-->

4 Fun Games to Quickly Practice Letters and Sounds

Daily Oral Practice

​I love routines. And one of my favorite routines is orally saying these letters and sounds each day. I mix up the stack, put them on the table face down, and begin calling each letter. I point to the uppercase letter and say the letter's name. I point to the lowercase letter and say the letter's name. Then, I point to the picture and say the sound two times, followed by the name of the picture. For example, I say, "A, a, /a/, /a/, apple." "B, b, /b/, /b/, ball." We say this every. single. day. At the beginning of the year, my students are mostly mimicking what I say. Later in the year, they are able to begin saying it with me. It really helps them master both letters and sounds. 

ABC Bingo

Obviously, right? That's what I originally designed them for! I mix them up and call the letters. Since the alphabet cards have both upper and lowercase, my students can cover either one when it is called. 

Keep It! 

Who can keep the most cards? Well, you have to KNOW it to keep it! I mix up the cards and put them face down on the table. Taking turns, I show students a letter. If they know the letter and/or sound (usually depending on the time of year and their goal), they can keep the card! The student with the most cards at the end wins a sticker. If they don't know the letter, I typically tell them and hide it back in the stack.

Zap!

I always loved playing Zap with my older students, and I love it just as much with my little ones. With this game, I put all of my letters in a paper bag, along with two to four Zap cards. Students take turns pulling out a letter. If they know it, they can keep it. If they don't know it, they put it back in the bag. If they draw a ZAP! card, they have to put all of their cards back in the bag. I usually set a timer before we start. Then, when the timer goes off, whoever has the most cards wins the game. I like this game because we can play for two minutes, ten minutes, or twenty! It really doesn't matter. They love it! 

Want to download these letter cards and bingo boards? Click the image above to download them by subscribing to my email newsletter. 

Mentor Texts Your Students Will LOVE in August

It's back to school time, and we all need a few books to kick the year off on the right foot! With these books, I think you can teach a lesson or two, introduce a few reading skills, and get your students discussing and growing. 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

Math Curse

This book may not appear to be something that you would use for literature, but you could definitely use it for making connections. In this book, the main character goes to math class on the first day of school and soon realizes that math is all around him! I love reading this on the first day of school because I work really hard to "curse" my students. I want them to see real life math all around them! 

Eraser

This book is just adorable all the way around! It is perfect for teaching students about story elements, dialogue, theme, and growth mindset! 

There's No Such Thing as Little

This unique book is simple to read, yet has such a deep meaning. I found this at a used book store and fell in LOVE. This book reminds me of board books we read as kids that have holes in them to peak through to the next page. In this book, the small holes show a glimpse of the next page. In each picture, the "little thing" you could see through the hole is part of something so much greater. It is perfect for teaching a great theme. 

The Book of Mistakes

Ahhh! I read this a couple of summers ago, took a picture of it so I would remember the title....then couldn't find the picture I took! When I stumbled across it on Amazon, I had to buy it! In this book, the narrator messes up when drawing the eyes on a face. That mistake inspires her to add glasses to her character. Then, she messes up again. She fixes it with something new to her picture. It's a domino effect of mistakes and corrections that allows you to see her picture grow and change. It's a book with multiple themes about making mistakes, never giving up, and learning that things don't always go according to plan. 

The Giving Tree & The Taking Tree

Many of us have read the classic book "The Giving Tree". We know it. We love it. But have you ever heard of "The Taking Tree"? I've always used The Giving Tree to teach a very introductory level of making inferences and finding themes.

One year, after reading it aloud, a student asked if I'd read "The Taking Tree". I quickly did a Google search and was able to read the book online. It was HILARIOUS! It is such a great parody that our upper elementary students enjoy so much! It also offers multiple themes and a great opportunity to compare and contrast. 

Disclaimer: I don't allow my students to flip through this book on their own. There is one part where the boy pees on the tree. I didn't want parents messaging me or emailing my principal about that part! I read it aloud and skip it. 


If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find them in my TpT store. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer.

Fifth Grade Teachers: a Few Tips to Start the Year On the Right Foot

The start of a new school year is always such a great feeling. You and your students get a fresh start. You can try new things. You can toss things that haven't worked for you. In today's post, I'm sharing a few things that I think every fifth-grade teacher NEEDS to have in place before beginning the new year. I'll offer how I do it too, in case you are looking for a new idea!

Test Prep Routines

While we all like to pretend like that test isn't going to happen, it will. I absolutely HATE cramming in all the test prep things a week or two before we begin testing. The reality is, if you have great routines for practicing critical skills all year, you won't be stressing in those last few weeks. 

