July 29, 2012

Creating a Caring Classroom

Over 20 free activities and classroom management ideas for creating a caring classroom!
Every teacher knows the importance of the first day of school, because what happens on this day shows us how the rest of the year is likely to unfold. Thankfully, it only takes a little effort to ensure that your class gets off to a great start! I've found that if I take time to create a warm, caring classroom climate during those critical first days, the rest of the year is a breeze!

How can you create a caring classroom? I've found three strategies that do the trick:
  • Engage your students teambuilding and classbuilding activities to help them get to know each other.
  • Establish clear limits and expectations for behavior by developing class rules and teaching procedures.
  • Plan hands-on activities that challenge your students and let them know that learning is fun!  
It's sort of like walking a tightrope at first. You want your new students to know that your classroom is a fun place to be, but they also need to understand and respect the rights of others. 

In this post I'm sharing one of my favorite activities for getting to know each other. You can find more strategies for creating a caring classroom on my Teaching Resources website.

Back-to-School Bingo
Back to School Bingo is a fun game for helping students learn their classmates' names ... and it's free!When it comes to creating class spirit, one of the best things we can do is to make sure that our students learn each other's names quickly. Back-to-School Bingo is one of the most effective activities for accomplishing that goal. Click this link to download the free Bingo board and Bingo calling cards.

1 Bingo Board for each student, 1 index card or Bingo Calling Card for each student, at least 20 Bingo chips or markers per person

  1. Give each student a Back-to-School Bingo Calling Card or a 4 x 5 index card. Ask them to write their names at the top and add three facts about themselves, such as favorite hobbies, where they were born, what they love to read, favorite songs, etc. 
  2. Give each student a blank Bingo board. Post all the student names on the board in front of the class or distribute pre-printed class lists that have student names on them. Ask students to write one name in each block in random order. If there are more than 25 names, they should leave out their own and a few others as needed. If there are fewer than 25 students, they can add your name and a free spot or two. 
  3. To play the game, give each person a handful of Bingo chips. Draw out one calling card and don't reveal whose name you've drawn. Begin to read the facts aloud, one at a time, and call on students to guess who the facts describe. When someone guesses correctly, have the person whose card you drew stand up and take a bow. Everyone in the class may cover the person's name on the card. 
  4. Continue playing until someone has 5 chips in a row (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) and calls out, "Bingo!" 
  5. Repeat the game until everyone's name has been called at least once. 
This is just one of the ways that I help my new students feel welcomed and accepted. Of course we discuss rules and procedures, and we get involved in lots of hands-on lessons, right from the start. Be sure to check out the Link Up below to find out how other teachers are creating caring classrooms!

July 28, 2012

Motivate with Brain Bucks!

We can debate the pros and cons of using rewards in the classroom, but the fact remains that our lives are filled with both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Even as adults, many of us motivate ourselves with extrinsic rewards, such as promising ourselves a special treat when we meet a personal goal.

In the classroom, students who get the right answers on tests are rewarded with good grades and often other tangible items such as certificates and trophies. But when do we reward students for creative thinking or being willing to persist in search of the right answer?

A few years ago I created "Brain Bucks" to reward students for finding creative solutions to problems or putting forth extra effort in completing assignments. I even used them to reward students for catching me in a mistake! I kept an envelope with Brain Bucks at my teaching station and looked for opportunities to reward good thinking. When someone came up with a new way to solve a problem or answered a question that had stumped many others, I handed that student a brain buck and said something like, "Wow! Way to use your brain today! I would never have thought of solving the problem that way!" My students quickly realized that I valued creative THINKING more than simply getting the right answer. Eventually, other students began to look for good thinking in others. I would frequently hear someone say, "Mrs. Candler, I think she deserves a Brain Buck for that idea!"

You can download your own Brain Bucks for free from the Classroom Management page on Teaching Resources. They are available in green and also in black and white if you prefer to print them on green paper.

Classroom Economy Freebie
Since Brain Bucks are just slips of paper and not real money, students need to be able to redeem them for something else that they value. I connected them to my full classroom economy system. Students earned money for jobs in the classroom as well as for having their homework for the whole week, and that class money could be used in our class auction at the end of each grading period. You can read more about my classroom economy system in the Classroom Economy freebie. Just download it from my TpT store to get started.

Brain Bucks are a fun, effective, and cheap way to encourage students to think outside the box! For more ideas on classroom reward systems that might work with Brain Bucks, take a look at the responses to a question that was posted on my Facebook page. You'll find dozens and dozens of great ideas there! If you find new ways to use Brain Bucks in your own classroom, please share them here!

Laura Candler, Teaching Resources

July 25, 2012

Stop Team Disruptions

Cooperative learning is awesome, but sometime the noise and confusion caused by learning together can be distracting to others. It's not that your kids are intentionally being loud - they're just excited about what they are doing and aren't making any effort to keep their voices down. Or maybe their conversations are getting sidetracked into topics that aren't related to the task at all. However, I never felt it was right to waste class time lecturing everyone for the behavior of one or two teams, and lecturing kids never works, anyway.

So I came up with the idea of using small stop signs as a way of getting kids to stop talking and refocus. The strategy is easy to use. Simply print a few of the stop signs shown above on card stock and laminate them to make them last. Keep a few of them handy when your students are working in cooperative learning teams. If a group becomes too noisy or seems off task, walk over and place one of the stop signs in the center of the team. This is a signal to them to be quiet for one minute and think about how they can refocus and work more effectively. Of course, you need to introduce the team stop signs before using them so that students will know what to expect when it happens. After one minute, the team captain places the stop sign back on your desk and the team returns to their task.

