Make the Most of Your Class Marble Jar

If you teach in an elementary classroom, chances are, you have a Marble Jar. The Marble Jar is one of my favorite classroom management tools because it is so easy and there are so many ways to use it! Just in case you have never heard of the Marble Jar, the basic idea is that you start with an empty jar and you add marbles to reward good behavior. When the jar is full, your class gets a treat of some sort. Here are some suggestions for getting the most from your jar:

Size matters
Before you implement the Marble Jar consider how often you want to reward your students. Choose a big jar if you want them to work a long time to earn their reward. Keep in mind that a big jar also merits a big reward such as a class party. Your students will not be very motivated to fill the jar if the reward is an extra five minutes of recess. If you have a particularly challenging class, consider a smaller jar with small, but more frequent rewards. Otherwise, the goal may seem so far away that it is virtually unattainable.

Warm fuzzies are nice, but they don't plunk!
Some teachers use puff balls instead of marbles - often to go along with the idea of giving Warm Fuzzies. As it happens, I am a big fan of warm fuzzies - love the concept, love the book, but I don't like them in place of marbles mainly because when you add one to the jar, there is no "plunk." The plunk is super valuable because it speaks for itself. When you drop marbles in the jar, you don't have to say a word (though sometimes you will want to if it is not clear why marbles are being added).

Use your words
Sometimes, the plunk is enough. If everyone is working quietly and you drop a few marbles in the jar, you really don't have to tell them why. But often you will want your students to know why you are rewarding them, so saying something along the lines of "Thanks for being ready to start math, Table Three," or "Wow, you were all so quiet in line on the way back from Music that I think we need to add some marbles to the jar." will let them know exactly why you are adding marbles. You can also add a small bonus by asking students to add marbles, "Thanks for being so helpful during math today, Julia. Why don't you add five marbles to the jar."

Don't be stingy
One nice thing about a big jar is that you can be generous with your rewards. Dropping marbles in the jar often does several good things: It reminds them that you are always watching, it reinforces good behavior, and it allow you to reward many different kinds of behaviors. What should you reward? Here are some ideas:
  • Working quietly
  • Being good for a sub
  • Learning a new routine
  • Individual good behavior - such as helping another student
  • Lining up quietly
  • Doing a good job with clean up
  • Being on task 
  • Being ready to begin
  • Solving a class problem
  • Just because they are such a great group of kids
Don't reward everything
While you don't want to be stingy, you also don't want to reward every single good behavior. One of the powers of the Marble Jar is that it uses Random Reward to reinforce the behaviors you want to see - which is much more powerful than rewarding consistently (think of slot machines).

Avoid taking marbles out
Yes, you can take marbles out for bad behavior, but try to avoid it. The Marble Jar should be a beacon of positivity, not a reminder of less than admirable behavior. If you do decide to take marbles out of the jar, make a really, really big deal about it. Make sure they understand the desperate times call for desperate measures.

Try using bonus marbles
Bonus marbles are marbles that you put in a little dish beside the marble jar at the start of the day. At the end of the day, you decide if your students have earned all, or any, of the bonus marbles. This can lead to some great discussions if you ask them if they think they deserve the bonus marbles. Just lay some ground rules such as not naming individuals. Often they will be harder on themselves than you would have been.

Another interesting thing to try is to give each student a marble at the start of the day. On the way out the door at the end of the day, each student must consider his or her own behavior and deposit his or her marble into either the Marble Jar or back into the container you keep the not-yet-added marbles.

Choose the reward carefully
The best rewards are something each student in your class will enjoy, are free or cheap, don't take up too much time, and are easy to implement. Depending on your class, a reward can be as simple as 15 minutes of free time on a Friday, but in most cases, you will need to go a little bigger than that. Class parties are popular. One idea for choosing the reward is to have the students brainstorm a bunch of ideas, narrow down to three or four and then allow students to rank them individually by preference. This will give you a good idea about what is most motivating for your class. 

Do you have a Marble Jar in your class? How is it going for you? Any ideas to add? Please comment.

