Thursday, July 31, 2014

It's that time of year...

It's coming...

The back to school season is steadily approaching.  August means back to school and back to school shopping.

No. No. No. No!

I'm waiting on the magical Target sale when spiral notebooks are incredibly cheap and composition notebooks are two for a dollar.   To be fair, having worked at a Title 1 elementary school, I'm aware lots of the supplies do need to come from my own pocket so I might as well get as many supplies as I can for cheap.

With the plethora of back to school print and television ads, I'm pleased to announce another:

Yes, 20% off all products for a flash 48 hour sale :)  

Stock up!


I recently sold my first customized teacher name plate on TpT and couldn't be more thrilled.  In the past I've only made these for coworkers, so it was exciting to get to branch out.  I did learn I priced the item too low because I didn't factor in enough for I lost a few dollars in my first sale.  Live and learn!  I've increased the price to factor in shipping to the East Coast (and Canada).

The buyer's original idea didn't work out but luckily we were able to collaborate to create an idea that I love.  More importantly, she loves it too!  She complimented me on my professionalism, which is much appreciated.

I finished the board this morning and am sending it off to the East Coast.

My next task is making myself a new board for my new classroom.  After five years with my old one and students constantly adding stickers to it, it's time for a change.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Math Taboo

One of my favorite math centers is math taboo.  It's a great way to practice vocabulary, incorporate movement, and get the students talking about math.

My fifth graders loved this fun challenge and it's nice to know that others enjoy it as well.  Since my dream team from last year is all going our separate ways, I made versions for their new grade levels for their upcoming students.

 I made fourth and third grade sorts as well, which you can snag here!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Oh Technology

I love technology but sometimes it fails. Last summer I had a hard drive crash and lost a lot of teaching materials.  I tried every possible rescue option, but it simply was lost.  Many of the materials weren't backed up elsewhere (like dropbox) and I've painfully learned my lesson.

However, there is a silver lining.

I did find paper copies of nine different teacher guides while sorting through my teacher materials.  I'm retyping them and revising to ensure that they're up to my standards.  Teacher guides that I made a few years ago need some revision, plain and simple.  As I've learned more, I've taken this knowledge and poured it back into my products.

The upcoming teacher guides are:

The Bad Beginning (#1 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
The Reptile Room (#2 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
The Wide Window (#3 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
The Miserable Mill (#4 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
The Austere Academy (#5 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
The Vile Village (#7 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
The Hostile Hospital (#8 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
The Carnivorous Carnival (#9 in the Series of Unfortunate Events)
Brian's Winter (a sequel to Hatchet)
The River (a sequel to Hatchet) 
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (#1)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (#2)

All guides will be available within the coming weeks on TpT!  You can follow my store and get emails from TpT as soon as I upload products.

Happy reading!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fact and Opinion

Differentiating between facts and opinions is a concept some of my students struggle with.  Often times they would claim a statement is a fact because to them, it is true.  Based on many, many conversations and reflecting on these teachable moments, I have my students do a "fact check" before determining if a statement is a fact or an opinion.

To be a fact, the statement must: 
-be correct
-be able to be proven, observed, or measured

To be an opinion, the statement expresses a belief.  Even if the statement is true for an individual or a group, unless it's true for everyone, it's not a fact.

This seemed to help clear up some of the confusion.

One activity I like to use is FCRR's fact and opinion football game.  As extensions, I have students write out their own statements for their teammates to sort.

I used this activity in summer tutoring today with great success until...

My helper showed up. 

I've been having a great time tutoring.  It's teaching, but much more relaxed.  I'm focused on skills and what my student needs.  There are notions of just opening a home school that flutter around in my mind until I realize how much "help" I'd have from my fur children...and that dream quickly vanishes.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Percy!

August 18th is Percy Jackson's birthday and that calls for a celebration!  So bust out some blue cupcakes and head on over to my TpT store for 15% off all Percy (and co) products.  Teacher guides, sorts, and chronological order sorts are included for The Lightning Thief, the Sea of Monsters, the Titan's Curse, the Battle of the Labryinth, the Last Olympian, the Lost Hero, the Son of Neptune, the Mark of Athena, the Red Pyramid, the Throne of Fire, and The Serpent's Shadow!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Classroom Library

This year is the first year I actually have to organize my classroom library.  I'm excited and a little terrified about this daunting task.

My expected end result is something like this:

But on a larger scale (and with a polka dot rug of course!)

I want to see what books are at my school and in my classroom before I begin hauling over boxes.  I want to meet my students and learn their book levels before stocking my shelves so I know what books to bring for which students. 

