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Sep 26 / The Teacher Geek

Use Footprints To Help Line ‘Em Up

When I moved from Grade 2 to Grade 1, I shocked, shocked! when the wee ones couldn’t line themselves up to exit the classroom at all! We practiced and practiced and practiced, but every time we had new line leaders (weekly) they

couldn’t find the starting points and line would be all wonky. Even if they got the right point they’d turn around, which would make the others think they had to be behind them, facing the opposite of walking out the classroom door. Then the “little teachers” of the bunch would bossily try to correct the line leaders. Tears would be shed; little voices would get terse. It’s at that point the whole situation goes off the rails and now you’re 5 minutes late to Gym.

I got this from a Kindergarten teacher at another school. Put footprints on the floor so that the line leaders know where and how to stand. So very, very simple.

line leaders know where to stand

This was "boys" and "girls" lineup guides; I have since gone to just the words "line leader" on each pair as to preserve gender neutrality.

Luckily, none of my custodians freaked out or even mentioned the taped-on prints. Your results may vary.

Helpful Hints: Laminate the construction paper of durability. I used plain ole’ masking tape loops to secure them. In June, they just peeled right up with no residue left over. I would imagine that painter’s tape might work well, too. I would avoid packing tape, I’ve never had any joy in using packing tape for any situation in the classroom.

May your lines always be nice, straight, and quiet, geeks!

Sep 3 / The Teacher Geek

I’ve Got a New Attituuuuuude!

Hello Geeks. It’s been a while. I know that last year I completely neglected this blog, my baby. There were many “surface” reasons for this: teaching a new grade, a writing project to be named soon, generic cialis no prescription” target=”_blank”>a newfound love of running insane distances. But when I look back upon last year, I now realize I didn’t write much because I just didn’t think I had anything to offer you.

I had a hard school year. I’m actually going to go ahead and crown it Hardest Year Ever. But before I drink any more whine, I’ll spare you the details about why it was hard, because I know that there are a ga-zillion other teachers out there that had it just a bad, probably worse, than I did. It was disappointing though, because I just want to do a great job and I was constantly feeling like my best wasn’t ever good enough.

But having a hard year and my ability to only “sort-of cope” with it left me drained. I would sit down at my computer to try and write a post and I’d just blank. I felt like a fraud. What could I possibly write about when I was seriously doubting my own teaching abilities? Luckily, I had an amazing, supportive team, principal, and colleagues. If they hadn’t been there, I might have just thrown in the towel on this career, I was feeling that low.

But since this blog is all about putting tools in your toolbox to help you, I just had to write and share something that helped take my attitude out of the gutter. It’s Responsive Classroom.

Have you heard of it? Does your school or district use it? I hadn’t heard of RC until I moved to Connecticut for my 4th year of teaching. I kinda-sorta read a book or two, and I kinda-sorta tried to implement some elements of it into my classroom. But I never was able to get the full training until this summer. Holy moly, YOU GUYS, IT WAS LIFE-CHANGING. Yes, I’m all-caps-yelling.

Responsive Classroom is not a separate curriculum to learn. It’s an approach to teaching that develops sustainable classroom management techniques and builds community. Directly from their site, here’s it’s awesomeness in a nutshell:

  • Morning Meeting—gathering as a whole class each morning to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead
  • Rule Creation—helping students create classroom rules to ensure an environment that allows all class members to meet their learning goals
  • Interactive Modeling—teaching children to notice and internalize expected behaviors through a unique modeling technique
  • Positive Teacher Language—using words and tone as a tool to promote children’s active learning, sense of community, and self-discipline
  • Logical Consequences—responding to misbehavior in a way that allows children to fix and learn from their mistakes while preserving their dignity
  • Guided Discovery—introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility
  • Academic Choice—increasing student learning by allowing students teacher-structured choices in their work
  • Classroom Organization—setting up the physical room in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity
  • Working with Families—creating avenues for hearing parents’ insights and helping them understand the school’s teaching approaches
  • Collaborative Problem Solving—using conferencing, role playing, and other strategies to resolve problems with students

The 5-day, full-day training was scheduled for the first week after school was out, which for us was the last week of June. On that first day, I might as well have written “Bad-Attitude Betty” on my name tag, because was so burnt out from the prior week, month, year. “Why did I sign up for this??” ran though my mind a few times. But by the end of the first day, I was hooked. By the end of the second day, I couldn’t wait to come back. By the end of the week, I was REJUVENATED!

