Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year! There are only 7 weeks until Christmas... which means it's time to start planning for some of my favorite lessons. 
Here are seven of my favorite Christmas-themed activities with a couple freebies so you can try them in your classroom! 

1. Wreath Glyph: Use a plate, crayons or markers, and construction paper. Depending on how crafty you feel, this can be as simple, or as fancy as you like. If I have time, I like to get red puff balls for cranberries, mini candy canes, and possibly ribbons for the bows, or mini pinecones. These double as fun decorations for the hall or classroom! Students can use the plate as a base and then add a fringe to the construction paper so it has a pine needle look for the wreath. {Link at end of post for directions & printables!}
Tracing the plate is an easy model. 

Some of my pre-colored cut outs for my wreath!

The finished wreaths are a fun decoration for the classroom or to send home. It's a different way for everyone to share about some of their holiday traditions.
2. How To Challenge: Have you ever thought about how many steps it takes to wrap a present? It seems easy, but is it easy to explain? First, I ask my students to work in partners or teams and they create a list of materials and write down directions. Then we swap directions and I lay out potential supplies- wrapping paper (Dollar Tree!), scissors, tape, and tissue boxes to wrap. Students are ONLY allowed to do the directions EXACTLY as they are written. It's hilarious to see how the boxes turn out with the student written directions. PLUS they see how difficult it is to write directions. Afterwards, each student, or partner of students, choose something to write a how-to set of directions that fits our Christmas theme- making hot chocolate, building a snowman, decorating a Christmas tree, or decorating Christmas cookies. This is a good project to do if you can't necessarily do Christmas-themed activities because students can choose anything and the engagement activity works across many cultures. {Link at end of post for directions & printables!}

3. Christmas Lists using Inferences: Start with a Christmas list that has no name (see the list below). If you can't use the word "Christmas," create just "wish lists." Have students guess who would write the wish list and then explain WHY it would be that person's list. For example, in the list below, a red suit with gold buttons would be something Santa would want because he wears a red suit. Also, he likes milk and cookies. Next, challenge students to create lists on their own! I like to handout pre-selected characters, like Mrs. Claus and Rudolph. Students will create lists in partners or small groups. Then, each group will share their list and the rest of the class will try to guess who would have written the list. The goal is to give lots of clues, but not tell who wrote the list. {Link at end of post for directions & printables!}
4. Concrete Poetry: This activity is SO fun! Concrete (or shape) poetry is one of my favorite forms of poetry. This is a fun and easy activity to work on and insert a little poetry into your December plans. Students are able to pick something they enjoy about Christmas and use their ideas to put together a poetry picture. Click here for the freebie in my TpT store.  

I modeled for our Christmas poems with my Thanksgiving turkey :)

Find more QOTD here:
5. Christmas-Themed QOTD: Are you already using morning journals or whiteboard questions? If you follow me on IG, you know I love my QOTD! These Christmas-themed questions of the day infuse just a little bit of Christmas into your daily routine, without taking away from your regular lessons. **Grab these for free right here!**

6. Countdown Chain: Have students each write their favorite holiday memory on a strip of construction paper. I usually use red, green, blue, & white. Put together a chain with each strip. On each day before break, have a student pull their link off the chain and share it with the class. This is a fun, easy decoration and students look forward to their turn to share!

7. Elves on Strike Narrative Writing: What would happen to Christmas if the elves go on strike? Students use their problem solving skills and engage in discussions about strikes and what that means in this fun writing unit. My students have come up with everything from penguins taking over to Santa creating a better work environment (complete with hot chocolate maker, constant cookie breaks, and candy canes). Check it out here.

Full unit plan, organizers, and everything really help my students to write amazing stories! I can't wait to start this project this year :)
Here's the link for printables for the wreath, how-to, and the inference activity!  Let me know if your students enjoy them!

What are some of your favorite Christmas activities?

Hopefully you caught my previous post about the fun tools I use for teaching about narrative structures in it's time to turn my readers into writers! 

One thing you need to know about me...I'm not a Halloween person. Like at all. We could skip Halloween for all I care. But what I DO love are scary stories. The kind that make you crawl out of your skin just a little bit. You know who else loves scary stories? My students. This is the perfect time to capitalize on their ideas and go from readers of narratives to writers of narratives. 

