5 Activities to Survive the End of the Year Chaos!

Testing is over and the end of the year is almost here! We know how exciting this time of the year is for you and your students. However, it’s also one of the most hectic times of the year. Between the end of the year events, concerts, field trips, assessments, and preparing your room for the summer; there is always so much to be done! As teachers, we still want to create meaningful memories for our students even in the midst of all of the chaos. 

Here are 5 ideas you can use to help survive the end of the year:


1. Try Out Themed Activities Kids love themes and being able to get into character makes doing work so much more fun. This is also a great way to implement room transformations. There are so many options on TPT. Some possible themes are: camping, beach day, boot camp, circus, etc. We created a week-long, cross-curricular Secret-Agent themed unit that is print and go. Check out our printable and digital versions below.



“My kids loved the activities and asked for more. It was a great non-stressful activity!”


2.
Count Down with a Balloon Pop We all know that the end of the year tends to bring out some of the more...impulsive behaviors in students😉. A balloon pop is a great way to not only count down the number of days of school left, but also encourage good choices. Implementing this classroom management strategy is easy. We usually do it for the last ten days of school. Put a slip with a reward inside of each balloon. After you have blown them up, tape the balloons somewhere around the room. Each morning you will write a word like POP or BALLOON on the board. If the students misbehave they can lose a letter. However, if they have at least one letter left by the end of the day, they get to pop the balloon. Then they will get to do the reward the following day. This is super motivating for students and they will be so excited to see what is inside the balloon each day.


3. Use Technology to Reflect on the Year The end of the year is a great time for students to reflect on things they have learned and ways that they have grown. Kids are so comfortable with technology, especially now that many have experienced distance learning. Using website platforms, such as Flipgrid, is a great way for them to be able to share and reflect. This website and app allows your students to easily record videos to one location that can be accessed by the teacher or other students. Have your students fill out these surveys with information about themselves and the school year.


4. Put on a Talent Show Students love to be the star of the show. Allow them to showcase their talents and amazing abilities with a talent show. This requires no prep on your part. Simply set up a time and have the students sign up with what talent they would like to share. Then enjoy the show! You can even do a digital talent show if you’re doing virtual learning. Use Padlet or Flipgrid for students to record their talent and post for classmates to view. 


5. Create a Memento Have students complete a cute scrapbook to record their memories from their school year. When they are finished, students will have a great memento that they can keep for years to come. They will get to share about their friends, their teacher, favorite memories, etc. This is also an easy virtual activity for students to complete digitally. Click below to grab a FREE copy of our Digital Editable End of the Year Scrapbook.


We hope that these ideas help you to survive the last few days of the school year. Hang on, you’re almost done!!!


Free Escape Room Activity for the Classroom

Have you ever tried doing a breakout challenge with your students using locks, boxes, codes, and blacklights? While all of that sounds fun and engaging for students in theory; in reality, it can be very stressful for the teacher. Setting it up and organizing the tasks, making sure that the locks are set correctly--all of this can be overwhelming. After we experienced this with our students, we decided to simplify the process. We came up with an escape room challenge that didn’t need any complicated props, but still had the same engagement for kids! Read on to find out more about our escape room challenges and get a free one to try out in your classroom!


One of the things that we love about doing our escape rooms with students are that they are quick and easy to set up. All you need is a printer and occasionally a few supplies. Each breakout game starts by setting the stage with the mission or mystery. Then students need to work collaboratively to solve 4 or 5 challenges. These challenges are cross-curricular and allow students to practice many different skills, including critical thinking. Each time they solve a challenge they get closer to “breaking out”. You can feel the energy and excitement in the classroom as the students are working.



See what this educator said about one of our escape room challenges:


“My students LOVED this activity!!! I loved it too because it was a great review of math fact fluency, elapsed time, word problems, and reading a grid with directions.  I think the best part of it was that my kids really had to critically think when doing the activities.  For example the elapsed time clue didn't just tell them who it was they had to determine who had enough time to commit the crime.  Very, very well put together! I'll be looking for more of these types of activities from this seller.



When we switched to remote learning, we wanted to continue the fun of the breakout games that our students loved so much, so we made digital versions. The students can still have the excitement of completing the challenges while working alone, or they can work in virtual groups.



Ready to try an escape room in your classroom? Click below to try our Secret Agent Breakout Game for FREE!




You can also grab the Escape Room Bundle and Digital Escape Room Bundle below.





We hope your students love completing these challenges as much as ours do!


