Category Archives: Back to School

Teacher Talk Tuesday and my first Giveaway!

I loved coming home bone tired last night and logging on to Google Reader and learning so much about my favorite bloggers who were a part of  Blog Hoppin’s teacher week. I was too late for Monday, but I wanted to join in the fun for Teacher Talk Tuesday!

I am in my third year of teaching, not including a year of subbing, and I still feel like a new teacher! I find it refreshing though, to always feel a little bit of anxiety at key times- first day of school, parent teacher conferences, report cards, meetings with the principal! Feeling like I don’t quite have it down yet is what drives me to put in so much effort outside of the classroom. Thinking like a new teacher helps you grow every year no matter how long you’ve been doing it.

Here are some thoughts on how to prepare like a new teacher, even if you are not one!

1. Read and Research! Some of you are lucky enough to have schools that offer professional development that is inspiring and useful. Even though we would all rather be in the classroom, really get involved in the training and be enthusiastic about attending. ( both physically and mentally!) Never feel like it is a waste of your time, if nothing else, you can store it in your teaching toolbox until you need it! Sometimes we are not lucky enough to be a part of great Professional development. My school offers very little. But, there are so many great books out there on teaching and inspiring kids. I was very jazzed after reading The Book Whisperer and I know many of you were as well. And if you are reading my blog right now you already have the next part of my advice down pat- search for ideas and inspiration from other teachers, in your building or online.

2.  Take any donations offered to you! When anyone says “Juli, would you like…” I always answer an enthusiastic “YES!” Do your best to store and save it. You’ll need it soon. A huge part of teaching is improvising and it will don on you that you really could  use 10,000 drinking straws to teach geometry. You will end up spending a huge amount of your own money over time, but collecting “trash” can really save you time and money in the end. I can not tell you how many times I have run to my odds and ends craft closet to find exactly what I needed for an activity. Heck, I even had a mom offer me a case of Emergen-C! We as teachers always need that!

3. Talk about work with your coteachers everywhere but the lounge. And eat lunch in the lounge- not in your room even though you have papers to grade. Teachers get such a small amount of time to spend together during the day. Take a break from work to recharge your batteries. Take the time to talk to your peers about what they do outside of school.  You will feel so much more comfortable in school if you get to know people on a personal level. And don’t eat in your own room, or with one or two people in their room. I have worked in schools that do it both ways and the ones with the most comfortable cultures are where all teachers eat in one place. Schools are the perfect breeding ground for cliques, so don’t let yourself form one!

4. Become friends with the administrative assistant and the janitor/ maintenance man first! If you have these two people on your side, you will get the support you need to make your classroom run smoothly. Sure you will want to please your principle, but these are the two people you do not want to cross! Find what they love to eat and bake it, haha! But in reality, go out of your way to get to know the support staff too.  No school can operate without them!

5. Let your students know you. Naturally I don’t mean that you should tell your students about marital problems or your body issues. But let them know your insecurities and your mistakes, they need to know you are a lot like them. Depending on the culture, SES, income level, geographic area of your students- you might fit right in, or be polar opposite, but they still have to relate. You might not know what it is like to sleep in a shelter, or live in a country where you do not know the language. But you might know what it felt like when you went on a trip to another country, or how you felt when you lost your grandma. Students don’t need to see that you overcame the same struggles they did, they just need to see that you overcame some of your own. I turn myself into the fifth grade me all the time to get across a message, “Well, when I was in fifth grade I could not remember which was the tibia and which was the fibula, so I made up this rhyme…”  You can relate to them on a personal level, a school level, or simply a human level. Just let them in, let them be a part of your triumphs and failures.

I recently acquired two brand new books that I have duplicates of, so I thought it would be a perfect time for my first give away! Comment below and click to follow Teaching In Pink on Facebook, and I will enter you in a drawing for one of the books. State which book you want to be entered for and there will be two random  winners on Friday!