How can you plan a narrative writing unit though? Here's a guide I use when planning a narrative unit.

First, you need a hook. I like to read an excerpt from Invasion of the Night Weenies called "A Little Night Fishing." This gem was passed down to me from my mentor during my first year of teaching and I have used it ever since. One thing I especially like about it is that it's not what kids think of as scary. There aren't any zombies, witches, or Frankensteins. It's a surprise ending that just freaks you out a little. 

After reading, we talk about what made the story creepy and other things we associate with scary stories (including the zombies, witches, or Frankensteins). 

Then we get into our graphic organizer, which is modeled like a plot diagram- the same one we've been using for our narrative reading. Students are more easily able to follow a structure that we've already been using- no need to reinvent the wheel.

This is a good time to figure out what writing mini-lessons to use. Is dialogue necessary? Should you just stick to breaking up into paragraphs? Different classes have different needs. 

Rough drafts are completed in between mini-lessons. I have students use looseleaf and skip lines to make editing easy. After our rough drafts, students are matched with a peer editor and then I start meeting with them individually. While it can be tricky, it's important not write students' stories for them. I like to ask them questions and see if they can problem solve. "How did that character get there?" "Why are they running down a hallway?" "How was the witch magically defeated?"

When we're ready for final drafts, my students usually hand write them for the first couple months, and then when we're ready, we switch to typing.

The next part is THE BEST- celebrating! Anyone who wants to share their story is allowed to. Sometimes we share with a partner, table groups, or whole group. Not every student is comfortable to share in front of the whole crowd, but many will share in partners or a smaller group.

Ready to plan your own writing unit? Click on the image below to save to your computer. 

Want to try something already planned out? Check out my narrative writing units. Each one comes with a full unit plan, graphic organizers, final draft papers an extra activities!

Ah, fall. Smell the fresh pumpkin spice lattes, break out the jeans, sweaters, scarves, and boots, and breathe in the cool air. 

While I'm a summer girl at heart, fall as a special place in my heart because I love being back to school and meeting my kiddos for the first time. 

When school starts up, it's time to review some of the basics of reading- story elements & summarizing. These skills ultimately lend themselves to some fun summary projects and an awesome creative writing unit of scary stories...finished in time for Halloween!

Planning an extended unit like this requires some back mapping. Back mapping is what I think is *the most* important part of any planning. Where do I want these kids to be by the end of this unit? 

I want my students to be able to create their own narrative story, using story elements like setting, characters, conflict, and resolution. They will be able to do this because we'll have built used multiple texts to identify story elements, and we'll even be creating summaries that show these elements. 

Will all of my students be able to do this? I hope so, but likely at varying levels. As I get to know my students, I will adjust my expectations for my different reading groups to challenge all of the students, but not allow my high students to slack off, nor will I let my low students slide by. 

What tools will I employ?

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
1. Mentor text: The Night I Followed the Dog
This adorable picture book will serve a few purposes- it engages the students, it will be our model story for identifying story elements and writing a summary, and it will launch a short narrative writing piece that jump starts my students' creative minds. Want a plot diagramming & short grammar lesson to go with the book? Click for a blog-only The Night I Followed the Dog freebie.

Love this book!
2. Independent reading: Storyworks Magazine fiction (which for the September 2016 issue is The Day It Rained Cats)
I love Storyworks! It has a little bit of everything and I really try to use as much of it as possible with each edition. The fiction story will work nicely with this unit (and this is usually the case each year). You could also pull in a basal reader short story, or another text. This reading is done more independently and students will need to identify story elements and develop their own summary of this story.

3. Novel: The Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, No. 1) (Boxcar Children Mysteries)
I love starting off the year using a novel as soon as possible. The Boxcar Children is great because my whole class can enjoy it, no matter what their level of reading is. It is also part of a series, which is a great way to get kids interested in different books. The story in this first book is perfect enough for summaries at any level. The difficulty lays in the length of the text (determining important pieces of the action), and what the expected end result is. It's challenging for students to pick out the important parts of a story and then create a quality summary to use with it. 

For each story, we're going to map out the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. This is going to help us with our narrative writing because we'll be using the same structure to map out my FAVORITE October writing project- Scary Stories! More about those in my next post where I explain how our reading unit will lead into the MOST FUN WRITING PROJECT EVER. GET EXCITED. :)

What are your favorite texts for mapping out story elements?

