July 29, 2012

Creating a Caring Classroom

Over 20 free activities and classroom management ideas for creating a caring classroom!
Every teacher knows the importance of the first day of school, because what happens on this day shows us how the rest of the year is likely to unfold. Thankfully, it only takes a little effort to ensure that your class gets off to a great start! I've found that if I take time to create a warm, caring classroom climate during those critical first days, the rest of the year is a breeze!

How can you create a caring classroom? I've found three strategies that do the trick:
  • Engage your students teambuilding and classbuilding activities to help them get to know each other.
  • Establish clear limits and expectations for behavior by developing class rules and teaching procedures.
  • Plan hands-on activities that challenge your students and let them know that learning is fun!  
It's sort of like walking a tightrope at first. You want your new students to know that your classroom is a fun place to be, but they also need to understand and respect the rights of others. 

In this post I'm sharing one of my favorite "class building activities." You can find more strategies for creating a caring classroom on my Teaching Resources website.

Back-to-School Bingo
Back to School Bingo is a fun game for helping students learn their classmates' names ... and it's free!When it comes to creating class spirit, one of the best things we can do is to make sure that our students learn each other's names quickly. Back-to-School Bingo is one of the most effective activities for accomplishing that goal. Click this link to download the free Bingo board and Bingo calling cards.

1 Bingo Board for each student, 1 index card or Bingo Calling Card for each student, at least 20 Bingo chips or markers per person

  1. Give each student a Back-to-School Bingo Calling Card or a 4 x 5 index card. Ask them to write their names at the top and add three facts about themselves, such as favorite hobbies, where they were born, what they love to read, favorite songs, etc. 
  2. Give each student a blank Bingo board. Post all the student names on the board in front of the class or distribute pre-printed class lists that have student names on them. Ask students to write one name in each block in random order. If there are more than 25 names, they should leave out their own and a few others as needed. If there are fewer than 25 students, they can add your name and a free spot or two. 
  3. To play the game, give each person a handful of Bingo chips. Draw out one calling card and don't reveal whose name you've drawn. Begin to read the facts aloud, one at a time, and call on students to guess who the facts describe. When someone guesses correctly, have the person whose card you drew stand up and take a bow. Everyone in the class may cover the person's name on the card. 
  4. Continue playing until someone has 5 chips in a row (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) and calls out, "Bingo!" 
  5. Repeat the game until everyone's name has been called at least once. 
This is just one of the ways that I help my new students feel welcomed and accepted. Of course we discuss rules and procedures, and we get involved in lots of hands-on lessons, right from the start. Be sure to check out the Link Up below to find out how other teachers are creating caring classrooms!

July 28, 2012

Motivate with Brain Bucks!

We can debate the pros and cons of using rewards in the classroom, but the fact remains that our lives are filled with both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Even as adults, many of us motivate ourselves with extrinsic rewards, such as promising ourselves a special treat when we meet a personal goal.

In the classroom, students who get the right answers on tests are rewarded with good grades and often other tangible items such as certificates and trophies. But when do we reward students for creative thinking or being willing to persist in search of the right answer?

A few years ago I created "Brain Bucks" to reward students for finding creative solutions to problems or putting forth extra effort in completing assignments. I even used them to reward students for catching me in a mistake! I kept an envelope with Brain Bucks at my teaching station and looked for opportunities to reward good thinking. When someone came up with a new way to solve a problem or answered a question that had stumped many others, I handed that student a brain buck and said something like, "Wow! Way to use your brain today! I would never have thought of solving the problem that way!" My students quickly realized that I valued creative THINKING more than simply getting the right answer. Eventually, other students began to look for good thinking in others. I would frequently hear someone say, "Mrs. Candler, I think she deserves a Brain Buck for that idea!"

You can download your own Brain Bucks for free from the Classroom Management page on Teaching Resources. They are available in green and also in black and white if you prefer to print them on green paper.

Classroom Economy Freebie
Since Brain Bucks are just slips of paper and not real money, students need to be able to redeem them for something else that they value. I connected them to my full classroom economy system. Students earned money for jobs in the classroom as well as for having their homework for the whole week, and that class money could be used in our class auction at the end of each grading period. You can read more about my classroom economy system in the Classroom Economy freebie. Just download it from my TpT store to get started.

