Sunday, July 27, 2014

Team Formation Tips for Smooth Sailing into the New School Year!

Smooth Sailing Into a New School Year Link Up and Giveaway!

I'm excited to be linking up with some of my favorite grade 3-6 bloggers who are sharing our best tips to help you sail into the the new school year. We're also each giving away $50 worth of gift cards with a total value of $1000!  In addition, we are each contributing one back-to-school product to a HUGE collection worth almost $300 that will be given to one lucky winner! Read on to discover the details and how you can win!

Team Formation Tips to Start the Year
If you use cooperative learning in your classroom, you might have questions about the most effective way to form teams and when you should begin to seat your students in teams. Here are some tips that worked well for me. You can find a more comprehensive explanation and answers to many more questions about team formation on my Team Formation Tips page on Teaching Resources.

  • Optimal Team Size - Teams of 4 are by far the best size because you can easily divide them into 2 sets of pairs for partner work. Also, in a team of three, one student tends to feel left out, and teams that have more than four students tend to get off task easily.  
  • Team Composition - As much as possible, I formed teams with students of mixed ability and from different ethnic backgrounds. I wanted my students to learn to appreciate others who were not like themselves, and to be exposed to different types of thinking and values. The best way to do that was to assign them to mixed teams rather than letting them choose their teams.  
  • Desk Arrangement - I loved using the desk arrangement shown in the illustration above. I called it the T-Table arrangement, with the two students at the top of the "T" facing the front of the room while the other two are facing each other. You can find other team seating arrangements on my Seating Options page. 
  • When to Start - I always started my students in teams right from the first day because I wanted them to learn that this is how we operate. Cooperative learning wasn't just for special activities, and they needed to learn now to get along right from the start. 
  • Mix 'Em Up the First Three Days - I created new teams every day for the first three days so that my kids would get to know everyone and so I could observe them as they worked together. Each morning after they were reseated, we started the day with a teambuilder like Team Talk or Team Interview. You'll find these strategies and more on my Caring Classrooms page on Teaching Resources. After the first three days, I was ready to create more permanent teams that lasted a month or more.
My Giveaway - Two $25 Gift Cards to TpT
Getting your classroom ready at the beginning of the school year can be time-consuming and costly. That's why I'm giving away TWO $25 gift cards to TeachersPayTeachers! If you win one of them, you don't have to use it in my TpT store, although I wouldn't mind if you did! :-) To enter, complete the Rafflecopter form at the bottom of this page. Be sure to read the Terms and Conditions before you enter.

Grand Prize Giveaway
All of the bloggers in the link up below contributed one back-to-school item to the grand prize package shown in the image at the bottom of this post. The total value is almost $300!

I contributed my Back to School Super Start Combo pack to the giveaway because I know it will be really helpful for those who want to start the year off with a bang, especially those who enjoy using cooperative learning strategies. You'll find lots of printables, tips, and ideas for classroom management, teambuilding, and classbuilding. The combo includes the Back to School Super Start Pack shown here as well as the Go for Green Classroom Management system.

How can you enter to win the Grand Prize? Just complete the Rafflecopter below and you will automatically be entered into the drawing for the two gift cards AND the Grand Prize drawing!

Smooth Sailing Into a New School Year Link Up
Each of the blogs in the link up below are hosting a different giveaway for $50 worth of gift cards, and those prizes include gift cards for, Erin Condren, and Really Good Stuff. All giveaways end on Saturday, August 2nd, and the winners will be announced on Sunday, August 3rd.

Be sure to visit all the blogs in the link up and enter ALL the contests, because each time you enter, you are also increasing your chances of winning the grand prize! You'll also pick up lots of great tips to help sail smoothly into the new school year!

Here are ALL the prizes in the Grand Prize Drawing, and they have a combined value of almost $300! Click on the cover images to view each item, but be sure to return here to enter the giveaway. When you enter the Rafflectopter with the TpT apple image below, you'll also be entered into this drawing. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, July 20, 2014

5 Ways to Make Your Students Smile

Guest blog post by Molly Phillips of Classroom Confections

This post was inspired by a t-shirt. That’s right! While wearing a ‘smile’ t-shirt at the Vegas airport, a security guard came up to me and said, “Thank you for making me smile. I saw your t-shirt. It brought a smile to my face. Sometimes you just forget. It was a great reminder.”

