Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Helping Shy Students Written By a Shy Teacher

I am shy.

Yep, it's a part of me that I feel like is so obvious when you are around me in person. I feel my cheeks warm up and heart racing when talking to new people. So much of that shyness is internal. I say this because I have had people tell me they would never describe me as shy. That's me covering up a lot of my weird nervousness :)

As teachers, we are all trying to tune into our students. I remember 3rd grade clearly and at the end of the year I realized I had never once raised my hand to talk in front of my class. Yikes!

I've had teachers who tried forcing me to talk in front of groups. Some of my teachers were helpful and could coach me in a gentle way. Other teachers made me feel humiliated and where I wanted to hide deeper in my shell. Both of those models helped shape the way I interact with my students today. Here are a few tips to keep in mind with your own students...

1. Don't tell the student they are shy. 
When someone would point it out to me, I always felt more embarrassed and like everyone was staring at me waiting for me to speak. Yuck. The feelings of sitting there, anxiously worrying that everyone is going to notice me feeling super uncomfortable. Bad feeling. It's better to just acknowledge the shy student when the speak up just as you would acknowledge every other student. Make it seem like no big deal. Of every student/teacher relationship is different and if you have an open line of communication with a shy student, your judgement is the best.

2. Give your students plenty of options to interact with silent signals.
This does not have to be a special trick reserved only for some students. Re: Tip#1, when you point it out, shyness and anxiety may become worse. So just give ALL of your students the options to use silent signals such as sign language (thumbs up, thumbs down, "I understand" signals, etc.). Not only does this get more of your students interacting in your lessons, but you are able to check the understanding of even your quietest students.

My signal for "I agree"
My signal for "I made a connection"
3. Give a silent sign before calling on a student.
If you are confident that one of your shy students has something to add, give a little warning such as place a finger on the corner of their desk or give them a wink beforehand. It can take away that deer in the headlights feeling :) With a little warning, the student may be able to find their words and think of what they want to say. This means giving them plenty of wait time.

4. Strategic buddies.
Be sure the student is sitting near someone they can relate to and feel comfortable with. This can make such a huge difference when it comes to partnership activities, turn & talks, etc.

5. Assign special jobs.
Do you have a classroom job that requires someone to interact with individuals, but not in front of everyone? In my classroom, I had a job for someone to check book bins and make sure everyone had between 3-5 books. If they had too many or too little, this person would go remind the student to adjust their book bin. A job like this is perfect for a shy student if they are willing to talk to classmates.

So there you go! I hope my perspective gives you some more tools for your toolbox when it comes to doing all the great work you are doing with your students!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

5 Fun and Easy Thanksgiving Crafts

I am so thankful to have Corinne from Alternate Tutelage write this guest post about her favorite Thanksgiving craftiness! Enjoy!

Thanksgiving is always fun! There’s nothing like sitting down with kids and getting them busy with fun Thanksgiving crafts. You can find many easy and pretty crafts online. Here are a few of my favorite ones!

Craft Idea #1: Turkey Tabletop Decoration

Add a dash of Thanksgiving color to your dining table with this cute easy-to-make decoration.

You will need
·      Paper cup
·      Brown paint
·      Pom-pom
·      Construction paper in orange, yellow and red
·      Googly eyes
·      Scissors
·      Glue
How to make it
·      Paint the cup brown.
·      Turn it upside down and glue the pom-pom to the bottom. This is the turkey’s head.
·      Take the three construction papers and cut 9 leaf shapes (4 inches each.) These are the turkey’s feathers.
·      Cut a square piece of orange construction paper (1-inch) and fold it in half. Cut a triangle out of this folded paper. This is the turkey’s beak.
·      Cut a square piece of red construction paper (2-inch) and fold it in half. Cut a heart out of this folded paper. This is the turkey’s wattle.
·      Glue the wattle and the beak to the turkey’s head.
·      Now glue the googly eyes and the leaf-shaped feathers.

Craft Idea #2: Fall Leaf Placemat

Image and idea from 

Jazz up your holiday table with this leafy placemat!

