word format}
Organizing the Unit Plans
This one had me stumped at first.  I really DID like opening my planbook and seeing the weekly plans at my fingertips.  So, I finally came up with a system that works for the unit plans.  I still have them ready at a glance.
I use a 3-ringed binder instead of the traditional planner.  This gives me lots of flexibility.

 In the front of my binder, I put my planning calendar (coming later), my standards, and my Long Range Plans.  These are the necessities that keep me sane and on-track all year long.  Behind those, I insert dividers with tabs for each subject area with lesson plans.  Some years I go all fancy and type/print my tabs....this one not one of those years. ;)

When you flip to the tab for each subject you'll see the current lesson plans.  This makes it easy-peasy for me (or an administrator) to find the planbook on my desk and quickly flip to the lesson for that day.  So, (in the picture above) once I finish teaching lesson #4 (the last lesson on this page), this page would be moved to the BACK of the math section so I would continue to see the current lesson at all times.

 I'll be back next week to talk about how I differentiate my lesson plans, so if you have any other questions about the lesson plans themselves, leave them below and I'll answer them in next week's post!


Money Songs & Signs {Freebies}

We're launching our money unit this week.  I pulled out some O-L-D signs that I made years ago - like maybe when I student taught?? - with some handwritten money songs on them today.  The kids loved them.  But, I just couldn't bring myself to hang them in the classroom.

Did I mention they were O-L-D?  Well, they were also handwritten (not in a good way).  On chart paper.  Glued to butcher paper.  Yellowing.

I thought I would be able to find those babies online to print out somewhere, but a quick search turned up NADA!  So, I typed them up real quick tonight and thought I would share them with you.

There's The Money Song (with two verses per coin) to the tune of Frere Jacques and a Money Trading Song to the tune of Miss Lucy Has a Steamboat.  I also threw in a Hairy Money poster.  Hope you can use them, too, friends!



Lesson Plan Series {Creating Long Range Plans}

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The chicken or the egg?  The unit plans or the long range plan?  I struggled with which post to type up first.  I chose to focus on Long Range Plans next because that's what I start with each year.  However, you would have to have at least an "outline" of your unit plans before creating your first long range plan.

Since my unit plans are in place from year to year, I create my long range plans for the next year on my spring break each year.  Well, usually...I wasn't able to do it this year because my district still hasn't released it's calendar for next year yet.  There's a delay because state testing dates haven't been set.  You know, let's revolve EVERYTHING around testing.  *sigh*

But, I will share my Long Range Plans from LAST year with you.  These are my lifeline for the year.  Not sure how I ever lived without creating these!

As you can see, I have ALL of my units planned out for the year - how many days I'll spend on each, when I will teach what, etc - there's no more guess work!  Of course, this is just a flexible plan and things DO change.  If we need more or less time on a unit, that's fine!  It happens and I adjust.  But, this really helps me stay on track and know what is coming ahead.

I print this little plan out - fitting each quarter on one-page is a must for this OCD girl - and keep it in the front of my lesson plan binder.  I refer to it often to keep myself on track.

No matter how you end up writing your lesson plans, I would highly recommend creating Long Range Plans for yourself.  The more you are planned, the more you can be organized.  The more you're organized, the less stress you will feel during the year!

You can download the template that I start with for creating my LRP's each year below.  It is a Word document, so experience with resizing and merging table cells will be helpful.


Once you download the template, you'll just want to merge the cells to for each unit.  For example, if my addition and subtraction unit was 12 days long, I would highlight 12 cells beneath math (see image below) then go to Layout and select Merge Cells.

Once I have the cells merged, then I would be ready to add my text.  I would simply type the text I wanted there and then change the direction of the text (see image below) by clicking on Layout and then Text Direction.

One word of advice - make sure you have your unit timelines ready before beginning and to count your days carefully - it's nearly impossible to "unmerge" or "undo" after you start this process.  :(

I hope that this post (and/or template) is helpful for you in thinking about Long Range Plans.  Seeing your year planned out ahead of time is a lifesaver and will really cut down on your stress during the year!  I'll see you again next week for Writing Unit Plans!

** Update** Click HERE to download my 2015-2016 Long Range Plans.

UPDATE:  For future templates, starting with the 2016 school year, simply search for the year in the search bar on my blog.


Lesson Plan Series {Starting with the Standards}

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Thank you for joining me in this new blog series.  I'm going to show you how I cut out the lesson planning stress from my life!  Like most systems that run like clockwork with very little maintenance, there is a lot of "upfront" work to get the system running smoothly.  My lesson plan format was the same way!

One thing to understand about my classroom is that I do not use textbooks at all.  You could - no judgement here, but I don't.  Sure, my school/district has textbooks, but I found years ago that if I followed the textbooks I wasn't meeting the needs of all of my students.  First of all, the textbooks never followed our standards exactly.  Also, they didn't allow for differentiation in the way that I wanted.

