3 Books to Read When You Want to Feel Re-energized about Teaching!

Looking to feel re-energized about teaching? Need a little inspiration?

I’ve got 3 great books to share with you today!

I will warn you—this post includes an odd medley of texts! 🙂

I’ve included a memoir, a professional development book, and a children’s book. While these three texts are very different from each other, they have one important thing in common: they will help re-energize your teaching!

These 3 great books about teaching will help you feel re-energized immediately!

Photo Credits: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock

Note: Amazon affiliate links are included in the images in this post.

1. Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year (Esmé Raji Codell)

Esmé Codell recorded her experiences as a first-year teacher in Chicago Public Schools in a diary—and published it for us to enjoy!

While my teaching personality is very different from Esmé’s (she makes her students call her Madame, and she roller skates down the hallways), I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s infused with her bright, idealistic, caring approach to teaching. She faces some real challenges during her first year, but she does some amazing things to get through to her at-risk students.

Parts of it are funny, sad, and heartwarming. Her first year is a rollercoaster, and you feel like you’re experiencing it right alongside her as you read the book.

It’s been too long since I’ve read this one—I think it’s time to read it again!

2. Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning (Peter H. Johnston)

Yes, this is “just a PD book”—but it inspired me in ways that not many books have.

It’s all about how we talk to our students. There is SO much power in our words! Our words affect how our students view their learning, themselves, and the world.

Choice Words is an interesting AND informative read—I highly recommend it.

3. Thank You, Mr. Falker (Patricia Polacco)

This is a children’s book, but I can’t even describe how much I love it as an adult reader!

I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s about a girl named Trisha who struggles with dyslexia. She’s fortunate enough to have a very special teacher, Mr. Falker, who goes far out of his way to help her learn.

If you haven’t read this one…read it now!!

Your Turn

These are three of my favorites—what would you add to this list?

Happy teaching!

How to Get Organized for Literacy Centers in K-2

Having your literacy center materials organized can save a LOT of time!

As it is, we spend tons of time finding and prepping activities. Keeping those materials organized is a must; otherwise, literacy centers prep turns into a time-consuming scavenger hunt around your classroom! And personally, that’s not my favorite way to spend an afternoon. 😉

So in today’s post, I’m sharing literacy centers organization ideas for your own (teacher) stuff and the kids’ stuff!

In this blog post, I share my organization tips for literacy centers in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Organizing Your Own Stuff

In the past, my own biggest problem has been that I forget what materials and options I have for literacy centers.

I might come up with a great idea one year…and then entirely forget it the next. Oops! (Hey, we all have a lot on our minds, right?!)

My solution to this was to create a running list of materials and ideas for each center.

That way, when it’s time to plan centers, I can look at the list, determine what would best match what we’re working on, and choose centers quickly.

Here are two examples from my K-2 literacy centers resources. These examples list the lesson plans I have for introducing the centers (top), as well as the different centers activities I have (bottom):

So I don’t forget what center activities I’ve used in the past, I keep a master list!

My centers resources include an editable version too. You can just keep it on the computer and add to it whenever you purchase or think of a new idea for a center. In my opinion, the editable list is the best way to go, because you can always add onto it:

So I don’t forget what center activities I’ve used in the past, I keep a master list!

I’ve also found that it’s helpful to keep a binder for each center:

 I keep a binder with master copies for each literacy center.

The very first page of the binder is that materials list for the center.

So I don’t forget what center activities I’ve used in the past, I keep a master list!

Then, I include a yearlong schedule for introducing the materials. If I want to make changes to the schedule, I can easily draw arrows or move things around, but it’s nice to have something to start with.

I have a yearlong plan for what centers activities I will introduce and when.

Next, I include the lessons I use to introduce the center at the beginning of the school year.

It’s nice to keep these lessons handy throughout the school year, because when things go awry (aka kids aren’t using the center correctly!) I can refer back to the initial lessons and do some re-teaching.

I keep the introductory lesson plans for all of my literacy centers in my binders.

Following these introductory pages, I include the actual printable materials students will need for the different activities.