It is hard to fully express how this training helped me. I was able sweep away the negativity from the prior year and I was looked forward to planning this year. Learning how to use Interactive Modeling was a lightbulb moment. Positive Teacher Language was HUGE. I was able to be more zen about misbehaviors, and not take them so personally (which was a big hurdle for me), and I was able to summon up more patience than I’ve ever had before (impatience has always been my achilles heel). I am now getting ready to start my second week of school. I know we’re still in the honeymoon phase, but I just feel so differently than I did a year ago.

(Oh, and regular exercise helps too. But that’s another story. Go for walk today – it’s amazing how it can clear your head.)

Even if you can’t get the full Repsonsive Classroom I training, I highly recommend their books, including The First Six Weeks of School:

The Morning Meeting Book:

and Rules In School:

I devoured these books like I devoured Judy Blume books when I was 12, reading passages multiple times and dog-earring important pages. I can’t recommend them enough.

So fire up that old Pointer Sisters record and sing it with me…I’ve got a new attituuuuuude!

Do you use RC in your class? What is your favorite part?

Aug 16 / The Teacher Geek

Mentor Text Monday: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

What is a mentor text? For me, it’s a trade book that I use in class (either as a read aloud or as an excerpt) to enhance the teaching of reading and writing at all grade levels. Mentor Text Monday is a new feature on Th

best work from home

e Teacher Geek. Here, I will showcase my favorites and give you tips on how to use them in your teaching. Note that these entries are not to be construed as a larger unit study around the book (though you could certainly use these ideas to create one), nor are they to be considered book reviews. Enjoy!


Have you ever cried in front of your students? I have, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Three times, in fact. Each of those three times was during a read aloud of the last paragraph of Kate DiCamillo’s beautiful book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. This elegant and charming book is a good read for upper-elementary students, grade 3 and up, due to the sophisticated vocabulary and mature issues (such as death and child abuse).

Here are some ways you can use this book in your classroom:

Author’s Voice: Edward Tulane, a rabbit made of china, doesn’t talk. But he THINKS, and the people around him don’t know that he thinks. Only the passive narrator knows what’s going on in Edward’s head. This in and of itself is an interesting teachable moment about 1st versus 3rd person. As an author, DiCamillo has a sly ability to craft the mood and imagery of a time and place like no other. We don’t know exactly where and when it takes place, but you can imagine a time when steam liners crossed oceans, hobos jumped trains, and child welfare agencies didn’t exist. Compare this book to the southern twang and charm of her other best seller, Because of Winn Dixie, and you’re halfway to a fascinating author study.

Vocabulary: Get out your sticky-note flags: Within the first two pages, you will encounter words like jaunty, ennui, exceptional, unsavory, and commissioned. What exquisite words to play with! In order for students to fully enjoy this book as a read aloud, I suggest previewing the vocabulary on a chart beforehand, then simply referencing the chart while you read. You can certainly do more with the vocabulary words, but this is a good starting point. Be sure to put students’ favorite words on your Word Wall.

Inferring: As mentioned above, the author doesn’t mention a specific time or place to the book, and the settings change several times throughout. There are many opportunities for students to read between the lines, and to figure out what Edward, the title character is going through. Which leads me to…

Character Study: The title eludes to a journey, and Edward not only goes on a physical journey, but an emotional and spiritual one as well. As a character, we see his faults, and how they evolve as he survives mishap after mishap. He has to learn to love and deal with loss of love, and at one point becomes so despondent that he wants to give up. In the satisfying ending, he comes full-circle with his emotions. Edward Tulane was my mentor text for a 5th grade character study unit, and it truly fit the bill.

