Category Archives: Easy Ideas

Quick Idea for Wordle

I’ve mentioned how I use Wordle to make word clouds for parts of speech and other brainstorming activities.

Here is another use I thought of last week during some downtime on conference night. I really wanted to get lesson plans done but after two nights of PT conferences and not feeling so great, this was the most productive I could be.

This is my first batch of posters. All of these terms are covered during our CNN News activity. I will create new ones each time we add a new term.

I was writing these terms on the board daily but this will be much faster. I can have Tweedle Dee pull the right terms out of the stack and hang them up each day depending on the skills we are covering. I put magnetic tape on the back for easy hanging.  I did just read a tip (linked below) how to insert phrases into Wordle. (Use the ~ between words.)

I decided to make a Wordle of my ‘What You’ll Find” page.

How Do You Recognize Good Effort?

One of my co-teachers, who I often refer to as “Follower 100,” and I have a very energetic, spirited class at the end of the day.

Which, I should add, has 32 students, 24 of which are boys….

I should also add it’s a double block…

of 8th grade Language Arts….

and it’s right after lunch.

It makes me tired just typing it.

Each day we find ourselves trying new strategies, often accidentally, to help manage and engage this class and accomplish as much as possible.

This is no easy task, as you can imagine.

With the dynamics of this class we have to strategically arrange the seating chart (not easy), plan our cooperative learning groups/islands very carefully, and offer encouragement and praise in unique ways and for some things that may seem trivial or inconsequential.

Everyone likes to be recognized for a job well done…even in middle school, where there is a constant struggle to be “cool.”

And one of the best things about middle schoolers is the fact that acting goofy/immature is part of their cool factor. If you don’t spend your time with middle schoolers then you might not know that:

You can’t call them “kids or children” to their face…even though they are…because they get offended.

You hesitate to call them “young adults”…because at 13 and 14, they’ll let it go to their heads.

You can’t joke around too much, because they cross the line way too easily.

You have to joke around a little, or they think you are an “old fuddy-duddy.”

You can use words like “old fuddy-duddy” in class, because it makes them laugh.

You can put scratch and sniff stickers or any popular character sticker on their papers with no complaints. A friend of mine specifically gives “girl” stickers to the girls (like Strawberry Shortcake) and “boy” stickers to the boys (Transformers) and sometimes mixes it up…and the “kids” love it.

You can present a “King of English” award, in the form of a frog puppet, and they’ll eat it up.

Silly, but somehow distinguished.

Yes, we have resorted to this in Block 3 of Language Arts. And as dumb as it sounds, it works.

One Friday, maybe 3 weeks into the school year, Follower 100 and I, sat in her room after everyone left and were like, “Oh my….what in the world are we going to do with this crew?”

The students were not really working well in cooperative groups, but with a new block schedule, BYOT, and 84 minutes of Language Arts a day…group activities were necessary for their sanity and ours. We needed a way to keep them on-task, a way to motivate them to help those in their group who were having difficulty, and a way to have productive discussion and learning.

And the idea was born….an award, a trophy-like award, that could be presented to the best island each day.

It was worth a shot.

So I raided Tweedle Dee’s old toy box when I got home and I found a few options: a Troll doll and our obvious choice….The King of English.

On the first day of our presentation of this now coveted award, we presented it to a solid group who had probably worked the hardest of all the groups all year. They not only got the honor of holding/wearing the puppet, they also got to pick something from her candy jar.

It was a little cheesy and kind of corny, but the next day….they were all vying for the title. It is not an award that can be given every day because some days we don’t have group work.

That did not keep them from asking every day,”Is there going to be a King of English today?”

or “Look. Look. Look at us. We are all done. We should be the Kings of English. Right?”

or “Can you move So-and-So…because we are never gonna be the Kings of English if he sits here!!”

We have a few boys who have even privately pleaded for the honor, “Pleeeeeeease can we be the Kings of English today?”