I did revise my checkout list:

Which you can snag for free here!  (Just please give feedback)

I will be organizing my library by AR level using this super helpful website.  To make my life easier, I am putting sticky labels on the inside cover with the AR quiz number, AR level, and a helpful return to Ms. Vice sticker (just in case).

I have some super cute striped bins that I'll be using to sort by AR level (and author).

Some other ideas for your classroom library:

1) Using plastic bins, color code for informational and literature.  

You can find bins at dollar stores, then use spray paint to make them match :)

2) You can also use these plastic bins to color code by AR, DRA, or lexile level.  That way students know which books are "just right" for them!

3) You can also organize thematically:


4) Use stickers on the spine labels to color code your books with your management system.  I'll be using AR levels but you can do DRA, lexile, author, etc.

Of course, you'll want to make your classroom library an interactive place where students want to be. 

One of my favorite ways to do this is with a quote wall:

Black butcher paper (or poster board), cute border, and metallic sharpies = perfect place for students to record their favorite quotes from their books.  In doing so, they're encouraging others to read that book as well!

I also want to make this print:

Because who doesn't love a Harry Potter reference?

Good luck!


Simplicity, part 4 (ideas 11-13)

Continuing the new ideas, simplicity trend, here are three more ideas for next year.  I'm excited for small tweaks to make a huge, positive differences.

Idea 11: Beginning of the Year "I am" statement for writing notebooks

This would be such a cute first page in their writing notebooks.  It'd be great for students to see themselves as multidimensional people and an easy way for them to get to know each other!

Idea Twelve: Clothespin revival

I've tried the push pin strategy with clothes pins, but I like this one for more permanent places:

Since I moved recently, I seem to have a plethora of extra command strips!  I could easily decorate the clothespins to match my classroom colors (once I you know, determine those).  Thanks Fifth in the Middle for the idea!

Idea Thirteen: Morning Memes

 To be fair, this isn't entirely a new idea for next year.  Last February, I started doing a morning meme to add some positivity in the morning.  They were a great way to connect with students and reinforce various topics (rules, grammar, being nice, etc).  The memes would inspire my students to talk with one another and start our day on a positive note.

I've been pinning ideas to my Pinterest morning meme board, which you can follow here!

What new ideas are you excited to try?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

New Teacher Guides and Centers (Kane Chronicles)

When I was younger, I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt.  From mummies to scarabs to Nefertiti, I simply couldn't get enough.  I was giddy with excitement when I discovered that one of my favorite authors, Rick Riordan, has a trilogy based on ancient Egypt.

I was fortunate enough to get to read The Red Pyramid with a small group in May but we ran out of time for the sequels...which naturally found their way onto my summer reading list! 

I am pleased to announce two new teacher guides with matching chronological order sorts are now available on TpT!

The first is The Throne of Fire, the second in the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan.

In this much anticipated sequel, Carter and Sadie Kane are off to save the world again before ancient Egyptian gods and monsters destroy it.  By blending witty commentary with a fast paced story line and amusing characters, Riordan doesn't disappoint!  I can't wait to dive into The Serpent's Shadow next!

This novel guide is 31 pages and includes vocabulary, homework ideas, and comprehension questions (with answers) for each chapter!  Extension ideas are also included. 

To accompany this novel, I created a chronological order sort where students must put 26 events from the novel in order.  This helps students analyze how events build upon one another in the novel and how the author reveals the plot via characters.  (RL 5.5)  An answer key is included to alleviate arguments and this can be used as a summative assessment for comprehension or a collaborative center for students while the teacher pulls small groups. 

Since I loved The Throne of Fire so much, The Serpent's Shadow was a natural next choice.

Things are worse than ever for the Kanes, with Apophis rising and a crafty magician to keep track of!  Rick Riordan does a wonderful job at wrapping up this trilogy while imbedding subtle hints at the world of Greek mythology.

Snag the teacher's guide and the chronological order sort now!

I also created a "who am I" game with 25 characters from the trilogy.  Students guess the character based on the given clues. I also included an answer key.

I was on such a role with analyzing characters that I also made this sort:

Students can independently or collaboratively sort the terms (smaller cards) into the characters that are being described (larger cards).  Snag it here!

Happy reading :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


I just finished reading The Throne Room and The Serpent's Shadow, both by Rick Riordan.  

Then I discovered this:

Oh yes, a mini-story with Carter and Percy. Oh Rick! Why must you mess with my mind by combining your Egyptian and Greek worlds?  You already combined the Greek and Roman ones into a series that I have yet to finish.

