Tag Archives: instructional tools

Two Words: Interactive. Notebooks.

So…I was hurrying through Walmart yesterday and ran into a friend from work. She had a cart FULL of school supplies….glue, markers, notebooks….I love school supplies, so I felt a little sparkle just looking at them. If I’d had more time, I would have backtracked and bought some of my own school supplies!

We caught up on the happenings of our summer and parted ways.

Two little words stuck in my head the rest of the day: “Interactive Notebooks”

By late last night I had pinned several sample pages and was basically convinced that this is the path I need to take this year.

(Remember, I am teaching the same students for the 2nd of 3 years in a row, so I need new material and strategies.)

Last night Ian texted me and asked me what I was doing, “Ummm, I am researching interactive notebooks online. I’m a nerd.”

“No you’re not, Mom.” (Thanks buddy, but yeah, I am.)

This morning I ran out and bought my .29 cent spiral notebooks (although I may consider some other options – not a big deal considering the price and that we can always use paper.)


First school supplies of the year!

I spent some more time today researching and looking at sample notebooks. I found a great set of foldables/graphic organizers (with activity descriptions and teacher instructions) on Teachers Pay Teachers (click here to go to her blog, I’m Lovin Lit) Usually, I would refuse to spend money on something I could make on my own.

However, for $12.00, I felt it was totally worth it. School starts in THREE weeks and my calendar is jam-packed. And the content looks really good. I hit the PayPal button.

If only I had some INK in my printer so I could print out some pages and start my notebook. (Isn’t it funny? Kids always say, “My printer was out of ink” and we think, “Yeah, likely story.” It IS a legitimate excuse!)

I am so excited to find ways to mesh the interactive notebooks and my iPads. My students sometimes have difficulty with neatness, creativity, and drawing in general, but I think we can paste in some of our iPad work and I can make some very real connections.

I love when I get this excited about something. This is what it’s all about for me.

I just sent a text to my friend who planted the seed…

“Interactive notebooks???? Really???? Why did you have to tell me???? Why??? I am obsessed!”

And she replied:

“Lol!!! You crack me up! But now that I think about it INB’s are totally your style!!! :)”

21 days until the first day of school…

What are YOU excited about?


Multiple Means of Engagement: Creating Packets

Loose papers. Lost handouts. Missing homework. Unorganized binders.

All of these things happened daily in my Resource Room until I decided to make packets for each instructional unit.

Some people might think handing out packets encourages dependency and doesn’t teach organizational skills. I will argue this point by saying that packets create structure and improve the flow of class. Students are still expected to have their packets each day, complete their assignments on time, and are able to see the relationship between what we did yesterday and today and tomorrow.

I have already explained that I like to teach in themes, that I usually see “the big picture”, and I process things whole-to-part.

For each grammar unit, novel, and major writing assignment, I make packets of all the handouts, worksheets, graphic organizers, etc. that I plan on using with the students.

The packet is full of a variety of activities, including group work and homework. The only things not in the packet are assessments or other great ideas I stumbled upon during the course of the unit. (But they will be added to the packet next year.)

Packet Pros:

  • Helps disorganized students have necessary materials. Students know to have their packets ready at the start of class. There’s none of that “What do we need today??” business.
  • Helps substitute teachers (no locating and passing out of worksheets)
  • Helps me with lesson planning (I look at the packet and the SMARTBoard file and blend the two to develop my plans for the day/week/month.)
  • Establishes a theme.
  • Makes connections.
  • Creates cohesiveness.

Let me describe how I create a packet for a novel, like Stargirl.

  1. To create my packet, I usually start with my SMARTNotebook file for the unit. I do a full-page print of the pages I want students to have individual copies of. I next add other materials that are not from the SMARTBoard.
  2. I put these pages in chronological order, number the pages, create the table of contents, and then make a calendar for the length of the unit with an overall plan of how much we will cover each day. I include this calendar in the student packet as it helps them see the pacing and our goals for each day. (There is obviously room for flexibility….thank to snow days, assemblies, absences, and days when we spend a little longer than planned.)
  3. I usually staple bright-colored copy paper on the front and back. Students create a cover for the packet a few days into the novel. We make a list of characters and settings on the inside front cover. The back cover can be used for random, spur of the moment ideas when a clean sheet of paper is needed.
  4. As we work through a novel, students can easily turn to a page when I ask them to. They can tell me where we left off. Someone usually takes it upon themselves to be the “recorder” of such info and writes both the book page number and the packet page number on the board at the end of class.

