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Every teacher knows that independent reading is important for students. Promoting a reading culture in your classroom is vital so that students gain the many advantages of reading books. As we get ready to celebrate NEA's Read Across America Day and National Reading Month, I wanted to share some fun independent reading activities. These activities will get students excited about reading and introduce them to new children's books in your classroom library.

We know that reading daily reduces stress, provides mental stimulation and is fun. But there are lots of academic advantages of reading books for kids too. Important stuff like building the student's reading fluency and reading comprehension skills. It also improves vocabulary and increases memory. Two things almost every student could use! 

By using a wide variety of independent reading activities in your class, you can build a culture of strong readers in your class. A while back, I shared some big teaching mistakes I made that had killed the love of reading in my classroom. You know I'd never leave you hanging with a downer like that though. So I also shared the simple changes you can implement to get all your students to love reading again.   

Here are some more independent reading activities to promote a love of reading and get your students excited about new books this month:
(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and funds giveaways for you!)
Book Raffle
This is a great way to get students excited about the new books in your classroom. These could be brand new purchases, part of your library that you hadn't shown students yet, or books you've borrowed from the library. Set up the books around a table with a cup in front of each, and give your students some tickets. (You can buy a roll of raffle tickets here or just cut slips of paper.)

Before the raffle, show students each of the books and give them a little teaser. Read the back of the book or a couple of paragraphs from the first chapter. Then let your students put a ticket in the cup for the books they most want to read. Draw a ticket from each cup, and the winner gets to be the first student to read that book. Make a huge deal out of how lucky they are! 
Flashlight Reading
Anything you can do to mix up the reading time is fun & exciting for kids. This is one of my favorites! Grab some mini flashlights, turn off all the lights, and let students use their flashlights to read in the dark. You can also get finger lights, that light up in different colors. Students love the novelty, and it's amazing how quiet and focused they are when the classroom is dark.
Teacher's Personal Library
Create a personal library of your own favorite books. Choose some of your very favorites that you know your students will also love. Place them on a special bookshelf - up a little higher than normal or behind your desk or teaching table. Add a sign that says "Mr./Ms. ___'s Personal Library - Please Ask to Borrow." Students feel like they're getting special access to a secret set of books just for them, and they love it! When something seems "off limits" it's so much more appealing, especially to upper elementary students.
Read Somewhere New
Take your entire class somewhere different for some independent reading time. You can make anywhere seem special as long as you present it that way to the class. Here are some ideas... If your school has an auditorium, let your class read on stage. When the weather is nice, go outside to a grassy spot or an area with benches. Take your class to an unused playground to read on a swing or the slide. Before or after lunch, let them read at the cafeteria tables. The change of scenery is nice for everyone.
Special Guest Readers
Ask special guests to come into your class, share a little about their favorite book, and read the book or a chapter to your students. You can ask other adults in your building, especially those your students know and look up to. Parents and older siblings also make great guest readers. Don't forget your own spouse or family too. You can always vet the book selections and provide appropriate suggestions This way, you'll know the books are appropriate levels and content for your class. 
Read in Bed Time
I ran across this independent reading idea on Angela Watson's blog, The Cornerstone for Teachers. She calls it Stay in Bed & Read. Let your students wear their slippers, cozy up with a blanket or stuffed animal, and have extra time to read. There's something magical about getting comfy and reading a good book!
"Read All Day" Day
Every now and then, if you can get your admin on board, have a day where you do nothing but read. (Read Across America day is perfect for this, and easy to get admin support for!) Plan several of these fun reading activities throughout the day and make it a full day focused on reading. Since most students probably don't have the reading stamina for a whole day, schedule shorter blocks of independent reading time around lunch and enrichment classes. Mix in some of the other activities like special guest readers, a book tasting, or a book raffle to keep students excited. 

For more great reading activities and ideas, follow me on Instagram @chalkandapples. If you try one of these independent reading activities, I'd love to see it! Tag me on your Instagram pics or a pic or two.

Happy teaching!
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Reading books aloud is just as important in fifth grade as it is in earlier years. Fifth graders still need to experience listening to a fluent reader on a regular basis to help improve their own reading skills. To help you choose the perfect read aloud books for your class, I've put together a list of my very favorite fifth grade books These books will keep your students excited about reading and open doors to deep classroom discussion about tough themes like friendship, acceptance, loss, and bullying. Here are eleven of the best books for fifth graders...
(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and funds giveaways for you!)

1. Frindle by Andrew Clements
Nick Allen has a reputation for doing little things to annoy his teachers. In fifth grade, Nick meets his match in Mrs. Granger. She's the toughest teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, and is known for her love of vocabulary and the dictionary. Nick challenges her by getting the entire school to call a pen a "frindle." The name catches on, and soon Nick becomes a local hero. 

