6 Tips for Fighting Test Anxiety

Spring sends a refreshing new lilt into some students’ steps. Daylight stretches into late evening, outdoor events replace closed-in classes, and young friendships tend to blossom into new life for many students. Have you seen it? Why then, does winter’s melt into spring shoot text anxiety to cripple many other students, as tests trigger stress?
1. STUCK as a Pack-rat? Students come to tests weighted down by fear and panic linked to even tiny trip-ups from their past. When their brain’s basal ganglia storehouse overflows with past failures, anxieties and unmet expectations, they resemble pack-rats whose excess rubbish slows down their progress.

SHAKE UP RUTS with cool test taking approaches in the following ways:
  • Store lively new study approaches and your brain will begin to default to these new experiences. For instance add classical music in the background to increase focus. 
  • Sketch your main ideas from the text – then draw the same sketch in the margin of your exam page as a guide to writing from facts your sketch represents.
  • Go for a walk and ask yourself key questions about what you studied – to see how well you can answer. 
  • Teach a few main facts to your dog as a way to help you remember.
2. LAUGH Get Lost? Tests tend to rob the sheer adventure of learning for some students. When serotonin (the brain’s well being chemical) gets depleted learners lose their zest for test taking. Serotonin regulates learning so that you can apply clear thinking in tests.

ROMANCE THE JOY of Learning Alfred Lloyd Whitehead said. How so? Choices you make about contentment can amp up joy for test taking in the following ways:
  • Laugh at yourself and laugh whenever you make a mistake – in order to fuel contentment and raise learning takeaways. Serotonin will do the rest!
  • Surround yourself with people who enjoy taking tests and then copy or mimic what they do to make a difference.
  • Get enough sleep and stay calm before the test by doing something you enjoy. 
  • Wherever you see a problem – jot down a possibility – since serotonin can be depleted by facing problems without sleep to help you reach for solutions.
  • Choose to enjoy the journey and then list five ways you plan to make that happen. 
  • Check off each adventurous choice that helps you laugh and play with facts before the test.
3. REBOOT Needed? Every time a student acts on test anxiety, the brain rewires itself for more anxiety that night in REM sleep. A learner’s actions (such as panicked preparations for a test) literally reshape the brain mentally and physically, for more of the same. Your brain’s plasticity reshapes your brain after each test preparation you do – good or bad.

ACT ON PLASTICITY (which is your brain’s ability to change itself) and improved results will come to test taking in the following ways:
  • Play your way into understanding new facts that will change your brain! 
  • Apply content in fun new ways for the best results, since that activates your brain’s plasticity. 
  • Compete with teams to see who can come up with answers faster, draw the answers without using words, teach others as you learn yourself, rap the facts, create a collage to engage parents.
  • Laugh to relax and boost enzymes, log your progress in an interactive journal.
  • Tweet your answers to peers, build a mock-up to represent your ideas, pose two footed questions to engage others in class, link to a list serve to build a community of ideas, use good tone skills to engage opposing views.
4. BRAIN too small? Too many facts with too few applications leaves you frustrated and overwhelmed. Your brain comes with a working memory – which is like a mental sticky note that holds a few ideas at a time until you apply them, play with them, use them to create a new innovation, and practice them.Working memory’s thimble sized capacity holds few facts and lets these go when other facts arrive.

OUTSOURCE WORKING MEMORY with simply crafted cheat sheets to keep multiple intelligences fluid (See MI Chart below) and advance your test taking skills in the following ways:
  • Create recipe sized cards (with few keys words only) to practice and apply significant facts. 
  • Accept the discomfort in working memory, to attain the thrill of inventors and innovators who learn to use mistakes as stepping stones to creative solutions. 
  • Glance over key facts in your working memory just before taking a test. 
  • Imagine you are the apple, or leader in your lesson and act as you would in that situation.
  • Create a story or sketch to help you outsource new facts by hooking them to what you already know so they stick. 
  • Use working memory facts to help you integrate into bigger ideas. 
5. FUELING for Stress? Students fall into disadvantages daily whenever their brains fuel with cortisol, a stress chemical. Cortisol comes with and is exacerbated through fear, regret, stress, anxiety, or disappointment. The results? Learning shuts down, anxiety increases, and negative reactions replace risk and adventure that progresses learning.

