Thursday, July 30, 2015

First Day of School, Part 2: Routines and Procedures

If you missed Part 1: Arrival, make sure to check it out!

If you have taught before, you know very well that the first few weeks of school are very heavy on routines and procedures! Our motto at my old school was "Go slow (now), to go fast (later)." The more time spent on setting expectations and practicing routines and procedures NOW will pay off immensely in the long run. That means that academics might start off slowly, but they will pick up later. If you don't take the time to practice routines and procedures, you will be losing even more time redirecting later. Go slow to go fast!

Here is a handy dandy list of routines and procedures you will need to teach in the first week of school. (Click the image to download a copy for FREE!)

The first day of school in my class is comprised mostly of practicing routines and procedures. There are a lot of things students need to know and begin practicing right away, and I'd rather them do these routines properly from the beginning, rather than letting bad habits set in and having to break those bad habits later. For example, take my addiction to Iced Mochas... if I'd never even tried one, I wouldn't have given as significant of a portion of my salary to Starbucks as I have. If I would have just filled my Nalgene up with water and been on my way, we wouldn't have this issue. Moral of the story: Make good habits before you have to break bad ones!

The first column on the routines and procedures checklist are the things I recommend building in to your first day, and a few items on the second column as well. As I plan, I work these things into some fun activities, and spread the stand-alone procedures out (like bathroom and recess expectations and routines) in between activities. For example, if I'm planning to do an All About Me activity where students will be writing about their favorite things, I will first model how to properly use and take care of pencils before students are given this material. The activity will then give students the opportunity to practice what I've modeled. After this activity I might take some time to introduce our procedure for going to the bathroom, and have students practice this procedure. Our next activity might involve using crayons, so I would do another model of proper use of crayons. You get the picture. Real application of the routines and procedures; thoughtful planning of how to incorporate them into your day. (**I explained how I make this work for my arrival activity in the comments section below!**)

For some of these things, you will need to re-teach multiple times over multiple days and/or weeks before students are 100% ready to take on the routines and procedures on their own. They will need lots of repetition and lots of opportunities to practice the routines/procedures correctly. It will feel like Groundhog Day to you, but kids need it, and it will pay off, I promise.

Responsive Classroom has some great, highly effective strategies for teaching routines and procedures. I wrote about them and included some fabulous video examples here:

Remember, this first day can set the tone for the whole year, and you do not want to lose the opportunity to start off on the right foot immediately. So, establish routines and procedures, and establish them well. You can have fun and still show your students that there is work to be done and there are expectations that are to be followed in order for that work to get done.

Establishing Routines and Procedures

Responsive Classroom has two strategies for teaching Routines and Procedures that changed. My. Life.

Guided Discovery is used to introduce a material, an area of the classroom, or an activity to students. It's focused and purposeful, yet it still allows some open-ended discovery. Interactive Modeling is used to teach a very specific behavior, procedure, or routine, it is not open-ended. So, before you decide which technique to use, you have to decide if there is a specific way you want the routine or procedure done, or if there are multiple acceptable ways it can be done.

For example:

Bathroom procedures; I have one specific routine... so I use Interactive Modeling.
Using crayons; I allow multiple (appropriate) ways to use... so I use Guided Discovery.


1. Introduction of a material, area of classroom, or activity (naming).
2. Generate ideas and model exploratory work (teacher models exploration, a couple of students model exploration).
3. Children explore.
4. Children share explorations and observations.
5. Cleanup and care of materials.

Here's a video of Guided Discovery in action!


1. Teacher names the desired expectations for a routine or procedure.
2. Teacher models the desired expectations.
3. Teacher asks students to notice and explain specific elements of the routine or procedure.
4. Teacher chooses a few students to practice the routine/procedure.
5. Teacher again asks students to notice and explain specific elements of the routine or procedure.
6. All students practice routine/procedure.
7. Teacher reinforces desired behaviors that are observed.
8. Teacher continues to reinforce, and redirects and reminds as necessary.

Here's a video of Interactive Modeling in action!