Frindle is a perfect read-aloud for the beginning of the school year because it's a quick, fun read. Students love the back-and-forth between Nick and Mrs. Granger, so this is a great book for getting reluctant readers interested in books. 

Buy the book: Frindle

2. Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Auggie Pullman is a 10-year-old boy living in New York City. He was born with a facial deformity that has prevented him from going to school and made it very difficult for him to make friends. Wonder begins as Auggie contemplates starting school for the first time in his life as a 5th grader. As he begins school, Auggie is faced with the challenge of making friends and dealing with bullies. 

No book list is complete without Wonder. It's truly one of my favorites and has been a student favorite every year that I've read it. The point of view switches several times throughout the story, giving lots of opportunities to teach literature skills. This touching story is perfect for teaching compassion and acceptance in your classroom. The follow-up book of short stories, Auggie & Me, is a must for your classroom library since it presents the bully's side of the story. 

Buy the book: Wonder

3. Firegirl by Tony Abbott
Everything changes when Jessica joins the 7th grade class at St. Catherine's . Jessica was badly burned in a fire and is attending the school while she is getting medical treatment. Despite her appearance, a boy named Tom befriends Jessica, and his life is changed as a result. 

This book is a perfect follow-up or alternative to Wonder. It continues the themes of acceptance, empathy, and not judging one another based on appearance. Firegirl is another quick read, so it's perfect for the last few weeks before a break. 

Buy the book: Firegirl

4. Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Luke has spent the first 12 years of his life in fear and isolation due to a law limiting families to only two children. As the third child in his family, Luke is one of the "shadow children" who spend their entire lives hiding from the Population Police. He's never been to school, the park, a birthday party, or any of the other things most 12-year-olds take for granted. Everything changes when Luke discovers another shadow child living next door. Jen has a dangerous plan to protest the population law, and wants Luke to help her.  

This entire series keeps students (and me) on the edge of their seats. It's suspenseful, dangerous, and masterfully written. I love reading the first book in a series, because students will often go on to read the rest of the series on their own. Go ahead and get the box set, because you will have a wait list of kids wanting to read the rest of these books as soon as you finish this one! 

Buy the book: Among the Hidden

5. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
13-year-old Brian is a city-boy from New York when he boards a single-engine plane headed for Canada to spend the summer with his father in the oil fields. When the plane's pilot suddenly dies of a heart attack, the plane crashes, and Brian finds himself stranded in the wilderness. Brian slowly begins to learn survival skills while he hopes to be rescued. 

Hatchet is always a favorite of the boys in 5th grade. It's filled with adventure, suspense, and the struggle to survive in the woods alone. The writing is very descriptive and realistic, due in part to the fact that many of its events were inspired by Gary Paulsen's own life. (He tells the true stories that inspired all the Brian books in his book Guts.)

Buy the book: Hatchet

6. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
"Maniac" Magee is an orphaned boy who lives a very unhappy life with his aunt and uncle for 8 years before finally deciding to run away. Maniac eventually finds himself in a small, racially divided town. Maniac meets a girl named Amanda Beale and moves in with her family, but the family faces negativity due to his race, and he runs away again. After living with the Beales, a zookeeper, and the McNabbs, Maniac eventually finds a home with friends who become his family. 

Maniac Magee is a modern classic with themes of kindness, generosity, overcoming differences, and love. While it's set in the past, it remains relatable and easy to read, even for students without background knowledge of the time period. There are some uncomfortable moments of racial tension in the book, but these lend themselves to class discussions about respecting each other and embracing our differences. 

Buy the book: Maniac Magee

7. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Freak the Mighty is the story of two boys who are polar opposites, yet neither fits in with the rest of the crowd at school. Kevin, known as "Freak," is small for his age and very intelligent. Max is bigger than all the other kids in his class but struggles in school & has trouble making friends because of his family's past. These unlikely friends become close as they endure challenges together. 

This is a simple, yet touching story with themes of friendship, bullying, and seeing people for who they truly are. This quick read is loved by students and leads to rich classroom discussion. 

Buy the book: Freak the Mighty

8. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Bud (do not call him Buddy!) is a 10-year-old boy on the run from a terrible foster home. Before his momma died, she left him a clue about who his father was... a flyer advertising for a famous band. Bud is sure that these flyers will lead him to his father, so he takes off in search of the band. 

Students will love following Bud on his journey across Michigan in search of his father. While the story is set in 1936, it is still easily relatable to today's students. While I normally wouldn't suggest the audiobook in lieu of reading to your students yourself, the audio version of Bud, Not Buddy is wonderful! The music in the background. The narrator sounds just like Bud. If you're looking for something for a listen to reading center, it's fantastic!

Buy the book: Bud, Not Buddy

9. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
This classic World War II story is told from the perspective of 10-year-old Annemarie Johansen, a Jewish girl living in Denmark. Through Annemarie's eyes, readers learn how the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark out of the country to Sweden where they would be safe from the Nazis. 