Ben and Bailey Build a Book Report

I don't usually blog about the books I have written, but I decided to write about this one because I am particularly happy with it. I was paid a flat author's fee for the book, so there are no royalties for me involved in this post. Usually, I write straight nonfiction, but this one was fun because there was a fictional element. Basically, Ben and Bailey Build a Book Report focuses on Bailey, who must write a book report for school and is at a loss about how to do it. Her friend, Ben helps her out, sharing how he has completed a similar project in the past. Every so often, the helpful after-school instructor shows up to offer more assistance.

I think this would be a great book to have in your classroom library because it shows the reader, step by step, how to write a basic book report in a very fun and non-intimidating format. I used the sandwich analogy with the introduction and conclusion being the bread and the story elements (setting, characters, plot) being the parts that go between the bread. Another thing I like is that the reader gets to see how Bailey revises her report as she writes it:

The entire report is at the end of the book, so the reader can see a full sample. That was fun, as I had to make up a fictional story and then write a book report about it! The only complaint I have about the book is that I had imagined my after school instructor as a younger person - someone cool in her mid twenties. The illustrator made her quite a bit older and kind of matronly.

I also wrote Leah and Leshawn Build a Letter which is also available on Amazon, as well as two other Writing Builder titles that will be available in a few months. One is on writing a fictional story and the other one is on writing a journal.

You can see all of my books, here.

Name that Dr. Seuss Book Printable Freebie

What Dr. Seuss book goes with these initials:  GEAH?

Highlight the blue box to see the answer. 

Green Eggs and Ham

I originally got the idea for this activity while watching Jeopardy. One of the categories featured initials of Dr. Seuss books and the contestants had to come up with the titles. Naturally, I decided it would make a great activity for Dr. Seuss's Birthday/Read Across America.

This activity is ready-to-use (and free).  An answer key is included, of course. You can download it from google drive here. I think this would be fun to do in partners or as homework (no internet allowed!). For younger students, you may want to give them a list of Dr. Seuss books or maybe just make sure you have all of them in your class library. Please feel free to share this activity with your colleagues.

If you are looking for more Dr. Seuss Activities, you can find 20 fun writing prompts here
Freebie Fridays

Seven Inspiring Teacher Movies

Last night we were surfing Netflix looking for something to watch when we came across the movie Mona Lisa Smile, which features a young(er) Julia Roberts trying convince her 1950's female college students that there is more to life than marriage. The movie was not only entertaining, but it also reminded me why I went in to teaching to begin with - to make a difference. So, in case you are needing a little reminder about how awesome you, as a teacher, actually are (or just need a good movie to go with your popcorn), here are some suggestions.

I recently re-watched Dead Poets Societywith the always enthusiastic Robin Williams. I have mixed feelings about Robin Williams ever since I saw him on a talk show making jokes about Mother Teresa the day after her death, but this is one of his better movies. The themes are similar to Mona Lisa Smile in that he is trying to shake things up in a rather conservative environment. A good one to watch again and to share with your older children.

My daughter takes sign language for her language requirement and a few weeks ago her teacher showed the class Mr. Holland's Opus, which she loved. Of course, they were focusing on the challenges the main character faces in raising a deaf child, but the movie is also hugely inspirational from a teacher point of view. If you are feeling like nothing you do is making a difference, throw this one in your DVD player.

Stand and Deliver is on my list to see again. I remember being very impressed with it back in the late 90s when it came out. What is amazing is that it is based on a true story about a math teacher in East LA who devotes himself to a class of extremely at-risk high school students and despite many obstacles, actually succeeds in getting them to pass the advanced placement calculus test, which means a real shot in life for his students instead gangs and violence.

Hilary Swank does a terrific job playing high school teacher Erin Guwell in Freedom Writers. Like Stand and Deliver, this movie is also based on a true story and also features a teacher working with at-risk high school students in LA. Rather than math, she teaches English and must overcome the racism that is the dominant force in her class. As an added bonus for Grey's Anatomy fans, Patrick Demsey (Dr. McDreamy) also has a starring role.

I must admit that I am simply charmed by Anne Of Green Gables - The Sequel every time I watch it (which must be half a dozen times by now). Of course, you must first watch the original  Anne of Green Gables, which is also fabulous. Actress Megan Follows is delightful playing a young teacher at an uppity school for girls. I never tire of watching her win the hearts of even the grumpiest adversaries. This is also a wonderful family film.

In all honesty, I don't think I would call School of Rock with Jack Black exactly inspirational, but it was fun. Good for a Saturday night with your  teens.