For more Interactive Modeling videos, check out this link from the Responsive Classroom website-


While these strategies are used a lot in the beginning of the year, I find opportunities to use them all year! I introduce new routines and procedures at many different times throughout the year, and sometimes we have to refresh our understandings of routines/procedures that we've practiced before.

Give these strategies a try! It might seem like overkill if you haven't done it before, but once you do it, you will not regret it. These strategies give kids such a firm understanding of routines and procedures, you will be amazed.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

First Day of School - Part 1: Arrival

I am moving to a new grade level at a new school and district this year, so I am feeling those "first day jitters" for the first time in 8 years. I can really sympathize with what my students feel on that first day, which reminds me of how important a soft landing upon arrival is on the first day of school.

When my students walk in on that first day, the first thing they will do is hang their backpacks in their cubbies, which are labeled with their name. Labels are important; they show the kids that they have a personal space that is theirs and theirs alone, which reduces the stress of separating from the backpack, which is their last connection to home.
(These labels are included in my Watercolor Classroom Theme that I can't wait to start putting up in my classroom next week!

Next, they go to the meeting area on the carpet, where personalized name coloring pages have been placed in a circle, showing each child where they should sit. This is important too, because it eliminates the stress of wondering where to sit.
(Note the coloring pages in this picture actually say "Last Day of 2nd Grade", that's because I do the same activity on the first and last days, I just only have a picture of them from the last day! At the end of the year it provides a great sense of closure to do the same activity they did on the first day of school.)

From there, we hold our first Morning Meeting of the year. On the first day of school, some kids might not be comfortable speaking in front of the class yet, so for our greeting I introduce each student rather than students introducing themselves (they will speak for themselves on the second day). I say, "This is my friend, __________." and the class responds, "Hi, ___________." I then ask a simple question like "What is your favorite color?" and each student shares their answer. Afterwards I'll ask if anyone can name three people in the circle. Then each day I increase that challenge!

Normally an activity and a morning message come next, but on the first day I skip those two things. We keep it simple and work up to a full morning meeting over the course of 3-4 days.

After everyone has been introduced, I have students take their name coloring pages to their tables, where they can begin coloring with crayons. Coloring is familiar to them, so this is a safe activity to begin the day with. (Note: This is the only material I have available for them to use at this point in the day, as I will do deliberate introductions of other materials as the day and the week goes on, in order to explicitly set expectations for how materials will be handled and organized. More on that to come in an upcoming post!).
Coloring pages are available here ( for grades K-3.

While they are coloring, I can check in with students, help a few students at a time sort supplies, and get any loose ends tied up that I need to. I also use this coloring time to teach our two quiet signals. We practice the bell signal, and the raised hand signal by playing "the freeze game".

(Note: These coloring pages, when completed, make really cute bulletin boards or banners as decorations for Back to School Night! It's important for kids to see their work on the walls as soon as possible so it starts to feel like THEIR space, not like they are just visitors in MY space.)

This arrival routine gives students a soft landing on what can be a stressful day for some. After this soft landing, I usually find that students are ready to come out of their shells bit by bit, but I still take it slow and easy the first day. Less is more.

Stay tuned for...
First Day of School Part 2: Routines and Procedures
...coming soon!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I'm so excited! And I just can't hide it!

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I am so excited about my fabulous new blog design! I can't stop looking at it. Lindsey Paull, you are the bomb dot com. If you have any blog design needs yourself, don't shop around. Go directly here - and do not pass go. You will not regret it.

Now I can't wait to write more about my teaching adventures! I'm going to have a TpT giftcard giveaway soon NOW to celebrate, you know you could use some TpT money for the new school year! So follow me through Bloglovin or by entering your email on the sidebar ---->
Then enter the rafflecopter below!

Thanks for stopping by! You can wipe the drool off of your chin now.

**Giveaway has ended! Winner is Julie Porter Davis! Congrats Julie, happy shopping!**
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Friday, July 24, 2015

Student-Generated Class Rules

I love having my students create their own class rules. It is so much more meaningful than arbitrary rules that come from the teacher. Students really take ownership of the rules when they are in charge of creating them themselves.