The first book is Classroom Management in Photographs. I have mine filled with sticky notes of things to try or rearrange. This is where I first saw a version of the crate seats that have been so popular this summer. I wanted this book for a long time and was very pleased when I got it!








The second book is Ancient Egypt History Pockets Grades 4-6+. I teach Ancient Egypt in fifth grade and these pockets were awesome. They are so fun for the kids and really add to our dry textbooks. Yes, teachers are creative people who can come up with stuff just as good as you can find in any book. However, this is one of those books where the activities really great and students love them! Plus you don’t have to stay up all night Googling fifth grade Ancient Egypt projects.










Well, now I am off to glean all the great advice from you on your blogs! Good luck on the  giveaway!


The first day! Plus a quick tutorial…

Whew! I made it through my first day of the year! It was exhausting and my feet are killing me ( two months of sandals means my feet were out of shape for closed toed shoes!) It doesn’t help that the swamp cooler at school is broken as well so my classroom is more like a sauna. But all in all it was great to meet my new students. I am excited to get to really know these kids and get into the fun part of teaching. Our first day is only a half day for students so we literally have no time for fun stuff, it is a whole bunch of organizing materials, going over school procedures, and classroom expectations. I am looking forward to tomorrow because I will have a break when the kids go to music and PE, plus I can actually do some fun lessons with the kids. The best part is I think I got all the names memorized already!

This was my first second year at a school ( how’s that for English?- it’s the first time I have had a second year at a school) so it was so cool to see everyone a year older. My students are now down the hall in the middle school, the little second graders are now third graders and have joined us upstairs. And the little PreKers are now Kindergarteners. Naturally this one hit me close to home as my own little one donned her uniform and entered her first day of Kinder!!

Here is my beautiful girl all ready for her big day:

And here is my new First Day of School Dress that I am just in love with. It is so comfortable and easy breezy. It took me about four episodes of Mad Men this weekend to sew it up. * Yes, I count my sewing time in Netflix episodes rather than actual time!*  I thought it perfect since St. Therese is known as  “The little flower” and the fabric is a graphic rose print.  I’m like a kid- I love to pick out something special to wear on the first day.

Excuse the totally dorky picture!


Okay, I referenced my game pieces in an earlier post so I thought it was about time I sat down and wrote out a tute.  I know many of you use some form of Homeworkopoly or some such game, so hopefully someone finds this helpful.  Since I keep my game on a chalkboard instead of a bulletin board, I have always had a hard time with game pieces. So I made my own version of the little marble magnets many people have made!

First you need small round sticky back magnets, flat bottomed clear marbles, and stickers that are round and smaller than the marble. You will also need a sharpie!

I used some book dot labels I had in my drawer. I did not have modge podge at school so I improvised and am very happy with the result. The trick here is that you are writing on the wrong side of the sticker! Use the sharpie to write a number for each of your students on the white sticky side of your sticker, then attach the sticker to the flat side of the marble. You should be able to clearly see the number though the marble.

Next, you take the paper backing off the sticky magnet and adhere it to the flat side of the marble as well.

Simple. As. That.

You now have a sturdy set of game pieces that can be used over and over again throughout the years!

Also, check out what I did to my dice! I simply put adhesive magnets on a clear plastic box so my dice could hang right on the gameboard!

Little Bits

I feel like I’ve been working so hard on my room the last few weeks, but I don’t feel like my room is close to done! I stayed at work until 6:30 last night and I only have one corner of my room actually complete. Luckily, it is my library corner and most likely the most labor intensive part of the room. I was hoping to have the room done by now though, because I only have one day left in my room before Check In Day!

I still need to cover my chalkboards, and organize a lot of my stuff. I was really hoping I would only be working on curriculum and planning tomorrow, but that is not likely to happen. I know it will all come together in the end though!

I took a few pictures of things in my room that I did accomplish this week so far. Maybe writing about them will make me feel not as far behind!

First, I decided that I did not want my Read the Rainbow as a bulletin board that was stagnant. I only have one true bulletin board in my room and it seemed a waste to put something up that didn’t change. So I made a poster to hang instead.