We have one group of boys who constantly pushes and prompts each other so they can win.  Follower 100 had a sub two days in a row a few weeks ago and apparently I was “playing favorites” when they received it two consecutive days. I then had to point out all the reasons why other tables did NOT receive it.  I did not identify the offenders specifically, but I provided plenty of examples how NOT to win the King of English.

The day we really knew it was something special and worth continuing? The day a boy whipped out his cell phone and had a friend take a picture of him with the King of English. You can bet that probably went up on Facebook after school.

Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, or their chance to be the star in class.  For many of the students in our class, they don’t get a lot of opportunities to be the star.

If a little plush puppet works, then so be it.

Today’s Special: Lesson Planning

I was sorting through some old teacher files in my basement a few weeks ago as part of my “reduce clutter” goal and I put some interesting things aside.

I am just now getting to the pile and one of the things I found was a great Lesson Planning Menu. I don’t know where I originally got this list (and I’m not taking credit for it) but I found it online here: Lesson Planning Menu

Many tried and true activities are included.   Some of my personal favorites are on there too.

But more exciting….there are many activities I am not familiar with, so I’ll have to do some research, or maybe more my speed….make up something  based on the name.

Enjoy the list. Let me know if you find any “must try” activities.

Four Corners (Vegas Style)

Sometimes I hear kids say they’re “soooo bored” or “school is boring.” I often reply jokingly with, “I’m not here to entertain you. This isn’t Vegas. If you want to be entertained, go to Vegas.”

Side-note: That doesn’t mean I don’t try to razzle dazzle them on a regular basis. Believe me, I do. One time we were eating breakfast during first period and I was doing a lesson and a girl commented that they were getting “dinner and a show.”

Many teachers like to use the learning game/formative assessment “Four Corners” in which students move to a corner in the room to designate their answer.

This activity is particularly good for multiple choice. However, I have noticed that my kids move like a flock of sheep….following the person they think is right.

So I decided to try Four Corners with a twist… I hung my A, B, C, D signs up in the corners of my room.

Students were then asked to go to the corner of their choice.

“But what’s the question????? they all shouted.

I then revealed the first multiple choice question (only) on the SMART Board. I used the screen shade to hide the four choices.

I asked them to find the verb (still without choices).

I then revealed the four options.

Those students standing in the correct corner earned a point.

Now you might think that this does not require them to do much thinking. However, everyone has time to process and determine an answer and then, upon the reveal, you hear a chattering of “Yessssssss!!!” and “Aw man!!!” as they learn their fate.

This game keeps kids moving and keeps them engaged. It also eliminates embarrassment for the kid who is always wrong. The game appears to be left up to chance. It becomes a risk for everyone.


Anyone who knows me knows I am not a big risk-taker. That doesn’t keep me from loving this quote. As I get older, I do find myself creeping out towards the edge.

4-3-2-1 Review Activity

Last year in my intervention study hall, we often reviewed for tests and quizzes as a class. One of their favorite activities to review for the section quizzes in Social Studies was something called 4-3-2-1.


Half the students are positioned around the perimeter of the room. The other half find a partner. All they need is a copy of their review questions (which are kept in their journals).

For 4 minutes, they quiz each other over the content. (I have to model this the first few times we do it.)

Then the inside partner rotates to the next person in the perimeter.

For 3 minutes, they quiz each other.

Rotate again.

These partners quiz each other for 2 minutes.

Rotate a final time.

Partners quiz each other for 1 minute.

If done correctly, this provides a productive 10 minute review session with 4 different partners. This is fast-paced, allows for movement, and everyone is engaged.

Ideas for SMART Board Tools: Sentence Arrange

The “Sentence Arrange” tool in SMART Notebook is a great tool for sequencing and ordering and can be used in all subject areas.

You can find this tool in the Lesson Activity Toolkit.  Basically you enter single pieces of information –  in sequence – on up to 8 separate lines. The lines are shuffled and students must reorder them. Like most of the activities in SMART Notebook, it has a self-check feature.