WOW! I was so taken back by his comment. I couldn’t help but think about the power of a smile. Being a teacher, it was second nature for me to start thinking about the classroom and how important it is to incorporate smiles into the school day. There are many ways to accomplish that, but here are 2 easy tips you can begin implementing at the beginning of the year, and 3 more tips to keep your students smiling all year!

2 Ways to Start Your School Year with Smiles
  1. Send your students a ‘welcome’ postcard. Sending a postcard in the mail before school starts may seem old school, but it will help build community and a caring classroom before the year even begins. You won’t see their smile, but I can assure you that there will be one. It will make them feel appreciated. A feeling of appreciation makes anyone smile. Plus, your students will be more likely to walk in on day one of school wearing a smiling face.
  2. Give a special treat on “Meet Your Teacher” Day.  I love giving my new students a little something special when I first meet them in person.  It can be a pencil, a note, or a baggie of sweet treats with a special message. I have always felt my upper elementary kids like receiving a treat. For example, a peppermint with a message, “You were MINT to be in my class!” When kids feel special, they smile.
3 More Ways to Make Your Students Smile
  1. Talk to Kids at Recess. Yes, this is usually a time when teachers can grab a refresher too by getting in some adult conversation, but it’s also a time where kids love being kids. Get into the habit of giving up a few minutes of your teacher chit-chat time at recess to interact with the kids. Some of the most smiley faces come at recess when kids want to do their chants for you, sing you songs, play their recorder, or perform cheers with a group of girls. It’s so easy to tell the kids to go run and play, but this will only take a few short minutes, and with it comes lots of smiles. 
  2. Invite a small group to eat for lunch. Yes, I know. We all want our 25 minute lunch break with our co-workers, but you don’t have to give up your lunch break all the time. It’s nice though to invite a few kids to lunch every now and then, especially those that may need a smile. Kids tend to open up more, tell funny stories, and laugh when they are in smaller groups. You get to see a side of them you might not otherwise see. It’s a bonding time, which is a great way to work through behavior problems or emotional issues with kids.  If you know from the start of school that a student may need a smile, this is a great time to start inviting a small group to lunch. Plus, if you get into the habit of doing this at the beginning of a new school year, you are more likely to continue it. It will take some effort on your part, but the rewards of the smiles will be worth it. 
  3. Use humor in the classroom. I think humor is one of the best ways to build community in the classroom, and of course, with humor comes lots of smiles.  Look for opportunities to tell appropriate jokes, tell funny stories, to share your fun side. For example, on the first day of school last year when I was about to tell the kids they could bring a water bottle to drink, I introduced it with, “What do Ninjas drink at school?”  The answer being, “WAAA-TAAAH!” Throw a Ninja kick in there and the boys will love you from day one. I then went on to say that they could bring water and a healthy snack each day. That joke might be a little over used today, but when I told it, it was unexpected and the kids got a good smile out of it, even a laugh.
In the hustle and bustle of the classroom, it is sometimes easy to forget the important role of smiling. There are many ways to bring smiles to the classroom, but the most important thing to remember is that smiles help build community in your classroom. Community carries over to better behavior and a child’s desire to want to please. Smiling is a win-win for everyone.
When the gentleman at the airport told me that I brought a smile to his face, do you know what I did? You guessed it! I smiled. I was happy to know that I personally brought him a moment of happiness.  It was so unexpected to hear someone actually tell me that. I couldn’t help but think that there is not only importance to be found in making people smile but also in thanking others for the smile. Often times we see the actual smile we bring to someone and then we move on. There was something special about hearing him acknowledge the smile. Because of that, I thought it might be nice to start the year off with the attitude of not only bringing smiles but also thanking people for the smiles they bring.

To help with that, I made some very simple ‘smile tickets’ that teachers can give to students and even co-workers. Click here to visit my TpT store and download the this freebie. You can just sign your name or even write a few words. People will appreciate you thanking them for the smile they brought you. Try it! Here is to wishing you a year full of smiles!

Molly Phillips has been an educator for twenty years in metro Atlanta, Georgia.  She now creates fun interactive lessons for the classroom and sells them on TeachersPayTeachers.  She writes on her blog Classroom Confections

Friday, July 18, 2014

We Appreciate Bloggers for Caring Classrooms!