Packet Contents:

  • individual and group work
  • a variety of written work to prevent boredom (no chapter is the same)
  • outlines
  • webs
  • summaries
  • cloze paragraphs
  • symbols
  • quotes
  • extended response
  • short answer
  • charts
  • vocabulary
  • other graphic organizers
  • homework

The packet is supplemented with the SMART Notebook file I have been building on each year. The file includes:

  • lots of visuals and images for discussion and writing prompts
  • audio and video clips (see my Novel Playlists post)
  • review games and activities

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Things to Note:

  • My class is not all worksheet based. For a given novel, I may have 25 pages stapled together. I takes me about 7-8 weeks to complete a novel in the resource room.That’s a worksheet almost every other day.
  • We use our dry erase boards almost daily in conjunction with the packet. They may have to summarize a chapter, draw a picture, make a prediction on their dry erase boards. This breaks up the paper-pencil activities.
  • We don’t always do all the pages in the packet. Sometimes I have overestimated or underestimated where my students are. If it doesn’t feel right, we only do part of it or we skip it all together.
  • Because my class is small, (less than a dozen students), I can easily collect the packets if I want to grade an activity. Most grades come from assessments.
  • At the end of the unit, I try to hang onto the students’ packets for work samples and documentation. If they really want to keep their packet (few do), I can easily make copies.

Teaching with a packet requires you:

  • To have a “vision” for the unit
  • To work way ahead.
  • To have previous experience with the topic. I don’t think I could pull off a packet on a novel the first time I read it with the class.

Students need and crave structure, but they also need variety. Packets create natural “chunks” for instruction. Students do well with short 10-12 minute activities. By switching between reading out loud, group discussion, completing packet activities independently, working on the SMARTBoard, and using dry erase boards, the pace of class is fast and engaging. My students know they won’t be doing any one thing longer than 15 minutes.

While I focused on the idea of a novel packet, this can be done with any topic. I have created packets on parts of speech, capitalization rules, vocabulary, test-taking strategies, persuasive writing, business letters, and poetry – to name a few.

Are you a whole-to-part or part-to-whole learner/teacher?
How do you handle worksheets and handouts with your class?
Have you created a packet for an entire unit? What worked for you? What didn’t?

Trash to Treasure (Board Games in the Classroom)

As we are in garage sale season, now is a great time to pick up some cheap board games. These games don’t even have to be in great shape or complete. The random playing pieces (like dice, chips, board markers, or checkers from a partial set) can be used in a variety of ways with your students.

The pieces of the games, boards included, can be modified for classroom use and incorporated into student projects (one of the choices for our Earth Science project is to make a review game).

An idea I recently read about in Differentiated Assessment Strategies: One Tool Doesn’t Fit All, by Carolyn Chapman and Rita King, is to have students place the red monopoly houses on the main idea and green houses on supporting details.

Other ideas:

  • Students can place a red house on a math problem they are stuck on and as the teacher comes around the room, they will be able to stop and help them.
  • Students can lay a red, yellow, or green playing piece on the corner of their paper to show their comfort level with the concept being taught.
  • Use a deck of cards to create random groups. (All the 4’s are in a group, all the hearts are on a team, the Aces are team captains, etc.)
  • Give a sand timer to a student who easily gets distracted or who needs limits. They can try to complete a certain number of problems in 2 minutes.
  • Use play money as part of your reward system or to practice money skills.
  • Use colored marbles or chips for a lesson in probability.

Here is a shopping list for your next garage sale outing. You may have to think outside the box and look inside game boxes to find these goodies:

  • spinners
  • dice
  • cards
  • checkers or chess pieces
  • game boards
  • play money
  • marbles
  • place markers
  • dominoes
  • letter tiles
  • sand timers

Because my cat, Ellie, is an indoor cat she can’t go to garage sales. But, she does like to play good old-fashioned board games!


Tweedle Dee and Ellie playing a Lego game.


Ellie takes her turn at Shrek Monopoly. (One of my LEAST favorite games of all time.)


Ellie and Tweedle Ian play Yahtzee (with foam dice because they are silent!)


Guess Who? Yep, Ellie again!

Are You Smarter Than Your SMARTBoard?

When I first started teaching I used chalkboards.

Ancient artifact? True story… I had sticks of this chalk out on student desks one day and one boy picked it up, rolled it between his fingers, and asked, “WHAT IS THIS??”

In 2005, I spent my PTG money on a 3 x 5 dry erase board that the custodian installed overtop of a portion of my chalk board. It was a small space but I loved using colored markers to teach 6th grade math.

In 2007, I was transferred to a new position at the high school and when I walked into my classroom that August there was a giant box. Inside, was something I’d seen in a few classrooms, but never touched….something that would change the way I taught, the way my students learned, and the way I learned from my students. I was the proud new owner of SMART Board! The man who I was replacing had written a grant in the spring, received the SMART Board, and then took a new job in another district. Talk about luck!

As a tutor for the state graduation test and at-risk students, I had a lot of flexibility with my teaching which meant I had a lot of time to experiment. Working with only a few students each period they were more happy to show me how to use it.

In addition to my helpful 10th and 11th graders, I spent a lot of time teaching myself how to use my SMART Board. There are dozens of activities in the Lesson Activity Toolkit in the Gallery. It was a little overwhelming at first and then I decided to go through the sample activities one at a time, try them out as a “student”, and figure out how they were made. I then created a similar page with my content. If you are a hands-on learner like me this is probably a good route to go.

If you are a visual or auditory learner and like tutorials, I have since found that there are now video links to tutorials on most of the examples as well as a huge help menu in the Lesson Activity Toolkit. (My how times have changed!)

