16 May 2017

5 Tips for New (or New-To-Grade) Teachers

😊This post is also featured on the TpT blog!😊

Are you a new teacher or a veteran teacher who is changing grades? 

I see you!  I've been you! 

In my 15+ years of teaching, I've taught 7 grades! Teachers are not always given the luxury of time to plan for changes, either. Quite often, you catch word that you are being moved in August, then you are so worried about setting up your classroom that you can't even begin to think about curriculum!  

Been there, done that!

Now I'm here to help! I've pulled together some of the things that I wish I had access to right away at the beginning of a new year in a new grade, and I'm laying it all out for you! I hope you can find some calm in the storm knowing that someone has walked a mile in your shoes, survived, and is willing to pass on tips to make your transition easier...

Tip #1 Make Learning Fun for Them, and Easy for You!

When I first moved up to middle school, I had to remember a lot of grammar rules, terms, and tricks that I had stored in the far reaches of my memory bank!  Since I know teachers get bumped from grade to grade, I decided to make some products that would make teaching grammar skills easy for veteran teachers and new teachers alike! The students will like these activities, too, because they aren't boring fill-in-the-blank worksheets or diagramming sentences!





Tip #2 Don't Reinvent the Wheel!

Something else I would have loved to have as a new-to-grade teacher is pre-made, ready to go lesson presentations and activities to start my year off right and RIGHT AWAY! There is no reason you need to customize every single lesson.  Until you are comfortable with your new curriculum, use lessons that have worked successfully in other classrooms. Borrowing lessons from veteran teachers is a great way to ease into new or unfamiliar curriculum.  


Tip #3 Read, Read, Read!

I think that most English or Elementary teachers have a secret crush on books.  I freely admit that I am a book addict! I love books of all kinds, board books on up to novels! My primary goal as an ELA teacher is to get kids to LOVE reading. I love reading aloud to kids, even middle schoolers. I love recommending books, I love doing novel studies, I love discussing what students are reading in their free time. Still, as teachers, we do have to teach reading comprehension strategies and other vocabulary and writing skills. I've created some novel study guides that offer more than just your basic comprehension questions and get students deeply involved in the story - not just lists of vocabulary words and comprehension questions! These novel study guides won't take the joy out of reading by burying students in busy work.

Tip #4 Teach with Music!

Students often have difficulty understanding theme and mood in literature, but they totally get T.V. shows and popular music! I've created these two products to help! Each activity starts with an exploration of popular theme songs, either from T.V. shows or movies. Kids often learn better through music, so these activities spark interest and grow dendrites :) I love to use these activities at the beginning of the year because students LOVE them and I love learning more about my kids!


Tip #5 Use Interactive Notebooks!

I'm a BIG FAN of Interactive Student Notebooks, too! I like to think that after my students leave my class and head to high school, they will have an ELA Reference "Bible" to take along with them! These notebooks are essentially a collection of skills learned throughout the year. My students find themselves referring back to notes in their ISNs at different times of the year to refresh their memories or to review for tests. Here are a few of my favorite ISN templates and activities:


I hope that some of these suggestions will help you in your quest to make this your best year yet! Take a deep breath, believe in yourself, and let those who have walked before you help you get started on your new path!

Click on the pictures above to find out more about my best-selling products in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. To get you started, you can click on the two pictures below to download some ready-to-use TODAY freebies!


 Find more great activities and resources from Tween Spirit on Teachers Pay Teachers!

04 May 2017

Gamify Your Classroom!

At this point of the year, I think it's safe to say the kids are losing interest in being in school and teachers are pulling out all the stops to keep kids motivated and engaged!

Between state standardized testing, end-of-the-year evaluations, and the weather finally improving in some parts of the world, student engagement is probably pretty weak in your class...am I right?  I'll bet most of you are running on fumes, too...I'll admit that I am!

Well, here's my secret to re-energizing yourself, your students, and your curriculum...

gamify (ˈɡeɪmɪˌfaɪ)

to adapt (a task) so that it takes on the form of a game

What does "gamifying" look like in a classroom?  It can look a few different ways!  Read on...

Low- or No-Tech: I love using Task Cards with my students as a way to up the fun while learning! Task cards require no technology at all...well, once you've printed them!  I use task cards in a few different ways, depending on my mood:)  