Have you used this book in your classroom? Please share in the comments. Happy reading, and be sure to have tissues at the ready!

Aug 14 / The Teacher Geek

Sleep More Soundly With a Sub Tub

I have the worst trouble sleeping right before the start of the school year. So many to-do lists running through my head, so (seemingly) little time. One of my nightmares is that I get sick, in an accident, or otherwise unable to come the sch

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ool the first week. What do I do?

Here’s a Teacher Geek Best Practice that, once set up, will put your mind at ease. It’s a SUB TUB. This is a box (NOT just a folder) containing plans, guides, books, worksheets, games, and any other things a substitute might need to conduct your class for the day. For teachers that switch rooms (a la middle or high school) the Sub Tub can be portable, perhaps a handled file box for easy carrying. In elementary school, the Sub Tub lives, clearly marked, in a visible spot under my desk.

If I have a planned absence, I put all materials into the Sub Tub the day before and leave it out on my desk. If I have an emergency absence, the main office and my colleagues know where to direct the person covering to find it. In my Sub Tub, I have the following:

  • A discreet folder containing photos as descriptions of students that need modifications, special attention, or just a little TLC.
  • Emergency plans such as fire drill, storm drill, etc.
  • Discipline instructions or “Guest Teacher Handbook” (more on this in future posts)
  • Main Schedule including pull-outs and push-ins, and any recess/lunch duties
  • 3-4 Read Alouds (this gets refreshed as the subs read them)
  • Centers Procedures
  • Copies of Math Worksheets, Reading Response sheets, etc.
  • Simple games the students like, such as multiplication bingo, Brainquest, etc.

Do not procrastinate! Have this ready the first week of school. Be sure to regularly purge and replace outdated items. Here is a photo of my Sub Tub in all of its gray glory. She’s not much to look at, but she’s a lifesaver.

Sweet dreams!

Sub Tub

Aug 13 / The Teacher Geek

How Are We Feeling Today?

Doesn’t it feel nice when someone asks you how you’re doing?

A colleague of mine, Dana Wheeler, uses this simple Name-Magnet system in her third-grade classroom to help the students reflect upon their moods as part of their morning routines.

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At first, Dana felt like it was a bit of a novelty, something to engage the students in the early hours. But she quickly realized the value of those magnets as a tool that gives all students a voice.

As the students enter the room, they place their own name magnet under the “smiley”, “not-so-smiley”, or “frowny” face:



One of the big rules of creating community in the classroom is to make sure that ALL students have a voice and can be figuratively heard. It’s very easy to let the “quiet” kids slip under the radar, and it’s hard to tell if they’re having a bad day. By using this tool, Dana can quickly gauge the demeanor of the class, convo with any students that may not be feeling “smiley”, and even bring up those issues during Morning Meeting. It has become as valuable of a morning tool as coffee (well, almost).

If you don’t have a magnetic surface close to the entryway, use a bulletin board, pocket chart, or sticky notes to convey the same idea. The beauty of this idea is that it can be easily adapted and used at any grade level.

Have a nice day!

May 6 / The Teacher Geek

PreK-2 Teachers: Get Ahead Of Yourself With This Site

Holy Pageview!

If you are or will be teaching Early Childhood (meaning Pre-K to Grade 2) next school year, go grab some coffee and a muffin and make yourself comfortable.

Then, click on Cialis online ordering uk

html”>The Virtual Vine’s Back To School page and prepare to have your mind blown by the sheer volume of great ideas.

Where do I start? It’s filled with:

  • Welcome Activities
  • Songs
  • Literacy Games
  • Home-School Projects
  • Bulletin Board Ideas
  • And tons upon tons more.

I think my finger got a repetitive motion injury from spinning the click wheel on the mouse. If you don’t find new inspiration on this page, I’ll eat my hat. No I won’t really, but I like to throw in old-timey phrases occasionally.