8 Reasons to Try Student Led Conferences


                              
Let’s be honest, do you dread that parent teacher conference time of the year? If so, there is a way to make the whole experience much less nerve wracking, while still being beneficial for all of those involved. Student led conferences are a great way to engage both the parents and the student, instead of putting the spotlight only on the teacher.

We have done student led conferences for years and we love them. They take a little bit of work upfront but it is mostly just guiding the students in their preparation. This type of conference can still be done even if you are teaching virtually this year! 


Read on to find out the top 8 reasons why you should do student led conferences with your class this year and to grab some free resources.


1. The prep is much less time consuming for you as the teacher than with traditional conferences.

Since they are student led, most of the information to be shared is being gathered by students. We start about a week before the conferences and have the students put together a portfolio of work to share using a checklist. They work on a different reflection page each day and gather samples of work from all of the subjects.
 

2. They are a great way for students to really reflect on their progress.

As we said, we have students fill out several reflection pages where they rate their work habits and behavior, share grades, Class Dojo points, etc. They also have many opportunities to set goals for themselves. They are not only thinking about how they have done so far in the year, but they think ahead to what they would like to accomplish in the future.

3. Students are forced to take ownership of their own behavior/work.

As students work on completing their portfolios, we always stress how important it is to really be honest with themselves. When we sit down for a conference with the student and their parents, they know that we can always chime in with a question or bring up any differences between what we have noticed at school versus what they have shared. More often than not, our students are very truthful and many times are harder on themselves than we would have been. 


4. Students can feel a sense of empowerment.

Allowing students to take the lead and be in a position of power during the conference is one of our favorite reasons for doing student led conferences. It’s fun to see them rise to the occasion. It also gets across the message that while their teacher and parents are there to support them, it is really the students themselves that are going to drive their own learning and progress. 


5. Students benefit from receiving their parents’ attention.

Life is so busy and parents, especially those with multiple children, don’t always get to give a lot of focused attention to a child. Taking a few minutes to let their child be the star of the show is really affirming for students and they tend to really benefit from receiving both their parents’ and teacher’s attention. An added bonus is that parents are usually very pleasantly surprised to see their child present in a way that is very different from what they see at home.


6. It builds a strong home-school connection.

Parents are more willing to come in for a conference when they know that their child will be leading it. It may even be a way to get more reluctant or hard to reach parents involved. Sometimes parents are nervous about coming into the school if they are not fluent in English. In these instances in the past, we have either allowed the students to present to their parents in their native language or arranged for an interpreter to be present through the ESL teacher.


7. It can be a fun and enjoyable time for all!

We really play up the student being the star of the show by making it into a “Hollywood” event. We put out a red carpet outside of the classroom door and display Walk of Fame writing assignments in the hallway, where students talk about why they are a superstar. The students dress up for their conference and they get to sit in the teacher chair to share their work. As soon as it is time to start, we allow them to lead the conference and we serve more as a facilitator. After they finish, we take a picture of them with their parents which we send home later as a reminder of their special night.


8. These conferences can be done both virtually and in person!

It’s great to be able to have the in person experience, however it is still very possible to have a student led conference virtually. Students can complete digital slides and share their work through video conferencing apps such as Zoom or Google Meet. We would recommend having a copy of each student’s slides so that you can present them from your computer as they share.  


If you’re ready to try out student led conferences check out our Student Led Conference Resource. It has everything you need to try this with your class. Also, for those that are doing virtual conferences, we have our Student Led Digital Conferences.  

Finally, here is a free editable resource with the letter we send home and a list of websites that can be passed out at the end of the conference for parents who need resources at home.

So have we convinced you yet? If you decide to try student led conferences this year, comment below and let us know how it goes!




10 Ideas for Social Distancing in the Classroom

For those teachers going back into the classroom to teach this fall, we know that it feels kind of like trying to navigate a minefield. You already have so much on your plate at the beginning of the year; and now in this unprecedented time, you are being asked to extend yourselves even more! We would like to share 10 ideas to help you get your school year started as smoothly as possible in the socially distanced classroom. So, take a deep breath and read on.


1. Make Expectations Visual

It's so important for students to clearly know what the expectations are for them as they return to school. Creating a sign together helps clearly communicate what they can and can not do. You might even draw diagrams to show what it looks like to stay in their personal space during class or at lunch time. Some expectations you might write are:

Keep hands and feet to yourselves
Wash your hands for 20 seconds before lunch and after recess
Wash your hands for 20 seconds after you use the bathroom 
Use only your own supplies
Sneeze and cough into your elbow
Eat your own food only                                                                                                                      

2. Teach Students How to Wash Their Hands

Don’t assume that your students know how to wash their hands the correct way. Make sure to clearly demonstrate what they should be doing every time they go to wash their hands. This includes emphasizing that they wash for at least 20 seconds. They can sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Mary Had a Lamb". You can even go to https://washyourlyrics.com/ to create a poster for the classroom with song lyrics. Here are a couple of videos that you can use to show students how to wash:                                                                                                        

For Younger Kids


For Older Kids

                                              

3. Create Sanitizing Stations 

If you don't have a sink in your classroom, students should know where they can go if they need to get sanitizer fast. Make a couple of stations with hand sanitizer, tissues, wipes, paper towels, etc. and encourage the frequent use of them throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to further sanitize the room by having students wipe their desks at the end of each day.     