Good thing Amazon has 2 day shipping.


For the past few years, I've participated in co-teaching with a fairly high degree of success.  Co-teaching is when two teachers (one usually being a special education teacher) are both in the classroom.  There are many models of co-teaching, all of which I've used.

1) One teach, one observe

I use this model least frequently.  We usually did this to provide lesson feedback for the instructing teacher or to model a lesson for the observing teacher.

2) Station teaching

We used this model for math groups.  I would teach the new lesson at the smart board, my co-teacher would be at the kidney table pulling another group to review, work on word problems, etc while the rest of the class was on the computers, doing partner work, or at a math station.  Each teacher was doing a separate lesson.

3) Parallel Teaching

We used this for reading and writing.  The class was divided in half and all the students were given the same lesson.  This style lended itself well to writing because each group would have a different perspective.  

4) One teach, one assist

This model was used most frequently.  One teacher, usually myself, would be giving the lesson while the other would be walking around clarifying for students or pulling conferences.

5) Team teaching

During this model, both teachers are giving instruction.  This worked quite well for think alouds where we would model accountable talk and show what partner discussions should look like.

6) Alternative Teaching

During this model of co-teaching, one teacher would pull aside a small group and deliver remedial or extension activities.

I'm not sure if I will be doing any co-teaching this year, but it definitely has it's strengths and weaknesses.  For me, it was difficult to give up control of instruction to another teacher.  Trust also comes into play because you have to trust that the other teacher is doing his or her job.  Planning can also be a struggle, as can work ethics.  I know that as an educator, I tend to overplan which is beneficial but also meant I was doing more than my fair share of the preparation for co-teaching, which wasn't always fair.

Today I had the opportunity to co-teach:

I'm not sure which model the one teach, one naps on the material best aligns with...

On the bright side, tutoring is going well!  Look at her go in that notebook.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Simplicity, part 3

As previously mentioned, I'm committed to small, simple tweaks this year to make my classroom a more organized and positive place.  Today I present ideas eight through ten!

Idea Eight: Notebook Bookmarks

One of the things my students seem to struggle with when using notebooks is finding the page they left off on.  For some reason unknown to teachers, they love to skip pages.  At the beginning of the year when we set up our notebooks with our table of contents, page numbers, and color coded markers to distinguish subjects, I go over the norms of not skipping pages and using the backsides.  However, by November, this is usually forgotten.

Not this year!

No, this year will be different with the help of this ribbon and duct tape combination!  After journaling, they will simply put the book mark in their notebooks to indicate where they left off and then put their notebooks away.

Idea Nine: The Great Pencil Challenge

Could it be? Can washi and/or duct tape can solve the mystery of the disappearing pencils?

I could have cute prizes for the students who have their assigned pencils at the end of the day, then a few days, then a week.  

When the pencil gets down to basically nothing, I'd give them a new pencil with the same number but different tape (so I could keep them straight). 

Idea Ten: Table Organizers

The great bucket idea of last year failed.  Yes, these shower organizers that were so meticulously color coded by table and had so much hope...didn't work.  

By May, all of the buckets had been stepped on and cracked beyond repair without so much as a simple apology.  Part of this was my fault because the buckets didn't have their own space to rest on when not in use. See, the buckets would rest on someone's desk (if he or she was absent) or on the floor, where the buckets were inevitably and frequently stepped on.

However, I could have eliminated the problem with this set up:

I was already planning on placing my students in Kagan groups of 4-6 (depending on class size), so I could arrange the desks around these organizers.  I know they are at Target, I just need to wait for them to go on sale or be in my cartwheel ap (or both!).  

I'm getting excited to get into my classroom and begin setting up! 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Grouping Ideas

I love new teaching ideas. I like to try new strategies and change up my classroom.  I find that some change (not to the big things of routine, structures, or procedures) keeps everyone interested...myself included.  Burned out teacher robots make me sad.  My classroom is not the same year to year because my students aren't the same from year to year.  If I expect my students to be continually reflective, adaptive, and grow from knowledge and experiences, I should expect the same from myself.

So yes, I spend a good deal of my free time thinking about teaching.  (Don't worry, I've never been better at that work-life balance!).  I love what I do and when passion and careers come together, it's a beautiful thing.

 I like this idea for placing students in small groups:

Specifically I like that it would get my students up and moving.  I like that there is a problem solving component.  I like that I would have control over the groupings.

Would this take a little bit of prep time? Yes, of course.  But after I've decided on groups, the rest would be mindless writing and cutting while watching TV the night before.

