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


Pencils, Part Three: The Pencil Drive

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

If you use the two-cup pencil system (which I highly recommend), you can expect a chronic shortage of sharpened pencils.  This is because students do not turn in their dull pencils.

There is an easy way to fix this.  I call it the Pencil Drive.

Basically, I give students team points for turning in their pencils.  To make it easy to manage, I collect all the pencils at once.  Here’s a step-by-step process for running your Pencil Drive.

1.  Have a class point system.  If you don’t, class points are not particularly valuable.  (If you teach first grade, this probably doesn’t matter.  Little kids love points, even if they don’t mean anything.)

2.   Announce the Pencil Drive.  Students will have 30 seconds to collect as many pencils as they can.  You make a judgment call on whether they can find the pencils in other students’ desks.  This will depend on how desperate you are for pencils.

3.   Watch for misbehavior.  I have never had a problem, but I can see how wrestling or arguing might happen during the Pencil Drive.

4.  Ask each table to give all of their pencils to one person.  This person will count the table’s pencils and bring them to you.  You put them in a cup and let the person mark their table’s points.

5.  Send your Pencil People into the hall to sharpen pencils.  For your sake, I really hope there is an outlet in the hallway.  If not, hold your Pencil Drive before recess or lunch.  Your Pencil People can sharpen pencils in the room, and the other kids don’t have to listen to it.  If you have kids sharpen pencils during lunch or recess, you should probably ask for volunteers rather than assign someone.


Pencils, Part Two: Some Advice About Pencil Sharpening

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

Your classroom cannot function without a steady supply of sharpened pencils.  You, however, cannot function with the pencil sharpener whirring constantly.

Here is some advice on how to manage pencil sharpening.

1.  Get a good-quality pencil sharpener.  It will cost $35 or more, and it is totally worth it.  I hope you can buy this through your district or convince someone to give it to you.  A generous parent might help, or maybe the parents will pass the hat.  If not, suck it up and buy the pencil sharpener.  (Try Craigslist—you might be lucky!  Just make sure it works.)

My pencil sharpener: X-Acto School Pro Heavy-Duty Electric Sharpener (1670) for $35 at Amazon

For fifteen dollars more, you can get a sharpener that Amazon shoppers seem to love: X-Acto Teacher Pro Electric Pencil Sharpener with SmartStop, Black (1675)

2.  Use the two-cup pencil system.  Label one cup Dull and the other Sharp.  Students put dull pencils in the Dull cup and take a new sharp pencil from the Sharp cup.  This is standard practice in primary classrooms.  Intermediate classrooms don’t use this system—and so kids are always interrupting class to sharpen pencils.  (Rules about when kids are allowed to sharpen pencils don’t work.)  Having tried the two-cup pencil system in my third-grade classroom, I would never change it, no matter what grade I teach.

3.  Will you let students touch your expensive pencil sharpener?  Some teachers sharpen all pencils themselves to protect their investment in their pencil sharpener.  I did this for a while, but then I freed up a surprising amount of time by turning the job over to students.  Just make sure to teach them not to put in really short pencils—they will get stuck.

4.  Create a pencil sharpening job.  I call it Pencil People for alliteration.  You need two students for this job: one to actually sharpen the pencil, and one to hand the next pencil to the pencil sharpening person.  This makes it much more efficient.  Explain to your pencil sharpeners that they should spend about three seconds on each pencil.  Also, provide them with a hand broom and dustpan or a Dust Buster to clean up shavings.

5.  Hold Pencil Drives.  You will always be short of pencils in the Sharp cup because kids don’t turn in their Dull pencils.  Hold Pencil Drives to counter this problem.  Basically, a Pencil Drive is a fancy way of declaring “Bring me all your pencils, NOW!”  More details follow in the Pencil Drive post.


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.


School’s out, but bargains are in

When school lets out for the summer, teachers who are retiring, moving or taking a new position often sell or donate class supplies they purchased themselves.

This is a boon for current teachers!

Check out Craigslist, eBay and other sources for great bargains.  I have found a document camera, class sets of books, workbooks, art supplies and much more.

Search for teacher supplies, classroom supplies, class sets of books, and just plain “teacher.”

May and June are good months for this, but so are August and September, when school is back in session.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ May 28, 2010


Pack up the classroom while you still have 30 helpers

Girl with BroomEvery year, teachers take apart the contents of their classroom so that the school can be deep cleaned over the summer.  It’s a huge job.

Let the kids help!  This year, I’m trying to have everything packed while I still have 30 helpers.  There are some very important academic lessons that can be integrated with these activities.  My students love doing classroom jobs, and packing up for summer is one community-building, super fun job!

