Holiday Activities to Beat the Christmas Wiggles

Do your students get the "wiggles"??  That seemingly incurable wiggliness that comes with the excitement of the holiday season!  I've taught grades 5-12 and it seems no matter the age they still still get the wiggles!

Here are a few ways that I've battled the wiggles over the 15 years I've been teaching - I hope you find them helpful in your own wiggly classrooms!

1.  Give the students opportunities to walk around and move - helps to get the wiggles out!!  Play "Four Corners" and ask holiday themed questions.  To play "Four Corners" print out four signs (Agree, Somewhat Agree, Disagree or Somewhat Disagree) and post them in the four corners of your room.  Ask your students a question or give a statement and ask them to go to the corner that best represents their thoughts.  Great opportunity to share ideas, discuss and debate, chat with someone who has a different opinion etc.  Here are some examples - you could ask your students to submit their own statements too!
  • Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year.
  • Giving is better than receiving.
  • I would love to be an Elf. 
  • I love winter more than summer.
  • I would rather be too cold than too hot.
  • I would rather have a fake Christmas tree.
  • I wish Christmas was in July. 

 2.  Winter Word Challenge—Divide students into teams of 3-4.  Give them a topic such as “Winter Sports” and see which team can come up with the longest list in 2 minutes. Other categories could include — Movies / Books / Songs with “Winter” in the title, winter clothing, US states that see snow, words you can make with the letters in “Winter Holidays”, things that get slippery when they freeze, Christmas carols, Christmas foods, adjectives to describe winter, famous winter sports athletes, winter word for each of the first 10 letters of the alphabet….)

3. Book Reviews - I've been having a lot of success lately asking students to post a book review of their favorite book.  Other students love to read what their classmates have to say about a book and quite often end up reading a book if it's been recommended by a friend.  Reading has increased as a result!  My students really enjoy a fun template to write their reviews on and so I try to provide different ones throughout the year.  Here's a fun freebie for you to use - it's Festive Book Reviews!  I've included four templates for you to use - two are Christmas themed and two are Winter themed. I've also included both color and black/white templates.  Enjoy!

I hope that you and your families have a wonderful holiday season!

Thanksgiving Poetry / Figurative Language Bookmarks - FREE

Thanksgiving has come and gone for me... I'm Canadian and we celebrate on the first Monday in October and it's typically a much smaller affair than it is for those of you south of the border!

I'm always amazed at the enthusiasm for Thanksgiving in the United States... I love that it brings families together for huge feasts and that there's a big focus on the idea of giving thanks.  I'm hoping you and your family have much to be thankful for and that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 So here's a holiday freebie for you to use with your students... it's a set of Thanksgiving bookmarks that also allows you to review poetry terms at the same time!  There are 16 bookmarks - some have poetry term prompts and some are left blanks - lots of options for you to pick from!  I've also included two sheets of Thanksgiving themed poetry/writing paper. My students love to color them in with markers or coloured pencils.

Click the image to download a copy of the bookmarks from my TpT Store.

Happy Thanksgiving!!


Halloween Freebie

Halloween is one of my favorite "holidays" of the year!  I love to dress up in a silly costume for school and really enjoy seeing the creativity of the students - some of their ideas are incredible. (Last year, we had 5 students come as different Tetris pieces that all fit together!)

Halloween falls on a Wednesday this year... smack in the middle of the school week!  I know that my students will have the "Halloween Wiggles" so I like to have some activities that I can do with them to help them focus and get back on track!

Here's a fun freebie for you to use as a writing prompt, poetry prompt, art prompt or simply as classroom decor!  You can download it at my TpT store OR by clicking the image below. 

I like to display the poster (or project it with a document camera) and have the students use the words or images as prompts for a story or poem.  Perhaps they have to include the purple words in their first paragraph, or put 2 orange words in their first sentence.... Why not write a haiku using a word from each color?? Or write a poem using the images as a starting point? 

Students could also use the poster as an inspiration to create their own "word art" or "subway art". (You can find lots of other examples of "subway art" online.)

I'm sure you can think of even more ways to use the poster!  Please share your ideas... I'd love to hear more!