So, I decided to ditch the textbooks and use my standards to drive my instruction.  I knew that I wanted to plan each subject in "units" that let me see the entire scope and sequence at once.  I would be beginning with the end in mind.  Most teachers already do this for science and social studies....possibly even math, but I do it for all subjects - reading and writing included.  Most of the reading standards are "general" and can be taught through any genre.  What I realized in my classroom was that students were bored out of their minds reading the same basal story each day of the week, and there was no "connection" to a weekly guided reading story.  Therefore, I chose to teach through genres that I thought would interest my students (and the ones that are specifically in my standards) to create my reading units - mysteries, informational, biographies, poetry, tall tales, fables, and fairy tales.  By doing this, all students are "connected" - no matter what they're reading level - by learning the characteristics of a specific genre, while also being instructed at their own reading level within that genre.  Everyone is on the same page - there's a passion and excitement for reading happening at all levels and the class is able to celebrate their learning together at the end of each unit. There's so much to be said for classroom community - even in the academic aspect.

I knew my standards needed to be my starting point for creating my unit plans.  When I went online to download my standards, I found that they were NOT in a user-friendly format.

20 pages for just ELA standards?!?  Ugh!  So my first task was to retype all of my standards into an "at-a-glance" format.  Yes, this took a while, but, yes, it was completely worth it!  I now have all of my standards in an easy-to-read format at my fingertips at all times.

These standards are the foundation of all of my lesson plans.  By looking at what needs to be taught, I'm able to create my units with the standards in mind.  As I create a unit, I highlight the standards being addressed in that unit.  This ensures that I'm making sure ALL of my standards are included for the year - most of them will be hit several times throughout several units!

So, what are you waiting for??  Go download your standards and get them in an easy-to-use format this week!  I just used Microsoft Word and a simple table for organizing mine - whatever works for you!

If you happen to teach in South Carolina, I've already created an at-a-glance format for our new College and Career Ready Standards that will be implemented in 2015-2016 and you can download them below!


If you're still using Common Core, you may find my "at-a-glance" format from last year helpful.  You can download it HERE. (*UPDATED* Template Available Here)  If you teach a different grade, or have your own state standards, I encourage you to put those standards in an "at-a-glance" format to drive your instruction!  Come back next week for part 2 in this series....Creating Long Range Plans.


Are Teachers Making More Work for Themselves? {Lesson Plan Series}

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Lesson plans.  We do them every week.  Every.single.week!  Or, at least I used to.  That was before I started working smarter.  We've all heard the saying, "work smarter...not harder."  As teachers we really need to take this to heart!

We have SO many things piled onto our plates that take away from what we do in the classroom.  If there is something we can do to minimize the "outside work" to leave us energized for what really matters {the ACTUAL teaching}, we should do it!

Now, if you're one of those who works at a school where you don't actually have to write out DETAILED lesson plans, I can't even talk to you.  #sojealous  But most of us have requirements - lots of them.  Lesson plans are not optional in my district and, in fact, there are LOTS of required elements that must be included.  It takes a long time to write those suckers, and, well, the one thing teachers lack is...you guessed it - TIME!

I work in a right-to-work state, so we don't have a lot of the luxuries some of you have - you know, lunch by yourself, duty-free recess, a "planning period" EVERY day.  Nope.  Some days we don't have a break from our little munchkins at all - not even five minutes.  So, lesson planning is usually done at home - on our own time.  Even if we do have a planning period, that 45 minutes is usually filled with IEP meetings, parent conferences, grade level meetings, or at the copy machine.  You feel my pain, right?

I'm in the 18th year of teaching 2nd grade.  While the standards have changed a few times during this time, for the most part, they have remained pretty consistent.  If the standards are not changing each and every year, why am I writing NEW lesson plans every single year??  Here's the secret...I'm not....not since that lightbulb finally went off, anyway!

Don't get me wrong.  I understand that my students' may have slightly different needs from year to year, but the "meat" of what I'm responsible for teaching them is the same.  There is no reason I should be completely reinventing the lesson plan wheel when the "meat" of what I'm expected to teach is the same!

This took a major shift in my thinking.  You see, when I first started teaching, I used a lesson plan book like this....

Each person on my team planned a subject, we came together to "share" our ideas, and we wrote them in these little boxes each week.  Yes, handwritten plans...each week.  It worked great back then actually - there were sooooo many fewer requirements!  Then, I moved to an electronic version of this weekly plan.  Still - it was time consuming and the plans looked about the same from year to year....just filled in on a different date.  So much wasted time!

