Back to School Catch-up for Families: Practice Reading Aloud

How is your child at reading aloud? Did you know that this one skill is the main reading diagnostic test for many schools?*

As you prepare for back to school, I strongly suggest that you have your child practice reading aloud. This skill often takes a big hit during summer slide; nevertheless, students usually are evaluated on reading aloud within the first week of school. Have your child practice with appropriate grade-level books if you can, but use easier books if your child is not a strong reader. Check for fluency: a natural cadence, automatic word decoding, good pronunciation and accuracy.

Ten minutes a day is plenty for a child who already reads at grade level (or did at the end of last school year.) If your child was just barely making it last school year, this summer practice is essential and should be longer. You’ll probably want to break it into two fifteen minute chunks a day, more if the child is motivated. For struggling readers, you might want to read the material aloud before the child reads it. Another trick is to read aloud with your child, pulling him along. This is better than having the child stumble through the text.

*One common test is DIBELS, the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. It measures how many words your child accurately reads from a grade-level passage in a minute. Schools use this test to quickly identify struggling readers. Teachers often use it to form reading groups.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects actual ability, not the effects of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 16, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Read a Chapter Book

Many students have nervous jitters at back to school time. It helps to brush up on skills before returning to the classroom.

Ideally, you encouraged your child to read all summer. Regardless, reading a chapter book the week before school starts can make a difference. Besides the obvious benefits of improving skills, reading a chapter book puts your child back in an academic frame of mind. The experience of reading reawakens the child’s vocabulary, important for tests like Star Reading.

I think the most important benefit of reading a chapter book before school starts is extending the child’s attention span. Reading a chapter book (or listening to a parent read aloud) helps avoid this problem for your child.

I know a teacher who distributes a short chapter book to each entering sixth grader at Meet the Teacher Night, two days before school starts. Each child is given homework: finish the book and be ready to take an AR (Accelerated Reader) test on the first day of school. This exercise shows the students and families that sixth grade is serious and provides all the benefits I just described.

Note: I don’t want to cause stress to you and your child about these back-to-school assessments. I merely want to show you how to help your child brush up skills so her work reflects actual ability, not the effects of summer slide.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 11, 2011


Back to School Catch-up for Families: Review basic facts

Kids and teachers know: back to school is the real New Year. Kids are full of nervous jitters at this exciting time. You can really help by reviewing key concepts before the first day of school.

Ideally, you followed some sort of program to combat summer slide, that significant decline in skills over the prolonged time off. Regardless, a concerted effort the week before school starts can make a difference.

Review basic math facts! I can’t stress this enough. Your child needs to get the same (correct) answer every time. Quick test: ask your child what 5+8 is. If your child doesn’t answer immediately, she needs to study. If your child was super-slow to solve 5+8, back up with easier problems like 3+2, and, last ditch, 3+1. The results might horrify surprise you.

Use flash cards, math games, drill worksheets from Dad’s Worksheets, or my free software: Best Times Tables Practice EVER! and Best Addition Practice EVER!

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Aug 8, 2011


For parents: you don’t need all the school supplies before school starts

The weekend after school starts is a good time to shop for back-to-school supplies.  You will have a sense of what the teachers really want.

Often, the school supply list for each grade does not exactly match what each teacher really wants.  Some teachers want a three ring binder, and others would prefer not to have it.  This is just one example of what you might discover during the first week of school.

It’s good for your child to show up on the first day with a pencil and paper.  Crayons are nice, but the teacher often has a stash of extras.

At Meet the Teacher Night and Open House, some teachers set out little cards with items they request for the classroom.  You can add this to your back-to-school shopping list.

Don’t feel like you have to buy the expensive version of everything.  Whatever you buy will look thrashed in a month, anyway.  Don’t let your child talk you into the expensive protractor, the fancy notebook, etc.  The cheap version is very common in the classroom, and your child will not be looked down upon for having it.

If your child whines, threaten to walk out of the store.  You can come back later and choose the items yourself.  A savvy child will compromise rather than risk spending a school year with items a parent chose.

When you buy pencils, I recommend the Ticonderoga brand.  These pencils hold up really well.  However, if you see super cheap pencils of any brand, buy them!

While you’re at the sales, pick up a little extra for the classroom supply.  Teachers always appreciate a gift of extra pencils and notebook paper.

Posted in Back to School,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Sep 21, 2010


Have kids sort the community school supplies

If your school allows, consider the school supplies kids bring to class to be community supplies for your class.  You will have an overwhelming influx of supplies that must be sorted and put away.

Many families will bring school supplies to Meet the Teacher Night.  In my first year, I had the kids leave everything at their desks.  Now, I know better.