I wrote a blog post last year about test prep routines in my classroom. I think these are critical to have in place to reduce the stress level of both you and your students. 

Positive Behavior System

I don't care what you use or prefer, but it is critical that you have a system in place that rewards positive behavior. I have used a clip chart and Class Dojo throughout the years, and I've loved them both. In both scenarios, I rarely needed to take points away or have students move their clip down. Instead, I would call out students who were doing exactly what I wanted them to do. I can tell you that my lines were always straight and quiet in the hallway and my students always worked well in centers. They knew I was always looking to give points during those times.

As they earned points (or moves up the clip chart), they earned money in our classroom economy. They could buy things that didn't cost me a dime, like line leader passes, snack passes, moving their seats, or iPad games. It was great motivation to work hard and make good choices. 

Morning & Afternoon Procedures

Whatever your morning or afternoon looks like in your school, I think it's critical to have procedures for your students to complete as they arrive and just before they leave. I always have mine posted in my classroom for my kids to take a look at and mentally check off. If not, I would have kids who forgot to download their homework or students without a sharpened pencil in sight. Take time to think through exactly what you want your students to do. I also require my students to do things in this exact order. I need you to use the restroom and turn in that homework more than I need you to begin morning work, like our math warm up or picture of the day. 

Morning Procedures: 

1. Use the restroom. 
2. Unpack your backpack. 
3. Sharpen three pencils. 
4. Complete Math Warm Up. 
5. Begin Picture of the Day. 

Afternoon Procedures: 

1. Clean up the floor. 
2. Clear the top of your desk. 
3. Download Math Video. 
4. Get your mail. 
5. Pack your backpack. 

In my classroom, they would lose a Dojo Point if they didn't do one of these items and "got caught". For example, if they asked to use the restroom shortly after the bell rings at 8:00. I would always let them go, but they would lose a point. This rarely happened!


Three Mistakes I've Made as a Special Education Teacher

Being a teacher is hard. Seriously, my friends. And being a special education teacher can often be even more challenging. Today, I want to share with you a few mistakes I've made throughout the years with the hope that you can learn from my mistakes.

Setting Goals Too High or Too Low

I'll be honest, I tend to set goals that are too low rather than too high. Either way, I am continually working on becoming more realistic about my teaching and their abilities. While I am willing to rewrite IEPs to address new concerns, it makes sense to set goals that are realistic and just start chipping away at the process. 

I'll also add that I think this is a major thing that comes with experience. As you get to know students, yourself as a teacher, and various disability areas, you'll be able to write goals that are more realistic for your students! 

Take Charge of Your Meetings

As a new special education teacher in my district, it was really hard for me to take charge. I am confident and I know what needs to be said, but I'm always afraid to step on someone's toes. However, it is OUR job, and the best interest of the student, if we step up and take charge. Run that meeting! You have called together an entire team of people who are there to help a particular student on your caseload. Take charge. It's ok. If the thought of taking charge scares you a bit, ask someone for advice on handling the meeting, explain the dos and don'ts of conducting an official IEP meeting, or have them observe you. It takes a while to build confidence, but it's something that you need to do. 

Keep Things Positive

I'll be honest, this isn't something that I have a hard time doing. What I DO have a hard time doing is keeping other adults present in meetings from going down a negative path. No parent wants to walk out of a meeting where they've heard so many negative things about their child. I try to share one strength for every weakness that I share. There are times when weaknesses MUST be discussed. If you are working to create a behavior plan or address new concerns, there is no way around it. To me, that means that I have to share several really positive things to help that parent walk away with a good feeling about your attitude and love for their child.

If you are a new or newer special education teacher, I have a course designed just for you! Writing IEPs was seriously so intimidating when I first started teaching special education. I wanted to create a course to help other teachers build confidence in their IEP writing. I'll teach you how to assess your students, draft a present level of performance, write measurable IEP goals, and monitor the progress of your goals! Click the image above to grab the course from TeachersPayTeachers. :)


Special Education Teachers: Advice from One Teacher to Another

remember when I first started teaching. I was so excited, but I was also a nervous wreck. The only experience I had with students with disabilities was from student teaching. I was confident and willing to try anything, but I was also a newbie! I didn't know if I was ready, and I really wish I could have read a little bit of advice from teachers who had walked the path before me. 

So below, you'll find a few words of wisdom from some Primary Special Education Teachers! If you are a primary special education teacher, you'll love the ideas, inspiration, humorous stories, and conversations that are taking place in our group. 