CHASE AWAY CORTISOL that can literally shrink your brain, lead to illness or shave years off your life, by running from a desire to be perfect.
  • Avoid last minute anything and plan ahead for the success you crave. 
  • Surround yourself with people who focus on possibilities more and vent about problems less.
  • Laugh, laugh, laugh! Smile at flaws to chase away cortisol – and refuel with chemicals for well being. 
  • Thank people, forgive missteps and refuse to blame for mistakes or shortcomings. 
  • Brainstorm for others’ ideas that help you to learn, practice body language for good tone that decreases cortisol, welcome others’ talents and offer yours in any group, choose to capitalize on all talents, and hook new facts to what you already know by creating charts and visual possibilities.
6. EMOTIONAL IQ Problems? Students who enter class with an untamed amygdala (the seat of their emotions) will enter tests without the tools to succeed.The amygdala stores all past responses such as bullying, cheating, worrying, or rejecting help that would help you enjoy tests.This tiny sac of neurons acts like a lightning rod for some students who have met many test-taking failures.

RAISE EMOTIONAL IQ by altering what you store in your amygdala. Hang out with friends with good moods, and try tone skills such as thanking others, disagreeing respectfully, listening to and learning from others who differ. Act in opposite directions of anger, moodiness, displeasure, and your amygdala learns to relax and tackle problems with positive moods.
To act on moods that create possibilities for all, is to tame amygdala reactions that create emotional panic, anxiety, or discouragement. The key to a tamed amygdala is to act on good moods. Observe and copy those you respect to learn how they store healthy emotions. Play with healthy responses and ignore mistakes to reach for confidence that embraces risk.
Try one or two of these test preparation approaches with MI tasks listed below.

Think it's possible to Go for Gold – and yet Run from Gloom? A related brain based product is at Test My Brain - Don't Test Me! Namungo Brain Game to Reduce Test Anxiety

This post is written by Ellen Weber from Brain Leaders and Learners!

Unshakeable: Incorporate Playfulness and Have Fun with Learning

Teaching is serious business, now more than ever. With Common Core standards, less and less recess time, an overwhelming number of high-stakes tests, and of course the many challenges students bring to the classroom on a daily basis, it really can't be anything else.....or can it?

I would argue that even in today's challenging environment playfulness and fun should still be a priority in the classroom for three important reasons:
  • While the goal of education is to shape young people into productive members of society (or something like that), right at this moment, they are still children and children thrive on fun and actually need to play for healthy development.

  • When children enjoy what they are doing they are more engaged. They actually learn and remember more. 

  • Your own mental health - Taking everything seriously can make for a stressful and possibly somewhat unpleasant day. When your students are having fun, you probably are too! 
In her book, Unshakable, Angela Watson admits that incorporating fun into her lessons did not come naturally to her. However, she saw the potential benefits of taking a more playful approach and challenged herself to add more fun into her teaching. Fortunately for her students, and for us, Angela is not the kind of person to do something halfway. She found a plethora of ways to make learning fun, and she has shared all of them in chapter 12 of her book:  Incorporate Playfulness and Have Fun with Learning. 
I actually am the kind of teacher that naturally looks for ways to make learning fun. My voice is usually animated and jokes and silly accents are common in my classroom. When I am speaking, my goal is to keep my kiddoes engaged, and humor can really help. So, it's not surprising that I resonated with a lot of what Angela wrote in this chapter. As a bonus, I also picked up a few new strategies (love the part about props for various roles. Never would have thought of that). If playfulness is a little harder for you, Angela suggests, "choosing one that fits your personality and let it evolve from there." It's like anything else in life, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.
In this chapter, Angela discusses using many different approaches including:
  • Creatively integrating music into your classroom
  • Incorporating movement
  • Adding a little drama to your classroom (the fun kind, not the scary kind!)
  • Using props to make learning more fun
  • And of course turning tasks into games. 
I don't want to tell you too much because Angela's got it covered in Unshakable (which you can purchase from Amazon here), but I will close this post with the final paragraph from this chapter.
"A passionate teacher with a great sense of humor truly makes learning fun. the more you care about the curriculum and give yourself and the kids permission to laugh, the easier it will be to find the fun in teaching. Your classroom can be a place full of rigor AND  students can laugh the entire day. Playfulness is often a mark of serious learning."
This post is just one small part of the amazing book study being hosted on Angela's blog, The Cornerstone for Teachers. Be sure and click through to read about the next chapter!

If you have a moment, please share how YOU incorporate fun into your classroom.






