Sunday, October 23, 2016

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!!!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

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.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

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 with Road to the Revolution Mock Trials

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 history classroom alive

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to School Classroom Scavenger Hunt and Giveaway

Can you believe it's back 2 school time already?  This is one of my favorite times of the year - new school supplies, new classroom decor, new students - a whole year of new possibilities.

And it to kick it all off, I am teaming up with 50 great teacherprenuers to bring you tried and true classroom management and organizational strategies that work in our classrooms. 

Please make sure that you hop to each participating blog! We are also hosting a giveaway. Enter to win one of two great prizes. We are giving away the chance to win a $50 TpT Gift Card and classroom resources from over 30 teacher authors. Good luck! 

To help you prepare for the first day of school with your new kiddos, I'm sharing my Back to School Classroom Scavenger Hunt. I love this activity because it gives kids the chance to explore their new classroom.  It's a fun, get em' up and moving, way to teach your brand new students where important stuff is located in the classroom.  And it serves as a great icebreaker too since they work in partners.  Plus, it's editable so you can customize it to fit your classroom needs!!

Download it for FREE right HERE.   


This activity is one of the first things we do each year, after discussing rules and expectations of course.  I randomly pair students up to work and set them off to explore their new domain.  The hunt usually takes about 30 minutes and then we discuss each item and what they noticed around the room.  This usually leads to a great discussion about other classroom procedures as well like cleanliness, pencil sharpening, bathroom breaks and more!!

Enjoy!!  And don't forget to enter the amazing giveaway below!!!!  Happy first day back to reality everyone!!

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