This is one of the best World War II novels I've read for upper elementary students. If the war is in your social studies standards, this is a must read for your class! It's a story of strength, resilience, and human decency in the midst of this terrible war. 

Buy the book: Number the Stars

10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Four adventurous siblings step through the door of a magical wardrobe into the fantasy land of Narnia. The White Witch controls all of Narnia, where it is "always winter, but never Christmas." Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy meet a host of characters and form alliances with the good animals of Narnia to defeat the White Witch. When all hope seems lost, they meet Aslan, the lion, and together they battle the White Witch to save Narnia. This classic story is truly magical!

11. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Jesse Aarons wants nothing more than to be the fastest runner in 5th grade, and after practicing all summer, he almost is. When the new girl at school, Leslie, beats Jesse in the recess races, the two become fast friends. They spend their afternoons and weekends in the woods behind her house, where they invent a make-believe world called Terabithia. Jesse is king, Leslie is queen, and they enjoy lots of imaginary fun in Terabithia until one day when tragedy strikes. This touching story deals with themes of friendship, loss, and grief. 

Buy the book: Bridge to Terabithia

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Using fun reading websites can be a big motivator for students during reading centers. Students love practicing reading skills online since it often feels like fun instead of work. You'll love that many of these reading websites make it easy for teachers to set up and let them run themselves. I've compiled a list of ten of my favorite reading websites for upper elementary center activities. These free reading websites and apps will be a hit during your centers. Here are some teacher tested and student approved reading activity websites you just have to check out:

1. Epic!
Epic is a collection of over 25,000 books, learning videos, quizzes, and more that students can access at school or home. Students get personalized book recommendations based on their age, level, & interests. These aren't books you've never heard of either. You'll find well-known quality books your students can read on any device. It's totally free for teachers! 

2. Newsela
Newsela is my go-to site for nonfiction articles for elementary students. The site features articles based on current events and has specific content for grades 2-6. Quizzes, writing prompts, & vocabulary are included. While there is a paid version available, the free account allows teachers to assign articles and students have access to all the quizzes and activities. 
3. Freckle
Freckle allows teachers to assign differentiated work in ELA, Math, Social Studies, and Science. Teacher accounts are free and provide detailed reports of each student's progress on the assignments. Students love completing the challenges and earning 

4. ReadTheory
ReadTheory is an adaptive program that automatically assigns short articles to students based on a placement test. Once students begin using the site, harder or easier passages are assigned based on student performance. It's quick and easy to set up since teachers don't need to manually assign passages. The placement test starts at a third grade level and quickly adjusts up or down based on whether the student is able to answer the comprehension question correctly. 

5. CPalms
CPalms has a collection of free public resources students can use to practice reading comprehension skills. The site has a multitude of activities, resources, and website suggestions. I've found the most success by using the link above, navigating to my grade level, and choosing Original Student Tutorials. These require no login, and students can read the passages and answer questions on a variety of comprehension skills. Since this site is from Florida, the Florida Standards are included for each activity, but it's very easy to read those and find the corresponding standards for your school. 

6. ReadWorks
ReadWorks has passages available for grades K-12 and for a variety of topics including fiction and nonfiction. Students can complete assignments online. These assignments are automatically graded, and teachers get detailed progress reports. ReadWorks also has several options to differentiate passages to reach of your students, including on page supports as well as read aloud and scaffolded versions. 

7. Common Lit
Common Lit has articles and passages from real literature for grades 3-12. Teachers can choose a lesson to assign to your students and monitor their progress with easy to read progress reports. My favorite thing about Common Lit is that so many of the texts are real literature! You'll also love the built-in accessibility shortcuts for students with IEPs and ELLs. 

8. Learning Farm
Learning Farm has ELA & Math content for grades 2-8. Everything is aligned to your own state's standards and is computer-adaptive, so you know students are getting exactly what they need to practice. It's very student friendly, with fun games to play after each passage. 

9. ABCya
ABCya has lots of fun ELA, math, keyboarding, and strategy games. This site is definitely a little more to the "fun" side of things, which makes it perfect for using on test days when students need center activities that are a little less taxing. I love their word games as a fun Friday activity in the Word Work center. 

10. No Red Ink
No Red Ink is a student favorite for practicing grammar & writing skills. When students log in for the first time, they choose several of their favorite TV shows, movies, books, etc. and all of the work they do features those characters and settings. Students love seeing their favorites in the work they are doing. Teachers can assign skills and topics, and then students complete the lessons and quizzes. You can check students' progress at any point and see where they may need help. 

I'd love to hear what reading websites you're using for centers. Share your favorites in the comments! 