The full download includes a copy of the poster in color, a copy in black/white and a sheet of b/w pumpkin writing paper!

Have a Happy Halloween!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Pinterest Power

So, I'm a huge fan of the visual clipboard site called Pinterest... it's like eye-candy for me!  I could spend hours browsing the beautiful pictures and never grow tired!   I've found amazing recipes, unique craft ideas, some of the most hilarious quotes, incredible blogs and unbelievable teaching ideas.  (My classroom has never looked so good!)

I've started posting a "Quote of the Week" in my room and I love the discussions my students and I have had as a result.  I've got an entire stash of quotes that I've found on Pinterest at the ready for each Monday.  If you'd like some inspiration check out my board of Quotes, Posters and Sayings!

There are literally thousands of teachers using Pinterest to gather ideas and inspiration... it's really amazing what people come up with and are so willing to share.  Here's my board of School Stuff.

Another fun aspect of Pinterest is the fact that people from all over the world can collaborate and all pin to the same board! What an amazing concept!  A global village of teachers connecting through Pinterest.  Some of my favorite collaborative boards are The Lesson Cloud, Connect-A-Blog, and the fantastic boards organized by The OC Blog.

There are entire teacher boards dedicated to FREEBIES!! Who doesn't love a good freebie?!  Check out Fabulous & Free and Free Lessons for some fun and free ideas and products!

Be sure to check out this list of teachers using Pinterest at Debbie Clement's incredible blog Rainbows Within Reach.  Add your link below... but be sure to head over to her blog to see the links she's organized over the last few weeks - she's sooo organized to have them sorted into categories. 

photo of: The Great Upper Elementary Pinterest Link UP hosted by RainbowsWithinReach

Have fun pinning!!

Classroom Ipad Rules

I was thrilled last year to be given a class set of ipads!! I can't believe what a difference they've made for my teaching!  However, I knew that before I could hand them out to my high-school students I'd have to develop a list of rules about their use and a system to keep track of them.

My new students are very excited about using the ipads and can't wait to get their hands on one next week.  However, before I let them loose I need to go over some of the basic rules for their use.  I spend some time talking about how lucky we are to have them (one of only 2 classrooms at my school with access to ipads) and that using them is a privilege.  Luckily the students really seem to pick up on this and respond well to the rules that I've established for their use.

The first day I allow the students on the ipads I go over the rules that I have posted in the classroom.   We spend some time talking about why the rules are in place and the importance of following them. And we talk about consequences... which are really very simple in my class... you break a rule, you lose the ipad for the day.  You break a rule twice and you lose the right to an ipad for a month.  Last year... I only had one student break a rule twice. (He somehow managed to put a lock on the ipad that only he could undo. Sooo frustrating!!)

After talking about the rules... I let the students just play!  They love it! They take pictures, they distort the pictures, they watch videos, they web surf and they giggle! I let them get the giggly "oh my goodness these ipads are soo cool, I can't believe we get to use them"... giggles out of their system. It seems to work!  The second time we use them... it's all business.

Luckily, the settings on an ipad can be locked down very well. My students cannot download programs, change settings, add / delete an app or do anything too terrible to them.  Frustratingly, they can change the language (I once opened an ipad to see Japanese!) and change the wallpaper settings.  Minor inconveniences that I can ask the students to fix... they do it once, get caught and never do it again!  (Having a good sign-out system means I know who changed things!)

What are some systems you have in place for using ipads or technology in your classroom?? Have I missed something hugely important?? Would love to hear what some of you do? 

To read more about why I love my ipads check out this previous blog post.  Stay tuned for more posts this year too!  I plan to write about some of my favorite apps and uses for the ipads.



Back To School Teaching Goals

The Back to School Season is in full swing for most of us  and I like to set some goals for myself for the year.  But... I'm going to be totally honest here... I often forget what my goals were by the time November rolls around....

I learned through the years that I need to write my goals down on paper - I need a reminder throughout the year to keep me on track with my goals.  Soooo this year I've made a quick template to print out and keep in my day book and post on the wall by my desk... I'm hoping that by being constantly reminded about what I've set out to accomplish this year, that I'll be more successful!

