March 21, 2014

A "Smart" Way to Motivate Students

A "Smart" Way to Motivate Students
Hey, ya'll! My name is Tabitha Carro of FlapJack Educational Resources, and I am more than stoked to be here at Laura Candler's blog, guest-posting for her. A very huge thanks, Laura!

My motto is "Have fun, the learning will come!" So, I wanted to share with you a fun way I motivate my students to reach goals as a class. It's called Build-an-Ice Cream Student Motivator, and I created it to use on the Smartboard. This is a great strategy, especially if students need something fresh and new to motivate them (and sweet!). If you don't have a Smartboard, I'll explain how you can adapt the idea.

Basically, once all students have reached a certain goal of five objective (whatever you decide - math facts, reading log, behavior, etc.), they get to have an ice cream celebration! What's more fun than that??

To explain it to you, I've made a YouTube video that shows exactly how it works. Just click here or on the image below.

After watching the video, be sure to pick up all your freebie items at my TpT store! They include:

SMART Board Build-an-Ice Cream File

Ice Cream Party Tickets in English and Spanish

And Ice Cream Clip Art for you to use whenever and however!

If you don't have a Smartboard, I have a solution for you. If you've read Laura's Book Mastering Facts Multiplication and Division, this activity can go right along with her ice cream celebration for learning math facts. So if you don't have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, you can use a combination of my system and the one that Laura shares in her book. Hope you enjoy using this with your students! Thanks so much!

Tabitha Carro

Tabitha Carro is the creator of the Flapjack Educational Resources blog where she loves to share ways to make learning fun. She started her teaching career in the kindergarten classroom and is currently teaching in SC as a Spanish partial-immersion math and science 4th grade teacher. Tabitha enjoys creating videos for teachers; follow her on YouTube to be sure you don't miss a single one!

March 14, 2014

Make Test Prep Meaningful!

Make Test Prep Meaningful With Student-Created Quizzes
Guest blog post by Blair Turner

They say that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. But for most educators, there exists one other prominent certainty: standardized testing. It's probably unlikely that a passion for standardized testing is what inspired you to be a teacher, but be that as it may, it's a fact of life.

I firmly believe that fabulous instruction within a safe and supportive classroom community is the best "test prep" strategy out there. That being said, it is important to spend some time preparing students for the structure of a standardized test. Today, I'm going to share one way that I accomplished that in my third grade classroom.

In the weeks leading up to ELA testing, I had students create their own multiple-choice quizzes to accompany a reading selection. I like this activity for a few reasons:

1. It gives students the opportunity to "think like a test creator". 
By having students create their own quizzes, they are forced to think like a test creator. They gain a better understanding of the structure of a multiple-choice question. I encourage them to use test-specific language such as, "according to the text..." and "all of the following are true except...". We discuss the types of answer choices that they can provide. Test creators are known for crafting answer choices that act as "distractors". Wrong answer choices are designed to be tricky, requiring the student to really look back at the selection and determine which information is most relevant to the question. After repeating this activity several times, I find that students get to be EXCELLENT at creating distractors.

2. It is student-centered and student-driven.
There are only so many practice tests you can reasonably ask an elementary student to sit through. By giving students the opportunity to create their own quizzes, they are more engaged and have greater ownership over the task  I usually do this activity in partnerships or small groups so that students can benefit from each other's specific strengths.

3. There is a built-in audience and purpose.
Having students create their own quizzes sets a strong purpose for their reading. They are encouraged to read closely to understand the main idea and to search within the text for details. After their quizzes are complete, I have the students exchange with another group and take each other's quizzes. Since students know their audience, they are more engaged in creating strong questions and answer choices. As you can see in the example pictures, I do not edit the quizzes for content or spelling. I pass this responsibility on to the students themselves. After taking another group's quiz, I ask students to provide the other group with feedback on their work. Which questions were the strongest? Which were unclear? Did any questions have multiple correct answers? This provides another layer of accountability for each group.

I wish you the best of luck as you prepare your students for success on this year's standardized testing!

Blair Turner is a math teacher in grades 1-4. Prior to this position, Blair was a third grade classroom teacher. She enjoys creating and sharing resources for elementary school educators on her blog, One Lesson at aTime

March 9, 2014

Tips for Using Camp Chairs in the Classroom

Welcome to the Bright Ideas Blog Hop! I'm teaming up with the bloggers at the bottom of this post to share bright ideas for the classroom. My teaching tip is super simple, but sometimes the simplest ideas make the best solutions!

Who likes to sit in a hard chair all day? I know I don't, and my students never did either. Classroom carpets are nice, but there's never enough room on the carpet for everyone. Bean bags are fun, but they often split and leave the room littered with little white styrofoam pellets! Camp chairs to the rescue!

Camp chairs are perfect for school, both inside and outside the classroom. They're great for those times when students want to move away from their desks to find a comfy spot to read alone or work with others.

Seven Reasons to Use Camp Chairs in the Classroom
  1. Camp chairs are light and portable, easy for kids to grab and move. 
  2. They fold up small enough that four or five of chairs can be stored in a corner of the room. 
  3. Students can take them just about anywhere, making great use of all the little nooks and crannies in your classroom. 
  4. Camp chairs make it easy to circle up for discussion groups and classroom book clubs. 
  5. When students are reading alone, they can turn their chairs to face an empty wall to remove visual distractions.
  6. Students can take camp chairs outside to to get comfy when writing or working out of doors.
  7. Teachers can use them when they need to pull up a chair for a private reading conference with one student. 

