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STARS: A Student Recognition and Reward System That Really Works!

By Julieann Samayoa
on April 22, 2019
STARS: A Student Recognition and Reward System That Really Works!

One of the most important decisions you will make when setting up your classroom is what type of recognition and reward system you will use. Over the last 15 years, I have tried many different types of reward systems. But the one that I have had incredible success with is called STARS. STARS is a student recognition and reward system. It's easy to implement and cost very little to start. 

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Indoor Recess Activities When It's Too Rainy To Go Outside

By Julieann Samayoa
on January 17, 2019
Indoor Recess Activities When It's Too Rainy To Go Outside

Guest Post by Jenny Wise from Special Home Educator

No one likes being stuck inside, especially kids. To keep them occupied, it’s good to have some plans in your pocket to keep them from climbing up the walls. Not being able to go outside and run around and play to burn off energy can negatively impact attention spans. Here are some ideas to help everyone enjoy staying inside during recess.

Have Fun with Science

Sometimes, science can get a bad rap with kids. They think it’s boring or dry, and may not be motivated to experiment themselves. Thankfully, there are lots of entertaining activities that you can do indoors when the weather is poor. Even something simple like playing with building blocks can teach them spatial awareness and problem-solving. You can get a set of magnets for the kids to play with and teach them about magnetism. Another fun experiment is to create geode crystals. It’s a good opportunity for them to create something and for you to teach them about igneous and sedimentary rock formations.

Make Math a Blast

Unfortunately, math is similar to science in that many kids do not want to learn it. It can seem complicated and be difficult for them to relate to their own experiences. That’s why it’s important to show them how math can be used in everyday life, and a rainy day is a perfect time to do so. Use coins to solve math problems and teach budgeting skills, or even play games online together with math apps.

Rainy Day Activities for Kids

Do Something Offline

There are plenty of activities that stir creativity we can do without relying on the internet. The art of oral storytelling is one that should be preserved. Storytelling can develop students’ language abilities and vocabulary, as well as get children thinking creatively to develop characters. You can start with historical figures or folklore that you’re interested in. Have students come up with a new take on fables or something similar. You could also host a scavenger hunt around the classroom. If you do, make sure that the clues are guessable for young minds, but not too easy. To make things more fun, transform your clue lists into cryptogram, word scrambles or word searches. It’s a good idea to have these prepped and ready to go so you don’t have to rush at the last moment to create them when they’re needed. If your kids are extra restless, you could play some games together. Teach them a classic card game, like Go Fish, or get a giant game of hide and seek going.

Get Active with the Internet

Many of us associate the internet with lethargy, but it can actually inspire kids to be active. If you want to help your classroom burn through some of their energy and get the wiggles out, consider putting on an exercise or dance video. Everyone can follow along together, which can encourage camaraderie between the little ones. Not only that, but it’s fun to get up and move, especially if everyone is doing so together. By following along to a video, your classroom can practice hand-eye coordination and work on following directions at the same time. If your students need to get some wildness out of their systems, you may want to simply put on some child-appropriate dance music and let them move as they feel. Classic Disney songs are always a good choice but think of other musicals for kids or movies that strongly feature music, like Shrek.

Don’t let the bad weather get you and your class down. With a bit of planning and some smart preparation in advance, you and the kids can have a blast despite the rain. It’s the perfect time to experiment with math and science, to develop language skills, and to let your class shake out their wiggles with a bit of dancing. After all, recess should be about fun, not just learning.

5 Ways for Teachers to Save Money On Back to School Supplies

By Julieann Samayoa
on January 17, 2019
5 Ways for Teachers to Save Money On Back to School Supplies

Back to school time means empty your wallet time. But, it doesn’t have to! While times may be tight and pennies may be pinched in school buildings across the country, buying your own supplies doesn’t mean going bankrupt! Read on to learn about five easy ways you can save money when picking up some of your back to school supplies!

1. Take Advantage of Teachers Pay Teachers

If you haven’t visited this site yet, you’re missing out! Teachers Pay Teachers is a site created by teachers for teachers. They share their most effective ideas and make products for you to purchase (inexpensive) or download for free! If you find yourself purchasing name tags each year or even borders to decorate your bulletin board-think again. You can choose from at least twenty designs of name tags and print them out in color, in a flash! Simply click on the ones that you like, print them, laminate them, and label them! It’s that easy!

