5 Ways to Welcome New Teachers

New teachers joining your team or staff this year? So do we! This year, we have four new teachers joining our staff. Remember your first days as a teacher? Or as the new teacher to the building? I do. I wouldn't necessarily say it's awkward...that's not quite the right word. But it is....different.

Starting out on the right foot is so important...it really sets the tone for your whole year! There's not much worse than starting out overwhelmed and stressed! Especially for new teachers! As the *ahem* veteran teachers, we can help out with that! Here's a list of ways we can help new teachers get off to a great start!

Put together a survival kit! Fill a basket (small or large) with items that teachers need in the classroom. You know...the types of things you use all.the.time in the classroom, and maybe a few items that you keep on hand for emergencies. Do you have something special you like to use or have in your classroom? Consider adding it. Here's a list of items you might include:
Source: Quick Chick Designs

  • Sticky Notes
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Hand Lotion
  • Note Cards
  • Tylenol
  • BandAids
  • Lint Roller
  • Tide To Go Pen
  • Super Glue
  • Binder Clips
I started a Welcome Teachers! Pinterest Board and have been collecting lots of ideas for teacher survival kits, and general teacher gifts. Make sure to pop over there and check out the cutie patootie ideas!
Flash 'em! Give your new staff member a flash drive on which  you've saved all of your 'go to' Back to School resources. (Of course, make sure to follow copyright guidelines!) I would have loved getting a flash drive of materials when I first started teaching!

How about lunch? Invite your new staff member to join you (or a group) for lunch or dinner. Getting away from the building is a nice break from the start of the year stress. Plus, it's the casual non-school related atmosphere is a great backdrop for relaxed conversation. What a great way to make someone feel welcome!

Every now & then stop by with your new team member's favorite drink. Or leave it on the desk before he/she arrives! Such a nice treat to get in the morning!

Check in often! Ask if you can do anything to help (and mean it). Don't just limit efforts to make your new team member feel welcome to the first couple weeks of school...make sure to check in every now and then. Is there anything he needs help locating? Any supplies or materials you can help with? Does she just need a sounding board to bounce ideas off of? Help with just those small things can make a world of difference! And remember to smile!!

RIP Memory Toolbox - Strategies for Learning

That's not Rest In Peace, Memory Toolbox...Ha! What were you thinking?! The same thing I was when I first read about the RIP Memory Toolbox on Reading Rockets: Great name! Right? Well - if RIP doesn't stand for Rest In Peace, what does it stand for?

Repetition, Imagery, Patterns

Those are fundamental strategies for getting things into long-term memory. That's where we want math facts, basic spelling patterns, and lots of other information to land. Wow! If we know the keys to getting that kind of stuff to land solidly in students' long-term memory, how happy we would be, right? I mean just imagine what we could do with THAT knowledge!

I'm not sure I would go as far as Pediatrician, Mel Levine would hope: 
"I thought that before a test, kids ought to be asked to hand in a memory plan. The same way a pilot would hand in a flight plan. In other words, how are you going to go about getting stuff into and out of your memory? (Levine and Meltzer, 1998).
I mean....they're elementary students. I'm not gonna get a memory plan from them. Yet. What I CAN do, though is create a memory plan for my lesson activities.


Great! We can just have students repeat over and over! Not so fast. That is pretty boring. Just think...
"9 times 2 is eighteen...9 times 2 is eighteen...9 times 2 is eighteen.."
Bleh. So boring. You know what happens? Even if you continue repeating and repeating, the brain goes into sleep mode. Nothing is gonna stick if the brain is in sleep mode. So how can we make repetition work?

Add Some Movement, Songs, and Other Silliness

I bet you remember some songs YOU used to learn some concepts. That's how well this works! We use songs ALL.THE.TIME in our classroom! (Remember Schoolhouse Rock?) Sometimes I create a song in the moment, but there are SO many songs available on YouTube, Flocabulary, and on GoNoodle. My good friend Mr. Elementary Mathman has a great article with more information about teaching with songs.

Add movement to chants or songs. It can be as easy as just adding hand motions. We use Phonics Dance in our room. The movement and chants really help get that info into long term memory. I have actually noticed children whispering or mouthing the chants when they are working independently.

