Classroom Must Haves: Things I Can't "Picture" Myself Teaching Without

Guess what! I've joined the outstanding collaborative blog, Upper Elementary Snapshots! I've admired this blog since its beginning and I'm really excited to contribute. Plus, I'll still be blogging here at The Thinker Builder, too!

The bloggers at Upper Elementary Snapshots are teaming up to share some classroom must-haves. You know, things we can't "picture" ourselves without. (Get it, picture... Upper Elementary Snapshots... clever, huh?)

Plus, be sure to read to the end of the post to see how to collect lots of "Must Have" freebies!

Here are a few of my classroom must-haves:

One-Touch Power Stapler

Sure, the school workroom has some big honkin' staplers, but the year I splurged and bought a power stapler, well, my life changed.

I became a full-fledged stapling ninja. No more jams, no more treks down to the workroom to staple a booklet or a packet. I just pulled out my One-Touch Paper Pro and went to it. (I also may or may not have feigned super-human strength to my class by stapling a dozen pages at once using only my pinkie finger.)

This compact, 15-sheet capacity Paper Pro Stapler you see below has some fun colors! 
*affiliate link

The power stapler... it's a game-changer.

Lawn Boy  by Gary Paulsen

I almost went with Because of Winn Dixie for my choice here. (Love that book, but you probably live under a rock if you don't already know about Winn Dixie.) Lawn Boy, however, you might not know as much about.

Lawn Boy is fuh-nny. Like really funny. It's a departure from Gary Paulsen's nature-driven earlier books, like Hatchet, yet still such an entertaining read aloud, and always a student favorite.
*affiliate link

It's the story of a kid who "inherits" his grandfather's old riding lawnmower and begins mowing his neighbors' lawns, soon finding himself waist-deep in the "beauty of capitalism" (as his hippie stockbroker would say).

I always read Lawn Boy during or after our Economics Unit because it's such a fun way to put the concepts and principles we learn into a context students can relate to and understand.

Reader's Notebook for Informational Text

My reader's notebook resources are lifesavers. I'm not in the classroom this year, but when I was, I used these Response Pages for Informational Text ALL. THE. TIME (as well as my Response Pages for Literature). They are versatile, differentiated, and with a "snappy little notebook" design, kids think it's fun filling them out.

The pages so easily align to the curriculum and Common Core standards I already had to teach, and they include three levels of differentiation so I could meet the needs of all my students.

The resource includes response pages on recording facts and information, interpreting ideas, summarizing and synthesizing, vocabulary, text features, text structures, note-taking, and an entire research-guide component.

Click the image above for details!

Story Starters {Not Your Ordinary Writing Prompts!}

My story starters are a go-to resource to get students writing, and writing a lot. With each story starter I created, my underlying goal was to give the student who reads it the undeniable urge to finish the story. To be unable to walk away. To be inspired enough that he or she simply must write the rest of the story.

Juices flowing, wheels turning, synapses firing, eyes darting all over... I've seen that look in students' eyes after hearing or reading one. Here, see for yourself...

Doesn't that make you want to go write? Yeah, me too!

The laundromat photo in the Freebie includes three completely original, engaging story starters, plus a set of open-ended prompting questions. It comes in multiple formats, and includes fun writing paper too!

You can see my full line of story starter sets, one for each month, right HERE. Each set includes 10 photos and a total of 40 prompts. Or look into the full-year bundle right HERE.

Click the image below to download Freebie from my TeachersPayTeachers store!

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After you've downloaded my Story Starters Freebie above, be sure to visit each of the blogs below to add 12 more FREE RESOURCES to you own collection of things you can't picture yourself teaching without. Afterwards, swing by our collaborative blog, Upper Elementary Snapshots, for lots of great content and ideas you can put into practice in your own classrooms!

Who's In YOUR Circles? A Fresh Get to Know You Activity

Try this fresh get to know you activity for back to school, called "Who's In Your Circles?" Gets students up and moving to find out common interests they share with each other. (Blog post from The Thinker Builder)Do you and I run in the same circles?

Doubt it.

Although we do share at least one circle: teaching. Right?

And if you and I happen to be at a get-together together, and we knew we shared that circle called "teaching," we'd have something to talk about. We might even seek each other out to talk about it.

Heck, we might even share some other circles, too... How about the "morning coffee" circle? Are you part of that one? Or the "Jack Reacher fan club" circle? Or the "fantasy football" circle? What about the "I'd rather gouge my eyes out than watch Real Housewives" circle?

So even though you and I don't know each other, we have some things in common. We share some circles. 

It's a similar situation with our class at the beginning of the year. Unearthing those commonalities is something we try to facilitate, so that students seek out and build new friendships, and strengthen old ones.

