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June 6, 2023

A Teacher's Summer Bucket List

My previous blog post was devoted to kids and what they want to do over the summer months.  


What about us?  What about teachers?  What about adults?  We DESERVE to make fun plans for ourselves too!!

Can I get an Amen?!?!

Every school year is taxing for educators, administration and support staff.....

Your summer break should be spent doing things that make you feel rested and recharged! 

All too often summer break seems to quickly slip through our fingers, and we arrive at the beginning of August and wonder how the new school year arrived so quickly?!?  

Summer is an elusive little season, isn't it? 

In order to take full advantage of your time off, I urge you to make a Summer Bucket list for yourself! 

Bucket lists are a great ways to ensure that relaxation, fun and meaningful moments happen. By the end of the summer I want to look back on the the two months and have something to show for it---and I want that for you too!  

Click here, or the image below to download this free resource!  Included in the download are multiple bucket list bingo boards.  There are two pre-filled bucket boards with lots of fun options!  You don't even have to think of your own fun--just print and start enjoying life.  Ha!  

There are also two boards that are mostly filled, but with a few blank spaces.  The mostly filled option is great if you have a few of your own ideas you want to insert! Last, there is  a completely blank board for those of you who have a brain swimming with fun ideas!

I truly hope you find this Summer Bucket List for Teachers helpful and that you have an opportunity to take these next few months to take time for yourself.

Summer is the perfect season to slow down, take a deep breath and breath fresh perspective into your life.  Remember that self care doesn't mean me first, it just means me too!  If you are looking or more ways to relax and take care of yourself click here or the image below!


May 29, 2023

Summer Bucket Lists for Students

My brain is already buzzing about what fun things I want to do this summer!  

Now, If I am thinking all of these summery things.... I know my students are thinking about it too! 

A great project to get your kids' sunny thoughts down on paper is to have them create a summer bucket list! 

I love this project as an end of the year capstone.  I double love it because it is easily adaptable to multiple ages and grade levels.  Click the image below to download it for FREE!!  

For beginning writers, use the buckets with sentence stems.  New writers simply have to fill in their thoughts! If you have a writer that really struggles, use an adult or fellow student to act as a scribe. 

For older students, or students who love to be creative--try a bucket with a summer story starter.  You will be amazed at some of the creative stories students can come up with. 

Other buckets are just blank templates. These are designed with advanced writers in mind, as experienced writers do an excellent job of generating ideas, organizing their thoughts and getting it down on paper.

This activity is definitely one that you can use year after year!

Happy writing!

May 16, 2023

Reflection Power

When the school year is over, So. Are. Teachers.  

We are tired. Exhausted. Drained. Physically, emotionally and mentally spent. 

We are so excited to turn off that alarm. Stay in comfy clothes.  Eat a meal that lasts longer than 10 minutes without being interrupted.  Use the bathroom whenever we want. 


The end of the year is the perfect time for reflection! 

I know it is tempting to not spend one more moment thinking about school, however there is SO MUCH power in looking backwards and reflecting on your school year.

It is proven that we learn from processing through our own experiences.  When we stop and spend time thinking about the academic year, we grow and develop professionally.  Insights, celebrations, frustrations and goals come with reflection.

Thus, I urge to take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions!  

  • How did your school year go? 
  • Why was it so?
  • How did you grow?
  • How will it show?

Perhaps, use the following graphic organizer to jot down the answers to the questions above. 

Even better yet.... after you have completed the graphic organizer, share you thoughts with a colleague, administrator or instructional coach!  If we hold conversations with others our reflections are amplified.

If you are interested in using this graphic organizer with your staff or sharing with your colleagues, click the image below to download it for FREE!  

May 12, 2023

Celebrating Students at the End of the Year 🥳

Say hello to the end of the school year!  

This time of year is always full of so many emotions.  It is stressful and chaotic with wrapping up instruction, benchmark assessments and finalizing grades.  

Whew....so much!  

It is also fun and filled with excitement as you celebrate the learning and growth with your students.  

PLUS who can forget all of the end of the year celebrations---ice cream parties, field day, yearbook signing, graduation assemblies, etc. 

In my intervention group we always end with an ice cream party with LOTS of toppings and then the students have a chance to play games, or play outside.  It isn't anything fancy or a lot of work, but a great capstone for the end of the year.   