When we decided to be teachers, we knew we would be working long hours, taking work home, and having to juggle family, friends, and other outside interests (ranging from sports watching to reading to gardening to running to Netflix binging) with the little time left over. It's hard not to let work take over because we have the job where we care, deeply, about our students. And we're expected to do work outside of normal working hours.

How can you make sure work doesn't take over your life? Here are my top tips for making your life easier and destressing your teacher life.

1. Don't worry about keeping up with the Jones's. We've all seen those amazing social media accounts full of ideas for us on Instagram and Pinterest. Don't we all want a picture perfect classroom? Yes! But how long does it take to do all of that? Choose a couple things in your classroom that you want to fix up and you can slowly make your classroom look as beautiful as you want, without spending hours and hours on your set up. It doesn't have to be all at once.

Your classroom is for your students. Your most important goal is to keep it happy, safe, and homey to welcome your students. They will love you and your room when you make them feel comfortable and greet them with a smile.
2. Plan out your meals. This is something you need to do at home, on the weekend. Trust me, it will save you TONS of time in the long run. I'm one of those teachers that eats breakfast and lunch at school every day. I prep my school meals on Sunday for the week, bagging up my daily snacks (goldfish, grapes, apples, etc.) ahead of time, and making any sandwiches or salads. 

I also plan out my weekly dinners. When I come home from work, my brain is fried. It's hard to come up with anything to eat, or even have time to figure out what ingredients I have. I start making bad decisions, and next thing you know I've ordered a double bacon cheeseburger  to be delivered OR made a box of macaroni & cheese OR ordered a pizza with extra pepperoni. And all those things are delicious and wonderful...but best in small doses. Planning out meals ahead of time saves me the agony of deciding what to make, the extra time of being hangry, and allows me to get to work fixing dinner right away.
3. Pick your stay late day. Choose one day of the week to be your day to stay a little later at work to clean up, grade an extra set of papers, prep for the next week ahead, update your class website, etc. If you pick one day a week in advance, then stay an extra hour or two after your students leave. Shut your door and GET. STUFF. DONE.

For me, this day is Friday. I send my dog to day care (this frees me from running home to take him for a walk and to the dog park for an hour- city life). Sometimes, I even get my husband to pick him up. If I had kids, this would be the day it was my hub's turn to pick them up and do the after school routine with them. Friday works for me because very few teachers stay so there's no one to run into my room to tell me another story about that kid (you know who I'm talking about!). 

Need some help managing your time while you're at school? Check out this post about time management.

What's your best tip to destress your teacher life?

Welcome to our Back to School blog hop & giveaway! Read this post and then see the bottom for the next post in the hop and the giveaway :)

I openly admit I am easily distracted. And a procrastinator.

It's taken me years to figure out how to manage myself, especially with the many distractions all around us when teaching. There are so many things we need to stay on top of all the time. Planning, copies, data, meetings, grading, can we do it all?

First, know your style. I'm not a planner type of person (you can read more about that here), so I've had to find other ways to keep myself organized.

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
Here are my top five tips to stay organized & productive:

1. Use the alarms in your phone. You know what I love about smartphones? How smart they are. The alarms are one of my favorite ways to give myself regular reminders. Obviously, I have my weekly alarms to wake me up for the gym and work. But I add some in for my classroom- weekly faculty meetings, changing my "Helping Hands," and joining in on some IG fun with #feetupfriday (started by my friend Amy @theuniqueclassroom). When I know there's something that I'm going to have to do every week on a certain day- like when I have that student and I need to email his parents once a week with an update. Or if I start sending out weekly "happy notes" to my students- I add it to the alarms so I remember to hand them out. If it's something farther in the future, I add it to my calendar and set two alarms- one the day of the event, and one at least a day before.

Yes, I also use it to remind me to clean out my cat litter every Monday. #noshame

2. Ask a student to remind you about something. Students love to tell you what to do. They love to be asked to be responsible. They can remind you about handing out papers, or that it's time to go for class pictures, to vote on your whole class reward, or to send an absent student's work to their siblings classroom at the end of the day. Once you get to know your students, you know which ones to ask to remind you about random things. 