This would be great during the first week of school but could easily be used throughout the year.  

Spin off ideas include using famous duos or trios to have students find their partner(s)!

Naturally, my brain started spinning with possibilities, so I'm pleased to announce a new TpT product on creative groupings!  

With over seventy pages and a cheat sheet for teachers, it's a great way to make new small groups or partners.  I designed this to work for partners, groups of 3, groups of 4, and larger groups (5 or more).  I used different colors to help with organization. Print it once, laminate, and you're done!

(Thank goodness it's summer and I can indulge my creative tangents without feeling guilty!)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ms. Vice's boot camp, day 1

I had my first tutoring session with my third grader today.  She's adorable and loves learning, which is a nice change.  Her mom brought me data from her last report card and talked about what books they should get from the library.  It was so nice to see a positive family focused on school!

We read two passages on Helen Keller and set up her reading notebook.  We made a graphic organizer and talked about strategies.  She did really well!

We are going to meet on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for an hour and a half.  It's time to dig into my very unorganized guest bedroom (teacher closet) and find some fluency activities and reading games!

Continual improvement, even during the summer

I'm not very good with summer plans.  Two years ago, I experienced a week of learning at Mt. Vernon with a teacher's academy and a week in New York City with the Mickelson Exxon-Mobile  Teacher's Academy (MEMTA).  Last year, I attended DENSI for a week of technology and teaching.  All three experiences were incredible and I learned so much from fellow teachers across the country.

This summer, I'm not doing any teacher academies.  With moving expenses, I simply couldn't afford the airfare to DENSI (Nashville).  I didn't sign up for my district's teaching classes in time and now that I'm 97% moved in, I find myself with lots of free time...which I don't necessarily cope with well.

My boyfriend is like the rest of the world and works during the summer.  Many of my teacher friends are traveling back home or working second jobs or putting the finishing touches on their own homes or spending time with their kids.  I just had family visit, my home is done (with the exception of a few lamps and dishes at the old apartment), and I don't have kids yet.  I'm trying not to spend a lot of money so travel is out.

I'm doing a lot of reading, which is wonderful. But I still find myself with a lot of free time.  I know I should enjoy this time since it will vanish once the school year starts.  It will vanish once I have kids.

But I am pleased that a summer job has appeared.  I have the opportunity to tutor a third grade student.  My realtor of all people reached out on behalf of one of her other clients.  It will only be a few hours a week but it still gives me an opportunity to interact with kids.  

I'm excited for this opportunity!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Simplicity, part 2

As I blogged about last week, I'm excited to try some new, simple tricks in my classroom.  Last week I chronicled ideas 1-3, so today you can find the next four gems! I'm all for small, simple tweaks to make my classroom run a little more efficiently.

Idea Four: "Partners" Poster

In the past, I've used a handmade version of this poster for groups to set norms:

This groups one works pretty well.  I found this "partners" one earlier this week and can't wait to use it as well!

I like that this poster goes more in depth with expectations.  I also like the "explain your answer" part because students need frequent reminders to do so!

Idea Five: The Ten Commandments of Math

I may need to tweak this idea so it's not so overtly religious, but I like this anchor chart:

I think laying down some ground rules for math would be a great thing! It might be cute to make it like a constitution and have my students all sign our declaration of math.

Idea Six: Additional Rewards for the Mystery Walker

I already implemented the mystery walker idea last year but I like this extension idea.  All I'd need to do is recreate this with my favorite fonts (we don't have time for cutesy clip art in fifth grade!) and dedicate a bucket to collect raffle tickets.

Idea Seven: Color Coding Notebooks

In a perfectly coordinated, OCD controlled world, all my students would have the same color notebooks for each subject.  I'm aware that won't happen.  But this could be a good back up plan:

The original pin was about text books, but we don't really use those in my classroom.  When we set up our notebooks at the beginning of the year, I could have each subject be a different color.  Having students search for their blue math notebook would definitely help with the desk organization and help struggling students with staying focused.  I know that it's tough for fifth graders to use a different notebook for each subject, but it's definitely necessary for middle school!  I'd rather they struggle with me and enter middle school prepared to switch classes and stay organized.

I'm committing to small, simple steps toward a better, more organized and positive classroom!  Who is with me?

New School, New Teachers, New Questions

Last year I mentored several new teachers and was always ready to answer questions.

Now I will be the new teacher with dozens of questions for my new team. I apologize to them in advance but I just want to make sure I'm on the same page as them in terms of procedures and school policies.