When I first thought of this idea, I had no idea how it would work. I wondered if my 5th graders would think it was kind of lame and not really respond to the stop sign quiet signal. However, I was surprised that it worked better than I could have imagined! They absolutely HATED to have to stop talking for one single minute! That minute seemed like an hour to them as they listened to everyone else having fun. After I used the stop signs a few times, all I had to do was pick them up and walk around with them, and I heard kids say, "Shhh! She's coming around with the stop signs!" LOL! Who would have thought that being quiet for one minute would be viewed as a dreaded consequence for off-task behavior?

If you would like to use this strategy in your own classroom, feel free to download the stop sign patterns and directions shown above. You'll find this item on my Teaching Resources site on the Cooperative Learning page along with other free resources. I hope it works as well for you as it did for me!

Teaching Resources

July 15, 2012

Drama Circles: Cooperative Learning FUN!

Guest blog post by Jen Runde

Have you ever done Drama Circles with your students?  For this activity, students are assembled in a circle facing each other. Each student is given a card or two containing directions to perform or lines to speak.  It is similar to the “I have … who has?” game because students need to listen to their classmates to know when it is their turn to act out the instructions on their card. The picture below is of my class performing a Drama Circle at the end of the year. When the weather is nice, I like to take our drama circles outside. So much fun!

Drama Circles Set the Tone
Using drama circles during the first days of school can really help set the tone for the rest of the school year. This kind of cooperative learning activity has students breaking down the beginning of the year barriers and actively practicing all the skills they will need to have a successful school year:

  • They need to listen to each other to keep the activity going
  • They must wait their turn, and give their attention to one student
  • They need to cooperate with their classmates and build on the previous action
  • They will learn to be open to new experiences
  • They will share a fun activity that has them learning to be comfortable acting and performing in front of their other classmates.

An integral part of creating a classroom environment where the students treat each other as family is sharing memories and fun times. And for the students, knowing their teacher is willing to get in and share in the fun is priceless.  I’ve had a teacher comment to me after using one of my drama circles, “My class has new memories to share of their teacher faint and wrestle a crocodile. This is a special activity that lead to huge grins!”  A class that sees their teacher is willing to “wrestle a crocodile” for them will know that teacher will do anything for them.

Drama Circles Freebie!
If you want to give drama circles a try in your classroom, I have created a special freebie for you.  A Fairy Tale Drama Circle contains 32 activity cards that will get your students laughing, sharing, building confidence, and making memories. You can download it for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store. Cut out and laminate the individual cards.  I store the cards in baggie when not in use.  I hope you enjoy!

Jennifer Runde is a teacher with twelve years of experience in the upper elementary grades.  She currently has a grade 5/6 class in Ontario, Canada.  She enjoys creating fun and interactive lessons that keep her students engaged in the learning process.  Follow her blog, Runde’s Room, to see what she has going on in her classroom, and find some fun ideas for math, literacy, and technology that you can implement in your own class.

July 8, 2012

Back-to-School Resources for You!

Are you already thinking ahead to the next school year? Chances are good that if you're reading teacher blogs this summer, you're already planning activities for the coming year! I've just updated my Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources with teaching materials to help you get your year off to a good start. You can also find great resources on the Seasonal Teaching Resources Pinterest board.

The first few weeks of school are so important! My top priorities were establishing procedures and creating a warm, caring classroom climate. I spent a lot of time on these areas, but it paid off for me later in the year. To help other teachers, I've created several pages on my Teaching Resources site to share strategies that I learned or developed over the years. For more information, on these topics, visit and bookmark the following pages:

One resource that you might find helpful at the beginning of the year is Classroom Goal Setting. This ebook is about teaching kids the importance of setting goals and helping them to establish specific action plans for reaching their goals. You'll find that taking a little time to teach these skills will have a big impact on your classroom. 

What are some of your favorite back-to-school strategies and resources?

Laura Candler ~ Teaching Resources

July 5, 2012

Autobiography Writing Project

by Christi Fultz, Guest Blogger

There is no other time of the day quite like writing workshop. The alternating periods of excited conferencing mixed with the frenzied scratching of pencils on paper gives me goose bumps every time. I’ve found the key to keeping this delicate balance is authentic writing and student choice.

To get the most out of our time and meet all of the standards, I’ve grouped all of my reading and writing workshop units into genres. This gives students a better understanding of the genres and helps boost both reading comprehension and writing stamina. While students are required to write in my chosen genre, the form their writing takes is really up to them. Our autobiography unit is a perfect example of how this process works.

While students are studying biographies in guided reading, they are also creating their own autobiographies in writing workshop. After we’ve created anchor charts, my students are free to select the path their autobiographies will take. I love teaching this unit each year because I always learn new things about my students. Even reluctant writers have stories to tell when the unit is all about their special memories. For this reason, you might choose to use this unit as a back-to-school activity, especially if you are just focusing on the writing component. Not only will you get to know your new students, but you’ll also allow them to slip back into writing workshop with a familiar topic—themselves! If this project is too challenging for the beginning of the year, save the information to use later as your students explore autobiographies in reading.

To facilitate this process, I’ve created several different page suggestions. Students are free to mix and match my pages or even create their own. A blend of poems, lists, timelines, narratives, and pictures work together to produce a room full of unique autobiographies. When students share the finished project, they are proud to know they’ve truly created something special and families treasure this unit too.

I’m excited to share my bundle with you so you can create your own autobiographies with your class. Click to download this freebie from my store on TeachersPayTeachers.com. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Christi Fultz is a third grade teacher in Indiana with a master’s degree in elementary education and a reading specialist license. Reading and writing are her favorite subjects, but she loves creating hands-on math lessons too. Follow her blog, Ms. Fultz’s Corner, for classroom organization tips, literacy resources, reading strategies, writing mini lessons, math games, freebies, and more.