Set up plastic bins, open drawers, designate cubbies or table space for specific school supplies.  Label each storage area (such as crayons, pencils, glue) with Post-Its or more permanent labels.  Parents and new students will be happy to sort the supplies for you.   Set out a trash can and ask them to unwrap everything and place the supplies in the storage areas corresponding to your labels.

Repeat the exercise on the first day of school—but with students doing everything.  It’s a good community builder and a nice way for them to get to know the classroom.

Now you will have more time to deal with all the strange situations that crop up on the first day of school!


Give kids a snack on the first day of school

Party!Everyone’s internal clock is off on the first day of school.  The teacher is exhausted from setting up the classroom.  The kids probably had trouble falling asleep—and waking up this morning.  Lunch isn’t for hours.

This is why I like to serve a snack on the first of school.  Make it nutritious, such as crackers,  cheese, veggie sticks or even dry whole-grain cereal.  Serve a drink if your budget and time constraints allow.  Milk is an economical and nutritious option.  Juice boxes are easy to serve.  Because you won’t know much about your students, make your snack peanut-free, or have a peanut-free snack on hand in case a student has allergies.

Snack time is a good time to practice for birthday treats.  I randomly select a student to be the birthday kid.  That student selects a few helpers, and we rehearse the distribution of birthday treats.  Students should be quiet while the treat is distributed.  No one can eat until everyone has been served, we have sung “Happy Birthday,” and the birthday child has taken the first bite.

This is a nice way to fuel young bodies and practice a procedure.  Plus, the kids think you are awesome!


A Sample First Day of School Letter Home

teacher2If possible, don’t wait until the back-to-school crunch to write your introductory letter.  Draft it now and keep the file until you determine if you need to add extra information.

Keep your letter short and informational.  Introduce yourself, state your credentials, and list a hobby or two.  (Don’t do this first or you will appear to be self-centered.)  Give a sense of what you will teach during the school year, listing interesting highlights.  Finish with important dates—not too many, just the back-to-school ones.

Give families a way to contact you.  (The letterhead is a good place for this.)  You can list your school email address and the school phone number with your classroom extension.  I recommend that you don’t give out your home number.

Find out if your school wants the letter translated into another language.  Give the translator ample time to complete the task.


If you are a first year teacher, DON’T TELL!  Keep this information to yourself.

If your school will pay postage, you can send a letter to families before school starts.  You will want to set up a Mail Merge on Word.  If sending home a before-school letter is not required, save your energy.  It’s much easier to have the letters on desks for Open House, or just hand them out on the first day of school.

Here is a sample letter to a student.  You can address your letter to the student or the parents.  I prefer to address it to the students and encourage them to show it to their parents.

Date of Open House or First Day of School

Dear Sally Student,

Nice to meet you!  I am Miss Green, your third grade teacher.  I look forward to working with you this year.  We will have a great time in third grade!  We will learn new things: cursive handwriting, multiplication, and much more.

Open House is Wednesday, August x from 6:30-7:00.  Your parents can visit the classroom and learn about the third grade in detail: curriculum, class organization, and major projects.

A little about me: I have taught at Acme Elementary for xxx years.  I have a Master’s degree in Elementary Education.  I am a National Board Certified Teacher.  My hobbies include reading, writing, and playing the piano.

I look forward to working with you and your parents this year.  Together, we will make a terrific team.

Corey Green


Teach kids to respect school staff

Introducing kids to school staff is a good first-week-of-school activity.

Since everyone on staff is especially busy during this time, they probably won’t be able to visit classrooms.  You might want to take pictures and prepare a simple PowerPoint slide show.  (Or just print the pictures, if time or resources are limited.)

You might like to ask each staff person to tell you little bit about their job, how they serve students, and how students can help serve the school community.  Add a little personalization with hobbies or interests, if you’d like.

This way, your students understand that it’s personal when they mess up the lunchroom, ask to go to the nurse when they really don’t need to, or make extra demands on the school secretary.  The kids might come to understand that the principal is a real person with more to do than discipline naughty children.

Your students will feel inspired and empowered by the tips on how they can serve the community.

Start with the custodian/building manager and whoever will be your Special Person for the day.

After that, here are some suggestions for people to “meet”:

> Specials teachers (Music, PE, Art)
> Principal/Vice Principal/Dean
> Secretary/Attendance Clerk
> Nurse
> Social worker
> Recess monitors
> Psychologist
> Cafeteria manager
> A representative of Instructional Aides, and certainly the ones your class will work with
> Resource teacher (if he/she will be working with your class)

This is a lot of information.  Prioritize, then “meet” one or two people a day.  Your kids can’t remember much more than that.  You can review this little presentation after each school break for a quick brush-up.