When I started teaching fourth grade for the first time, I was shocked how much time I was spending getting ready for school on the weekends. I had to learn the curriculum, create activities, grade papers, and more. I even had my husband shopping and laminating for me. After a few months of spending all my time working on school stuff, my husband and I had a discussion. He told me he was worried about me and about “us”! He confessed that he didn’t want me working all weekend every weekend and we needed to find a balance between work and home. I looked to Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) and I’m
so glad I did. I found an Ecosystems Unit that followed the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) exactly! It was just what I was looking for! Absolutely Perfect. And it only cost $8.95 with over 50 pages and a week worth of activities for my students! I downloaded it, printed it, and showed my husband. The bottom line is I got my weekends back, precious time with my family, time to relax, time for myself, all for under $10! It's a true time saver and lifesaver!

2. Shop Consignment Stores

If you are an Early Childhood Educator (K-3), don’t turn your nose up at consignment shops or Goodwill. They are the perfect place to visit if you are in need of some toys for your indoor recess
center. You can also use them as inspiration for writing prompts, or even a motivator for a lesson. You can also find cute playhouses, art tables, and even puzzles and books for an unbelievably affordable price.

3. Dollar Store Pit Stop

The dollar stop should be a teacher’s best friend. You don’t need to go to expensive department stores to stock up on crayons, glue, and other school essentials. You can literally find everything you need to start the year off right all in one place. You can also pick up toys and candy to put in your prize box. Sometimes the store will boast a sale around back to school time so you could end up getting supplies priced two for a dollar!

4. Create a Giving Tree for the Classroom

For more expensive items like hand sanitizer, construction paper, pencil boxes, and tissues; consider
constructing a giving tree on your chalkboard during Meet the Teacher or Open House
night. Make a bunch of leaves and attach them to the body and branches of a tree you make out of chalk (or construction paper). Tell parents if they are interested in donating any items, they can take a leaf off of the tree and return the item the first week of school! I attach these donations to a Homework Pass that students can use for a donated item. Parents love this idea, many times, I’ve had parents hang on the homework passes until the holidays so they can use it during the busiest time of the year. What a great give back! Get the FREE "Giving Tree" template and donation idea list here!

 Giving Tree Freebie for Meet the Teacher and Open House Night

5. Save from the Year Before

Send a letter home the last week of school asking if parents would be interested in donating their child’s used school items for students next year. Children can leave behind their rulers, scissors, notebooks, and folders. You can even take their stray crayons and toss them in a giant art bin. Every little item counts, so take what you can get! This is a wise collection to start for when students misplace their supplies during the school year.

Being a modern-day teacher means being clever and thrifty. Consider the five tips above to ensure that you don’t break the bank when buying supplies this fall! Wishing you a great start to your school year!


Role Playing is an Awesome Strategy for Group Work

By Julieann Samayoa
on January 17, 2019
Role Playing is an Awesome Strategy for Group Work

Group work is been proven to improve student retention and enhance student learning. In fact, our whole culture is based on team work and working together to solve problems. It makes sense that when people work together (more brainpower) they come up with more ideas, suggestions, and solutions to a problem. But the question remains how do we get children to work together effectively? How do we make sure they are actually working and not talking about what they did last weekend? The answer: We teach them.

The method I have found to be extremely effective is through role playing. Role playing to teach how you expect groups to work together can be a fun yet powerful strategy. Kids loves role playing and what better way to teach such an important life skill as working together. Setting up skit cards for each role is recommended.

First and foremost, we set up structured procedures for group work. We teach the students, model it, and have them practice it over and over until they have it down.

The Task: you want groups to take turns reading an article, stopping after each paragraph to highlight the key ideas. Then using those key ideas to figure out the main idea of each paragraph and then of the entire article.

The Performance:

Prepare the scenario or skit in advance. Set up your student actors and actresses ahead of time
who you know will be charismatic as they perform this important skit. Set up the Skit Cards with what you want them to say.

Scene 1: Have the student actors come up the front of the class so you can introduce each student actor. You might want to give yourself a role (as a student) also. The class will get a kick out of the
performance and you acting as a student. Now, run through the group work scenario. For our specific task it might go something like this:

Read an article out loud, stopping after each paragraph.

Now the acting or role playing begins…

“Ok, we read the paragraph so what do you think is the main idea of this paragraph?”

Tamara: “I don’t know.”

Braden: “What did Mrs. Smart say about finding the main idea?”

Marta: “I can’t remember do you?”

Bob: “I think she said to ask ourselves, what is the author trying to tell us?”

Braden: “Oh yeah, that’s right." 

Marta: “Then we are supposed to look for key details that support that."

Tamara: “Yeah. So let’s see what do you think the author is trying to tell us in this paragraph?”

Braden: “I’m not sure.”

Tamara: “Maybe we should read it again.”