I have 1-2 plastic sleeves per activity. The plastic sleeve(s) include:

  • Overview of the center (on top, for quick reference)
  • Lesson(s) to introduce the center
  • The printable masters for materials kids need for the center
  • Kid-friendly directions cards

For any literacy center activity, this is all the “stuff” I keep in my master binder.

All of that stuff above goes in 1-2 plastic sleeves:

For any literacy center activity, this is all the “stuff” I keep in my master literacy centers binder.

Then, when I assemble materials the kids will eventually use, I put them in a simple manila envelope. And I keep the envelopes in these plastic storage tubs, labeled by center:

This is how I store prepared literacy center materials when students are not using them.

You can find those tubs on Amazon HERE.

Organizing the Kids’ Stuff

Now let’s move on to the kids’ stuff—the actual materials they will need to do the centers activities!

First, I have my students bring their own individual book bags to centers. They use them in the independent reading center, reading response center, partner reading center, and sometimes even the writing center.

I also give each student a sturdy independent work folder to use. ALL of the student’s paper-and-pencil work for centers goes in the folder.

The side with the red sticker is for finished work (aka work that I can review) and the side with the green sticker is for work in progress.

I have students keep an independent work folder for centers. The green sticker side is for work in progress and the red sticker side is for finished work that I can review!

Then there’s all the other centers “stuff.” What to do about that?

My personal preference is to keep everything students will need for a center in one or two plastic storage tubs.

And I’ve been using the same type of tub that I store the prepared materials in:

I keep literacy centers materials for students to use in these tubs.

I don’t keep a tub for every single separate center activity, because I typically use the materials for other purposes throughout the year. My binder and own tub(s) for the center serves as my “bank” of activities, and then I gather other materials from other classroom storage areas.

Your Thoughts?

Do you have any great storage ideas for centers? Please leave a comment below!

If you’re looking for the materials lists, lesson plans, and activities featured in this post, you can check out my kindergarten, first grade, or second grade centers bundles HERE .

Happy organizing!

3 Ways to Manage a Take-Home Book Checkout System

I’m a big believer in letting kids take books home. Yes, some of your books may get ripped, or lost, or drooled on by baby brothers. But this is a small price to pay in exchange for the incredible value that take-home books provide!

As I’m sure you already know, some of the students in your class do not have books at home. And our students are with us at school for a limited amount of time each day. So isn’t it great when kids are able to complete (some of) their reading practice at home?

Establishing a take-home book checkout system for your classroom requires a bit of preparation. But if you spend a little time setting up your procedures, the system should run smoothly on a daily basis.

Setting Up The System

Something I’ve done for book storage/transportation is to have students use 2 book bags. Each child gets a Hefty 2.5 gallon baggie and a 1 gallon Zip-Loc baggie. The Zip-Loc baggie goes inside the larger Hefty baggie. When students check out books from our classroom library, they put them in the larger Hefty baggie. At the end of the day, they move the book(s) they want to take home from the Hefty baggie into the smaller Zip-Loc baggie. The smaller baggie goes home, and the larger baggie stays at school.

This shows the larger Hefty book bag (2.5 gallon) with a smaller Ziploc baggie (1 gallon) inside. The larger book bag stays at school, and any books students want to take home at night go into the small Zip-loc baggie.

This photo shows the smaller baggie inside the larger baggie.


This photo shows the smaller, take-home baggie that also includes a reading log.

But how do you know which books go home each night? And how can you ensure that they come back? Keep reading for 3 different ways to keep track of take-home books!

Here are 3 different ways to set up a take-home book checkout system in your classroom! The post also includes the pros and cons of each system.

1. Library card system

This is one of the most commonly used checkout systems I’ve seen. You place a library card pocket in the front cover of each book (find some cute library pockets here). Then, you place an index card with the book title and author’s name inside that pocket.

Using library pockets is one way to set up a take-home book checkout system. Read the entire post for 2 additional ideas!

When students want to take a book home, they take out the card and place it into their own library pocket that has their name on it. In the morning, they bring back the book, put the library card back into its pocket, and their pocket remains empty until they check out another book.

If you have all students’ pockets on a bulletin board or poster board, it’s pretty easy to see which student has which book. It’s also easy for students to use – they don’t have to write down book titles, which can take quite a while for little ones!