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Christmas is one of my favorite times to teach. I especially love sharing holiday picture books with my students. The challenge, though, is that by 4th or 5th grade, many of them have already read all of the classic Christmas favorites. Don't get me wrong, I love The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas as much as the next girl, and I definitely believe in rereading books. But, if you're looking for some Christmas read alouds for your upper elementary class that they might not have seen before, you're in the right place. Here are some Christmas picture books that just might be new to you and your students...

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and funds giveaways for you!)
A World of Cookies for Santa
by M. E. Furman - This book follows Santa around the world as he eats Christmas treats from different cultures. Santa visits the Philippines, France, Malawi, Russia, and more. The book even includes nine cookie recipes to try!

Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama
by Selina Alko - This is the story of Sadie, who celebrates a beautiful mix of Christmas and Hanukkah traditions with her family each year. When her relatives gather, everyone shares the story of their holiday traditions.

Grace at Christmas

by Mary Hoffman - Grace is unhappy about having to share Christmas with strangers after her Grandmother invites a family friend to spend the holiday with them. Written by the author of Amazing Grace, Saving Grace, and more. 

Too Many Tamales
by Gary Soto - Maria is so proud to help make tamales for her family's Christmas dinner. When her mother leaves the room, Maria plays with her diamond ring and loses it. After a desperate attempt to find the ring, Maria learns a valuable lesson about telling the truth instead of trying to cover up a problem. 

Christmas Truce
by Aaron Shepard - This fictional letter from a British solider to his sister recounts the story of the Christmas Truce during World War I. The soldier tells his sister about spending Christmas Eve singing carols and laughing with German soldiers during the night and into Christmas Day. (Recommended for older readers, as references to the war are included.)

I'm always looking to add new books to our collection... What are your favorite Christmas books for big kids?

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Scheduling is always one of the hardest parts of getting small groups and centers up and running. Whether it's speech, an intervention, gifted classes, or special education services, as important as all of these pull out programs are, they do make it tough to find a time to meet with all of your students. Don't stress! I've got a step-by-step system to share with you! I'm sharing the simple system that I use to sort my students into groups & schedule my guided reading or meet with teacher time. 
Although there are some cut and dry rules in this step-by-step process, keep in mind that you know your students best. If something I suggest doesn't seem like it would work for your class, change it up!

1. Assess your students
While heterogeneous groups are best for many activities in the classroom, I prefer to use homogeneous grouping for reading centers because that's what I want for the small groups I teach. This allows me to target specific skills and student needs during my guided reading time. 

Use whatever assessments you have available to you (Guided Reading/Lexile/AR levels, baseline or benchmark tests, etc.) to assess each of your students. Based on this data, place each student into one of the following groups: significantly above grade level, above grade level, on grade level, below grade level, significantly below grade level.
Avoid the temptation to start adjusting these groups right now. Depending on your class makeup, you may have a large cluster of students in any one of these groups. You will almost certainly have students in a group who do not work well together. Don't worry about that just yet. For now, just get them into groups based on your assessments.

2. Set up your rotation schedule 
First, you'll need to decide how many groups to have. Ideally, you want 3-6 students per group, with your lowest groups having a lower number of students. You should aim for 4-5 total groups, no more than 6, so that you are able to meet with everyone several times per week.

Once you've done that, decide how many groups you can see each day. In the upper elementary grades, I prefer meeting for 20 minutes with each group because our texts are longer. In lower grades, you might want to meet for 10 or 15 minutes instead, which would allow you to meet with more groups. If you have 1 hour for centers & small groups, you could do three 20-minute groups or four 15-minute groups.
Create a chart with these rotation times, and note within each time slot and day if any students (or groups of students) are out of your classroom at that time.

3. Make your groups
Return to your assessment data list. Use this assessment data along with your professional judgment to adjust the groups so that they will work for your students. It may be time to break some "rules" in the name of what's best for your students.
  • It is ok for your groups not to be equally sized. Remember, it's best to keep your lowest groups smaller in size if possible so that those students get extra attention.
  • It's ok to move a student to a group higher or lower than their assessment data indicates once you've gotten to know them. You know your students' abilities better than any test data. 
  • Sometimes you have to split students up based on personalities, and that's ok too. 
Name your groups any way you want during this phase, but be sure by the time students see their group names, you've removed any correlation to their levels.

4. Decide how many times to see each groupFind your total number of small group slots for the week. If you're meeting every day, here's the breakdown:
  • 3 rotations/day = 15 slots
  • 4 rotations/day = 20 slots
  • 5 rotations/day = 25 slots
Divide the number of slots between your groups based on need. Remember, you should meet most often with your lowest group. I recommend meeting with groups significantly below grade level every day, if possible. Meet with your above level groups at least three times per week. Here's an example of how it could work if you are seeing 3 groups per day with 4 total groups:
  • Significantly Below Level: 5 days/week
  • Below Level: 4 days/week
  • On Level: 3 days/week
  • Above Level: 3 days/week

5. Plug groups into slotsDo this on the computer or in pencil, trust me! You will be making changes before it's all over. Starting with the group with the most restrictive schedule, place your students into your rotation schedule.
In this example, I had a group of students getting a reading intervention that started at 9:40 every day, so I started by putting their group in an earlier slot. My gifted students (who were all in the above level group) were out of the classroom every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for most of our center/small group time, so I penciled their group in on Tuesday & Thursday slots.