I love that it tells me to go back to work!
3. Use an app to track your productivity. We never have "free" time, we're always planning for the next step or taking care of a million other things. To stay on task during your before/after school time or during planning, use one of the many apps available. A popular one is 30/30. It allows you to create a list and then track your time. The list is color-coded and you can easily follow your progress as you go from one task to another. 

The app that I really like to use is the Forest app. It allows me to set the time and also reminds me not to check my phone! Every time I manage to stay focused, a tree is planted in my "forest." Eventually I build enough trees to plant an actual tree. 

This last one is probably the most important one, because it sets to tone for the next day.

4. Before you leave, write yourself a to do list. There are a million things we need to do daily- meetings, paperwork, emails, copying, planning, and re-planning. As an easily distracted person, I feel pulled in every direction. Sometimes in the middle of doing one thing, I find another thing that I want to do. I end up with lists and Post-its everywhere! But each day before I leave, I write a Post-it list that reminds me about what I need to. I stick this list in the middle of my desk and I know to look for it as soon as I arrive in the morning. Because, let's face it, I'm not a morning person, so without a list, I'm quite lost.
These tags loop around purse or teacher bag handles easily.

5. Know yourself. You have to learn your style of work and organization. Use lists, alarms, students, and any other way of reminding yourself if it works FOR YOU. One of my co-workers puts Post It Reminder Tags on her purse. Another uses her email to set reminders for meetings so the notifications pop up daily. My grade partner types her list into her lesson plans ahead of time. It took me a little while (and reading lots of people's ideas!) to develop my own systems for organizing myself. 

What's your favorite way to organize and keep track of your teacher tasks?

Thank you so much for visiting my blog during our blog hop! Check out the next blog by clicking the image below. Then when you return to me, be sure to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for a $50 TpT gift card!

Teachers spend an average of $500 on their classrooms every yearThat's crazy. And I'm totally one of those people who has done this, but I decided I really needed to cut back where possible so I could budget wisely. Where could I stop spending money?

One place was rewards. My first year of teaching I gave out team points and the winning team from each homeroom would get a prize. We have two of each grade and are departmentalized, so I had teams in each class. That was easily $10+ a week, about $40 a month, $400 a year.

Year 2, I started with monthly prizes but some of my prizes got an upgrade since they were once a month. Which meant $15ish a month, which was still $150 a year.

I also tried giving out tickets one year, and pulling names for prizes, but that seemed silly still. $1 prizes were harder to find and even I thought some of them weren't worth it. Yes, I know kids don't mind little things (and let's face it, some of those things are junk), but I needed them to know that I truly appreciated their good deeds and that their behavior was something they should model ALL the time, not just when I dangled a carrot in front of their nose.

This year, I decided my students were going to behave because,well, I wanted them to. Weird, huh? They needed to learn how to internalize their rewards and take responsibility for their behavior. 

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.
After some aggressive Pinterest research, I noticed a lot of people posting about morning meetings. With my current schedule at school, I would be unable to have daily meetings, so I developed the idea of weekly community meetings.

Each Monday (or Tuesday if we're off), my homeroom has a 20 minute meeting where we talk about what happened over the week, what our week looks like in school (any special events coming up either in the classroom or school-wide), our goals for the week, and bucket fillers we've seen over the past week. (The short description of a "bucket filler" is someone who show kindness to others.)

Community meetings could also have been held at other times during the week as needed. One time, because of issues on the playground, we had an "emergency" community meeting on a Wednesday with the whole fourth grade to discuss what had been happening and how we could fix it.

As a class, we celebrate each other's successes. This open forum is a place that my students talked about what went well for them and what we needed to work on as a class. For example, there was a period of time when exclusion was a problem in group work and at recess. When one student brought it up, we problem-solved right then. What could we do to make this better? How can we fix it? Is it okay if you don't want to be friends with everyone? (Um, yes, it most certainly is. But you still must be kind!)

By the next meeting, we would rate ourselves and see if there was an overall change. Just by having students monitor their own behavior, they were problem-solving and learning life skills. Because, let's be honest, no one gives me (or you!) an award for following the rules every day. 