I think the easiest way to explain how to find your way around the Lesson Activity Toolkit is to provide these screenshots:

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There are 74 examples for you to go through. Start today and you could and have a whole arsenal of ideas for fall.

Non-Bored Games (Board Games in the Classroom)

I play board games all the time with my kids at home. We have at least two dozen board games in our downstairs closet alone. I always buy card games for their stockings. My step-mom who is a retired speech therapist buys my kids games every Christmas and on birthdays. To be honest, we did not own a video game system until this past Christmas when I finally broke down and bought a Wii.

I remember playing Uno with my Grandma P., Yahtzee with my Grandma R., and croquet with Grandpa R. (Ok, so it’s not a board game but it’s old school and he deserves credit). We always played games at my dad’s on Friday nights. (Kerplunk, Clue, and Pig Mania a.k.a. Pass the Pigs were a few favorites). I guess games continue to be a tradition in our family.

Right now, at home, my kids’ favorite game is Boggle. What teacher doesn’t love that?? When my 9-year-old son comes up with words like “value” and “peace” I am quite impressed. Just last night he asked if we would count “homophones.”

There isn’t much time for such fun at school, but today was our last full day of school. With no homework and all our assignments wrapped up, what could I do with my 1st period study hall? Seems like the perfect time for a board game!

I love to see how kids (8th graders) handle themselves in these situations.

Do they read the directions?
Can they take turns?
Do they use strategy?
Are they sore losers?

Many of my students don’t play board games at home with their families. In an age of video games and hectic schedules, this should not surprise me. And it really doesn’t. It just makes me a little sad.

Today we played Pictureka! Six of us gathered around a table and right away, based on a little apprehension and a few grumbles, I knew that they had never played this game before. By the end of the first round, we were laughing and having a great time. Everyone was bummed when the period ended.

Do I need to justify that this game can be educational? I don’t think anyone would actually question my choice on the last day of school in a study hall with with six 8th graders and all our work turned in. (At least I wasn’t showing a video or letting them run wild in the halls!?)

But just in case:

  • This game is great for visual processing as it requires students to scan for objects and match pictures.
  • It also requires students to find items which fit into particular categories. (Ex. Stinky Things, Things in Space, Things in a Game, etc.)
  • And like all board games, reading and following directions, social skills, and strategy all apply.

Maybe this is what I’ll look like tomorrow on the last day of school!
(Taken from the actual game Pictureka!)

And They All Fall Down (Board Games in the Classroom)

Jumbling Tower is the generic version of the game Jenga. I think I bought it at Walmart for half the price.

It is a game of physics, dexterity, and strategy. It can also be a game of educational value.

I preloaded my set of blocks with vocabulary definitions. I wrote a Language Arts Based set in one color and a set of math definitions in a different color.

Students are broken into teams and each student is armed with a dry erase board. Team members take turns pulling blocks from the stack and I read the definition out loud. Everyone answers the question on their dry erase boards and then we share answers.

The beauty of this game is no one wants to knock over the tower, so the game goes on and on and on…..until the bell rings for lunch.




What types of “old-school” games do you play in your classroom?
Have you modified a traditional game to make it educational?

Cheap and Easy (Dry Erase Boards in Your Classroom)

One of the learning tools I love to use the most is also one of my students’ favorites: dry erase boards.

Three years ago I bought a large 4′ x 8′ sheet of hardboard at Lowe’s for around $11.00. For a minimal fee they cut the board into 32 12″x 12″ boards. I think the total bill was less than $15.00. I purchased economy packs of wash cloths at Dollar General. While dry erase markers can be pricey, our team has them on the supply list (1 pack of 4 for each student). We put these markers in a huge basket and they are for general use in the classroom.

We use these boards almost every day in some capacity.

Any paper/pencil activity that can be put on the SMART Board can be done on a dry erase board. (Especially good for grammar, math problems, multiple choice activities, and fill in the blank type worksheets)

I have my students write an occasional short answer/extended response/journal entry on a dry erase board. I love when students ask if they can get another board because they don’t have room for everything they want to say.

I use them with our online textbook. It’s not very easy to get computer time in our building but by using the SMART Board and the dry erase markers, I can easily use tutorials, review activities, and vocabulary lessons with the whole class.

Dry erase boards are also a great way to do formative assessment. It’s very easy to get an overview of how well the students grasped the daily lesson.

So let me sum it up:

Pros of dry erase boards
+ Less paper/pencil tasks
+ Less photo copying and less waste
+ Allows for movement around the room (Sometimes they can sit on the back counter, the floor, away from their desks)
+ Accountability (“Everybody, boards UP!”)
+ Engaging (Everyone can answer every question, not just one student)
+ Forgiving (It’s easy to erase mistakes and try again)

Cons of dry erase boards
– Not practical for graded assignments
– Kids love to doodle. (I admit I am a “doodler”. You should see my decorated notes from staff meetings!)
– The markers stink! (I strongly recommend specifically putting low-odor markers on your supply list


The pros clearly outweigh the cons.
(Artwork by my daughter)

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