What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 13

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part 13: We prepare kids for standardized tests

Standardized tests are a fact of life in today’s classrooms.  Teachers spend a great deal of time preparing students for the test—and the testing environment.

I wrote a post on How kids take standardized tests.  It gives you a picture of what happens when students face a standardized test for the first time.   In that artificial environment, things get real very quickly.  The post gives you the details on what to expect, from covering the learning posters to dealing with nervous puke.

Most states have a reading, math, and writing portion of the test.  Reading and math are multiple choice.  The writing portion involves crafting a formulaic five-paragraph essay designed to appeal to a persnickety reader. My post on Dos and Don’ts for the State Writing Test can help students, parents and teachers.

My award-winning Best Multiplication Workbook EVER! devotes plenty of space to standardized testing.  The tips are explained in the following blog posts.  The workbook has pages for students to practice each tip in isolation, then apply all the techniques to sample tests.

How to Ace Standardized Tests

How to Ace Standardized Tests: What Must Be in the Ones Place?

How to Ace Standardized Tests: Use the Given/Find Method

How to Ace Standardized Tests: Analysis of Given/Find Method

How to Ace standardized tests: Cross off the Wrong Answers

 I wrote a blog entry on the National Center for Educational Statistics.  The data on the site comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  Interestingly enough, the data from test results is very helpful in teaching test-taking skills.  Kids can practice reading graphs, charts and text to glean information.

After all the hard work to prepare, it helps to cut loose and focus on How to make State Achievement Test week AWESOMEIt involves student-generated posters, theme songs, enthusiasm and FUN!  The tips in this post help students relax and feel supported so they can use the test as a platform to show what they know.

Good luck on the test!


A Smart Girl’s Guide: Advice Books from American Girl

knowingwhattosaySavvy girls will love the Smart Girl’s Guide series from American Girl.  Everything connected to American Girl is top quality, and the Smart Girl’s Guides are no exception.  I highly recommend them for classroom use and feel they would be excellent for the school psychologists and social worker’s lending library.

Titles abound, but the first one I read was A Smart Girl’s Guide to Knowing What to Say: Finding the Words to Fit Any Situation.

The books are really fun, with lots of pictures and whitespace, but ample content.  The books are easy on the eyes and relaxing to read.

…Knowing What to Say really does cover any situation.  Here are the subsections:

Small Talk (I love “25 things to say after ‘hi'”)
Asking for What You Want
Making It Right
That Hurts
Sad Times
I’m Embarrassed
Saying the Right Thing

Illustrations show students the importance of posture, body language, and facial expressions in communication.  That way, girls can make sure their nonverbal signals are on par their newfound conversational prowess.    The book is full of quizzes, simple exercises, and demonstrations.

The American Girl books are excellent, and I encourage my boys to read the fiction series.  However, these Smart Girl’s books are way too girly for boys to read with any dignity during class.  Even reading them at home is risky–the wrong kid finds out, and the boy’s rep takes a dive.

Not to worry: as a teacher, you can read the books, then teach students these tips.  (Just don’t mention your source.)  If you’re like me, you will find the books relaxing and fun to read.  You will be positively itching to share the information with students.

There are many books in the series.  Enjoy Smart Girl’s Guides to…

Liking Herself, Even on the Bad Days
Friendship Troubles
Her Parents’ Divorce: How to Land on Your Feet When Your World Turns Upside Down (American Girl)
The Internet
Knowing What to Say
Starting Middle School
Staying Home Alone
Surviving Tricky, Sticky, Icky Situations
Understanding Her Family

The books retail for $9.95 each*.  A smart teacher will try to get the school library fund to pay for the series, or apply for a grant—from an outside source or from the PTSO.  I really think many schools would be better for owning these books.

*They run a little cheaper at bookstores: most are about $8.95 on Amazon


What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 12

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like.  The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER!  Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Twelve: We know a million ways to get kids to read

Teachers take great pleasure in turning children into lifelong readers.  We employ a million techniques and tricks to hook kids on reading.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Get the Most out of Accelerated Reader (AR)

Many schools use the Accelerated Reader program, which is basically just a huge test bank of quizzes about individual books.  As you can imagine, AR can be pretty dry if the teacher doesn’t spice it up.

New to accelerated reader?  Get started with  How AR levels are determined and How to Print AR Labels.  Check out my thoughts on the AR Report: What Kids are Reading.  I cut through the media hype and explain the real story on kids’ reading habits.  Parents will find it interesting; children’s book authors will find it invaluable.

Looking to make AR more exciting?  Try the Accelerated Reader Genre Challenge.  Also, Encourage Kids to Take AR Vocabulary Tests.  The tests give students excellent practice and encourage them to pay more attention to new vocabulary words.  The tests are plenty exciting if you give students incentives for taking them.

Need to motivate your students?  Try So You Think You Rock? An Accelerated Reader (AR) Game.  The post explains how you can turn progress monitoring into a fun motivational and teambuilding activity for the whole class.

Special Events

Teachers love to create special events that promote reading.  Sometimes, we latch onto existing events.  One good example is National Poetry Month.  In the following two posts, I share printable worksheets with excellent poems (written by my sister!) and thought-provoking questions.