Just to give you some inspiration and get you started, I'm going to share some of my own goals with you!

Teaching Goals
-give my students at least one brain break in each 80 min. class
-to differentiate all major assignments in the classes

Professional Goals
- to present at two conferences this year (I've recently started presenting at workshops and I'm really enjoying it!)
- to read five professional books this school year

Personal Goals
- to cook at least three new recipes a month
- to go to the gym at least once a week

Click the picture above to download your own goal setting sheet.  
Good luck!  Feel free to share a goal or two in the comment section... I'd love to hear what other teachers have planned for their year.

Freebie Fridays


Back To School Fun With Sticky Notes

The new school year is an exciting but also slightly nerve-wracking time of the year for both students and teachers.  I know I always have the dreaded "Nightmare Before School Starts" that usually involves me standing in front of a classroom full of chaos!

I like to start off my first class with students by introducing myself as more than "just a teacher".  I want students to know that I have a life beyond the classroom - I'm a mountain biker, a snowboarder, a hiker, a wife, a dog owner, a traveller, a reader... it's amazing how many kids I can connect with over the activities I participate in!  Finding a connection with kids is so important to me and it's done wonders over the years to build great rapport with my students.  I have a fun "Back to School Survey" I give students to get to know them a little bit better and I encourage them to share their answers with each other.  Download a FREE copy of the survey from my TpT Store!

Sticky Notes can also be a powerful tool for getting to know students and creating an open and sharing classroom.  I have piles on my desk and I want students to get used to the idea of sharing ideas on the board so I do a few activities in the first few days with sticky notes.  When students are asked questions and then told they can post their answers anonymously on the board they are more likely to be very forthcoming with their answers.

  • ask students to write down two things they're excited about and one thing they're nervous about in regards to your class - post them on the board and then discuss with the class
  • ask a fun question - "If you could perform with any band in world who would it be?" or "If you were a car, what would you be?" and share their answers they've posted on the board
  • ask students for advice as you start off the year - "Write down two things that would make this class work really well for you."  OR "Great teachers __________________"
  • One of the subjects I teach is Geography so to get kids thinking about my subject area I'll ask them to write down their favorite city, their dream vacation destination, the closest volcano to our school, list two environmental concerns...
  • When I teach English, I ask students to write down their favorite book, their favorite character, what fictional city they'd love to visit, the book character they're most like....
  • The students love the see what everyone else has come up with, but they also love the fact that it's anonymous so they're not self-conscious about writing down an answer.

Hope you have a smooth transition into your classroom this  
new school year!


Fun Back to School Student Survey

I have a love-hate relationship with the first week BACK TO SCHOOL - it's great to see my fabulous co-workers, catch up with friends, and see students back in my classes. However, it's also a frenzy of paperwork and "administrivia" that can bog us all down as we try to start off a new school year. 
It is so important that I get to know my students at the start of the year and I try to establish a connection with them quickly.  Instead of the usual survey questions for Back to School, I've made things a little quirky and different. For example, I've asked students to list the song that got stuck in their heads the most this summer (for me it was "Greenlight" by Lorde... just goes 'round and 'round my head sometimes!!) Or to list their favorite flavor of ice-cream (Ben & Jerry's Phish Phood - chocolate caramel goodness!).

1.  Be sure to do the survey yourself.  For real. And be willing to share your answers with your students.  Students love to learn the little details about you and it can be a fun way to find a connection with a quiet or shy student.  Plus... once my students figure out I love Skittles... it's amazing how often they bring me some.

2.  Don't try to do the whole survey all at once.  I usually ask the students to work up to a certain point and then stop.  I take a few minutes to see if anyone wants to share an answer and then I share one of mine.  This gives students who may feel "stuck" a chance to hear what others have said and it shows my students that I'm willing to share too.