What Your Struggling Students Need You to Know

Do you ever feel like some students in class are unreachable? Even though you believe all children can learn, sometimes they arrive at your classroom door not knowing how to read at the most basic level. Despite their learning challenges, these kids are too bright to qualify for special education, yet none of your tried and true intervention efforts stick. Is there anything more you can do?     
As a former educational therapist, these are my favorite kids to work with. (Yes folks, I said it. Apparently I choose favorites.) You might not think I would choose the sometimes loud or overly chatty or disruptive kids, the sometimes off in la-la land, not paying attention kinds of kids as my favorites. Humor me for a moment. Students with learning challenges, the ones who are falling through the cracks, moving from grade to grade without learning how to read, whose confidence in themselves tumbles lower and lower with each passing year, are the very students we can have the greatest impact on.   
Sometimes all it takes is a targeted approach to strengthening processing skills and we can change the trajectory of their educational careers for the better. Sound like magic? It sure feels that way sometimes.  Using strategies to remediate dyslexia and other learning challenges, I witnessed “miracles” first hand. The miracles weren’t only in students’ amplified ability to learn. I saw entire personalities change. Students transformed from dejected wallflowers or so-called “troublemakers” to outgoing, active hand-raisers. Confident. Capable. Happy. That’s what we want for ALL of our kids, right?  

So How Do We Get There?

While I will always recommend that parents seek out private educational therapy for their consistently struggling learners, I know this isn’t always an option. That’s where you come in.   First, let’s recognize that processing skills and academic skills are not the same. Processing skill development sets the foundation for academic learning.    Trained educational therapists do not focus on a child’s area of academic weakness, then practice the same activities over and over again. When the trouble lies in weak, underdeveloped processing skills, repetition only increases a child’s frustration level. Students fail, again and again, reaffirming their deep feelings of inadequacy. Instead, educational therapists dig deeper to uncover the specific processing deficits at the root of the problem. Through strategic cognitive strength training, educational therapists maximize students’ ability to learn. Even without academic intervention, cognitive intervention naturally translates to better performance in the classroom. The process, if targeted and consistent, can take anywhere from a few short months to approximately two years.    

What Can Teachers Do?

If one-on-one educational therapy is off the table (and even if it isn’t) I believe one of the best things we can do for ALL students is to learn everything we can about processing skills - what they are, signs of trouble, and how to intervene.   After training educators how to identify and strengthen processing skill deficits, I was a little surprised by how grateful the teaching credential students were for the knowledge. No one was covering this in their credential programs.   The classroom teachers, even the initial skeptics, saw the profound impact of simple cognitive strength training activities on their previously difficult-to-reach students. Some even said that their new understanding completely changed the way they teach.  

Understanding Processing Skills

In a nutshell, processing skills involve the way we take in information through our senses, then interpret the information received. Typically by the time children enter kindergarten they have developed strong enough processing skills to learn their ABCs and beyond with ease and confidence. Without a strong foundation in place, however, students may learn to develop compensating skills in an effort to hide any weaknesses. This strategy tends to work for a little while. Then, right around the third grade or so, learning gaps grow larger and larger, becoming much more difficult to hide.
Below is a short list of visual and auditory processing skills. I’ve included only a handful of ways these particular processing deficits may reveal themselves. Perhaps you recognize them?    
  • Visual Tracking
Does your student skip lines while reading or read words out of order, perhaps words that are pulled randomly from different lines on the page? Does he reverse words, reading “saw” instead of “was,” for example? This could point to a potential visual tracking issue.  
  • Visual Memory
This challenge shows up in all sorts of ways, from copying work from the board only one letter at a time to spelling trouble to difficulty learning sight words, poor reading comprehension and more.  
  • Auditory Memory
Is your student looking to her classmates to learn which page she should turn to? Does she have trouble following spoken directions? Don’t assume she’s being defiant. She may only be able to remember two instructions at a time, such as “Take out your pencils and math workbooks.” She may have met her threshold when you also instructed her to “turn to page 17.”  
  • Visual Discrimination
Challenges with visual discrimination may show up as common letter reversals and letter identification confusion. Distinguishing the differences between letters b, p, q, and d, for instance, may be difficult for students who struggle with this skill.  
  • Spatial Awareness
This pertains not only to our physical body in space, understanding left from right and being able to read a map, but it also can impact writing. Rather than writing in a straight line, do any of your students write in a slant that seems to trail dramatically down the page? Do they make errors in math equations because they don’t line the numbers up correctly? Strengthening spatial awareness may help.