Here is my list of questions for new teachers (or veteran teachers at a new school):

School Procedures & Responsibilities
  • What are the expectations in terms of lesson plans? (content objective, language objective, assessment component, how specific)
  • Are they due at a specific time or day?
  • Where are they saved? (In my documents? On a shared folder?)
  • Do I have to post them online (curriculum engine for CCSD people)?
  • Do I have duty (playground, lunch room, etc)?
  • Do I have duty on a specific day of the week (every Monday) or weekly (every five weeks for the entire week)?
  • What is expected in my emergency sub plans? 
  • Is there a master schedule?
  • What time does my grade level have specials/prep?
  • What is expected of my bulletin board? 
  • Does there need to be a title?
  • What type of work should be displayed?
  • How often should bulletin boards be changed?

Classroom Management
  • Is there a school wide incentive for specials?
  • Is there a school wide policy for hallway behavior? 
  • Is there a school wide behavior plan?
  • Is there a grade level behavior plan?
  • What are the procedures for an office referral?

Classroom Instruction
  • Are there any programs we are expected to follow? (Being a Writer, Investigations, Envisions, Every day math, Trophies, etc)
  • To what degree am I allowed to supplement? (some schools require fidelity with provided programs, others are much more flexible)
  • What resources are available? (reading A-Z, reading eggs, Time for Kids magazines, literacy lab, online resources)
  • What do I use in terms of small group instruction?
  • What do I use for science instruction?
  • Does our school use the Common Core State Standards?
  • What assessments do I use? 
  • Are assessments already created or provided?
  • Are there any programs I should use for progress monitoring? (Aimsweb)
  • Is there a RTI process? (response to intervention)
  • When should I have my small groups established?
  • What data do I use to form my small groups?
  • Do I teach phonics or spelling patterns?  If so, when?
  • Do I use project-based learning?
  • Do I use rubrics? ( is an excellent resource if the answer is yes)
  • Do I do Number Talks?
 Special Education
  • What co-teaching models (if any) are used?
  • Does the school use push in (coteaching) or pull out (resource) models?
  • Where are IEP meetings normally held?
  • Are IEP meetings before school, after school, or during prep?
  • Who is responsible for implementing IEP goals?
  • Who is responsible for small group instruction?
  • Who is responsible for progress reports and report card comments?
  • Does my grade level plan together?
  • Are resources shared between teachers?
  • Are students switched between teachers?
  • Do any teachers departmentalize (elementary) where one teacher may teach writing to several classes while another teachers science?
  • What does my fellow grade level members like about the school?
  • Is there a grade level chair?
  • How are the responsibilities divided?

Questions for Administration
  • What are the school's biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are my grade level's biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does the school prepare for standardized testing?
  • Is there any opportunities for extra duty pay? (tutoring, supervising clubs, etc)
  • What are the expectations for committees? 
  • Are there any clubs or student organizations?
  • How often are meetings? (Staff meetings, planning meetings, etc)
  • Is there a format that is preferred for lesson plans?
  • What is expected of report card comments? (Some schools require full paragraphs, others are fine with a sentence or two.)
  • How are problems with parents dealt with?
  • Is there a PTA?
  • Does the school have supportive parents?
  • Does the school have a system set up for volunteers?
  • How many materials does the library have?
  • How often will I be observed?
  • Will we meet after every observation?
  • Will I be informed of upcoming observations or will they be unannounced? 
  • How many teachers are at this school?
  • How many teachers are in my grade level?
  • How long have other teachers been there? (Frequent turn around may be a red flag)
  • Am I the only new teacher?
  • Why did the previous teacher leave?
  • What is our school's demographics?
  • What do you love about the school?
  • What technology is available? 
  • Are there trainings available on technology?
  • Is there a computer lab? 
  • Is there a computer lab schedule?
  •  Are there any specific skills I should be teaching my students regarding technology? 
  • Are there iPads? 
  • Does each classroom have iPads?
  •  Does the grade level have iPads? 
  • Do students have to sign any usage forms before using the iPads or computers?
  •  How often are there fire drills or other emergency preparedness drills?
  • What is the policy for class parties?
  • Are students allowed to bring in treats for birthdays?
  • Is there breakfast provided for students at school?
  • Do students eat breakfast in the cafeteria or in the classroom?
  • Is a mentor available?
  • Who is a good person that I can ask further questions?

Good luck new teachers!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Classroom Shopping

We report back the middle of August, so I was thoroughly disgusted when I discovered Target had set up it's back to school aisles.  This may deter me from shopping, which wouldn't be the worst thing since moving is expensive!  (Paying double rent and (shudder) utilities during a Las Vegas summer is even worse!).  I refuse to visit these aisles until August.  July is my month!