And here is a picture of my Pot O Gold. When a student completes a rainbow, they get to pick a prize. I keep trendy books, book related cards or trinkets, book lights, etc. I like to keep it literature related so it feeds into the excitement of reading.

Since I wanted to make my bb more interactive, I made a Reading Takes Us Places bb. This concept has been around since I was in school and probably before, but I think its a fun idea. When I student finishes a book, they will write their name, book title, and place on a card and then hang it on the board. Then they’ll put a pin on that spot on the map! I want to find a way to include all the made up places book take us too. Any ideas on how to incorporate that?

For my PI Club, I’ve been on a hunt for a briefcase to use to keep all the mysteries in. While searching at the teacher supply store, I came across this expanding file system on clearance for $2.50 and I thought it was perfect! I added cardboard at the bottom to keep it upright, and made a little cardboard handle to make it look like a briefcase.

And the PI Club advertising board:

I also make new game pieces for Homeworkopoly. I will share more info about those later, I’m late for a softball game!

I’ll leave you with one last shot of my finished library! Well almost finished… I still want to make pillows and finish my crate seats. I also spent almost a whole day sorting my books by genre. I usually want kids to figure it out themselves, but i thought this might make the Rainbow easier to accomplish!

I must apologize for my crazy pictures the last few posts. I am having trouble getting them from Photobucket into WordPress without them getting distorted or sized incorrectly. Hopefully the odd photos aren’t too distracting!

Twas the last night of summer…

I technically don’t have to report back to work until Wednesday, but as many of you know that means you have to go in anyway to get started on your own thing. Once I report back, it is all staff meetings and group planning- very little time to sit in my quiet room and work! I have gone in a few times in the last two weeks, but always with my kids in tow, and therefore I never get much done. So tomorrow is my self designated first day back at work!

The baby sitter is booked, the diaper bag is packed. The girls are sitting next to me having a water fight in the bath. I spent over three hours today cooking. I shredded and chopped and mixed and bake and froze. I cooked about 6 meals today, and only one of them was to eat today! It is so wonderful to know that I have a freezer stockpiled with food so I don’t have to do much prepwork when I get home in my post work stupor!

I am almost finished sewing what I plan to be my first day of school dress, and am headed to the dry cleaner to drop off all my teacher clothes this week. My high heels are getting excited to go outside after a long summer of hibernating in my closet.

Tonight my husband and I are going to watch a movie and finish off what is left of his Birthday Carrot Cake. (It’s heavenly!)

I had such an amazing blessed summer, and I am sure going to miss it. But I am looking forward to getting back to work!

Well, off to get ready for bed… after all it is a school night!

I hope your summer is winding down nicely also and that you are as jazzed about B2S as I am!

Sick Day = Crafty day

I woke up this morning feeling awful. Achy- nauseous- head throbbing- grouchy awful.  So like any good mom I put a Disney movie on and curled up on the couch until I started to feel a little like a human being. By the time I felt me enough to have a cup of coffee, it was too late to go into my classroom and still make it to my daughter’s doctor appointment. So instead of spending the day cleaning my messy house like I should have, I made a few little things for my classroom!

I was really inspired by this picture I found on Pinterest. I generally have students who need me write their names on the board while I am meeting with a student, but the names don’t move themselves up the board and before I know it the names are out of order. So needless to say the “take a number idea”  really appeals to me.  So I made up my own version. I used a wooden oval I bought at Dollar Tree, painted it brown, and modge podged letters I cut out of fabric scraps. I added a small nail and made five paper circles that I numbered 1-5. I will laminate the circles when I get to school.

There are certain class times where I am not working with a designated group, but still have the ability to work with students one on one. During times like this, I will ask students to take a number. After they have met with me, they can return the number to the sign, and another student can get their number.

I found this cute little bin at Target in the dollar spot and knew it would be perfect to hang by my door for notes from students. I simply added some sticker letters (clearly I am down to the end of the sheet- I used all different fonts) and mp-ed it on for good measure. I also bought darling suction cup hangers that had big pink flowers on them. I am going to fit it into my pegboard and hang the note basket from it!