Please recognize that students may demonstrate the tendencies described above for multiple reasons. As you learn more about what those reasons might be, and how to help (don’t worry, I’ll get to that part), focusing on underlying processing skills puts you in a strong position to help your struggling (and non-struggling) learners. Doing so helps you provide your students with more than a temporary fix. You’ll go beyond merely helping them understand one academic concept at a time. With your help and understanding, your students will develop learning skills that last a lifetime.   Want even better news?
Activities that build processing skills are actually deceptively simple, and fun! Enlist the help of your teacher’s aide, your volunteers, your parents, your early intervention specialists. Share with them my free Intervention Sampler, a printable resource providing more information about some of the processing skills I mentioned above. You’ll learn what the skills are, what signs of weakness to look out for, and even be able to take a few targeted interventions for a test drive. Then head over to my website (link below) to find more strategy tips and tricks. They’re designed to help YOU help your struggling students become confident, capable learners. 
Cherice designs Learning Ability Boosters for students in K-6. Her educational therapy experience specializing in dyslexia remediation techniques informs all of her designs, which are just as useful for gifted students as they are for struggling learners. Find her specialty materials at Teachers Pay Teachers plus plenty of tips and fun freebies at InnerPiecesGallery.com.

Tips for Encouraging Reading at Home

Reading At Home
I am so excited and thankful for this opportunity to guest post here on Minds in Bloom! I'm Rachel from Rachel K Tutoring, and today I want to share about my desire for kids to read at home, and to provide a free printable to go with it! 
I was always a book nerd growing up. I loved the library, the smell of books, and getting lost in countless adventures. I was the one who was beyond ecstatic when a teacher said it was silent reading time, the one who brought a book everywhere with me, and the one who tried to finish assignments early so that I could read! 
I owe a great deal of my love of reading and book nerdy-ness to my mom. I remember her reading to us all the time when we were young. We would read through whole series of books, including the Chronicles of Narnia and Little House on the Prairie. We always had books around the house, and we made many trips to the library to get even more. I was so blessed! 
I know, however, there are many homes with less books and less reading. Some families may be too busy to fit in reading, or are not sure how to do it. Some may not be able to afford books and aren't sure how to find cheaper options. Some kids may hate reading or be bored of it. My heart breaks for these homes. I want every child to grow up with a love of reading like I did, and to be surrounded and saturated with all types of print. I want them to go on amazing adventures and learn incredible things, all from the comfort of their own home! 
I have made this free Reading at Home printable for parents to use and for teachers to hand out at conferences or back to school events. I give ideas of who, what, when, where, why, and how to read. I know some of them may be common sense, but maybe to some parents these could be great reminders. It is so incredibly important for kids to read and be read to at home. I hope these ideas can help make reading into a life-long habit! 
Click here to download this printable from my TPT store!
  Reading At Home

Reading At Home

Who? You! No matter how young or old you are!
What? - Your favorite book series - Newspaper - Magazine - Dictionary - Online books like Starfall.com - eBook - Biography - Cook book - Events on a calendar - Comic book - Direction pamphlets - Travel brochures - Library books
When? - When you wake up - At a meal - On the weekends - Right before bed - When you’re in the bathroom - After dinner - During any free time, even just a few minutes!
Where? - On your bed - On a comfy couch or chair - Make a reading fort out of blankets, pillows, and couch cushions! - At the table - At a desk - On the porch on a nice day - In the bathroom - In a special reading corner - By a window
Why? - To be a better reader! - To do better in all subjects - To learn about new places, people, and things - To go on adventures without leaving your home!
How? - Read to yourself - Read to a parent or adult - Read to a sibling - Read to someone over the phone or video chat - Have a parent or adult read to you - Read to a pet - Follow along with an audio book

Reading Resources: Check out some of these resources to make reading at home even easier! Free Online Read Alouds Free Sight Word Apps Top Free Reading Apps Ultimate List of Book Lists Need more books in your house? I know books can be expensive, but who says you have to buy everything new? There are so many different ways to get books for cheap!
Here are just a few ideas:
  • Check out the libraries around you and see if they hold any used book sales. I have found great books at these, and can get a lot of them for not much money at all!
  • Garage/rummage sales - whenever I go to one I make a bee-line to the books. Sometimes you can find practically new books for a steal!
  • Facebook groups - find a local Facebook group that organizes buying/selling. People may post when they are having a garage/rummage sale too.
  • Ask family and friends if they have any used books they would like to donate.
  • If, by chance, you're having a baby shower, register for books! Or even ask for people to bring a book instead of a card. They don't have to be brand new either!
  • Ask for books for birthdays and holidays.
  • Find used books on Amazon for a cheaper price.
  • Of course renting books from the library is free! What a great way to have access to all kinds of books in every genre.
Thanks for reading! I hope you can find these ideas helpful to get your kids/students reading more at home and to spread the love of reading :)

Rachel K TutoringI am a K-8 private tutor in Michigan who loves to read! :) I also blog about free resources for parents and teachers, and create resources in my Tpt store. When I'm not working you'll find me reading, enjoying the outdoors (when Michigan is actually warm, ha!), and spending time with my dear family and friends. I would love to connect with you! You can find me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.