And 'other silliness'? How about adding a little art to repetition? One of the opportunities I give my students during the week is to create a little modern art with their spelling words. They love using the markers, and the art does come out looking pretty cool. 


Visual images are so important to the memory process. According to Stanford University's Robert E. Horn , When words and visual elements are entwined...the potential for increasing 'human bandwidth'. That's why we use anchor charts. A picture can cue a strategy or represent a concept. When I display visuals for word skills, I go a little further and have an animal or character with which they can attach the memory. That gives the visual just a bit more strength....there's the image of the anchor chart, but also the visual of the animal/character.

 Phonics Chart - Imagery

Graphic organizers are another good way to take advantage of that imagery part of the memory toolbox. Venn diagrams, Beginning Middle End Organizers, Frayer Models, Concept Wheels and Webs all create wonderful visual imagery. They also have an added benefit because brains LOVE patterns and categorizing!

Did you know that imagery can also be a motor image? An example that's given is to think about when you're trying to remember a phone number...you might move your fingers as if dialing the number. That's motor imagery. We use motor imagery in the classroom when students:

  • 'Tap out a word' - using two fingers on one hand, and tapping on the other forearm. Children tap once for each sound in a word. 
  • 'Clap out' syllables - children clap with each syllable of a word.
  • 'Chin tap' syllables - placing fingers just under the chin, students say a word. Their chins tap their fingers on each syllable.
  • 'Air writing' - Spelling words or writing out math fact equations in the air while imagining seeing the letters or numbers. Not only is this a motor image, but the imagining also makes it a visual image. (And...BONUS! If they say it aloud while air writing, they are also creating an audible image!)


We already know that the brain loves, loves, loves, patterns. That is the the brain's favorite way of learning. It actively looks for patterns and categorizes. Any time you can have children notice patterns in words, or patterns in math, you are helping them move that information over to long term memory. 
 Sorting Word Patterns

Sorting is an excellent example of  offering the opportunity for children's brains to see patterns.  We do this weekly in my classroom. We do a word sort for each word skill or letter team pattern we are working on. 
Have you noticed that a lot of these strategies overlap? Both Repetition and Imagery help to create patterns. 

Knowing how the brain learns is so powerful. Once you have that information, as a teacher you can develop a 'memory plan' for your students. I've built a memory plan into our weekly phonics/word skill activities. You can click the pic or click HERE to take a closer look. Every one of the  print & go activities in the pack, gives students an opportunity to use their RIP memory toolbox:

  • Repetition - Word Scribble Art activity, 'Cinnamon Roll' activity, Swirl-a-Word bracelets 
  • Imagery - Anchor charts and posters with a character attached
  • Patterns - Word Sorts, Search & Sort activity, Read the Room, Color by Code activity, and Build-a-Word activity

Do you have a memory plan for your students?How do you plan opportunities for your students to use the repetition, imagery, and pattern strategies to get concepts into their long term memory? Please share your ideas! 

5 Steps to Strong Constructed Response

5 steps to Strong Constructed Responses
Back when I first began teaching (and probably back when YOU were in school), most reading tests were multiple choice with an extended response question thrown in here and there. These days, more often than not, students are required to respond to text on tests. That's a whole different ballgame. A horse of a different color, as they say. Now, I most of the work I do with my students is geared to get them to be able to produce strong responses to reading. 

An effective framework provides students the foundation to be able to do that. There are a few really great frameworks out there: R.A.C.E., RAP, TTQA. and the Yes, Ma'am written response strategy, which my district uses. All of these strategies have the virtually the same components. First, restate the questions, locate and cite text evidence, and write a concluding statement. That seems easy. Uhhhh..not so much. It's not so easy for elementary students, it turns out.

I've found that with some effective scaffolding, children can create powerful constructed responses to text. Of course, it takes some practice, and it doesn't happen overnight....but they get there! 