While we packed up last year, I taught my students about bucket brigades, weaving in a lesson about the history of volunteer fire departments and how towns depended on volunteers cooperating to provide a vital service in times of need.  We also discussed how the military accomplished massive movements of troops and resources using the same principles we were using in our classroom.  The boys really loved this topic!

Make two lists, and write them on the board.  One list is for jobs everyone should do.  Once these are completed, students can tackle the community service list.  It’s extra fun if they get to sign the board by jobs they completed.

Everyone must:
  –Clean out their own desk
–Erase pencil marks in textbooks
–Place textbooks in designated area
–Pack up their own supplies for home
–Return classroom library books to their rightful place
–Pick up scraps under or near their desk
–Return class supplies to their proper place
–Recycle paper from their desk (or take it home)

Community Service:
  –Organize class library
–Empty teacher’s bookshelf (workbooks, professional books)
–Organize game cabinet
–Help slowpokes
–Clean countertops
–Clean the lunch bucket (we use it to carry cold lunches to the cafeteria)
–Wipe down cabinets
–Organize ____ (whatever you want organized—often the kids will do it better than you could)
–Box up supplies (as needed)

When everything is finished, clean the student desks.  I recommend Oxi-Clean.  Mix a little with water in a container.  YOU do the first wipe down of desks, so kids don’t touch the Oxi-Clean solution.  Kids come behind you with clean rags.  Give the kids a clean-water bucket and ask them to rinse the rags often.  The desks will be sparkling clean in 15 minutes! (Hint: you don’t need real buckets.  I use plastic shoeboxes that hold supplies and organize our class library books.)

Other tasks:

In fifteen to twenty more minutes, you and the students can Oxi-Clean chairs, countertops, and cubbies.

Cover the shelves with butcher paper to keep dust off everything.  Just for fun, the kids could decorate the butcher paper.  It’s a fun community-building activity… you will need these after you no longer have desks.

On the last day of school, plan fun activities that don’t involve desks.  Game day is a popular option.  Kids tell me they love giant Twister (using construction paper to make a class-size Twister board).  I haven’t been brave enough to try it.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ May 26, 2010


Why classroom desks are arranged as tables

When parents see my classroom for the first time, many ask why the kids have their desks arranged as tables.   There are many reasons:

> With large class sizes and big desks (ours are 36 inches long!), the desks don’t fit in the classroom any other way.
> Many classrooms have learning centers or tables for small groups to meet with the teachers, and these resources  won’t fit in the classroom when desks are arranged in rows.
> Today’s educational emphasis is on cooperative learning, and tables suit this style.
> Grouping kids in tables often helps behavior: I give team points for good behavior and reward high-achieving teams.
> Grouping kids in tables makes supply distribution easier.  Since we do many projects with art supplies, math manipulatives, science materials, etc. it makes sense to streamline the process.

You might think that sitting at tables looks crowded and confining, but my experience is that kids like small spaces.  When my students listen to a story in the center of the classroom, they crowd together.  One day when I set my class  up at cafeteria tables for a study hall, we used about 20 linear feet of table for 28 students—the kids didn’t want another table so they could spread out.  Kids like to pile up like puppies!

Parents: seeing tables instead of rows may look strange to you, but it’s what your child expects.  Sixth grade often is an exception, where teachers sometimes arrange the room in rows to help students prepare for junior high.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ May 6, 2010


Alarm Clocks Make Classroom Life Better

Alarm ClockI try to pack as much learning as possible into every day.  Sometimes I schedule too much, and we are left scrambling to get ready for lunch and dismissal.

The easy fix?  Alarm clocks!

I keep two inexpensive digital alarm clocks* in the classroom.  One is set for five minutes before lunch.  The other is set for ten minutes prior to dismissal.

Two students are in charge of alarm clocks for the whole year.  Those students set the alarm clocks each day and turn them off after the buzz.

Our school day runs much more smoothly as a result.  We keep the classroom neater, because we’re not always running late.  We work more efficiently, because kids don’t feel the need to watch the clock.

I know, this is just one more thing for teachers to buy for their classrooms.  Consider asking a parent to donate an alarm clock.  Othwerwise, check the Dollar Store.

*Digital, because reading an old-fashioned clock often is not in a kid’s skill set these days!  I have an old-fashioned clock in my classroom and I teach this skill, but the digital alarms make life easier for the kids in charge of classroom alarms.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Mar 12, 2010


A typical elementary schoolday schedule

raisinghandsI thought this might be interesting to parents, children’s book writers, and anyone who wants a glimpse of a typical day in an elementary school.