4. Redesign Flexible Seating 

It may seem that the idea of flexible seating in the classroom went out the window when Covid-19 arrived however there are still ways to make it work. Obviously anything that can’t be cleaned or sanitized regularly is out, but you can still give students options for where they will work. You might use a system where they are in the same spot for a week. Each spot is then sanitized at the end of the week and they can choose a different spot for the following week.        

5. Allow Students to Have Ownership of Their Space 


If your students will be sitting at the same desk everyday, help them to get excited about their personal space. Try calling it their "office" or "workstation". Give them an opportunity to decorate it and make it their own. They can create signs, bring in pictures from home, make name tents or decorate with painters tape or fun washi tape.             
                                                                                                                         

6. Get Students Moving 

With so many restrictions, the temptation is for educators to have students at their seats on the computer all day long to keep them safe. However, that is a recipe for a very boring school day, and unhappy students make an unhappy teacher. Find ways to get students out of their seats, even if they are spread apart. They can stand up if they think they know the answer to a question, or you can create fun hand signals with chants for them to do. Another way to get students moving is by taking lots of brain breaks. If you don’t already use the website GoNoodle with your students you should! There are a ton of fun interactive videos that you can do together.               
                                         

7. Get Creative with Instructional Activities 

Even for the veteran teacher, getting students to learn material will look very different at the start of this year. In order to limit the number of students in a space at one time, you might need to split the class in half or into small groups and stagger assignments. Have each group of students do a different station each day or assign a few students to various activities. It’s also important to still have student to student interaction Allow partners or group members to write down responses on whiteboards and hold them up for each other to see. Students can record videos using websites, such as Flipgrid and their classmates can respond. If you're looking for guided Flipgrid activities for the start of the year, check out our Beginning of the Year Flipgrid Surveys. Also, be on the lookout for areas with more space where students can spread out. Use the hallway or teach outside when the weather is nice.   
                                                                                                                                      

8. Make Use of Video Conferencing Tools

There will most likely be few to no adults visiting your classroom in the fall, but that doesn’t mean that guests are out! In fact, you might be able to arrange for even more of a variety of guests to “visit” your classroom through Zoom or Google Meet. Allow parents to sign up to be a mystery reader. Try and connect with a classroom in another part of the world or an expert in a certain field. Students will love getting to see different faces and hear about others' experiences.
                                                          

9. Rethink Classroom Jobs 

The days of classroom jobs as usual are gone for now. You might not be able to do paper passers and pencil sharpeners, however jobs such as line leader, caboose, and attendance helper can still work. Think outside the box to come up with other classroom jobs, such as human timer, noise monitor, or chant leader. Get input from your students! There are still ways for them to have an active role in their classroom community.                        
                                         

10. Create Individual Supply Bags

You can cut down on germs by having students use separate supplies. Create bags ahead of time and label them with the students' names. You can even separate out math manipulatives. Make sure to label clipboards, whiteboards, and give students their own dry erase markers to use. You can cut up felt or hot glue pom poms to the marker caps to create individual erasers. 

You'll find this tip and many more in this free back to school e-book!

We hope you found some of these tips useful. Have a great school year! 

8 Ideas to Get to Know Your Students Virtually

Are you going to be teaching virtually this year? Distance learning presents many new challenges for teachers and parents alike, but perhaps the most difficult part is getting to know your students so that you can make connections with them when you're not even in the same room!

We all know how important it is to connect with your students and YES: this is still possible to do virtually! We've collected some great ideas that you can use TODAY to help you at the beginning of the school year.

1. Create a Virtual Classroom

Virtual classrooms are all the rage right now, and they're so fun to create! There are tons of youtube videos that will guide you through the process of creating your own. Decorate it with your favorite colors, posters and furniture. The best part is, you can add hyperlinks to objects that will lead students to websites or videos they need to use. Sound too complicated or don't have time to make your own? Check out tip #2 for a premade one!