I begin this process as I do most other activities in my classroom, with a book! One of my recent favorites to use with rule creation is a book called If Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover.

In this book, different scenarios are shown that exhibit what the world would be like if everyone did little, harmful things. It shows that although certain misbehaviors might seem small, they can become out of control problems quickly.

I then pose the question, “What do we need in order to make sure that we don’t have out of control problems in our class this year?” Rules! I also connect to our prior conversations about Hopes and Dreams. (If you missed that post, stop right now and click here to read up on one of my absolute favorite beginning of the year activities. Done? Ok, back to business.) I ask, “Will we be able to meet our Hopes and Dreams if we don’t have rules?” and “How can rules help us with our learning?”

Once we are all on the same page about the importance of having rules, we begin the process of creating them!

First, I have students get up and do Kagan cooperative learning routine to discuss rules they think we should have in our class. I take this opportunity to teach one of my favorite routines, Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up. In this interactive activity, all students begin by sitting on the floor quietly. I call out “Stand up!”, and they stand up silently. Then I say “Hand up!” and they raise one hand in the air. Last I say “Pair up!” and they walk around silently to find a partner. They choose a partner and put their raised hands together, then they sit down, face each other and discuss the topic, in this case, rules they think our class should have. I use Interactive Modeling to teach expectations for this routine (stay tuned for a future blog post about Interactive Modeling!), and they have to practice it a lot, but once they can model the expectations of choosing different partners and not declining any partners, it’s a great way to get them up and moving and doing some focused discussion.

Something important to remember as you are listening in on their conversations is to help your students phrase their ideas for rules in positive form rather than negative. So, instead of “Don’t run.” try “Walk in the classroom.” Instead of “Don’t talk while the teacher is talking.” try “Listen to the teacher when she/he is talking.” This is so so important, we don’t need kids talking about all the things they aren’t supposed to do! We need them talking about what they ARE going to do! So when you hear that word “don’t”, make them flip it around by asking, “What ARE we going to do?” It takes practice, but the kids will catch on.

After a few rounds of Stand Up, Hand Up, Pair Up, we come back together and make a long list of all the ideas they have for class rules. I had a Promethean board at my previous school, so we did this part of rule creation electronically, but I’ve seen teachers use chart paper too. Here is our list from last year, you can see all of their ideas are phrased in a positive form, and I just listed them. I created each “rule” in a separate text box by the way, and you will see why next.

After we’ve listed all of their “rule” ideas, we stop for the day. Gotta love those short attention spans!

The next day I bring the kids together again, pull up our list, and I tell them that while I thought their rule ideas were all really great, there are so many that I’m worried I won’t be able to remember all of them! Then I mention that I was thinking some of them were kind of alike, and maybe we could sort the ones that are alike together, to make it easier to remember all the different rules. (If you are a teacher, you are really one step away from being a professional actor, so I know you can handle this little act!)

Then we start reading through them, and kids start suggesting rules they think are similar, and we start dragging rules around making groupings. (If you are using paper, cutting them out and physically moving them works too!)

This process, depending on how much discussion happens, can take a couple or even a few sessions. Last year, my group of second graders had deep discussions and debates about how certain rules were related to other rules, so it took us about 4 days of 15-20 minute sessions to agree and get them all sorted out. This is what we ended up with…

We had four distinct groups of similar rules. I think it's best to stick with 3 or 4 total, otherwise there are just too many to think about and remember.

Our next task was to give each group of rules a name or choose one rule from within it that describes all the other rules in the group. After a little more discussion and debate, they decided on these four rules…

I wrote them out onto a poster, we took an oath to promise to always follow our rules for the good of the class, and everyone signed the rules ( I didn’t take a picture, I’ll make sure to do that this year!). It was displayed prominently in the classroom, and we referenced the rules (using the language the kids decided on) daily!

If you want class rules that have meaning and aren’t just arbitrarily given to students, I highly recommend this process!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hopes and Dreams - A new school year MUST!