We had our first community meeting on the first day of school. First, we talked about what a community is, and how we were like a community. Then I read them the awesome book Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners and we talked about how to model our community on that philosophy. We establish a mission statement- I used this one from Kelly of An Apple for the Teacher and it worked very well. We discussed each part and determined that our mission statement reflected our goals for the year. The mission statement was something I hung up and we could refer to throughout the year.
No, of course not! It just means every little thing doesn't get rewarded. When they've had an awesome day, or an awesome week, or another teacher tells me how great they're being, I love to give them rewards. By making those rewards rare and unexpected, they were appreciated so much more. Plus, I didn't mind splurging on ice cream sandwiches once in awhile when I didn't need to buy so many other rewards regularly.

Keep the idea of a community flowing all week long in everything you do. Remind students to help out their community- by being a good partner, by cleaning up after themselves, by helping out a classmate or a teacher that needs something extra done. I like to use whiteboard questions of the day to keep us learning about each other and constantly motivating each other. 

Find these in my store:
Make the community meeting work for you! Some teachers like daily morning meetings; I prefer the weekly meetings. Need more ideas? Check out my Pinterest board for community meetings- I'm constantly gathering new ideas! Work the idea of a community into your classroom this year and by the end, you will feel like a family- at least that's how it felt to me :)

How have you used rewards in the past? What systems work for you? Think you can try the community meetings?

You know what's amazing about social media? I have learned some amazing new things from people I wouldn't even know existed. Can't even describe how many things I've learned and how many amazing people I've connected with. 

Some teachers have been doing some amazing things- even during their summer break. And they seem to be soooo on top of it. All year round. But you know, I have some confessions to make.

This post may contain some affiliate links, which means if you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I'll receive a small commission. You will never incur a fee or charge for this.

1. I don't read ANY professional development books. You know what, they're just not my jam. I hated reading them in grad school and I don't like it any better now. Many teachers have touted the wonders of books like Teach Like a Pirate and Ron Clark's Move Your Bus, which sound like they could be great books. But I just KNOW I'd be distracted in minutes because that's just not my type of book. 

INSTEAD, I've been doing some reading FOR FUN. I've read so many things: 

like Cinder, the first in the Lunar Chronicles (dystopian YA lit based on fairy tales)
and this HYSTERICAL Jane Austin in the modern world (I literally lol'd) Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice

and, (because I loved all of Gillian Flynn's books-Sharp Objects was the best!) right now I'm in the middle of this psychological thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood and I can't wait to get back to it after I finish up this post ;)

Okay, I could talk about books for days, weeks, YEARS...but...

For professional development- I take courses because I like to be interactive. And I use Pinterest. Obviously.

2. I don't buy a fancy new planner for the school year. Because I've tried that before. And I'm just too type B to keep up with a regular lesson book, or planner of any kind. They're pretty and adorable and I fill in the first week, and then they just sit on my desk and take up space. Or sometimes, they go into my teacher bag and just hang out there. Until June.

If you're into that, there are a million GORGEOUS planners on Teachers Pay Teachers (I didn't make any...because, well, obviously, I'd be terrible at making those). Also, you amaze me. I wish I had that kind of discipline. What I do to plan is occasionally use a template in Google Sheets that I love (very simple), or just write myself some notes on long 4" x 6" Post-it® Notes.

3. I don't have a cute classroom theme. I have posters, bulletin boards, and decorations, but I don't have one connecting theme, besides, well- this is 4th grade. Hope you love it! And check out some fun things that Mrs. Veise likes- like my Harry Potter quote on my desk (please ignore our ugly floor).

I'm not a theme person in any way. When I got married, my girlfriends asked me, "Cait, what do you want your theme to be for shower & bachelorette?" Um, theme is "Cait is getting married." Obviously. And in my classroom, I put up things to show my love of literature and words and writing. Motivational quotes, book recommendations, Dr. Seuss ABCs, and my question of the day board are all around. 

4. I'm okay with not being perfect, or doing any of the things mentioned above. I'm not disparaging anyone who does those things. That's great. Sometimes I wish I could do those things. But I've learned that I need to be true to myself as a teacher.

Whew. I think I'm done confessing for now. What are some of your #teacherconfessions? Share in the comments, or on IG and tag me! @caitscoolschool. I'd love to hear what you have to say :)


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