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A Free and Simple Classroom Reward - a Gift for Both Students and Teacher

Are you looking for a simple and free way to reward your students?  Maybe they've met a behavior challenge, or reached a classroom goal - whatever the reason for celebration - I've got the perfect incentive that both you and your students will LOVE!

Rewarding your students with gifts is expensive. 

Buying gifts for your kiddos adds up, even if it's just adorable items from the Target dollar spot.  Nine months of purchasing school supplies and toys for a treasure bin costs more money than we want to admit.

Rewarding your students with candy is unhealthy.

I used to have a candy jar in my classroom where I would keep jolly ranchers and starbursts.  It was expensive to buy those large bags of candy, but the kids loved it.  I would use the candy to reward my students for all kinds of good behaviors. It seemed to be the easiest form of reward but in retrospect, I was just reinforcing the idea that rewarding with food is positive - which can lead to unhealthy lifestyles.

So how should I reward my students?

If you're fed up with spending money on toys and candy, go ahead and STOP NOW! Do what I've learned works best!  Reward your kids with experiences!

There are many different experiences you can give your students - extra time with technology, gym or recess time, the chance to sit by a friend or in a special classroom spot, the opportunity to have a classroom job or be a classroom leader, permission to bring in a special item from home, and so much more!  But my favorite experience of them all - is to reward my class with a classroom read-in!

A free and simple classroom reward for teachers.

Everything we do in our classroom revolves around building a love for reading.  So why not focus our classroom rewards on facilitating that love as well!

A read-in is FREE and SIMPLE for you and it can also be so much fun for the kids. This is a gift for both teacher and students!

What Makes A Successful Read-In?

  • Allow your students to bring in a blanket and pillow from home, maybe even a stuffed animal too. 
  • On the special day, push all the desks out of the way so your kids can spread out and get comfy. 
  • Let your students bring in their favorite snack (no candy though).  
  • Go to YouTube and play a crackling fireplace in the background.  (We even found a video on YouTube this year that played instrumental Christmas music along with the crackling fire. It was amazing!)
  • Read with your kids!
  • Take pictures to spread the love.
  • Wait for them to start begging for another Read-In! 
Crackling fireplace with Christmas music to use during a classroom read-in.

Here's the crackling fireplace with Christmas music that we found! 

Facilitate a love of reading with a classroom read-in.
I always read with my students during a Read-In.  It's so nice to get comfy and forget the stress of teaching for a short while! 

A student reads intently during a classroom read-in.  Who doesn't love to read during a read-in?

I hope you try out a read-in in your classroom this year.  It could be your next answer to rewarding your students for reaching that classroom goal or milestone!  If you have any additional tips for making a classroom read-in successful, leave them in the comments below!!

How to host a successful read-in.

The Secret to Conferring During Reading Workshop

Does conferring during reading workshop scare you? Have you ever felt like you're not sure what to say or teach or check for when you pull up next to a reader?  I used to have those moments all the time, and I would catch myself avoiding conferring - because it didn't feel meaningful. I would pull a small group instead since I had a lesson plan for teaching that. Or, I would even, "gasp," sit down at my computer, check my email and rest my tired feet for a few minutes (and pray that my principal wouldn't walk in at that exact moment).  Know the feeling?

Image result for principal walks in on teacher sitting at desk meme

Every. Single. Time. Right?

I  do allow myself the necessary time to catch up on conferring paperwork on Fridays during reading workshop (I use this conferring binder set to keep all my conferring notes organized). But during the rest of the week, I'm now able to confer with 3-5 readers every day because I've discovered the key to meaningful conferring and it is actually so easy!!!

What's the Secret?

Why am I no longer scared? How do I magically know what to talk about and teach during conferences? Here it is: One, single, solitary, focused, specific learning target is the secret.  That is all!

Before I discovered the secret, staying focused on one skill during reading workshop was tough. It's so easy to veer off, get distracted, tell a story, seize a teachable moment, etc. etc. Before I knew it, no one remembered the point of the lesson or knew what specific skill to practice during independent reading, and I wasn't sure what to talk about (besides my favorite books) during conferences.

Should I talk about book choice? reading logs? engagement? stamina? the new J.K. Rowling movie? I've walked away from MANY reading conferences thinking, "I'm not sure if I taught that reader anything, but we had a great conversations about books."

But now that I force myself to stay focused on ONE learning target during our mini-lesson, shared reading time, independent reading and reading conferences, it makes our reading workshop so powerful and my life so much easier!!

How do I do it?

