July 30, 2012

Teaching Annotation

One of the many struggles students have with reading is comprehension. As a way to help students comprehend what they read, I teach them how to annotate. While some of this is taught in ninth grade, I like to expand what they're looking for when they read.

During the first unit I teach, Animal Farm, I teach the students how to annotate. I give them this handout to use as a reference sheet throughout the year.

To get this FREE printable, click here!

I also encourage the students to buy their own copies of the novel so that they can write in the books, saving a lot of time and money using sticky notes. However, if a student chooses not to purchase his/her own copy, he/she uses sticky notes to make the annotations. Well I just discovered the greatest invention EVER! See-through sticky notes! This will allow the students to make their comments, but still read the text underneath! [Can you tell by all the exclamation points that I'm SO excited?!]

Unfortunately I was only able to find these at Walmart. I went to Target, the Dollar Store, and Office Depot, and none of those places had the see-through kind. Note that they're not made by Post It, but by Avery. So I bought 4 packs in case any students need them or maybe I'll give them away as prizes...

Let me know what you think!

-Ms. W

July 26, 2012

Computer & Email Organization

We all have tons of cute ideas for organizing our classrooms, but what about our computers? This could be the most important tip for organizing I could give you. I have found that my freakishly organized tendencies come in handy when looking for documents on the computer.

On my desktop I keep several folders where I keep my different documents. These are labeled fairly generically, and then go into more depth inside the generic folder.

For example: On my school computer, I have my school documents folder. Then inside that folder, I have several folders:

-English 10
          -Animal Farm
          - Night
          - Black Boy
          - Shakespeare
*As you can see I then break my documents into smaller ones per unit.
-English 10 H
          -Animal Farm
          - Night
          - Black Boy
          - Shakespeare-Writing [for general writing documents that can be used for any grade]
-Reading [again, general reading documents]
-Extras, etc.

This comes in handy when needing to find a document quickly if I need to make an extra copy or need to print an extra for a student. I also know where things are when uploading them to my wiki as well, which cuts down on time.

I also create folders within my work email as well. I have a folder for Memos, Student Correspondence, Parent Correspondence, Cheer, English Dept., and two new ones: Student Teacher Info and BTSA Support Provider Info.
I have found these separate folders to be EXTREMELY useful when needing to find information from an email. I also keep a few in my Inbox if I need to respond to them still or they don't really fit into a category. My Inbox is kind of my Misc folder :) I believe the parent and student folders are the most important. These keep track, with time stamp, of conversations had between you and the other person, and could be used as proof if anything came up that you needed "backing up" with.

So since we spend so much time making sure the "stuff" in our classroom is organized, how about organizing the computer too? Write a comment and let me know if this was helpful!

-Ms. W

July 23, 2012

Project of the Month: Duct Tape!

Decorating! One of the fun parts of teaching is decorating your room. As you can probably tell from my other classroom pictures, I do have zebra accents going on in my room. Not too much because I don't want to overwhelm anybody, but enough to be noticed and be cute :)

Sometimes buying supplies can be pricy, and we all know we spend way too much on supplies anyway. So I am being resourceful and making my own extras for my room. Duct Tape is a new and fun way to decorate without having to spend a fortune. Just visit any Michaels, Target, Walmart, or Dollar Tree to find the design of designer duct tape you'd like. They have just about any design you could want!

This month I decided to create my own storage bin with duct tape. Instead of purchasing a bin at the store, that can cost anywhere from $10-$20, and that's if they have the design you want, I spent $3.99 on duct tape and I was good to go! I used a cardboard box that supplies came in at school and took it home. I then got out my duct tape and scissors....10 minutes later I was done! See my cute finished project below!

So have fun creating your own little extras with duct tape! I know my friend Liz is going to do this with UCLA duct tape [her Alma mater] for some storage boxes in her classroom.

As mentioned in my Journals post, I also used duct tape to spice up a composition notebook for journal writing. I had a little extra and decided to use one stripe for the box above for a little color. Duct tape has so many uses!

The pink duct tape for a journal, and used again for the storage box!

Enjoy decorating!!

Ms. W

July 19, 2012

Music in the Classroom? Yes please!

I used to think that when kids said that music helped them concentrate [i.e. can I listen to my iPod while we work], that they were incorrect. Well....I may have been mistaken. Apparently music can help you concentrate. What the kids were not correct about was the type of music. You see, there are different types of music for different activities that will best help the students.