____________________________________________________________________________

"Establish a system for data collection that doesn't make you want to pull your hair out.  Also....keep up with said data collection and teach your assistants to help you with it." -Serina

"Organization and documentation are the hardest things, IMO, to get a good handle on. Look at different options and find what will work well for you before you get started! If you don’t do it before the school year starts, you will be struggling to find the time to do it and have extra unneeded stress!! Remember it’s ok to ask for help and remember to take one day at a time and deep breathing!!!" -Julie





















"Find a veteran teacher at your school and establish a relationship with them. Reach out to them if you have questions. We’ve all been there, it’s okay to be unsure...just ask!" -Amanda


"Don’t try to be perfect at everything all at the same time. Pick a subject to be great at and then after you have that down pick another. ASK FOR HELP!" -Sarah


"There is no such thing as a dumb question..." -Sherri


"Be flexible... things change all the time, kids have off days or people forget to let you know things so sometimes you just have to go with the flow." -Greg


"Make teacher friends in your building. I just completed my first year of teaching. My teacher friends kept me sane. They just get it!" -Rebecca


"*Keep it simple! 
*Be flexible!
*Eat in the lounge and participate in staff activities. Those relationships spill into the classroom and make supporting kids TONS easier.
*Find a reason to laugh or smile every day. 

*Do what you love and love what you do.
*Don't be afraid to try new things or stop what's not working.
*Be the reason your students want to be at school." -Krista

"Keep data organized! I put each goal on a sheet of paper and place it in a binder. Every time I do a task that addresses that goal, I write the data down on the sheet and then stick the evidence behind it. Having everything in one place helps me grab it in case someone asks for the evidence. Writing it down on the sheet makes writing progress reports easy!" -Lauren


"1. Always stick to your convictions. This goes for dealing with admin and district personnel. If you know your students need something, be persistent and don’t back down. You are their advocate. 
2. Never be afraid to ask for what you believe you or your students need, worst they can say is no. Don’t be dissuaded by others who say they’ve been told no or who say “don’t bother asking.” 
3. Pick your battles. If you fight over everything or are constantly confrontational no one will take your major concerns serious."-Arynne 

3. Pick your battles. If you fight over everything or are constantly confrontational no one will take your major concerns serious."-Arynne 

"Establish positive parent relationships from the beginning! Often parents are not as "educated" on the learning styles, teaching techniques, and/or educational needs of their children with special needs/disabilities. I can't tell you the amount of times I've heard "well my other child was on this level at this age" or "well how come my neighbors kid in second grade knows how to do this but my child can't" *** It is important to share with parents that their child needs to learn in a different way, that they might learn at a slower pace, and they might need extra practice BUT they are still learning and that's what matters most! I have found including parents in the learning process leads to more success for the child!" -Laura


"My best advice after 22 years is to just relax and enjoy the ride. Do what the individual kid NEEDS and not what any other person (who doesnt know the kid as well as you do) thinks they need. One of my mantras is “if they could learn the way gen ed learns...they wouldnt need sped”. Remember that the goal is the gen ed CURRICULUM. It doesn’t say how they have to get there." -Stephanie

"Don't be afraid to completely change things! Go with what's right when you first take over and mid year when your practices seem to need to change. Want to change dismissal procedures? Do it! Don't feel like you're stuck with the way it's always been done by you or anyone else. Do right by the kids."-Emily

"I teach 1st & 2nd grade self-contained. I have a binder for each student. It holds their IEP’s, ABC data, daily communication logs, emergency contact and BIPs etc." -Lindsey

"Get out of the classroom and talk to fellow staff as much as possible!! Take the risk of having to pull your class back together, rely on your aide, and do not rely on email. Build the community within your campus as well as your classroom. It will make for a more pleasant teaching experience all around! Trust me......." -Tammy


"Celebrate every victory- even the small ones! Way to often are we to hard on ourselves. Take a step back and smile from the progress. Any step forward is a step in the right direction!" -Melanie


"Try not to take anything personally, keep a sense of humor; it makes the days go by faster, have a solid idea of behavior management and consistent structure: but remember that it's okay to change things that are not working, don't be afraid to ask for a break when needed: it's better to take the break to decompress then it is to spend the rest of the day angry or annoyed with kids (they feel EVERYTHING), make friends with other teachers, it can often feel like we are on an island all alone, data, data, data: this drives EVERYTHING: find a system and keep up with it, hold regular debriefing sessions with Paras to ensure everyone is on the same page, organization that you can maintain; it doesn't have to be Pinterest worthy, but it should be functional...... sorry so long " -Jessica😊




"Be flexible, things change on a whim often. Be prepared. Document, document, document!" -Jenn

____________________________________________________________________________

You don't have to be an expert in everything special education! You just have to be willing to jump in with both feet. If you haven't already, hop on over to a Facebook group dedicated to special education ideas, strategies, and advice! :)


12 Mentor Texts Your Students Will Love for Teaching Theme

Since it is summertime and so many of us are already in planning mode for next year, I wanted to utilize my Mentor Text series post this month to share books to help you teach your students about THEME! 