I did however take advantage of my mom's visit to determine my classroom colors.  My boyfriend, bless him, could care less about what colors I'm doing and how I'm organizing my classroom.  He's more than willing to help but looks at me strangely when I ask his opinion on color palates. 

I'm starting over at a new school and rejuvenated with excitement about decorating a new learning space.  These feelings of desire, nervousness, and passion mirror those I experienced right after Teach for America's summer institute five summers ago.  I have a new teaching space in a new positive environment and I'm so blessed to have this opportunity for change.

My mom and I drove by my new school, which was 7 minutes from the house with no traffic :)  She loved it and is so supportive of this change, which means the world to me.  We then, coupons in hand, trekked to Joann's to investigate their teaching aisles.

I scored a banner in this color scheme:
For 70 percent off!  My entire purchase was under twelve dollars, which also included several other classroom goodies.  (For the record, I love coupons and sales!)

I picked up a plain yellow banner:

That I will repurpose into this:

Except have it say "writing" instead of write. 

I grabbed a classroom jobs premade kit with this color scheme:
Which will be the basis for my new classroom! 

I also snagged some self adhesive paper pockets:

That I will transform into some sort of goal-setting wall!  I like the idea of having students' goals displayed but in a more private manner.  (I also liked that I scored a 24 pack for under a dollar instead of their posted $4 price!)

I'm excited to decorate my new classroom!

Saturday, July 5, 2014


For the past few years, I've used the "kiss your brain" jar to reward students for thoughtful answers.

It works fairly well but I was ready to try something new.  While searching pinterest, I found this idea:

I think making a jar of treats to celebrate their growth and academic progress.  I just need a jar, a printer, and some markers!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Interactive Notebooks

A few days ago, a fellow teacher and former colleague reached out to ask about interactive notebooks.  I've used notebooks for a few years now, each year with more student success, so I figured I'd offer some tips and tricks about implementing notebooks in the classroom.  Hope it helps Mrs. A! (Since this would have been way too long for an email!)

First, what is interactive notebooking?

Basically it's a notebook that students record their thoughts in.  They simply don't copy down information like mindless robots, but rather interact with the material.  They reflect upon it, analyze it, deconstruct it, edit and revise it, modify it, and so forth.  They record their thinking as they work with the material. There are things that are glued in.  There are lots of graphic organizers.  There is probably a combination of pencil, pen, marker, highlighter, tape, glue, and post-its within the pages.  It's a student-built resource that holds the record of their educational journey...and it can become a hot mess if not dealt with using structures and consistency.

Second, why?

You also might want to think about what your end goal is with the notebooks.  Are you using them because it's a school mandate?  Did your site get a huge donation of them and it's now a surprise expectation that these notebooks will be used?  Did notebooking become a buzz word and make its way into your site's school improvement plan?

Hopefully you're using notebooks in your classroom because you want to...but if you're forced to, hopefully this post makes the process a little bit easier.

Is it a place for them to only write down what you say?  Is it a completely free space for them?  Chances are, it's somewhat of both.

For me, notebooks have been a place for them to record their educational journey through different subjects.  The notebooks aren't for me, I've mastered fifth grade content.  The notebooks are for students.  It's a place for them to not only record the "big ideas," but make meaning as well.  It's a place for them to build a glossary of terms and record how characters change over time.  It's a place for them to model math strategies and show a problem several ways.  It's a place for them to write their thoughts and peer edit on drafts.  It's a place for them to annotate their thinking on close reads for poems and write their reactions to specific events in their novels.

It's their place to show their learning.  Like young minds, notebooks are best when used frequently.

Before using notebooks, some things to consider:

1) How many notebooks will you want your students to use?  

I recommend one per subject because I think it prepares my students for middle school, but it's ultimately it's a teacher decision that should be made prior to implementing notebooks in the classroom.  While I like one subject per notebook, I know other teachers have used the multi-subject notebooks.  Others have done two subjects in one notebook, starting one subject at the beginning and the other from the end and working forward.

2)  What type of notebooks do you want your students to use?

While you don't have complete control over what families bring in, you can ask for different types of notebooks for different subjects.  Last year we asked for both spiral and composition notebooks for different subjects.  

If possible, have the whole class use the same type of notebook for each subject.  In a perfect world, they'd all have the same color too...a teacher can dream!

Spiral notebooks: We used these for math, writing, and small group reading.

We used these because math problems or writing prompts frequently span more than one page and spiral is easier for students to flip to the next page and keep going.  The pages also easily rip out if students need to turn in work or collaborate with peers.