2. Virtual Meet the Teacher Open House

One of the most exciting nights of the year is Meet the Teacher/Open House night! The students are excited to see their classroom for the first time, and you're excited to see all those adorable smiles that will fill your classroom all year long. If you're teaching virtually, you can still preserve some of that excitement by holding a virtual Meet the Teacher Open House. We've created one and it's already formatted for you, all you have to do is add your pictures, videos and text. Students will love to see pictures from your life and parents will get all the information they need for a successful school year. Click here to grab yours!

3. Put a Finger down if... Get to Know You Game

This is a super simple game that you can play with all of your students as an ice breaker, or just to get to know your students a little more. This game would be perfect for a video conference meeting like Zoom or Google Meet. Here's how to play:
  • Have your students hold up all 10 fingers so that everyone can see them in their screen. 
  • The teacher will say a statement. If it is true for them, they will put a finger down. If it's not true for them, their finger stays up. 
  • Students would be out if all of their fingers were put down.
Examples: 
  1. "Put a finger down if you've ever forgotten to turn in your homework."                             
  2. ".....if you've ever forgotten your lunch at home."                                       
  3. ".....if you've ever arrived to school late."              
  4. ".....if you've ever missed school to go on vacation."  
  5. ".....if your favorite special class is gym."
  6. ".....if you've ever walked into the wrong classroom on accident."
  7. ".....if you've ever gone to the nurse at school."
  8. ".....if math is your favorite subject to learn."
  9. ".....if you've accidentally called your teacher 'MOM'."
  10. ".....if you think this will be the best school year ever!"
The questions are really endless! We love this game because it helps students see that they have commonalities with other classmates and they just love it!

4. Virtual Show and Tell 

Who doesn't love a good old fashioned Show and Tell? Let's face it, kids love to talk about themselves, their families and show off something that's important to them. There are several variations of this idea that you can use: show a special toy and explain when you got it, show us a picture that makes you think of a special memory, show your pet/sibling/family member and tell us something about them that makes them special to you. 

5. Flipgrid 

Ok, if you're teaching virtually this year and you don't know about Flipgrid...stop reading this right now and sign yourself up for a free account (then come back to read how we use it with our students!) Flipgrid is a free video recording platform with endless possibilities. Students can record a video based upon a question posed by the teacher, a video or any type of assignment that requires a response. We use Flipgrid, with these surveys, at the beginning of the year to get to know our students personally. We love that other students are able to watch other classmates' videos and record a video response back. This would be a great way to have students interview a classmate by recording videos back and forth to answer the questions. We use the surveys mainly as a brainstorming sheet, so that the students know what they want to say when they go to record the video. We've found our ELL students do phenomenally well with using Flipgrid and are more comfortable speaking in English in a video then they were in class.  

6. Me Behind My Mask: A Self Portrait

If you're looking for a fun art activity to do with your students, check out Cassie Stephen's adorable self-portrait idea! Every year we have our students draw a self portrait at the beginning of the year that we hang up in our classroom as a year long decoration. Since our students won't be with us in a classroom this year, we wanted to continue using the self portrait idea. Cassie has a guided drawing video to walk students step by step through the process. We love the addition of the mask too! 

7. Padlet

After your students draw their self-portrait, you can have them post a picture of it on Padlet. Padlet is another great free resource where students can post images or videos and other students can comment on their post. Think of it as a virtual bulletin board! After your students post their self-portrait picture, other students could guess who they think the portrait is in the comments. 

8. Don't Forget Classmate Connections

One of the hardest parts of virtually teaching is to provide our students with opportunities to connect with each other. There's no recess for them to play together or lunch to eat and share giggles across the table. Sometimes it's so easy to focus on the academics and try to control the chaos of video class meetings by having everyone on mute, but it's equally important to provide them with opportunities to talk, laugh and have fun together. A simple virtual lunch bunch group meeting allows students the opportunity to just chat and have fun together while they eat lunch. 

Even though you won’t get to share the hugs and high fives as usual, it’s so important to let kids know that even virtually, they are a special part of your classroom community.  These activities can still give kids an opportunity to let their personalities shine through. Good luck with your school year!





Nonfiction Text Feature Surgery

Have you ever wanted to try a classroom transformation but just didn't have the time or energy to make it happen? That's how we felt! When we first saw the idea of a text feature surgery, it actually looked like something we could handle. Throw down some blue butcher paper, add in a heart beat monitor video from YouTube, grab some medical gloves and a face mask and your class can experience this engaging activity too!

Prepare for Surgery

Before we allowed our students to perform surgery, we treated them as "Surgical Residents" and had them go through Medical School. We spent a day or two learning about non-fiction text features, why they're important, how they help us as we're reading, and becoming experts on all things text features. We used this text feature chart with interactive notes to help us. We also played a matching text feature game to practice. 


