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.

Tips

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.

Sincerely,
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?)


 

FREE Computer Program—Best Addition Practice EVER!

bookTeachers, students, parents—you can download a FREE* computer program, Best Addition Practice EVER!  to help kids study their basic addition facts.  (*Free for non-commercial use — it was designed for home and classroom use; it’s available for PC only,  Windows XP or newer.)  Click here to look at screenshots and detailed descriptions about the program.

Best Addition Practice EVER!  really is the best.  The program is simple and easy to use.  It’s customizable, letting kids teach themselves addition facts, practice, and test themselves.

Teaching Tips, a button on the screen, explains how you can show your students to use the program to teach themselves, then test their progress.

For example, beginning students can practice with adding 0 and 1 to the numbers 0-12.  Students could also choose to practice adding only 0 through 5.  Students who think they really know their addition can select all numbers and test themselves on all 169 facts.

Students can practice with facts that give them trouble.  Many students struggle with adding 9.   Students can start by adding 9 to 0, 1 and 10.  Then they can add an additional fact, while constantly reviewing what they already know.

My dad wrote a version of this program for my younger brother and sister years ago.   I have used it in my classroom for several years.  Students from my class—and others—love to use it for practice.  It works like magic!

Best Addition Practice EVER! complements my new CD, Best Multiplication Songs EVER!   It features simple lyrics and tunes you know.  The songs help kids learn their times tables quickly and permanently.

Give them a listen!

Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  is available for purchase at Abligio.com.  If your school is interested in buying multiple copies, contact Abligio Books for a special school rate.

I hope that Best Addition Practice EVER! and Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  help your students as much as they have helped mine.


 

FREE Computer Program—Best Times Tables Practice EVER!

bookYou can download a FREE* copy of a special computer program, Best Times Tables Practice EVER!   (*Free for non-commercial use — it was designed for home and classroom use; it’s available for PC only,  Windows XP or newer.)  Click here to look at screenshots and detailed descriptions about the program.

This free software complements my new CD, Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  (More about that later in this post.)

Best Times Tables Practice EVER!  really is the best.  The program is easy-to-use.  It’s customizable, so students can practice one or two times tables at a time, review all of their facts, or even teach themselves.

Teaching Tips, a button on the screen, explains how you can show your students to use the program to teach themselves, then test their progress.

For example, students can begin to learn their 6s, a difficult times table, by practicing with ONLY 6 times 0, 1, 10 and 11.  Once students know this, they can add an additional fact, while constantly reviewing what they already know.

My dad wrote a version of this program for my younger brother and sister years ago.  I have used it in my classroom for several years.  Students from my class—and others—love to use it for practice.  It works like magic!

Best Times Tables Practice EVER! complements my new CD, Best Multiplication Songs EVER!   It features simple lyrics and tunes you know.  The songs help kids learn their times tables quickly and permanently.

Give them a listen!

Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  is available for purchase at Abligio.com.  If your school is interested in buying multiple copies, contact Abligio Books for a special school rate.

I hope that Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  and Best Times Tables Practice EVER!  help your students as much as they have helped mine.


 

Best Multiplication Songs EVER!

bookRemember how you learned your ABCs?  It was easy.  You sang a simple song with simple lyrics.  If you’re like many people, you still hum the tune to yourself when alphabetizing.

My new CD, Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  lets kids learn their times tables just as easily.

I stand by my claim that they’re the Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  The songs are catchy and easy to memorize.  The lyrics are simple and the tunes are familiar.  Your class can listen to all times tables, zero through twelve, in 8 minutes.  Special music-only performance tracks let kids test themselves—or put on a show.

Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  helps students access their times tables using multiple intelligences: linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, and bodily kinesthetic (because these toe-tapping tunes get kids dancing!)  The result is that students learn more quickly, more permanently, and make more connections in their learning.

In teacher terms, the songs build a prior knowledge.  Times tables are boring, difficult, and abstract to most children.  The songs put the times tables in students’ heads—prior knowledge that makes the task of memorization easier.  You’ll notice students singing the songs to themselves as they complete multiplication practice sheets.

Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  is available for purchase at Abligio.com.  If your school is interested in buying multiple copies, contact Abligio Books for a special school rate.

This one-minute YouTube video explains Best Multiplication Songs EVER!  and samples several of the songs.  I hope you enjoy it!


 

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 Amazon.com

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 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.