**teaching tip** Make sure students know the pages will be ripped out for an assignment prior to starting the task, that way they don't accidentally rip out something they needed to keep.

Floppy journals (usually provided by the school): We used these for word study (phonics, syllable types, Greek and Latin roots, etc).  If floppy ones aren't available, I'd use a composition notebook for this subject.

I cut these in half using the paper cutter at school but rumor has it Staples, Lowes, or a hardware store will cut them in half for you!

Composition notebooks: We used these for (whole group) reading and science.  

We used these because they were larger (we took more notes in these subjects) and the pages didn't rip out as easily.  They also held up better to gluing in graphic organizers such as these:

My inserts can be anything from FCRR character charts to closed notes for science to a poem we are going to use for a close read.  My general rule of thumb is if there is a precise drawing or copying the information will take them more then 5 minutes, I type it up and prepare it myself.  I usually prepare these on 1/2 size sheets so there's no overlap, but for some of my special ed students, I make a full size sheet and have them fold it in half to glue in.

I do go over my gluing procedures with them the first week of school because even fifth graders need reminders.  I expect them to put a large X in the middle and trace the edges of the paper before passing along the glue stick.  I have them show me with their fingers how we glue before they even touch glue sticks.  This does help eliminate their innate desires to coat the entire backside of the paper with globs of glue.  Hey, I'm not made of money to continually buy glue sticks! 

3) Organization of the notebooks

Before implementing notebooks, you'll want to decide how you want them organized.  I usually spend time the first week setting up notebooks with my students, modeling under the ELMO (document camera).  Whenever I have students take notes, I model in my own teacher notebook.  While this is time consuming, it's nice to have an accurate model for students who are absent.  Plus it's nice to have to reflect upon lessons to make the necessary tweaks!

Questions to ask yourself:
Are you going to have students number pages?  Does each side have its own page number or will both sides of the page have one number?  Will they use both sides of the page?  It's best to have this figured out before you model setting up notebooks with students.

Are you going to have your students keep a table of contents?

How often will they update the table of contents?  Will they do it as part of a lesson closure or during the opening?  I recommend writing the topic in together and acknowledging that the students' page numbers will not all be identical.

Will you have them color code their notebooks? Read more about this idea here

4) Model, model, model

I model writing in my notebook whenever I have students copying notes.  I do a lot of T charts where I have my notes (teacher input) on one side and students record their thinking (student input) on the other.  I model writing in the table of contents, I model making sure I'm on the right page, I model making sure I'm in the right notebook.  I then have them check in with their shoulder or face partner and give me a thumbs up to ensure that everyone is where he or she needs to be.

Frustrating and redundant? Absolutely at times, but it's worth taking a few extra moments to make sure everyone is on the same page (literally).

I prepare a lot of my lessons on smart notebook and I don't necessarily want my students copying down every single word I've typed.  To help them learn to decipher the important information, I will highlight the "must have's" that go on the teacher side.  We then discuss the information and I let them "chew" or "talk it out" with their table teams.  I then allow them reflection time to record their thoughts on the right hand side of their notebook (student input side).  From there, we'll come back together and I'll ask for volunteers to share what they put on the right hand side, thus allowing me to do a quick check for understanding and gauge the room.  After 1-2 students have shared, I'll do an informal check for understanding with hand signals (based on the student's response):

Thumbs up: We wrote basically the same things.

Thumbs sideways: We were close but I had a few things different.

Thumbs down: We didn't really have anything similar.

During this time we also talk a lot about how this notebook is their resource.  They might need to write down a lot of information for them to make meaning of concepts and that's okay.  They might need to draw diagrams. That's okay.   I make sure to model different strategies to help them determine how they like to take notes.

5) Procedures 

Before starting notebooks, you'll want to think through procedures and "what if?" situations.

What will you do if students leave their notebooks at home?

I usually have them copy on a blank piece of paper to glue or staple into their notebooks later.

What if a student is absent?  

I have a peer write for them.  Since I use Kagan groupings, there is (ideally) a higher student in each table group.  That student usually writes pretty quickly, so when he or she is done with his/her notebook, I have that student copy for the absent peer.  

Since my students don't all write at the same speed, I usually have them discuss the ideas in a whisper while their classmates are finishing up writing.

What if a student is in the restroom?