I have used this for whole class instruction, stations, and individual practice.

The screen shot below shows how we used this tool for learning the Scientific Method.

Stay tuned for another clever way to memorize the steps of the Scientific Method!

Here are some other ways I have used “Sentence Arrange” in the past:

  1. Memorizing the Preamble of the Constitution
  2. Learning PEMDAS in math
  3. Sequencing events in a story
  4. Ordering numbers from smallest to largest
  5. Memorizing the 7 base metric units
  6. Ordering presidents
  7. Sequencing battles in a war
  8. Memorizing lines of a poem

What other ways could you use this tool in your classroom?

Share your ideas here!

School Talk on a Saturday Night

As I have mentioned before, my boyfriend is a 5th grade language arts/social studies teacher. We live about 25 minutes apart and if we are lucky, we see each other twice a week.

We’ve been very busy the last few weeks with four kids (three in fall sports), back-to-school business, our anniversary, a Jason Mraz concert, and my 20th High School Class Reunion.

Last night was supposed to be another event…the Cleveland Indians game and a trip to the new casino with my brother and some other friends. By yesterday morning, everyone had backed out and we had a night with no kids and no plans.

We decided to skip the game. Instead, I brought two dinners from a chicken BBQ near my house and we went out to Target and Kohl’s and then stopped at Yogurt Vi.

We then came home and on a Saturday night…sat at the kitchen table and did school work while we listened to music and had some refreshments. The irony of this? We said earlier in the day that we’d talk about school for 10 minutes max. We are such nerds.

We each did our own work, shared some ideas, and just talked.

Getting crazy on a Saturday night.

I showed him WorksheetWorks.

I try not to use too many worksheets. However, this site generates worksheets on all subjects for free. The worksheets are customizable in terms of types of question and layout. They are neat and clean and just what I was looking for.

Each time you hit “Create Worksheet” you get different questions. They must have a very large question bank because I did not see repeats. I enlarged the worksheets to 150% and used the capture tool to put 4-5 questions on a SMARTBoard page. I quickly built a SMART file for the whole week.

I am going to use these pages with the dry erase boards some days. Other days I will just call students to the board. The hard copies will be used for assessments.

He showed me The New Differentiator.

This tool is an awesome way to get you thinking about how to differentiate your lessons to meet the needs of students. You easily create objectives by choosing from a menu for five categories: Thinking Skill, Content, Resources, Products, and Groups.

While I was checking this out, I explored a little more on Byrdseed. This blog looks like a great resource for TAG students or higher-level learners.

The other thing we discussed for awhile was the whole “teaching to the test.” We were talking about putting the Common Core Standards in our lesson plans and he made a comment about how he likes having the standards as a guide because he likes teaching to the test and he likes knowing exactly what he needs to cover.

Teaching to the test??” I stopped him right there. I asked him to explain what he meant again and I had this weird Aha! moment.

I have heard teachers say, “We have to teach to the test.”

“We are limited on what we can do because we have to teach to the test.”

The test stifles my creativity.”

“There’s so many things we can’t cover because we have to teach to the test.”

At the risk of offending anyone, I think these statements could be excuses or cop-outs….a way to just plow through material with minimal prep work. Is it these teachers who are bored and frustrated with their job?

What if teachers viewed the standards like he does? As a guide and not as limits?

Yes, he has to cover certain things. He still words his assessments with test-like lingo. He assigns 2-pt. and 4-pt. questions for daily journal writing.

How he chooses to teach the standards on a daily basis is completely up to him. His creativity is not stifled.

He is one of the most creative people I know.

Share a Random Moment

This reproduction is hanging above his fire place. He painted it himself.

Great Resource for Classroom Posters

I just stumbled upon Cool Stuff for Nerdy Teachers.

(They had me at “nerdy.”)

You can find some very cool,  free PDF versions of charts, visuals, posters, organizers, and strategies for your classroom.