Now, my lesson plans are in a "unit" format for each subject rather than a "weekly" format. This format allows me to see the "big picture" - starting with the end in sight.  And, there's no need to REWRITE them each year....just a tweak here and there - saving me so much time in lesson planning.

This series will give you a peek into my lesson planning with the following posts:

Can you think of anything else you'd like to see in this series?  Do you have questions that you want to be sure I address in one of these posts?  If so, leave it below!  This series will happen every Monday on my blog starting next week!


Our Daily Schedule {Details}

I had every intention of linking up with Angie and Ashley for this linky early, but what can I say...Spring Break happened and I've been a bit MIA! :)  After a bit of relaxation, I'm back in school mode and am finally linking up to explain my daily schedule.

Before showing off my schedule, I will say that I do not use any textbooks in my classroom.  I create 90% of my own teaching materials and supplement those with other resources from TpT.  I've been lucky enough to remain in the same grade for 18 years and have found the style and strategies that work for me and my students.

So, here's a peek at my schedule....

...and the details....

Our students can begin entering our classroom at 7:45, but school doesn't officially begin until 8:00.  This means we have 15 minutes where students are "trickling in."  My morning work is a lifesaver during this time!!  I project it onto the board and students use composition notebooks to complete it.  It's the same format each day so students are able to complete it independently.  Plus, no copies!  #heavenly
This allows me to take attendance, count lunch choices, receipt payments, etc.


We have a 45 minute math block.  We kick off this block with fluency practice that you can read about in this blog post.  Our math block can look very different depending on the unit, but it's possible to see whole-group instruction, math rotations, small group instruction, and/or math centers.  I struggled for years with math centers, so my big project this year as creating sets of math centers for each of my units with the following goals - 1) meet all standards in the unit, 2) offer differentiation for higher level learners, and 3) enough centers for all students to focus on the skills at hand.  These centers have been a lifesaver during my math block this year!


My students go to "specials" during this block 4 days of the week.  I have grade level meetings on Tuesdays, so that leaves me with three 45-minute planning blocks each week.  On the days that I don't have planning, I try to do Author Studies projects with my kiddos.

Our 45-minute reading block is my favorite!  You can read about how we spend the first few minutes to build fluency and comprehension HERE.  My reading instruction is centered around genre studies.  By teaching through genre studies, I'm able to build a passion and excitement for literature while having each student reading at his/her own level within the same genre.  This creates a strong sense of a reading community in our classroom and I love every bit of it!  If you were to glance in our classroom during this time, it would look very different from genre to genre.  During mysteries, students would be reading in detective duos while I pull small groups; during our non-fiction studies, students would be working more independently to become "experts" on topics that interest them; during folktales there would be a mixture of whole-group instruction with readers' theatre groups as a follow-up.

I get this question a lot, but the one thing I don't utilize daily is literacy centers.  In my experience, I've found that my students benefit more from direct-instruction or actual reading experiences than most center work during this time.  I do use them occasionally for specific skill practice, but just not as a daily routine.

I'm a HUGE writer's workshop girl!  This block has a 10-15 minute mini-lesson from me, then a 20-25 minute writing time for students, and a 5-minute sharing time at the end.  My writing is also set up in genres.  I think it's extremely important to teach students HOW to write many different genres.  However, each day, they also have time for "their" writing.  There's nothing more rewarding than seeing all of their creative ideas evolve into amazing stories!  You can read more about how my writing notebooks are set up HERE.


We take our own classes out for recess.  No recess aides here!

My absolute FAVORITE time of the day!  During our read-aloud block, I expose students to chapter books and author studies.  We usually read one chapter book per month (that takes about 2 weeks) and then the remaining days of the month (about 2 weeks) we'll read books from a specific author and learn about his/her "fingerprints."  You can download my free Author Study posters HERE.

We take our own classes to lunch during this time.

This is our DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) block.  It's so nice to come back from lunch and have everyone settle in for independent reading.  We have a rotation of "cozy spots" in my classroom each day so that every single student has a spot to curl up with a book and just ENJOY reading.  Our school does Accelerated Reader, so students may also be seen taking AR tests on computers and iPads during this time.  I will be found conferencing with readers about what they're currently reading or tests they've recently taken during this time - another favorite time of the day!  I LOVE finding out what kinds of books they're loving!

This is our Word Study block.  I use a Differentiated Reading program in my classroom so we can be found working on those pattern words during this block and also grammar skills (think nouns, verbs, contractions, etc).


We end our day with our Science/Social Studies block.  We "flip" these two subjects so we're either doing one or the other - never both.

Our school day officially ends at 2:30, but they call for bus riders around 2:20 so we begin packing up and doing classroom jobs around 2:15.  We usually still have children in our rooms until around 3:00 - that makes for a LONG dismissal, so I let my students play learning games, begin on homework, etc during this time.

I hope that gives you a peek at our day in our classroom!

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