How to Get Camp Chairs for Your Classroom: 
  • Parent Donations - Put them on your school supply wish list for the classroom. They are quite inexpensive, especially at the end of the summer when school starts back, so parents will often donate them if you ask. 
  • DonorsChoose Grants - Write a DonorsChoose project proposal to obtain creative seating alternatives for your classroom. and include camp chairs as one option. 
  • Sporting Events and Concerts - If you live near an outdoor venue for sporting events or concerts, check with the management to see if you can have any chairs that are left behind after these events. I've been told that people frequently walk off and leave their chairs behind, and those chairs are given to anyone who wants them. 
  • Yard Sales and Flea Markets - Visit yard sales and flea markets to find bargains on camp chairs.
Ways to Use Camp Chairs 

What are some creative seating solutions you use in your classroom? 

I'm excited to be a part of the giant Bright Ideas Blog Hop! The next blogger is Rachel Lamb, The Tattooed Teacher. She's sharing some tips for using dry erase markers on desks. Click the image below which will take you to here blog! You can also use the links at the bottom of this post to find topics that interest you and hop directly to those blogs. 
The Tattooed Teacher

March 4, 2014

12 Ways to Motivate Reluctant Readers

I think I must have been born with a book in my hand! My parents told me that from the moment I learned to read, I would read everything in sight, from cereal boxes to billboards. When I began reading books, there was no stopping me! I even begged them to name my baby brother after a book character. (Yes, Tim, that story is really true!) 

So when I became a teacher, I was amazed to discover that most kids don’t enjoy reading. To me, books are full of excitement and adventure, like a movie that you can take with you. I spent my first 25 years as a teacher in a quest for the perfect way to teach reading, and I finally discovered the Reading Workshop approach. It made a tremendous difference in my classroom, and even the most reluctant students actually began to love reading!

Here are a dozen strategies that are often included in Reading Workshop, and none of them involve stickers, certificates, or pizza. External rewards may work in the short term, but the best way to foster a love of reading is to help your students discover that a great book is a reward in itself! 

You can motivate reluctant readers when you ….
  1. Read aloud to them.
    Choose books that you love, and read aloud with passion and expression. Get silly and change your voice to mimic the characters. (If you’re not comfortable doing this, offer to babysit for a friend and practice reading to a child. It’s fun!) When you’re reading aloud, stop at the good parts and say, “Looks like we’re out of time today….” Leave ‘em wanting more!
  2. Let them choose their own books.
    The biggest turnoff to reading is being required to read boring books. Provide a wide variety of books from different authors and across different genres, and let students choose the books they want to read. You can use reading interest surveys to help them find books on topics that interest them.
  3. Provide time for reading.
    This one’s a no-brainer, but sometimes it’s difficult to do if you have to teach from a basal reader. Kids need class time to read, and lots of it. The room needs to be quiet, and everyone needs to be reading, not playing games or doing centers. Just reading. If you’re not sure how to implement this effectively, you can find helpful information and a free webinar on Teaching Resources that explains the Reading Workshop approach. 
  4. Let them create a cozy reading nook.
    Who wants to sit at a desk for six hours a day? Collect an assortment of folding chairs, pillows, beanbags and other items that your kids can move to another spot in the room to read. Let reading be a time when they can get away from their desks and get comfortable.
  5. Confer with them.
    An important part of the Reading Workshop approach is conferring with students individually about what they are reading. You’ll learn about your students as readers and as individuals, and you’ll be able to connect with them personally. You’ll also find out if the books they’re choosing are on the right level. If not, you can help them find better choices, books that are just right.
  6. Read what they’re reading.
    I used to get a secret thrill when the Scholastic Book Clubs flyer arrived! I know it’s silly, but I love seeing the new books that are available and trying to decide how to spend my bonus points. I discovered that it’s fun to let students help me pick out books for the class, and I often ordered an extra copy for myself. If you’re not in the habit of doing this, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can become engrossed in a book like The City of Ember. You might even discover that the inner quirky kid in you loves The Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants!
  7. Introduce them to audio books.
    Think audio books are for little kids? Maybe you haven’t listened to Madeleine L’Engle read A Wrinkle in Time! Audio books are some of the best reading motivators you’ll ever find, and they help students become better readers as well. One reason is that when students follow along in the book as they listen, they see the words in print as they hear them. Powerful stuff. Not to mention the benefits of hearing amazing stories read by fluent and proficient authors!  
  8. Make it social. Do you have a social bunch of students this year? If so, get your kids talking about books by forming classroom book clubs. Book clubs are groups of students who read the same books and get together to talk about them, sort of like Literature Circles without roles. Check out this YouTube video posted by Texas teacher Chase Young that shows Literature Circle in action. You can also use kid-safe social networking sites like and to get online discussions going about books. If you want to know more about Literature Circles, check out the Literature Circles resources on my website.
  9. Let them read other stuff.
    If books don’t interest your students, let them read magazines, graphic novels, informative websites, or instruction manuals for their favorite game systems. Be sure to check for appropriateness, but you can often turn kids on to reading by letting them read nontraditional forms of literature.
  10. Get them hooked on a series.
    I must have read every single Nancy Drew book in the library when I was a kid! And I fell hook, line, and sinker for Harry Potter long before the series was turned into a movie. When kids get to know the characters in a series, they feel connected and want to know more about them. So find a great series, read the first book aloud, and make sure you have plenty of copies of the sequels on hand!
  11. Let kids give book talks.
    Why not start each day with a short student-led book talk? Ask students to sign up in advance to do a 2-minute informal book share. Letting them tell about their favorite book will motivate other kids to want to read that book or others by the author.
  12. Use technology.
    Books in print might not be a thing of the past, but ebooks seem to be edging them out. However, you don’t have to have a Kindle or an iPad in your classroom to introduce your students to ebooks. Younger kids will enjoy, and older students will enjoy reading ebooks on free Kindle software that you can download from and display on your computer.
What are some of your favorite ways to get kids reading? Do you have a favorite read aloud or a series that you love? Please share!