First, I post our daily learning target on the board (see photo above.)  I also make a journal response prompt with the same learning target for each day.  I display this journal response prompt on the document camera at the start of our mini-lesson at the carpet and refer back to it several times.

Check out my TPT store HERE for journal response prompt sets in Reading, Writing and Math. 

After the mini-lesson, we head back to our seats and practice responding to this prompt together with a shared reading text.

Finally, students respond to the prompt independently during independent reading time.

And Best of All......

My reading conferences focus on the prompt and students share their responses to the learning target at the conclusion of workshop time.  Everything is focused on one, single target.   Now that I've discovered this simple secret, I always know what to say when I pull up next to a reader to confer.

A typical conference sounds something like this:

Me - I'm noticing (something good about the reader that relates to the learning target - compliment). Tell me more about that.

S - responds

Me - Now let's look at how you're doing with today's learning target.  Tell me about your journal response.

S - shows me response and explains thinking process

Me- I take notes and compliment, reinforce or intervene/teach as needed. I record notes on an Avery label to adhere later to the student's page in my conferring notebook. Lastly, I give the student a sticky note bookmark with a goal to work on relating to the learning target and I ask the student to talk to me about how they will achieve the goal.

S - responds

Me - I thank the reader for their work, remind them that I will check in on them and their progress toward their goal in a few days. I schedule them a time in my conferring binder calendar and I move on to the next student on the schedule.

And that's it, this secret has transformed our reading workshop and allowed me powerful teaching time with each reader in my classroom.  It's taken hours away from the planning process and it has simply made my life easier. Which is every teacher's deepest darkest wish, right?

The following products were used in this blog post:


Planning a Halloween Party this week?

Who has time to plan a Halloween party, right? I mean seriously people, I'm trying to teach and mold young minds here.  Ain't nobody got time for parties.  Isn't it sad that the pace of our curriculum to keep up with the new standards makes us feel this way?? If you're feeling like I am, read this post because it will help you plan your party quickly and easily so you can keep on keeping on with all that important learning stuff.

spend time teaching instead of planning

You'll need four parent volunteers, one for each station, and donations of all the items listed on the family letter below.  You may need more than one student to volunteer to bring in some of the items so you'll have enough for your whole class.

The party will consist of 4 twenty minute stations. You'll need to set a timer, play some spooky Halloween music and then let the partying begin!

Food Station #1

A week ahead of time, start off by calling student names and having them volunteer to bring in an item, if they are able. You can create the list on an anchor chart and they circle their choice on the family note below.  This takes 10 minutes tops. Once completed, you'll send the notes home and whew - your food station #1 is done.  Check that one off the list.

You can grab this EDITABLE Halloween family note for FREE at my TPT store HERE.

Send home this family letter to get donations for your Halloween Party

Halloween Bingo Station #2

Next, go on TPT and download a FREE Halloween Bingo game.  There are tons to choose from - 172 to be exact.  Probably even more by the time you search!

Print the bingo game and station #2 is complete!  Find your bingo chips, or other similar items to be used for marking, or students can even just X out the spots as they are called. We use pretzels - which you could have students bring in instead of crackers.

use pretzels as bingo markers

A parent volunteer will help run the bingo game.  Can't get much easier than that.  Dig out an old plastic pumpkin and pour in a bag of the donated candy you collected from students - prizes are ready!!

ask family members to send in bags of candy for game prizes

Mummy Wrap Station #3

For station #3, your students will play the mummy wrap game.  Why do kids think it's so fun to be wrapped from head to toe in toilet paper?  It's gross, but they love it!  And it's clean toilet paper of course.  :)  Use the donated toilet paper that you asked for on the family letter above.  In this station the kids will wrap a partner in toilet paper until the timer goes off.  I usually give them one minute. Whoever is the best looking mummy wins a prize (again donated candy in a plastic pumpkin - you can't go wrong with candy on Halloween) Or, if you're one of those super healthy people, you can ask for a student volunteer to bring in Halloween pencils for prizes.  They can be found pretty much everywhere.  If students are careful, they can reuse the toilet paper and play a few times before they move on to the next station.

Kids love the mummy wrap game

Skeleton Craft Station #4

Lastly, for station #4, you just need black construction paper, glue and the Q-tips you had volunteers donate in the family letter above.  Students will make this fun skeleton.  Check out this blog post explaining how to make them HERE.

Spooky Skeletons are the perfect Halloween craft

And that's it!  You're done!  You can use these same stations year after year.  Kids love them and you can spend your precious time teaching instead of planning parties!!!

spend time teaching and let this blog post do the planning

Oh, and speaking of partying.  Are you following me on Instagram yet?  I'm hosting a $50 giveaway - $25 in choice products from my TPT store and $25 Amazon gift card!

