Helping Children to Make and Keep Friends in Your Classroom

As you get to know your new class, you will no doubt notice that some children seem to attract friends with no effort at all. They instinctively know what to say and do. Others are not so fortunate. Those are the kids who sit alone at lunch, who can never find a partner without being paired by the teacher, and who will go to the library during recess or stay in to help a teacher if given the chance. Sometimes they are simply unnoticed by peers, but more often than not, they are actively disliked. Studies have shown that just having one friend can make a significant difference in the life of these neglected and rejected children. That is why I created this set of Free Friendship Cards.

These cards were designed to benefit all children, not just the ones in need of social skills help. There are many ways you can use them in your classroom.

With the Whole Class
Select a card and use it as a discussion prompt. Students can share ideas and stories from their own lives. You could also have students try out some of the suggestions. For example, in the card below, students could share things they find interesting about their classmates. This would be especially effective after doing a Get-to-Know you warm up activity in which students learn more about each other.
In Small Groups
For some children, sharing in a small group feels safer than sharing with the whole class. Small groups, or even partners may help these children to open up. You will want to be sure to establish rules, such as not interrupting or criticizing the speaker. The card below might work better in a small group than with the whole class. 
To Solve Class Problems
Perhaps you are having a problem with bullying or with students excluding others. Try using a Friendship Card to explore the issue from both sides. With the card below, you could  not only use the prompts on the card, but also talk about what constitutes "mean teasing" as opposed to good-natured joshing.
For Role Playing
Role Playing is an effective tool because you can use it not only to demonstrate positive behaviors,but also because it helps both the participants and the observers to really feel the emotions associated with the role play, even though it is just pretend. For the card below, you might split your class into pairs and have each pair come up with a solution to role-play. Another interesting twist is to assign some groups to come up with a bad solution. Then you can contrast the feelings and results of the bad solutions and the good ones.
As Writing Prompts
Children who are not comfortable sharing in a group or who feel they are better able to express themselves in writing can benefit from using the cards as writing prompts. Giving (but not requiring) opportunities for students to share their responses is a nice way to extend the activity. Another fun idea would be to use one of the less-personal prompts to create a class book. Each student could contribute a page with a few sentences and an illustration. For example, the prompt might be: I can encourage my friends by....
I hope these suggestions have been helpful. Please feel free to comment if you have more to add or if you would like to share how you have used these cards with your students. For more ideas about how to create a caring classroom, visit the Caring Classroom Link Up at Laura Candler's Cork Board Connections.

Advice for New Teachers

When I asked teachers on the Minds in Bloom Facebook page to give some tips to first time teachers, they came through with flying colors! There were so many great ideas that I decided to wrap them all up into a blog post.  One interesting thing is that I did notice some themes that came up again and again. They included:
  • Teaching routines early and thoroughly.
  • Implementing a solid discipline system.
  • Staying Organized
  • Documenting and/or saving everything, even if you think it is isn't important at the time.
  • Relaxing, going with the flow, pacing yourself.
I hope that new teachers will learn a lot from those who have learned from experience. So, in their own words, here are over 40+ gems of wisdom:

Relax; be prepared to say you don't know; be prepared to ask for help.
-Diane Burckhardt O'Toole

Organization! Color code subjects...go as far as color coding the kid's folders & spirals so that everyone's social studies folders or spirals are all green...have a classroom email distribution (blind carbon emails do others don't see others email addresses) with the updates for the week's requirements and expectations of assignments and projects. Carbon a copy to administrators as well if any questions come about.
-Penny Smith Smethers

Make friends with the secretary and custodian.
-Cindy Bayne Hornyak and Missi Spurgeon

Read The First Days of School by Harry Wong every year.
Make emergency sub plans. Keep some extra snacks for kids that are hungry.
-Jennifer Cramer Armour

One of my favs is buy fabric to cover your bulletin boards. :-)
-Katie Lyon

Take pictures of your bulletin boards and put them in a digital or hard-copy scrapbook. Don't reinvent the wheel each year!
 -Nena Scalf Morton

For every handout, workbook, bookmark, letter to parents, form, pre-made folder, etc. that you use during the first week of school, make/collect 10 extra copies and start a bin for new students...when a new student comes in, you can just grab what you need out of the bin for those last minute transient students or for kids who come from divorced families (two homes).
-Lesley Finley Hutton

Teach and practice routines. Don't expect students to know what you want from them.
-Marjorie Rispin

Have something prepared for early finishers!! N Always be organised!!!!
-Monalisa Grover

Have fun...and don't stress if 1 lesson fails. I always had twice as much planned as could be done so I always had a plan B. Also some of the best lessons were spur of the fit...the kids fit... and it was success. Also realize that the best lessons for most students are projects using what they have learned...a few will blow your mind with creativeness and show you what they learned.
-Pam Steele

RUBRICS! It lets the students and parents know the expectations for the assignment and it makes grading quick, easy, and fair. :)
 -Sarah Cook Merrell

Have management systems in place by DAY1, don't wait until there is a problem!
-Susan Stephanz Dennison