This would be a great tool for students to keep inside a math work book or binder. (Download at the above mentioned site)

If you don’t have time to make these kinds of things (who does?) or you don’t believe in reinventing the wheel, look here first.

I plan on adding this to my paragraph writing lesson we are currently working on. (Download at the above mentioned site)

The only thing you’ll need is color ink for your printer and it’s recommended you laminate these 8 1/2 x 11 pages.

It looks like you can also purchase an editable format for $10 if you’d like to tweak it.

The posters are colorful, visually pleasing, cover the K-12 spectrum in many subject areas, and, for me….give me great ideas of things I’d like to make!

I won’t be using this at the middle school…but it might come in handy at home with the kids! I think I’ll hang it on the fridge – or my forehead. (Download at the above mentioned site)

More Ways to Get to Know Your Students

Worried that I don’t have enough to fill the first day of class, I did another search for ways to get to know my students.

Here are few more activities that may be useful that first day or first week of school.

Below are four interest inventories of various levels.

Other fun finds:

Student Information Sheet

  • This is business on the front and more personal on the back. You could easily just use the back for a good snapshot of a student’s personality. I like the kinds of questions they ask….”What wish do you have for someone else?” and “The title of a book about my life would be…” I am considering using this as a 1-on-1 interview with my Resource Room kids.

Photo Interest Inventory

  • This is more of a vocational interest inventory but I love the format and concept. It is designed for non-readers and includes a scoring system for teachers to complete. This inventory would be good for parts of the special education process. It has also inspired me to come up with a photo interest inventory for my students for the first week. I will share it here if I get it done in time!

Your Learner Sketch

  • This is a completely interactive activity where students decide if a characteristic fits into the “This is so me” or “Not me” category.
  • When you are done, it sorts your responses into strengths and weakness and includes additional links to learn more about each skill.
  • The PDF summary (I attached mine so you could see) isn’t as fun graphically, but it contains valuable information and explanations for students including strategies to help with weak areas. The report can also be emailed.


Koosh Ball Introduce Yourself

  • This is a SMART Notebook file that I plan to use sometime during the first week with my Resource Room. I plan on also using this as a template for other Koosh Ball games.

A Sweet Way to Celebrate Birthdays

Today is one of my oldest friend’s birthday. Happy Birthday Stacy!!

(Not so) many years ago Stacy and I had a love for Pixie Sticks and all things sugar (Cherry Coke and Hostess Cupcakes were two other favorites.)


Speaking of a sugar craze, the kids thought they hit the jackpot in Myrtle Beach this summer. This pic was taken at IT’SUGAR at Broadway at the Beach.

In honor of both her birthday and the fast-approaching first day of school, I wanted to share a birthday idea I got from a friend at work.

On the first day of school during Advisory/Homeroom, I have students decorate a name tag/tent. They write their name on one side and on the back they write their birthday and favorite candy.

I use these name tags for the first few days in order to learn their names. Later they can be used to make seating charts or used to create cooperative learning groups.

I collect the name tents at the end of the period and record all their birthdays and favorite candy bars on the calendar.

Then every two months, Tweedle Dee and I go on a candy-seeking mission after school while we wait for her brother to get home from elementary school. Sometimes it is tricky and we have to search high and low for a certain candy bar but I have never missed anyone’s special day.

Caramello, Cow Tales, Sweet Tarts, and Peanut Butter M & Ms are some of the hardest to find. I have the best luck at the gas station or at convenience stores like Circle K.

(I usually only buy two months worth at a time and I save the summer birthdays for the last day of school.)

On each student’s birthday I make a grand presentation during Advisory. And I let them eat it if they want (9 out of 10 kids do so and 4 out of 5 teachers “thank” me for the sugar rush). But it’s their special day…and a little sugar never hurt anyone, right Stacy?

How do you celebrate birthdays in your classroom?

What is your favorite candy?

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