Continue working through your groups in this way until you've scheduled everyone. Know that you will likely need to erase and make some changes as you go, but by starting with the most restrictive schedules, you should be able to minimize this. 

If you'd like the printable organizers pictured in this post, you can get them by downloading my Complete Reading Center Guidebook. When you sign up, I'll send you the guidebook plus a few helpful emails for getting started. These printables are included in one of those emails. Sign up on the form at the top of this page, and I'll send you the guidebook right away!

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You don't have to do anything elaborate to bring some Halloween fun to your classroom. Sometimes we forget that simple things can really make a difference to our students. Here are some easy ways to incorporate a little Halloween into your week and still stick to your grade level content. Because big kids love holidays too!

(This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and funds giveaways for you!)
Swap in a Halloween read aloud
Even if you're in the middle of a chapter book, it's ok to pause your usual read aloud every now and then for a seasonal read. Hands down, my favorite Halloween read aloud for upper elementary is Patrick Carman’s 3:15 Stories: Things That Go Bump in the Night. Each story only takes about 15 minutes, which is perfect for a read aloud. The stories are broken into 3 parts: a spooky audio introduction, a story to read, and a video conclusion 
These stories are super spooky, and my students LOVE them! A word of caution though, I wouldn't read these below 4th grade, since they could be pretty scary for younger students.
Make copies on orange or purple paper
Sometimes the academic requirements for upper elementary make it tough to work in holiday-themed activities. If you have a totally un-Halloween topic or activity planned for that week, you can still work in a little hint of Halloween fun. 

Print your copies on orange or purple paper. This Astrobrights pack has some great colors for Halloween. You'll be surprised how much your students like the change from the usual white paper. I still remember the time one of my high school teachers printed a test on green paper because we took it on St. Patrick’s Day. 
Use a spooky font
If you’re creating a slideshow, test, or quiz yourself, pull in some spooky fonts or clip art. Here are some great (free) Halloween fonts:

Since some of these are a little harder to read, I'd use them only for titles or section headings on your page and use an easy to read font for the main work your students will be doing. 
Halloween-ify your centers
Centers are an easy place to bring in a little Halloween fun. Students love when they see a new center, especially if it's related to a holiday they're already excited about! This Halloween Roll & Write Activity is quick and easy to set up, and your students will love using the story elements they roll to write a silly or spooky Halloween story. 

You can check it out in my TPT shop under ELA Centers. 

What's your favorite Halloween read aloud? I'm working on building my collection! I'd love for you to share your favorite with me here in the comments or on Instagram
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No matter your teaching situation, one thing is universally true: Teachers do not have enough time to get everything done during the day. How would it feel to totally stop bringing work home from school? Pretty amazing, right? It can be done. In fact, I did it! For the last three years, I completely stopped bringing home lesson plans & papers to grade, with two exceptions: the first 2 weeks of school and bringing home books to read for my novel studies.

Here's how I stopped bringing work home from school...

Over the past few years, I have committed to maximizing the use of my time so that I feel like I have all the extra time my friends seem to have. Ok, maybe not "extra" time, but I'm hoping I at least have enough time that I can accomplish all I want to and still have time to spend relaxing and with my family at the end of the day.

1. Budget your TimeI've learned that the difference is not in how much time we have, but in how we use it. John Maxwell says, “A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” The same is true of budgeting your time. If we don't plan out our time, at the end of the day, we'll wonder where it all went.

Try this: on Sunday afternoon, sit down and look at what's going on for the week. (Don't wait until right before bed, or you'll go to bed thinking about your to-do list and your schedule instead of peacefully falling asleep!)

Start filling things in on a weekly calenar. Do all of your must-do's first, like work and appointments. Then, start penciling in everything else: dinners, cleaning up, family time, etc. When you write it all out, you might realize you have more free hours than you realized. It's all about being conscious of how you spend your time, rather than letting it slip away.

I use iCal, so I just printed off a weekly calendar from the desktop version. If you're not a Mac user, you can use Google Calendar or just search online for a weekly appointment calendar.

2. When you're at work, work!We all know THAT girl. (Some of us ARE that girl!) The one who comes into your room after school or during planning and distracts you from what you wanted to get done. I will readily admit that many days, I am that girl, and I'm the reason neither of us is getting any work done. (I'm sorry!)