Save your lesson plans books/files. The first years are so detailed . They always help year after year. Save a copy of all the first week activities.
-Tracy Santos- Ramirez

Take a deep breath when you get frustrated - those moments pass.
-Monica Sloan Rich

Take pictures of your anchor charts you've made WITH the kids so you don't forget for next year.
-Sarah Trevino Beasley

Keep a fresh documentation notebook for each year. Tab it with "Parent Contacts", "Student Positive Notes Home", "Teacher Collaboration", etc.
-Nancy Kennedy Wray
Keep a calendar near the phone and document right on it any contact you had with parents and the topic.
-Mary Kelly

Learn to LOVE your students...anything...find something you like about each one. Be personal (but professional). Don't be afraid to let your students know, "I'm a teacher because I LIKE people your age!"
-Mary Giesking 

Take some time for yourself or you will be overloaded. Always ask the oldies what was the best thing they learned to make something to go smoother.
-Alice Hathcock 
No question. is a dumb question. Ask for help and ensure you find a balance... Work and planning and rest playtime. Its ok to feel overwhelmed and emotional as well. Enjoy your first Year it goes to quick
-Kerry Critchley
Enjoy all the chaos that happens when you begin. Don't worry if you need to change a lesson mid-stream, and tell the kids why you are changing. They love to see you be creative and they begin to rely on you to be interesting and fun. Follow through on your discipline plan and be fair and consistent. That is the toughest thing to learn. Do not make idol threats, so think things through first. Have fun!
-Pamela Haigh Barber
Remember that we were all first year teachers too, so if you need help, ask for it.
-Wendy MacWilliam
Documentation! Document every conversation with a parent fellow teacher. If you are forgetful like me then someone says "but you told me blah blah blah" you have something to look back on. Even if it's a passing remark in the carpool line. Documentation!
-Wafa Husein 

Over-plan and then go with the flow.
-Kim Ricker 

Be willing to collaborate! Veteran teachers will have some tried & true lessons/activities, just as you will have some fresh ideas that will match current trends (I.e. common core standards).
-Melissa Broadbent McNamara 
Do not friend your students on facebook. They will send the requests, just tell them your policy is to not friend them until after they graduate from high school. Also, check your district policy about this.
-Jennifer Cramer Armour

Read The Cornerstone by Angela Watson, document everything, save all plans, organize, organize, organize and don't be afraid to ask a veteran teacher for help. Have a solid behavior plan in place and begin teaching it the first day.
-Karen Constantino

If you are going into a classroom that has materials on file, DO NOT go in and throw things away. Wait a year and then access the materials. You may find things you throw away on impulse were the very things you needed and have to repurchase. Listen to advice from others, but be true to your own style of teaching. As stated before, don't be worried if what you teach some days just don't work. Even experienced teachers have this happen to them. Ask someone for advice on what might make it work next try. Sometimes you will just need to tell the kids---Let's take a break for a minute because I need to reevaluate for a minute. They won't even question you. Most important---BE CONFIDENT IN YOURSELF, even , if at times, you don't feel confident. Those moments are few.
-Jolene Hott 

Start with a great classroom management plan. It is the backbone to your classroom. Have good rules and procedures. Take a lot of time to practice them the first few weeks of school.
-Amy Reynolds Bailey

Ask the veteran teachers at your school to create a monthly task list for you. It is a list of things that can sneak up on you and upset your flow. Keep it in your lesson plan book/binder. For example our October task list is as follows: School pictures, progress reports, begin thinking about winter program, change bulletin boards (we do this monthly). No dates, no details, just a heads up list allowing you to ask questions before events are right on top of you.
-JoAnn Harrison 

 Don't worry about learning everything the first day. Take it bit by bit. Life is a journey and so is teaching. Don't forget to enjoy it!
Take pictures of all your bulletin boards and any student projects.... You'll need them for you portfolio.... Also, know that RIFs happen. It's not personal, so try not to take it that way...
-Kimberly Renee

Make sure you set clear expectations and stick to them and make sure you know how the students are going home the first day of school :)
Focus on setting up a solid individual and whole class management plan. Have rules/consequences in place, so you can be firm and consistent.
-Stephanie Lerch 

Go over your routines daily for the first week or so of class. Be consistent with all you do. Don't beat yourself up if something doesn't go the way you'd hoped or planned. Be thoughtful in your planning and know where you want to end up with each lesson. Don't be afraid to spend more time on a concept if they aren't getting it. Be very organized.
- Karen Constantino

My greatest tip that I give when training student that it may true that you will spend hours and hours on the 'perfect' lesson plan only for a student to interrupt the pacing of it, lol. Keep in mind not to take it personal...embrace it and go with the flow. Some of my best teaching comes from those spontaneous moments offered by students.
Also when students act out and get upset in class, they are reacting to something happening in their home lives. It's about them, not about you as a teacher. Give them TLC and understanding and the rough outburst will be turned around quickly. You will be able to build rapport with your students which is a very important part to establishing your classroom environment.