Come In Song:
The Come In Song is a song you play as the students are entering the classroom. I also use this as my warm-up song; by the time the song is over, the warm-up has to be completed. For periods in the morning or before lunch, when the kids are barely awake, you'll want an upbeat and positive song to wake them up. This year, I'm going to use "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". I am using this song for a few reasons. One-It's upbeat and not too long. Two-it's the song they played as our Come In song at the QLN conference. This song reminds me of a time when I was stoaked about learning and excited about making my classroom better. So this song will put me in a great mood in the mornings too!

Now, if your after lunch class is CRAZY because they just ate Hot Cheetos and a Mountain Dew or Red Bull, you might want to try a more low key Come In song to set the mood. It doesn't have to be classical music, but just something to let them know that they have a few minutes to simmer down and get ready to learn. I don't have a song for this yet, so if someone has an idea, let me know!

Classwork Music:
This music should be neither too slow nor too fast, and should not have lyrics. The reason we don't want lyrics while they're working is because...? You got it...they'll start singing along instead of working. My amazing instructor at QLN, Amy Smith, uses instrumental guitar music with sort of a Latin feel. She recommends checking out Nightmares on Wax, they have a great variety of instrumentals on their CD.

Testing Music:
Now is where we sort of bring in the classical music. The best genre of music for testing is Baroque music. These songs generally have 60-80 beats per minute, which is a great, focusing rate for your body to be at for an optimal testing experience. This music though, needs to be barely audible. We want them focusing on the material, not the music. But having the music in the background will bring a great calm to the atmosphere of the classroom.

If you type in 'Baroque Music' into Google, a ton of sites will pop up with songs that will work. I currently have:
  • Pachelbel's Canon in D
  • Bach Brandenburg Concerto 3
  • Six Duets Op. 82 for two flutes
Here is a link to a YouTube video playlist of a bunch of Baroque songs. You could just put that on your computer and let it play...easy!
I will be adding more because listening to three songs on a loop four times a day gets VERY boring :)

If you teachers have any other good ideas or sites for music, let me know! I'd love to add some songs to my playlist!

Enjoy the music!
Ms. W

July 16, 2012

Affirmations & Acknowledgements: Why students need them

I am going to make today a GREAT day! Sometimes all you need to do is say something out loud to start believing it. Many times throughout the day I find myself just doing comprehension checks to make sure the students are grasping the concepts that I'm begging them to understand. However, I often forget to acknowledge their efforts as well. I just want to make sure they understand, and move on the next standard I have to make sure I cover before STAR testing.

This year I'm going to focus more on affirmations and acknowledgements.  I will be putting up some new affirmational posters around my room this year, to help with the atmosphere. Affirmational posters are to be hung at ear level so that students have a constant view. When students see these, my hope is that they'll read them to themselves, and it will trigger a thought of positive thinking. When I look over and see them, my hope is that it will remind me to say one out loud during the lesson that day.

Here are a few of the new posters I made, which can be found on the Printable Freebies page:

 Then I have two more [which are not freebies because I got them from QLN]:

Acknowledgements: Sometimes it's nice just to have someone say "Thank you". Acknowledge effort, not right or wrong answers, is what will keep the students trying and coming back for more. As a teacher, I am going to try to say "thank you" after a student shares or gives an answer.  There are also situations which can call for a class acknowledgement. These can look like:
  • A power whoosh
  • Snaps
  • 3 claps
  • A "genius" kiss
  • An air high five
  • An air jellyfish fist bump
  • A heart [students make a heart shape with their hands]
  • Raise the roof
  • And so many more that the kids can think of!!
These could mean so much to the kids and might be the only positive interactions they have all day. So do your best and getting everyone in the class to acknowledge all our efforts! Effort creates Ability :)

Enjoy the posters!
You can also get these posters free via:

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Ms. W

July 14, 2012

Making Writing Fun: Journals

Writing. Upon hearing the word, most students let out an audible moan or sigh. But why? [Hey, that rhymed] I want students to have a positive, well at least not a negative, reaction when hearing the word 'writing'. This past school year, I started having the students keep a journal in which we wrote for three minutes at the beginning of every class. Some of the topics were serious, some were funny, some were WAY out there. The students liked it okay, but I want to make it a little more exciting this year.

This year I'm going to be placing jar of the thin colored markers that can be used to write with at each table [we don't have desks, we have tables that fit three students]. These markers were originally going to be used to taking notes [I'll talk about that in a different post], but now I think I'll use them for journals too.

The students are each required to purchase a $.50 composition notebook during the first week of school. These can be found at Target, but I'm sure they might be cheaper at other stores such as Walmart or maybe even Office Depot when they have their Back to School sales. Of course, since we can't legally require students to purchase items for school, I always have a few extra. This year, I'm going to have the students decorate them. They can put anything on it as long as it's school appropriate [no pictures of alcohol, drugs, etc.]. I'll explain to the the idea of Mod Podge & paper for a scrapbooking concept, and/or a lot of kids are into the designer duct tape now.