I also hand out student awards to celebrate the growth students have had in my classroom.  I like to include a special treat with my awards--so candy themed awards are a go to!  

Each student receives a certificate and then a candy bar that corresponds to the certificate.  For example a Milky Way because the student is "out of this world" or a Snickers because he or she always tells funny jokes. 

I have also done drink awards, which is basically the same as the candy awards.  

Instead of receiving candy, the student receives a drink that corresponds to the certificate.  For example a Fanta for being fantastic, or Dr. Pepper because they pepped up the class all year. 

Hop on over to Mind Sparks on TPT where you can nab these fun certificates, and alleviate some of the stress in planning an end of the year celebration! Just click here, or the images above!

If you don't have a ton of time to purchase treats, or your wallet is looking a little thin....generic certificates are fun as well.  

Lets face it--it is just nice to be given a certificate...it makes you feel important and special!  Click the image below or click here to download the black and white generic set for free! 

How do you celebrate students at the end of the year?  I am always looking for more ideas!

May 4, 2023

Top 5 Mistakes Teachers Make Teaching Vocabulary

Teaching vocabulary can be tricky!  Most of us never took a class in college which covered effective reading instruction...AND as elementary teachers we have more than just one subject to devote our time to studying. 

Some teachers may just be winging the whole "vocabulary thing,"  Teachers are simply doing the best they can with the tools they have in their toolkit.  So, it seems reasonable that we might be making a few mistakes.  The good news---common mistakes are easy to fix!  

Keep reading to find out the top 5 mistakes teachers make with vocabulary, AND what you can do to fix those mistakes!

1. Not teaching vocabulary

When someone doesn't feel efficacious about something, or see the benefit....sometimes it gets skipped or pushed to the "I'll just do this later list."  Vocabulary instruction is NOT something that should be skipped.  

Research supports that teachers should be directly teaching 3-5 words per text selection!  This means students should be adding 2,000 to 3,000 new words per year to their reading vocabularies. (Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002).  Check out A Routine for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction for how to directly teach a term. 

2. Not explicitly and directly teaching words

We learn vocabulary in two ways, incidentally and and intentionally.  Incidental learning is when children are indirectly exposed to words.  Indirect exposure to words happens when students engage in oral language experiences (talking with friends, adults, siblings, etc.), listening to books being read and independently reading.  Most of our vocabulary is acquired incidentally, however this cannot be the only way we learn new terms!

Intentional learning of words happens through direct and explicit instruction.  As mentioned above, research supports teachers directly teaching 3-5 words per text selection, and getting students to truly own a word.  This means students students should explicitly taught some 400 words per year in school (Beck, McKeown & Kucan, 2002).  

To truly own a word, students must be able to pronounce the word, understand its meaning and use it during conversation or in writing.  Check out A Routine for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction for how to directly teach a term! 

3. Not illustrating connections to other words

Our brains crave organization and patterning.  As we learn words, our brains are creating pathways to connect new words with known words. Every word in your mental dictionary is connected to other words, ideas or images.   

Help students truly understand a vocabulary term by facilitating connections.  Some great classification activities include the following:
  • Open sorts--give students a group of words and have them group the words how they see fit.  
  • Identification of categories--show students a group of words that go together and have them determine a category label.
Check out this free one-pager resource which includes 12 different ways you can have students sort and classify words!  A list of words can be compiled based on a spelling pattern, phonics skill, vocabulary or grammar concept!  

4. Not providing ample opportunities to use newly learned terms

One principle of effective vocabulary instruction is providing multiple exposures to a word and it's meaning.  There is great improvement in vocabulary when students encounter vocabulary words often (National Reading Panel, 2000).  Students have to see a word multiple times, and in multiple contexts to truly own the word.

Check out Resources to Teach Vocabulary for oodles of ideas on how to provide students with multiple opportunities to interact with vocabulary terms.  

5. Not selecting the right words to teach

Determining which words to teach our students can be tricky.  There are just SO. MANY. WORDS!

Leading literacy experts (e.g. Archer & Hughes, Beck, Graves, Stahl & Nagy) all agree on the following five rules when selecting vocabulary to explicitly teach.