You will need
·      Real leaves OR construction paper in red, green, orange and yellow
·      Glue
·      Clear Con-Tact paper
How to make it
·      Trace a leaf onto paper and use it as a template.
·      Now trace 12 leaf shapes onto the construction paper.
·      Arrange the leaf shapes into a rectangle, the leaves overlapping and a few open spaces between them.
·      Glue the leaves together where they overlap.
·      Protect your placemat with Con-Tact paper.

Craft Idea #3: Stuffed Football

Image and idea from

Celebrate NFL’s Thanksgiving Day games with this fun football craft!
You will need
·      Brown paper bag
·      Old newspapers
·      White paper
·      Stapler
·      Scissors
·      Glue
·      Brown markers
How to make it
·      Draw two footballs on the brown paper bag and color them using the brown markers.
·      Cut 5 small rectangles, 1 thin strip and 2 thick stripes out of the white paper. These are the bands and laces of the football.
·      Crumple the newspapers into balls.
·      Cut the football out of the brown paper bag and staple the two sides but not all the way through.
·      Stuff the newspaper into the ball.
·      Staple the ball all the way through.
·      Glue the laces and bands onto the football.

Craft Idea #4: Pumpkin Prints for Little Ones

Image and idea from

You will need
·      Mini pumpkin
·      Red, orange, yellow and green paint
·      Construction paper
·      Markers
·      Plate
How to do it
·      Cut the pumpkin in half and clean out the seeds.
·      Mix up the paints on a plate.
·      Using the pumpkin as a stamp, dip it into the paint plate.
·      Now, press the smeared pumpkin onto the construction paper.
·      Once you’re done stamping the pumpkin shapes, add leaves and stems to the prints.

Craft #5: Thankful Box for the Family

Image and idea from

Take time out to write about things you are thankful for and add them to this cute box.
You will need
·      Cardboard craft box
·      Plain paper
·      Permanent markers
·      Crayons
·      Glitter
·      Scissors
How to make it
·      Cut a slot in the box’s lid.
·      Use markers to write the words “I’m thankful for…” on the lid.
·      Decorate the box and the lid with crayons and markers.
·      Add glitter to the lid (and the box too, if you like)
·      Let dry.

I absolutely love getting crafty with my little ones. I’d be delighted to get more ideas on easy crafts we can busy ourselves with this Thanksgiving!

About the author:

Corinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning. You can also find her at

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Back to School Tips YouTube Party + GIVEAWAY!

This post has me SUPER EXCITED (with a dash of nervous and giddy)!
I have teamed up with my blogging friends at the Primary Chalkboard, and we wanted to do something BIG for back to school for you.
I'm talking, B.I.G.- BIG!!!!
We decided to throw you a party. (Need a hint?)
It is a YouTube Partaaaaay! Each of the amazing Chalkboard members are here sharing lots of tips -- organizational, DIY, helpful ideas-- lots of things you can do RIGHT NOW to make your back to school a little easier!
We are having a huge giveaway!

So...Would anyone like a:

$100 Amazon Gift Card
$100 TeachersPayTeachers Gift Card
A fabulous Michael Kors bag?

I thought so.
Then you need to head over to the Primary Chalkboard blog to enter!
You can EVEN gain EXTRA entries in the giveaway by watching each Chalkboard member's video and entering a SECRET WORD from each video into the Rafflecopter
(but I know you were going to do that anyway, so... 2 birds, 1 stone).

IMPORTANT NEWSFLASH: We will be linking up 5 new videos every day this week...
so you can come back, watch, and enter every day! WAHOO!

So, here is an easy recap:
SO. Let's get this party started!

MY TIP: How to organize all the papers you send home 

Now that you heard my SECRET WORD, head over to the Primary Chalkboard to watch more tip clips and gain more entries to enter our giveaway!

Remember to stop by the Primary Chalkboard Blog TOMORROW for more tips and MORE secret words for EXTRA entries in the giveaway! WAHOOO! You can ENTER my secret word in the Rafflecopter below:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Digging deeper with close reading

I remember the first time I saw the phrase "close reading". I wondered if it was something new or if it was a misspelling of "cloze reading" which is a method where students fill in the blanks to make meaning from the text. I also wondered if it was another passing fad in reading education. Either way, it didn't sound like something that would later dramatically affect how I teach reading.