Bob: “Good idea! I’ll go first.”

Then read the article again and go through the whole process while modeling it for the class. Afterwards, ask the class “What did you notice about what our group just did?”

Have the students come up with strategies or things they noticed that made this group work effectively together. For instance, they took turns reading, they reminded each other how to complete the task, they treated each other nicely, they used their quiet inside voices, they focused on the assignment, everyone had a turn to speak and read, they listened to everyone’s thoughts and ideas, etc.

Quick Steps:

  • Set up the Scenario
  • Role play to model it
  • Practice it
  • Give feedback
  • Pick the most productive group or best working team

Before we start any group activity, I always tell the class that I’m going to be looking for the most productive group or the group with the best team work. As groups are working and I circulate around the classroom, I look and listen—jotting down notes about what I saw or heard from different groups.

At the end of the activity, I give feedback to all the groups and share my findings. Then I announce which group was the most productive or best working team for the day.

What are the benefits of group work?

Group projects can help students develop a host of skills that are increasingly important in the professional world (Caruso & Woolley, 2008; Mannix & Neale, 2005). Positive group experiences, moreover, have been shown to contribute to student learning, retention and overall success
(Austin, 1997; Tinto, 1998; National Survey of Student Engagement, 2006).

Properly structured, group projects can reinforce skills that are relevant to both group and individual work, including the ability to:

  • Break complex tasks into parts and steps
  •   Obtain deeper understanding through group discussions
  • Give and receive feedback on performance
  • Develop stronger communication skills
  • Learn how to delegate roles and responsibilities
  • Share and learn from different perspectives and opinions
  • Pool their knowledge and skills
  • Receive social support and encouragement to take risks 
  •  Develop a new approach to solving problems or tasks
  • Establish a shared identity with other group members.
  • Develop their own voice and perspectives in relation to their peers.
Once students learned how to work productively in groups, try to resist the temptation to jump in too 

early and put the students on the right path. Part of effective group work is learning how to work together to solve a problem, perform a task, or create a project in collaboration with others.


5 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in the Classroom

By Julieann Samayoa
on January 17, 2019
5 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in the Classroom

The Awesome Project

Self-esteem is the one of the most valuable tools for students to succeed in school. As
teachers we are instrumental in making this happen. But how do we make it happen? Teachers have a lot of power! Do you remember your favorite teachers? The ones who made a difference in your life?

It’s the little things that make a BIG difference! Start small by starting an “Awesome” Book!

  •  Set up your “Awesome” Book: First, find a large notebook that lies flat when I open it. I prefer to use a one subject spiral notebook with pocket folders, not composition, because then I can open it up and flip it around. Label the top of each page in the notebook with the name of each student.
  •  Decorate the Notebook Over the Top! Cover it with the word “AWESOME” with either colorful permanent markers, stickers, or even fancy duct tape that you know the students will recognize. Be creative and have fun to make it look colorful and extraordinary.
  •  Introduce the “AWESOME notebook” and ritual to students. Make a big deal out of it! Explain to them that you will be walking around the classroom at different times during the day and observing them. So if they see you carrying around this notebook or clipboard and taking notes, it’s because you are looking for “Awesome” things to write in your notebook.

Awesome Job

  • Set Expectations & Give Examples: Explain that you know that they will be doing tons of awesome things like helping out a partner, highlighting details in an article, sharing a pencil with a student who needs one, taking detailed notes on their sticky note during reading time, being a good leader by handing in your homework every day, keeping a group on task, or whatever your specific classroom expectations are.
  •  Model it: I might say to the students, “For instance, today I noticed that Meggen volunteered to read the poem to the class. And did you notice the way she read it? She read it expression and proper rhythm. She did an “Awesome” job of reading that poem. I was very proud of her. How many of you noticed that after she read it to us, I jotted down a note in my “Awesome” notebook? Here’s what I wrote down, “September 22. Meggen volunteered to read “title of poem” aloud to the class. She read it loudly and with lots of expression.”
  •  Get the students Involved! Ask the class what do they think I will be doing with these notes of awesomeness? Call on students to hear what they think. You might even get some new awesome ideas.

Classroom Management

  • Show them the power of the “Awesome” book & sell it to your students!I often tell the students, “I love all your ideas and I will keep them mind for the future. But for now, here’s what I plan to do with these notes. Inside this notebook is a page dedicated for each of you (show them a few pages with names). At the end of each day and week, I am going to look through my “Awesome” book and chose a few students to recognize. I might share my observations with the class and sometimes I might share it with your families at home. I might send home a positive (good) note home, it looks like this. Everyone say, “Oooh! Ahhh!” Do you know how much you’re your parents and grandparents are going to love to get these good notes home? They will absolutely love it! Or I might even send a note to the principal of our school, so she knows how awesome you’re doing in this class. Who knows I might even do all these things. The most important thing is that you continue doing awesome things all the time because you never know when or who I am watching. But know this. . . I am watching all the time.”