3.  After about 10-15 minutes of doing the survey I ask my students to stop again.  I ask them to put a star or circle their favorite question on the survey that they've answered so far.  I ask them to share with a partner.  I give the students 2-3 minutes to do this.  I ask for volunteers to share their answers... BUT I ask them to share someone else's answer.  For example - "Juan's favorite movie this summer was ____________". Or... "Kira went to New York City for her vacation."  And of course,  I'll volunteer another answer.  OR ask the students to pick a question for me to answer.

4.  One of the questions I ask on my Student Survey is to name "the song that got stuck in your head this summer".  Yup... you guessed it... I'll ask my students to write their answers on a sticky note and put it on the board so that I can play the songs during the first few weeks.  Note - MY STUDENTS LOVE THIS!

5.  I like to give my students lots of time to answer the survey - sometimes I'll leave it for a day and go back to it.  The first few days of school can be overwhelming for some kids and often on their second opportunity to answer the questions they're more willing to expand on ideas.

6. Use the survey answers to do a "Speed Dating" activity - I'll split my students into two even groups (I'll jump in to make it "even" if I have to.) and partner them up using a system of your choice.  Switch partners frequently asking them to: find a common answer, find an opposite answer, share their favorite answer, come up with a new question...  

7.  Using sticky notes have students share their answer to a specific question using sticky notes on my board, (I don't ask them to put their names on their sticky notes.) and then I look for patterns or commonalities within the classroom.  For example - "Wow... it looks like many of you saw 'Wonder Woman' this summer!"  It's a great springboard to a class discussion!

8. As an extension idea I ask students to write a paragraph to justify one of their answers to a question of their choice.  They pick the question and then they must write a correctly formatted paragraph to explain their answer - I get to know them a little more, but more importantly I can quickly identify what the strengths and weaknesses are in my classroom in terms of paragraph writing.

Download a FREE copy of my Back to School Survey from my TpT Store!  Download includes teacher activity suggestions, survey and writing paper.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Playing with Playdough

I love keeping my students on their toes wondering what they're going to do in class everyday.  Some days (despite my best intentions) class isn't very exciting, however when my high school students walk into class and see that I've got the playdough out, they get positively giddy!

It's amazing how the feel and smell of playdough can take us back to being 4 years old! I love the way it wams up in my hand and the salty taste it leaves behind.  Apparently, my students feel the same way!!

Here's how I use playdough in my Science, Geography and English classrooms.

1. Playdough is a fabulous way for students to create 3-D models of a concept.  Whether it's creating the shape of a specific type of volcano, demonstrating a plate boundary, creating an organism, a cell, an internal organ or part of a plant... having the students physically create something helps them to learn the information and retain it.  I always circulate around the room, ask my students to explain what they're making, ask them to share with a partner etc. 

2. Playdough is also a fantastic way for students to explain a process. For example I can ask students to use playdough to explain how headlands, sea caves, sea arches and sea stacks are related.  This takes the lesson beyond a typical sketch and paragraph. I quickly circulate and ask students to explain the concept to me, I can ask the students questions and they can share with each other.  Other examples - show me three pieces of evidence that glaciers move, show how a rift valley forms, demonstrate the life cycle of a star, show the phases of the moon, the digestive track...  I think the possibilities are almost endless for science (especially biology and earth science / geography).

3. In English class I have asked students to create and explain a symbol to represent a character, a theme, the mood, a character's emotion, the setting, the climax... Asking students to think outside the box and demonstrate their learning in a different way is not only engaging for the students, but also makes the lesson memorable and long-lasting. Here's an example of how a student used playdough to represent a setting.

4. One of the biggest things about using playdough is that it's risk free for the students.  I can't collect it and mark it. I'm not judging them on their artistic abilities because as long as they can explain it , I know that they understand it.  It's not permanent... so if they see that they've got the concept wrong the first time, the playdough gets mashed up and they can start all over again.  No harm is done and no marks are lost!  

5. Did I mention how excited my students get when they see playdough?? I've had the same box of playdough for two school years... all of the colors are in their original containers, none of the colors have been mixed / mashed together and none are missing.  The students respect the opportunity I'm giving them and I've had no problems.  I'm not gonna lie... I was worried that all sorts of inappropriate things where going to be made out of the playdough... but so good!

How have you used playdough in your classroom?? 