This system is pretty simple once it’s been set up, but it does take a ton of time to make all those cards and pockets. Sometimes cards and pockets get ripped, and you have to create new pockets/cards every time you buy a new book. Maintaining the cards/pocket system would be a great job for parent volunteers!

2. Book checkout form

This system requires less work than the pockets and cards system. First, print a copy of my free book checkout form (just click on the photo below to download it).

Using a book check-out form is one way to set up a take-home book checkout system. Read the entire post for 2 additional ideas!

Make a copy of the form for each student in your class. They should keep the form in their reading folders. At the end of the school day, all students put their sheets on top of their desks. They write down the names of any books they will be taking home, and they leave that sheet on their desks overnight. (If leaving on desks is a problem, you can collect all the sheets and keep them until the following morning.)

In the morning, students place the books on top of their desks immediately after entering the classroom. Once you give each child the “okay,” he/she puts those books back into their book bag (or the classroom library, whichever is easiest).  The checkout sheet goes back into the reading folder.

However, if a student did not return his books, you collect his sheet. Students who did not return their books are not allowed to take home more books that afternoon. You hang onto the sheet until the student brings the books back to you.

The benefits of this system is that it’s pretty easy to implement. Students will quickly learn the routines for the beginning and end of the day. It’s also easy for you to take note of who is not returning their books consistently, since you collect the sheets of students who do not bring back their books.

The drawback is that it requires a bit of work from you in the mornings. You have to look at each child’s desk and individually give the student permission to put away his books and sheet. It doesn’t take long at all, but if you have other morning tasks to complete, things can get hectic.

3. Photos on a tablet

This third way to maintain your book checkout system only works if you have tablets or devices for each student in your class.

At the end of the day, have students place the book(s) they will take home on their desks. Students then use their tablet or device to snap a photo of the books. They can send the photo to you, set it as the background/screensaver on their device, or simply save the photo.

In the morning, students place the books back on top of their desks and you give them the “okay” to delete the photo. If students did not return their books, they must send you the photo.

The pros of this system are that it is paperless, quick for students (they do not have to write down book titles), and simple to implement. The cons are that it requires students to be relatively comfortable using the technology, and that photos can accidentally be deleted or lost.


I certainly haven’t found a perfect way to set up a take-home book checkout system, but I hope you find at least one of these ideas do-able for you.

Another option for allowing students to take books home is to give them books that they don’t have to return at all! I have printable books available in my TpT store that students can take home, read, and keep.

Using these printable books is an easy alternative or supplement to having students take home “regular” books. And the best thing is that you don’t have to worry about getting them back! Click on the image below to read more about the books.

Use these printable books in students' take home book bags! Kids can read and reread them at home with their families, and you won't have to worry about making sure the books come back to school.

If you have any other suggestions for setting up a take-home book system, please share in the comments! Thanks for reading!

3 Ways to Save Time In The Classroom with Trello

One of the things I love most about teaching is the variety. Every day at school is different. Especially working with primary kids – you know there is never a dull moment!

That said, there are still some things that, as teachers, we have to do over…and over…and over. We make copies, assess kids, grade papers, organize data, and so on. I’m always looking for ways to spend less time on these repetitive tasks.

One free program I use to maximize my efficiency with these repetitive tasks is Trello. Have you heard of it? It is super handy! Keep reading, because I’m going to show you exactly how to use Trello to save precious minutes of prep time!

Trello is a FREE tool that you can use in your classroom!  Use it for organizing student data, anecdotal notes, and your to-do lists.  The best part is that you can also use it on your phone and tablet!

What is Trello?

Trello is basically an interactive, digital list builder / organizer. To get started, create a board for a multi-step or multi-part task that you want to accomplish. Then, break up the task by creating lists and adding “cards” under each list. You can easily move and rearrange the lists and cards.

Okay, that probably doesn’t sound like anything new or thrilling. But let me show you some of the cool ways you can use it to make your life easier! Watch this video to see how I use Trello to eliminate my lengthy and repetitive to-do lists, organize my students’ assessment data, and easily take anecdotal notes for grouping students:

Okay, so let’s recap. In the video, you saw that I use Trello to…

1.  Keep track of the planning / prep work that I do repeatedly. The example I gave in the video was planning a unit. I know that I always have to align the unit to our standards, check out books from the library, plan assessments, find internet resources, and write lesson plans. So that I don’t forget any of these steps, I keep a board called “Unit Planning” in my Trello account. I keep the name of each unit on a card and move it through the stages as I go through the planning process.