Enter the Common Core standards. 

Three years ago, my school adopted the Common Core standards for ELA. Our first PLC task was to read and analyze the standards CLOSELY. I noticed the very first anchor standard for reading said "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it."

Yep, "read closely" and "close reading" ave VERY related phrases. 

It was like a lightbulb went on in my head. Over the year, through a ton of PD and reflection, I realized that my past reading instruction had some elements of close reading but that more than anything, I had been teaching my students pretty basic comprehension techniques that did not have the depth needed for the heavy reading expectations they encounter just a few years after my 2nd grade class.

It was time to dig deep - in my learning, in my teaching, and in my students understanding. Here are some of the big ideas that have stuck with me.

There is no "formula" for close reading.

There is no rule that says students MUST read the text three times in three specific ways. There are recommended techniques for digging into those details and some of those methods follow a systematic approach. But in reality, close reading flows much more than that. The student is going to go back to the text multiple times to reflect in different ways. Why did the author write it this way? Is the author saying something more than just what is written in words? How does this text build upon what I have read elsewhere? These (and many more) are the close reading questions we want to teach our students to use NATURALLY. So sometimes, a structured "three readings" rule is too limiting.

Close reading is reading WITHIN the text and BEYOND the text.

When I think of the kinds of readers I want my students to be ten years from now, I hope they will be thoughtful readers who make connections and make sense of what they are reading. I don't want them to be stuck on reading something only in the literal sense. That means for the younger grades, we are teaching skills to be THOUGHTFUL and reflective while reading.

It is supposed to be challenging.

Close reading is not about quickly finding the "answer". The text should be complex enough that the students are working out their thinking as opposed to us spoon-feeding them. Remember, we are expecting them to be reading comprehending text independently and proficiently at a Lexile Level of 1,000 by the 5th grade. That means we have a lot of work to do before then! For my second graders, that means the text falls within the Lexile Level of 450-790 which are the same levels for a third grader. My guidance and teaching comes in when I am showing them the techniques of digging deeper vs. pointing them in the direction of the "answers" in an overly simplified text.

Close reading and class wide discussions go hand in hand.

When strong readers read, they are thinking. They are naturally making connections to, within, and beyond the text. Since we don't all do this in exactly the same way, there is usually some variation in how a text can be interpreted. A good close read discussion will have multiple ways of looking at a text.

What does close reading look like in my classroom?

I teach in a reading workshop format. We always start with an Interactive Read Aloud where I model a reading strategy. Oftentimes, these are close reading strategies. Following the read aloud, my students will either head to read independently or they will meet with me for Guided Reading or Strategy Groups. For two days of the week, I do not have Guided Reading groups because I am conferring with students independently. This is when I check in with them to see how they are applying the strategies we have learned (or are learning) in their independent reading (books they have chosen themselves). The other three days a week, I work at my group table. Occasionally, I will be teaching a straightforward Guided Reading lesson. But more often than not, this is the time I teach reading strategies in a smaller group. 

I discovered the best solution for teaching close reading in a small group! Well, by discovery, I mean I created something :) I had been looking for materials that aligned well with the Common Core standards because I believe they are right on track for teaching the right strategies for developing deep thinking readers. I could NOT find anything that had enough relevant text examples, enough opportunity for practice, or enough depth to really practice what is needed.

So I got busy writing! And I got help from more qualified writers when needed.

These are my new babies!



When I say "I worked on them", I mean I REALLY worked! These four products took me almost a year to complete!! But they are one of those products I had always dreamed of as a teacher. Here are some of the key features:
  • I took each of the Common Core standards (for each of the separate grade levels) and wrote FIVE original passages that could be used for that particular standard. I did this so my students could have plenty of practice applying close reading strategies to these standards they are expected to master. Then I gave plenty of opportunity for my students to practice reading closely and apply those Common Core standards on each of the texts.
  • I also included a spiral of other close reading strategies for each of these passages. That way, my students would have plenty of opportunities to practice past strategies all throughout the year - not just during a specific unit. I did this because these are the reading strategies that I want to become ingrained in my students so they can use them forever in their reading lives.
  • I included a variety of text levels. All of the passages included have been carefully leveled and labeled with a Lexile Level on the top of each page. They are sorted in order from the least complex level to the most complex level so that your students can continually be challenged. ALL of the passages fall within the 450-790 Common Core standards Lexile Level expectation (which is the expected 2nd and 3rd grade reading level range). 
  • Even the tricky standards get plenty of practice. In second grade, we have a standard where the students have to "describe how words and phrases (e.g., regular beats, alliteration, rhymes, repeated lines) supply rhythm and meaning in a story, poem, or song." This can be tricky to find text examples in your classroom library! It is even trickier to find multiple copies so that you can do this in a group setting. This product covers all the bases. Like the rest of the standards, there are five passages and activities that align perfectly with this standard.
  • Students must justify and PROVE their understanding and thinking with text evidence. Most of the activities in the packs are open ended BUT must be backed up with textual evidence. That means your students are highlighting in multiple colors or circling and underlining text to show you what part of the text influenced their response. 
  • A complete Answer Key/Guide is included. As I said above, in close reading most of the responses should have multiple interpretations. I still went through every question in these products and gave a possible response so that you can have a starting place. Sometimes, the "answers" I have provided are a great discussion starter!

Check out this video preview for a closer look at what is inside:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Vacay in Vegas Baby!

Happy summer everyone!
I am in THE Las Vegas for the 1st ever TeachersPayTeachers Conference! This place is amaaaaaazing! 
I am here meeting up with teachers and bloggers from around the WORLD. How cool is that?!
Not to mention, my girls (and Greg) from The Primary Chalkboard are here! 
If you can't be here with us, what better way to celebrate than with a SALE?!
We are hosting a *Las Vegas Style* Double or Nothing Sale!
20% off my whole store July 10th and 11th!

It is the perfect time to stock up on things for Back to School! Check out the stores of my buddies who are also participating...

Friday, April 25, 2014

GoNoodle! Awesome for Brain Breaks!

I am SO hooked on GoNoodle! Have you heard of it? Well, it is an awesome brain break website that is so easy to use in the classroom. There is a huge variety of games/videos to play which means no more searching Pinterest for your next brain break. I know that my kids and I will be able to happily use the breaks everyday from now until the end the year.

Now, I have to share how I am using it!

I have been dabbling in some of the Whole Brain Teaching methods. There are a few that REALLY click with my style. My favorite behavior motivator is the smiley face/sad face scoreboard.

I draw the "scoreboard" on my whiteboard before my trickiest (behavior-wise) class (my reading/writing block RIGHT before lunch). I put a tally in the smiley face column when I see procedures performed well and a tally in the sad face column when I see the opposite. It is a contest for if the smiley or the sad faces win before the end of the period. If there are more smiley faces, then we get a reward...a GoNoodle brain break! (Note: You should follow the +/- 3 rule, which means don't let the smileys or the frowns get ahead by anything greater than 3. This keeps the kids more engaged).

The variety of brain breaks on GoNoodle is huge! There are calming breaks and silly dance breaks. I let my students choose their breaks (and they are always so excited that there are NO arguments).

Did I mention how amazing the FREE version is of this site? There are a TON of fun activities like this!

The BEST part is that the games are aligned to Common Core standards. For example, on today's break, when the screen says "DANCE" it is a dance party until the screen says "FREEZE" and shows an analog clock. When they see this, the students freeze and yell out the time on the clock. They are totally engaged AND they are practicing telling time. LOVE.

Anytime I try a behavior management system, I find that it works for a few weeks, or even months, but then starts to fizzle. Right? With using GoNoodle, there is a built in fail safe plan for keeping the kids interested! The class chooses their own character or mascot. They love stuff like this.

This little guy roots them and keeps 'em going! There is also the "video game effect" in play here. You know how there is the perfect amount of challenge to get to the next level? Yep, it's here. And yep, it works :)
It's kind of awesome. You should definitely check it out. It is super easy to sign up for an awesome FREE version by following this link HERE. You can even submit your name into a giveaway raffle at The Primary Chalkboard to win a PREMIUM membership to GoNoodle!