Try spending your hours at school truly focused on accomplishing all of the school tasks you can, so that you can leave work at work. Here's how:
  • During planning time, spend the entire time working in your classroom, making copies, etc.
  • If you have to, lock your door and turn off the lights. Even if someone knows you're in there, nothing says "I don't want to be interrupted right now" like a dark room and a locked door!
  • Before and after school, go straight to your room, without making pit-stops to chat with coworkers and friends. If you're missing those chats with friends, save them for the last 10 minutes of the day, on your way out, after the work is done.
  • Be ok with saying "no" to extra commitments beyond the scope of your job. If saying no is hard for you, try this instead: "I can't say yes right now because..." 

3. Eliminate DistractionsSometimes bringing work home is inevitable. Tell me if this thought process is familiar:
"I just need to grade a few papers tonight... I'll sit here on the couch and watch a little TV while I work... Ooh! I love this show... Was that a Facebook notification?... Aww! Look at how cute my son is playing with his new toy... Ugh! I've been working for hours, and I haven't accomplished anything!"

I used to think if I had the TV on, checked my social media occasionally constantly, and had my family nearby, it wouldn't *feel* as much like work. In truth, though, it just makes the work take longer because I am distracted! Now that I've realized how much faster I can get my work done if I just focus, I'm doing things a little differently.

Try to find a quiet place to work that is free from distractions as much as possible. Resist the temptation to turn on the TV, and maybe even consider leaving your phone in a different room. When you focus your energy on the tasks at hand, you'll get them finished so much faster. Better yet, the time you have left to spend with your family will be quality time, not "distracted mama who is working instead of playing with me" time.

    How are you finding more hours in the day? I'd love some more ideas! Share them in the comments below!

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    Flexible seating is everywhere. And it seems like everyone has a really strong opinion. You either love it, you're thinking about it, or you're vehemently opposed. If you're on the fence, this post is for you! I'm tackling some myths and sharing some truths about flexible seating. 

    Myth #1: Flexible Seating is just a fad.
    Ok, fine. Flexible seating is one of the "it" things in education right now. But that doesn't mean it's just a fad. It's actually been around in various forms for years. Remember that one cool teacher who let you work on the floor by your desk? Flexible. The teacher who abandoned the seating chart & let you choose your own seat every day? Flexible. 

    Here's why flexible seating is good for kids: 
    • Empowerment: Students learn best when they have some degree of choice in their classrooms. Flexible seating allows students to choose where to sit, who to work with, and when to make a change.
    • Movement: We all know kids need to move. Yoga balls and wobble stools give students an opportunity to move in their seats, but any type of flexibility in your seating arrangement also allows them to change locations within the classroom throughout the day. Super helpful for your students with ADHD/ASD. 
    • Collaboration: Independent work? Check. Spread students out for testing? Easy. Partner activity? Done. When your seating is flexible, it is so easy to change up your grouping for collaboration. Students are used to moving seats, so it's quick and painless!
    • Comfort: Let's be honest. Think about PD days. Sitting in a hard chair at a table all day is 'gouge your eyes out' miserable. Amiright? Now imagine doing that all day, every day, all year.  You'd hate it. Getting to move around and having some more comfortable options is just kind of nice!
    Myth #2: Flexible Seating means yoga balls & wobble stools.
    Nope, nope, nopity-nope. Flexible seating isn't about couches or bunk beds or standing desks or wobble stools. Flexible seating is about being, wait for it, flexible! This means that if a kid is tired of sitting down, you let them stand. If someone likes to lay on the floor to read, you toss them a pillow. If they need to change seats eleventeen times today, they're allowed to do that. 

    Sure, cute seating options are cool. They can make the classroom seem homier and more inviting. But that doesn't mean you have to toss out all the desks or traditional chairs to implement flexible seating. Look at what you have, what you can find on the cheap, and how you can add in some student choice throughout your day.

    Try to incorporate these options if you can:
    • standing, sitting, and lying down
    • working in a group and working alone
    • changing location in the classroom
    Myth #3: Flexible Seating is expensive.
    See myth #2. If you're ready to implement flexible seating, you don't have to spend an arm and a leg to do it. When I first started, I swapped out my traditional desks for tables from a teacher who was leaving our building. Then I took the legs off of one of my tables and put my big library pillows around it. I picked up some bed risers to create a standing desk at the back of the room. 

    That was it. It cost me a grand total of about $8 (for the bed risers). Over the next year, I added a few yoga balls & some crate seats. Then, I got some wobble cushions & those cheap stools from Ikea. At least half of my seating options were still traditional chairs. 

    Myth #4: Flexible Seating is chaotic.
    Newsflash... It's all about rules and procedures. Just like everything else in your classroom. To be completely honest, if you want to use flexible seating, you're going to need good classroom management and firm rules. Otherwise, it can be disruptive.