2.  Organize student assessment data. I can organize just about any type of assessment data in Trello! First, I decide what my lists will be (I gave the examples of Fountas & Pinnell reading levels and MAP RIT bands). Then, I make a card with each student’s name on it. I place the cards under the correct lists and can easily move them when the data changes. It’s such an easy way to see how everyone is doing at a glance!

3.  Record anecdotal notes and plan future small group instruction. I can make a board for each subject I teach (i.e. writing). Within that board, I can create a list for each major skill we are working on (i.e. putting a period at the end of each sentence). Since Trello can be used on a phone or tablet, I can walk around a classroom with the app open while students are writing. If I notice that a student needs to work on a certain skill, I create a card with her name on it and place that card under the applicable list. After repeating this for multiple students, I have ready-made topics and groups for future small group instruction! I can easily see who is still struggling with a certain skill, and then group those students together for an extra lesson on it.

As you saw in the video, Trello is super simple and easy to learn. And you can use it on a desktop / laptop computer, phone, or tablet!

There are a lot more cool features that I didn’t show in the video. You can add/tag other Trello users on your cards (like your teaching team members!), write notes on each card, add attachments…the list goes on. Trello comes with a free guide to help you figure out all the neat extras.

Have I convinced you to try it yet? Really, you should, because as I mentioned, it is totally FREE! Click here to give it a go.

Let me know what you think!!

This Week in Intervention: Cute File Folders and A Favorite Book

Happy Saturday!!  So this past week was a short week with my intervention kiddos.  We had Monday off (yay!) and Tuesday was a teacher work day (aka “Day In Which I Filed a Lot of Junk”).  Then we had a snow day on Thursday!  It made for a rather choppy week, but also an easy one.

But back to the teacher workday.  I’ve worked in a handful of districts but it’s been 5+ years since I’ve been in a district that has real teacher work days…I’d forgotten how amazing they are!!  Our admin doesn’t interfere with our time at all…we just get stuff done.  And in my case, that “getting stuff done” was doing the filing that I’ve been putting off for about 3 months. 🙂

Okay, so speaking of filing, I’m going to go off on a tangent here!  I am in the process of redoing my home office and went to Target the other week to get hanging file folders.  When I got there, all they had were those yucky, dark green, barfalicious file folders.  The ones that look like they belong in the filing cabinet of an Army sergeant.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  These.

Am I the only one who can’t stand that all the file folders in the world seem to be this color?!  I tolerate these at work (actually I think I have some in the primary colors this year), but I wanted something prettier for my home office.  So I went online and found these!

Jewel tone hanging file folders from Smead!!  (You already saw that I scored these if you follow me on Instagram).  Anyway, to make a long story short, I am delighted that my desk drawers no longer make me look like I am the Sergeant of Filing in the Army.

Okay.  Sorry for that tangent…back to my main topic here – intervention!  This Friday, I had an especially great time with my intervention kids.  I always love Fridays with my kids because instead of having to squeeze in the many components of our super busy intervention program, we just sit together and I read them a story.  It is such a lovely experience!  I know that many of them aren’t able to have this type of story reading experience at home, so it’s especially important that they get to sit one-on-one (or one-on-two, for some of my groups) with an adult and enjoy a story.  

However…I end up reading whatever story I choose about 7 times in a period of 2 hours!  So I have to make sure I really like the story to avoid going completely insane.  This Friday, I brought the story Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. 

Max the cat also endorses this book.

I teach bilingual students, so I had ordered a copy of the book in Spanish.  I love this story so much that I just had to own it!  

The story is about a sweet little kitten who sees a full moon for the very first time.  Unfortunately for Kitten, she mistakes it for a bowl of milk.  She ends up chasing it through a field, falling into a pond, and experiencing other mishaps in pursuit of this “bowl of milk.”  The ending to this story is sweet and heartwarming, and it makes me smile every time (even after reading it 7 times in one day).  The kids love it, too!