  1. Choose words students probably don't know
  2. Choose words that are crucial for text understanding
  3. Choose words that students will encounter often
  4. Teach words that are difficult to learn without explicit instruction
  5. Select 3-5 words for each text.
If you are looking for more information on how to best select vocabulary words to explicitly teach, check Choosing Words to Teach by Isabel Beck, Margaret McKeown and Linda Kucan published on Reading Rocket's website.  These ladies are the true guru's of teaching vocabulary!

April 23, 2023

Resources to Teach Vocabulary

Increasing a student's vocabulary is important, as vocabulary knowledge has a direct correlation to comprehension.  

When we carefully select words and then explicitly teach students those word meanings, we are helping students create a deep understanding of words.  Vocabulary instruction is imperative for all kids, but vital for students who have under developed vocabularies.

In 5 Ways to Practice Vocabulary Effectively, I provided 5 ways teachers can have students interact with vocabulary terms that will facilitate word connections.  Lets take a look at resources you might be able to use for each of those steps! 

1. Multiple Meanings

Did you know there are 5,000 or so common words in English that have multiple meanings!  Crazy, right? 

Simple word maps are an easy way to help students see multiple meanings words can have.  A word map can be as simple as the one pictured below--a circle with a target term in the middle, and connected circles that represent the multiple meanings.    

If you are working with more advanced readers and need a word map with more rigor, check out the map below.  This map has students expanding their understanding by using vocabulary terms in a sentence, writing a definition and drawing a picture.  

2. Classify Words into Categories

Our brains crave organization and patterning.  As we learn new words our brains create pathways to connect new words with known words.  To help my students develop those pathways, I use word sorts!  I LOVE word sorts, and students do too!!

Check out this free one-pager resource which includes 12 different ways you can have students sort and classify words!  A list of words can be compiled based on a spelling pattern, phonics skill, vocabulary or grammar concept!

Are you in need of pre-made word sorts?  Maybe you simply don't have the time (or energy...I feel ya) to create your own.   

Look no further....I have oodles of them! Just click the images below!

3. Analyze Semantic Features

Semantic feature analysis is a strategy to compare characteristics of words.  Many words have some in common properties, and identifying those helps students create word networks.

Check out the Semantic Feature Analysis from Reading Rockets.  This article takes a deeper dive into analyzing characteristics of words, and you can download a free semantic feature analysis grid!!

4. Use Antonyms & Synonyms 

Anytime you help students gain a deeper meaning of a vocabulary term ...it is a win!  Use a vocabulary graphic organizer  (like the one pictured below) to assist students in clarifying their understanding about new words.

Most vocabulary word maps will include synonyms, antonyms and a space to list characteristics. 

Check out this game version of a word map, Vocabulary Rock and Roll !  Just print this sheet for students and let them play!  

Building students' vocabularies takes TIME and many, many, many encounters with words!  Incorporating any of the above strategies and resources into your daily routine will get your students on the path to being word masters!!

April 14, 2023

Test Motivation for Students

  Standardized testing season is upon us again.....

I have a love/hate relationship with testing.  I loathe the pressure that students and teachers might feel, but I also love celebrating the academic gains students make.

Like many in education, I don't believe a singular test score defines a student.  However, I do believe we need data on students to determine what needs the student may have.  Test scores also give us data on school and curriculum performance.  

Is the curriculum addressing the standards?  

Is the curriculum rigorous enough?  

Do we have areas we need to supplement?  

Is effective instruction being provided?      

Test scores help us ensure that students are being served, and that tax payers are getting a good return on their investment.  

With that being said, I also want to make sure students don't feel stress yet are motivated to perform at their best. To ease testing anxiety, and give my kiddos a little extra encouragement I surprise them with a fun treat whenever we have an assessment.

The gesture isn't much, but it sure makes the students smile. AND...one smile is worth it...right?!?

Additionally, the younger grades in my building "adopt" an older grade.  The younger students write positive notes to each student, draw them pictures and decorate the classroom with motivational posters!  

Check out this list of motivational ideas from Engage to Learn. Dr. Luz Martinez, an associate superintendent at Midland ISD in Texas with 25 years of experience in education, shares a list of over 15 ways to motivate students before AND after high stakes testing. 

If you are interested in lifting your kids up a little extra during testing season, check out these treat tags on TPT.  For under three dollars you get FIFTEEN different sayings!  

Best of luck during this testing season!