Make a little quiz if you’d like!  (Sample question: who takes care of sick students and tests vision?)


Don’t forget to TEACH on the first day of school

In the whirl of the first day of school, remember something fundamental: you are a TEACHER.  The students are there to LEARN!  They are hungry to learn!  Think how disappointed they will be if they don’t have exciting new knowledge to share that day when their families ask, “What did you learn in school today?”

Promise yourself that you will teach something on the first day of school.  Don’t get too ambitious because there are a lot of interruptions on the first day and everything takes forever.  You can teach two or three things, for sure.

It’s very important that what you teach on the first day be achievable for all students.  If you are a new teacher or are new to this grade level, run your ideas past a veteran teacher.

Examples of things to teach in elementary school:

> Learn about your school supplies: the history of Crayola crayons and history of pencils
> The difference between it’s and its OR you’re and your (not both!)
> How to multiply by zero and one  (great for third grade)
> Cursive!  (A good third grade activity—it’s what they’re dying to learn.  Teach lowercase E and L)
> How to make a flower using a compass (5th grade and up)
> The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence
> Learn a lot about one animal (just pick a book from the library and learn, learn, learn!)
> Start your Social Studies unit (make sure they LEARN something the first day rather than flip through the book)
> Start your Science unit (make sure they LEARN something)
> Gather fun facts about anything and let the kids share them. Just Google fun, random facts and share them.
> Learn about a famous artist and imitate his style.  (Create a PowerPoint of pictures you found using Google Images.  Show this, play music in the background, teach about the artist’s life, and then make some art!  Remember, whichever artist you pick will be discussed at dinner tonight, so choose wisely.  This activity will take all afternoon.)
> Teach color theory using the color wheel.  Learn about primary colors, secondary colors, etc.  Talk about how this applies to art, room decorating, fashion, designing print ads, etc.
> Pick an interesting picture book from the school library and teach a mini-lesson with it.
> Learn the difference between commonly confused things (tortoise and turtle, toad and frog, dolphin and porpoise).  Let kids work individually, in pairs or groups to make posters about what they learned. (Do quick web searches before school & you’re ready to go.  Teach directly—you won’t have time for the kids to “discover” through cooperative learning.  It’s enough for them to work in groups to make posters about these things.)
> Learn a few persuasive techniques (bandwagon, celebrity endorsement, snob appeal) and create ads persuading people to follow rules, keep the building clean, eat healthy—whatever.

By all means, build community and teach procedure on the first day of school.  It is important, and it will make a difference.  Just realize that all your community-building and procedure-teaching doesn’t have to happen on the first day.  However, you must set the stage for a year of LEARNING.


How to plan for the first day of school

Some teachers like to make a schedule for the first day of school, but that doesn’t work for me.  I have no idea how long each activity will take.  Every year is different.

I make a list of the things I want to teach during the first week of school.  (I’m lucky: it’s only three days.)  Then, in my lesson plan book, I write down what we actually did.

It’s nice to have something on students’ desks when they walk in for the first day of school.  The announcements can be long, and you have to take attendance the long way—by saying everyone’s names rather than just noting who’s absent.  Kids need something to do during this downtime.

Unless you teach older students, don’t make the assignment academic.  Even then, think about art, coloring or an inventory of likes/dislikes.

Here’s a good assignment for all elementary grades: I set a 9 x 12 mailing envelope on kids’ desks, along with a numbered box of crayons we’ll use for art projects all year.  (I collect the crayons after the first day and bring them out for special projects.)  This envelope will hold kids’ memories for the year.   During the first day, they can decorate during downtime.  It’s a great management technique, especially during getting-to-know-you activities. (Kids are egocentric and have limited interest in peers.   Coloring quietly while listening helps them be polite.)

During the first week of school, I like to have kids write a letter to themselves about their hopes and goals for the upcoming year.  We repeat the exercise at the end of the year, and it makes a nice addition to their memories. An identical survey of likes/dislikes and favorites at the beginning and end of the year can be a nice first-week activity.  At the end of the year, kids can see how they changed.

Need more specific advice?  Check out my review of a book that gives a minute by minute schedule for the first day.


The New Teacher’s Complete Sourcebook

bookby Bonnie P. Murray
Available from

I found this book after my first year of teaching.  Boy, do I wish I had it during my first year!

This book tells you how to set up your classroom, work with parents, set up a discipline plan—basically, how to manage your first year.  The book is easy to read all at once, or as a quick reference to help with specific issues.