Head over to my page now and take your chances of scoring all the goods!!!

Building a Classroom Community through Read Alouds

Classroom culture is imperative to successful classroom management.   I spend the first few months of school building a classroom culture of respect and it pays off in the end. When students feel respected by their teachers and peers, they choose to make better behavior choices.  

positive classroom culture read alouds

Even Robert Marzano agrees - "Teacher-student relationships provide an essential foundation for effective classroom management—and classroom management is a key to high student achievement." 

According to the Teaching Tolerance website, "teachers must provide safe spaces where students are seen, valued, cared for and respected. And behavior management systems must support safe, inclusive communities by enforcing high standards for respectful interaction; incorporating student-generated discipline policies; teaching conflict resolution; and actively addressing all instances of bias, bullying, exclusion or disrespect."

One strategy that I've found helpful when building our classroom culture is carefully targeted read aloud books.

Here are my favorites for building our classroom community.  We refer back to them all year long!

Read Aloud #1

The first book I read every year is Thank You Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco.

Thank You Mr. Falker Classroom Community Read Aloud

This story is about Patricia as a child, her struggles with reading and bullying, and how a special teacher noticed and changed her life.  I start with this book because I tell my students. "I want to be this teacher for you.  I promise to do everything I can to help you grow and change - if you'll let me."
I want my students to know that I'm going to work really hard this year for them and in response, it makes them want to work hard for me (and for themselves which is even more important).

This book also offers a great opportunity to start an open dialogue about how the students in your class are going to deal with each other's differences and bullying.  When the students feel like they're in charge of the classroom culture and making the decisions about important issues, they follow through with their promises.

Read Aloud #2

Secondly, every classroom community needs to read and share The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up To Others by Maria Dismondy and Bob Sornson.

Juice Box Bully Classroom Community Read Aloud

Now that you've established how you are going to treat your students this year, it's time for a discussion about how they're going to treat each other.  Building a classroom culture of respect among your students is critical and will reduce those daily tattling/recess complaints.

This book is about a new kid who enters a class where they've already made a promise to treat each other with respect.  The new student starts to treat a few kids disrespectfully and the classmates stand up and model how to solve the situation positively.  So often kids just watch bullying from afar and are too afraid to do anything about it.  The Juice Box Bully challenges students to stop being bystanders and to stand up for their classmates together.

"This books is what will make us a family," I tell my students.  We make our own classroom promise after reading this book, and pledge to follow it all year long.

The Juice Box Bully Student Pledge

Read Aloud #3

The third book I share with my students is The Energy Bus for Kids by Jon Gordon.  We've talked about the teacher-student relationship, and the student to student relationships, now it's time to address the relationship with themselves.  How are the students going to make this a great year for them!  A positive attitude is so important in life.  The Energy Bus gives kids steps for making each day a positive one.  When kids are getting down on themselves for mistakes, I refer to the steps in this book all year long.  It helps them remember that they have the power to turn their day around.

The Energy Bus for Kids Classroom Community Read Aloud

Read Aloud #4

Last but not least, I shared this book for the first time this year - Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

Last Stop on Market Street Classroom Community Read Aloud

It won the 2015 Newbery Medal and the message it send readers - to accept others for their differences, to be grateful for what you have, and to serve others - is so powerful. We talk about how we are going to approach every day as an opportunity to do all three of these things in our classroom.

You can build a positive, respectful, teacher-student-self classroom culture in one week by sharing, discussing and implementing the ideas from these read alouds.  If you have other great read alouds that build classroom community, share them in the comments below.  I'd love to add to my collection!!

Build a Positive Classroom Culture with Read Alouds Blog Post

Affiliate Links are used in this post.

Revolutionary War Mock Trial Project Based Learning Activity

Are you looking for a must-do project for your social studies students this year?  If you teach the Revolutionary War time period, or anything to do with government and the judicial system - than you NEED this now!!!

Bring your history classroom alive

Bringing history alive is so important and so much fun!  In our classroom, we bring the American Revolution to the present day by putting the Sons of Liberty and the British Red Coats on trial during our classroom 'Mock Trials.'

I cannot take credit for this idea, it was passed on to me through my mentor teacher and even though she's now retired, I keep it going strong because it's just so amazing to see my students living out the history they've learned from their text books.

Now I want to pass the torch to you because this memorable project is the perfect way to bring excitement and authenticity to your history classroom.  Plus, mock trials are an ideal way to hit those Speaking and Listening standards in the Common Core.