I also had this box from a Bare Minerals purchase that I loved to much to get rid of. It has a nice flap lid and  is pretty and sturdy. But the front said something about beauty and didn’t work for the classroom setting. So I covered the flap in paper and wrote Idea Box on it. This will be on my desk and will allow students to share ideas about anything they think we should do in the classroom- new projects, free time activities, etc.


So all in all, I felt it was a pretty productive sick day! I will try to get into my classroom for a few hours tomorrow to get my boards covered in paper and sort my textbooks.

Then I have one last official weekday of summer that I really do get to spend cleaning (guests coming this weekend!) Then into the classroom on Monday!

Read the Rainbow- My Reading Program

I just finished reading the book The Book Whisperer because I had heard such good things about it. It was a very inspiring book about reading instruction, but more than that, it validated so much of what I already do in the classroom. My students read silently for long periods throughout the day, share books among themselves, and we talk about books a lot!  I took over a page of notes from the books of new things to do or try, and it made me more passionate about the method I use to get my students to read! I occasionally question myself when I people are surprised to come into my class to see students reading silently. I feel like I am not doing my job if I am not constantly talking to my students at a whole! But then I remember that they are learning a great deal about people, places, grammar, English, emotions, science and so many other new things!  And of course my students do not sit and read for 8 hours, so I do impart a little of my own knowledge for part of the day!

I did not completely invent this idea, my own fourth grade teacher used it in her classroom. I really have no idea where she got it! I used what I vaguely remember from her along with the requirements of my school to teach genre. I drew a rainbow and filled it in with genres that my students need to read. I also have a pot of gold filled with books, fancy bookmarks, and some treats that they can choose from when they finish a whole rainbow. ( I forgot to take a picture of my pot today at school, but I got a large plastic cauldron at Wal-Mart one year around Halloween.)

When I started doing this I had students complete a review worksheet on the book before I would initial the rainbow  square and let them color it in. I think I am going to phase this out and concentrate more on our reading response journals and conferences.

This is where I keep the reviews along with each student’s folder. It’s likely I’ll get rid of this system and instead glue the rainbow into their response notebook. Then I could store more book here!

I start the school year with several mini lessons about genres and we continually discuss it throughout the year.  The rainbow helps the students visually see how much they are reading and feel the accomplishment of coloring in each square when they finish!

Here is the rainbow each student fills out. I scanned it in as a picture, but I can try to scan it in as a PDF or text document if you are interested in using it for your classroom.

I have always required one rainbow per school year, but after reading the The Book Whisperer, I wonder if I should set the expectations higher and have one complete before Christmas?  What do you think?

As for the reason I didn’t get much done at school today? Well this little helper had something to do with my lack of productivity…

Curriculum Mapping. It only takes a year or two…

Does your school district provide you with  a curriculum map? When I worked in a public school, we had a pacing and planning guide for every subject that laid out exactly what to teach and when. Many of our subjects were even scripted! I am not a huge fan of scripted lessons because it takes all the creativity and fun out of teaching (hmm… sounds like how I felt with many assignments as a student!).

At my new school, I have been given standards and textbooks, but no map of when to teach what. I flailed a little last year as I tried to lay out what I could, but I was constantly getting frustrated that I was not keeping up the pace I had set for myself.  So this year I took a large piece of copy paper (11″x 14″) and drew a million lines! I filled each subject in vertically and across the top, broke the year into weeks. Then I penciled in what I needed to be doing each week in every subject. I drew dark lines to represent a mid term or trimester, and at the bottom added what school events would be happening at this time. I am a HUGE believer in cross- curricular teaching. You will easily walk in during Math and see us writing, or doing algorithms during literacy! The curriculum map lets me see where I can combine themes or subjects. We do not use every textbook from chapter one to chapter twenty one. We skip around according to what  we are working on in every subject!