5 Fun Practices to Build Confidence in Math Class

Hi everyone!  I'm Brittany Kiser, from 123teach, and I'm so excited to share some ideas from my classroom in hopes that together we can help students be successful with math!
As a middle school math interventionist, the students who enter my classroom have already given up hope that they will ever be successful with math.  I bet there are many other teachers out there who have this same problem!  Since I deal with this problem every day, I have tried lots of different methods, but these are the top five practices that make the biggest impact for the students in my classroom.

1) Help students correct their mistakes and earn 100% on every assignment! This takes a lot of time and patience to accomplish with a large class, but it is so worth it!  Many students lose confidence in math class because they have made mistakes in the past. Students rarely go back on their own to correct those mistakes so that they could learn from them. Teach your students that it is OK to make mistakes, as long as we learn from it. If you help your students learn from their mistakes, they will feel more confident moving forward!
Here are some specific strategies that work in my classroom:

Classwork/Homework Assignments: In my intervention classes, students do not get credit for an assignment until there are NO mistakes. At first, they are upset when I pass back an assignment with problems circled and I tell them that they must re-do those problems and turn it in again. But once the assignment has been corrected, that same disheartened student is extremely proud of his/her hard work!  My students even start asking me to grade their page the first time with a pencil so that there are no pen marks at the end once they have fixed up the assignment.  You won't believe the improvement in student confidence when they work hard to earn 100% on every assignment!

Assessments: It is also a great idea to offer some type of incentive for students to make corrections on quizzes, tests, or other assessments.  My students are allowed to take a retake if they first re-do all of the problems that they missed.  Offering points for corrections gives a little bit of incentive for students to look back and figure out what they did wrong.  Oftentimes students find that they made a careless mistake, and then they are excited to retake the test in order to get a better grade.  Correcting these little mistakes reminds them to be more careful next time. Students need to get in the habit of reflecting on their work and learning from their mistakes.  The younger they get into this habit, the better!

2) Offer catch-up days. If you expect students to make corrections on every assignment, you will need to offer "Catch-up Days."  This is a free time for students to work on any assignments that need to be corrected. These assignments are not considered "late" but it is necessary to offer some time in class to work on corrections in order for the assignments to be completed in a timely manner.
To keep track of this, every student has a folder that they keep in the classroom for "Work in Progress." These are assignments that need to be corrected before they will get points. If a student is finished with the current task, any little bit of extra time should be used for work in progress, and students always know that these assignments need to be "fixed up" before they will get credit.

Whenever a student is finished with the current task, they know to check their "Work in Progress" to find something to do next. It helps with the grading if you pick a day once a week to offer the opportunity for students to catch up.  Every week on Friday, we use the "Ketchups and Pickles" strategy to divide the students into two groups and give them extra motivation to get caught up on their assignments.

3) Give participation points. Recognize and reward students for trying!  Participation points can go a long way to help improve a student's confidence in math class.  Self-conscious students in math usually feel that it is all about getting the right answer.  We need to show them that it is just as important to show perseverance as is it to solve the problem correctly.  It is better to try and fail than to fail to try.

We all have had those students who just waste time, and sometimes we want to just collect that assignment and give them a big fat zero to show that their behavior did not go unnoticed. Come up with a different system for those types of issues. I give out participation points every day, and a student will only earn those points if they are using their time wisely, acting appropriately, and participating. I try not to collect an incomplete assignment and end up taking points away from an assignment when it was really a behavior/participation issue.

In math, students can't afford to just skip a topic! Remind your students that math is cumulative, so they cannot just accept that they don't understand and move on. I'm sure all teachers know that that is a recipe for disaster now and in the future!

4) Let the students TEACH! One of the most rewarding experiences for a student is to teach and help his/her peers.  The warm-up routine in my classroom includes at least three bellwork questions.  Students rush into my class to get to work on the bell work questions because the first three students to have all of the correct answers get to walk around the room with one of my red pens and a special "Ask Me" tag. Those students are the graders for the bell work.