During National Poetry Month, I like to use some of my favorite resources: serious poems, fun poems, and excellent workbooks that teach students how to analyze poetry.

By the way, April is School Library Month.  It’s a good time to thank the school librarian, spend extra time in the library, and do a little community service with A Quick Way to Help the School Librarian.

Another popular literacy holiday is NEA read across America Day.  This year, you might Try a Dr. Seuss-Themed Reading Buddies Session on Read Across America Day.

Special Techniques

Teachers love to help kids improve reading skills.  One of my favorite things to teach is Speed Reading.  This simple technique helps students at every level, in every grade.  I also love to Read aloud to build vocabulary.  Students can listen at a higher reading level than what they read independently, so your read alouds can introduce them to higher-level vocabulary words than students could read on their own.

It’s also fun to use technology, such as the highly effective computer program Ticket to Read.  Even TV has its place.  If you use the closed captioning, you can do a lesson on Watching TV to build reading skills.


Kindles  (and other e-readers) are a great addition to the classroom.  My series on Kids and Kindles shows their many uses and offers tips on bringing them to your classroom.

Favorite Authors and Books

We love to help kids find their new favorite author.  We also love introducing kids to a variety of authors, genres, and resources.

We even build literacy skills through song.  My “Figurative Language with Taylor Swift” lessons are wildly popular in the classroom.  Kids love to apply their knowledge of literary devices to Taylor’s catchy tunes.  Here is the complete series:

·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: You Belong with Me
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Love Story
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Hey Stephen
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Mean
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Speak Now
·         Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Our Song
·         The Hunger Games: Analyzing “Safe & Sound” by Taylor Swift


What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 11

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Eleven: We are miserable when our class has trouble with math

Teachers get very upset when their class has trouble with math.  We consult with colleagues, search for resources, and look deep within ourselves to find ways to make the math lessons stick.

Seriously, we spend A LOT of time thinking about math.  This is probably why ClassAntics has so many posts on the subject.

Summer slide, the yearly decline in skills during vacation, affects every academic subject.  Making up the deficit and math can be quite challenging.  A series of posts provide tips for teachers and parents to help kids build math skills.

Beat Summer Math Slide: Estimating

Beat Summer Math Slide: Rounding Numbers

Beat Summer Math Slide: Place value

Beat Summer Math Slide: Five tips for Multiplication

Multiplication really is an important skill, and teachers employ many, many techniques to teach it.  Every child learns differently, so a host of methods are needed to reach the class.

I developed award-winning resources for teaching multiplication.  Best Multiplication Workbook EVER! won the prestigious Learning® Magazine 2013 Teachers’ ChoiceSM Award for the Classroom.    It covers everything from memorizing facts to How to introduce two digit multiplication.

My Best Multiplication Songs EVER! has won multiple awards.  I love to encourage students to  Sing Multiplication Songs During Transitions

School districts provide textbooks and workbooks, but these are rarely sufficient to teach every mathematical concept.  Teachers have to look elsewhere.  We find fun games for our class to play during computer lab time.  Good examples are found in the posts on FREE Online Resources to Practice Rounding Numbers and Online Resources to Teach Money Math

We find printable practice sheets at sites like The Math Worksheet Generator and Dad’s Worksheets: my favorite math resource for parents and teachersFREE Four quadrant graphing characters worksheets let kids practice this often dull skill by creating fun pictures of their favorite characters.

We make math fun with games like Secure the perimeter! and More than a Math Bee—The Math Smackdown.  We buy flash cards and Learning Wrap Ups – great for basic math facts!

Every year, students struggle with place value.  My students made a breakthrough when I developed The Comma Method for Reading Large Numbers.  Sometimes I have to write my own worksheet to teach a concept.  Here is one example: Place Value & Addition: Adding 10, 100, 1000 FREE Worksheet.

We try to incorporate math into other subject areas.  Science is an obvious one, but did you know math and poetry can play nicely together?  Here is a fun lesson: April is Poetry Month: Math Poem and Worksheet.


What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 10

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Ten: We spend time and money on professional development

Teachers keep their skills current by spending time on professional development.  We take courses, attend workshops, read books, and work toward special certifications.

Lately, professional learning communities have become popular.   My grade level team formed our own professional learning community before it became a directive from the district.  We developed best practices that really helped us meet the students’ needs.  In my series of posts, I share our tips with you.

Extremely dedicated teachers pursue National Board Certification, undergoing a rigorous process of evaluation and professional development.  My posts on National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) explain why the certificate is valuable and why having a NBCT in the classroom benefits your child.

Teachers like to read up on pedagogy and child development.  One of our all-time favorite books is Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14.  The book is always helpful for its descriptions of children’s learning styles and thought processes at different ages.  It becomes invaluable when a teacher is switching grade levels.

Teachers like to learn more about the world around them.  They might take college classes or seminars in the content area they teach.  Or they might learn for fun with The Great Courses, videotaped lectures on a variety of subjects.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true: teachers are lifelong learners!