Here is a view of my overall map while I was still working on it:

Up close you can see a few more specifics:

Yes I realize I could make this look nice and tidy on Excel, but I am a paper and pencil girl. Plus this is only my second year teaching this grade and nothing is set in stone (or in type in this case).  Perhaps after this year I will enter it all nice and neat, but for now, this snapshot of my year makes me feel accomplished and prepared. Just like any map, it gives my direction of where to travel.

Do you plan your year on your own? How much flexibility do you have in your teaching?

Join the PI (Pupil Investigator) Club!

I remember being one of the first to finish my assignments, ready to delve into something fun and exciting. Then being told to read at my desk. Now, I love to read so it didn’t bother me until I raised my hand to tell me teacher I was done and needed a new book. Then I often saw a quick look of exasperation flash across her face because she was trying to work with kids who needed her undivided attention…

As a teacher candidate in college I was well versed on how to work with my ELL students, my low readers, ssn students, and many other groups of students to differentiate for. But I really felt that my education was lacking in how to help my high students. There are several levels on that scale too. From competent students to the truly gifted and talented, they all need added challenges that don’t include busy work. I did my senior thesis paper on how to address those needs. However, being at two new schools in two years, I was concentrating most on learning the basic curriculum! Well this summer I have been brainstorming my new plan!

Anyone else have a potty training toddler that interrupts every blogging session at least twice to sit unsuccessfully on the potty?? haha

I really like the Mastery Club idea, but I wanted to make it more challenging. I don’t want my students to be able to google and answer or grab an encyclopedia and be done. Plus as a kid I was mildly obsessed with being a detective and this is my way of living vicariously! So I have spent the better part of my week googling, scouring bookstores, and brainstorming ideas. I do not have it all ironed out yet, but I will get there as the weeks go on.  I spent so much darn time on my printables that I am happy to share them to save you some time! i considered using Vistaprint, but honestly I don’t have the money to pay shipping even for free cards! So I just made a pdf file that I will copy at school on cardstock and laminate!

So this is how it works:

When students have NO missing or unfinished work, they can work on a mystery. I have six subjects that they can pick from. There are challenges that range from easy to very difficult in each subject. They must correctly complete 5 challenges in each subject. They can have two tries at any challenge.

In order to get their PI card, they must first complete two of the introductory Brain Teaser Mysteries. I found a slew of thee FREE here. I saved all kinds of worksheets to use for these challenges. I love that they include some easy ones so my lower kids can still participate. I was extremely excited to find these and I had some fun solving them myself!

Since I teach at a Catholic School, I also included some Bible Mysteries. I found these investigations here. I plan to type about three up per challenge so in reality they will complete 15 total!

I found some great books from Scholastic that I will use for Math and Comprehension. As soon as Scholastic opens for the year I will purchase these. I am still researching the best books or websites for printable science and history mysteries. I might end up coming up with some of these on my own! Do you have any suggestions?

Now for the fun part- FILES!!

Pupil Investigator Club Card (I think I will hole punch through each symbol when they have mastered that subject)

As they complete a challenge correctly, I will fill it in on the certificate. When five challenges in that subject are complete, I will present the following certificate to them:

Brain Teaser Certificate  

Math Mysteries Certificate

Reading Mysteries Certificate

Science Mysteries Certificate

History Mysteries Certificate

Bible Mysteries Certificate

I will share more mysteries as I come up with them. Hopefully you have enough here to get you started if you want to start a PI Club in your classroom too!

Yikes! What does your room look like?

I was given the green light to get into my classroom today. I was very excited to get the big items back in their places so I could start to focus on the little things. I packed my two girls, a picnic lunch, and those sweet furniture slider things. I thought I was really going to make a dent today…

However, my principal seemed to overlook some little things of her own. The trim around my new carpet is not complete so I couldn’t move any of my furniture against the wall! So basically I got nothing accomplished today. It was so very nice to see my new carpet though. Granted, it is brown and not so pretty, but my old carpet was blood red and over 30 years old! I also discovered that the movers put several of my filing cabinets and desks into the wrong classroom and I can not move those myself, so hopefully we will have a maintenance person in soon. I would hate for the sixth grade teacher to come and set up er room only to find her classroom full of my stuff!