You could also assign students to be the graders for the day or week, because you need to make sure that everyone gets a chance to be the grader! During the first 5 minutes of class, the graders walk around the room checking student answers and answering questions. Whenever an answer is correct, the graders use my special pens to put a star on that problem.

At the end of the week when I collect the bell work pages, students only get points if they received stars on their bell work. This has an extra benefit for me because the grading is already done at the end of the week.
Chevron Ask Me Tags

We use the "Ask Me" tags for students who have completed their assignments as well.  When students are finished with a worksheet or textbook assignment, I check the answers of the first student who finishes.  Then, that students becomes the grader for the next person who finishes.  We take time at the beginning of the year to go over all of the requirements to be a helper, and students know that the privilege of being a helper can be quickly taken away from a student who is not being responsible.  I allow up to three students to be helpers at a time, because I can easily keep track of that many students walking around the classroom, but you will have to see what works well in your class. Click here for a freebie to help you implement this strategy in your classroom.

5) Make math enjoyable! Many students struggle with math because they have lost interest. Don't forget to make it fun for the students! My students are motivated by games, puzzle activities, competitions, prizes, etc. Kahoot is a great resource that provides a way to assess students while participating in a fun competition.

Students are also motivated by trying different types of activities. If the students know what to expect every day, they will get bored and uninterested quickly. Make sure to switch it up! When you plan out your unit, pay close attention to include different types of activities throughout the unit. Make sure to include each of the following types of activities within each unit:
  • Discovery-based Learning   -Hands-on/Kinesthetic Learning
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Visual Learning (Graphic Organizers, Videos, etc.)
  • Independent Work
  • Real Life Connection
As soon as students realize that you change it up often, they will start walking in the door excited to find out what we are doing today!  Students will enter the class excited and with a positive attitude. With a wide range of activities, all different types of learners will have a chance to shine.  Most importantly, don't forget to be excited about math! Click here to watch a video about a fun and unique activity to motivate students with math!


Brittany Kiser, from 123teach, is a teacher-author with experience teaching middle school and high school math.  She is currently a middle school math interventionist in Michigan, and she loves creating and sharing resources to reach struggling learners. Visit her TpT store, Pinterest, and Blog for more great ideas for teaching math!
  

Nature Snacks: How to Squeeze a Daily Dose of Nature into Your Classroom

You really can't argue against the mountain of research that proves direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development, both physically and emotionally. Knowing this is one thing, but actually finding time in our over crowded class routines for our children to connect with nature is increasingly tricky...

As much as we'd all like to be roaming free with our class exploring 'Bear Grylls-style' (well, maybe not to that extreme!) the practicalities of our school environments are probably not allowing such intimate experiences with nature..... we need to grab the small moments and make them count.
My Little Grub out 'sploring'
This post includes a range of ideas to meet the needs of teachers who have regular access to the outdoors with their class...... as well as for the teachers & children who are stuck indoors all day in a classroom with no windows (gulp!)  The benefits of being in nature are beneficial to every part of a child's well being, and so much about the big wide world can be learnt through little observations and quick discussions.  I've included 20 practical suggestions below to help incorporate nature into your daily routine (plus a little freebie containing some 'nature snack' prompt cards further down the post).
The suggestions below are ranked in order of worse case scenario (you're stuck in a windowless classroom with limited access to the outdoors) through to the best case scenario (your classroom has bi-fold doors overlooking lapping waves and a sandy shell covered beach ha ha ha!)
Nature Snack Suggestions:
[1] Seize the teachable moments and 'roll with them!'  This is increasingly difficult for some teachers within the heavily structured school systems they work in, but if at all possible, try and follow the children's curiosity and wonder when it comes to nature (Case in point - the ant swarm that takes over one of the many coffee cups you have lurking on your desk.... take some photos, try and identify the species, follow the trail to work out where they're coming from and where they're going etc.)

[2]  Think about adding some green to your room.  Use some soothing green tones to cover the backs of your bulletin boards or include some natural textures and plants.  Take a 'leaf' out of the pre-school classroom and try to include more tactical and hands on activities. 