Have you seen any of these? What did you think? Got a favorite to add? Please comment. 

Teaching Word Roots plus a Freebie!

Krista and Julie from Reading Olympians have some wonderful information to share about why it is so important to teach word roots and how to do it. 

Hi Everyone!  This is Julie and Krista from Reading Olympians and we are incredibly honored to be guest bloggers for Rachel! 

Over the past few years our vocabulary instruction has taken us on an interesting and exciting journey—we are VERY excited to share it with you! Teaching Greek and Latin roots and stems has become a passion (some may say an obsession) in our classroom and even our everyday life.  It is our hope we can give insight into the world of root instruction as well elevate some stress about how to approach roots since it is now in the Common Core Standards of Instruction K-8.  Here’s how our journey began…

Before our district began to implement Common Core, we stumbled upon the concept of teaching roots when we decided to give up our “frequently used words” word wall for a “root wall.”  This was the best decision we EVER made!  We could tell from literally the first root we taught we were on to something that was going to have a lifelong effect on our students’ vocabulary development.  Nothing in our combined careers has had such an instant impact on their vocabulary development and in turn their overall reading performance.  Roots have changed the face of reading for our struggling readers, and deepened the reading experience for our stronger readers. 

We all know our students are entering school-no matter the grade level-with lower language skills.  Where once children read and shared time with parents learning nursery rhymes and listening to bedtime stories, many are now playing video games.  This shift has had a dramatic effect on their language skills and in turn they enter school with decreased vocabulary skills.  Again, as we know, this lack of vocabulary throws a huge wrench in the reading machine—CRASH-there goes comprehension and fluency!  Without that prior knowledge, without those words, they have nothing in which to draw upon to give text a deeper meaning.  We think of this prior knowledge as little bubbles filling their brains.

A child who has had many experiences and been read to since infancy has their  brain bubbles filled. Now, when this child reads new text, she has all these wonderful little bubbles on which to draw upon to gain meaning from the text. There is a much greater chance this child’s comprehension and fluency is stronger due to that strong foundation of vocabulary. 

This child’s little bubbles are not full of wonderful words.  As a result, when this child comes upon an unknown word, she is stuck.  She doesn’t have the arsenal of filled bubbles on which to draw.  Now, because she lacks that prior knowledge, the wrench has been tossed in her reading process.   How do we solve this?  How can a teacher –in 9 short months—fill these bubbles? (DRUMROLL PLEASE…..) Teach roots!!! One tiny root can open the door to hundreds of words. 

Here's one of our favorite roots: mot = move


Amazing!!  Not only do these wonderful little roots help our struggling children, it tremendously enhances the vocabulary of our higher readers as well.  We always tell our high readers, its not just about growing their reading up-but growing it out as well.  Roots provide that depth.

 As we began to implement root instruction we experienced daily “ah-ha” moments in all content areas.  Math- Julie introduced her fraction unit to her students and was met with “Hey! Fract means to break and tion means process or action!”  WOW!!!  This was a math lesson and there popped those roots!!  Their knowledge of roots provided another avenue of understanding the concept of fractions.

The more we have learned about roots we have discovered roots are EVERYWHERE!!!  Take a trip to the store through the eyes of roots!  Dur-A-Cell Batteries---dur=long lasting!  Beneful Dog Food--bene=good.  You will look at words through a whole new light, and so will your students!

This obsession led us to create an organized method of teaching roots.  We have developed Reading Olympians—our root instruction program.  We did not develop it with any thought of selling it.  We implemented Reading O in our classrooms and as we shared it with others, we started to see the potential of sharing the program with teachers through Teachers Pay Teachers.  We have grown from that first program and have branched into three additional programs with more on the way.  Ultimately, Reading Olympians will be a vertically aligned series K-8 meeting the requirements of the Common Core. 

 Thanks, again, to Rachel for allowing us to guest blog!

Organizing 3-Week Lesson Plans


Once again I am so thrilled to welcome yet another great blogger to Minds in Bloom. Cynthia Vautrot from 2nd Grade Pad has contributed this amazing post organizing 3-week lesson plans.

Raise your hand if you do Intervention Groups...

Raise your hand if you are required to keep records for RTI...

Are any of you familiar with 3-week Lesson Plans?  We have been doing them at my school for several years. 

3-week plans can be used for any subject matter and is a GREAT way to really focus on only one or two skills that your students need.  The groups are fluid each 3-weeks allowing you to change out the group members based on their current needs.  At the low end of the spectrum it is a great tool for having needed documentation for RTI at your fingertips.  In the mid-level range it is perfect for a little intervention when students just need an extra boost.  Don't forget about the high-range, yes, it is also perfect for those students who are already top in your classroom to challenge them and help them to exceed!

3-week plans aren't hard to do.  In fact, I find them to be one of the easiest parts of my day!

There are different ways you can keep your lesson plans.  Here are a couple for reading.  The top pictures focus on sight words that the students are working on.  The bottom is focusing on vocabulary words and comprehension.  You can easily make 3-week plans to fit whatever your students needs are.  Just list daily what you will do for about 15 minutes each day.  At the end of the 3-weeks, allow time on day 14 to evaluate the students progress over the items you worked on.  On Day 15, complete any other required testing (in reading we progress monitor in DIBELS on Day 15).

Here are some different ways that the teachers at my school store items to pull from when making 3-week lesson plans.

 Here are some needs-based groups in action.  The top pictures show fluency in a higher group and a lower group.  The bottom pictures show a comprehension passage that has been laminated for students to use and a game to use during the slotted time also.

 Here are some needs-based math groups. The top left is working on making groups of ten.  (This is a sped group and the parapro is blind.  Using two different shapes benefits her as much as the students!)  The upper right shows an on-level group working on regrouping with manipulatives...such a HARD concept for 2nd graders!  The lower is a high-average group working on measurement skills.

 Here are some more supplies that I keep at my fingertips for my lower groups... informational books (HIGH boys LOVE these), write wipe board, my plans kept in a 3-prong notebook along with sight words, a spelling book, and short vowel-anchor cards.

The supplies you gather up, would depend on your group and the skills you are working on.

 While you are working with your needs-based groups (I do 3 groups at 15 min each for a total of 45 minutes everyday), the other students are working on meaningful skills in centers such as reading, computers, dictionary skills, and comprehension passages.
Some more centers...sight words, math addition, counting, and sorting.

If you've never tried 3-week plans in your classroom, you really should give it a whirl.  You will be amazed at how you can reach EVERY student, EVERY day.  WOW!  What a difference you will see from that extra 15 minutes you spend each day on targeted needs.

Thank you Rachel for allowing me to be a guest on your blog today.  I hope I have helped give some new information to your readers!

If any of you have questions, feel free to contact me.  You can find me over at

Have a great day!

Interactive Reading Strategies for the Common Core

I am so very pleased to welcome Brian and Eric, better known as Wise Guys, to Minds in Bloom. 

One of the most important activities you can do with your students is to teach them to become proficient readers.  In order to accomplish this, teachers must learn how to teach their students how to use reading strategies effectively when reading literature or informational text. This is essential for students to be successful in the Common Core classroom.

As educators, Eric and I have worked tirelessly to develop interactive reading strategies that can be used in classrooms with your students. Each PowerPoint that we have created will have students engaged in their own learning. We involve the students by using the Think-Pair-Share strategy where we have them think about a question that relates to their lives, pair with a partner and then share their responses. This is a great way to involve every student each time a strategy is taught.

We also provide the students with definitions of key terms when needed, along with information to help fill their background knowledge on each topic. Below are four FREE PowerPoints that you can use in your classroom right away. Just click on the images to access them!
                       FREE Previewing a Book Reading Strategy PowerPoint      FREE Asking Questions While Reading Strategy PowerPoint        FREE Using Discussion to Understand Text Reading Strategy       FREE Predicting for Non-Fiction Text Reading Strategy PowerPoint    

In each PowerPoint there is a teacher read aloud part where the teacher models the strategy being taught with a book of his/her choice. For fiction PowerPoints, we use our current read aloud book to model the strategies. For nonfiction text, either a classroom magazine (Scholastic News or Time For Kids) or a student textbook work real well.

Each lesson ends with student assessment. We "Put the Strategy into Practice" by having the students write about what they learned into a notebook. Having a reading notebook for each student will hold them accountable for what they learn during these lessons. It can also be an excellent resource to use at conferences with parents.