If you don't have any of the books listed below, you can click each picture to find them on Amazon!

The Bad Seed

I repeatedly saw this book online and had to get my hands on a copy, and it totally lives up to the hype. In my opinion, there are multiple themes that are demonstrated in this book. This Bad Seed had a traumatic experience that really changed him. After that, he did bad things just because he was labeled a bad seed. It's the perfect book to start conversations and learn a great lesson or two!  

Unique Monique

Monique struggles with the requirement of wearing a uniform each day to school. She wants to stand out and be different. Her classmates follow her lead and begin wearing funky glasses, big hats, and doing anything they can to spice up the dress code. In the end, Monique finds a really great way to be unique! 

One

I had heard of this book many times, but I had never actually read it until I attended a conference. After getting the opportunity to read it, I had to use it to teach theme! While the pictures and simplicity may seem like it is only for younger students, the core theme in this book is deep. It only takes one person to stand up to people who try to bully or treat you poorly. 

The Hueys in the New Sweater

This story is just silly, but so enjoyable, even for my older students! In a world where all the Hueys are the same, what happens when one begins wearing a sweater? This book pairs so well with Unique Monique, as one of the Hueys becomes a trendsetter as he works to stay true to himself. 

Spork

What do you do when you don't fit in with the forks or the spoons? It's hard to know who you are! In this silly book, Spork learns that everyone has a purpose. Everyone has a role that they are meant to do. Plus, who doesn't love a good book about sporks! 

The Potato Chip Champ

When you have everything you could ever need or want, it's easy to get frustrated when bad things, like breaking your leg, happen. It seems like your world is going to end. Meanwhile, when someone is getting everything that you want...it's even harder! Champ and Walter become friends when Champ learns that Walter's kindness counts more than all the shiny things he "needs". 

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun

First of all, how can you read this title and NOT want to read the book?! This book is perfect for teaching your students to be who they are--no matter how crazy, silly, unusual, or different that may be! 

Those Shoes

I don't care who you are, at some point in your life you have wanted something that "everyone else" had. In this book, Jeremy desperately wants Those Shoes. Everyone has them, but his grandma says they are too expensive. This heartwarming story shares what happens once he finally gets his hands on a pair!

The Little House

Ooooh, this book is one of my all-time favorites. It is a great story with multiple themes and is perfect for demonstrating that the grass isn't always greener on the other side! Year after year, my students love using this book for a close read. 

Peanut Butter & Cupcake

We go together like Peanut Butter and...Cupcake?! This book makes my fifth graders LAUGH! It's right up their alley with a little bit of humor as well as a good theme. Plus, look at those illustrations. 

Beekle

Ever wanted an imaginary friend? Meet Beekle. He really wants to BE someone's imaginary friend. No matter what though, no one picks him. But with a little bit of patience, he sees that waiting for the perfect best friend is worth the wait. 

I Walk with Vanessa

This book is wordless, so you can use it for teaching students to make inferences as well as spotting an amazing theme about kindness. I love the illustrations and the idea of making someone new feel welcome.


If you are interested in the theme graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for this post, you can find it (and many more) in my TpT store. Included in the file, you will find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer. 

5th Grade Teachers: Advice from One Teacher to Another

I remember when I first started teaching fifth grade. I was so excited, but I was also a nervous wreck. Could a young, twenty-something be respected and actually handle FIFTH GRADERS?! I didn't know if I was ready, and I really wish I could have read a little bit of advice from teachers who had walked the path before me. 

So below, you'll find a few words of wisdom from some Not So Wimpy Fifth Grade Teachers! If you are a fifth grade teacher, you'll love the ideas, inspiration, humorous stories, and conversations that are taking place in our group. 