The book is great for PreK through 1st grade.  You can use it when teaching about reflections, the moon, or making inferences.  I can even see it being used as a mentor text for writing – it shows how the author stretches out the problem in the story, because Kitten doesn’t solve her problem right away.

You can check out the book here (it’s available in English  or Spanish):


I feel like my post today was a little all over the place, but hey, it’s the weekend, right?  Hope you have a great one!!

This Week in Intervention: Teaching In The Hallway

Happy Saturday!  It has felt like a really long week, even though we had Monday off on account of the giant blizzard that hit Illinois.  This week I really got rolling with my Kindergarten interventions (in this post, I shared that I’ll be working with only Kindergarten students for the rest of the school year).

I work in a fairly large school, and the reading room is pretty far from the Kindergarten classrooms.  My time with the kids is limited (we had quite a few kids qualify for interventions and I only work in the afternoons), so I just decided to ditch the idea of bringing the kids back to the reading room.  Fortunately there is a nice-sized table in the hallway by the Kindergarten room.  So every day before the PM Kinders come in, I set up shop!

It’s not an ideal situation, but I just can’t justify bringing the kids all the way to my room just for the sake of my own convenience.  I’m seeing 10 kiddos in a little over 2 hours, so I have to make use of every minute!

When I realized that I was going to be working out of my room, I started thinking that I would need some way of displaying alphabet charts, anchor charts, and “I Can” statements for my kids.  I was thinking about making one of those cute little mini anchor chart stands I’ve seen on Pinterest (like this one).  Then I got real – with my lack of craftiness, it would probably fall apart after a week.  So I decided to invest in this:

I am actually really glad I bought this one, because it’s super convenient.  It has clear pockets for displaying 20 different sheets, and it stands up really well.  If you’d like to purchase one for your guided reading table or centers, click on the image below (they aren’t expensive at all!).  They may not be as cute and crafty as the PVC pipe chart stands, but I am really happy with mine.

That’s all for now!  Have a great weekend!

My Homemade Planner

Hey there!  I’m on Day 3 of no school due to the cold…meaning that we’ve had school for a grand total of 2 days during the past 3 weeks, thanks to winter break!  Eesh!  Going back for a full week next week is gonna be rough.  Assuming, that is, that the temps actually climb above -300 degrees. 😉

Anyway, I’ve been getting a lot done during these days off. Something I accomplished yesterday was getting my 2015 planner ready.  Recently, I’ve taken to making my own planners.  I tend to be rather…particular…about the pages in my planner!  So when I couldn’t find one in stores that I liked, my husband suggested I make my own.  Genius, husband!!  

I found out that planners are really pretty easy to make, once you figure out what you’re doing.  (I actually made one this past summer, but then decided I wanted a new layout for 2015.)  I print out the pages I want on my own printer – I use card stock for the monthly pages and regular paper for the weekly pages.  Then, I take it to Office Depot, where they bind it and add a frosted cover and back cover for some durability.  Voila!  It’s very inexpensive and I get just what I want.

Some of my planner consists of blank calendar pages.  They’re nothing fancy – I write in the dates so I can reuse the same calendar in other years.  If you’d like to download the free pages for your personal use, just click on the image below.

Happy teaching (and planning!)

This Week In Intervention: Organizing Magnetic Letters

Well, it was another 3 day week for us in intervention!  All of the reading specialists in the district had a meeting on Monday, so we were out all day, and then the kids were out for the voting on Tuesday.  Three day weeks are kinda nice…but I also feel like I’m just not getting enough time with my kiddos!

Lack of time aside…things are going well with my Kinders!  We are continuing to use my letter sounds intervention pack to work on phonemic awareness and phonics.  One day we do a letter sheet, and the next day we do a picture sort using that letter.  I only have 15 minutes with each group, so there’s no time to waste and routine is KEY!  

My 1st grade group is coming along nicely, but I am having some trouble with my 2nd grade group of boys.  They are still reading at a Level A, and there are some behavior issues.  What I’ve decided to do is basically turn the group into a series of one-on-one reading conferences.  We start the group with some activities that all the boys can do.  Then, I’m having them work on iPads, iPods, or computers while I read with the boys individually.  Then we’ll come back together as a group for a quick closing discussion.  I’m hoping that this one-on-one attention makes a difference!