    After I totally bombed my first attempt at flexible seating, I came up with a few rules. These rules 100% changed how flexible seats worked for me. They are non-negotiable, and I am very consistent with enforcing them. Here they are:

    (If you'd like a set of these flexible seating rules plus the editable parent letter I send home explaining our seating and some of the research behind it, you can grab them in my TPT shop.)

    If you have really strong classroom management, go all in! Put your students' personal materials in a book box, take the name tags off of the desks, and let students take control of their own seating choices all day, every day. As long as you stick to your rules, they'll be able to handle it.

    But if you are a first year teacher or if you know classroom management isn't one of your strengths, start small. Keep your assigned desks or tables, but add in some flexible spots for students to use during specific times of day. Independent reading is perfect for starting out. As you get more comfortable, allow students to choose their seats for more parts of the day. 

    What's stopping you from implementing flexible seating or student choice in your classroom? I'd love for you to let me know either on Instagram (@chalkandapples) or Facebook (Chalk & Apples). I'll be glad to help troubleshoot and find solutions for you! 

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    Whether you do guided reading, literature circles, reading conferences, or some other small group model, one of the biggest struggles is managing the rest of the class during small group instruction. Well, struggle no more... today I'm sharing my top tips for smooth sailing during reading rotations!
    Does this sound familiar?
    You know small group instruction is one of the best ways to reach all of your readers. You want to do guided reading groups and book clubs, but you feel stuck. Every time you try, you have so many classroom management issues. Students get into trouble. It causes social issues. They interrupt you 1,000 times asking for directions for their center.

    Today I'm going to share with you some tested and proven ways to keep your centers running smoothly so that you can teach reading groups without interruptions!

    (This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and funds giveaways for you!)
    1. Routines are keyOne way to keep centers running smoothly is by keeping the same workstations each week and just changing the specific activities within each station to match your weekly objectives. I hate - h.a.t.e. - having to reinvent my lesson plans every week with brand new centers, so I create simple routines that students can follow week after week.

    There are tons of benefits to repetitive routines. They’re easier and faster to plan. You get less interruptions and less wasted time because students know the basic instructions. Students spend more time on the actual center work because they can get started immediately instead of trying to figure out what to do.
    • Look for games & activities that allow you to easily switch in a new skill or topic while keeping the same basic procedures or game rules. 
    • Provide a few choices for the week so that when students finish one activity, they immediately know what they can start next. 
    • Don't be afraid to be repetitive! Repetition is key for students who are learning and practicing new skills.
    2. Choose the right centersI use five main workstations during reading rotations. By rotating through these 5 reading centers, students are able to practice a variety of reading & writing skills while you work with small groups.
    • Independent Reading (or Read to Self)
    • Reading Comprehension
    • Fluency (or Listen to Reading)
    • Word Work 
    • Writing
    In keeping with tip #1, keep some routines so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel every. single. week. Swap out the activity or game in each workstation based on the skills you're working on that week. I'll be sharing some of my favorite routines and activities for each center later this week, so be sure to check back or subscribe to my newsletter to get an update right in your inbox!

    From both an educational and a classroom management perspective, you'll want your centers to do two things: 1) keep students engaged and interested the entire time and 2) challenge students enough that they stay focused, while being simple enough to complete independently.
    3. Use a rotation boardDisplay your rotation schedule prominently so that students know exactly where to go when it's time to switch centers. This will cut down on transition time, limit student questions,

    There are dozens of ways to accomplish this, but the easiest by far is to use a digital rotation board that you can display on your smart board, screen, or TV. By going digital, it's quick and easy to change your schedule, form new groups, add new centers, etc. No need to print, cut, or laminate a physical rotation board! You can grab this Digital Rotation Board in my TPT shop.

    Be sure that you are considering student needs when you create your center rotation schedule. Your highest group may only need Fluency practice once a week, while lower groups may need it daily. It's ok for your groups to have different center schedules. Keep in mind one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors:
    4. Have a clear signal for changing centersA clear signal, other than your voice, for when it's time to switch centers is a must! If you use the same signal consistently, students learn to listen for that sound rather than listening to your small group lesson. Here are a few ideas:
    • Cell Phone Timer - This one will help keep you on track too! Simply set your cell phone timer for the number of minutes you want in each rotation, and choose a unique chime for the end of the time.
    • A Bell - You can use a call bell, like the ones you often see at customer service counters. Just keep it at your small group table & sound the bell when it's time to switch. The sound is very distinct and attention grabbing, even though it's fairly quiet.
    • Remote Doorbell - Plug the receiver into an outlet near the middle of your center area and keep the remote at your table. This one allows you to choose from over 50 chimes, so you can switch it up if your class gets bored with one, and you can even get a paintable version! 
    • Frog Rasp - These carved wooden frogs are beautiful, and they make a realistic frog croaking sound. Guaranteed not to be ignored by your students!