4 Steps to Powerful Constructed Response

Step 1 - Teach children how to turn the question around

Restating the question in the answer really does guide the rest of the response. Like a topic sentence, it guides the writer through the rest of the his/her content. I truly believe this is the foremost step in getting children to the final product, therefore I spend a lot of time on it. 
Cut & Assemble Turn the Question AroundGive kids lots of practice doing this orally. When asked a question like What is your favorite food? Most kids just want to say, "Pizza" or "Macaroni and cheese". It takes a lot of training and practice to get them to "My favorite food is macaroni and cheese". There are a couple ways to work this into your day and give them practice opportunities.
  • Turn & talk during morning meeting or during a mini-lesson, or as a 5-minute time filler, use these simple questions to elicit proper responses.
  •  Make it a game. Divide the class into teams, and then ask individuals to respond to one of the sentences. For each correctly formulated response, the team gets a point.
  • Cut and Assemble - Give partners blank paper and questions written on sentence strips. Have them cut the question apart and build the answer using the words from the question. 

Step 2 - Discuss the Question Pre-Reading

Set the purpose for reading by looking at the question first. This activates their thinking about the topic of the question and helps keep relevant parts of the text fresh in students' minds. This will take lots of modeling and practice. Before you ask students to practice writing constructed responses, give them lots and lots of modeling. An easy way to do this frequently is to model with your read alouds.

Step 3 - Color Code

Color Code a Constructed Response
Students color code a written response.

I am a firm believer in color coding and its benefit on learning. For one thing, color coding responses to text helps children to SEE the parts that make up an effective response: The restated question, the two pieces of text evidence, and the concluding sentence.
A very good friend of mine is fond of the phrase "crayons with a purpose"...and she's right! Color affects learning. Research has shown that color affects learning by the way the brain functions and uses color to develop pattern recognition, memory, and absorbing information.
Have you noticed that many highlighting or coding tasks ask children to use red or blue? Turns out there's a good reason behind that! Studies tell us that red supports detail-oriented tasks. Blue is best used for learning tasks that are challenging.

As you are guiding your students to build effective constructed response, give them plenty of opportunities to color code their response. Start with whole group shared responses, and move to small group practice opportunities before you ask children to do this on their own.

Step 4 -  Label the Parts

It may seem like a super simple exercise, but labeling has a specific function. Labeling defines the product and its parts. Labeling improves recognition of the product. This works much like color coding: children can see the parts that make up a strong constructed response. With enough practice, they will begin to visualize the parts, which makes it much more likely that students will retain and be able to apply the knowledge later.

Step 5 - Provide Sentence Stems

Sentence starters give children the frame that they need to successfully write complete sentences using the correct vocabulary. They give children a little oomph to get started and lets them write at a level that's a little higher level than what they would on their own. Plus - with enough practice with the sentence stems, the key vocabulary and the structure of not only the sentences, but the entire format of the constructed response itself becomes more automatic for students. 

Sentence Stem Spinner
I created resources for my students that have the sentence stems right on it, but once we get to the point where most students are ready to move away from that, we create an anchor chart to which they can refer. Their FAVORITE way to grab sentence stems, though, is with this spinner. Each passage in
my Constructed Response packs have four levels of support. The page for one of those levels has a spinner right on the page that students can use. (They loooooove the spinner!). You can grab this FREE by clicking below. This is great to use under your document camera displayed on the board or screen!

The common thread through all of these steps is MODEL, MODEL, MODEL, and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I created a constructed response activity pack with four different levels of supports for my students that is designed to guide them from complete support to independence. One bundle has aaaalll kinds of animal text passages and the other is filled with Social Studies text selections. These have proven to be super effective for my students!

Grab the Cut & Create a Response and the Sentence Stem Spinner support activities for your classroom! Just enter your email below and I will send them to your inbox!

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    ShArK Week = FrEEbies

    It's here! One of my favorite weeks in summer! Why is it that we are so drawn to these amazing creatures? I mean...they're a little bit scary terrifying....& yet we're drawn to watch them. It's true, though...right? And here's the thing....if adults are fascinated by sharks, just imagine how fascinated kids are!

    I'm always excited to check out the shark-themed resources during this blog hop Luckeyfrog's Lilypad & Digital: Divide & Conquer host because I know how much my kiddos love shark anything.

    I hope your kiddos enjoy using these ar, or word skill activities in your classroom as much as mine do! In addition to the

    • Word skill poster
    • I Spy activity page where kiddos have to use magnifying lenses to find & then sort ar & or words on the recording sheet.
    • 'Cinnamon Roll' spelling page - kiddos write the word around & around to fill each cinnamon roll. (See how that gets that muscle memory working?)
    • Spiral spelling bracelets (Again...muscle memory at work!)
    Just click the pic to download from my dropbox!