Have fun!

Be sure to check out some other fun and smart teaching techniques by following the link below.
Smart Teaching

Smart Teaching

May Freebie - Summer Bookmarks

Ah... summer! I can't wait!! I love nothing more than waking up and throwing on a t-shirt, pair of shorts and my flip-flops and eating my breakfast outside while reading the paper! It's pure bliss!!!  Sadly... the weather in my neck of the woods is still a little cool, but I'm hopeful that sunny skies are on the horizon.

I'm working until mid-June, but know that many teachers and students are winding down in May and will be finished before the end of the month! (Not that I'm jealous or anything!!)

So here's a freebie for May that also ties into my love of summer and my love of reading. Did I mention that I love to read outside... in the sun...with fresh lemonade nearby?? I've a giant stack of books I can't wait to sink my teeth into this summer!

I created a set of Summer Poetry Bookmarks (like my Earth Day Poetry Bookmarks) - there are 32 bookmarks with two themes! There's a Beach Blue theme and a Sunny Orange theme and if you don't have access to a color printer you can ask the students to color them in themselves.  I've also included two summer themed writing papers for students to write a longer poem or to write down their summer dreams  /hopes / wishes / goals etc.

These bookmarks are a great review activity for figures of speech and can be given out with Summer Reading Lists, as a token from you at the end of the year, or just for a fun reminder of what they learned during the year.

You can download the bookmarks simply by clicking the image below.

Hope your Summer Break starts sooner, rather than later!!  Here's to the lazy, hazy days of summer!


PS - I just completed the 5-Star Blogger Challenge hosted by Charity at the OC Blog.  Check out the list of amazing teacher bloggers who've linked up! 

5-Star Blogger


Classroom i-pads

I'm in love... in love with my i-pad!  AND... I'm lucky enough to have a set of i-pads in my classroom and I have to say they've transformed the way I teach and how my classroom operates... we've hardly used a textbook since we got them!  The i-pads are a powerful tool and means students literally have the world at their fingertips! 

Here are some of my favorite things about having i-pads in my science classroom.
  1. Because of their portability, there's much, much more collaboration and sharing between students.  I love nothing more than seeing students showing each other what they're learning.
  2. Because we're in our classroom using them, we're closer together physically then we would be in the computer lab.  Students can work together in small groups and easily discuss ideas and still have room to write something down / create a project / type something out etc.  It's also much easier for me to keep an eye on what they're up to and monitor their use. (Although I have to say the kids have been awesome about staying on-task!)
  3. Kids can work at their own pace - they can flip through a video and pause and play it as they need to. Or work through an activity / app at their own pace rather than watching me do it on a projector.
  4. The apps are amazing!! Where else can students zoom in on the surface of Mars? or the Moon? Interact with molecules and see them from all angles? Build and create 3-D models? Make a video? Watch a video? Take a photo of something related to our subject and then write about it? Research just about anything their minds can think of?
  5. Science is so visual - what better way to learn about glaciers than to take a virtual cruise up Glacier Bay?  We "virtually visited" a local glacier on Google Earth and students were able to zoom in and out how and when they want to?  My students didn't even know there were glaciers practically in their backyard and were blown away by what was on the other side of the local mountains! And... they can see how glaciers have changed the landscape... locally! My students were so engaged as they virtually zoomed around our area looking for evidence of glaciation that glaciers suddenly became relevant and no longer just big chunks of ice that they had to learn about just because it's part of the curriculum.
  6. i-pads are just plain FUN!! The novelty hasn't worn off yet! My students LOVE to use them and we are all constantly amazed at what we have access to and what we can do with them.  Because they're enjoying the i-pads and what we're able to do with them, the students have shown great respect in how they use and handle them... I've had no issues with misuse (yet!)

I'm just touching the tip of the iceberg with my classroom i-pads and I can't wait to spend some time exploring more possibilities with them this summer. 
Stay tuned for more blog posts ahead with my favorite apps, tips for setting up i-pads in your own classroom and more of the pros (and some cons) of having them. 

Have you got access to i-pads in your classroom? What do you think?

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