    Practice it right then! Tell them you’re going to practice it. Begin on the next lesson of the day. Take some notes in your “awesome” notebook. Show the students the front of the notebook so they see that you’re taking down some notes. After the lesson is over, share a note or two with the students. It’s very important to continue practicing this everyday so it become a routine. Pick a time that works well with your classroom schedule. Maybe right after recess or at the end of the day. But always hold up the “awesome” notebook many times throughout the day so they see that you’re following through on your word and that you’re watching and taking notes. You will probably see or hear students whisper, “Look Ms. Smart has the “awesome” book out. Let’s do our best on this project. Maybe she’ll notice us.” 

  • Weekly Recognition: At the end of each week, draw a line across the page under where the notes end for each student’s name. This makes it easier to figure out where to start the next week. It also helps you to notice who you haven’t taken notes on recently.  Then pick out a few students that you want to recognize and write a positive (good) note home. Put a star next to those student notes. It’ll help you remember who you've recognized and how many times as the
    weeks fly by. Set a goal of how many students you want to recognize each day and/or week. I announce 1 or 2 students and good deeds at the end of each day. Weekly I send home 2-3 positive notes home at the end of the week. I set a goal of doing this on Friday afternoons and won’t let myself leave for the weekend until it’s finished.
  • What’s the Purpose? Now, what the students don’t know is that you’re using this notebook for several purposes. First, as a way to reinforce positive behavior and build self-esteem in each student. However, you can make any kind of note in this notebook that also helps you because the students will never get to read it.

The more ways you use it, the more valuable it becomes!

  1. This notebook is a way to record anecdotal notes such as strengths or weaknesses of a student, what students need extra help on a specific concept or skill, or what you need to reteach or practice more.
  2. In the back of the notebook where there’s some extra pages, I have a “Miscellaneous” Section where I can write down notes to myself.
  3. It also becomes a classroom management tool. The more you use it the more the students will follow your class procedures and be better behaved.
  4. For reflection notes not only about each student but also about the class as a whole. For example, I might note that Miguel was struggling with his multiplication facts so I need to send home some fact cards or extra practice sheets for him.
  5. Another great way to use this strategy is you could jot down behavior or social issues that arise too. Maybe you notice that Sam and Sophia had a hard time working together during centers today. Then you can have a talk with both them and see how if it gets better. If not, maybe they shouldn't be in the same group for a bit.
  6. It also serves as a record for Parent Teacher Conferences, important meetings, and report cards. 


How to Use Learning Contracts as Learning Tools

By Julieann Samayoa
on January 02, 2019
How to Use Learning Contracts as Learning Tools

Classroom management is a very important part of a teacher’s daily work. You may already know that sometimes the focus will be on managing the entire classroom, and other times, it will be focused on managing just one student or a smaller group of students. There are some downsides to focusing your attention on just one student, and this is where learning contracts can come in handy.

If you’re looking for new classroom management techniques, you might have considered learning contracts. Learning contracts have some benefits to offer. Here, we will take a closer look at using learning contracts effectively in the classroom.

What Are Learning Contracts?

A learning contract is an agreement between the student and the teacher, which specifically states the work that needs to be done, what is expected from both teacher and student, and the time frame in which it will be completed. Some of the other things the contract may include:

  • The amount of work that needs to be done.
  • The type of work that needs to be done (e.g. essay, presentation).
  • The criteria that will be used for evaluation.
  • Any potential consequences for not meeting the terms of the assignment.

You can add to this as appropriate for your students and the situation at hand. You can start with a template but make your learning contracts your own.

Using Learning Contracts Effectively

Learning contracts can be a great way to hold your students accountable for the project that needs to be completed. They are more likely to have a better understanding of, as well as be more likely to follow through, with what needs to be done.

Although handing your student a contract to sign sounds great, it’s not always that simple. Your student may require special accommodations or concerns. This is why it’s a great idea to meet with your students individually to discuss any questions they may have. This can also help allow you to better tailor the project or assignment to their learning style and level of readiness. Another key element is consistency. It can be hard sometimes but following through every time is the key to making progress.

When done properly, learning contracts can be a great classroom management technique. The more you do it, the better you will get at learning how to work with contracts with your students.