____________________________________________________________________________

"As a first year, it’s all overwhelming. I organized my Reading Streets lessons in my file cabinet by unit and then by lesson. I did the same in science. But in math, I organized by chapter in the file folders. My social studies isn’t fully there yet but I’m working on it and it will be done by chapter at the moment." -April



"Never let them smell your fear!"  -Jessica






"Classroom management - if you say you're going to do something, you HAVE to follow through." - Becca



"Get involved in your students’ lives outside of the classroom ~ go to their ball games and dance recitals..... that will halt a lot of the negative behaviors." -Anna



"Consistency...minute to minute... hour by hour... consistency. Model your expectations... repeatedly the first few days/weeks of school... reinforce with positive feedback... by doing this you will set the tone for your classroom... (For example, set the expectation for the first few minutes of class...do you want your kids to come in and get right to work (bellringer or reading, etc) then set this expectation... model.. model... model..." -Debbie



"Start strong!! Start how you want to end the year because they will create classroom habits quickly. Don’t be their friend!! You can be kind and fun without being a buddy." -Christy



"I read one time that you should treat each management situation like you are a referee. It's not emotional, you don't have to hem and ha over what to do. You simply give whatever consequence or reward fits the action. That helped me be better at not waffling and staying consistent. Also, you will never be done managing. Just because it's February doesn't mean that you don't have to keep watching for and managing behavior and you'll probably have to repeat yourself in some ways all year long, especially with some kids. It'll get easier as the year progresses and your students buy in and understand the system, but you can never put classroom management on auto pilot and forget it." -Kaylie



"Don't assume that they're more mature (they're not!) and therefore don't take as much repetition to learn and remember routines and rules! Spend the first two weeks practicing and reinforcing your classroom rules and management plans - when they can get out of their seats, how they manage getting their computers, etc. 
They will ask you questions you might not be able to answer - especially right in the middle of the million other things you're doing. It's okay to say you'll research it, or they can go and research it and report back to the class." -Cindy


To go with Cindy's advice above: "I have a parking lot for this on my wall. I put sticky notes next to it and at the beginning of the year we practice reinforcing that if it does not immediately apply to our topic to park it and I’ll get back to them. Minimizes disruptions and hold both of us accountable. I also tell them if it’s private or personal to put the sticky on my desk instead. If it becomes a struggle with a particular student I can privately talk to them about the parking lot misuse. (For example, thinking a private note is ...I really like dogs like the one in the story.)" -Ashley



"Interact with children at ALL grade levels! I smile and chat with kids from K-4 as I walk through the halls from point A to point B, every day. I attend as many grade-level performances and activities as I can. They know my name and I know their faces. After years of mostly pleasant interaction, they enter my fifth grade classroom with a strong level of rapport already built. I work in a low-income school with a lot of kids that carry a lot of baggage on their shoulders, but I rarely have major behavior issues in my class or across my grade level. Build the relationships and rapport with the kids coming up and you've already won over a good portion of your class."  -Linds



"I use a "10 Line" in my class to get them lined up. 1=stand, 2=step behind your chair, 3=push your chair in, 4= make your way to the door (walking), 5-10=time for everyone to get there. The whole process is SILENT and my class has the best line in the school. If at ant point someone slips up, you start over." -Elizabeth



"They still like it when you read to them." -Chen



"Assigning group colors, numbers, and group jobs. I have 7 colors, each group has 1A, 2B, 3A, and 4B. Jobs are rotated based on numbers. 1A will be material manager for the week. 2B will be assistant. 3A will be data collector. 4B will be reporter. Only 7 kids are coming up for their groups papers or turning in papers. Only 7 kids are getting materials. It has helped me so much with classroom management!" -Bri



"Build those positive relationships with students and parents! Connections are key ♡." -Gracie



"If there was a mistake to be made, I probably made it. My favorite thing....... sometimes you and the kids need a minute. During independent work, while the co-teacher is there step outside the door with them and just check in. "Was the bus ride okay?" "Did your afternoon go well yesterday?" "Anything we need to talk about or having trouble with"? 
Also, PLAY with them at recess. Do a yoga pose, swing the jump rope, etc. Never, no matter how much they cry and hate you, never, lower your expectations of them as learners and humans. They are growing adults, but still kids." -Megan



"Consistency. Procedures. Consistency. Hold them to high expectations. Consistency. Do not engage in their backtalk/arguments. As hard as it is...walk away. You will be so much less exhausted at the end of the day. That said...I enjoy 5th graders because of their independence, ability to form relationships and understand sarcasm, and sense of humor." -Mandy



"Start with the end in mind. Second semester is tough and middle school is no joke. Graduation is a big deal...help them be aware of it." -Allison



"Respect. Treat them with respect and you will receive it back. I try and treat mine like little adults. But remember, they are little, so they will make mistakes. The more they respect you, the more they will WANT to please you and follow your directions." -Amy

____________________________________________________________________________


You don't have to be an expert in everything fifth grade! You just have to be willing to jump in with both feet. If you haven't already, hop on over to a Facebook group dedicated to 5th grade ideas, curriculum, and advice!