One of my favorite beginning of the year activities is having my students declare what their biggest Hopes and Dreams for the school year are. It is also something that we revisit throughout the year, and provides a beautiful sense of closure at the end of the year, too. It sets the stage for rule creation (stay tuned for a post about how I do rule creation in the very near future!) and for goal setting, and is a huge motivator.

Hopes and Dreams is a key Responsive Classroom First Six Weeks of School routine, and it’s recommended to begin the process on the third day of school.

I like to start by reading a classic that is perfect for primary grades, Leo the Late Bloomer. This gives a perfect example of a young tiger who has hopes and dreams of accomplishing things like reading, writing, drawing, and speaking.

After reading, we discuss the book and I make sure to use the terms “hopes” and “dreams” when talking and asking about what Leo wanted to learn. (ie- "What did Leo hope to learn how to do?" "Why was that a dream of his?")

Next, we practice the routine of “Turn and Talk” (it’s still very early in the year, we are practicing new routines left and right!), and students talk to a partner about some hopes and dreams they have for their own learning this year.

Since I taught 2nd grade and will be moving to 1st this year, I usually stop there for the first day because of short attention spans. ;)

On the next day of Hopes and Dreams work, I pull out Leo the Late Bloomer again and have students recall what Leo’s hopes and dreams were with another Turn and Talk. Then we compile a student-generated list of hopes and dreams they have for themselves. This can be a lot of ideas, and can be a long list, but make sure to guide kids to be specific! Specific goals are better than general/broad goals. Example: “I hope to learn how to write numbers to 200.” instead of “I hope to be good at math.”

On the third day of Hopes and Dreams, I re-read the list and do a think-aloud of choosing a Hope and Dream for myself. Then I have students brainstorm their number one goal. I do a lot of guidance during this part one-on-one to make sure they are choosing attainable goals, and that their goals are academic goals. They might have a personal goal of being able to swing across the monkey bars, but that isn't something they will be working on in class with me. Then we begin working on some type of visual representation of our hopes and dreams.

First, we write our hopes in our writing journals, then I type them up. I give them their paper with their typed hope, and then they draw a picture to illustrate it. We put all of the pages together and bind them into a book! The kids LOVE this book. Last year, I saw kids read this book almost every single day throughout the entire year. Make sure you laminate the pages first if you go this route- it needs to hold up to lots of wear and tear!

You don’t have to make a book, of course. I’ve also made cutesy bulletin boards for Hopes and Dreams in the past, I just prefer making a book because the kids can read and interact with it a lot more when they can hold it in their hands. =) It just feels a little more accessible.

We read our published Hopes and Dreams book (our first class book, hooray!) as a read aloud, and begin our work toward accomplishing our goals. =)

This is a fabulous, engaging, and authentic activity to really get students back in the school mindset and prepare them for another year of learning!

**Bonus activity idea!!!**
I mentioned in the opening blurb that this is a great activity for the end of the year as well... let me explain how I use these Hopes and Dreams on the last day of school.

On the last day, we read through our book one last time together as a read aloud, and after reading each page, we talk about how each student has accomplished their hopes and dreams. If a child had a goal that wasn't quite met (which is very rare since I give guidance on choosing appropriate goals in the beginning), I just don't mention that fact, I mention how hard they worked on their goal and how much their brain grew. The class applauds each student after their page has been read and commented on.

Then we dismantle the book, and each student gets to take their page home. Depending on time (we all know how crazy the last day of school can be...) and age of the kids, I would also have students write a short reflection on their hopes and dreams, and how they were able to reach their goals.

Doing this provides a great sense of closure for the kiddos, as revisiting their hopes and dreams brings them full circle from where they started to where they are ending the year.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Building Relationships with Morning Meetings

The best thing that has happened to me in my career so far has been Responsive Classroom. I was highly skeptical about its effectiveness at first, because it was so different from the clip chart systems, points systems, rewards systems, etc. that I used in my first few years of teaching. Once I gave it a chance and gave it my all, it completely transformed my philosophy as a teacher.

One of the main focuses of Responsive Classroom is building cooperative, respectful, trusting, and empathetic relationships. When these relationships are formed, and students intrinsically want to do the right thing for the good of the classroom and school community, behavior issues practically disappear. Children from all backgrounds, with a vast range of emotional, physical, and academic needs come together as a successful community of learners.