The best part is a complete schedule for what to do on the first day of school.  The author gives a separate schedule for each grade K-4.  I adapted it for 5th grade and it worked there, too.  I think any elementary teacher can use this book.

I can’t praise this book highly enough.  Beginning and experienced teachers will love it.

P.S. Next year, you can loan it to a new teacher! 


Pencils, Part One: Managing Your Pencil Supply

Hard-Won Knowledge about Pencils in the Classroom: An Occasional Series (Part One)

As a teacher, you will spend a surprising amount of time thinking about pencils.  Your teaching career will probably be one long pencil shortage.

I hope these tips help new and veteran teachers alike.  I sure wish I had known them when I was a new teacher.

1.  Buy as many pencils as you can at the back-to-school sales.  I recommend the Ticonderoga brand.  Some other brands tend to shred in the pencil sharpener.

2.  Obtain (hopefully through your district) fat pencils like little kids use.  These will be helpful for students with bad handwriting and poor fine motor skills.  Every year, no matter what grade you teach, you will instruct someone on how to use a pencil.  In doing so, you will make a lasting impact on the student’s life.

3.  Buy mechanical pencils if you can, but DON’T HAND THEM OUT.  Keep them for standardized testing.

At the beginning of the year, collect all pencil students bring in and control the supply yourself.  (If this isn’t the policy in your school, check with the principal first.)


Take Advantage of Back-to-School Sales!

Or, don’t get cheap before school starts.  Back to School sales often occur in mid-summer.

If you can afford it, shop the Back-to-School sales for school supplies.  You will not find these prices for the rest of the year, guaranteed.  Last summer, my sister talked me into loosening my purse strings at the back-to-school sales.  My whole school year went more smoothly.

My recommended back-to-school shopping list for teachers:

> PENCILS!  You can never have too many.  Ticonderoga is the best brand.  Some of the other brands of pencils shred in the pencil sharpener.
> Mechanical pencils—if they’re cheap.  We use them for state testing week.  It saved our pencil sharpener and our sanity.
> Notebook paper packages for 1¢
> Folders for 1¢ (the kind with prongs, and the kind without.  I buy 35 each of several colors for classroom organization.
> Crayons for 20¢ or less.  I buy crayons for the class, but I don’t let kids keep them in their desk.  Keep these crayon boxes for special projects only.  Number the crayon boxes for accountability.
> Markers for $1 a box or less.  Great for art projects!
> Reams of copy paper at great sale prices.
> Expo markers for dry-erase boards.  After sale time, markers are often a dollar each.  During a sale, you might find 4 for a dollar.
> Expo board cleaner.  I went through ten bottles last year.
> Spiral notebooks at 5 or 10¢ apiece.  Don’t buy more if you already have a class set left over from last year.  After a few years of buying notebooks, you don’t need to buy them each year.

You probably don’t need:
> Individual pencil sharpeners.  I thought buying a few for each table would help classroom management, but we were cleaning pencil shavings all the time.  We took them away after about a week and no one complained.
> Colored pencils: many teachers like them, but I find they create pencil-sharpening logistics problems.  Crayons or markers are much easier to manage.
> Whiteboard erasers: you only need a few, and the district often supplies them.  Wash erasers with non-moisturizing dish soap a few times a year and let them air dry.  For some reason, spraying erasers with Windex after washing but before drying seems to help.

My favorite back-to-school store is Staples.  Why?
> I subscribe to the Staples weekly e-newsletter so I can go in on the first day of the sale.
> Many stores let teachers purchase in excess of the advertised limit for each sale.
> Perks from your teacher rewards card really add up.
> Staples matches competitor coupons.
> Easy rebates translate to free products in many cases.
> All of this might also be true for OfficeMax or other office supply stores.  I just have really good luck at Staples.

Best tip of all:
Copy your teacher rewards card code and ask parents to use it when they shop at Staples.

This is one in a series of posts for First Year Teachers.


Start Next Year’s Lesson Plan Book Now

teacheratdeskWhen this year’s lesson plan book is dog-eared, falling apart, and loaded with loose papers, next year’s lesson plan book promises a perfect year.

Buy next year’s lesson plan book now.  Give a willing student with neat handwriting a copy of next year’s school calendar.  Ask the student to write the days in next year’s blank book.  (Recess is a good time for this activity, which has admittedly limited educational value.)

For now, I just have the days labeled in my book.  I haven’t written a daily schedule because it could change.  Once I know for sure, I will write it in for the first few weeks.  Next year, I’ll ask a volunteer to write the daily schedule across the top of each page.

Use your helpers!  Don’t forget to reward them.