I try not to have more than 2 students out at a time, but I'll have them pass their notebooks to a peer to write for them while they're gone.  After a few weeks, students are pretty good at realizing which of their peers can write legibly and quickly for them.  I do have them pass their notebook to a peer at their same group to save time.  (You know, the looking around the room for their best friend, the slow walking to the best friend, the not-so-silent giggles with the best friend, then the same process on the return from the one has time for that!  Pass it to a neighbor and go do your thing kiddo!)

The inevitable "what if I run out of room?" question from the students will occur.  I must have answered this on a weekly basis for my fifth graders, but I simply have them turn to the backside or next page and keep going.

6) What goes in the notebook?

You've thought about what type of notebooks you want and how they'll be used in the classroom.  Now comes the fun part...what the heck goes in them.

Well, the content naturally varies by subject matter and age.  Having only taught fifth grade, I can speak about elementary notebooks with much more authority then high school ones.


For our reading block, we separated into three sections: phonics/word study, whole group (skill/strategy) and small groups (differentiation).  

Phonics: (5-10 minutes a day)
We started the year going over what makes a syllable, going into the six types of syllables, reviewing long and short vowel sounds, reviewing verb tenses, irregular words, and going over the nuances of the English language (when Y becomes I and so forth) before moving into affixes (prefixes and suffixes) and Greek and Latin roots.  At my previous school, almost all of our students were English Language Learners (ELL) and I had an inclusion classroom, so several of my students were special ed.  We couldn't start with fifth grade standards (affixes and roots) because we needed to fill in their knowledge gaps.  So we reviewed K-4 phonics content during the first twelve weeks.  Did my previous administration agree with this choice? No.  Did we have great growth in Aimsweb because the students were getting daily practice on strategies to read multisyllabic words? Yes.  That did get them off our backs. 

For phonics, we introduced the skill on Monday, did a closed sort Tuesday, did an open sort Wednesday, used fill in the blanks on Thursday and did a quick check on Friday.  We read aloud words with the skill both in isolation and in paragraphs daily.  This phonics time was our warm-up.

In their notebooks, they'd record the skill name, the rule(s) and examples/non-examples.   For ELL students, the non-examples are extremely important.  They'd also write down their sorts and do their quick checks.  

Whole Group Reading (30 minutes)

We glued in mentor texts (usually poems), graphic organizers, table of contents, copies of chapters, scanned reader's theater pages, etc.  We wrote over the mentor texts, a lot, taking note of character changes and author's word choice.  Here are some snap shots:

Theme reference chart 


New Colossus mentor text 

Example from phonics notebook 

Example of reader's theater script (they were learning the components) 

K/W/L (know, want to know, learned) chart and circle map all about components of literature

mentor text with student thoughts underneath  

 what makes a reader (making meaning and internalizing goals for the year)

 Keeping track of characters in our novel The Lightning Thief 


Table of contents for The Lightning Thief 

Phrasing activity (left) and overview of Greek gods (right)

Leaving space underneath a poem to record additional thoughts

mentor text (poem) that can be flipped up to record thoughts

Table of Contents to help students organize their notebooks

Steps for comparing and contrasting settings, so students can refer back during guided practice

 Text and places for them to record their thoughts

Example of an FCRR foldable 

Fluency guides

homework ideas

modeling what should be recorded

Creating T-charts for debates

Annotating their thinking

Graphic organizers (brightly colored so they can easily be found) with places for students to put their own examples

Small group reading: (1 hour)
We glued in fluency rubrics and character charts.  Much of their SG notebooks were dedicated to written responses about their characters.  I'd assign the groups chapters and their homework would be to respond to these questions by our next meeting date.  I had the higher half of the grade level, so they were able to handle this task.  They also did a lot of their must do activities in their notebooks.


For math, this is where they'd copy down the vocabulary and work through problems with me.  I like to print problems on sticky labels for them to work on collaboratively.  We also made foldables for vocabulary.

Note taking guide for students to explain their thinking 


We glued in glossaries for our science notebooks and diagrams, which students labeled and explained.  I made them a graphic organizer for their wonderings so they could eventually create their own science inquiry questions.

Making maps of our classroom


We made a FANBOYS foldable and did some sorts (revising vs. editing) in their notebooks, but these were mostly for their quick writes and drafts.  We used post-its with peer editing and different colored pencils when revising and editing.

Notebooks can be a daunting task but when taken slowly and used daily with students, they are a great place for students to make meaning of their learning.  As a teacher, you are guiding them to create their own reference materials and take charge of their understanding of the topics.  You are providing them with a place to navigate the content and challenge their previously held conceptions.  Yes, notebooks can be a lot of work...but it's worth it.

Any other tips and tricks fellow teachers?  Mrs. A, I hope this helps!

Good luck!