[3]   Be prepared to embrace nature FINDING YOU! (e.g that big hairy spider or cockroach that pops up in your classroom (probably just when you're trying to calm your class down after one of THOSE wild days) Over the years I've personally experienced the following creatures appearing unannounced in my room: multiple flying birds, 1 frog, 2 ducks (they just waddled in!) 1 hedgehog, countless mice & insects, and one dog that wondered in and ate the children's packed lunches out of their school bags!   If you're not a fan of being in such close proximity with the above mentioned creatures, try and fake a calmed and interested demeanor.....at the very least snap some quick pictures before you send for someone else to remove it - think of all the amazing writing that could be inspired by your surprise encounter!

[4]  Consider keeping a nature table - children can take turns to bring a small object that they've collected or from their garden (or on their way to school) to share and place on your table.  Keep your nature table well stocked with magnifying glasses and containers for sorting objects into.
[5]  Make sure your nature table or classroom library are packed with nature themed non fiction books - don't forget to include a local 'bug identification guide' as well as the ever popular "top 5 grossest slugs" type of books that the kids love!
[6]  Keep a jar of flowers on your desk that reflect the seasons (seasonal twigs or weeds are just fine - unless your other half wants to step up to the task of stocking your vase....?!) Nothing 'shop bought' allowed!

[7]  Have a special daily nature item for your early finishers to study and sketch (Keep a tray of scrap recycled paper and lots of pencils on your nature table ready to go) Your special nature item could be a shell, flower, crystal, insect, pebble, leaf etc.

Special Nature Table treasures - stacked leaves, sycamore seeds arranged into a pattern and a dead cicada!
[8]  Even if having natural materials is not a practical option in your room (which would be rather tragic) you can still have a 'seasonal' or 'topic' corner that contains pictures and appropriate learning activities.
[9]  Get YouTubing.  Playing nature based clips on your projector is a great way to set a soothing tone during quiet times or when the children are entering the classroom in the morning.  I'm not suggesting a David Attenborough documentary (although if you've got lots of time, dive right in!) but non-narrated looping tracks of thing like underwater scenes, fish swimming, wind blowing ripples across the grass etc.  These are perfect for lowering the teachers blood pressure (so must be good for the kids...!)
[10]  Find some relaxing desktop pictures for your laptop and classroom computers.  Use the computer settings to organise a selection of these on automatic slide show for both your desk top and screen savers.  Even better, take some pictures of your local flora and fauna and use them.  (Or maybe just use some snaps of you relaxing in a hammock with a cool beverage during your last summer holiday?)
[11]  Download some soothing 'sounds of nature' soundtracks to play at appropriate times (if the 'trickling brook' track sends too many of the kids running off to the restroom, you might want to consider changing to rain forest or bird sounds).  These are especially effective during silent reading, or other times you require a low noise levels - the occasional "I can't hear the ocean waves" from the teacher is normally enough to get the chatter boxes to lower their volumes.
[12]  Open your curtains or blind, fling your doors open and let some fresh air in (again, so, so sorry if you're in one of the a fore mentioned windowless rooms).  There's nothing better than fresh air for blasting the cobwebs out of little brains!
[13]  Use your 2 minute stroll to the school library/computer suite to pose a quick question: Which way is the wind blowing from? How many birds can you count?  (Grab your set of 36 free 'Nature Snack' prompt cards here, which are full of lots of open ended questions for your class to ponder and do).
These little cards are great prompts for getting your students thinking about and engaging with nature...

[14]   Keep a daily 'outside temperature' graph that the children are in charge of updating (this is especially important if you can't actually get outside).  Find a way of recording the daily weather as part of your morning routine.
[15]   Use the internet to find your nearest outdoor 'live-cam' that you can go online to actually view the weather outside (these are often used on TV weather bulletins and weather stations).  Find a live cam on the other side of the world - what's the weather like there?  
[16]  Make explicit the connections to nature through your curriculum areas as appropriate (art, math, science, poetry, discuss the origins of their lunch etc.)
[17]  Keep a wall calendar that links directly to the seasons as well as the months.
[18]  Keep a class or pet or grow something.  Even if your seeds don't survive to adulthood, the kids love watching seeds sprout. (Hopefully your pet survives to adulthood!)
[19]  Tack 5 minutes of UNSTRUCTURED time onto your scheduled outdoor activity (e.g. "You've got 5 minutes to roly-poly about on the grass - GO!  Or "Here are the boundaries of where you're allowed to be, you've got 5 minutes - have fun!"
[20]  Respect your class's need for a few minutes here and there to just burn off some energy, run bare feet and feel the wind in their hair....... in fact, why not take your shoes off and join them?


