Saturday, October 18, 2014

Group Work Strategies for Upper Grades


I've come to realize that how I organize and prepare my students for productive group work can make or break my lessons.  I've always seen the value in grouping students to complete tasks, but during my first years in the classroom I was so busy planning 'what' students would do that I rarely put much thought into 'how' productive they would really be.  It wasn't until the past few years that I have really polished my group work routines and I have seen a world of difference in my instruction.  

Some general DO's and DON'Ts of Group Work

DON'T just expect your students to peacefully and productively accomplish great things in small groups.  Never..gonna..happen! Ok...maybe you have this amazing, sweet, perfect group of kiddos that does everything you ask.  If so, stop reading now.  The rest of you who teach in the real world, read on.

DO realize that part of our job is to teach students how to work together and be prepared with some strategies that will help them become the best group members they can be.

Here are a few strategies and one "bright idea" that I use to maximize nearly every group-oriented task in my classroom.

A few general suggestions about group work:

- Purposeful Pairing: I almost always deliberately group students for the task at hand.  This can be time consuming, but having task-specific groups and a wide variety of grouping options will help keep your groups fresh and focused.

- Text Cures Amnesia: What are we supposed to do? (This is how 90% of middle school group discussions start out by the way.) Despite how perfectly we explained the directions aloud, there are always kids who where not listening or who just struggle to process verbal directions.  Whenever possible, I give written directions to outline the task.  When I started posting written directions for even the shortest "think-pair-share" discussions, I noticed a big improvement in group productivity.

- Keep it Lively: Use a wide variety of strategies to help teach your students how to be a productive contributors.  Here are a few strategies that I find work well in 6th grade:

A-B Discussions:  (One student is A, the other B)  Student A must talk on the topic for 30 seconds while student B listens.  When the timer goes off, student B must talk on the same topic for 30 but is not allowed to say any of the exact same things that person A said.  Short...sweet and effective!

Flip Chip:  Using bingo or poker chips, students flip chips over to represent their contributions to a group discussion.  I put a sticker on one side of each chip and give each student 2-5 chips depending on the complexity of the group task.  When everyone in the group has flipped their chips, they can call the teacher over to check in.  Although this can seem like a race, it really encourages kids to speak up, help each other and stay on target.  (I do however suggest reviewing some basic etiquette rules about interrupting!)

MM's:  At the end of a more lengthy group activity, have students secretly vote for the "most memorable" group moment and the person who contributed the idea.  (Students are asked not to vote for themselves.)  I have students do this on a post-it note where they anonymously write about something great that happened in their group.  I keep track of these and have M&Ms for students who are nominated 3x!

This last strategy is my BRIGHT IDEA, since I just started using it regularly and it has been such a game-changer in my classroom!

Involve students in their own time management with
Group Status Boards:

Provide each group with a number.  Create a visual description for the group work requirements on the board (see examples in the photos below).  Place all group numbers on the first requirement and then instruct students to check in on the board by moving their group number to the next task after each accomplishment.   Not only does this keep groups on task, but it gets kids up and moving regularly during a group work activity.  In addition, I create a special parking area where groups can move their number if they are in need of teacher support.

Why it works in my classroom...


  • This keeps groups FOCUSED, which has always been a struggle with my chatty middle schoolers.  
  • This strategy helps me keep tabs on every group at the same time.




Sorry for the quality of this cell phone photo of my Promethean Board.  For this status board I just posted the document they were using (a lab chart) on the screen and then just added number images.  SO easy, since I already had the document up for giving directions earlier in my lesson.

I hope you try a group status board with your class and have as much success as I have!




I hope you enjoyed this bright idea and that it inspires you to polish your group work routines!

Please browse the link-up below for more bright ideas from over 100 other teacher-bloggers.  There are ideas for all different grade levels and disciplines.

If you are interested in more ideas to help improve your classroom instruction please to follow me at TpTFacebook or Bloglovin!










Saturday, September 27, 2014

October Planning Mat Printable and Back to School Snapshots from my Classroom

My desk seems just a little neater since I started creating these desktop planning mats a few weeks ago.  Seeing all the fall-themed decor out and about has inspired me to make October's printable and post for you all to download and use!  (You can download it by clicking the photo.)



And now for some quick snapshots from my classroom...

I've been meaning to post some back to school classroom photos, but September has been insane.  Better late than never!

I use homework record sheets with my students, which are stored by last name in these three binders.  I learned last year that one binder caused an issue on days when multiple students forgot their work.  Hoping this works out better!

Returning papers to over 125 kids can seem impossible when you need every moment of class to teach!  I use these folders and assign students to check them daily and pass out any papers inside before the bell rings.  

I saw post-it exit ticket boards all over Pinterest this summer and decided to use the chalkboard near my classroom door to create my own.  I used BRIGHT STICKS (see below) to create squares where students can place their post it as they leave the room.  These markers are great because they don't wipe off the board unless you use water.  I bought this pack in 2001...no seriously I DID... and I still use them every year to add pizzaz to my chalkboard.  


Thanks to a Vista Print Groupon offer that was too good to pass up, I have new car magnet learning goal and homework board signs!

Here are some science root word posters that you can find in my TpT store.   They make a nice "all year long" display.  


Our first unit is Ecology, so here are the dragonfly friends that I created to add a little color to my walls..  



I hope your school year is off to a great start.  Thanks for stopping by my blog and remember to follow to get updates!

Happy Teaching

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pocket-Sized Class List Idea


Pocket-sized class lists.  Why didn't I think of that?  Thankfully my colleague Ann did and she graciously shared this with me so that I could be just a little more "with-it" this year!  I have over 125 students, plus 15 home base kids and these mini-lists have been SO helpful in keeping it together as I start this school year.

