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?

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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?

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