Mar 3 / The Teacher Geek

Give Your K-W-L Charts a Double-Take

Best practices encompass the old, the new, and the tried-and-true. One of the tried-and-true best practice for scaffolding when introducing new content, is to utilize a K-W-L graphic organizer.

K: What do you <

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span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>know?

W: What do you want to know?

L: What have you learned?

K-W-L charts don’t have to be boring. Next time, try a visually interesting display that you’d be happy to refer to in lessons again and again.

How about a giant segmented ant to organize information about insects?


Now THAT’S a thorax!

Or perhaps a cute sleeping bear to wonder about what animals do in winter?

I made it waaaaay bigger than I had planned to, but I like the effect anyway.

What are some of the ways that you’ve turned tried-and-true practices on their heads?

Feb 28 / The Teacher Geek

Come Hear Me Talk About Twitter For Teachers!

I have the antidote for burnout: Attend a great conference.

This weekend I will be presenting at NYSCATE’s Hudson Valley Conference in Wappingers Falls, NY. NYSCATE is the New York affiliate of ISTE. It’s where tech meets teaching. My presentation is called “Twitter For Teachers: A Super-Powered PLN Tool.” It’s about using Twitter as a tool to grow your Personal Learning Network – on YOUR TIME, YOUR TERMS.

The conference is only $40! Trust me, this will be $40 well spent. You will walk away with ideas, tips, and tricks that will inspire and lift your teaching practice – no matter what you teach.

So come see some passionate educators tell you about what’s working these days.

Appropriately, as it is an edtech conference, I shall be wearing my QR code dress:

Just don't try to scan me.

Look for me – I hope to see you there!


Feb 9 / The Teacher Geek

Behold The Conference Crown

What do you wear when you conference with students and don’t want to be disturbed? A crown…a Conference Crown, to be exact.


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There she is...Miss Room Eleven...

As I wrote in a past post, I had used a sign to deter students from interrupting small-group conferences. But now, thanks to a discarded Halloween costume, I have a tiara! A crown! And I get to wear it every day!

Those of you who know me know that I’m not a tiara-type gal. But there’s something about this crown…when I’m feeling my dowdiest or crankiest, I put on the crown and something lifts in me a little. Maybe it’s because the students know that when I have the crown on, I’m not to be disturbed (unless you have one of the Three B’s – click here to find out what they are). Sometimes, if I’m feeling saucy and/or regal, I’ll wear it around the building, and do a princess-wave to the other classes as they file to Music or Gym. Their “geez, what a weirdo” looks are so darn cute!

Yes, life is good with a (slightly tarnished) cubic zirconia crown on your head. I highly recommend you get one for yourself.

Feb 1 / The Teacher Geek

Word(s) Up!

I just got some string hung up from the ceiling in my classroom. I’m so excited, because now I can HANG STUFF.

The facilities guy that installed it did a cross-cross design, corner to corner, for maximum coverage. Then, channeling MacGyver,

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he rigged two of the corners into a little pulley system, so that I can lower the string, hang stuff, raise the string, and never have to dangle my Danskos over the edge of the kid’s desk ever again. GENIUS.

What to hang?

As I’ve written in prior posts, I like brainstorming with the students seasonal or monthly word wall words. That way, students can use them in their writing, or add them to their personal spelling journals.

As I’m planning on writing about in a “someday” post, I also try to make sure that everything that gets hung up is kid-created, (or at least, kid co-created).

My seasonal word wall just got hung from the string, kid-style:

Everyone made a snowman, and everyone picked a January word to put on their bellies. Now they hang above their heads.

Hey! You two birds! Look out, there’s a stone coming your way!

In case you’re wondering why the snowmen are various colors, I had found a cache of crazy tie-dyed construction paper in the closet from the prior teacher, and the students wanted to use it for the snowmen. Why not?

What are some fun things you’ve done with your ceiling decor? What about your word wall words?

Word(s) up, Geeks!