On each mini class list I included:

- Student names
- Number of students (Quick head count!)
- Class period
- Class start and end times (Yup...I'm that teacher who lets her class out late on occasion...whoops!)
- One confidential set has bee, nut and other allergies/conditions.
- One set has a place to write notes at the bottom.  (I paperclip these to class sets of collect papers.)
I took each of my five classes outside yesterday for a schoolyard habitat survey.  I loved having my class lists handy, plus all the information I needed regarding bee allergies...etc just in case!

When I typed up my miniature class lists, I made a few versions.  One version includes medical information that is coded by letter.  I only made one copy of this and it stays around my neck for obvious reasons.  The lists are covered, so that kids can't see them when I'm wearing my lanyard and with the letter coding, it would be difficult for my 6th graders to figure it out even if they did catch a quick glance.  I just feel better knowing I have this information at hand.
I keep the lists clipped on my lanyard which also stores my teacher ID, room keys and extra flash drive.  I pretty much NEVER take this off at school! Note:  I don't actually use the little cover "class lists" because I like to use a small binder clip to hold the cards together with my ID badge as the cover.  I wasn't about to show that here....Well, because my photo is me plus 60 pounds of pregnancy weight and a really bad pixie short haircut.  Let's just say, last year was NOT my best school photo year! 

I also made a set of class lists that did not have any medical or other information which I use a few different ways.  I keep this mini set near my door so that I can grab it and put it in my pocket if we are heading out for a fire drill (if for some reason my lanyard is at home or connected to my computer).   It is also right near my classroom phone so that I can reference it when the secretary calls and asks what class period "Sarah" is in.  (Hmmm....I have 6 Sarah's and 5 teaching blocks...lets see!)
The last super handy use I have for these pocket-sized class lists is collecting student work.  I copy a bunch of these for each class and keep them handy when collecting assignments.  I personally struggle to keep late/missing assignments straight.  This strategy really helps me remember the specific situations for each missing assignment so that I can record them in my electronic grade book later. 

If you are addicted to new, BRIGHT ways to improve your classroom instruction please to follow me at TpTFacebook or Bloglovin!
This month's bright idea comes from the most dedicated teacher in my school.  I see her car in the school parking lot late at night when I'm driving to the grocery store to buy the snack I forgot about for my son's preschool.  She's the one who remembers everyone's birthday (including my own children).  When I see her students' returned papers, they always have such thoughtful remarks, not just numbers...but real feedback.  Talk about "with-it-ness"...this women is an amazing teacher!  I'm so thankful to call her my friend and colleague.  So Ann, this bright idea is all yours babe.  Thanks for sharing!



I hope you enjoyed this bright idea post.  Please browse the link-up below for more bright ideas from over 100 other teacher-bloggers.  There are ideas for all different grade levels and disciplines.  






Thursday, September 11, 2014

Taming Desktop Clutter with September Desktop Freebie

Two days into the school year and I already couldn't see the surface of my desk.

How can I possibly be drowning in paperwork so soon?  I've got the Erin Condren life planner.  My plans are meticulously typed into www.planbook.com. (Both of which I LOVE by the way.) However, I still have about 6-7 post-its stuck all over my desk reminding me of IEP meetings, field trip permission slips and phone calls to make. What gives!

I created this September desk mat to help tame the chaos that is my teacher desk and I'm sharing it here in hopes that it might help one more busy teacher be a little more organized this school year.




Here is how I used this mat in my classroom:

Whenever I had a "note-to-self" moment that didn't fit in my other planners, I wrote it either on my September Think Mat or on a small post-it to attach to the mat.  Just placing all these random reminders in one spot seemed to keep my desk looking less cluttered.


Want to give this organization strategy a try for free?  Click Here to grab this freebie from my TpT store.  Remember to follow me so that you can be updated when I post the other monthly think mats that I've got in the works!




I hope this desktop think mat brings some cheer to your classroom this month!  Stay tuned, I plan to post the other 9 that I am working on SOON!

Happy Teaching

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Classroom Management Tips for New Teachers


"Don't smile until Christmas."  Famous classroom management advice for every new teacher.  This was never an option for me, since I love to laugh and smile with my students everyday.    How do I keep order in my classroom while still leaving room for FUN?

Tips for Classroom Management:

1.  Organize your room to promote order.  A controlled flow of students, materials and paperwork keeps things "under control."  Kids feel comfortable when they know how a classroom functions and their role in keeping the classroom organized.

2.  Discuss classroom procedures regularly.  A rookie mistake is is to make class rules and procedures a one-shot-deal.   Talking about how the class can function smoothly on a daily basis is important and will remind kids that you mean business!

3.  Plan, plan, plan really great lessons.  (Oh and also be ready with a backup so that you can change gears in an instant.)  Something I've noticed after 14 years in the middle school classroom, is that engaged, active learners who are excited about the lesson rarely misbehave.   

4.  Be ready to deal with the small percentage of kids who will still misbehave no matter how awesome your lesson is.  Know in advance what and how you plan to say and/or do in response to poor behavior.  You'll be less likely to let your mood impact your response if you are prepared.  Remember...keep your cool and NEVER let your class see you sweat!

5.  This probably should have been # 1, because it is what I consider to be the BEST way to manage a class.  Go out of your way to connect on a personal level with every single student.  This takes a lot of effort, especially when you have a curriculum that seems mapped to the minute.  Children behave well when they know that you care about them and that you are genuinely interested in their success.

Wishing you all a great start to the new school year!

Happy Teaching,



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