All teachers know that back to school is one of the most hectic, exciting times of the year. We're buying new supplies, decorating our rooms, and planning for the best school year yet. Buying all of those new things for our classrooms can get expensive, which is why I've put together this list of my five favorite back to school freebies!
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. Back to School Name Tent {from The Science Duo}: Instead of making name tags for desks, I started using this name tent a couple years ago. It works well because students have something to work on when they come into the classroom for the first time. I encourage my students to write whatever they want me to call them (in case they go by a nickname or middle name), plus fill out the ice breakers so we can use them to learn about each other. Each year, my students especially love the two truths and a lie part. 
 
2. Community Building Question of the Day: Back to School Edition {from yours truly, Cait's Cool School}: If you follow me on Instagram @caitscoolschool, you know I love using whiteboard questions daily. This free back to school set is perfect for the first week of school. Start off the year building a classroom community and getting to know your students (in addition to sharing a little bit about yourself!). I love putting a question on the board even the very first day to get my students excited and in the habit of answering our daily question.


3. All About My Selfie {from Student Savvy}: This was a fun writing & creative assignment for my students the first week of school. I used it for my ELA sections to have students write a little for me about themselves, and they could also show me their creativity by creating their own "apps" to tell about themselves.

4. Classroom Posters {from Light Bulbs & Laughter}: Buying decor packs can get expensive, which is why I'm in love with these new posters! I love the colors and how bright they are. Perfect easy decorations- they're offered in color & black/white- I just am a *little* obsessed with my Astrobrights Color Paper


5. Back to School Project Based Learning {from Performing in Education}: If you know anything about April from Performing in Education, you know she is the queen of PBLs. I LOVE using this PBL during the first week of school. It's designed as a math activity, but I think it can be used in any classroom. While I allow my students to think of different furniture than what we already have in our classroom, I try to get them to think about what's already there. It's fun to see what their ideas for a classroom design are. Sometimes I even use their suggestions and do a little rearranging. 😃



What are your favorite free back to school activities? Share in the comments! 




Ever since I was a kid, I loved mysteries. I devoured as many as I could get my hands on- Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Babysitters' Club mysteries, and more. I still love reading mysteries as an adult. 

This past school year, I decided I finally needed to do what I'd been dreaming of- the ultimate mystery unit, brought to life in my classroom. Each of my fourth grade ELA sections is hetereogenous, with students of varying levels. My goal was to be able to differentiate with novels, but be able to assess my students on the same skills. The great thing about mysteries is that they cover so many standards- plot structure, character traits, inferences, etc.

So what did we actually do? First, I needed to set the stage to engage! I wanted to see what my students knew about mysteries and let them start to take on the role of being detectives. Time for a Detective Book Mission!
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.
The goals of this mission: read two picture book mysteries- one to model identifying parts of a mystery and one to have students work in groups to identify parts of a mystery, all while getting students excited to read our next novel.

First I asked my kiddos what they knew about mysteries. I got a variety of answers- everything from "Nothing!" to "Detectives and clues are important!" Then, as a whole group, we read Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation by Mark Teague (I chose this partially because I'm obsessed with Ike LaRue and Teague's pictures are AMAZING). 

While reading, we discussed different mystery terms as we came across examples like detective, clues, suspect, and red herring. The book became our model for mysteries.

After we finished reading, I showed my students a mysterious package that had been delivered to our room. We had a book mission envelope and an envelope written to fourth grade detectives. I, of course, had no idea where these came from. 😉 The best thing about the book mission is that my students had to take over. They were given an introductory letter, magnifying glasses (which I picked up from Amazon), copies of  Grandpa's Teeth (one for each of my 6 teams), directions, and Official Detective Notebook Paper (see pics). 


The envelope is from Really Good Stuff, & the papers were inside.
Each team received a copy of the book & everyone had magnifying glasses.
For the next 45 minutes, my students were completely, 100% engaged in reading and finding the clues to solve who stole Grandpa's teeth. (The ending of the book is hilarious, by the way.) After we were finished, my kiddos were not only hooked on being detectives, but they also showed me through their exit tickets and Detective Notebook Paper that they were starting to really understand mysteries. Plus, they liked the term "red herring" as much as I do! 

Red herring is what will lead me to our next activity...and how I introduced a little bit of my childhood to my students! To read all about it...check back for the next part of my mystery blog post.


Want to try this mission with your students, with the full lesson plan, Detective Notebook Paper, exit tickets, & more included? Check it out in my TpT store here.  

What do you do to start off a mystery genre unit? Share in the comments below!





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