    5. Be unavailableI know. I know. This one's the hardest to actually accomplish. You're right there in the room, and it's so easy to stop what you're teaching to answer a question or two. Before you know it, your time is up and you've only accomplished half of what was on your small group lesson plan. 

    Remind yourself that your students are resourceful. Here are some routines to help students continue working without interrupting your group.
    • A "do not disturb" signal - You can use a small touch light, a tiara or crazy hat, or anything else that is an obvious signal for students. When the light/tiara/hat is on, you're not available.
    • C3B4Me - teach students that they must "see three before me" for questions during center time.
    • Sign Language - Teach your students the signs for bathroom, water, etc. so that they can ask your permission during small groups without interrupting your teaching. (Grab these sign language classroom posters.)
    Follow these tips, and your center time will just about run itself so that you can focus on where you're needed most - your small groups! 

    Be sure to pop back in later this week for easy to implement center ideas for the 5 centers I use daily!

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    Teachers have about a million little supplies that we use daily. I don't know about you, but I always seemed to end up with at least one cluttered, unorganized desk drawer full of supplies. Pens. Stickers. Paper clips. White out. Extra staples. Post it notes. Tape. Binder clips... The list could go on and on. Whether you're thinking of ditching your teacher desk, or you're just trying to get organized, a teacher toolbox is the perfect answer! Today I'm sharing how to make a teacher toolbox that's durable enough to last.

    Teacher toolboxes have been around for a while. In fact, my very first TPT resource ever was a set of labels for my first teacher toolbox. Given how popular they've been, I'm often surprised to hear that teacher friends either haven't heard of them or don't have one.

    Making your own teacher toolbox is cheap, pretty simple, and will get you organized in no time! There are lots of different ways to make your toolbox, and some are more durable than others. The last thing you want is to invest in a toolbox and then have to re-do all your work next summer because the paint is chipping and the labels are falling off. Trust me, I know. Check out what happened when I followed some other tutorial that said to use double sided tape...

    Poor, sad toolbox. As you can see, the tape definitely lost its stickiness over the course of the year. One of my labels was even lost!

    Here are my best tips for making a toolbox that lasts for years and years. In fact, after making mine this way, I used the same toolbox for three years without needing to fix anything at all. When I did change it, it was still in great shape; I just felt like a new design. Here's how you can make yours last too...

    (This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that Amazon sends me a little pocket change, at no cost to you, if you purchase through one of these links. This helps keep my site running and funds giveaways for you!)

    You'll need...You can grab all the supplies on Amazon or at your local hardware store, and the labels are in my TeachersPayTeachers shop.
    Create your toolbox & make it last.If you don't want to keep the grey color that the toolboxes come in, you can spray paint it any color you want. Take out the drawers & set them aside. Wipe down the entire toolbox with a dry, lint free cloth to remove any dust. Spray with light, thin coats of spray paint formulated specifically for plastic, like Krylon Fusion. (The other stuff flakes and peels off.) I needed 3 coats to completely cover my toolbox.

    While your paint is drying, edit and print out your teacher toolbox labels. You can print them on plain paper, no cardstock necessary.

    Before you cut out your labels, spray the entire page with a light coat of aerosol hairspray. Any brand will do. I just used the Bravado hairspray that was already on my counter. (BTW - it's a.maz.ing hairspray!) This seals the ink on the page so that it doesn't run and make a mess of your toolbox.

    Once the hairspray dries, go ahead and cut apart your labels and get your Mod Podge supplies together. I just used an old envelope to paint on, since that was what I had handy.

    Paint a thin coat of Mod Podge on each label. I've found that a super thin coat is key. You want to cover the entire label, but don't soak it with globs of Mod Podge.

    Press the label onto the inside of the drawer. Don't worry if it doesn't go on straight, you have a couple of minutes to reposition the label before it starts to dry.

    Once the labels and organizer are all dry, pop the drawers back in, and you're ready to organize!
    Organize your desk supplies.So, now that your toolbox is ready to use, what goes inside?

    All. The. Things. Seriously. Think of things you use daily, especially small things that generally come in tiny boxes that you lose or break. Here are some suggestions:

    Large drawers
    • Erasers
    • Post it notes & flags
    • Large binder clips
    • Tape
    • Magnets
    • Wall hooks
    Small drawers
    • Staples
    • White out
    • Rubber bands
    • Small binder clips
    • Bandages
    • Spare change
    • Brass fasteners
    • Paperclips
    • Velcro dots
    • Chalk
    • Zip ties
    • Push pins
    • 3M strips
    • Earbuds
    I'm sure there are things I'm forgetting. That's why all of the teacher toolbox labels in my TPT shop are editable. Add anything that's cluttering up the junk drawer in your desk, and make it work for you! 

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