Teaching reading strategies is essential in the Common Core classroom. How you teach, has a direct impact on student success. Try out our FREE interactive reading strategy PowerPoints and see how they work in your classroom.

If you would like to view all of our interactive reading strategy PowerPoints click here. 

Brian and Eric are both currently 5th grade teachers. They have combined over 30 years of teaching experience in the intermediate grades (4-6) classroom. They create lessons that are creative and engaging and aligned with the Common Core Standards. Their goal is to share their ideas with teachers worldwide and have created a new blog titled Creativity in the Common Core Classroom. They would love it if you stopped by to check it out.

Keep Your Students Engaged with "Turn and Talk"

I am so happy to introduce Sally DeCost from Elementary Matters because I pretty much love everything she writes and I would have been thrilled if she had taught my own kids. She does her research and she is tons-o-fun, so you will not want to miss this one.

I'm a big fan of the brain! 

I have no formal training or education about the brain, but I read a lot and think a lot about how the brain learns and what we can do as teachers to get the most we can out of the individual brains in our classrooms. It's fascinating stuff!  Most of the information I've learned pretty much backs up what I already knew about teaching, but now there's evidence to back it up as good teaching practices!

Today I wanted to talk about a little trick that helps keep young brains engaged and focused on what they are supposed to be learning.  It's called "Turn and Talk".  (Some call this "Think, Pair, Share". Whole Brain Teaching's version is called "Teach, OK".)

Here's what happens:  
After a few minutes of a lesson, the teacher tells the children to "turn and talk" about what they just learned.  The children immediately turn to face their assigned "turn and talk" partner, decide who will go first, and start a very active conversation!  I require my students to use as many gestures as they can, which I typically introduce before the "turn and talk" time. (I tend to be very dramatic when I teach!  No one could ever say I'm boring!)  The conversation goes back and forth until they've had enough time to review.  The teacher then asks for volunteers to share with the whole group, or the teacher simply shares what she heard partners say.  This happens several times during a lesson, keeping the students busy and engaged throughout the lesson.

It might be necessary to do some re-teaching if the kids aren't quite on track.  (Isn't it nice to find this out right away?)  I've been known, after a "turn and talk" session, to say "this is what I heard..." But in reality, I didn't hear that, I just wanted the kids to think I heard it, because that's what I wanted them to learn.  It works every time, and they never know!

Here's why it works:
Kids are wired to connect.  Just like adults, they need to interact.  (Sitting for hours and "just listening" won't produce much learning-I'm sure you already figured that out!)  Teachers need to give information in "chunks".  Experts recommend no more than 2 - 4 chunks of information at a time.  Then the learners need time to process.  Students need to take frequent breaks from listening and take time to process what they are learning.  They need to review and think about it.
Plus, kids need to move, and kids need to have fun!  These are basics of brain based learning, and "Turn and Talk" fits the bill!  I've seen this work from Kindergarten all the way through college, and beyond.  Think about your own professional development workshops and seminars:  don't you appreciate the opportunity to talk to your peers and process the information?

Here's how to set it up:
Take plenty of time to demonstrate how "Turn and Talk" works.  I find having students modeling in front of their peers grabs their attention.  Show them how to sit "shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee".  Make it very clear that they are to keep talking the whole time, even if they have to repeat what they've already said.  Show the children the importance of gesturing and mirroring the gestures.  I also find they benefit from a demonstration of "what NOT to do"!  I've been know to be very amusing when I model that part! (If you make them laugh, they'll remember!  That's another aspect of brain based learning!)
Choose "Turn and Talk" partners at the beginning of the lesson, teach a little, then say "Turn and Talk"!

Feel free to download my Turn and Talk Poster by clicking the image below.  There's also a version if you prefer to call it "Think, Pair, Share"!

It's been a pleasure to guest post for Rachel at Minds in Bloom!

Sally is a very experienced teacher of 36 years, having taught all grades from Preschool through 8th grade, except 4th.  She has a B.S. in Elementary Education and a master's degree in Creative Arts in Learning.  She has taught 2nd grade for several years now. She loves sharing her teaching experience and her passion for brain based learning on her Elementary Matters and selling at her Teachers Pay Teachers store.  She also has a Pinterest board on Brain Research!

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