Surgery Day

When we felt confident that our little residents understood the text features they would be using, it was time for surgery! We set up the classroom before students arrived so they would be excited from the moment they came in the door. It also helped us get through the morning routine quickly because they were so excited to start surgery. The setup was so easy! We simply covered the tables with blue butcher paper and stuck their gloves, face masks and wipes (for sanitizing their surgical tools) in a basket in the middle of the table. We also made sure that we had a StoryWorks magazine and surgery packet ready for every student. YouTube has lots of videos with heart rate monitors to add another realistic touch!


We made a checklist of the steps our doctors needed to follow to perform their transplants so they knew exactly what to do. Of course, this started with cleaning/sanitizing their tools and reading the patient charts. Each patient had a list of symptoms and students had to decide which text feature would help them based on their symptoms. Then they had to find an example of that text feature in their magazine, cut it out, and glue it in their patient's file. We designed our surgery like this because we felt it was more rigorous and required deeper thinking skills then just simply asking students to find a specific text feature and cut it out. 



Post-op Reports



When they finished all 8 patients, we asked our surgeons to fill out their post-op reports on each patient. They identified the text feature transplant that they performed, the text features purpose, and how it would help their patient as they're reading. 

Our students LOVED this activity and we loved how it helped them have a deep understanding of text features. If you would like to try this out in your own classroom, click on the picture below to use our Text Feature Surgery product! 



Welcome to Our Wax Museum!

One of our favorite events to do with our students each year is our biography wax museum! We see the tired but proud smiles on the students' faces after they finish, and it always reminds us what a great experience it really is. We literally get to see their confidence grow right before our eyes and parents LOVE seeing their child perform. There are always exclamations of gratitude that we have given their child a platform to shine. Want to try it in your own classroom? It's easy, just follow these four simple steps!

Step 1: Research and Write a Biography


Our wax museum is the culminating project after we have finished our biography unit. During this unit students choose a famous person that they want to research. We always stress to the students that at the end of the unit we will do a special presentation where they will need to portray the person that they choose. We involve parents in the decision so that they are well aware of this!

The students create a final report about their person's childhood, adulthood, accomplishments, and importance. When they have finished it, it is time to introduce the wax museum. We start off by talking about what a wax museum is and show pictures of actual museums such as Madame Tussauds. We tell them that they are going to dress up like the person they have studied and freeze in place; but what makes our museum special is that if you press a button they come to life!

Step 2: Send Home a Parent Letter

The students are given an assignment to work on at home. There are three parts to the assignment:
  1. They create a 1-2 minute speech about their person’s life, speaking as if they really are that person (this is a good time to talk about using pronouns I and me). We recommend that students try to memorize it but we allow them to use index cards. 
  2. They design a poster with pictures of their person at different stages in their life. Tip: Have students get trifold boards if they can. They are easier to stand up on tables. 
  3. They come up with a costume and props that will help them “become” their person. We always stress to students that they can use whatever they can find around the house. If they would like to purchase something, it is fine, but definitely not required. 
You can access the letter we send home here for free:


We usually give about 3 weeks for students to work on this assignment at home, making sure to check in with them each week. We schedule a day performance where classes from the school can sign up to come and an evening performance for the parents.

Step 3: Practice Makes Perfect

Finally we have a dress rehearsal the day before the performance where the students bring their speech (without the costume or the poster) to practice. We tell students that they need to share their presentations as if it were the real performance, reminding them to use lots of expression and speak slowly and clearly.

Tip: Grade the students on their speech and presentation during the dress rehearsal. It makes it easier to grade only the poster and costume on the day of the actual performance.

The dress rehearsal it is a good time to tell students that they will encounter different situations, especially when the audience includes children. They may have someone press their button and walk away in the middle of sharing. We tell them that if that happens they should just stop. Or if they have students pressing their button multiple times and being silly they can do the speech once and then freeze back into their positions. It’s important to encourage them to not get discouraged if these types of things happen. It’s a part of the experience.

Step 4: It's Showtime!

On the day of the performance the students get dressed and we attach their “buttons” using paperclips. They stand in front of their posters and freeze in a position. When the crowd comes in the students should be perfectly still. Someone presses a button and with that our wax museum comes to life!



    



Putting on a wax museum may seem overwhelming but it's really not. It is a worthwhile experience that students will be sure to remember! If you would like steps to help you from start to finish, click on the picture below for our Biography Research Unit. 



We also have a Google Slides version with instructional videos included that you can find below: