Saturday, August 13, 2016

Classroom Themes 101

Choosing a theme for your classroom can be both exciting and challenging.  What best represents your personality?  What would the students choose?  Some teachers choose not to have a theme and may use a color scheme instead.  Summer vacation is a perfect time to plan and organize for the upcoming school year.  There are so many resources to use online to help you create a classroom that is both inviting and conducive to learning.
Listed below are some of my favorite themes with creative sayings to display classroom materials and highlight students.
  • Dog Theme - Students and teachers love dogs!  What a wonderful way for students to make personal connections with their classroom.  Even for students who are not dog owners, these cute and adorable animals brighten up any classroom.  
    • "Barking About ______" is a title that can be used in a variety of ways.  Highlight a subject area or activity on a bulletin board.  Just add student work and this board will be something to bark about.
    • "Top Dog" can be used to describe a student of the week or month.  You can create a bulletin board highlighting students for their accomplishments.
    • "Dog-Gone Good ______" is another title with endless possibilities.  You can add words such as students, work, behavior, readers, writers, scientists, etc.  This title will fit perfectly on a bulletin board in your dog themed classroom
    • "Paws"itively __________" is a wonderful play on words for a dog theme.  You can add so many different words to highlight students, subject areas, and classroom activities.
    • "You've been Spotted ________" can be used for so many different bulletin boards.  Ideas include: reading, writing, working, behaving, and following class rules.
Click below for a free dog theme poster:

If interested in more dog theme decor, click below:

  • Hollywood Theme - I have used this theme in my classroom for several years.  You can actually check out pictures of my Hollywood classroom on my blog.  I love the idea of the students becoming stars of their classroom.  If you like to coordinate your room with certain colors, then red, white, and black will really stand out in your Hollywood themed classroom.  Some ideas that you can use on bulletin boards to spotlight students, activities, and lessons include:
    • "Spotlight on ___________" can be used for almost any idea.  Students love to see their work spotlighted and this helps build their self esteem.
    • "Now Featuring/Playing __________" is similar to "Spotlight on _________."  You can highlight students, specific lessons and/or activities.
    • "Wall of Fame" can be used to motivate students.  If students complete an assigned goal then their name can be added to the Wall of Fame.  Students become more motivated when they realize that their hard work will be acknowledged.
    • "Starring ___________"  is another idea with endless possibilities.  You can add your class name, grade level, or a description such as super students.
    • "A Star is Born" can be used to spotlight a student of the week.  Students can bring in baby pictures of themselves to add to this bulletin board.
    • "Meet the Cast and Crew of ___________" is a perfect way to add your teacher name.  This board should be displayed at the beginning of the year.
    • "Look Who's Popping in ___________" can also be used at the beginning of the year to introduce the new students of your class.  I used it in my classroom for Accelerated Reader.  The students "popped" as they earned points.
    • "Hollyword" is a wonderful title for your word wall.  I used a wipe off board to display my words and hung the sign above the board.
    • "Stage Crew" can be used as the title of your helpers bulletin board.  I labeled the helpers with all Hollywood themed names.  

Click below for free Hollywood themed homework passes:

If interested in more Hollywood Theme decor, click below:

  • Jungle Theme - Another favorite theme that I have used in the past.  There are so many possibilities with this theme that it makes it easier to decorate a classroom.  I am wild about a jungle themed classroom.
    • "Wild About __________" can be used by adding any subject.  Student work can be displayed according to the subject that was chosen.
    • "Roaring About _____________"  is very similar to "Wild About ___________."  You can add any subject or topic.  Add student work and the board is complete.
    • "You've Been Spotted _____________" reading, writing, behaving, and working are just some of the ideas that you can use with this board.  
    • "Swinging into _____________" just needs the grade level added to it.  You have a perfect bulletin board for the beginning of the school year.
    • "Welcome to the Jungle" can be displayed on your door.  Perfect addition to your jungle themed classroom.
    • "Rules of the Jungle" can be included with your classroom rules.  It is important for students to be able to read the rules and review them often.
    • "Exploring ____________" is another topic that can be used with any subject, topic, or lesson that you are teaching.
Click below for free jungle themed hallway passes:

If interested in more jungle themed classroom decor, click below:

  • Farm Theme - Love this theme for primary classrooms!  The main color of this theme is red and the animals bring along many other colors to brighten up a classroom.  Some ideas to include in your farm themed classroom:
    • "Mooooving Along in ________________" can be used to highlight a grade level, teacher's class, or subject area.  Just place a drawing of a cow and the board is all set.
    • "You've Been Spotted __________" is a great title for spotlighting a specific activity.  Ideas include reading, writing, behaving, following directions, and completing homework
    • "Down on the Farm with ____________" just needs the teacher's name added and you can use this at the beginning of the school year to welcome your students.
    • "Round Up for _____________" is perfect for any subject area or topic taught.  Add student work and the board is complete.
Click below for a farm themed reading certificate:

If interested in more farm themed classroom decor, click below:

  • Pirate Theme - Students love this theme.  The colors include mostly red, black, and white.  Where do you mostly find pirates?  Sailing on the blue ocean under a blue sky.  So blue is also another color that can be added to your pirate theme.  Listed below are some suggestions to enhance your classroom:
    • "We ARGH..." is a wonderful starter sentence and the possibilities are endless.  We ARGH following the class rules.  We ARGH prepared for class.  We ARGH excited for school.  We ARGH ready for ____ grade.  We ARGH readers.  We ARGH wishing our classmates a happy birthday.  Add your own words to this sentence starter and your pirate themed bulletin boards are all set.
    • "____________ is a real treasure!" is another heading you can use on bulletin boards.  Add different subjects in the blank and you can use this to display your students work.  
    • "You ARGH top crew!" can be used to highlight the student of the week.  Display these words on a bulletin board to showcase one particular student or a group of students.
    • "Sailing into...." can be used for the beginning of the year.  Just add the grade level or teacher's name and you have a title ready for your back to school bulletin board or classroom door.
    • "Gold ___________" can be used to spotlight students.  "Gold Readers" can be used to motivate students with a reading incentive program. "Gold Mathematicians" can be used to display outstanding math work.  You can use this sentence starter to highlight students who are displaying academic success, positive behavior, and/or showing acts of kindness.
Click below for a pirate themed top crew certificate:

If interested in pirate theme classroom decor, click below:

Hope these ideas help enhance your classroom!  In the comments section would love to hear about your classroom themes and any additional ideas that you have.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Is School Fun?

You might be wondering why I would ask such a question.  With the beginning of the school year approaching, I began reminiscing about my first year of teaching.  Although it was over twenty years ago, I can remember it very vividly.

My class was created two weeks after school began.  My principal, at the time, wanted to make sure that there were enough students to create a new class before he officially hired me.  I was so excited when he confirmed that I would become a second grade teacher.  I was ready (or so I thought) to conquer the teaching world.

On the Friday before I would officially begin, select students were pulled from their second grade classrooms.  They were informed that on Monday I would become their new teacher.  Scared, sad, and confused were just some of the emotions that were displayed from those innocent faces.  I wanted to make them feel comfortable with this new announcement and excitedly stated, "School will be so much fun this year."  Those simple words would eventually haunt me for the remainder of the year.

In a nutshell, what occurred was simple.  As I assigned classwork and homework assignments students would immediately raise their hands.  When called upon they would simply state, "You said school would be fun.  This is not fun."  With those words, I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  I quickly learned that children are much smarter than I ever realized.  They also have the ability to speak their minds honestly and openly.

As the year continued, I realized that teaching was not an easy profession.  I was challenged in every way possible.  When I graduated from college, I felt like I was ready and completely prepared.  I was so young and naive.  As a new teacher, I wanted school to be fun.  I created bulletin boards that would excite students.  I was so proud of my reading corner.  I created a comfy place for children to enjoy literature.  I stayed after school everyday for several hours trying to prepare my lessons for the following day.  On paper, it looked perfect.  In reality, not so much.  I was missing the key ingredient to a fun class, classroom management.  I wanted to please the students so much that I was often inconsistent with my discipline plan.  I let the students control the situation instead of me.  I learned very quickly that in order for my class to be viewed as fun, I needed to reflect on my teaching practices and improve in the area of classroom management.

It was a very trying year.  I cried everyday and often questioned my decision to become a teacher.  My father would often call and remind me that tomorrow was a new day.  He tried to keep me afloat when I definitely felt like I was sinking.  Somehow I mustered up the strength to return to my classroom and get through the day.  Somehow I survived.

My experiences my first year helped me become the teacher I am today.  I learned the importance of classroom management.  I learned that the way I perceived myself was very different from the eyes of my students.  Social media is amazing.  Over the past years, I have been contacted through Facebook and reconnected to students who I have previously taught.  Scott, a student in that first class I ever taught, shared his thoughts about me.  I was amazed by his kind words, “In one way or another all of my teachers through the years have had an impact on my life, however, there are a select few that really hold a special place in my heart and you are on top of that list! Thank you for being so memorable!”  I often think back to that class and the struggles of a first year teacher.  Scott has inspired me to realize that even when I lacked the experiences of teaching, the students were viewing me as a role model.  The impact teachers have on children is priceless. 

In the comments below I would love to hear your thoughts about your first year.  Is school fun?  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Take the Time to Teach Grammar

Grammar skills are essential for all aspects of life.  Children need to learn proper grammar in order to effectively communicate.  When expressing your thoughts and ideas, it is important that the message is clear and free from grammatical errors.  In our very busy world of teaching, sometimes grammar skills are put on the back burner.  As teachers we need to make sure we are teaching students how to communicate in a way which will help them become productive members of society.  

So, where do you begin?  As in the Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning…”

ü   Teach grammar vocabulary.  Students needs to understand and be able to identify the different parts of speech.  Here are some essential parts of speech that all elementary school students should know:
§  Nouns identify people, places, animals, or things.
o   People – teacher, mother, father, boy, girl, baby
o   Places – school, farm, office, hospital, library, restaurant
o   Animals – dog, cat, monkey, lion, tiger, pig, zebra, giraffe
o   Things – pencil, apple, bed, ball, bicycle, cup, table

 Nouns - Engaging Activities to Teach Grammar

§  Pronouns take the place of nouns.
o   Subject pronouns – I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they
o   Object pronouns – me, you, him, her, it, us, you them
o   Possessive pronouns – mine, yours, his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs
§  Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns
o   What kind is it?
o   How many are there?
o   Which one is it?
§  Verbs express action and states of being
o   Action verbs show action.
o   Linking verbs link the subject to a noun or adjective.  It describes a condition.
o   Helping verbs help the main verb describe the action.

§  Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs
o   Where?
o   When?
o   How?
o   How often?

ü  Use literature books.  It is important to teach grammar in a meaningful way.  There are so many wonderful picture books that will help your students better understand the grammar concepts and ideas.  Here are just some literature books that I highly recommend:
§  Nouns
o   One Sheep, Two Sheep:  A Book of Collective Nouns by Patricia Byers
o   A Cat, a Bat, Your Grandma’s Hat: What is a Noun? by Brian P. Cleary
o   Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns by Ruth Heller
o   Herd of Cows, Flock of Sheep: Adventures in Collective Nouns by Rick Walton
o   If You Were a Noun by Michael Dahl
o   A Rattle of Bones: A Halloween Book of Collective Nouns by Kipling West
o   Incredible Ned by Bill Maynard
§  Pronouns
o   Mine, All Mine!: A Book about Pronouns by Ruth Heller
o   I and You and Don’t Forget Who: What is a Pronoun? by Brian P. Cleary
§  Verbs
o   It’s Hard to be a Verb! by Julia Cook
o   To Root, to Toot, to Parachute: What is a Verb? by Brian P. Cleary
o   Nouns and Verbs Have a Field Day by Robin Pulver
§  Adverbs
o   Dearly, Nearly, Insincerely: What is an Adverb? by Brian P. Cleary
o   If You Were an Adverb by Michael Dahl
§  Adjectives
o   If You Were an Adjective by Michael Dahl
o   Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective by Brian P. Cleary
o   Many Luscious Lollipops: A Book About Adjectives by Ruth Heller

ü  Use students’ actual writing pieces.  Authentic use of grammar skills will enable kids to apply their understanding of the parts of speech into their daily writing. 

ü  Use mentor texts.  These texts enable the readers to authentically see authors write using the different parts of speech.

o  Things That are Most in the World by Judi Barrett and Pig, Pigger, Piggest by Rick Walton are wonderful literature books to show how writers use superlatives in their writing.
o   Beast Feast: Poems & Paintings by Douglas Florian is packed with adjectives describing animals.
o   Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst provides the reader with loads of adjectives.
o   Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse enables the reader to clearly see the actions of the characters through the use of vivid verbs.

o   In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming readers follow a tiny tour guide as he travels through the book.  The author describes his journey using strong verbs.

Remember, take the time to teach Grammar!