This week I finished organizing my magnetic letters and picture cards (for letter sound sorts) into jewelry organizers!  I seriously love these things, and have had them for about 7 years now (I think they were from Wal-Mart).

They don’t have enough compartments, so I do have to “double up,” but it’s fine because that way the jewelry organizers are small enough to be portable.  They do make larger ones – I just prefer portability over organization! 🙂  Take a look at these two photos to see how I cut up labels into teeny tiny pieces to organize the letters and word cards:

I love me some jewelry organizers!

OH – one thing we talked about at our reading specialist meeting on Monday was oral language!  Oral language is SUPER important to kids’ literacy development, but it often gets ignored.  Kids are spending more and more time with technology these days, too, instead of interacting with others.  I am going to try to focus on giving my kids more talk time, even though intervention time is so limited.  Here is a link to a free oral language assessment – it literally takes 3 minutes to do with your kids and can reveal a lot about how much language they are able to process!  The directions are included, too.  I can’t use it because it’s in English, but hopefully you can!  

Oral Language Assessment from Mondo

This was a VERY random and scattered post, but I hope that you still managed to get something useful out of it.  Have a wonderful weekend!!

Time to Get Organized!

Happy Sunday!  Today I spent some time getting my teacher binder ready for the school year.  I use a regular 3-ring binder and then make a cover that I put inside the plastic.  I put my full name on it, but I also made a set to share with you!

Click on the picture to download a free set (all letters are included, A to Z).  Hope you enjoy!

In other news, TeachersPayTeachers is having a big sale Monday and Tuesday!  When you check out, make sure to use code BTS14. I have definitely forgotten to use the code during a sale before.  Whoopsies!  I’m off to go check my wish list and fill up my shopping cart. 🙂

Making the Most of Bulletin Boards

I have to confess – I’ve never been one of those teachers who loved doing bulletin boards. When I was in my teacher training program, I did NOT long for the day that I’d put up my own butcher paper, borders, and die-cut letters.  I’ve always thought bulletin boards were a little bit of a pain. 🙂

A while ago, I decided to be very purposeful about my bulletin boards for the coming school year.  I wanted them to work for me – not create extra work for me!  I decided that I wanted my bulletin boards to meet the following criteria:

– Easy to refresh
– Consistent throughout the classroom (same background and borders)
– Dark background color (so that white paper visually pops against them)
– Have lots of space for anchor charts

The last one was especially important to me, because I love me some anchor charts.  There’s never enough space to display anchor charts in the room!  Plus, sometimes I like to add more to anchor charts after we first create them.  If they’re already hung up, that can be difficult.  So I was looking for a way to display anchor charts so that I could easily put them up and take them down.

With these things in mind, I created bulletin boards really worked for me and saved me time! Here is a picture of my math board.

I used navy cloth (from Jo-Ann fabrics) to cover the board.  I added lime green borders (Teacher Created Resources) and kept these same two elements throughout all the boards in my room.

Next, I created space for anchor charts.  I measured the chart paper pad I had in my room and then used lime green ribbon to outline two areas for chart paper.

This is not the best picture, sorry!  But at the top of my chart paper outline, I placed two clothespins.  Each clothespin is decorated with a strip of thick scrapbooking paper, and it has a thumbtack hot glued to the back of it.  To read more about making the clothespins, click {here}.

To hang anchor charts, I would just (carefully) open up the clothespins and pin up the chart paper.  If we wanted to add more to the chart, I could just take it down and then hang it back up later.  So easy!  

I left these bulletin boards up for an entire year.  They took some planning before the school year began, but they sure were low-maintenance during the year.  

If you are looking for low-maintenance bulletin boards and use a lot of anchor charts, I would definitely recommend setting up your bulletin boards this way.

For more free, fun ideas to help you organize and decorate your classroom, check out my “Classroom Organization Tools” board on Pinterest (click on the image below).

How to create bulletin boards that work for you - and have room for anchor charts! - Learning At The Primary Pond

UPDATE:  By request, I’ve made a few different sets of my bulletin board letters.  If you’re interested, click on the image below!

Happy decorating!