Brain Bucks are a fun, effective, and cheap way to encourage students to think outside the box! For more ideas on classroom reward systems that might work with Brain Bucks, take a look at the responses to a question that was posted on my Facebook page. You'll find dozens and dozens of great ideas there! If you find new ways to use Brain Bucks in your own classroom, please share them here!

Laura Candler, Teaching Resources

July 25, 2012

Stop Team Disruptions

Cooperative learning is awesome, but sometime the noise and confusion caused by learning together can be distracting to others. It's not that your kids are intentionally being loud - they're just excited about what they are doing and aren't making any effort to keep their voices down. Or maybe their conversations are getting sidetracked into topics that aren't related to the task at all. However, I never felt it was right to waste class time lecturing everyone for the behavior of one or two teams, and lecturing kids never works, anyway.

So I came up with the idea of using small stop signs as a way of getting kids to stop talking and refocus. The strategy is easy to use. Simply print a few of the stop signs shown above on card stock and laminate them to make them last. Keep a few of them handy when your students are working in cooperative learning teams. If a group becomes too noisy or seems off task, walk over and place one of the stop signs in the center of the team. This is a signal to them to be quiet for one minute and think about how they can refocus and work more effectively. Of course, you need to introduce the team stop signs before using them so that students will know what to expect when it happens. After one minute, the team captain places the stop sign back on your desk and the team returns to their task.

When I first thought of this idea, I had no idea how it would work. I wondered if my 5th graders would think it was kind of lame and not really respond to the stop sign quiet signal. However, I was surprised that it worked better than I could have imagined! They absolutely HATED to have to stop talking for one single minute! That minute seemed like an hour to them as they listened to everyone else having fun. After I used the stop signs a few times, all I had to do was pick them up and walk around with them, and I heard kids say, "Shhh! She's coming around with the stop signs!" LOL! Who would have thought that being quiet for one minute would be viewed as a dreaded consequence for off-task behavior?

If you would like to use this strategy in your own classroom, feel free to download the stop sign patterns and directions shown above. You'll find this item on my Teaching Resources site on the Cooperative Learning page along with other free resources. I hope it works as well for you as it did for me!

Teaching Resources

July 22, 2012

Corkboard Connections Archives on Pinterest

I'm a visual learner, and that's why I think Pinterest is such a terrific way to organize ideas and information! Most blogs have a text archive listed in one of their sidebars, but if you could just see an image of what you want, you could find it more easily.

So to help you find what you need on Corkboard Connections quickly, I created a visual Pinterest archive of all my blog posts! I went through the entire blog and pinned the images that I thought would be most meaningful and would allow you to find what you need.

Right now there are 99 pins on my CC Archives board, and this one will make 100! It's hard to believe that I've written 100 blog posts since I started back in October, but there you have it! Follow this board to be sure you see all of my future blog posts. While you're at it, you might want to follow all my boards because then you'll automatically be added to anything new I set up.

Which blog posts on Corkboard Connections do you find most helpful? What other types of articles would you like to see me write in the coming school year?

Teaching Resources

July 21, 2012

Sunday is DonorsChoose Day!

If you've been following my blog and Facebook page, you probably know that I'm a huge fan of DonorsChoose.org! In case you haven't heard of it, DonorsChoose is a website where public school teachers can post proposals for classroom projects and request funding from donors. Through the years, I received several thousand dollars in funding, and it really made a difference in the types of programs I could offer to my students. Now that I'm retired, I love helping to fund DonorsChoose projects. It's wonderful to know that my donations are helping teachers and kids! 

That's why I've decided to celebrate DonorsChoose Day every Sunday! I'll post a call on Facebook for proposals around 8 a.m. EST, and on Monday morning, I'll choose at least one to help fund. If you post your proposal link there, be sure to tell me about your project and why it's important to you. If I receive an overwhelming number of proposals, I will skim the entries and select about 10 to examine more closely before I make my decision. Follow me on Facebook to be sure you see my call for proposals.