  • Play Scoot! "Scoot"  is a fun way to get kids moving.  I tape as many task cards as I have students around the room or on desks.  Each child gets an answer form, then they move from one card to the next in number order and responds to each task card on their answer sheet.
  • Pass the Cards! In this version, the kids stay at their seats, but the cards move.  Once a child answers the card's question, they pass it to the person next to them until they've responded to all the cards.  This works especially well for task cards with multiple choice or short answer questions.
Poetry Vocabulary Task Cards
  • Scramble!  I give students parts of a sentence that they have to unscramble to create a complete, correctly assembled sentence with proper punctuation. You can find this game (in a non-holiday version) "The Great Clause Race" in my TpT store for only $1!
The Great Clause Race
  • Around the World! This is the classic game we all played as kids in school, usually with multiplication flash cards.  2 kids stand up next to each other, the teacher reads a question from the card, and the first child to shout out the answer moves to the next opponent.  
  • Team Challenge! This may be my favorite!  I make 5-6 sets of the same task cards.  Rather than giving students an answer sheet, I put them in small groups and have them race against other groups to sort them.  (This doesn't work for all types of task cards, though!  I especially like to do this with parts of speech, three types of verbs, verbals or other grammar topics.) This variation requires kids to work together and gets their competitive juices flowing.  It's great support for weaker students and they don't feel as intimidated.
Task Cards
  • Minute to Win It!  This is also a great team variation.  I separate kids into teams and create challenges like "find all the cards with a noun underlined, then be the first to clothespin them together", or "be the first to alphabetize the words", or even "use all the sentences containing an infinitive to build a house of cards".  My middle schoolers LOVE playing Minute to Win It!
  • I Have, Who Has? You can't do this with basic task cards, but you can find specific "I have, who has?" cards on TpT, at teacher stores, or you can make your own.  This is a great game to calm kids down and really make them focus.  Each student gets a card or two (you have to pass out all the cards in the set for the game to work and come full circle).  One card will say "start"-that student begins by reading his card.  The rest of the students have to listen to the speaker, then look at their card to see if they have what the speaker is looking for.  For example, card one may say, "Who has the prefix that means 'under'?"  The student holding the card that says 'sub-' responds, "I have 'sub-', who has the prefix that means 'to do again'?" and so on until one student is left with the "stop" card.  When I taught elementary, I'd often end my day with this game while we waited for buses, or right after lunch recess to calm students down and get them re-focused.

Tech Required: There are SO MANY amazing, interactive game programs designed just for schools!  If you haven't tried any, please do!  Here are a few of my favorites: 

  • Quizlet and Quizlet Live! I really think this is the complete package of games!  It's really easy for teachers to set up an account at quizlet.com and to have his or her students join their class.  Once you've got an account, you can either create a set of flashcards, or use a set that another teacher has already posted.  Now that you've got a set of flashcards created, the FUN begins!  Kids can log in at anytime and use the flashcards in a variety of ways-as normal flashcards, as a matching game, a race between players, and my personal favorite in-class game-Quizlet Live!  Quizlet Live allows a teacher to break a class into teams that have to work together-YES! TOGETHER!- to match up terms and definitions.  They have to work together because each student only has a few of the answers.  As a team, they all see the definition, but only one teammate has the answer, so one kid can't do all the work!  Watch a demo here: https://vimeo.com/161809345.  Trust me your class will LOVE this!  Quizlet is something kids can do on their own at home to study, and it even has an option for teachers to create a variety of tests to print off.  Quizlet is super student and teacher friendly!
  • Kahoot! This is actually my least favorite online game, but kids like it.  Kahoot allows you to create your own or use sets made by other teachers, just like Quizlet.  Unlike Quizlet, Kahoot is a multiple choice game.  Here's what I don't love.  The question is only visible on the teacher's projected screen, but the answers are only on a student's device.  That makes for a lot of looking up and down, and honestly some frustration visually.  This game is usually played with all students playing for themselves against the rest of the class, which is great for bright, competitive kids with quick fingers, but can be frustrating for slow-processing kids.  The newest update does allow for teams, which I think is an improvement to keep all kids engaged. 
  • Quizizz!  Quizizz is my latest find and current favorite.  Quizizz is similar to Kahoot, in that it lets you create or use sets of multiple choice questions made by other teachers.  However, the big difference is that each student sees the question and answers on their own screen and that it is student-paced.  In Kahoot, the whole class has to wait for all students to answer (or the teacher can set a time limit) before moving on to the next question.  In Quizizz, as soon as a student answers a question, the next question pops up on their screen and they can move on.  It takes the pressure off slower students, and eliminates boring wait time for quicker students.  There is still a level of competition involved because the teacher can post a leaderboard and a winner can be named, but this is an option, not a necessity.  The other fun thing about Quizizz, is that after each question, a meme pops up congratulating them or encouraging them.  There are pre-loaded memes, or teachers can create their own.  The kids and I think they are pretty funny!
  • Nearpod! Now, Nearpod isn't as much of a game, as the others, but it is still a fun teaching tool.  I wrote a blog post about it last year, if you want a more in-depth review.  Since that blog, they've made updates which I think make it more fun.  With Nearpod, you can upload your own powerpoint or google slide presentations and add student activities to the slide show.  When you present, each student sees your slide show on their own device while you project it.  Between slides, you can insert activities such as multiple choice questions, polls, short answer responses, drawing responses, true/false questions, etc.  The students answer the question or do the activity on their device, then all responses pop up on the teacher's screen.  It's a great way to quickly insert formative assessments in a presentation, and it keeps kids' attention and gets students actively learning  during what would otherwise be a lecture-based lesson.  Most of Nearpod's functionality is free, if you upload your own slide shows.  However, there is a paid option that allows you more choice of activities, and the ability to purchase already created Nearpod presentations.

If you are looking for ways to keep student engagement high right up to the end of the year, I hope you try out some of these activities!  Do you have other ideas to gamify a classroom?  Let me know by commenting below!