One of the key ingredients to building a successful community is the Morning Meeting. The Responsive Classroom model consists of four parts; A greeting, an opportunity to share, an activity, and a morning message from the teacher. Here's a handy dandy little visual to help you remember each step! Save it and print it out to keep nearby as you are getting used to the structure of Morning Meetings!

 This structure provides important social experiences, rather than an academic-focused morning meeting. That's not to say it can't have any academics.... We make a lot of connections to our content during share time, and I almost always incorporate phonics and writing convention skills in the morning message. Mostly though, it is meant to be a safe social time of the day where students feel recognized and valued. It should be around 20 minutes, although I have squeezed them into 15 minutes in the past and was still able to hold meaningful, powerful Morning Meetings.

I usually plan for the same Morning Meeting to be held for a week, then each week the meeting changes. When I say it "changes" I mean the particular ways of greeting, sharing, and participating in activities change; the structure is always the same. Predictable, safe, and a perfect way to transition from home to school every day.

Sometimes my Morning Meetings have a theme, sometimes they are more random, but they are always built around a particular character trait or social skill that my students are working on or need a refresher on. Here's an example of a Morning Meeting I would use when my students need some focus on self control-

I used a Promethean Board in my old school (I'm moving this year!), so most of my Morning Meetings agendas and messages were up on the Promethean.

Greetings provide children a sense of recognition and belonging. This greeting, Roll the Ball, is just what it sounds like. ;) Students sit in a circle and roll the ball to someone across the circle from them, greeting them by name (A very important detail to remember! Using names makes everyone feel valued!).

The share time gives students an opportunity to share news or information, and then respond to each other in a meaningful and respectful way. It develops their skills of communication. For this particular share activity, Lightning Round, I would give a (usually content related) topic for the students to think about, such as "Share what your favorite place in your community is!" Then one person would start the "lightning round" of sharing by saying their answer as fast as they can, then each person around the circle shares their quick answer until all have shared. Sometimes I get a timer out to really make them think quickly! Afterwards, I would ask a few students to share what someone else's answer was and tell about a connection to that person, to ensure that they are really listening to each other and learning about each other.

The activity portion of the Morning Meeting builds a positive class culture by encourage inclusion, participation from all, and cooperation. And most importantly- it should be FUN! The Laughing Feather is so much fun, and a fantastic way to show what self control really means. You simply take a feather, and throw it up into the air. As it is floating down, the students laugh and laugh their heads off. The moment the feather touches the ground, they have to become silent and perfectly still. When repeated a few times, they really get an understanding of how it feels to be out of control, and in control.

The morning message for the day tells students a little about what they can expect, and it eases the transition into the day. The example I've posted incorporates a particular word focus that the students would be working on: contractions. I would have them identify and circle the contractions in the morning message, and tell or write which two words make up each contraction. I also would have students think, pair, share to summarize the message to ensure they are really reading/listening and comprehending what is stated in the message.

At the end of the meeting, before moving on to the next part of our day, we would have a brief discussion about how we used self control in each part of our morning meeting, and we would connect those thoughts to how the skill of using self control can help us throughout the day at school.

These meetings are just a lovely way to start the day, and they help students to build the character traits and social skills needed in order to be members of a well functioning community of learners.

On my never-ending To Do list, I plan to put my many morning meeting ideas for different greetings, shares, and activities into a format that I can share with others. Until then, you can find lots of good stuff on Pinterest and the Responsive Classroom website and youtube channel, and I highly recommend the following books from Responsive Classroom:

If you have been considering giving RC Morning Meetings a try, go for it! You won't ever look back, I guarantee it!  =)

One more thing! It's not recommended that you do a full out Morning Meeting right away. Here's a good article explaining how and why to take it slow in the first weeks of school, and piece by piece build up to a full morning meeting.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Stay tuned...!

Blog is being designed over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for the big reveal! In the meantime, check out my Facebook page for product updates, ridiculous memes, great articles, and more. =)