This year, try this fresh get-to-know-you activity with your class: I call it, "Who's In Your Circles?" It gets kids up and moving, finding out about those common interests, but in a non-threatening way.

First, have students draw three concentric circles on their desk with a dry-erase marker. (Or, a piece of blank paper and a pencil works fine, too!) There should be a nice-sized gap between each circle and a little room outside the outer circle.

Now tell students how to label their circles: the inner-most circle will be the Topic, like... favorite food, favorite subject, favorite hobby. In the photo above, the topic is "favorite food," so the inner circle is labeled, Food.

The next circle gets labeled Love, the third circle gets labeled Like, and the space outside the third circle gets labeled Don't Like. Be sure each student has a name tag on his/her desk, and if they don't, just have them write their name in the corner of the desk.

Next, have students fill in their own inner circle with their answer to the topic. In the photo above, you can see this student--let's call her Addy--wrote "pizza."

Now this is where the fun begins.

At your signal, students will leave their own desk, bring their dry-erase marker with them, and visit other students' desks.

Let's say Kate visits Addy's desk. Kate reads that Addy's favorite food is pizza. Now Kate decides if she loves pizza, likes pizza, or doesn't like pizza. Kate loves pizza, so she writes her own name on Addy's desk, inside the Love circle. Then Kate moves on to other desks.

After students have had time to visit most of their classmates' desks, bring them back to their own desks to have a look at all the names in their various circles.

Addy sees that Emma does not like pizza. Really Emma? Who doesn't like pizza? But Addy also sees that Sarah and Kate both love pizza. Sweet! Maybe they can have a pizza party together this weekend!

After a couple of minutes, have students erase their desk and and start a new round with a different topic!

I have pre-made "Who's In Your Circles?" sheets that work great for this activity. Each page has three topics (two pages worth, so six total topics) to help students get to know each other better!

These activity sheets are part of my popular Back to School Activities, designed for grades 3 through 5. I have a second pack too! Both packs are filled with fun and fresh get-to-know-you activities. Click the images below for details.

Whatever activities you use, I hope your back-to-school "season" goes GREAT!

Setting the Tone in the First 10 Minutes of the First Day of School

On a normal, middle-of-the-year day, I want my students to come into my room in the morning knowing it is a calm place, a cooperative place, a place where we work hard, try new things, and have fun.

You CAN set a calm, positive, hard-working classroom tone right away--like literally, in the first ten minutes of the first day of school! Come read how. (The Thinker Builder)

A couple of years ago, I asked myself a question I thought was a bit unrealistic: Could I get that "middle-of-the-year" tone started within the first ten minutes of the first day of school? Could I find a way to slow down, shove my laundry list of activities and procedures aside temporarily, and show my students right from the get-go what this classroom should look like, sound like, and feel like?

I took on the challenge.

The thing is, it's not something that I get a lot of chances to try. I mean, really, I get ONE first-day-of-school per year. So, after a couple of good cracks at it, here is what I've found to work for setting the tone in the first ten minutes of the first day of school.

Prior to students arriving, I put a freshly sharpened pencil at each student's desk, as well as a "first task" that students will work on when they come in. For me, I try to make this first task something that can be done independently and is extremely low-stress. I don't want to have to explain anything to students about how to do their first task. A "Finish the Picture" works pretty well for third grade.

 You can download six free "Finish the Picture" tasks by clicking the image below!

Click to download.

As each student enters my classroom on the first day, I greet them warmly, and then I ask them to keep their backpack zipped up and to hang it on their cubby hook, then to find their seat and get started.

This photo was taken during the first ten minutes of the first day of school in a fourth grade class... like literally, the first ten minutes.

Giving students a simple but engaging task to do at their seat frees me up to start making personal connections with individual students right away. 

Still within the first ten minutes, my whole class is sitting at their seats, drawing away, with a nice little hum going. Meanwhile, I'm walking around, kneeling down at different table groups, asking students how they are feeling about third grade, who they already know, what they are going to eat for lunch, and so on.

After a few minutes, I ask the class to share their drawings with their table groups and to talk about how their drawings are alike and different. In the grand scheme of things, I really don't care one bit about these drawings. It's the talking I want. Communicating with each other right off the bat about their ideas.

Pretty soon, I'll start introducing some of our classroom procedures, and eventually I'll let them go unpack their shiny new backpacks.

But in those first ten minutes, I've shown my students that we get started working right away, that I care about them and what they have to say, and that sharing our ideas and thinking with each other happens a lot.

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Need some activities for when those first ten minutes are over? Check out some of my back-to-school resources, including my popular Get to Know You Activities and my Opinion Writing activity to help create your classroom rules.

(Author's Note: Some content in this post originally appeared on the Who's Who and Who's New Collaborative Blog. The version above includes updated pictures and an updated, larger, free download. Click here to see the original post.)

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