    Keep on swimming! Your next stop is over at Teach123. Enjoy!

    It's Here! 5 Ways to Win at Fact Fluency

    1. Make sure kiddos understand what they're doing.
    Do kiddos already have conceptual understanding? Do they know WHY 8 + 7 is 15? Or for older kiddos: why 8 x 4 is 32? Do they know what it looks like? Have they had an opportunity to move manipulatives around and experience addition (or the other operations)? Without that conceptual knowledge, those math facts are going to take a much longer time to 'stick'. After kiddos have an understanding of operations, they're ready to tackle developing fluency.

    2. Don't rely on computer-based programs as a means to increase kiddos' math fact fluency. 

    I remember several years ago, my building purchased a site license for a math fact fluency program....we were all instructed to use it for both our fact fluency and assessment. The program seemed awesome...it was engaging, it was adaptive and moved with each child's success, and it was even instructional! Not just games and tests, it also 'taught' new facts. It was supposed to be a win-win: capitalize on kiddos' interest in online games/activities, improve fact fluency, and free up instructional time. In reality? Yeah....not so much. After some time, we all came to realize that kiddos
    just weren't making the gains that we'd hoped. They didn't even seem to be doing as well as they had before the program was implemented!

    What went wrong? Well, turns out that online programs are just not effective.  Yep. Studies show good 'ole flashcards are more effective than online programs. Who woulda thought? We use fact triangles in our building. They work the same as traditional flash cards, with the added benefit of illustrating the fact family. Knowing fact families is so powerful. Like my kiddos say, as they make a triangle with their fingers....if you know addition, you know the subtraction fact. Same for multiplication....if you know multiplication, you know division. LOVE that they can make that connection, and it's all due to the using those fact triangles.

    3. Sustained practice? Think again.
    Short, sporadic practice sessions are the way to go! Kiddos cannot focus on practicing math facts for more than 4-5 minutes. After that, you've lost them. You can do multiple practice sessions a day, but keep them short. 3-4 minutes is good!

    4. A Little Goes a Long Way 
    Resist the urge to jump in with both feet and give kiddos ALL.THE.FACTS. Be very deliberate and intentional in the way and the progression that facts are introduced for kiddos to master. In this case, a little goes a long way. The goal is automaticity. If kiddos have too many facts to learn at one time, they naturally fall back on  calculating the answer rather than working toward
    memorization. Only after the first set of facts have been mastered should new ones be added.

    At the same time, those facts that have been mastered need to stay in the rotation. A couple things are going on here: kiddos are still practicing the known facts (we don't want to get rusty!), they're experiencing a level of success as they encounter the new facts in the rotation, and they're becoming faster and faster with those known facts!

    The fact tests I use in my classroom are set up to maximize this.....we start out with +1's for example, and after a kiddo has mastered those facts we move on to the +0's. But guess what? Those +1's still show up! And it continues on like that all the way through. At the end, when we're on that +9's test, facts from any of the other tests pop up.

    5. Track Progress & Celebrate Success 
    Tracking learning and progress toward goals is empowering! Studies show that when kiddos have that opportunity, they build intrinsic motivation, and perform better. In my classroom, we graph progress on each level. They can see how close they are, and how much closer they've gotten with each attempt....it's exciting to see how their graph inches up (or speeds!) toward to top of that graph!

    We also chart progress toward mastering ALL of the facts.....+0's through +10's. I think this piece may be even more powerful than tracking progress for each level of the facts.

    Each kiddo gets an addition chart. The first thing we do is talk about facts and the inverses. So....really, we only need to learn HALF of the facts on the chart! We also learn that when we pass a level, +4's for instance, we get to shade in both the horizontal +4's and the vertical +4's. Wow! That chart gets shaded in pretty fast! It's nice to actually see that you only have so many facts left.....rather than 'all.the.rest.of.the.facts' looming out there somewhere which we still have to master.

    And don't forget to celebrate!! As I hand back tests before they go off to graph and chart, I announce those who have gotten 100% on their tests. Everyone claps and cheers...the best way to celebrate ever! Of course, we all know that setting a date by which we need to have mastered facts adds an element of urgency. My class works together to set a date by which we'll attempt to have all the facts mastered. I plan a movie for that day complete with snacks....which really makes the celebration more exciting!