If you've been following my blog and Facebook page, you'll know that I'm a fan of and that I'm one of two administrators of the Caring Classrooms giving page. About a year ago Francie Kugelman taught me about DC giving pages and we started the Caring Classrooms Community together. To date, our community has raised over $72,000 to help complete the funding on more than 390 teacher projects! To learn more about giving pages and how they work, read last year's post on this topic.

Each week the Caring Classrooms Community hosts "Fund-day Sunday," a day when teachers can submit their project links for us to review. From these submissions we select new projects for our page. When we add a project to our page, we donate at least $20 to it to kick off our funding efforts. Teachers love to have their projects on our page because we guarantee that after those projects are added, they will be completely funded before the time limit runs out!

Where do we get the funds to support our page? Some of it comes from the two of us, but most of it comes from the generous teachers who are members of our community. In order to submit a project each week, members have to donate at least $1 to any project on our page. Those $1 donations really add up over time! We also accept donations to our giving page that we keep in reserve to help fund projects, including donations from educational organizations.  

Thanks to the Bloggers for Caring Classrooms! 
Unfortunately, our source of funds is diminishing and we need to replenish our funds before the new school year. I reached out to my blogger friends to see if anyone would like to support the Caring Classrooms giving page with a donation of $50, and the bloggers shown below have made generous contributions to our giving page!

If anyone else would like to make a contribution, go to and send your tax-deductible donation to All donations are welcome, even if you aren't a blogger! If you are a blogger and you donate at least $50 to Caring Classrooms, I'll add your blog to the link up below. In addition, I'll be happy to share one of your posts with my Facebook fans as a thank you for your $50 donation. Click here to learn more.

Francie and I really appreciate the support of the blogging community! We are excited about the upcoming year and the possibility to help even more classroom teachers get their projects funded. We are planning a special celebration contest on our one year anniversary which will be August 8th. If you want to join us, visit the Caring Classrooms Facebook page to learn how to become a member of our community!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Ancient Secret for Wise Decisions

Guest post by Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America

Note: This post is a part of the WBT's Classroom Transforming Rules series. To find all of the posts in the series, click here. To see Whole Brain Teaching in action, watch the videos on the WBT website.

WBT’s Rules 4: Make Smart Choices

Let’s review the first three Whole Brain Teaching classroom rules. Each will help solve one teaching problem. Implementing Rule 1, “Follow directions quickly,” will speed classroom transitions. Implementing Rule 2, “Raise your hand for permission to speak,” will produce orderly discussions. Implementing Rule 3, “Raise your hand for permission to leave your seat” will keep your classroom from turning into a playground.

Rule 4 “Make smart choices” is a much larger, even grander, guiding principle. Make smart choices is perhaps the fundamental rule for all human activities, in or out of the classroom. As I can testify after teaching philosophy for four decades, philosophers from Socrates in 5th century B.C. Athens to Jean Paul Sartre in 20th century Paris disagreed on almost everything, except one guiding idea: Humans should use their reason carefully… they should make smart choices.

Socrates believed smart choices involved self-knowledge; Plato argued that the smartest choice was to study mathematics in order to learn to think abstractly; Sartre held that the smartest choice was living authentically, never blaming others for your life situation. Despite their disagreements, philosophers have believed the good life was found through exercising our reason in wise decision making.

Whole Brain Teachers have discovered that Rule 4 is wonderfully powerful. The rule covers every area of a student’s life at school, at home, out with friends, on the Internet, engaged in a sport or hobby, dating, Everything. From childhood to adulthood, we need to make smart choices. Teachers have found that Rule 4 is especially powerful in covering every kind of disruptive student behavior, in class and out.

After reviewing the first three rules with your students, introduce Rule 4, “Make smart choices,” and the gesture, tapping the right temple with a forefinger three times. You can choose from a host of opportunities to share how it works. Discuss the smart and foolish choices made by characters in a story, famous historical individuals, kids in the lunchroom. Before beginning a science experiment or art activity, ask kids to talk about the wisest and goofiest decisions that can be made.

To clarify Rule 4, and introduce excellent, wide ranging, critical thinking discussions, create a list of sentence frames. Here are three samples:

  • When writing your essay, smart choices would be _________.  Foolish choices would be ________.
  • Some smart choices characters make in "James and the Giant Peach,"  are _______.  Some foolish choices are _______.
  • When we are in the library, a smart choice would be  ________  because _________.  A foolish choice would be _______ because ________.

Note that by including "because" in your sentence frames, students have the opportunity to add evidence to back up their answer. Selecting appropriate evidence is, in itself, a smart choice!