Rosie is a Kiwi, who after 10 years teaching 'down-under' in NZ is now working part time and enjoying spending time with her beautiful wee son.  This also gives her time to indulge in her passion for all things green and grubby, which includes creating specialized resources to support nature based education!  Fresh air, bare feet + grubby hands = active learning.  For more Grubby goodness pop over and visit her blog and TpT Store, or find the her on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

Don’t Be Scared Off by Literature Circles!

Don’t be scared off by literature circle (book clubs). They just take a little time and organization. I attempted my first session of literature circles more than nine years ago. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but it sounded good, and I was willing to risk it for the good of the students.  
I ran myself ragged during my first attempt, but I recognized that if I could learn to be clear about my goals for literature circles, the time we spend as a class would be well worth it. So I kept at it. Each time we participated in literature circles, I learned more. I kept a messy binder with pages I wanted to revise, book titles I thought would work, and a huge list of things I wanted to avoid in future sessions.
Here are my top five pointers for running successful literature circles…and once you do, you’ll be addicted and have kids begging for more!
1. Know what you want. My top goal for students is to experience reading a book in a way they’ve never encountered.  
  • I want them to interact with it, discuss it, think about it because it’s fun and because someone else brought up something they hadn’t noticed.  
  • I want them to enjoy reading AND to really get something from it other than being lost in a good story.  
  • I want them to agree and disagree with each other.  
  • I want them to think deeply about the novel and ask higher level thinking questions.  
  • I want them to connect the novel to something in their lives.  
Through successes and failures, I persevered. I finally developed a Literature Circle Packet to keep kids on track and focused during their reading and their meeting, and this assists them in connecting with the book and having points to discuss.
2. I want my students to learn how to work with each other in a polite, respectful way. So, I teach etiquette. I probably say the word etiquette 15 times a day during our 2 1/2-week unit of literature circles. Each time we’re about ready to begin a new session, I spend quite a bit of time going over and acting out how to agree, disagree, add more information, ask questions, respond to other’s comments, and even drink a cup of tea and eat a small snack.  
ACT OUT you say?? Absolutely!! I either invite an adult into my room or, if I have an aide in the room, we act out how to verbally do all these essential skills. On every meeting group table and on the whiteboard in front of class, I post a list of question and comment starters. This list helps kids gain confidence and be respectful when they have a question or comment. See my Question and Comment Stems.  It’s a freebie on TPT.
3. I want students to learn to listen to each other. I want them to make eye contact, nod their heads, say excuse me, and respond with thoughtful comments. Listening is a skill that needs to be taught and reviewed. I show students what good listening looks like and what fake listening looks like. Even if a student says they can listen without making eye contact, I teach them that when you are in a discussion, eye contact says that you care. This is a fabulous experience for students and a skill from which they will benefit as they get older.
4. I want my students to transfer their experience of reading during literature circles to their independent reading. My goal is for them to notice how much more they understand what they read when they interact with the text. I want them to have an idea of what it is to interact with a text. Even if they don’t have someone to talk to about the book as they do during literature circles, they can still question their own thinking. 
During literature circles I make a point of discussing with them how much more they engage with the text when they talk about it, and I keep reminding them about the questions and discussions they could be having in their heads during their independent reading of a novel or nonfiction piece. Having a successful group experience can transfer to a successful independent experience, thus making them better readers.
5. I want the experience to be special and memorable.  I want them to beg for a second or third literature circle session.  I work my tail off to make this happen.  I serve tea, cookies, small fancy desserts, cheese and crackers, and like items. (Expensive, you’re thinking...I ask for donations from families).   I have three types of tea or hot apple cider and water for students to choose.  For many, they may have never had a cup of tea or eaten politely in a group setting while they are holding a discussion.  I serve their tea, and I set their treat plate on their table.  It’s about the experience, and it always surprises me how kids step up to the expectations I set. 
I also find as many adult community members as possible to participate in the literature circles. For students to have a discussion with an adult, and see the adult making predictions, showing contempt for a character, wondering about the author’s choice to include a detail, etc., is significant and something they’ll never forget. I ask retired teachers and principals to join us. Our librarian loves to be a book club member. I email families to see if aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, or older siblings would like to join us. In the end, when students have an experience and not just a task to complete, they internalize that feeling, and they remember. You won’t regret making literature circles a part of your classroom.

Marcy at It’s a Teacher Thing has been teaching for 21 years and can’t believe how quickly time has flown.  For most of her teaching years, she has taught in sixth grade classrooms.  Marcy specializes in differentiation and finds ways to scaffold most everything so that all her students feel successful.  She lives in beautiful northern California.

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