Here is a picture of what my classroom looks like right now:

And my teacher closet is a little overwhelming for me as well:

I was pretty excited to find a pilot reading curriculum set waiting in my room though. We use Open Court Reading and I am just not a fan of using this in the upper grades. I prefer novel studies and guided reading to the anthology books. I am interested to look though the books and see how I like it. We are up for a new literacy curriculum next year, so I am happy to give this a try. Do any of you use Reading Street? If nothing else it feels good to have some shiny new samples to read through!

Also waiting for me in my box were the two books I asked my principal to order for me over the summer. I think these will both fit very nicely into my reading program. I love finding resources that are already created that supplement what you are already doing!

And just for fun, this is how I spent my weekend!

So tell me, if you have not already started your year, how does your classroom look right now? Are you ready for all the back to school goodness?

The Everything Teacher Binder TOTE Tute

This is a very basic tutorial that anyone who has beginner sewing skills can master! You can see the way I use my ETBT below in yesterday’s post. If you are not a sew-er,  you can purchase a custom one at my etsy store!


  • 1/2 yard fabric (I prefer oilcloth for this, but any heavy fabric will work) A directional print will require more yardage.
  • Additional 1/8 yard matching or contrasting fabric or webbing for handles
  • 18″ coordinating ribbon
  • 3 or 4 inch binder
  • a swivel hook

Sewing Tools/ Supplies you will need also

  • Matching thread
  • measuring tool
  • chalk or dressmaker’s pen
  • scissors
  • pins

To begin, lay your fabric out flat wrong side up and place your binder on top of it. Measure 1/2 around each edge of the binder. Mark with chalk or dressmaker’s pencil. Remove your binder and cut along your markings.

Put the binder back on your fabric. Lay the remaining fabric out on top of the binder to measure the inside of the tote. You will want your fabric to end about 1/2″ to 1″ away from the binder fold. You can finish the inner edge with a hem, or leave it raw if the fabric doesn’t fray. I like to use my selvege edges here for a fun finished look.

Cut the inside piece to size. Then cut another piece the same size. Now you will need the right side inside piece (this will be the back inside cover of your binder) and your ribbon. Gather up various pens and pencils here too. Take your ribbon and thread your swivel hook onto it. Place the hook at the middle of your ribbon and pull the ends until they meet. Sew the two pieces of ribbon together at the top and bottom edge.

Now you will create the pen holders. Place about 4 of your favorite writing utensils on the fabric. Place the ribbon on top of them, pinning between each pen.

Remove pens carefully so as to not pull out the pins. Sew where each pin is.

You can create handles by cutting two four inch strips the length you want your handles. Then fold each length wise and iron. Fold the raw edges in again and iron. Your finished handles will be one inch wide with four layers of fabric inside. Sew close to both long  edges to finish the handles. You can also use webbing or ready made purse handles.

On right side of inside piece, measure two and half inches from the bottom and top edges. Pin your handles aligning the raw egdes. make sure that your handle is not twisted.

Now sew the handles down using 3/8 in seam allowance. Back stitch several times to add stability.

Now place large piece of fabric right side up (the front of your binder tote that you cut). Place the inside pieces on top, right sides down. Make sure that your finished edges face the middle. Pin all the way around making sure not to catch your handles in the top or bottom seams. Sew.

Clip corners then turn tote right side out.

Carefully push corners out with the a bone turner or capped pen. Smooth all edges out. Then fold down 1/2 at the top and bottom between the two pockets. Sew.

Slide one side of your binder half way into one pocket.

Fold Binder open backwards and slide other side into pocket.

Fold your binder closed and try on your new tote!

Fill it up with your teacher goodies and enjoy the ease of toting it to and from!

Feel free to comment and or ask for clarification if I missed a step!