Implementing mock trials though, or any project based learning curriculum can be TONS of work when you have to create everything yourself, as I have over the past 10 years.  So to make your life easier, I've compiled EVERYTHING right HERE that you will ever need to ensure successful classroom mock trials!

Bring your social studies classroom alive

Bring your history classroom alive with Mock Trials

So how does it work?  I'll run you through some of the important basics of putting on classroom mock trials. MUCH more in depth information, photos, and resources can be found right HERE.

Here we go!

Week 1 - Mock Trial Introductions and Auditions

  The first thing I do is talk with my students about the Judicial Branch of government and its purpose. I show them a couple (previewed) Judge Judy (or similar) clips from You Tube and we talk about why we need a judicial system and how jury duty works in our country.  

Next, I connect this discussion to two events we've learned about in social studies - The Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre (you could use any historical events that you wish). I explain to the students that we are going to bring the judicial system to life in our classroom by putting these two events on trial. Most of week one is full of discussion, creating anchor charts that detail each mock trial position, and hosting auditions.  

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials positions anchor chart example

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials audition script for attorneys and witnesses
One of my sweet students hard at work on a script to prepare for try-outs! 

Week 2 - Researching the Facts

After listening to tryouts, I determine who will receive each part and then pass out attorney case files. During week two, attorneys begin the research phase. They need to learn as much as they can about their particular case so they can prep the witnesses and create a winning strategy.

I check out lots of books on the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre from our school and local libraries so students can begin this phase and build their case.  My students work on this during daily independent reading and computer lab times so very little actual curriculum time is used.

Researching facts for Road to the Revolution Mock Trials
Using her text book and a library book to research the facts of the Boston Tea Party. 

Week 3 - Lines of Questioning

Attorneys begin to build their cases. They meet with witnesses to brainstorm strategies for defending or prosecuting the defendants.  They also use the facts they've gathered to write out the questions they will ask each witness during the trial. Plus, they start their opening statements. Attorneys and witnesses practice their lines of questioning and at the end of the week we hold our first rehearsal.

If you're wondering how in the world do they accomplish ALL of this in one week - everything is explained clearly HERE with pictures and every resource needed to make your life so much easier!!! You can implement this project without any experience with legal system jargon - I promise!!!  I've done all the work for you. :)

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials rehearsal number one
The judge's table and witness stand in preparation for rehearsal #1. 

Week 4 - Practice Makes Perfect

Now that the students have had a chance to practice what they've accomplished, week 4 is all about revising lines of questioning, beginning to formulate cross-examination questions/answers, finalizing opening statements, beginning closing statements and a second rehearsal.

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials attorneys rehearsing for trial
Attorneys and witnesses working on their lines of questioning. 

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials line of questioning rehearsal
Cross-examination rehearsal!
Road to the Revolution Mock Trials bailiff swearing in witness during rehearsal
The bailiff practicing swearing in a witness.

Week 5 - The Judge and the Jury

With two rehearsals down, most of the fifth week will be about preparing for the "real" judge and jury and a dress rehearsal.  I play the judge during all rehearsals but I invite someone in to serve as the official judge on trial day.  Don't worry, everything the judge will need and say is included HERE so your visitor can be anyone.  I do try to secure a graduation gown and gavel for the judge - but those are optional items.

The jury is the remaining students in your classroom after you've selected the 22 speaking parts (the number of speaking parts can be altered to fit your classroom needs).  For dress rehearsal I do ask my students to dress up.  They look so cute and serious in their dress clothes.

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials jury set up for rehearsal
The jury may seem like a small part to students but mine learn quickly that it's
actually the most powerful position!! 

Bring your history classroom alive with American Revolution Mock Trials
Dress rehearsal to get out the nerves!!! Look at those adorable suits and ties.

Week 6 - Court is in Session

It's the last week (you can complete this project in less or more weeks - depending on how much class time you want to use). I use very little class time, the students do most of their preparation during independent reading, writing and computer lab time and at home.

During this crucial week students finalize all parts of their case and I remind them how amazing they are!  I usually schedule the trials on a Friday so parents/visitors can take time off work and attend. Each trial takes between 45-60 min.

On the big day, I just sit back, relax and watch my students bring history alive.  Parents are shocked when they find out how little I've done during this project and how much their students are able to accomplish on their own!  Mock trial presentation day is my favorite school day every single year!

Road to the Revolution Mock Trials court docket

Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre Classroom Mock Trials

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