In case you've tried posting proposals on DonorsChoose and have become discouraged, you should know that there's definitely an art and science to writing a project proposal that appeals to donors. However, if you learn a few tricks, it's amazingly easy to get money for your classroom projects. Last year I invited Francie Kugelman, a veteran DonorsChoose teacher, to share her secrets for how to get projects funded. She's received over $25,000 worth of funding, and she shared her tips in a webinar that you can watch from my DonorsChoose page on Teaching Resources. I highly recommend watching it if you are just starting out on DC. In fact, I was told by one of the customer service reps at DonorsChoose that they recommend this webinar to new users! 

Here are a few tips from my own experience about how to get projects funded:
  • Try to keep your project proposal under $500 because smaller projects are much more likely to get funded. If you need materials that are worth more than $500, divide up what you need and write several individual proposals. For example, don't ask for three iPads in one proposal. Write three different proposals and you are more likely to get at least one of them funded.
  • When you write your proposal, show your passion for your students and your project! Make it clear how much you love teaching and enjoy working with your students, and how deserving they are of receiving these materials.
  • As soon as your project goes live on the DC site, send a letter and/or an email to parents explaining your project and asking for donations. They might not be able to help, but they might have family members who can contribute. Any money they spend on your project is a tax-deductible donation. 
  • Check your email and stay on the lookout for special opportunities from DonorsChoose such as matching codes or additional funding from companies. 
If you are a public school teacher in the United States, you really need to check out DonorsChoose! It's a fabulous source of funding, and it won't cost you a dime to try it. Be sure to watch for my calls for proposals on Sunday mornings so you can submit your project link. If you don't have a current project, share this blog post with a friend who does!

Teaching Resources

July 20, 2012

Stoplight System for Classroom Management

Looking for the post about the Go for Green Stoplight Management System? No worries! You are almost there!

That classroom management post has been updated and republished, so it's in a new location. You can download this freebie now, and then head on over to Easy Classroom Management System that Works to read more details about how it works!

Laura Candler

July 15, 2012

Drama Circles: Cooperative Learning FUN!

Guest blog post by Jen Runde

Have you ever done Drama Circles with your students?  For this activity, students are assembled in a circle facing each other. Each student is given a card or two containing directions to perform or lines to speak.  It is similar to the “I have … who has?” game because students need to listen to their classmates to know when it is their turn to act out the instructions on their card. The picture below is of my class performing a Drama Circle at the end of the year. When the weather is nice, I like to take our drama circles outside. So much fun!

Drama Circles Set the Tone
Using drama circles during the first days of school can really help set the tone for the rest of the school year. This kind of cooperative learning activity has students breaking down the beginning of the year barriers and actively practicing all the skills they will need to have a successful school year:

  • They need to listen to each other to keep the activity going
  • They must wait their turn, and give their attention to one student
  • They need to cooperate with their classmates and build on the previous action
  • They will learn to be open to new experiences
  • They will share a fun activity that has them learning to be comfortable acting and performing in front of their other classmates.

An integral part of creating a classroom environment where the students treat each other as family is sharing memories and fun times. And for the students, knowing their teacher is willing to get in and share in the fun is priceless.  I’ve had a teacher comment to me after using one of my drama circles, “My class has new memories to share of their teacher faint and wrestle a crocodile. This is a special activity that lead to huge grins!”  A class that sees their teacher is willing to “wrestle a crocodile” for them will know that teacher will do anything for them.

Drama Circles Freebie!
If you want to give drama circles a try in your classroom, I have created a special freebie for you.  A Fairy Tale Drama Circle contains 32 activity cards that will get your students laughing, sharing, building confidence, and making memories. You can download it for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store. Cut out and laminate the individual cards.  I store the cards in baggie when not in use.  I hope you enjoy!

Jennifer Runde is a teacher with twelve years of experience in the upper elementary grades.  She currently has a grade 5/6 class in Ontario, Canada.  She enjoys creating fun and interactive lessons that keep her students engaged in the learning process.  Follow her blog, Runde’s Room, to see what she has going on in her classroom, and find some fun ideas for math, literacy, and technology that you can implement in your own class.

July 13, 2012

Fun Place Value Spinner Games!

I'm on a mission to update all my older Mini Packs, one by one, and the Place Value Spinner Games pack was the next in line to get a makeover, The two things I've been doing to update my older items is to identify the specific Common Core Standards addressed by the activities and to add a more attractive and eye-catching cover.