Good luck to all those new teachers out there and most importantly thank you for joining such a rewarding profession in times when we receive so much criticism from the political arena. Best wishes to you! Kristie, 4th grade teacher (20 years) ; )
-Chuck Kristie Barr 

Have patience with the material. Don't force a concept or skill if the foundations aren't there yet.
-Nevin Werner

 Be firm but fair; if it doesn't work the first time, change it up! Make sure you teach and reteach classroom management stuff the first weeks of school and throughout the year. The first year can be trying, but keep a sense of humor and don't drown yourself in paperwork. Good luck!
-Laurel Stone 

Great tip I learned for turning in homework: have a sentence strip holder hanging on your board with the students' names on small cards spaced throughout. As students enter the classroom, they get their homework out, hotdog fold it, and put it behind their name. You can tell at a glance who did their homework. I used this for 3rd grade with their math homework.
-Jennifer Hooker Cude

You can find my own collection of Teacher Tips (over 300 of them) right here:

You can also find more advice for new teachers at the Link-Up in Teaching in Room 6.

Do you have more to add? Please comment!

Reading Response for Any Book: One Concept, Five Approaches

I don't usually write about my own products unless they are free, but in this case, I am going to use them as examples to demonstrate five different ways that a teacher can approach the same concept. Of course, I would be thrilled if you saw something that you want to purchase, but the focus of this post is to highlight the different approaches and you could certainly create your own

Reading Response is most likely a huge part of your reading program whether you work with small groups, have your students participate in literature circles or take a more independent approach such as implementing  a Reading Workshop program provides. Having questions and activities on hand that will work with almost any piece of literature is a necessity if you are not able to utilize literature guides for every book your students are reading. Here are five different approaches to consider:

Reading Response Cards
Reading Response Cards are a good choice for both discussion and written response. You can use them with the whole class by displaying a card with the document camera, but these cards are more commonly used in small groups as discussion prompts or individually as writing prompts. You can select the cards you want students to complete, allow them to select themselves, or for a little extra excitement, have students choose cards randomly. You can find more ideas on how to use task and activity cards in the classroom here.

Tic-Tac-Toe Choice Grids
Tic-Tac-Toe Choice Grids are one of my favorites because they give students choices in a structured format. Because the activities chosen must be in a row, students must weigh one activity against another. In order to complete an activity he would enjoy, a student may have to also complete one that he is not so comfortable with. If you do not like the Tic-Tac-Toe format, you could always allow students to choose a given number of activities from anywhere on the grid.

Reading Response Labels for Interactive Notebooks
This idea was originally given to me by Randy Seldomridge, an amazing sixth grade teacher. You can visit his blog, The Middle School Mouth, here.  The idea behind Reading Response Labels is that they can easily be used with interactive notebooks. The questions are printed on labels which can be stuck to the top of a page for student response. If you want all of your students to answer the same question, just pass the page around and have each student take a label. Easy-peasy! If you are doing interactive notebooks in any subject, you might want to explore using labels. They are pretty easy to create using Microsoft Word with the appropriate template.

Reading Response Bookmarks
What I like about Reading Response Bookmarks is that they are bite-sized so that students do not feel overwhelmed. By requiring your students to complete several for a given chapter or book, they are actually doing the same work they might do on a traditional worksheet, but they will never know it! Like many of these other resources, you can select the activities you want your students to complete or leave the choice up to them.

Reading Response Worksheets

Worsheets have fallen out of favor in many school districts, and that is understandable since they use a lot of paper and often are not all that motivating for students. However, this does not have to be the case. Reading Response Worksheets can be fun and interesting and they are certainly a great way to hold students accountable for their reading. Further, you can still save paper by laminating the sheets or placing them in clear plastic page protectors and having students complete them with dry-erase markers.

You can find more ways to differentiate learning at the link up at Taking a Walk on the Teaching Side.

Taking a Walk on the Teaching Side- Differentiation Link-up

Free Back to School Ice Breaker!

It is getting to that time of year again so I decided to put my own spin on an old favorite. I am sure you have seen this BINGO style Get-to-Know-You activity before. I love the activity, but found that many of the ones available are not all that visually appealing. Further, many are specific to a geographical region or are focused on student appearances. I wanted to avoid all of these things, so I created one of my own - actually two because there is also one for the primary grades.

So here they are, just click and download yours!

I am a little worried that the one for the little guys is too simple with only nine boxes. But I thought that since it is meant to be used at the start of the year, easier would be better. Any thoughts?

Summer Learning Link-Up!

Whether you are a teacher with a summer school class or a parent who wants to slow the Summer Slide, summer learning doesn't have to be a chore. Here is a collection of blog posts and free activities to help keep your kids learning all summer long!

Writing Ideas to Slow the Summer Slide

My second post as a guest blogger for Sidestepping the Summer Slide on Room Mom Spot is up. The post is full of fun summer writing activities.

The  first post is about summer reading. Please check it out. I would love to hear your thoughts if you care to comment on the post.

Teaching Resources

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Pin It button on image hover