These are my example notebooks I'm going to show the kids. The left one is paper and Mod Podge,
and the one to the right is Zebra duct tape! The duct tape is a good reinforcer too.
 I am also going to have the students write their three minute journal entries in the colored pens/markers too. I think it will be a fun and different writing experience for them.

Last year I had the trouble of trying to come up with a journal entry idea every morning. I know, it seems like I should have just had some ready...so now I do! I have compiled a list of sixty different journal entry topics [I only have the students for a semester due to our accelerated program], but I can always come up with more down the road. I know that sometimes it's hard to come up with ideas, so hopefully you can use these, or just use them as a jumping off point.

 You can find the Journal Prompt ideas in the Printable Freebies page :)
Check out this freebie on:

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday
Let me know if you have any other ideas for making writing fun! I'd love to hear from you!

Ms. W

July 13, 2012

Organizing all the "Stuff"

With so many new experiences that will be happening this fall, organization is KEY! Teaching high school comes with a great need for organization and I do believe that staying organized has helped me be successful.

There is little room in my small little classroom-it barely fits all the students, forget about all the "stuff" we teachers need. So I have to make use of every bookcase and every shelf I have. In my room I have two bookcases and one filing cabinet. One of the bookcases fits binders and such, which is where I keep my binder for every book/unit I teach.
The binders are labeled on the spine, as well as have a see-through cover so I can get a quick visual reminder of what's inside. [Notice my top shelf is all Cheer binders and goodies since I don't have a cheer office] I stacked the composition books between some of the binders for two reasons: One-if the kids took them home, they'd forget to bring them to homeroom every Tuesday, and Two-I had no where else to put them :)

I then have an additional bookcase where I keep tools that the students can access: bins of marker, crayons, colored pencils, glue, scissors, highlighters, and a big bin of random art supplies. I also have all the DVDs on one shelf, and I save the top shelf to display student projects.

The last two organizational tips for this entry have to do with keeping me [and the students] organized. In a previous post I mentioned the new wall-hanging file folders I have that have helped organize 'extra' papers the students frequently ask for. This has helped tremendously, and so have a few other ideas using the 'walls'. I am fortunate to have two whiteboards in my classroom. I use the one at the front of the room for teaching and the daily warm-up. The area in the top left of the whiteboard is reserved for the daily warm-up of Roots [welcome to English]. I keep it in the format I'd like them to use, and it's up there as a constant reminder.

And lastly, the other whiteboard. This whiteboard is on the side of the classroom and is reserved for the weekly agenda. Every Monday I post the week's classroom agenda and the homework. This helps those students that like to know what we're doing in class that day [I just point to the board when they ask] and gives them an overview of the week's homework load. Now, all this is on my teacher website [the wiki] that they all have access to and are supposed to look at every night, but of course, that doesn't happen. This board keeps the students, and me, accountable.

The little column to the right is labeled "Extras". This houses the bell schedule, the ASB rep meeting times, and the week's announcements.

We don't always have time to answer a million questions everyday, and yes, I think there have been days where I've answered a million questions. So staying organized is a good way to stay on top of pertinent information, keep the students on top of their assignments, and to, in a way, create a sense of balance and routine for the class.

I hope this sparks a few ideas for how to organize your classroom!

Ms. W

July 11, 2012

Summer Reflections

So the school year has come to a successful close and now it's time for teachers to do nothing over the summer, right?! Wrong! The common misconception of teachers is that we do nothing all summer but sit around and eat bon bons. Couldn't be further from the truth. This summer has been so busy already, and I feel so productive. I made a Summer To Do list [as seen below] because I am the type of person that likes to check things off lists. It also helps organize my thoughts and helps me stay on top of what needs to get done.
The summer reflecting started off well when I attended my second Quantum Learning Network for Teachers 5-day seminar. It was a great time to look over the past year and see how I implemented, or didn't, the techniques I learned last year. I think self-reflecting is one of the most important parts of being a teacher. If I can't see that I make mistakes or need to do something better to reach more students, then the students lose. We all want to think we're perfect teachers, and maybe there are perfect teachers out there...but I'd rather be imperfect and keep learning. I love coming back to school with new ideas and a renewed excitement for teaching!

I'm going to work very hard at being more diligent about writing on here and sharing ideas :)

Hope all you teachers are enjoying your summer of reflection!!

Ms. W