Spin 4 Cash Place Value Review Spinner Game from Laura Candler

Spin 4 Cash Game
The Place Value Spinners pack is actually made up of two games that are slight variations of each other. I started by creating the game Spin 4 Cash shown above which my students LOVED because they could win "math cash" for correct answers. It was an absolute favorite during math center time and proved to be a great review activity. Students solve problems on math task cards, and if they get the answer right, they take turns spinning the spinner to see how much "math cash" they earn for their correct answers.

Spin 4 Cash and Spin 2 Win Place Value Review Spinner Games from Laura Candler
Spin 2 Win Variation
As soon I as posted this game, I had requests from teachers in other countries who pointed out that that spinning for American money won't work for them. So I quickly improvised and came up with a similar game called Spin 2 Win. Instead of winning cash, students win tokens. Same game, different reward system. Still just as fun!

Both games come packaged together in one zip file so you can take your pick and use the one you like. They have teacher directions, student directions, 24 game cards for whole number place value, an answer key, and a score recording page. There are blank problem card templates for you to create your own problems to go with the game. 

The Common Core Math Standards targeted by this pack are 4th grade NBT.2 and NBT.3, but the activity is also a great review for 5th graders who need a refresher on whole number place value, including rounding and comparing numbers. Because it includes blank problem cards, you can actually adapt it for almost any math concept or skill level. Spin 4 Cash or Spin 2 Win would be perfect for starting off the year when you need to review place value. This Place Value Spinner Review game pack is available from my TeachersPayTeachers store

You can also find loads of place value freebies in my math file cabinet Whole Numbers page. I hope you find these resources helpful when you head back to school. 

July 10, 2012

Reading Professional Development at Home!

Free Webinar: 
Using Graphic Organizers to Create Reading Mini Lessons

July 12th, 2012,  8:00 p.m. EST

Register Now!

How would you like to attend a teacher workshop from the comfort of your own home and receive credit for it? Even better, what if that session promised to be both fun and FREE?

Attend my upcoming live interactive webinar, Using Graphic Organizers to Create Reading Mini Lessons, and you'll be able to download a free certificate of attendance after the session! Whether or not your school system will accept the certificate for an hour of professional development remains to be seen, but it won't hurt to give it a try. You can always keep the certificate for your teaching portfolio, to meet teacher evaluation requirements, or as evidence towards National Board Certification. Even if your district will not accept the certificate, you'll have a great time interacting with other teachers and learning new strategies to prepare you for the coming year.
Note: The attendance certificate is only available to those who attend the live session on Thursday. It will not be available for those who watch the recording later.

Webinar Overview
image of Graphic Organizers for Reading In this session I'll share strategies for using graphic organizers to teach reading mini lessons. First, we'll explore how to create effective reading lessons and mini lessons.Then we'll dig into the Common Core Reading Standards for grades 2 through 6 to see how easy is to create lessons for informational text and literature. Participants will receive a free set of handouts after the session that include Common Core charts to connect the standards at each grade level with appropriate graphic organizers. One lucky participant will win an autographed copy of my book Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core.

Attend Live Session or Watch Recording
You will need to register in order to attend the session because that's how you'll receive the URL of the meeting room. It will be sent out about 30 minutes prior to the session. If you can't attend the live session on Thursday, July 12th, you can still register so you'll receive the link to the webinar recording later. However, the attendance certificate is only available to those who attend the live session. Also, the book giveaway will take place during the live session and you do have to be present to win. A discount code for 25% off Graphic Organizers for Reading and other items totaling at least $19.00 will be given out during the session and it will expire on July 15th. If  you watch the recording, be sure to watch it before the end of that day! 

I'm excited about this upcoming session! Last night I did a practice session with my moderators, Peggy George and Francie Kugelman, and they gave me some great feedback and suggestions. I know you'll love what we've planned, and I hope you'll join us on Thursday! Register now!

July 8, 2012

Back-to-School Resources for You!

Are you already thinking ahead to the next school year? Chances are good that if you're reading teacher blogs this summer, you're already planning activities for the coming year! I've just updated my Seasonal Page on Teaching Resources with teaching materials to help you get your year off to a good start. You can also find great resources on the Seasonal Teaching Resources Pinterest board.