Some people surmise that what is important to a teacher is taught early in the day, when students are fresh.  Well, the teacher doesn’t control the schedule!  Here are some of the influences on schedules:

  • Lunch time (Some are very early (10:30); others are late.  It takes a long time to feed 1000 kids)
  • “Special” class time (Music, PE, Art, etc.)
  • Pull-out classes: You might have to teach math at a certain time because this is when the math specialist can pull your students for remediation
  • Push-in classes: You might have so many English Language Learners, Special Education students, etc that a specialist teaches in your room for part of the day
  • Recess, if you are lucky enough to have it.  Recess times are staggered so the whole school is not on the playground at once

A typical schedule:

8:00 Announcements, lunch count, attendance, write the day’s homework in planners

8:10-8:30 Independent reading.  (If the library is available, send a few students at a time to check out books.)

8:30-9:00 Spelling and phonics

9:00-9:30 Specials Classes: Physical Education, Music, Library or Art

9:30-10:15  Language Arts  (Writing essays, revision, or planning our next writing project)

10:15-10:30 Recess

10:30-11:15 Math (review yesterday’s lesson, learn today’s lesson, practice with seatwork)

11:15-12:00 Reading (Use this week’s story to teach comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, study skills—you name it!)

12:00-12:35 Lunch and lunch recess (Teachers and students don’t get much time to eat or go to the bathroom!)

12:35-1:35 Reading groups (Teacher meets with small groups.  The rest of the class reads quietly, does seatwork, or works at literacy centers.)

1:35-2:00 Flexible time (Reading vocabulary, grammar and math lessons.  Some teachers might read aloud to the class or let students do teambuilding or character building activities.)

2:00-2:40 Social Studies or Science

2:40-3:00 End-of-day administration, prepare for tomorrow, pack up and clean up, dismissal

What a day!  There is never a dull moment.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Feb 19, 2010


The Emergency Party Supply

Party!My class is famous for our parties.  We love to celebrate our accomplishments!

Sometimes, we all agree an accomplishment must be celebrated right away.  The Emergency Party Supply idea began when I realized that our classroom parties attracted donations from parents in excess of what we could use in one day.  I saved the non-perishables for another day.  My students coined the phrase “Emergency Party” and an institution was born.

The Emergency Party Supply grows throughout the school year.  When we are ready to celebrate a big accomplishment, like everyone learning their math facts or the class winning the district writing contest, we are ready.  Some of our parties may last only ten minutes, but the impact of a celebration lasts a long time.

The Emergency Party Supply can also be helpful on days when everybody is hungry.  I offer snacks on standardized testing days.   I also offer snacks before a field trip — lunch time often gets delayed on those days.  Another “hungry day” is the first day back in school after a long break.  When the kids are accustomed to a different schedule, they can get very hungry before lunchtime.  The kids appreciate a snack so they can continue learning.

The Emergency Party Supply is a good source of small celebrations during the last few days of the school year.  I do not save Emergency Party Supply food from one school year to the next and I never give expired foods to my students.

Parents, ask whether donations of nonperishable snacks for the whole class are welcomed.

Special considerations: Some schools may have restrictions on bringing food items into a classroom.   There may be food allergies in the class.  Check the “sell by” or “use by” date of any food you might donate.  Check with the teacher to see if perishables can be safely stored during the day.

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Food,Tips for Parents by Corey Green @ Nov 30, 2009


Cheap “whiteboards” for no-budget classrooms

Student dry-erase whiteboards are a wonderful learning tool.  They save paper and make learning interactive.  With students using whiteboards, I can assign a problem, have students try it, then I can quickly assess who needs more help.

Some schools ask parents to buy the whiteboards as part of school supplies, but then classrooms end up with a mishmash of varying styles.  There are always kids who do not have whiteboards.  Sometimes the whiteboards don’t erase completely.  It seems like when one dry erase marker runs out of ink, the whole supply of markers dries up.

I recently found a cheap alternative when I realized how easy it is to write on page protectors with dry erase markers.  Page protectors erase perfectly!  Now, I put worksheets in page protectors.  Many students can take turn practicing skills on that worksheet, using only one sheet of paper in the process.

Why not put a plain white card stock in the page protector?  It will provide a plain white surface that kids can use just like a white board.  Even a piece of plain white paper works for this purpose.

Comment: White board markers can be expensive.  Sometimes you can find terrific bargains at the beginning of the school year.  One year I found a four-pack of markers for a dollar.   This was great because the markers often cost a dollar each.

Suggestion: Parents, whiteboard barkers are a wonderful present for teachers.  Clean unwearable white socks make great erasers — send them in for the class!

Posted in Classroom Management,Classroom setup,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Nov 2, 2009