Here’s a key point.  If a child claims, incorrectly in your view, that one of her choices was smart, you respond, “Okay. But what would be a smarter choice??” Teach your kids that smarter choices are always available.

Using Rule 4 to Help Students Make Smart Choices
As I write this, I realize I’ve never talked about how to improve student behavior on the playground. Shame!

Try saying something like this to your class (with WBT techniques, of course):

“We’re going to talk about Rule 4, making smart choices, on the playground. To make this entertaining and clear, we’ll use two finger action figures. Using two fingers on each hand, walk your action figures around on your desk."  (They do so.)

"Good! Now, imagine your desk is the playground. Pretend as if your two finger action figures are making foolish choices while playing tetherball. Show your neighbor what that would look like and what each action figure would say." (They do so.)

"Good! Now, show your neighbor, using intelligent two finger action figures, what smart choices playing tether ball would look and sound like.”

Virtually every wacky behavior that goes on during recess can be acted out, and corrected, with foolish and intelligent two-finger action figures … and nothing gets scraped except imaginary knees.

Another idea strikes me just now … oh, I’m rolling!  Junie comes up to you during recess, very upset about what happened to her on the slide. To lower Junie’s emotional temperature, ask her to show you, using two finger action figures, Martin’s foolish choices and how she reacted. Then, using your action figures, show Junie the smartest choices available to her, should a similar situation arise. Finally, if necessary, take yourself over to Martin to see if your action figures can teach his action figures to follow Rule 4.

To download the free classroom rule posters described in this article, click here or on the Rule 4 poster image above.

For more information on Rule 4 and WBT’s other classroom rules, look at Chapter 7 in “Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids” on

Chris Biffle
Director, Whole Brain Teachers of America
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Chris Biffle, a college philosophy professor for 40 years, is the author of seven books (McGraw-Hill, HarperCollins) on critical thinking, reading and writing. He has received grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In the last 15 years, Chris has been lead presenter at over 100 Whole Brain Teaching conferences, attended by 20,000+ educators. Thousands of instructors across the United States and around the world base their teaching methods on his free ebooks available at

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Active Engagement Strategies for Success Webinar

Join Me for a Free Webinar!

When: July 31st at 8 pm EDT

How would you like to participate in a FREE professional development session in the comfort of your own home ... wearing whatever you want? Just call it PD in your PJ's! Read on to find out how to receive an attendance certificate for attending my next live webinar, Active Engagement Strategies for Success.

Believe it or not, it's been almost a whole year since I presented a live webinar. Last August I hosted Sowing the Seeds of Success: Creating a Caring Classroom, a collaborative webinar with four other terrific bloggers. If you missed it, you can watch the recording from my Caring Classrooms page on Teaching Resources.

This year I'm building on the "success" theme by presenting a webinar on strategies for academic success that will keep kids actively engaged during instruction. While it IS extremely important to create a warm and supportive atmosphere during the first weeks of school, creating a caring classroom won't necessarily lead to academic success for all students.

So this year I'm tackling that academic component by sharing strategies that will make EVERY lesson more engaging and will also boost achievement. It's like having a collection of teacher tools in your toolbox - when you know what tool to use for each situation, you'll be able to build success into every lesson.

I'll be sharing cooperative learning methods, team formation tips, how to use dry erase boards effectively, classroom management ideas, and more. You are also invited to share your own strategies via the online chat during the webinar. I learn so much when everyone participates!

Attendance Certificate
Those who attend the live session on July 31st will receive a certificate of attendance that they MIGHT be able to use for professional development credit if their school systems accept it. If this is important to you, you may want to check with your administrator before the session to find out. Why not invite a few colleagues to attend, too?

Special Giveaway
I love doing giveaways in my webinars, and this time I have a special treat! I'll be giving away the active engagement products below that were donated by some of your favorite teacher bloggers. Check out the links at the bottom of this post to find all 12 products worth a combined total of over $100! ONE lucky participant will win the entire collection at the end of the session! Be sure to log in to the webinar with your real name and you must be present to win.

Register Now
The session is free, but you do need to register which will ensure that you receive a reminder with the online classroom link. If you can't attend the live session, register to receive the link to the recording. It won't be quite as much fun as being in the live session, but the information will still be helpful. Click here to register now. I hope you'll be able to join me for this special event!

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