The first few weeks of school are so important! My top priorities were establishing procedures and creating a warm, caring classroom climate. I spent a lot of time on these areas, but it paid off for me later in the year. To help other teachers, I've created several pages on my Teaching Resources site to share strategies that I learned or developed over the years. For more information, on these topics, visit and bookmark the following pages:

One resource that you might find helpful at the beginning of the year is Classroom Goal Setting. This ebook is about teaching kids the importance of setting goals and helping them to establish specific action plans for reaching their goals. You'll find that taking a little time to teach these skills will have a big impact on your classroom. 

What are some of your favorite back-to-school strategies and resources?

Laura Candler ~ Teaching Resources

July 5, 2012

Autobiography Writing Project

by Christi Fultz, Guest Blogger

There is no other time of the day quite like writing workshop. The alternating periods of excited conferencing mixed with the frenzied scratching of pencils on paper gives me goose bumps every time. I’ve found the key to keeping this delicate balance is authentic writing and student choice.

To get the most out of our time and meet all of the standards, I’ve grouped all of my reading and writing workshop units into genres. This gives students a better understanding of the genres and helps boost both reading comprehension and writing stamina. While students are required to write in my chosen genre, the form their writing takes is really up to them. Our autobiography unit is a perfect example of how this process works.

While students are studying biographies in guided reading, they are also creating their own autobiographies in writing workshop. After we’ve created anchor charts, my students are free to select the path their autobiographies will take. I love teaching this unit each year because I always learn new things about my students. Even reluctant writers have stories to tell when the unit is all about their special memories. For this reason, you might choose to use this unit as a back-to-school activity, especially if you are just focusing on the writing component. Not only will you get to know your new students, but you’ll also allow them to slip back into writing workshop with a familiar topic—themselves! If this project is too challenging for the beginning of the year, save the information to use later as your students explore autobiographies in reading.

To facilitate this process, I’ve created several different page suggestions. Students are free to mix and match my pages or even create their own. A blend of poems, lists, timelines, narratives, and pictures work together to produce a room full of unique autobiographies. When students share the finished project, they are proud to know they’ve truly created something special and families treasure this unit too.

I’m excited to share my bundle with you so you can create your own autobiographies with your class. Click to download this freebie from my store on TeachersPayTeachers.com. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Christi Fultz is a third grade teacher in Indiana with a master’s degree in elementary education and a reading specialist license. Reading and writing are her favorite subjects, but she loves creating hands-on math lessons too. Follow her blog, Ms. Fultz’s Corner, for classroom organization tips, literacy resources, reading strategies, writing mini lessons, math games, freebies, and more.

July 3, 2012

Getting Started with Power Reading Workshop

Summer was always my favorite time to attend a teacher workshop and learn something new. Without the worry of having to plan lessons for a sub, and the concern about dealing with the fall-out on my return, I was free to relax and have fun while learning. Giving up a day of vacation was easy for me if it meant exploring new teaching strategies and networking with other educators.

That's why I'm excited about my upcoming workshop, "Getting Started with Laura Candler's Power Reading Workshop," which I'll be teaching with Pat Calfee on July 27th in Raleigh, NC. This workshop is designed for teachers who have never used a reading workshop approach, and we'll explore the step-by-step strategies to make the process easy and fun. Pat and I taught this workshop together in January, and everyone had a great time! More importantly, they learned information that will have a significant impact on their reading instruction. In the words of one attendee who is a Literacy Coach,
"As a reading specialist, I am so eager to go back to my school and share the guided reading/ independent conferring concept with the teachers in my building. The most valuable aspect of the workshop was understanding that you do not have to do "centers" to construct a good reader's workshop." ~ Monique Douglas
Registration Information
Everyone who attends the session will receive a free copy of my book Laura Candler's Power Reading Workshop. The deadline for registering is June 15th, and you can download the registration form from the Power Reading Workshop page. If your school cannot send a purchase order now, you can attend by having an administrator sign the Payment Authorization Form to guarantee payment after the workshop.

Other Workshop Opportunities
If you aren't able to attend this public session, one of us would love to a present teacher workshop on site at your school or in your district. You can find descriptions of all four popular workshops as well as contact information on the Workshops page on my site, or email workshops@lauracandler.com. I hope to see you at a teacher workshop soon!